Are Illegal Drugs Green?

Are Illegal Drugs Green? The answer is no. Reason being anything that isn’t regulated is driven purely by monetary benefit without any rules or oversight. If you think big corporations are bad for polluting rivers, think what damage a large meth lab can do. Not only do they have a lot of chemicals to dispose of but they need to do it secretly – they aren’t going to pack the contaminants into barrells and send them off to an approved waste processing plant. They are going to dump it into a secluded river. “Secluded” being another word for no humans, meaning nature.

This occurred to me when I read the cool info on this Addiction Support site. They offer fantastic info on how drugs as they are made now are not sustainable.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it's almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

Clear cutting forests in South America for Cocaine production. If stopping legal companies from destroying the rain forest is hard, it’s almost impossible to stop illegal companies.

As a green builder in Brooklyn we work near the Gowanus Canal, a great example of what happens when waste is not regulated. Now we are paying for that big time. The millions they saved by using the canal as a dumping ground is many millions more that we have to pay to fix it. Thank’s guys! Next time just charge me a couple cents more for the product and do the right thing.

Gowanus-1851

The mouth of the Gowanus Canal 1851.

A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

A much more strangled and destroyed Gowanus Canal in the 19th Century.

From an environmental point of view it is a lot healthier for our society to legalize drugs. Tax the hell out of them, regulate them up the wazoo and strictly control where, when and who can consume them. And most importantly, control how and where they are made. Are they clear cutting mountains and drenching them in illegal pesticides to grow that marijuana or are they growing it in low footprint warehouses using solar electricity and city waste-water?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm...who's the biggest drug addict?

Global Drug Routes. Hmmm…who’s the biggest drug addict?

Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production. The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

Parts of the US have been ravaged by illegal drug production, like the clear cutting for Marijuana growing in California above . The local authorities admit they have absolutely no control over the gangs doing it. There is just too much area to cover, too much money and too much demand.

People are not stupid. Well, that’s not true. Many are. But it is my experience from having three kids that working with them is much better than against.

Why is alcohol legal and other dangerous drugs aren’t? Makes no sense to me. Why is is totally legal for my six year old to light a fire in our fireplace and yet I can’t legally buy some pot to light up on my back porch? Trust me, my son lighting a fire is a million times more dangerous to society than my addled brain on pot could ever be.

And I don’t even like pot. I want this stuff legalized – and meth and LSD and crack – because I am a New York green builder and I understand that burning down tropical forests in Burma to grow opium is going to directly affect my life in the big apple.

I want to see sustainably grown opium in my corner store. I want it to be really expensive and I want the profits to go towards Addiction Counselling and a new swing set for my local park. Now that is something I could get high on.

InsideClimate News – Brooklyn

Eco Brooklyn would like to recognize the efforts and accomplishments of a fellow green advocate located in Brooklyn.

InsideClimate News is a rising nonprofit news website that focuses chiefly on environmental issues. Their objectives include providing scientific and objective investigations and news stories to inform the public and our officials living in these times of serious energy change. Additionally, InsideClimate News attempts to preserve the tradition and utility of environmental journalism.

InsideClimate News covers a wide scope of environmental information. Their hot topics include Keystone XL, natural gas drilling, climate change, nuclear energy, and environmental economics. It is a great site to keep people informed on green topics – from individuals to companies.

Most notably, InsideClimate News won the Pulitzer Prize in National Reporting for its investigative journalism on a 2010 oil spill in Marshall, Michigan. Their ebook, “The Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You’ve Never Heard Of” is the work of journalists Elizabeth McGowan, Lisa Song, and David Hasemyer. The book’s message details how the spill in Michigan was exacerbated by misinformation, substandard preparation, and a delayed response.

For example, the pipeline that leaked into a local stream, which entered the Kalamazoo River and threatened Lake Michigan, was carrying diluted bitumen. Diluted bitumen, or “dilbit” is a very heavy type of crude oil which is diluted with a cocktail of chemicals. More importantly, no one knew that the pipeline was carrying dilbit and the company, Enbridge Inc., did not inform first responders what they were dealing with until days after the spill was reported.

When all was said and done (though cleanup is still going on at some capacity) at least one million gallons of oil over 36 miles of between the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo. These bodies of water were closed for over two years and about 150 families were permanently relocated. The $765 million+ that Enbridge spent on the spill makes it the most expensive in US history. The reason why the spill went virtually unnoticed by the popular media was because the BP Deepwater Horizon spill occurred around the same time.

Enbridge is a Canadian oil and gas company. The dilbit that flowed through the pipelines comes from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada. It is very similar to the type of oil that would be transported by the Keystone XL pipeline.

For more information check out ICN’s website at www.InsideClimateNews.org

 

Christopher Jeffrey

The Real Cost of Cheap Stuff

Bangladesh Building Collapse Kills at Least 70

Texas Fertilizer Explosion Kills at Least 16

Boston Bombing Kills 3

All three of these events happened this week. Most people see the third as very different from the first two. I don’t. To me they are all part of the massive hidden cost of cheap stuff produced by the poor for the over-consumption of wealthy countries.

Next time you buy those $20 jeans or eat the 10 cent banana stop and ask yourself how the hell they can sell them so cheap. I’ll give you a hint: it is not because the business owners are taking less in profits. The answer is they rape whoever they can to get the price as low as possible. This could be people, animals, plants, water, earth, whatever will not fight back in the short term.

And thus we get badly built buildings, slave labor, substandard production, and massive ecological destruction. This is why the overcrowded Bangladesh building collapsed, the understaffed fertilizer plant exploded and the angry, disenfranchised youth lashed out in Boston. It doesn’t take a genius to see the connection. Just don’t look for the answers in the media – big business has too much invested in the current setup to expose it’s ugly side.

This is why when people ask me to compare the cost of green building to normal building I don’t say anything incredibly stupid like, ” Green building is 10% more expensive”.

Normal building is five planets more expensive than green building, which is the amount of planets needed if everyone built like America.

So avoid all that slave labor clothing. ‘You’ got a deal; ‘they’ got dead/poisoned/in-fertile/ enslaved/ abused…fill in the blank.

Its our appetites that are killing us, killing our fellow humans, killing our Earth planet. Our desires and greed.

Get less and pay more up front for it should be our credo. Maybe then will we get closer to paying the true cost of things.

Green Building is not a product

A reporter just interviewed me on green building. I thought I’d share it here since the reporter has a pretty common viewpoint, one I believe is not correct.

What aspects home remodeling/room design are the most popular “green” solutions?
Most clients know they want to renovate green but usually don’t know exactly what the details of that look like. In many ways they come to Eco Brooklyn for education rather than your typical contractor/client relationship. Normally people are not as involved in the materials and process as a client doing a green renovation is.
The “green solution” is not a product but a method of building that uses less energy and is less toxic. This can apply to anything from flooring to landscaping. In terms of imaginary, if your typical non-green renovation had the metaphor of boots on a concrete sidewalk, then an ecological renovation is about walking barefoot at the beach.
This imagery highlights the importance of nature and walking lightly.

What are the top 3-5 products that Eco-Brooklyn suggests to homeowners? Ex. tankless water heaters, solar panels, etc.
We don’t have any. The focus for us is not product oriented. It isn’t even about consuming anything. For that reason we encourage the client to accept as much salvaged materials as possible. The greenest product is the product that doesn’t get made. Even greener is a “product” that is taken from the garbage, thus lightening the planet’s garbage load.
There are places we do buy new, and these are the areas that require maximum energy efficiency – windows, doors, appliances, water heaters etc. Again we don’t care what brand as long as it is the most efficient on the market at the time. That changes constantly.

Many eco-friendly options today are much pricier than its “normal” comparables. What do you say to a homeowner who is looking to justify the price?
That is only true if you live in complete isolation unconnected from anything else in the world. If you look at the big picture building green is much cheaper. The analogy I use is green building is paid for in cash. Normal construction is put on a credit card. Saying normal construction is cheaper than green is like saying things you buy on a credit card are free. Normal construction may be cheaper at the point of purchase, but who is really paying for your consumption? Is it that person dying of cancer? The child labor? The polluted river? The dying wildlife? Unless you have your head in the sand you don’t have to look very far to see how expensive building is. Green building looks a hell of a lot cheaper in comparison.

