Sunday, July 15, 2007

Green Building in Ottawa, etc.

Well, I went to a meeting yesterday at which Ottawa City staff and consultants presented experience of the City's green building program. The presentation was mostly about pursuing LEED Silver certification in a number of new municipal buildings.

The presentation and discussion depressed me. I would love to find a way to be involved practically in a response to our desperate ecological situation, but most Green projects make me crazy. As is common with Green projects, everyone in the room seemed smart and competent, but the meeting was about pushing deck chairs to the high side of the Titanic to prevent it from capsizing. This reaction is unfair, of course. People do their best in the situation they find themselves in.

Are community Green projects to achieve concrete practical results completely useless? Nope. If a Green project saves money, or prolongs lives, or improves the chances for survival of a bit of biological diversity, it is useful, in a limited sense. Undoubtedly, the City of Ottawa Green Building program is useful in this limited sense. Unfortunately, the achievements of such projects will be swept away or will seem unimportant in the circumstances of our near future. Ecological catastrophe and an involuntary compression of humanity cannot be avoided or significantly mitigated by any accumulation of "practical" projects -- projects that can be conducted without assuming that growth must end.

Business-as-usual and overpopulation will consume most of the world, then end. Growth will end. Its end can be significantly mitigated only by projects that anticipate that end -- projects, for example, to bring a voluntary end to local growth.

Business-as-usual needs to be overturned before nature blows it away. Incremental changes acceptable to the enthusiasts of business-as-usual will never achieve the overturning. Given this reality, the imperative of really useful projects is not to get things done, but to get things understood. Projects to create an understanding of the inevitable consequences of the end of growth provide the only faint hope for mitigation. We need "impractical" Green projects, quixotic Green projects, projects whose "practical" goals, if any, are secondary to communicating a tragic sense of the coming reduction of our place in the world.

David Delaney, Ottawa, July 13, 2007