The April issue of Green Builder magazine is largely devoted to individuals who we consider to be important “game changers”—folks who value the greater good over special interests, and who are willing to challenge the status quo in order to create meaningful progress.
They are the kind of people who are not intimidated by change. Rather, they embrace it and foster it whenever they feel compelled to seek a better path for all. This got me to thinking about another kind of change, and how it illustrates our modern moral dilemma.
Reports of the penny’s demise are apparently premature, at least for now. Despite the ongoing efforts from a diverse set of proponents, there is still not enough political currency (sorry, I couldn’t help myself) to bring about the end of this least-valuable U.S. coin.
As I understand it, there are three main groups who wish to see production of the one-cent piece continue, and together they have so far been successful in keeping it rattling around in our cup holders and piggy banks.
First come the metal suppliers. The penny, which was once made from copper and therefore held much importance for the copper industry, is now only coated with a thin veneer of that metal, and is instead made almost entirely of a far-less valuable material: zinc. But the zinc lobby has skillfully replaced the copper lobby in vigorously opposing the discontinuation of minting, even though it now costs over two cents to produce each one-cent coin.
Second, there are voices who cry out that discarding this ubiquitous reminder of the iconic profile of our much beloved Lincoln would be a shameful disgrace, although it is impossible to tell how many members of the choir truly care about the little images or actually get their sheet music from the group above.
The third constituency is hiding behind the familiar skirts of “jobs.” Pennies are issued only at the Denver Mint. They make up about 60% of the facility’s production, and they cost the American taxpayer about $116 million annually. But there is not yet enough courage on Capitol Hill to force anyone to figure out how to repurpose those jobs in a direction that produces something we actually need. It appears that this would take too much effort on the part of somebody and require them to put some skin in the game.
Reminded once again that history repeats itself, we cannot help but point to the long-ago discontinued U.S. half-cent coin. Minted exclusively in Philadelphia from 1793 until officially ended by the Coinage Act of 1857, the half-cent piece bore the likeness of “Liberty.” We are informed that the sun rose the following morning.
Posted: 5/15/2013 11:56:59 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments
If you are willing to indulge me a fractured stream-of-consciousness. I want to share some random items that found their way into my thoughts as I contemplated our annual landscaping and outdoor-living issue.
I was remembering a scene near the end of Robert Redford’s classic, Jeremiah Johnson, where, on a snow-covered Utah mountainside, the title character shared roast rabbit and ascetic philosophy with his friend and mentor, mountain-man Bear Claw Chris Lapp (unforgettably played by the late Will Geer, perhaps better known to many as ‘Grandpa’ on television’s The Waltons).
At one point, Redford’s character asks, “Would you happen to know what month of the year it is?” and Bear Claw replies, “No I truly wouldn’t. I’m sorry Pilgrim.”
Johnson offers, “March. Maybe April.”
Bear Claw:“March, maybe. I don’t believe April. Winter’s a long time goin’ . Stays long this high.” He adds, “March is a green, muddy month down below. Some folks like it.” Then, not attempting to disguise his disdain, “Farmers mostly.”
While recalling that scene, I stumbled across a news item from Big Wave Gully, Lanzhou, China, that described how the tops of 700 barren mountains are being bulldozed off. The spoils are filling valleys to create a base 10 square miles in size for “Lanzhou New City,” which will be the future home to residents eager to experience urban living after generations of farming.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute, twelve years from now China will have more than 220 cities with one million or more inhabitants (that compares with 35 cities that size in today’s Europe) and by then China is expected to have 23 cities of over five million in population.
The report goes on to state that “the ratio of Chinese who live in cities has doubled in a little over two decades, from 26% in 1990 to half of the population today.”
A haunting passage from Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods reveals that based on data from the 1990 U.S. census, “the federal government dropped its long-standing survey of farm residents,” which had become “irrelevant” since only 1.9% of households surveyed still farmed. And according to another, more recent statistic, the ratio of U.S. farmers age 65 and older to those under the age of 35 is 7 to 1.
I am reminded of a question posed by Aldo Leopold in A Sand County Almanac, when he wonders if the Earth can “survive the hand of mechanized man.” Perhaps the private developer hired by the government to execute the massive excavation project in Gansu province has not had an opportunity to read Leopold. And perhaps the heavy equipment operators and others who are longing for the joys of city life have not personally experienced the air in Beijing or Salt Lake City (worst in the U.S.), this winter.
Posted: 4/19/2013 8:59:32 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments
Years ago, a close friend and I were discussing the subject of water harvesting, and he made a statement that I have always remembered since: “When you make someone a water harvester, you make them a water steward.” There is a simple but profound truth about human nature in that statement, I believe—one that applies to the way we respond to many things.
Last month, we visited Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show. And although we found a multitude of cool offerings there, none were more interesting to me than all those new products and systems that allow us to interact with our homes in advanced ways, like with hand-held communications devices and laptops, from just about anywhere and at any time.
Now we’re able to not only control the temperature settings for the HVAC, activate lighting to give the impression that someone is at home when they’re not, and to program access for the friendly repairman, but also to adjust the cooking time on a roast that we placed in the oven earlier, or start a load of laundry we left in the clothes dryer to take advantage of lower power rates at off-peak hours.