The Overview Effect

Here is a short video discussing something called the “Overview Effect”, which is what happens when astronauts first see the planet earth from outer space – a deep sense of awe and connection with the planet. The Overview Effect is not only for astronauts, though. It is for anyone who travels beyond their immediate surroundings and realizes we are all connected with a very precious, beautiful and unique planet.

Whether you do this through actual travel, philosophy, science, religion or drugs, the Overview Effect is crucial to our survival as a race and planet. As a New York green builder and contractor this sense of planetary awe drives us both in our global philosophy and daily activity. It is really what people mean when they say think globally, act locally – the fact that the two are completely connected and the health of one depends on the health of the other.

Check it out:

The Overview Effect

Building for Children

Eco Brooklyn recently completed a number of jobs in a building where there were children living. We renovated  three children’s bedrooms, two bathrooms where they bathe, and two play areas. Doing this increased our focus on using non-toxic materials and building in a manner that created no dust.

A toxin free green building process should be done in all homes, but because children’s bodies  are so much more absorptive of chemicals than adults, the harmful effect on children can be much greater if precautions are not taken.

Eco Brooklyn has a zero toxin policy in our home renovations. But that is a lot harder to accomplish than people think and we don’t always meet our goals.

The reason is that even the most harmless building material has toxins. Take sheet rock compound for example,  used to plaster the seams of sheet rock. With the exception of a very few buildings (adobe, for example), sheet rock compound is in every single building in america.

Sheet rock compound contains Formaldehyde, a known cancer causing chemical. To the trained nose, Formaldehyde is easily detected in a newly built home. True, it off-gasses very quickly and although I don’t have numbers to back it up, I feel that the Formaldehyde levels in dry compound are very small.

But what if you are building in an apartment where children are currently living, like we recently did. The apartment had a six week old baby and we were posed with the challenge of repairing some sheet rock. The family was not able to move during the renovation. This is not an ideal situation.

Our solution was to seal off the area with taped plastic walls and to make sure we had a window in the plastic enclosure.

We then created a negative vacuum in the work area by blowing a fan out the window. That way air was constantly being sucked into the enclosure and out the window. Due to this constant pressure minimal dust or toxins entered the rest of the apartment.

Likewise the workers took great pains to clean themselves before leaving the enclosure. We left the enclosure up for two days while the bulk of the Formaldehyde off-gassed out the window.

We then painted with zero voc paint, which again for a green builder like us is pushing the boundary of what we consider safe. Even though the paint may be zero voc, if it is a mainstream company (Benjamin Moore, for example) then the paint contains hundreds of chemicals, most of which have only been around for a couple generations.

Like the millions of chemicals humans have created over the past several decades, we don’t really know the long term effects of there high tech paints. You just have to smell a zero voc mainstream paint to know it isn’t harmless. It smells like toxins.

It would be great for our health if we all lived in adobe buildings, surrounded by natural materials like wood, earth and stones. I am convinced cancer rates would plummet  But most houses are not adobe. As New York green contractors our strategy is to educate ourselves as much as possible in non-toxic hypoallergenic building techniques and apply those strategies to existing conditions, which often are not ideal.

When possible we eliminate the toxins. We never use wood with Formaldehyde (often found in cabinets, flooring, counters…). All our floor finishes are natural oil based. We build a lot of clay walls. We have built a lot with non-Formaldehyde sheet rock compound, although it is more expensive and not as easy to work with.

When it is not possible we do our best to understand the risks and to reduce exposure as much as possible. Simple plastic (yuk!) walls and negative pressure techniques do wonders to reduce any dust or toxins in the living space. An educated work force takes care of the other exposure issues (simple things like removing shoes, blowing off our clothes, washing our hands….).

After considering the immediate effects of toxins like airborne gasses and dust on adults and children, we as a green building company are interested in finding and understanding environmental stressors that may contribute to more subtle and long term childhood issues like OCD, ADD and Autism.

This is part of our Build It Forward process where we are not only thinking of the current client but are also considering future generations. That is our gift that we build forward into the renovation. Likewise the client is paying a little extra to benefit people they many never even meet. This process is very different to the slash and burn building technique that dominates the industry and has caused so much harm to our world.

That extra up front building cost that we as a green building company and the client share is pennies on the dollar compared to the massive hidden costs we all end up paying later when we build with no consideration for anything but maximum up front profit.

It is the difference between paying cash for something that you then pass on for free to your children vs. paying with a credit card that has outlandish interest and that you give to your children as a death present.

With this attitude it is easy to understand our obsession with uncovering hidden costs (financial, social and ethical) and paying for them up front. If you want to be perfectly callous, you could say this for us is simply smart long term business planning. aka it is sustainable in the long run.

As we research what is smart and not smart building we never forget the myriad of  political, economic and social interests behind many of these chemicals it is hard to know the truth. For example, for decades “studies” came out saying there is no connection between cancer and tobacco…

So most of the time when we are building we have nothing but common sense to back up a lot of what we do. And we use historical reference. This means we not only look towards the newest science for guidance but we also look into the history of building in different cultures. The Eco Brooklyn office has a whole wall of books on traditional building techniques and cutting edge science techniques.

So when we build, if it makes sense to do something and we have evidence that a certain society utilized the same technique with success then for lack of any other authority we will use our best judgement to decide.

For example, historically clay walls have been used safely since the beginning of time in construction. Recently there is also mounting evidence that the negative ions in clay cause people to feel good. These are the same negative ions found after a rain storm when the air is fresh and the light is crisp.

At the same time there is evidence that one of the ingredients in clay walls contributes to cancer – silica. It is added either pure or in it’s most common form – sand. Of course people have worked with sand since the beginning of time as well.

As builders we look at all this information, determine the benefits and risks and then decide how or whether to use the green building technique. In the case of clay walls we feel that there benefits are great. The ongoing exposure to silica from the wall dusting is minor and we feel does not contribute as an environmental stressor that may contribute in aggregate to cancer.

So in the case of clay we wholeheartedly use it. Other applications, such as zero voc paint or sheet rock compound, we use but with less enthusiasm and with a lot more care in order to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

We understand we can’t eliminate all environmental stressors. Sunshine after all can become an environmental stressor that when combined with other elements (genetics, formaldahyde etc) can contribute to cancer. But we feel the benefits of sunshine far outweigh the risks and we enthusiastically encourage windows in buildings :).

The point here is that as New York green contractors we feel our role is more than to build kitchens for people. We need to educate ourselves not only in how to professionally install kitchen cabinets so they look great and work perfectly but also we need to understand our role is one of amateur doctor, educator and social activist.

Along with the normal questions like, what color are the cabinet doors, how do the hinges work and what handles does the client want, we try to ask ourselves other questions as well, questions that definitely will impact the client much more in the long run.

These questions are different for each situation but they always focus on the triple bottom line of planet, people and profit. What is the health impact on the client and the environment (is the wood free of chemicals and salvaged)? Who wins and who loses financially (are workers paid fairly)?

The questions are endless and the answers many. It is more an ongoing process than a final goal. As long as we keep at it I feel we will continue to be effective New York green contractors.

This blog was inspired by a recent article I read about chemicals and autism. Here are a list of chemicals you can be pretty sure contribute to autism (and cancer, headaches, mood swings, tiredness and just simply a shitty day). If you have time you can google the chemicals to see what products contain them.

If you don’t have time, then use your common sense. A popcorn bag made out of some sort of plastic that you put in a microwave? Duh! Save yourself some time and go smoke a cigarette instead. Not sure if a liquid is toxic? What does it smell like – a new car or a walk in the forest – hint: that new car smell gives rats tumors the size of grapefruit.

Really a better term for this than common sense is being aware of your surroundings. Most people are aware enough to notice a fire in their house. But how many are aware of the smell in their new pillow and whether it will give them cancer in 20 years? Studies show it very well might (although there are plenty of others that show it won’t….but again it is worth looking at who is pushing what study….).

The first step in becoming aware is to pay more attention to your body and to use available information both current and historic to see what works. Available info and history show that certain activities and foods work while others don’t. You don’t need to be a genius to know the basics of exercise and died to live a good life.

