Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Talking Politics through the Medium of a Cat

It’s political high season. Despite Frankenstorm Sandy’s dominance on air, politics still manage to squeeze into the media’s attention. We try to be neutral here at The Green Elephant (dot) US; politics is too counter-productive at times and getting involved in an ideological debate does very little good. Yet, we do give a lot of coverage to the left, if nothing else but by the virtue of Mr. Obama’s Administration activities.  So now we join the frenzy before Super Tuesday to remedy our slanted view. I tried to keep humor in mind during such dirty and dry talk of politics.

There are a few things to straighten out first. To read on, you must accept the following magic tricks:

  • There IS a global consensus on climate change; and even if you still don’t think it’s we, the humans, who caused the change, you must recognize that we, the humans, must do something about it for our continued survival; 
  • It is a myth that the political right embraces complete denial of the environmental movement; the media simply gives too much attention to the far right that wants to eliminate government all together and think we have the God given right to pollute and indulge the scarcity of our ecosystem—they make good news just as the far left would and I would repudiate their views as quickly as I could; 
  • Finally, (and this one comes from a card reading my cat performed as a medium to the Wicked Witch of the West) there is something to be said for wanting not just a small government, but a well-ran and efficient government; the size of the government is an eventual function of how well we can manage it, no community can function without some sort of governance and if we are going to have one it should be subject to public accountability and transparency; so just wanting a small government or calling to eliminate the government all together is like saying: I want my cake now but I don’t want you to bake it; magic . . . 

Now, let’s talk about politics and the right. First, have you noticed there isn’t much talk about the environment or climate change in this election cycle? I wondered why that is; I have my guesses but they are as good as my cat’s prediction on the weather. NPR did note that the candidates have not always ignored the issue: 

“then-Senator Obama famously told voters that his 2008 Democratic primary win would be the moment “when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” He supported a cap-and-trade bill that passed the House, but failed in the Senate. Romney pushed for regional carbon limits during his tenure as Massachusetts governor, though he ultimately backed away from the plan.” 

So I wonder now if there is a Republican conspiracy to play low so to avoid upsetting their base: those Tea Baggers and the likes who would not believe in science, who would not listen or compromise, and who somehow equate patriotism with denial of reason. These people make my content consumption, with respect to the political right, a disappointment.

Or better yet, may be there is a far more invidious plot by the left—Obama the Socialist—to suppress talks about the environment for fear of upsetting the foolish independent ones who would actually believe we need no more of governance on the issue of our environment, and to a larger extent sustainability, because that is a gateway drug to complete socialism. But that conspiracy theory would mean Mr. Obama actually believes he is a socialist, which I know is not true, so we have a semantic contradiction.

Well, pick your poison of the conspiracy, but I must point you to a sensible solution to the illusion: there are enough right (and left) leaning independents out there that can make a difference in this divided political landscape. But the trick to leverage those independent voters is to first accept their premise: reason. The issue of environmental regulation is incidental to the premise of responsibility and action, the politics of ideologies must be put aside for pragmatic reasons; if there should be a grassroots movement to discredit science and reason, to bring about yet another inquisition, then there should be grassroots movement to call for reason to prevail. It is 2012 boys and girls, we ought not to repeat the dark ages where fire-breathing dragons taunt our dreams.

To get you started on that path, we give you a respectable leadership record in our politics with its imperfections yielding to the useless ideological arguments that divide this nation:

“John McCain introduced the first major bill in the Senate to address it: the Climate Stewardship Act of 2003, cosponsored with Joe Lieberman. In May 2008, he unveiled a new plan for tackling the problem, a cap-and-trade system with a series of targets for gradually reducing carbon emissions to 60 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. The plan would give away many pollution credits instead of auctioning them off, and would give polluting entities expansive leeway to buy carbon offsets instead of reducing their own emissions. McCain used to oppose ethanol subsidies, but upon launching his current presidential campaign, he has changed his tune. He also changed his position on offshore drilling (but he still opposes drilling in the Arctic Refuge). McCain wants to build 45 new nuclear power plants by 2030 and spend big on “clean coal” technology; he also expresses support for wind, solar, and other renewables, but doesn’t believe they need government assistance.” 