Some of these are pretty darned remarkable. I’m even hearing about a refrigerator that can tell your smartphone if you have enough eggs and other ingredients on hand to make that soufflé you found a great recipe for at the grocery.
Now, I have to tell you—I don’t drive much these days and as a result, I don’t pay much attention to gas prices. I don’t buy enough gasoline to worry about it too much. But as we were headed to the airport in Las Vegas for our return flight home, I happened to notice a sign at one station that advertised gas for just under $3 a gallon. As I had not seen that price at the pump in some time, I checked closer to home after we got back and I learned that local gas was running over $4.15 a gallon—quite a difference.
What this really got me to thinking about is why we seem to pay so much more attention to our energy demands for our cars than those for our homes. I have a theory. The piece that is missing in the way we monitor our home energy that is always part of our thinking when we drive is one of the simplest features on a vehicle—the gas gauge. Think about it: we look at the sign posting the price of gasoline and the next place our eyes go is to that gauge to check our current fuel level.
Thanks to emerging technology, home energy use is making its way onto our radar, helping us harvest savings—and that just might make stewards of us all.
Posted: 2/27/2013 1:05:10 PM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments
Building Science, like any other variety of science, is largely about comparing one set of performance numbers to another. We want to know how much air, how much moisture or how much heat passes through one material versus another. We like having two or more products side by side, so we can determine which one functions best under different sets of controlled conditions. We contrive all sorts of tests to gauge the strength, the efficiency, the durability, the elasticity, the whatever...
As we have suggested before, admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek sometimes, it's not necessarily rocket science - but it is real science. And it doesn't have to be a bunch of dry-as-dust number crunching. Anybody who has had the good fortune of hearing building science expert John Tooley describe the tiny unit of pressure known as a pascal can attest that, in the right kind of mind, the subject can be crafted into something riotously funny.
But we don't pursue this exercise strictly for its own sake. It is not just fun and games, nor a prescribed routine of academic gymnastics. We need to know how buildings perform, why certain things work and others work better. We need to understand the consequences of our choices, particularly in a world where we are increasingly on a collision course between the pursuit of infinite growth and the reality of finite resources. We measure these things because they matter.
Recently, in the wee hours of the night, a powerful Pacific storm front rolled in. The weatherman had it right for once. Rain and ice pellets beat a steady rhythm in the darkness while the large wind bent the trees and explored all the surfaces and seams of the house in search of entry. The roof, the siding, the big picture windows - they were all probed and poked. The moisture barriers and weather stripping were forced to step up, and because they had all been tested and retested countless times before, we were none the worse for wear in the cold morning light. We were safe and sound.
The world can be a pretty challenging place, starting with the simple, familiar elements of nature. Our task is to reduce the risk. To shelter is to protect, to safeguard, to shield, to defend - not only from imminent danger, but from future threats - whatever their source or origin.
Some might confuse building science as only being about efforts like determining R-values, comparing SEER ratings, measuring gallons per minutes, and so on, but that would be missing the larger point. What it is really about is building a safer, more secure world for ourselves and those to come.
Posted: 1/23/2013 10:09:16 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments
As we prepared our December issue, once again featuring the annual award-winning projects of our readers, I found myself contemplating the inexorable march of time and the turning of the calendar. This past year, 2012, has been a banner one for the green building and sustainable development sector - and a not-so-great year for most of the rest of the shelter industry. Some of us are not too surprised.
And now that we're medicating our collective post-election headache, we're noting that vote-seekers everywhere have a little bit of breathing room, and that even they are breaking the silence of politically imposed taboos by acknowledging concerns over things like climate change and the world's energy future. The fleeting remnants of the past calendar year, marked by tragic natural disasters, including some of historic proportions, has them looking for more responsible solutions to how we rebuild for the next inevitable collision with Mother Nature.
By contrast, it seems that many in the traditional bully pulpits of the shelter industry are trying to rally the faithful around the notion that it's time to "build our way back," Huh? Back to what? Back to risky planning, pathetic performance and minimum standards? Back to out-dated, vulnerable infrastructure? Back to neighborhoods in communities that are sitting ducks....again?
What exactly does the industry hope to accomplish by riding a herd of extinct species to the imaginary finish line of a race to the bottom that should have been called off decades ago? Progress doesn't come equipped with a reverse gear, only forward. Those heady times on the gravy train of the 90's and early 2000s only exist in the rear-view mirror, and in the fading memories of the dinosaur jockeys - not along the road ahead.
Take a real look at the projects that fill the pages of our December issue. Study the images. Listen to the descriptions and rationale behind these exceptional projects. Consider the intent and purpose behind the choices that were made. Think about what really sets them apart, and select the parts that are relevant for your projects and the success of you and your company going forward.
The coming year and decade may be the most challenging and exciting we have ever experienced. It will almost certainly be the most interesting. And there is no reason why we should not believe that we are at the dawn of new prosperity and satisfaction as builders - we just need to keep our attention trained on what's ahead of us, not what we can thankfully leave in the past.
Posted: 1/10/2013 8:09:56 AM by
Mary Kestner | with 0 comments