And yes, exercise is a great way to reduce the harm of that new paint since an increased metabolism passes the toxins our of your body faster.

Here is the list for chemicals connected to autism..

Lead
Found in paint, dust, drinking water, some canned imported food, older toys, some imported toys, lead-glazed or lead-painted pottery, and some inks.

Methylmercury
Methylmercury is not the same as ethylmercury, the form found in Thimerosal, the controversial preservative formerly used in vaccines and which some believe is linked to autism. Methylmercury is released into air and water mostly from industrial emissions. It is the form of mercury that is found in high concentrations in some fish.

PCBs
The U.S. government banned production of PCBs in 1977, but they continue to be released into the environment from hazardous waste sites and from illegal or improper dumping. PCBs are also found in some types of caulk used in building materials, including in some schools.

Organophosphate Pesticides
These make up the majority of pesticides used on fruits and vegetables ingested by pregnant women and kids in the United States.

Organochlorine Pesticides
Less common, organochlorines are still used. The most infamous organochlorine is DDT, which was fully banned in the United States in 1972.

Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can potentially interfere with prenatal development. There are literally hundreds of endocrine disruptors, the most well-known of which is bisphenol-A, or BPA.

Automotive Exhaust 
Toxins of concern in motor vehicle exhaust include carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulphur dioxide.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons
These chemicals are found in an array of sources — from cigarette smoke and burning coal to industrial waste incineration and hazardous waste sites.

Brominated Flame Retardants
These fireproofing chemicals are added to pillows, vehicle seats, fabrics, and some electronics — including computers.

Perfluorinated Compounds
PFCs are found in sources as varied as water-resistant clothing, some non-stick cookware, and microwave popcorn bags.

Diggers 2012: Making the Waste Land Grow

An activist group has formed in Surrey, England called The Diggers 2012.  Their similarities to Eco Brooklyn are apparent with their slogan, “To make the Waste Land Grow.” 

 

As a NYC green builder, Eco Brooklyn strives to make the concrete filled city more ecologically diverse and thus balanced.  The concrete jungle can be thought of as an ecological wasteland, and the “jungle“ is pure irony.  Through our green roof, living wall, soil remediation, and planting services we work to make this wasteland grow into something natural and functional.

 

Thus we were very interested when we heard about The Diggers 2012. To understand their mission and the true history behind this group one must know that the English Civil War of the mid-17th Century incited various rebellions and the formation of nonconformist dissenting groups.

 

One of these groups was the original Diggers, or more formally, The True Levelers.   They believed God gave the land to all people, not just the wealthy who took control of the land. As is stated in “The True Levelers Common Advance” when the earth becomes,

 

“A Common Treasury again, as it must, for all the Prophesies of Scriptures and Reason are Circled here in this Community, and mankind must have the Law of Righteousness once more writ in his heart, and all must be made of one heart, and one mind.”

 

There have been groups to follow in The Diggers’ footsteps.  One organization to work in this realm was called The Land is Ours, started by English writer George Monbiot in the 1990s.  They were able to start 2 Eco Villages, one on land owned by Guinness, the other on land owned by Property Developers near St. George Hill.  They were each evicted in under a year.

 

With the energy of youth this new group, Diggers 2012, has renewed the cause.  Before embarking on their mission to occupy unused land they started a blog at diggers2012.wordpress.com where they state:

 

“We have one call:  every person in this country and the world should have the right to live on the disused land, to grow food and to build a shelter. This right should apply whether you have money or not. We say that no country can be considered free, until this right is available to all.”

 

On their committee poster they state that 0.65% of the UK population owns 68.3% of the land, only 7.5% of UK land is currently settled on, and land is deliberately kept unused to maintain an artificial land shortage to inflate home prices.  To fight this system they propose to, “go and cultivate the disused land of this island; to build dwellings and live together in common by the sweat of our brows.”

 

The land that the Diggers 2012 have settled on used to be part of the Brunel University Runnymede Campus.  This campus has been disused since it was sold to private property developers in 2007.  The developers have explained to the diggers that they will be building 600 homes in the area starting in August.

 

The Diggers 2012 promise to willingly vacate the land as soon as its owner see fit to put it to good use, but until they see the land being developed they believe that it’s their right as English citizens to responsibly use the land.  They have been continually pestered and displaced by the police and court orders, but they continue to attempt to live by their beliefs on a picturesque green hill in the Surrey Countryside.

 

At Eco Brooklyn we are concerned with the land, not land as property owned by somebody but the actual soil.  Over the soil is where we build and renovate homes where people live, we build gardens for animals and people, and we create water features.

 

It seems to us that The Diggers, although appearing hopelessly idealistic from a developer‘s point of view, are simply asking for an opportunity to work with the soil.  This is such an ancient practice and yet so many people don’t have access to space to do this. Diggers 2012, we wish you strength in your structures, health in your produce, and luck in your movement.

Fun Built with Salvaged Material

The growth in sustainable and green living has given rise to a movement of eco-tourism in a variety of forms across the country.  Specifically the use of salvaged materials is making a breakthrough in the realm of practical and/ or novel green construction.

Across the country salvaged building trends and communities are blossoming and their projects range from the awe-inspiring to the comical.  I recently came across this link to a list of 8 “roadside” attractions made primarily or entirely of salvaged materials:

 

http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/eco-tourism/photos/8-roadside-attractions-made-from-salvaged-materials/must-see-places

 

There’s a beer can house, a quilted-oil-protesting-gas station, and the largest tree house ever built (complete with sanctuary and basketball court).  Besides roadside attractions I’ve come to find through friends and my own travels a number of interesting things made by hand with salvaged materials.

Made from recycled material

The Recycled Roadrunner.

Once a year in Glover, Vermont there is a gathering of people, “The Human Powered Carnival”, that is the only (to my knowledge) 100% handmade and human powered carnival in existence.

 

Internationally there is a movement of “freeganism”, a life style based around obtaining all necessary materials to live well without using money, this means dumpster diving for food, squatting (sometimes clandestinely), bartering services, and general scavenging.  There is enough usable waste produced by most large companies and institutions to feed, clothe and shelter everyone who needs it.  This movement is intrinsically related to the Human Powered Carnival, there is no advertisement besides word of mouth and there is an air of communal co-operation in all aspects of the event, from cooking to cleaning and operating the rides.

One of Cyclecides attractions

In a similar spirit, in California, there is “cyclecide”.  Cyclecide is an organization based on finding expressive, interactive and alternate uses for bicycles and bike parts.  This idea sprang in 1996 and is rooted in a “freegan” ideology, their first pieces came from dumpstered bikes and some still do.  Their main event is a touring “bike rodeo” featuring varied attractions, from art installations to interactive bike or “pedal” powered rides, and valuable information.  This rodeo is not for the faint of heart, group events and contests such as tall bike jousting, while extremely fun and entertaining do pose some real danger, perhaps that’s what makes it so fun?

This is an excerpt from their website that clearly describes the group’s core beliefs;

“We remain passionately devoted to the idea of the bicycle as a piece of interactive kinetic sculpture that can make music, breathe fire, even save the world!”

 

Cyclecide

Cyclecide

What I find most exciting about this small grassroots movement is its power to subtly invoke great change in a person’s cognition, with the near comic novelty of some of these art pieces and attractions people will let their mental guards down and approach this concept with a more open and relaxed mind, which is sure to get the wheels turning in ones head (whether pedal powered or not).

Abundance, The Book and it’s myopic viewpoint

I recently heard about a book called “Abundance” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, so I checked out Diamandis’ TED Talk available below. He has some good points, namely that technology will continue to create abundance for humans…..but his view is so incredibly human centered I am skeptical. It reminds me of when humans thought the earth was the center of the universe.

To make my point I counted the key words in his speech:

1. All words like “human”, “people” or references to people like “A lady…”, “All of you…”.
2. All words like “technology” or references to technology like “computer”, “phone”
3. All words like “oil”, “gas”, “fossil fuel”
4. The word “Abundance”
5. The words Nature, Plants, Animals or references like “Dog”, “Tree”

The numbers came out like this:
1. Human words: 85
2. Technology words: 65
3. Gas words: 1
4. The word “Abundance”: 3
5. Nature words: 0

His message? Humans are the only life forms that are important, and our intelligence will harness technology to stay great. Technology is what has driven us to our current success (not oil). Technology will give voices to the voiceless (all humans).

