Building With the Future in Mind Since 1955

Rick Dubrow’s “On The Level” Column in the Cascadia Weekly; Published 5-16-07

The Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy states that “in our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations”.

What a brilliant environmental ethic!  If we consider 25 years per generation, the Iroquois suggest we look 175 years down the road for the impact of what we do today.

I reflect upon this ideal so often when I consider housing choices with my clients.

Consider a homeowner who needs to re-roof their home.  Typically he or she will consider an asphalt-based shingle that lasts 30, 40, or 50 years.  Some offer a lifetime warranty and this lifetime shingle might cost twice as much as its 30 year cousin.

Our probably-not-an-Iroqouis homeowner might walk down the following seemingly rational path:

  1. I’ll probably live in this home for another 5 or 10 years.
  2. Even the 30 year shingle will take me through my stay here.
  3. I’ll spend less money if I select the 30 year shingle.
  4. Spending less money is a good thing.
  5. I’ll go with the 30 year shingle.

Is this rational thinking?

Ah!  There’s the rub.  Doesn’t your answer depend upon whether your context is the Great Law of the Iroquois or the Mainstream Law of Minimal Spending?

If the 30 year shingle is installed, yet another layer of roofing will be needed in about a generation – probably another petroleum product.  More product will need to be manufactured and the older layer will probably end up in the landfill (unless the roofer knows that T&T Recovery is now accepting asphalt roofing debris; the material is turned into road bed material in Snohomish County; call them at 671-0722).

Let’s download the Great Law into this same homeowner’s mind and walk down an alternate path:

  1. I’ll probably live in this home for another 5 or 10 years
  2. Although the 30 year shingle will take me through my stay here, the decisions I make during my watch will affect this home, future homeowners, my community and the natural world for many generations.
  3. I will take responsibility for my actions and use a lifetime shingle.

So the rational decision according to the Great Law of the Iroquois would be the lifetime shingle while the rational decision according to the Mainstream Law of Minimal Spending would be the 30 year shingle.

How do we resolve this cognitive dissonance?  Which rationality should prevail?

When I’m digging myself into a proverbial hole I know that the first step towards resolving my problem is to stop digging, right? So let’s talk about our planetary hole.

I believe that the health of our natural world is unraveling at its seams because our mainstream economic model is, as author David Korten so aptly describes, a suicide economy. We continue to dig our hole deeper – aggressively injuring our environment — by continuing to build our ‘dream’ homes (and cars and planes and…………….).

Such an economy is irrational; we’ve got to stop digging.  Simply put, we cannot grow on like this.

Yes, we can continue digging our hole deeper by rationalizing the need to spend as little as possible.  Or we can take these rational-lies and replace them with the Great Law.

Please stop digging.  Better yet, fill the hole with a tree and follow Nelson Henderson’s suggestion that “…..the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

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