Grist, a look at John McCain’s environmental platform and record, (2008). 

 Also, here is a very informative NPR video:


Watch Climate of Doubt on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.


And finally, you will note I’ve added the Republican Party’s Conserve America’s blog on my blog-roll to balance out my other left leaning sources. I owe them a favor for kindly granting my blog the use of The Green Elephant trademark.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

AASHE: Adding to the Discussion on Sustainability --By Lauren Kong

Yesterday was Sustainability Day; a nationally recognized event kicked of by The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Indianapolis’ urban campus, IUPUI, joined the national celebration by hosting their own Sustainability Day event. Students gathered and listened to guest speakers, participated in interactive demonstrations, and were presented with a wealth of information surrounding sustainability. The goal was to reach out to students, educate them on topics of sustainability, and work with community partners to increase sustainable practices in Indiana.

AASHE hosts an annual conference and offers a glimpse into what practices other universities are implementing to become more sustainable. The annual conference also serves up a few days of surrounding oneself with like-minded people to discuss sustainability topics, which is known to be a good motivator. AASHE offers colleges and universities a common denominator in the sustainability equation without being exclusive to student ideas and initiatives; it was developed due to demand from college students creating a well thought out resource for our education system.

AASHE was officially launched in 2006, stemming from the Education for Sustainability Western Network (EFS West). It was the first professional higher education association for the campus sustainability community and grew from regional demand. It serves the Western US and Canada and grew to national demand in 2004. Since the initial launch, AASHE has since become a leader in sustainable development in higher education, working hard to play a vital role in the understanding of inter-dependencies between environmental, social, and economic forces, as well as helping people acquire the skills and abilities that are needed to meet sustainability challenges.

Joining AASHE is an easy task for a university. AASHE only requires a simple membership form and nominal annual dues. Dues are based on student Full-Time Equivalent (FTE) and are then divided between 2 year and 4 year institutions. Membership is also available for non-profits and businesses. The price appears fair, especially when all services available are taken into account. AASHE services include:

· AASHE Annual Conference North America's largest campus sustainability conference
· Professional Development workshops and webinars
· Newsletters including AASHE Announcements, AASHE Bulletin, and STARS Update.
· Resource Center with specialized online resources and directories
· Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)
· AASHE Awards Program recognizing sustainability leadership by institutions and individuals
· Supporting the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment 

For information on additional services, see the AASHE webpage.

The First Step to Sustainability is Vulnerability

In so many ways and on so many different levels, to begin a quest to a sustainable world and a healthy human ecology, or even better--to begin our first step as a healthy human being, we must first begin with the difficult task of giving wholeheartedly to vulnerability:

In the beginning, people think vulnerability will make you weak, but it does the opposite. It shows you're strong enough to care.        -- Victoria Pratt




Brené Brown is a story teller researcher--a magic pixi. She is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She spent the first five years of her decade-long study focusing on shame and empathy, and is now using that work to explore a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness. She poses the questions: How do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to recognize that we are enough – that we are worthy of love, belonging, and joy?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

In the Land of Make Believe Politics, Green is the New Color.

This is election season. Job creation is on the lips of every mud-slinging political candidate. The opposition is obvious, while some claim job growth in the renewable sector economy is a sure bet, others call for deregulation and revitalization of those dirty jobs that once plagued our workers with lung cancer and respiratory problems along side of other personal health burdens. In the midst of these talks, very few sensible candidates are willing to reconcile the urgency of jump-starting our economy and the crisis we face in an unsustainable economy. Even fewer candidates know what it is like not to have a job or what it is like to work under cruel and inhumane conditions where health is sacrificed for progress. So the mud-slinging continues and the topics of these conversations rarely focuses on the progress we have made. Often I wonder if such drama is created for the sake of generating separation of ideologies thus separating the votes, or if these politicians really ever have our best interests in mind.    