Plants, other animals and nature in general is not part of the equation, and if they are then they are simply raw materials to harness (sun, water etc).

He does mention nature three times and water fourteen times but they are purely human centric:
1. He uses the word “environment”: For survival reasons we are programmed to monitor how the “environment” can harm us. In this case the word is not really about nature but about the things surrounding humans (cars, muggers, falling pianos).
2. He mentions “climate crisis” and “species extinction”. It is used dismissively, though: Yes we have problems like climate crisis and species extinction but still humans are great.
3. His mentions of water are nothing to do with nature but merely about how humans can use technology to collect the raw material “water”.

I don’t disagree that technology and humans are great but I have a problem with his myopic view that excludes all other life forms. How different is his view to that of a white male a hundred years ago who’s decisions may have never considered women or blacks? I guess he is more open minded because he has broadened his view to include all humans?

His web site lists people who endorse his view:

  • Jeff Skoll Co-founder of eBay
  • Arianna Huffington CEO, Huffington post
  • Richard Branson Chairman, the Virgin Group
  • Ray Kurzweil Inventor & Author, The Singularity is Near
  • Matt Ridley Author, The Rational Optimist
  • Elon Musk CEO, Tesla Motors, Co-founder, PayPal
  • Stewart Brand Author, Whole Earth Discipline
  • Timothy Ferriss #1 NY Times bestselling author
These people are all pillars of what I call new capitalism, which is a slight variation on old capitalism. They love technology, they still love growth, and they exalt the power of humans to overcome all obstacles. Yea, they are pretty similar to old capitalists, the ones who trashed the planet in the first place.
Only this time they are way cooler. Capitalism Lite; still the great consumerist taste but with less guilt ridden calories.
They are in denial that all our progress so far has not been technology but an abundance of cheap energy in the form of oil. When a barrel of oil provides more energy than ten years of one person’s labor you have a society moving so fast they make a coke addict look sloth-like.
Could fuel have been the jumping stone to get us to our next technology driven stage? Maybe.
But that is not my point. When your global plan completely ignores the opinions of 99.99% of the planet’s life forms, as Diamandis’ human centered viewpoint does, you are being extremely narrow minded.
His presumption is that humans and technology can do it alone. We are that great. My answer to that is, first why would you want to? and, second, I don’t think so.
Diamandis and his cronies need to wake up and smell the flowers. They need to calm down from their oil induced speed binge and realize that the last hundred years were a blip in the planets overall trajectory. And we may very well look back at these hundred years as a momentary time of “irrational exuberance” and unrealistic bubbles.
Over the past several thousand years humans have moved from infancy to youth to middle age. I think it is time to start acting like adults and not teenagers with our father’s car, regardless of what fuel that car uses.
How a grown up would act is for another blog post, or more accurately it is all the blog posts on this site. The answers are not single bullets. They are a web of connected awareness that go far beyond humans and their meager little technological playthings.

The Living Building Challenge- Winner of the 2012 Buckminster-Fuller Challenge

Green building and eco-sensitive design is currently at the forefront of our modern ethos.   What this means for the green builders, contractors and architects of NY, and the world, is a period of dramatic change and challenge is ahead if not already begun. A change in the way we think about new buildings and construction, in how we consider “used” materials and how we use and interact with space.

As Scholar David Orr stated-

“We are coming to an era the likes of which we’ve never seen before, we’re in the white waters of human history. We don’t know what lies ahead. Bucky Fuller’s ideas on design are at the core of any set of solutions that will take us to calmer waters.”

 

One of the most prominent voices in sustainability and responsible design since the 1960’s is R. Buckminster Fuller.  Fuller pioneered in fields from architecture, and mathematics, to engineering and automobile design and only patented 12 designs allowing the vast majority of his work to be open-sourced and free to the public.

His life’s mission and philosophy was simple, “to make the world work for 100% of humanity, in the shortest possible time, through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or disadvantage of anyone.”

Even today, years after Fuller’s death his name is still the vanguard of the sustainable design community. The largest testament to his legacy is the R. Buckminster Fuller Institute and their annual international competition the Buckminster Fuller Design Challenge.

According to the institution’s website $100,000 is given “…to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems. Named “Socially-Responsible Design’s Highest Award” by Metropolis Magazine, it attracts bold, visionary, tangible initiatives focused on a well-defined need of critical importance. Winning solutions are regionally specific yet globally applicable and present a truly comprehensive, anticipatory, integrated approach to solving the world’s complex problems.”

In 2012 at an awards ceremony held here in NYC at Cooper Union The International Living Future Institute was awarded first prize for their “Living Building Challenge” initiative.  According to the institute’s website the Living building Challenge is:

-a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.

-an EVOCATIVE GUIDE. By identifying an ideal and positioning that ideal as the indicator of success, the Challenge inspires project teams to reach decisions based on restorative principles instead of searching for ‘least common denominator’ solutions. This approach brings project teams closer to the objectives we are collectively working to achieve.

-a BEACON. With a goal to increase awareness, it is tackling critical environmental, social and economic problems, such as: the rise of persistent toxic chemicals; climate change; habitat loss; the collapse of domestic manufacturing; global trade imbalances; urban sprawl; and the lack of community distinctiveness.

-a ‘UNIFIED TOOL’. Addressing development at all scales, it can be equally applied to landscape and infrastructure projects; partial renovations and complete building renewals; new building construction; and neighborhood, campus and community design.

-a PERFORMANCE-BASED STANDARD. Decidedly not a checklist of best practices, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

-a VISIONARY PATH TO A RESTORATIVE FUTURE

The challenge seeks to encourage designers to bridge the gap between the built environment and the surrounding ecosystems thus reinventing the typical developers’ business model and transforming the role of the building occupant from passive to more of an involved partnership with the earth and her resources.

For all manner of development the Living Building Principles are applicable, whether, “… a single building, a park, a college campus or even a complete neighborhood community, Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

You can download a complete document that outlines the specific requirements and benchmarks that must be met to receive certification HERE.

With its radical and rigorous requirements, this is more than “green washing”.  This is an excerpt from a statement released by The Fuller Institute after the award ceremony;

“The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is setting the standard for how to build in the 21st century by establishing the highest bar yet for environmental performance and ecological responsibility within the built environment … by “building a new model” and establishing new benchmarks for non-­‐toxic, net-­‐zero structures… The Living Building Challenge goes far beyond current best practices, reframing the relationship between the built and natural environments. LBC seeks to lead the charge toward a holistic standard that could yield an entirely new level of integration between building systems, transportation, technology, natural resources, and community. If widely adopted, this approach would significantly enhance the level of broad-­‐based social collaboration throughout the design and building process and beyond, dramatically reducing the destructiveness of current construction, boost the livability, health, and resilience of communities … the International Future Living Institute is charting a new and critically needed course in an industry that arguably remains one of the most consumptive … The LBC’s model of regenerative design in the built environment could provide a critical leverage point in the roadmap to a sustainable future and is an exemplary trim tab in its potential to catalyze innovation in such a high impact, high consumption industry…”

This is a valuable new asset and tool for the green building and green contracting community in NYC nd abroad in the fight for a greener and livable tomorrow.

 

https://ilbi.org/lbc  -living building challenge website

http://challenge.bfi.org/Winners/Challenge_Winners

http://bfi.org/  -Buckminster-fuller institute website

Food and Green Building

In my early twenties I was a vegan for ethical reasons. It only lasted a year because I did not know how to eat a good vegan diet. But ever since then I have been a vegetarian who eats meat….Yes I know that makes no sense.

Anyway, now as a New York green contractor I revisit the dilemma of eating meat constantly.

The facts overwhelmingly show that a vegetarian diet is better for everyone – people, animals, the planet. I spend my days improving the ecology of New York and thus can’t help but ignore that a vegetarian diet furthers my efforts.

