The Shadow Knows
I was talking to someone from a top-tier consulting firm last week when I realized why “green” had remained a dim economic force and mainly a term for selling a premium product. It’s because the notion that some of us care about the environment and others don’t comes across as divisive, elitist and irreconcilable.
Or, to use fewer $10 words, the idea that you set yourself apart by being green is worthless in a changing climate.
Building to meet stricter ecological thresholds, like the Seattle architecture firm Mithun does, entails huge costs comparable to those of any startup technology. (Think computing in the Cray phase.) And shopping to meet those thresholds, as more and more high-margin consumers do, entails a premium price.So the Army builds to high LEED standards and movie sets dole out compostable throwaway forks.
But, as this consultant told me, his clients who are mayors or city councils don’t have the pocket change to take a flyer on these high-cost strategies. What they and their constituents want, he said, are safe ways their kids can walk to school, or parks to visit after work, or a quick commute to the office. These are the greenest amenities of all, because they make everybody a little less dependent on carbon and a little more prepared to bargain and ration together when the climate becomes more severe.
Problem is, we live in this delusion that sets up “environmentalist” as a personality type, like “extrovert” or “buttinsky.” And this is pap. Everyone likes to be healthy. Everyone wants to be healthier. So the quality of air, the availability of life forms to nourish soil and water, and the regularity of seasons slip past the consumer-preference gate.
They are shadow priorities for most people, though, and will remain that way until clients like those of my consultant contact stiffen their spines and tax high incomes to provide good urban quality of life. Once there are decent parks, walkable streets and cluster-free buses in your city, you will use them again and again. And you will be greener.
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