Politics aside, in March this year, the Bureau of LaborStatistics, part of the U.S. Department of Labor, released their first GreenGoods and Services (GGS) data report (the “Report”). The Report highlighted over 3 million GGS jobs in the United States in 2010, accounting for 2.4% of the total employment in the nation. Most notably, it celebrated the administration’s effort to green the public service sector: with 4% of the public sector employment designated as GGS jobs and about 5% of all federal and state employment designated as such. The Report also points to transportation and warehouse sector as having the greatest number of GGS jobs (approximately 228,900, or over a quarter of the total public sector GGS jobs) and also noted a heavy focus on manufacturing GGS jobs in the private sector: with 461,800 total accounting for 4% of all jobs in the manufacturing sector; and of our construction job market, GGS took up 6.8% of its total with roughly 372,000 GGS jobs in 2010.   

California, not surprisingly, led the nation in total GGS jobs; while Vermont led the nation in having the greatest proportion of GGS jobs of any state. New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio also boasted over 100,000 GGS jobs.

As any government reporting, this particular one is hyper-inflated with such jobs as drivers of natural gas buses; but all in all, the report is a good indication of our transition to a greener economy and serves to measure our trend in sustainable thinking. Based on these findings, the Economic PolicyInstitute (EPI) recently suggested that our green industries have shown a faster growth rate than the overall economy:

"For every percentage-point increase in an industry’s green intensity (the share of employment in green jobs), annual employment growth was 0.034 percentage points higher."

Amongst other things, the EPI noted:

  • States with greater green intensity have generally fared better in the current economic downturn.
  • Green jobs are accessible to workers without a college degree. For every one percentage-point increase in green intensity in a given industry, there was a corresponding 0.28 percentage-point increase in the share of jobs in that industry held by workers without a four-year college degree.
  • Green jobs go beyond the renewable energy industry. For example, nearly 50 percent of jobs in the water industry are green jobs, and the sector has opportunity to grow not just overall but in green intensity.

These data, however much you wish to dispute, tells the tale of possibilities outside of the diversion and division tactics usually employed during political season. Whether you vote one way or another, or that you wish to stand to the side and call for independence, you should take note of EPI's final thoughts on the matter:

“[The GGS Report] reminds us that the seeds of a green transition are planted throughout the economy, that the fundamental structure of the economy will remain intact, and that this vision isn’t so radical but rather is already happening all around us. [There is now] new evidence that suggests a greener economy will also be more open, accessible, and resilient.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

A Lost Generation of Chinese-Americans


(This post has very little to do with sustainability and is published simultaneously on my other blog Chinese Law and Society. I decided to share this post here because it makes a good lead to my work on China's sustainability crisis and its rule of law problems. Enjoy.

Mr. Frank H. Wu, Chancellor and Dean of UC Hastings College of Law, recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post on China and its rule of law. This perked my interest because Mr. Wu observed that to the Mainland Chinese, there is no such thing as someone who is “both Chinese and American.”   
“In [China’s] new found nationalism, that is an absurd assertion. There is no distinction between culture and politics. To be Chinese is to be Chinese through and through.”
This puts me in an odd place. I consider myself to be both Chinese and American. I come from the Mainland. I grew up in the Gobi and spent my childhood learning communist songs and their propaganda in an elite Beijing school. Where Mr. Wu “did not know even a single line” of those annoying Communist Party Songs, I have many of them stuck in my head even if I wish to absolve their reminisce. I have come to face the unfortunate fact that no matter how hard I try to be an American, a large part of my life was spent memorizing Chinese poems and singing songs about red stars and the humble grass that overcame evil western invaders. So the news that I cannot be both Chinese and American shocked me.