At this point I only eat meat from the Farmer’s Market and a local butcher who sells grass fed meat. If you ignore the whole killing part these animals have a pretty good life. I get my eggs from a local farmer and at this point I practically know the free range chickens by name. And I only eat meat sparingly – maybe once a week.

But I still look forward to the day I can eat no meat. The reasons are too compelling.

Below I share with you two powerful videos on this topic. I prefer to focus on positive things since it is much more satisfying than focusing on what is wrong with the world. But it is important to educate oneself and this sometimes requires taking an in depth look at what is wrong.

These videos are not pleasant. They point out the horror of the animal cruelty industry – meat, milk, fur….

I suggest you watch them when you are centered, honest and strong. Moving to a vegetarian diet does not happen overnight. To be effective it must happen over time in order for your lifestyle and body to adapt and lock it in for the long run.

I do believe a vegetarian diet is a good thing to move towards and it makes the lives of so many – animals and humans alike – much better.

After checking out these videos you may want to watch Food Inc.

New York Contractor builds to create nature

Check out this dude. A real druid. A magical builder. Sunray Kelly

[Building] is all about the human consciousness to me. Its about our evolution more than the buildings themselves.

Sitting in NY city watching this fellow green builder in the woods of Washington, I can’t help but long for those sounds of birds and water in the stillness of the trees. I think a green builder carries that longing in their heart no matter where they build. I know I do. I may be a New York green contractor but I often build with the woods in mind.

You can take a green builder out of nature but you can’t take nature out of the green builder.

Inspired By… SunRay Kelley from Shwood Eyewear on Vimeo.

Benefit Corporations law signed and active in New York State!

Finally, a way to pursue the “triple bottom line” (people, planet and profits) with legal backing! It is called the Benefit Corporation (as opposed to a normal C or S Corporation for example). Signed into NY legislation by Governor Cuomo the new law allows businesses to be recognized and filed a for more than their financial goals.

Benefit Corporations have a legal responsibility to all stakeholders, not just the shareholders like a traditional C or S Corps.  This means they are obligated to take into account the effects of their decisions on the community, the environment, employees, etc.  Benefit Corporations can also voluntarily undergo certification by the nonprofit organization B Lab that makes them “Certified B Corporations” and ensures they have a social purpose and benefits for stakeholders.  More on that here .

With the new law, New York is joining states that have already passed similar legislation, including Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virginia, Hawaii, California.

The key distinctions of Benefit Corporations from traditional corporations are these three things:

1)    Purpose: They must have a corporate purpose to create a material positive impact on society and the environment;

2)     Accountability: They must expand the directors’ and employees’ fiduciary duty to require consideration of the interests of workers, community and the environment and all stakeholder

3)     Transparency: They must publicly report annually on overall social and environmental performance against a comprehensive, credible, independent, and transparent third party standard

Other than these three additions, the Benefit Corporations is set up and taxed as a traditional corporation would be.  However, for social entrepreneurs like EcoBrooklyn, this changes everything. It protects the mission and purpose of the business and holds up the triple bottom line as a priority.  In other words, it legally never puts profits for shareholders above the stakeholders – something that social businesses have been trying to do for decades.

B Lab is a nonprofit that helped create the Benefit Corporation and now works to establish the option of a Benefit Corporation in all states through legislation.  Much of the above information came from their website.  More information on the requirements and specific details of a Benefit Corporation here.

Global Environmental Standards

Eco Brooklyn was recently invited to join an international group focused on creating global environmental standards. Aptly called Global Environmental Standards, the group is a wide spread collection of organizations interested in creating fair and transparent standards to help the environment.

We were invited to participate in the making of global green construction standards.

The members page shows this image, something I found to be very powerful and insightful. My question is will the munching humans become beautiful butterflies or remain destructive larvae?

True Green Building

Unable to sleep at 4am in New York I came accross this video of an abandoned town renovated by a small group of utopians. It is one of the most inspirational green building stories I have seen in a long time. So often green building is housed withing the capitalistic context where it is just another product to be consumed by and profited from financially.

But here we see a story of true green building. For me green building is almost not about the building but rather about the framework of the people involved. If the people have simply shifted to consuming green building just like you might shift from one brand to another then you really haven’t accomplished much.

But as you see in this video the people have shifted their whole context. Green building is no longer a consumer product. Green building is a lifestyle that required a complete change in consumptive habits, a complete change in how people interact with each other and a complete change in how they interact with their surroundings.

I think this change is good. Do we all need to move to an abandoned village on a mountainside to be truly green? Obviously that might help but no. Your baggage always catches up to you no mater where you go.

It is the mentality of these people that is most important, not their place. Very simply put, they have found that a simple, wholesome lifestyle is better than any consumer product. That is the key to true green building. Waki Sabi, man.

I see the irony of consuming this on my computer in the middle of the night in the city that never sleeps. That is the nature of today’s constantly ON planet. It is not sustainable. Time to go to sleep, or at least try to. Some cycles happen by themselves, others you have to help along.

The cycle of finding a greener way of life on this planet will not happen without us helping it. Like the people in this video who worked very hard to achieve what they have.

Building For the Climate Apocalypse

First 2000, and now 2012: Years in which people think the world might possibly end.

The world probably won’t end with a bang, but might just crumble beneath the accumulated consequences of our actions.

Meanwhile, American politicians’ opinions of science, especially climate science, are at an alarming low.  Sometimes TV makes me wonder if there are people who think a 2012 apocalypse is more plausible than global warming.

Watching GOP candidates in debate is a bittersweet experience.  On one hand, the stupid things they occasionally blurt out invariably wind up on YouTube for my amusement.

You-becky-becky becky-becky-stan-stan, anyone?

On the other hand, these guys have a fair shot at becoming arguably the most powerful person in the world.   That’s where the bitter comes in.  They speak in a  sober, defiantly ignorant voice, with the seeming expectation that what they don’t know doesn’t matter.

Sometimes it does matter (a combination of egregious dumbness and sexual sketchiness shamed Cain off the stage) but what scares me is when it doesn’t.

Take Rick Santorum, for example.  Here’s a short excerpt and transcript from a Q&A session he did in New Hampshire last week.

Someone asked how he integrated recent findings of climate change into his policies.  He waved away the whole issue by using scientists, icebergs, and tail-wagging dogs in a meandering metaphor to demonstrate why climate science is not worth considering.

And when he was done talking, people clapped!  Kind of half-heartedly, but still! That stopped The only thing more frightening than ignorance is ignorance with power.

Basically, he argued that there are so many factors so we can’t know for sure what’s causing any changes.  Nevermind that just about anybody with a lick of sense agrees that we’re making a lot of CO2, which gets stuck in the atmosphere.

Nevermind that nobody knows the perfect method for, oh, say, oil mining, but they rough through it anyway because the result is valuable.  Not knowing something doesn’t mean that we should give up; it means we should devote more resources toward finding the answer.  Santorum using ambiguity as a reason to disregard the question only draws attention to how his party has utterly failed at giving climate science the support it needs.

Around Christmas, a short piece showed up in the New York Times about how climate science is stagnating, despite 2011 being one of the most extreme weather years on record.

In May of 2011, 100% of Texas was abnormally dry.  48% was officially in exceptional drought conditions–that’s even more extreme than “extreme drought.”

At the other extreme, New Jersey had an extreme winter: 50.7 inches (more than four feet) fell in my hometown of New Brunswick.  I’ve lived there for 15 years but can count the white Christmases we’ve had on one hand.

These are quick and dirty examples of extreme weather conditions with immediate effects at home.  Objective truths about global warming will emerge as trends in data analysis performed by climate scientists, and I’d like these truths to emerge before they show up as three feet of snow on my car every other week.

It’s true that there are hundreds of factors that contribute to climate change, but it’s stubbornly naive to claim as Santorum does that CO2, as a byproduct of industrial processes, is not the primary actor.  It’s true that climate science and efforts to change energy use in major industries can incur significant costs, but so can bad weather.  The final cost of this year’s weather extremes is still being tallied, but will likely surpass $50 million.  That’s in comparison to a typical year that costs the U.S. $3 or $4 billion.

