So here we are in the 21st century. The Internet has widened our knowledge and shrunk our world. We have politicians and scientists telling us the grave truth of global warming. And we have activist organizations trying to turn that into positive action. We have Al Gore. It's easy to get too much information.
By reading books written by some of the pioneers of ecology and modern environmentalism, we can begin to get the background that will help us all make better decisions. None of this is new information. It's just become more available.
The whole "green" building, sustainable development movement has grown into an almost unwieldy set of resources. Many of the "experts" disagree. There are hundreds of new products and methods out there. There are classes, organizations, books and magazines that can educate and inform. There are Internet sites, stores and consultants that can help. But you have to go slow and study everything.
There are some basics. First, use your head and think things through. What do I mean? Here's an example: I remember a GreenBuilt Conference I attended a couple of years ago where a speaker asked the audience (there were about 600 of us) how many of us had bamboo floors. Along with a sizable number of people, I held up my hand. He said that we probably thought we had done a great thing using an easily renewable resource for our floors instead of hardwood. But, he added, "How much gas and oil do you think it took to bring that bamboo from China to Seattle and process it?" We all got very quiet. Locally harvested, sustainably-managed wood products might have been a better choice. I had just not thought that far.
Another rule that makes sense of course is to buy locally. Travel costs money, time, and energy, plus contributes to global warming. When faced with choices, I take the one that's simple. Not necessarily the easiest, but the most simple. The door doesn't close right? Don't buy a new door, fix the old one. That's simple. It all goes back to my parents era of "waste not, want not" thinking.
We all have to balance what we can afford, what we want, and what we think is good for the planet. With luck and education those choices can all be the same thing. Maybe you can't afford to go solar right now but you can pre-wire your house to be ready for it later and become better informed about the products available. Maybe you can't afford a new hybrid car but perhaps you can afford to have your old car retrofitted for alternative fuels.
Learn to be happy with what you have and where you are. Fight back against consumerism and the need to buy the latest toys. I just finished reading Sarah Susanka's new book The Not So Big Life. She is the award winning author of many books, the most popular, The Not So Big House Book. I've heard her speak a couple of times and she stresses that what she's discovered with her research is that people are actually happier with a smaller house and a smaller life. She quotes philosophers who have been preaching this same idea for literally centuries.
I'm happy to discuss specific building ideas, community planning issues, green building materials and all of that. But first and foremost I want to ask you to research the environmental movement. This wasn't born yesterday, folks. It's been around a long time. If you want to make a commitment to be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem do some background reading and get up to speed.