Well, I lied. It did not shock me. I had tried once to obtain a dual citizenship, but was flat-out rejected. I had held on to my Chinese passport for as long as I could. I even served in the U.S. Army as a Chinese citizen. There was a time when I lost my military ID and it was an interesting sequence of events trying to get onto Ft. Lewis with my big red passport. Picture if you will, bomb-sniffing dogs and puzzled looks on the faces of guards watching me in uniform trying to explain that I had been allowed to join the military as a medic because I had been a permanent resident in the U.S. for years.

I deployed to the Iraq War with U.S. Infantry as a Chinese, returned as a Chinese (with all of my limbs and annoying memories of Communist Party Songs intact); and while I reserved my identity as long as I could, when I finally realized my remoteness with the country that no longer wish to have me, I became an American. I took the oath, yet again, to defend the U.S. Constitution; and sadly I tossed my red passport along with many things from China now forgotten in to some lock-box. I often ask myself, what is it that I am to defend for China? To which I have a vague answer that is absent of China’s politics. I love China’s culture, one I grew so accustomed to that to this day I chase an empty dream of reclaiming my Chineseness.

So I still consider myself Chinese. There are many instances when my wife and her friends discuss their nostalgic commonalities of their American youth—songs they learned in grade school or TV shows they had watched in the early 80s; I would look on with envy and melancholy and weep in silence with a smile on my face pretending to know exactly what it’s like to have been there as an American.

There is no one in my life now, less my parents on occasion, to muse my Chineseness. Mr. Wu perhaps could not understand why I would want to even entertain such a thing; what Mr. Wu failed to understand is that besides the many American-born Chinese, who would speak with a Texas drawl or a Southern twang, I, with my somewhat perfected American accent, would get lost in the idea that I’m not perfectly normal. I do not have a consistent perspective and I am often the one others would label as the “unusual” one. Although I would like to have had a normal life, to have grown up in some town in Kentucky and faced my share of civil prejudice; I did not enjoy such luxuries. My adolescence was a confused paradox and whatever prejudices I faced in high school was lost in translation. I tried hard to remedy that problem, but when my English was good enough and I sounded like the people around me, I still do not have the memories of America; for those years I wondered China’s lands and rattled on its trains.         
          
And while Mr. Wu has no clue why Chinese would want to fly through air in their movies, I have this deep un-remedied yearning to find those old books I have and to read those old novels again about kung-fu masters and their amazing attainment of “chi” that allowed them to fly like superman and fight evil with their fists of many shapes.

Nonetheless, Mr. Wu pointed out that today’s Chinese are finding out as much as they can about Americans and our way of life including this thing we call the “rule of law.” He urged us “not be surprised” when the new generations of Chinese “contribute as equals” to the ever global legal norms. Yet I find it troubling that Mr. Wu does not suggest there are things deeply about being Chinese that will be capable of contributing to a sense of norm in the “rule of law” tradition.

But this is not a problem for Americans. This is a problem for the Chinese themselves; or to those who would believe there is such a thing as being both Chinese and American. We will have to articulate what it means for there to be a rule of law nation with so much history and so much of it forgotten.


,   法.
,   國.

Monday, October 15, 2012

A Roadmap to the Future?-- by Lauren Kong

On October 12th, the Obama administration approved the Roadmap for Utility-Scale Solar Energy Development on Public Lands. Ken Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, finalized the program to help develop solar energy on public lands in six western states.

The Programatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for solar energy development provides an outline for utility scale solar energy in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah; the outline help establishes solar energy zones with access to existing or planned transmission as incentives for development. The PEIS development also establishes precedent for additional zones and solar projects. In addition, the authorization of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site in Wyoming on October 9th helped the Department of Interior reached Obama’s goal of authorizing 10,000 megawatts of renewable power on private lands.