Making sense of these changing weather patterns will require scientists to analyze large amounts of data, integrating trends over years and millions of square miles.  They need personnel, and concerted support from the Federal government, not half-assed pooh-poohing from a man who could well become President.

The GOP in general sets a bad example by blocking efforts to organize and increase funding for climate research initiatives.  Republicans overwhelmingly deny the general consensus on global warming,  disparaging it instead as a “propaganda attempt” by the Obama administration.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Energy still finance climate research, but many scientists find that there’s not enough to go around.

This research also has valuable practical applications.  Our company, for example, depends on climate data to calculate things like insulation thickness, heating and cooling loads, and gutter sizes.  We’re a green contractor, so energy efficiency is more crucial to our calculations, but every building depends on this information being accurate.  The more efficient our homes, the more money clients save.

Global change affects everyone, not just Americans, so hopefully other governments will have more sense than Congress and fund this crucial research.   Passive houses, for example, have greater momentum in Europe than in the U.S., so more resources are available to passive builders and passive houses are cheaper to build.

And what does all this have to do with Eco Brooklyn, beyond normal climate calculations?  As green contractors, we obviously take the local environment of each home into consideration when designing a plan for energy efficiency.  Compare that with, say, a large non-green building company like Toll Brothers, who may build the same exact house in Texas as in Nebraska.

Now that the environment is hitting higher record temperatures and precipitation levels than ever, Eco Brooklyn is venturing into what we call “Survival Building.”

We’ve started taking examples from extreme climates and integrating them into New York’s brownstones, in order to prepare them against heat waves, snap freezes, and flash floods.  We take inspiration from the “Earthship” and “Passive House” movements, which focus on installing tight insulation and maximizing solar gain to reduce heating and cooling needs.  These homes remain naturally cool in the summer and warm in the winter.  We put up a blog post recently that explains these concepts in detail.

Our our buildings consider rainwater runoff seriously.  We build green roofs, dry wells, rain gardens, and other water harvesting systems to reduce flooding.

We use clay walls in our houses that work like adobe walls in Pueblo architecture.  If they can endure the New Mexico heat, they can handle New York heat waves, with the benefit of retaining heat in winter.  Our passive houses are sealed tight against energy loss, but the envelope also protects against extreme wind or rain.

Eco Brooklyn’s brownstones are green fortresses.

So even if we see the beginnings of a climate apocalypse in 2012, we’ll be ready, and if Santorum gets elected, at least we’ll be insulated against his hot air.

The Weather Underground Movie

Since the Occupy Wall Street events this fall I have immersed myself in information that questions existing paradigms and searches for solutions to current problems. I’ve always done this, and as a green builder I do it on a daily basis, but the recent Occupy Wall Street events has given my ongoing education a focus and timely reference point.

This evening I watched a poignant documentary “The Weather Underground“, which chronicles the efforts of a small group of white students in the late ’60’s and early 70’s who planted bombs around the US to raise awareness of the atrocities of the Vietnam war.

The movie is powerful because these people are smart, conscientious individuals who did not take their acts of violence lightly. The movie explores their insights into the successes and failures of using violence to combat violence.

The conclusion? Well, there is no easy response to the Vietnam genocide and how we should have stopped it. Are some acts so horrible that violence to stop it is justified? Most police and military forces would say yes. And yes. And yes many times over until the threat has been obliterated.

Whether that threat is a black man in the ghetto or an Arab half way across the globe we, “we” being those who are not in the police or military view finder, find it acceptable that  the “threat” be killed regardless of whether they deserve it.

Or maybe it isn’t acceptable but we let it happen every day without so much as a pause in our lives. We accept the party line that the military is looking out for our interests even if we know it is a lie. Such a convenient lie it is.

And maybe these people are threats, if our interests happen to be cheap oil, cheap sneakers and large amounts of easy to digest entertainment.

But when it is a civilian who does something violent to try to stop violence such actions of counter brutality are not allowed nor socially acceptable. Civilians are expected to meet violence with non-violence. A civilian who meets oppression and violence with counter violence is called a terrorist time and time again.

Why is this? Is it just the people in power trying to keep it so?

This strikes a chord with my life. My father was not part of the Weather Underground but he did belong to a similar group during that time. He was accused by the government of setting off pipe bombs, one in front of the Berkeley court house that was sending draft resisters to high security prison and another in front of the Bank of America that was the main financier of Napalm.

Idealistic hippie or dangerous terrorist? Interpol and the FBI felt the later and I spent my first 17 years traveling the world under my parents’ wing as political refugees.

Did my father make a difference? He made a difference to me. I wouldn’t be a passionate green builder dead set on making the world a more ecological place if it weren’t for him.

The hippies dropped out and opened their minds to new ways of being, some good, some not. Either way they learned a lot, if anything how to learn itself, and passed that learning on to their children, most of whom dropped back into society with that knowledge.

So what do we do now. We don’t have a Vietnam to rage against. We have the less visible but more dangerous ongoing destruction of the planet. Us humans are destroying the planet with such violence and heartlessness that any informed green builder knows they are almost symbolic in their effectiveness against the machine of destruction.

Yet like the Weather Underground, an isolated small group that did little to stop Vietnam’s war machine on the surface, green builders must see that symbolism is powerful. Green builders are archetypes where success is not measured in trees saved but in torches carried.

And as long as the torch is being carried, no matter by how small a group and no matter how large the darkness, we will have hope. It is in carrying the environmental torch that we stay alive, regardless of how much ecological destruction is around us.

I don’t see much use in meeting violence with violence. Trying to kill the corporate machine is like trying to kill a monster with endless heads. The success and downfall of capitalism is that it has no moral judgement. You can’t kill something if it is heartless.

But meeting violence with passion, now that is a winning strategy.

I have looked deeply into the soul of our society and have concluded that we are fucked. We are on a crash course with ecological destruction for the sake of greed, power and the blind genetic imperative to spread the human seed as far as humanly possible.

And so I have thrown up my hands and decided I have two options. One, build a pipe bomb and, like the Monkey Wrench Gang, try to wreak as much havoc as possible against the machine of ecological doom. Or two, create a reality where my existence is not part of that machine.

Not a reality like the mind numbing lala land of mass media and material consumption, which is the current solution to numbing the pain we feel as we destroy our own global body.

But a reality that looks at reality with brutal honesty and takes one step, no mater how difficult and painful, yet so amazingly liberating, to a greener personal life. That existence may be lonely. It may be difficult. In fact it may not work at all.

But you just get back up. And before you know it a day has gone by where you didn’t take part in anything too destructive. You may have even helped grow something green, as simple and small as that may seem.

But then a strange thing happens. I have seen it happen in my life and I have seen it happen in every successful revolution in the history or humanity:

You meet somebody else who is holding the same torch as you.

A friend. A person who speaks your language in the babel of destructive insanity. Even if it is a passing in the darkness it is enough to keep the flame alive and even brighten it.

And all of a sudden you aren’t as freaky and alone as you thought you were, not that it matters because by then you are pretty used to your way of life. It takes balls and stubbornness and  a deep passion to stick to what you know is right. And sometimes what you thought was right is wrong and you have to continue seeking.

But you learn it is the seeking that is important so you aren’t too worried when you fuck up. Well, worried maybe a little, but you get used to making mistakes and learning from them.

Then you meet somebody else. Over time you have a little group of people who experience life like you. You may be in the belly of the beast but together you have your own parallel universe. This is not a universe in reaction to something bad. This is a universe in creation of something good. You aren’t there in opposition anything but rather in search of the very best way you can be.

And in the end, who cares if what you discover is right or wrong. Or right again. Because over time you live what is true to you and what you do today becomes yesterdays history, your history, like a stick to lean on as you walk into the future.

So yea the Weather Underground may have been stupid kids in a stupid society or visionaries in a stupid society…..but at what point does that torch become society and back again?

We are society and society is us. We are the machine that kills nature to grow and we are the nature that is killed. It ain’t easy sorting it all out but god knows we try. And so did the Weather Underground. And for that I salute them with pride and honor to be part of their tribe, no matter how confused we are.

