April 10, 2014

I try not to talk about the environment very much, because there are a lot of environmentalists out there already. But, a few month ago we had an engineer come to our city. He was discussing environmentally friendly design, and he showed us a photo of a parking lot;

That is not the same photo as the one he showed, but it looked like a generic parking lot.

He was talking about how 'green' it was - how the breathable asphalt does not disturb the drainage of rainwater and how it incorporated natural foliage that would filter the runoff.

I sat there and watched blankly.

A few years ago now, an office was built on the southern border of the city. It happened to be LEED certified, and the media from that time reported how environmentally friendly it was, and how we are leading the state and proud to have that in our city;

Wait a minute. That office is built far out of town alongside a state highway and interstate - it looks like it was purposely built to target far off commuters. Would a few LEED lights, an energy efficient air conditioner, and a breathable parking lot - really offset the fact that hundreds of commuters have to drive their pickup trucks and gasoline guzzling SUVs back and forth down the highway for miles every single day just to get to work?


That is a simple comparison between one house and one car. How would that comparison look between one office building, and a few hundred cars?

I am sure the official response will be something along the lines of "but we have built half a million dollars worth of sidewalks so we do not force you to drive!"

I assure you nobody is choosing to walk. You just wasted half a million dollars worth of cement and labour on nothing. (While I do not actually think anybody spent half a million dollars on sidewalks for this specific project, I hope you understand the point I am getting at - throwing money at the problem just to shut people up does not solve anything!)

It is called greenwashing - you check off a bunch of requirements, you win an award, and everybody feels good - despite a few obvious flaws (such as contributing to suburban sprawl in a location that is only designed for people that commute from miles away.)

Green is good, right? If there are trees around, then it must be environmentally friendly.

Let me ask you this - which of these two is more environmentally friendly?

A suburb of Dallas filled with LEED-certified homes;

Or a completely paved over plaza in a little Italian village built hundreds of years ago?

In Dallas, you have a cute front yard, so depending on how good you are at landscaping, you may feel more in touch with nature when you are at home;

But you need to drive just to get anywhere;

In a city that consumed energy and resources on building freeways to get you around;

To get you to stores that have paved over endless amounts of land so you can park your vehicle;

And installed thousands of miles of power lines and water pipes between every home in your neighborhood;

Compared to a village, which consumes a small fraction of the land and infrastructure per person;

Where you can conveniently walk anywhere in town;

And if you did own a car and drove, you would only have to drive a small fraction of the distance, because everything is so much closer together;

Which one is more environmentally friendly?

I am not proposing that we should get rid of all of the greenery in our cities (I love a nice hike through a park as much as anyone.) I am also not proposing that we get rid of building standards.

I am asking you to take a step back and look at the big picture - so we can stop spreading this 'eco-llusion.'