Since 2009, the Department of Interior has authorized 33 renewable energy projects: 19 utility scale solar facilities, 7 wind farms, and 8 geothermal plants. Once finished, these projects will provide enough electricity for more than 3.5 million homes and support 13,000 construction and operations jobs.

This historic initiative provides a road map for landscape-level planning that will lead to faster, smarter utility-scale solar development on public lands and reflects President Obama’s commitment to grow American made energy and create jobs.

Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar

According to Salazar, “Energy from sources like wind and solar have doubled since the President took office, and with today’s milestone, we are laying a sustainable foundation to keep expanding our nation’s domestic energy resources.”

The Solar PEIS establishes an initial set of 17 Solar Energy Zones, serving as priority areas for commercial-scale solar development, with additional zones for future regional planning. If fully developed, projects in the designated areas could produce as much as 23,700 megawatts of solar energy, enough to power approximately 7 million homes. The program also includes framework for regional mitigation plans and to protect key natural and cultural resources, the program excludes almost 79 million acres that would be inappropriate for development based on current information.

A comprehensive analysis, done in partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) in July, identified locations on Bureau of Land Management lands most suitable for solar energy development. "The Solar PEIS sets forth an enduring, flexible blueprint for developing utility-scale solar projects in the right way, and in the right places, on our public lands,” said David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Interior. 

Never before has the Interior Department worked so closely and collaboratively with the industry, conservationists and sportsmen alike to develop a sound, long-term plan for generating domestic energy from our nation’s sun-drenched public lands.

The Solar PEIS lines up with the President’s direction to continue to expand domestic energy production. Since Obama took office, domestic oil and gas production have increased each year; domestic oil is celebrating an eight-year high, natural gas production is also at an all-time high, and foreign oil imports now account for less than 50% of the oil consumed in America. The lowest since 1995. With election looming, creating jobs is a must topic for any contender and using renewable energy to create those jobs is a plus in my book. Weaning ourselves from foreign energy dependency is a cherry on the cake if nothing but for the lowering of transportation cost. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hide yo' wife, hide yo' kids; Monsanto is trolling the bridges near and far!


The U.S. Supreme Court announced last Friday that it would hear an appeal brought by an Indiana farmer, Vernon Bowman, against Monsanto’s claim that he had infringed Monsanto’s patent rights by reusing its herbicide-tolerant seeds. This case, likely to be heard next January or February and eventual outcome to be expected sometimes next June, will have an enormous impact on Genetically Modified Organisms (“GMO”) patent laws and how big agri-business is done.

On center stage of the Bowman v. Monsanto case is Monsanto’s Pioneer Hi–Bred® brand seed containing the Roundup Ready® technology. The seeds were sold to Bowman, a farmer in Knox County, Indiana, sometime in 2002. Bowman bought the seeds from a Monsanto seed producer legally each year and under the Monsanto sales contract, Bowman is not allowed to save any seeds from the crops grown from these Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds.

But Bowman did not save the seeds from the purchased lot of seeds; he complied with the seed purchase agreement, with its savings restrictions as Monsanto authored it with their army of lawyers. What Bowman did was much more clever and laborious; here is where the case warrants a Supreme Court hearing.

For many years, Bowman would grow his first crop of the season by the Monsanto seeds he had bought. After the first harvest, he would buy commodity seeds from local grain elevators and plant a second crop. Because Monsanto had allowed farmers to sell their Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds to these local grain elevators and the local grain elevators would mix the Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds with commodity crop seeds, Bowman’s purchase for a second crop would include both Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds and commodity seeds. Bowman realized that if he sprayed the plants with Roundup, he then would be able to identify the herbicide resistant plants when they didn't die. Bowman then saved those seeds for planting and he is able to get around the Monsanto patent claims since he had not paid Monsanto or signed its licensing agreement for the purchase of the second commodity crop seeds.    