Postponing the Debate: Tentative progress in Durban

We’re Brooklyn-based green builders dedicated to turning our local neighborhood green, but we’re always following the latest developments in global standards for more sustainable living.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) met in Durban over the past two months in order to hammer out a plan for extending the Kyoto Protocol. The UNFCC is the body of the UN that is in charge of pulling together all the countries under one unified agreement on how to handle important climate issues. Getting 194 nations to agree is no small task.

Stressed out: Conference President Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa

The main focus of this year’s talks was to establish a binding agreement that would build upon the Kyoto Protocol by applying the same emission limits to all nations regardless of industrialization.  The U.K., for example, would be held to the same standard as India, even though the U.K. is highly developed with a high average standard of living–in contrast with India, where hundreds of millions still live in poverty.

The greatest conflict erupted between the E.U. and India, due to the E.U.’s determination to lay out a “road map” for a legally binding agreement for all nations.  Developing industrial powers led by India and China argued fiercely against what they saw as an unfair constraint on projects that would improve standards of living nationwide.

They make a compelling argument: first world nations achieved their high standards of living through decades of environmentally damaging industrialization, so why should rising nations have to pay the price through limits on their own development?  India, especially, refused to sign off on an as-yet-undefined “road map” that they viewed as signing away their future development rights.

The Kyoto Protocol, first established in 1997, was a global agreement to limit emissions in the interest of sustainability.  191 nations have signed it so far, but the U.S. is still holding out because we refuse to accept the point that nations are held to different emissions criteria depending on development status.

Grey: undecided nations/Red: nations with no intention of ratifying.

The U.S., as the only major power not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, stayed mostly quiet in the Durban brawl but will add a third dimension to finalizing an equally binding agreement.  Did we refuse to ratify the Kyoto Protocol because we didn’t want to be held to different standards than developing nations, or because we didn’t want to be bound at all?  Will we throw around our economic and political clout in further attempts to avoid emissions regulations?  Will the agreement conceptualized in Durban become a reality?

So, what was really accomplished on Sunday?  Not much, according to most commentators.  It’d be easy to bash the agreement as an inadequate solution, but let’s focus on the hard-won victories:

1. Compromise was achieved between the E.U. and India/China.  All nations agreed for a legally binding framework to be completed by 2015 and implemented by 2020.
2. There’s a definite timeline: work on the new agreement will start next year.
3. Nations confirmed the Green Climate Fund, which was first agreed on in Copenhagen in 2009.  An as yet undetermined body under the U.N. will oversee the fund, which is to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing nations adapt to problems posed by climate change.  The exact terms for the fund remain vague, with no definite plan on where the money is to come from or how much is already in the fund.

Our dream is to turn New York green, one brownstone at a time, so we understand the necessity of taking very small steps to achieve a greater goal, but the talks’ tendency toward compromise and vague planning represent procrastination rather than progress.  But still, I guess it’s a good thing that the climate conversation is still grinding on, one year at a time.

Click through for the official UNFCCC Durban website.

Breaking news: NY City Council enacts proposals from Urban Green Task Force

As New York green contractors we follow the latest developments in NY building codes very closely.  Yesterday, the New York City Council enacted three proposals from the Urban Green Task Force.  The new codes, effective July 1, 2012, mandate more stringent regulation of waste, recycling, and pollutant filtration, representing a step forward for green building.

 

Introduction 0576-2011: Treat Corrosive Concrete Wastewater

Wastewater from concrete trucks or containers  must either be treated on site or returned to the manufacturing plant for treatment.  Rinsing and wastewater containers must be located at least 30 feet from sewers.  Corrosive wastewater from construction sites may no longer be discharged into rivers or public streets.

Introduction 0578-2011: Use Recycled Asphalt

At least 10% recycled asphalt must be used in heavy duty construction applications, and at least 30% in constructing new streets and buildings.  Allowing asphalt diverted from the construction waste stream to be reintegrated into new asphalt reduces construction waste and consumption of new materials.

Introduction 0592-2011: Filter Soot from Incoming Air

Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems will be required to filter out soot and other pollutants at a rating of MERV 11 or greater, increasing the quality of indoor air by restricting the concentration of outside pollutants.

The Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) measures performance of air purifiers treating air for entire houses or buildings.  Scores range from 1-16, and up to 20 in special applications.  Filters are rated based on the efficiency with which they remove particles of varying sizes from the air.  Purifiers rated at MERV 11 are capable of trapping auto emissions and smog, among other urban pollutants.

 

We’re excited to see New York moving forward with more green considerations in city-wide construction.  We pride ourselves on being the most innovative green contractor in the city, but we’re looking forward to a day when green construction practices are no longer innovative, but commonplace.

 

Click through for more detailed summaries of the new codes on the Urban Green website.  Search by proposal number or topic to find them.

Mayor Bloomberg, Green Mayor but Tone Deaf

I have tolerated Mayor Bloomberg because he has done some good things for New York’s ecology. He isn’t the mayor of Copenhagen, Denmark. Now that is a city worth looking at in terms of ecology and social planning.

But Bloomberg could have been a lot worse. His plan NYC is an acceptable plan, the bare minimum any city should be doing.

But I stopped trusting Bloomberg when he used his power to extend his term. That was a Machiavellian and arrogant move that showed he thinks he knows better than the people who elected him.

So it comes as no surprise that he does not understand the importance of Occupy Wall Street. The movement isn’t a group of freaks living homeless in a park. The movement stands for something profound, it is a voice of the people.

Unfortunately Bloomberg, for all his intelligence, is a man of the 1%.

I mean this not only financially but morally. Bloomberg is one of those people who is always on the side of the law because he makes the law. With a phone call he can get a judge to sign, whether that be extending his term or squelching the voice of Occupy Wall Street.

A leader needs to make tough choices and sometimes minorities will not be happy. But I believe Occupy Wall Street is the first real voice of the majority in a long time. Just like you support things like the arts, community events, sports events and all other things that make a city vibrant, you also support things that give the citizens a voice.

This has a direct impact on the ecology of the city. As a New York green contractor I understand that the largest ecosystem here is the human one. If we are not healthy as a community then there is no chance in hell we will make room for the health of plants and animals.

By taking a stance against the Occupy Wall Street movement Bloomberg is not respecting the natural ecology of the city. Things change, things grow. And right now Occupy Wall Street has grown into being. You don’t cut something like this down. You let it grow. It is an organic development of the city that I believe will make our ecology better.

Bloomberg is full of benevolence as long as things are growing in the direction he wants. But now things are not going his way and he is showing his true colors. Being mayor is not about staying in control. It is about listening to the people and doing their will, even if you don’t personally believe in it.

I’m surprised Bloomberg’s serious conflict of interest has taken this long to surface. How can a media mogul also be the mayor of the media capital of the world. The financial ties between the two posts are irrevocably in conflict.

Occupy Wall Street and Bloomberg’s Dynasty have some serious differences and they are coming to a head. He has to be Mayor first or resign. The ecology of the city depends on it.

Check out this clip. Pure genius.

Occupy Wall Street

On 10/11/11 Eco Brooklyn, a green builder and supporter of a better America and world, went down to the Financial district to check out Occupy Wall Street. Nearly 30 days ago, a diverse group of citizens took to the street in NYC, and marched down to Zuccotti Park, formerly “Liberty Plaza Park”, placed in between Wall Street, the financial center of the U.S., and Ground Zero.

            Although formal demands will not be made, the message brought by Occupy Wall Street is clear.  They call for an end to corruption and greed, to bring about a better, cleaner, fairer world.  Cleaner, fairer, and better are all words that definitely relate to the idea of sustainability, which seems to be a theme for the protesters at OWS.  They hope to create a sustainable system of economics and government that’s not only sustainable for the people in charge and involved now, but also for the people of the future.  Similarly to OWS, Eco Brooklyn sees the need for an immediate change in the building and construction industry. For too long, a system has been used that leads to crumbling infrastructure and high energy costs, and now it’s time for an immediate change to use recycled and salvaged material to make zero energy homes.  This is a practical goal, that’s sustainable not only for the people living in the new homes, but also for the generations to come.

