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May, 2008



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Sustainable Castles: Affordable Buildings Can Save the Planet
By Stephen Simac

"The President believes that it should be the goal of policymakers to protect the American way of Life. The American way of Life is a blessed one."
Ari Fleisher, White House press secretary 5/01

When it comes to Reducing Greenhouse Gases, Saving Money and Losing Weight, nothing is more pivotal than the American Way of Life (AWOL). Primarily our starter castles, stuffed to the brim and sucking energy from their under insulated attics to their three car garages. Not excluding the gas hogs parked next to the grass lawn.
A Prime Culprit in our GG habit is the shelter we build for residence, employment, and recreation, consuming, imprisonment, etc. The construction trade is hugely greenhouse gassy, not affordable and even causes obesity. If we're serious about cutting enough GG's to make a dent in Global Warming, (GW) then buildings must change. Merely tweaking their design a little to get a gold star for "green" construction won't do it.

It's not just how structures are built, but where, sprawled across the land from sea to shining sea, linked by a ribbon of asphalt because motor vehicles are required to sustain these piles. Residents in a few urban or small town pockets may not need to own automobiles for basic mobility, but even these pedestrian/transit friendly anomalies give truck and car traffic pride of place. Every community is driven with the danger, noise, dust and water pollution of motor vehicles.

Last month's article pointed out that transportation generates 60% of GG's in the U.S. Some human powered vehicle solutions were offered that could save money, reduce GG's and obesity.

Motor vehicle transportation is depended on to build, maintain, supply and get away from our boxes, because the true costs of driving have been heavily subsidized. As those costs rise, we will be forced to innovate or bankrupt the nation just to move goods and people around.

Buildings are the second largest source of GG's in America, simply to build and use them as currently designed. New construction may be on hold for a while but building "green" will not change the majority of the built environment.

As it is there are three times as many houses as there are family units in the untied states. Soon to be significantly more empty office and shopping space. Even the mall parking lots will be barren as this recession grows, unless they're parking FEMA trailers and RV's for the mortgage broken. McCaintowns.

Obviously we can't all live in castles, "sustainable" or not. The average house has ballooned from 1000 square feet in the 50's with larger families, to around 4,000 square foot. The banks own these castles, charging 4x the price with interest, and they're beasts to maintain.

AWOL is incredibly stressful, probably the main reason for our poor health, bloated medical costs and fear based politics. Supposedly it's built for comfort, yet more than half of adult Americans live with chronic pain. AWOL will have to shift from loving stuff to choosing lean, healthy and thrifty if we want to save the planet and ourselves.

Right now, the wealthiest Americans get richer and thinner, while the rest struggle to keep up their roof's overhead. We worship wealth, but waste it on AWOL without any return. It seems odd that the average American house consumes more energy than a small, Chinese sweatshop and puts out more waste.

Putting photovoltaic solar panels on every roof won't change that. Around 40% of residential energy use is for heating water or air. Solar thermal is three times more efficient and cheaper than solar electric. Using roofs and walls with southern exposure for solar water heaters, clothes dryers, ovens and space heating is much more cost effective. They can conserve more energy than photovoltaic can generate at one third the cost.

The water squandered for AWOL is symbolic of our waste of precious resources. Fouling water with fecal material is so 20th century. The engineered running water system we take for granted has a huge carbon footprint and is unsustainable where climate change brings drought. No matter how many low flush toilets are installed, flushing away crap is a total waste. Even working septic systems or sewage treatment release a variety of pollutants into ground and surface water, migrating into drinking water. It could all be composted along with food waste, yard clippings, and biodegradable plastic. Compost cooks with microbial action up to 160 degrees, killing pathogens and creating fertilizer.

The perfect composting system hasn't been built yet. A small-scale system that chop and turn biomass with pedal power and transfers heat to water pipes or greenhouses could feed a family or neighborhood.

Rain catch and Graywater can irrigate gardens and orchards or be filtered to use as potable water. The lawns Americans mindlessly mow and water could be productive Victory Gardens, if we got patriotic about the War on GW.

America view conserving energy as hair shirting, while wasting it is total luxury. The journey to become truly resourceful is 80% believing we can.

Re-construction, not Civil War re-enactment, but retrofitting existing buildings to reduce their energy and money sucking habits is a giant step for mankind on this planet. This investment in America would reduce the financial stress of staying sheltered or making and selling products. This could be done across the country for less than a few months adventure in Iraq. Millions of high paying jobs created, billions saved in bills and massive amounts of GG's not released.

Lower income families spend a greater percentage of their income on housing and transportation, but not food. Financial stress causes obesity, one reason there's far more fat, poor people than rich ones. It contributes to insomnia, divorce, abortion, chronic illness and premature death. Making shelter more efficient with fewer resources, reducing their front and long-term costs should unite the political spectrum.

We've been brainwashed to shop til you drop and believe that whoever dies with the most toys wins. NASCAR Americans may never come round to changing our unsustainable lifestyle because of GW. They might do so to save money and lose weight.

Reducing global GG's must focus on emerging countries, assisting them in leapfrogging industrial nations evolution and their constraints of infrastructure and cultivated lifestyles. Human powered transportation, construction methods using local and abundant materials, solar cooking, space and water heating, super efficient wood stoves, composting toilets, bio-intensive gardens, some photovoltaic, low speed wind and water mills for light and sound. We'll have to shed our media blinders and idealization of a greasy, sickly, super sized AWOL, instead of a thrifty, lean and healthy lifestyle.

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