Let’s Get Inspired
As we celebrate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence 243 years ago, on July 4th, 1776, let’s consider the colonial leaders and revolutionary participants - many of whom were educated, healthy, and not just comfortable, but wealthy. At the time, the colonists were generally prosperous compared to the rest of the world, even compared to Europeans. Yet, they decided to put their own lives on the line, risking everything for noble causes (and we should note, as Howard Zinn and others emphasize, for ignoble reasons too) in their Declaration. Yet, risk it all they did - on a war with a mighty empire, that would not end for seven more years.
Let’s reflect on what meaning their actions, might have for us this July 4th.
Inspiration for Today?
Today, with global warming, we face an oppression, a crisis, an emergency, so great, that the consequences could be felt, not for hundreds of years, but for thousands of years. The climate emergency was largely produced in actions spanning just a few generations, and today the crisis must be solved within a single generation. To fail in this effort is to not just steal from our children’s and grandchildren’s health, liberty and prosperity, but steal it from possibly thousands of generations, at a cost, as David Wallace-Wells describes in The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming, that is almost unfathomable.
At the just concluded NAPHN19: Build The World We Want, conference, Jacob Deva Racusin, of New Frameworks Natural Design/Build, leading the closing plenary, noted that the goal must be systemic change - that truly addressing the climate crisis requires us to change our thinking from a narrow view to a broad, interconnected view.
In revolutionary fashion, Jacob implored the audience to become the leaders that they want to see - in their company, in their community and their industry - to not be satisfied with following, but that each must lead, at every level. (We might add, like the Sons of Liberty, the Minutemen and signers of the Declaration of Independence.)
Revolutionaries or Consumers? (or perhaps Revolutionaries AND Consumers?!)
Yet we typically aren’t ready for “systems thinking” and instead internalize our implulses - to simply and modify our lives, as consumers, in the economic construct handed to us. We try to be a conscientious consumer. We try to pick sustainable materials and products, consume less and recycle more. We try to make more sustainable decisions - with the desire to "vote with our wallets" and promote "green industry". At the immediate level, there are tremendous benefits to making healthy, low-energy, robust buildings - for the construction workers, occupants and owners. It's important to make the best consumer choices possible in all our consumption.
Mike Berners-Lee’s makes the case in his book, THERE IS NO PLANET B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years, for better choices. It’s a great compendium of practical advice to make choices and align personal and corporate behavior with effective climate action. Yet he concludes that while such individual actions are important, we will fail if we don’t fundamentally revolutionize the narrative of what’s valued and why and how. Berners-Lee writes:
“To sum up, we need a radical overhaul of human growth aspirations. We need to grow in our maturity, awareness and compassion. We need to grow in our capacity to appreciate what we have and what is around us. This is not in any way the end of ambition, but is a shift in its nature.”
What Would Have Stopped You From Joining the American Revolution?
The Boston Tea Party, 1773: Choosing coffee wasn't going to fix the problem.
Consider yourself in 1776. What would you have done? Of course, we have no way of knowing, and we think of ourselves more as “consumers” than “subjects” - but there were and there are choices to be made.
As consumers today, one might wonder if choices are being made for us - to surprising consequences. In Conscious consumerism is a lie. Here’s a better way to help save the world, Alden Wicker critiques virtuous consumerism, first noting that our typically selective attempts at sustainable living often simply don’t add up: "Case in point: A 2012 study compared footprints of “green” consumers who try to make eco-friendly choices to the footprints of regular consumers. And they found no meaningful difference between the two." Ouch.
But it’s much worse! Ms. Wicker says:
"On its face, conscious consumerism is a morally righteous, bold movement. But it’s actually taking away our power as citizens. [our emphasis] It drains our bank accounts and our political will, diverts our attention away from the true powerbrokers, and focuses our energy instead on petty corporate scandals and fights over the moral superiority of vegans."
In Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, author and activist, Bill McKibben, starting in Chapter 9, has a fascinating description of the development of our current socioeconomic power structure and consequent predicament, arguing “that the most important political philosoper of our time is the novelist Ayn Rand.” And it has left us in a state of bewilderment and seeming impotence as we watch with frightening speed, cherished institutions - like human rights, consumer protections, environmental protections, treaties, etc… - be smashed before us.
The American revolutionaries listed 27 grievances in the Declaration, to justify their decision to revolt against the crown. Can each of us overcome the debilitating effects of our consumer paradigm, be clear-headed, and dedicated to systemic change, in the Spirit of 1776?
An Emotional Revolution To Be The First Step?
Perhaps, to get clear-headed, we need to take an unflinching look at the reality before us. Margaret Klein Salamon of The Climate Mobilization writes in Facing the Climate Emergency: Grieving The Future You Thought You Had:
“The vast majority of Americans...are still living their “normal” lives as though the climate crisis was not happening. They are pursuing their careers, starting families...They know, intellectually, that the climate crisis is real, but they have not faced that reality emotionally, they have not grieved the future they thought they had, and consequently, they have not been able to act rationally or responsibility.” Ms. Klein Salamon goes on to note: “In my experience, most people have not integrated the climate emergency into their sense of identity and future plans. This is a form of climate denial.”
Let’s leave that, there.
Where We’re At
Our company, 475 High Performance Building Supply, was founded with a mission to supply essential knowledge and critical building components that will help lead a transformation of the North American construction industry toward making durable high-performance, Passive House and zero-energy buildings - and in this way, as noted on our About Us page, be activists for a sustainable environment and specifically help mitigate climate change.
We’ve had some success thus far, working with a broad array of industry allies: a “war” on spray foam (including our annual Declaration of Independence From Foam Plastic Insulation) that has it retreating from sight at high-performance and Passive House conferences; the development of the Smart Enclosure System as a comprehensive, yet simple approach for professionals to “build like the future depends on it”; and in helping lead the growth of Passive House and low-energy buildings generally, which have provided tools to professionals and policymakers, alike, to think and act more boldly. Yet, it is a continual struggle to frame and leverage efforts for even greater, dare we say, revolutionary, changes.
What’s Next? Join a Revolution? Be the Revolution.
There is a continuum that connects us back to our heroes - through American and global history, including systemically focused movements like the Abolitionists, Suffragettes, labor organizers and civil rights activists. We have the courts, the ballot boxes, and in the tradition of Gandhi and Dr. King, non-violent resistance in the streets, to effect change. Would you have been an American Revolutionary? An Abolitionist? A Suffragist?
Today, in Juliana vs. United States, 21 kids are suing the United States, arguing that a clean environment is a fundamental right and that through inaction the government has infringed on their, and future generations rights, to life and liberty. If ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the lawsuit could cause a wholesale restructuring of our economic system. Yet it’s doubtful that victory would be effective without the political will to pass the laws to needed to implement a remedy, and then to vigorously enforce those laws.
And today, groups like 350.org, School Strike for Climate, Extinction Rebellion, C40 Cities, Carbon Action Tracker and many others, are leading the revolt, to change the fundamental discussion toward effective climate action. They might have made the American Revolutionaries proud.
So, let’s return to Jacob’s plea, like that of Thomas Paine in Common Sense, exhorting us all to think systemically, while forcing ourselves to be the leaders we need, in this great struggle, to address our climate crisis.