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No Place Like Home? A Green Rant

“Green” has suddenly become a buzz word so pervasive that it’s practically lost any meaning. Over 30 years ago I was studying Civil Engineering with a coordinate major in Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont. We learned about the upcoming energy crisis, passive solar, wind energy, thermal mass, photovoltaic, trombe walls, organic gardening, composting toilets, and much more.

I emerged from the academic world into the world of construction and a sudden apparent abundance of petroleum. It seemed that everywhere but isolated pockets of aging hippies and deadheads in the nooks and crannies of New England, there grew a pervasive obliviousness to the facts of limited oil reserves and an increasingly overpopulated trampled planet.

A few decades rolled by and I’m looking at images of violence and war in the oil rich Middle East, a recent surge in oil prices that played out in a classic example of “demand destruction”, and perhaps the most tragic of all, the growing plume of oil permeating the Gulf of Mexico and destroying millions of animals and miles of shoreland. Now if you’re reading this and shaking your head that I take greater pity on the lives of animals and plants than that of the thousands upon thousands that suffer due to our greedy consumption of the planets riches, I’m not.

We continue to learn from our mistakes like adolescents, as we ignore the values quietly expressed by our elders – the ancient civilizations, American Indian culture, eastern religion, and many others that see our role in the world very differently … But we are learning that we are not all-knowing, all-powerful, we can’t control the planet, that the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone … there is a harmony and balance in nature that flows from the smallest microbes in the ocean to the mightiest mammals, to the most prolific of these, man. I fear our thirst for oil has unleashed a poison upon the oceans that will have an impact on the entire planet, creating an imbalance that will impact the subsistence of millions of people. But I digress … or do I?

We are all responsible for the spill in the Gulf, we have been demanding cheap oil and gas for our vehicles, homes, air conditioners, big screen TVs and massive refrigerators. We want tomatoes any time of year, strawberries in every corner of the country on demand, pizza with any topping at our doorstep. We live like kings and pay next to nothing for it, or do we? Perhaps we’ve been borrowing from the planet’s seemingly endless resources and now we’re starting to see there are limits.

Is it hopeless, is there nothing we can do individually to thwart TEOTWAWKI? I don’t know … my lifelong optimism has been shaken and I have allowed myself to consider the possibility that we will indeed destroy this planet, that we could very possibly devolve into isolated pockets of heavily defended communities of Mad Max like tribes or other dusty dried out apocalyptic tales of a depraved human race intent only on the survival of the fittest.

Maybe … but maybe not, life is incredibly persistent, and besides, what is the use in hopelessness? Misery, pain, no motivation to pursue knowledge or truth. One would be left with only the moment, the pleasure or oblivion available right now. There would be no reason to work, plan, or live. So we move forward, we must and as we move forward we make every effort to learn how to change.

Each time we turn on a light switch, turn up the thermostat, plan an errand to the store, put an item in our grocery cart we should think about what impact our choice is having. Do we really need that extra light right now? Can we put on another shirt, take the trip later, ride our bike, pick greener packaging, buy organic? And when we build, can we live in smaller homes? Can we put our money into quality sustainable materials and insulation. Can we orient our homes to take advantage of winter sunlight, summer shade, and prevailing winds. Yes, we can. We really have no choice.

*Sigh* … I needed to do that. Preachy I admit, and I am just as guilty, my F150 sits outside, but beside it is a new bike with 250 miles of commuting and errand making miles on it this spring already … and I feel good! Fresh air, new leg muscle, and a little less guilt. I’m going to try to share my hope with you, my customers, peers, friends, and family that the only chance we have is to step lightly, think green and love our planet. It is the only one we’ve got and as far as I can see there’s nothing else like it out there … there really is no place like home.

Author: Paul Freeman