The Rising Tide of 5 Billion Others

April 16, 2007 at 5:48 pm Leave a comment

This past week I attended the 6th Annual Municipal Green Building Conference & Expo in Los Angeles. While much of the material presented was not surprising as it is a reflection of a market response to the environmental problems we face, there were a few notable comments. In his keynote address, Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of the US Green Building Council warned of dire problems facing the world because of rising industrialization and consumer demand around the world, especially in India and China. He seemed to recognize the limitations of a consumer-based market response to this rising crisis.

While counter-intuitive to the realities of our modern world, the quickest and most direct way of addressing humanity’s continued contribution to the environmental problems that plague us is to change our consumption patterns. The global warming crisis offers us a unique opportunity to redefine this fundamental economic pattern, especially in the 5 billion “others” that do not share in its fruits. In fact, I believe it is morally incumbent upon those who possess the technical “know-how” to offer a common-interest solution for those who live hand to mouth, especially when the luxury of such knowledge is beyond their reach.

How can we avoid the tidal wave of consumption and industrialization that is coming? I think the answer lies in some common sense tactics. Most importantly, it should be a “solution in a box” approach. By that I mean the pieces of the sustainable living puzzle should be thought out and organized in such a way that, first, it is easy for an average person to do and, second, it can be done on a massive scale. I believe the characteristics of a solution include the following:

1. Affordable Homes: No one goes out wanting to destroy the planet. Our environmental devastation is a result of people simply trying to fulfill basic needs such as shelter for them and their family. A home that is truly affordable for everyone will have to be based on a simple and easy, owner-built system. To make such a home sustainable on a massive scale, it must also be energy and resource wise. A straw bale construction system would seem to fit this need.

2. Local Communities: The most affordable system to provide social services is to support a strategy that includes strong communities, neighborhoods and local self-government. The Israeli kibbutz offers a practical model. Organized on communal property, the kibbutz sustains itself economically through communal farming and/or business ventures.

3. Internet Based Commerce: Our transportation system is a major contributor to our environmental problems. A sustainable future will rely not on a “brick and mortar” based economy, but on an intellectual economy of ideas and services that can be mostly exchanged over the internet.

4. Education: Perhaps it is naïve to say, but it is possible to change the world in 12 years through education. A sustainable economy mandates 100% literacy so that people can build their own houses, self-govern and conduct business over the internet. The MIT laptop program is a practical program that will support the educational system necessary for a sustainable, internet-based economy. Education is also the key to confronting the challenges of population growth

5. Light Rail Transportation Network: Light rail is a sustainable transportation system in both its use of resources as well as its ability to create corridors of human activity to lessen humanity’s footprint on the environment. The power of such a network is in its unique ability to brings together isolated communities to form “metro-communities” numbering anywhere form a hundred thousand on up. While this is the most expensive piece of the sustainability puzzle, there are several “out-of-the-box” ideas for reducing and funding construction costs that are beyond the scope of this commentary. However, such infrastructure does provides a focus for public resources, especially when governments are looking for specific measures to attack both global warming and poverty.

While this vision may seem distant and unrealizable, there are working examples that exist today. At the Green Building Conference I had the privilege of meeting Ali Sahabi (SE Corporation) who designed and constructed an eco-village in Corona, California. While it is principally a market-based response to our environmental problems, it offers a visible template of practical concepts that can and should be implemented on a massive scale. Several people questioned the green-ness of the concept that requires people to travel to and from the village by car. Mr. Sahabi noted that the master plan includes an easement for light rail, because It is not a question of ‘if’, but ’when’ our economy will mandate the use of public transportation.

While it is good that the green movement is now sexy and has market appeal, the rising tide of consumption mandates immediate and practical solutions to fend off its inevitable impact on the environment. I was surprised to hear comments suggesting we need a revolution to truly address the global warming challenge. While those comments echo my personal thoughts, its doubtful that such a revolution will begin in the developed world because those who feel they have something to lose usually resist change, while those who have nothing to lose welcome it. I believe the meek will inherit the Earth and the 5 billion others can show the rest of us how to live a happier, more fulfilling and sustainable lives.

On The Web

One Laptop Per Child
http://www.laptop.org/

Ex-generals: Global Warming Threatens U.S. Security
http://edition.cnn.com/2007/US/04/15/warming.military.ap/index.html

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Entry filed under: Consumerism, Economics, Environment, People, Philosophy, Population, Sustainability, Transportation.

Transportation and Social Equity Educationally Challenged

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