Technically, Monsanto could not claim Bowman had violated the terms of use of their Pioneer Hi-Bred seeds so Monsanto sued Bowman for violating its patent rights—rights which Monsanto claims go beyond the term of any particular agreement it may or may not have with any farmer. As Monsanto saw it, its patent rights apply to all uses of its products, in perpetuity. Both the federal district court and the federal appellate court agreed with Monsanto and ordered Bowman to pay over $80,000 in damages. Monsanto Co. v. Bowman, 657 F.3d 1341, 1343-46 (Fed. Cir. 2011) cert. granted, 11-796, 2012 WL 4748082 (U.S. Oct. 5, 2012).

However, this ruling seems inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision upholding the doctrine of patent exhaustion, which “limits the patent rights that survive the initial authorized sale of a patented item.” Quanta Computer, Inc. v. LG Electronics, Inc., 553 U.S. 617, (2008). But that’s exactly what Monsanto wants to claim, that its patent rights survive the initial authorized sale. So, in Bowman’s case, even if he had legally bought seeds that were saved from a commodity seed market which Monsanto itself do not have any problems with, Bowman still can’t actually plant them because the seeds are patented!

If Monsanto receives the exemption from the doctrine of patent exhaustion, it would become the ultimate patent troll.

“Hide yo' wife, hide yo' kids; Monsanto is trolling the bridges near and far!”

It’s hard to imagine a world where Monsanto would have such awesome power. It would be able to extract fees from anyone anywhere who grows a plant with the company’s genetic material. Of course if Monsanto gets its way, the logic of their patent rights could extend to drug companies and other sectors of the economy. Imagine that you had received a new genetic treatment for some rare disease, but later find out you will have to pay the drug company a license fee because you had passed the genetic material to your children; then your children’s children. Where does that end?

Getting back to reality for the moment, I hope the Supreme Court puts some kind of limit on Monsanto’s power. But there is a deeper issue not addressed. Whether Bowman wins or Monsanto prevails and marches us down the slaughterhouse, we still have not answer the question if GMOs are so desirable that we would continue its monotheistic presence in our food industry. Clearly the villain in our case is Monsanto and we would love to herald Bowman a savior and champion for the cause, but isn't it ultimately up to the farmers to choose how they should farm their land and whether they ought to depend on just one single crop, genetically modified, rather than growing bio-diverse crops and sustain themselves from single crop failure or genetic contamination  What if instead of trying to figure out how to game the Monsanto GMO system, Bowman had decided otherwise to spend his money and energy on becoming a different sort of farmer? But those questions are not for the courts to answer, the media would not have news to make, and lawyers would not be rich. Only if such a world is one we acknowledge.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Doing Something With Human Rights


We all would like to do what we love to do for a living. There are two steps to achieving that: finding out exactly what it is that you love to do; and step two, convince someone else that what you love to do is good enough that they will give you a wage for living.

Recently a friend asked this question: where is the money in sustainability in the legal profession? It’s a very fair question.  As a law student, I face the inevitable question of where I am to find income to sustain my own livelihood. I can take a stand in the business world, but with lack of capital and experience I am forced to take refuge in law to serve clients who would take sustainability seriously. It’s the best alternative as yet I can see, so it’s a choice I must take. The down side is there are professional boundaries a lawyer cannot cross in providing advice; ultimately, sustainability is in the eyes of the beholder. There aren’t enough beholders in the business market yet to make sustainability profitable. So the inevitable question “where is the money in sustainability in the legal profession” constantly taunts me.

This week, a Boston law firm, Foley Hoag, announced the launch of a Conflict Minerals Consortium, “a cross-industry group of service providers working to assist companies in meeting the requirements of the Securities and Exchange Commission's new conflict minerals rule.”

I have been looking at Foley Hoag’s activities for a while now. They seem to be very focused on corporate social responsibility and environmental concerns. It claims to be the only law firm member to the Conflict Minerals Consortium and “will be working to advise clients on the legal aspects of compliance with the new rule, including the relevant securities law considerations.”  

