This builder doesn’t build house boats. No, the typical home we work on simply doesn’t float. Not a big deal, unless predictions come to pass that waters may rise.
Data is already in hand confirming the truth of these predictions. Daily we learn more and more about the perfect storm, brought to you by the science of climate change. Water is expected to rise by such-and-such an amount by so-and-so a date, and, for those of us with eyes open, we’re observing this sea change already.
Yes, we’ll argue ‘til we’re blue in the face trying to reach consensus about the amount of ‘such-and-such’ and the date of ‘so-and-so’. These are critically important pieces of information, but this green builder doesn’t have expertise in defining ‘such-and-such’ and ‘so-and-so’. I’ll leave this to the scientists.
So what can we do right here, right now, to design and build our way towards preparing for this perfect storm? Since these predictions are coming true, are you actively working on your ark? (And surely you know I’m speaking of an ark in a figurative, not a literal, manner! Instead I’m referring to a strategy or pathway that will help you adapt to this rising tide of environmental degradation.)
Well, then, let’s imagine the appropriate ark. I say ‘appropriate’ because I seek an ark that addresses many concerns, synergistically: climate change; over-consumption; over-population; dwindling resources. Much like the expression ‘perfect storm’, which describes the powerful synergy of many a negative weather system, I want an ark which achieves the uplifting synergy of many a positive solution!
So let’s imagine an ark – a pathway – you and I might create that is both positive and hopeful; a path that works in the short term and the long term; that can be built in stages, one section at a time; that works on numerous challenges created by our bloated footprints.
Clearly, the pieces of such an ark should decrease one’s ecological footprint, piece by piece, row by row. Housing needs to be energy efficient, relying more and more upon less and less petroleum. It needs to be small. It needs to be close to an urban center. It needs to support cycling, walking and mass transit.
Interesting: almost the same can be said about our food. Our food needs to be energy efficient, relying more and more upon less and less petroleum. It needs to be as vegetable-based as possible. It needs to be sourced nearby.
The same can be said about transportation and other aspects of our lives that make up our personal and combined footprint: every little bit erases some of our footprint; gives us more time; stretches our resources.
Every step towards a smaller footprint builds the appro0priate ark we may need to weather the perfect storm if, and when, things really go to hell: a lifeboat that provides the basics of shelter and food.
All of these steps forward address efficiency… more miles driven per charge; less electricity used per person; a higher percentage of renewables used. But what about sufficiency? What good does being more efficient do if we then swell our numbers by the same percentage? If our new vehicle fleet is 30% more efficient than before, but our population grows 30% over the next 20 years (which is Bellingham’s actual population growth rate of late), aren’t we back to where we started? When will we learn as a culture that we need to take our foot off the accelerator as a critical step towards stopping? How else are we going to avoid the looming cliff edge? With yet another technological fix?
I wish it were that easy. Enter Jevons paradox.
In economics, the Jevons paradox… occurs when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the rate of consumption of that resource rises because of increasing demand. The Jevons paradox is perhaps the most widely known paradox in ecological economics. However, governments and environmentalists generally assume that efficiency gains will lower resource consumption and are an effective policy for sustainability, ignoring the possibility of the paradox arising.
In 1865, the English economist William Stanley Jevons observed that technological improvements that increased the efficiency of coal-use led to the increased consumption of coal in a wide range of industries. He argued that, contrary to common intuition, technological progress could not be relied upon to reduce fuel consumption.
We’ve got to embrace the need to address sufficiency and efficiency. Simply put, until we stop growing in numbers, efficiency gains will be gobbled up and surpassed. Yes, we just might buy some time with improved efficiencies, but the cliff edge continues to approach… a bit more slowly, perhaps. And there’s hardly a voice audible in the mainstream press saying ‘enough is enough’. Our ‘grow or die’ paradigm presses onward, ignoring Jevon; ignoring common sense.
“The good news,” says Sally Erickson, “is that, probably, a very different kind of life will be a life which has meaning and purpose and is grounded in the reality of soil and water and other living, breathing, feeling creatures. In some ways it will be a harder life that you’ll have to choose. But it will be better.
“The waters are rising”, she says. “We’re going to have to let go of the shore. It’s time to build an ark. It’s time. Don’t wait. Build it now.”
Be working on yours.