Sunday, January 22, 2006

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle... Build it Green!

After my diatribe about all that is wrong with politics yesterday, today I want to write a bit about public and private efforts to make the planet a cleaner and more hospitable place to live. Despite all the problems that this country has and our rabid and rampant ignorance about the environmental footprint that Americans leave on this planet, there are many who labor righteously on behalf of the environment.

Conservatives fear the tactics employed in this effort and being draconian and oppressive to business. In fact there are many efforts undertaken by the private sector that seek to use technology to reduce the impact that people and all of our crap has on this planet.

One need not be an engineer to become knowledgeable about the steps that we all can and should take to reduce our consumption. One very simple way to be involved is to recycle. It sounds like a tedious and labor intensive process that doesn’t really have that large an impact. This sentiment can be particularly infectious in a place like Hawaii where the powers that be have made recycling as difficult a process as necessary, to the extent of canceling a curbside recycling pilot project. But nowhere in the world is recycling more vital than in an island community. In island communities like Hawaii there are finite resources, particularly land and water. There is no excuse in this day and age to put any refuse into a landfill. Nearly everything is recyclable in one way or another. Whether we burn garbage to create power, recycle paper to create insulation, use food stuffs as agricultural animal feed, recycle plastic bottles to create plastic lumber.

Of particular interest to me is ways to eliminate waste in the building industry. Anyone who has been involved in a building project or even walked past a construction site know how much materials go into building structures for either residential or commercial purposes. Buildings need to be demolished to make room for new development. Certainly there must be parts of the old structure that can be redeveloped for new projects, if not onsite, at least in other projects.

Here are a few resources for those interested in private efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle:

Energy Efficient Building Association

U.S. Green Building Council

Building Green

Sustainable Sources

Sustainable Architecture, Building and Culture

Suppliers of Alternative Building Materials

The Carbon Neutral Company

Just as there is a role for private efforts in the efforts to reduce our footprint, the government has to be a willing partner. The government, to my mind, plays three very vital roles in environmental policy; incentive, enforcement and education.

The government should knock off the whole tax subsidies for fossil fuel and SUV gas guzzlers and get real with subsidies for green building, recycling, and renewable energy sources. It is not enough to just create incentives but the government must play the unpopular role of creating disincentives for using products and resources that are either harmful to the environment or not made of at least part recycled materials.

The ability to regulate and enforce existing environmental regulations is not a responsibility that can be effectively handled by the private community. Only Big Brother has enough reach, influence, and strength of force to ensure that unscrupulous businesses are complying with the law, not just in words but in intent as well.

The last role for the government is its most important. Education is hard for relatively small nonprofits and organizations to accomplish. Certainly they have a role to play in these efforts, but the government already has an educational system and they should incorporate environmental education standards into the curriculum. Children are far more impressionable then adults and if we teach efforts early and often, they may well stick.

In addition, public information and education campaigns on a wide enough scale to have clout must be undertaken by government.

Here are some links to several government initiatives being undertaken on the federal, state and municipal levels:

Energy Star

U.S. Department of Energy – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

City of Austin – Green Building Program

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

State of Hawaii – Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism – Energy Efficient Buildings

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