(I feature two of their blogs here on my page: CSR and the Law, and Law and the Environment. See left column.)

I would love to work with this project, but I had never really seriously considered the option of working at Foley Hoag. They are doing good things in their region; and with their model, other firms in my region will catch on the buzz. I am here; my family is here. I am to be in this place to do what I can for these lands.

So when I should be confronted with the issue: how are you to find profit in sustainability in the legal profession. The question begs the very answer it seeks--I must find those beholders and form consortium of my own  to generate the conversation. As to proven path in the industry, I am happy to response: look at what Foley Hoag is doing with their clients.  
 





____________________________

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Whoops...got lost in my head again --By Lauren Campbell


I’ve been volunteering for the Office of Sustainability (OFS) at IUPUI for the past few weeks. I wanted to put myself out into the world of sustainability and thought that the OFS would greet a volunteer with open arms; I was right. Volunteering has put me in touch with other likeminded people who are working hard to see IUPUI and the Indianapolis community succeed in sustainable living. It is here that I get to talk to people, share ideas, and listen to their concerns surrounding environmentalism and sustainability. This is a place where I and others get to be curious about the environment and innovative ideas.

During one of the meetings I attended, discussion of new buildings being constructed on campus started. There were many questions about certain environmental  impacts, as well as what green measures were being taken surrounding the construction, operation, and maintenance of the new buildings. One woman asked a question regarding the construction design and human health.

“When a new building is designed for campus, does anyone ever think about where certain stairways, elevators, office rooms, etc., should be constructed so to maximize positive impact on human health? You know, so that humans are the farthest part away from the outdoor smoking area? Or, putting a stairway here will maximize human traffic so that people will use it and therefore burn calories they wouldn’t if riding an elevator? Things like this. Does anyone think about that?”


I was surprised by the question. I have never really thought of designing a building to suit the exercise/health benefits of people.

Someone also brought up LEED certification; discussing the advantages of having LEED experts on the job over average contractors and construction managers.

I've been busy studying for my LEED GA exam. I have been interested in LEED for a while and thought that becoming certified would provide an excellent learning opportunity as well as a deeper understanding of the LEED process. LEED credit paths do consider Indoor Environmental Quality with respect to chemicals, thermal comfort, and air quality and how that affects human health, happiness, and productivity. They would require the smoking area to be built at least 25ft from a door, with absolutely no ventilation uptake in the surrounding area. But LEED don’t really take into account designing a building to maximize human exercise; i.e. sustainable health design.

I think with the U.S’s current obesity epidemic, designing a building, home, or commercial property with the idea of burning the most calories would be interesting and beneficial. There would, of course, have to be alternative options for those who are not healthy enough to walk up stairs, but the amount of energy that could be saved by not installing as many elevators, escalators, and moving walkways could be substantial and help people live healthier lives. We are headed down a path of no return and with it comes rising health care costs, pharmaceutical dependency, and larger SES gaps. 

This woman got the gears running in my head.... I began zoning out and imagining a future world and what we had and will continue to evolve into...

Evolutionarily speaking, humans have become a dominant species because of our complex neurological development; our ability to solve complex problems. Throughout history we have been able to make catching food and finding shelter easier, so that we had more time to devote to social development and creating stuff, i.e. goods, art, music. Making it easier to satisfy basic needs and spending less energy to survive are why we had and still have the energy to create society and to begin collecting material things. It has been our determined focus since the dawning of man to make life easier.

However, the moment that woman posed that question, I realized we have recently reached a tipping point. We have made life too easy and now we've made it to our detrimental juncture. We lack exercise and have turned mushy. We create machines that pollute our land, air, and water and that eat our ozone layer. We cut down trees and endanger animals all for the sake of an easy life and material objects.

And more, we have become so accustomed to this ease, that when someone poses a question or suggests that we begin looking at other alternatives they are answered with a long-winded… I’ll try to find out…bureaucratic…no.