A few days ago I went to Carpenter's Hall in Philadelphia to experience the latest Delaware Valley Green Building Council's presentation on the latest green building standards. The presenter, Laura Blau, called it Apples to Apples and did a quick comparison of three of the best of the high-performance building standards now on the market. They were the USGBC's LEED standards They were compared to Passive House, and the very stringent Living Building Challenge.
At the discussion after the powerpoint presentations I was able to ask the the panel the first question. That was, "Why are we concerned with high performance building?" The answer of course was that the environment demanded it. That answer mentioned the idea that "green building" was so radical at the time it could only gain influence if introduced incrementally in the United States.
The standards too were becoming incrementally more strict as each evolved. I was reminded of Sam Walton's quote on incremental change but I didn't get the last question in. I wanted to ask, "Do we have time for incremental change?"
Unsurprisingly, Sam Walton once espoused incremental change, but according to Hunter Lovins, Walton now says, "The time for incremental change has passed. What we need is a revolution". If it comes, will it come in time?
I had taken the train in to Philly and had time to read a recent issue of Newsweek. Sharon Begley's cover story title was superimposed on the picture of a tornado. It read, "Weather Panic: This is the new normal (and we're hopelessly unprepared"). I come from a scouting and disaster planning background and I wondered how we could become prepared.
Given what I've learned about the triple threat of the Environment, Energy, and the economy, it would certainly require a comprehensive and rapid approach if we hope to stop our slide off the edge of what we call normal today. I don't see that happening. I suspect there is a wishful thought among most Americans and many Europeans, that with some luck everything will return to what we used to call normal or at least stabilize where we are now.
At least one European, James Lovelock, arguably one of the best climate scientists alive today, has long said that it's too late. In a Guardian interview about a year ago he said "Humans are too stupid to prevent climate change." Since another years worth of data continues to confirm that climate change is already happening he seems to be spot on. They even made an interesting movie about that called "The Age of Stupid".
I've occasionally been asked how it must feel to be stupid. Since I only got serious about preparing for climate change just before the millennium I admit that it feels, in turns, pretty much like I feel now; sad, ashamed, angry, and hurt. I also feel happy that I've made progress in making my home sustainable and that the end has yet to come. But that last part may be an illusion. Anyway, I don't think about it much since I'm busy doing the best I can to be part of the solution, even if that outcome turns out to be another illusion. As yet, there is no way to know.
I haven't met anyone familiar with the data that believes that a completely comprehensive and rapid approach to prevention is in the works. I think that mitigation may be a better strategy. It will likely take disasters greater, and/or more frequent than what's already happened to cause enough of a perception shift to get enough people to demand that we begin to focus on this perfect storm of storms. It's not just the climate, but also energy, and the economy that's in danger. And help from the top won't come soon.
According to Vicky Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center "There are no true adaptation experts in the federal government, let alone states or cities." Yet, Van Jones, and others know that energy efficiency, conservation, and intelligent consumption constitute a viable bridge strategy. A comprehensive program can help the environment, the economy, and social equity. Carbon neutral and net zero buildings could be a significant part of any adaptation strategy.
It deserves mentioning that what we now see of climate change is a reaction to what has happened roughly two decades ago. Climate reaction isn't like getting hit by a bus. It's more like jumping out of a high-flying airplane. Having done a bit of "leaping" I can report that there is almost no feeling of falling. However, it's inescapable that there are limits to how long the fall will last and a well-known consequence for not using a parachute.
According to the Pew Center for Global Climate Change's Judi Greenwald, "You can no longer say that the climate of the future is going to be like the climate of today, let alone yesterday. In all of the plausible climate scenarios we are going to have to change the way we do things in ways we can't even predict."
Our civilization has been flying pretty high on cheap fossil fuel, cheaper buildings, a relatively stable climate, and exponential growth. If you were busy shopping online or picking your nose when you fell out of the plane you might be able continue those activities for a while before you noticed that something was different, maybe even wrong. If you could still see the horizon when you noticed this you might think everything was fine and go back to what you were doing.
Ground rush is a phenomenon that is only noticeable near the end of the fall. The best definition I've ever found is in the first paragraphs of an essay called "Ground Rush". Although a bit Christian and preachy, it captures well the experience of ground rush. Tim Chambers' eschatological opening question "How long does a skydiver have to open his parachute?" is funny. It would be more accurate if the answer added ("Almost") the rest of his life". If he was legit he would have mentioned that it would be better to pull the "D" ring and open the main 'chute above 2000 feet, not 500 where the reserve 'chute would barely have enough time to open to prevent crashing and burning. I guess this holds true when going down the Rabbit Hole.
Chambers wrote that apocalyptic piece in 1996 in anticipation of millennial end-times. If there is such a thing, it could conceivably unfold in just this way.
Since Jacqui has arrived home for dinner, and I'm hungry, I'll try to wrap this up by saying that I'm doing my part to get my parachute ready for the last thousand feet, and my body positioned to deploy it properly.
Wouldn't it be nice if our leaders were like jump-masters? They could have ordered or cajoled us into become well prepared and practiced for emergencies. We can fly our bodies and blow our minds but it's irrelevant if we don't live to tell the tale. Otherwise it's just another form of suicide. Note that the word the word "ecocide" entered the American Heritage Dictionary well over a decade ago, just before the millennium.
I'm not sure where the horizon is at the moment, it's pretty hazy and hard to tell where the sky ends. Anyway, I had a nice nap on the way down and only know that the gauges say that we're getting close to the ground. I'm too scared to look and, anyway, too busy making the right moves to get my parachute open and working properly.
Heedless or deliberate destruction of the natural environment, as by pollutants or an act of war.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.