OWS also has areas for making and displaying art, garbage collection and recycling, a food buffet, a drum circle/music group, a webcast, an info center for volunteers, as well spaces to access the internet and charge cell phones and battery powered devices.  With mattresses and sleeping bags spread throughout these areas, one had to be careful navigating between the people protesting and things and people on the ground, but despite the difference in peoples body language and stature, the feeling of unity was unmistakable- everyone united as one, fighting for a better, fairer, cleaner world.  For more check out Thomas Friedman’s Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.

Earth Video and NY consumption

As a New York green contractor the truth is that our work is very much about things not in NY. Each time we salvage wood from a dumpster we aren’t saving a NY tree. We are saving a Canadian of Brazilian tree. As a company we may be acting locally but our vision is very global.

New York is the most altered place on earth by humans. It is a lost cause in terms of finding a more equal balance between humans and the other animals and plants of the world. It is not possible for the rest of the world, or even the rest of the world cities for that mater, to live like NY.

New York feeds off and depends on the vast areas of uninhabited land in the world for its survival. Everything from our exotic face creams to our millions of feet of electric cable is a drain on some part of the world, in some cases a very tragic one.

And as other cities grow New York becomes more and more an example of our salvation or our destruction. If we can find a sustainable way of living in NY, which means understanding and managing our impact on the rest of the world, then that is a great step forward.

So far our New York life style comes with a price, a price that a lot of people pay with their lives. These people either die trying to support our life style, as with the millions of people working long hours for little pay to provide us with cheap products, or they die trying to stop the destruction our lifestyle imposes on other places, as in the case of the countless human rights, environmental and political activists who are murdered because they got in the way of our endless demand for more products.

So far the overwhelming decision by New Yorkers is that the price these people paid is worth it for us. Lets be honest. We decided this by not deciding anything. Right now New York city is where thousands of trucks bring valuables into the city each day and thousands of trucks leave the city carrying our garbage. We are a massive consuming machine with huge amounts of waste.

The value we create is mostly intellectual and abstract, in the form of the finance, intellectual property and other such esoteric activities. Maybe that value balances our the tonnes of raw materials we consume, both in food, supplies and building materials.

I am not sure. I am focused on reducing our consumption in the building industry to nothing or near nothing levels. As far as I’m concerned you pick a topic and do your best to make that part of the world a better place. Anything more and you get overwhelmed and either give up or get angry, the ultimate giving up being suicide and the ultimate anger being murder, neither of which are very productive in the long term.

All this is in introduction to the following movie that is moving, beautiful and poignant. Enjoy.

It Should Be a Crime!

A typical thing happened today in the life of Eco Brooklyn. One of our workers noticed a dumpster full of wood and called it in to the office. I dispatched our “Rescue Truck”, Eco Brooklyn’s veggie oil pickup, to go salvage the wood before it was carted off to the dump.

This wood has sat in a brownstone for over 80 years. It is beautiful douglass fir, in the form of studs or joists. Nice thick wood with another hundred years of life left to it, at least. It is beautiful wood. You can sand it down and put oil on it for a kitchen counter or island. You can cut it down and use as siding. Or cut it into planks for flooring. Or put it back into a house simply as joists or studs. It is like art. Art direct from nature.

You can’t get this wood today. It comes from old trees and has had a hundred years to cure. It is part of a long ago history when wood was as abundant and healthy as the bison.

When the driver and helper got to the dumpster the workers on the site had started putting soil on top of the wood. We asked if the contractor would stop for a few minutes to give my guys time to take out the wood. We don’t push the ecological logic in this situation. We point out the financial logic that the dumpster will cost about $800 and if we take half the wood we save the contractor maybe $400.

But the contractor refused. So my guys worked frantically to save the wood as the other workers poured soil on top of it. We got only six beams before the soil became too much to move. We watched as they covered up the other sixty beams.

Today we didn’t succeed. Some days we do but it is a constant fight.

Throwing away this wood should be a crime. The waste is so saddening. Such ignorance, such arrogance.

It is so frustrating that this is legally and morally acceptable. Thousands of dumpsters a year, millions of board feet a year thrown into the trash heap.

Sometimes I think I am surrounded by insanity. Or maybe I am insane.

One client I met with today just came back from the Amazon forest recording sounds. He has been going for ten years. He says it is getting hard to go because the forest is disappearing so fast before his eyes he can’t bear the pain. He said on the plane he overheard some forest company workers joking about how they had lied to government officials about the origin of a certain tree in order to log it. They thought it was funny.

We live in a spiraling time where we have the power to destroy or save the planet in an astoundingly short time. Never in the history of humanity have we had this power. There is a crisis in the world. Wake up. Become humble. Do good.

Gay Marriage! One step closer to enlightenment…

I am very happy that gay marriage has been legalized because the more open our society the better nature will fare. Legalizing gay marriage is one step closer to an enlightened society where plants and animals have the same rights as humans.

The fact that gay marriage has not been legally recognized up to now is sadly an indication of how far we have to go and how ignorant parts of our society are. In fact gay marriage has been a non-event for most straight people in New York City, the most liberal place in the state. I suspect that in other places of the state it was even met with disgust.

Here in NYC I’ve been vocally happy about gay marriage and straight people have responded to me with amusement and a little bewilderment. Most straight people don’t see gay marriage as relating to them. Even though they are mostly approving of gay marriage they don’t share my view that gay marriage is similar to the racial and gender equality issues we fought for with women emancipation or removing segregation.

These people are uniformed, though. This is BIG!

Not because marriage is a magic bullet. In fact many gays may come to curse this day once they discover that gay divorce just got a hell of a lot more expensive! Darlings you have no idea what you just got yourselves into. The state is now allowed to have a say in your matrimonial bliss (and agony). But that is another issue.

This is big because it is about recognizing gays as equal, regardless of the legality, in this case marriage.

As a New York green contractor intimately focused on turning New York green it has rocked my world. I see gay equality as intimately connected to my success at turning the world greener.

I see Gay marriage as our generation’s move towards enlightenment and universal equality for all life forms. No longer do gays have to sit at the back of the proverbial bus and this has huge impact on my work of turning New York green.

As long as some humans do not have the same rights as other humans we don’t have a chance in hell of saving our ecological planet. The reason for this is that humans in their arrogance place themselves well above plants and animals in superiority. And as long as some humans see themselves as superior to other humans we will never take the next jump to realizing that not only are all humans deserving of equal respect but so are all plants and all animals.

Plants and animals always fare worst in a closed society where there is large human suffering because they are always put at the bottom of the ladder. If a society does not respect its children, women, gays, people with disabilities, people with the wrong skin color, or any other creature who has the bad luck of being below the dominant oppressor then you can be sure the animals and plants are being treated even worse.

So any time we move closer to human equality I see it as a step towards animal and plant equality. We may be a long way off, but Eco Brooklyn’s mission statement of turning New York green keeps us focused on that vision.

So on this historic day Eco Brooklyn salutes all gays, married or not, as part of our vibrant and open society. May this bring more love, more respect and more happiness into the world. And may it trickle down to other parts of society, especially our plants and animals who contribute so much and ask for so little.

You go girl!

Fracking Joke – Stop Your Gas Consumption

Fracking, the toxic method of squeezing gas out of the ground is yet another coffin nail in the long line of destructive activities that the oil and gas industries have wreaked on our planet.

Check out this cool video below. Get active against Fracking.  New York and New Jersey have more Fracking going on than any other place in the country. What does that mean? Toxic water, cancer, dead fish. The nasty list goes on. All so we can heat our homes to high temperatures while not bothering to weather seal them.

The connection I’m making is that the gas and oil companies who, granted, are capitalism at its worst are simply meeting a demand – our demand. Like spoiled children we want what we want and don’t care what it takes to get it.

The bottom line is that if we want to stop fracking in the long run we need to seal up our homes, use high efficiency heating and drastically reduce our demand for gas. In the short run a lot is already too late and desperate measures of gathering petitions, calling politicians, and any other act of attention getting are needed.

We can’t trust the greed of corporate shareholders who are safely removed from the means by which their profits are gotten to become better people. They are alienated from the reality of how their money is made. By “they” I mean anyone who owns stocks, which is A LOT of us.

We need to worry about our end. Stop the demand, stop the flow of money to the oil and gas companies. As long as ourmoney is flowing towards these companies there will be evil acts of corporate destruction.

As a New York green contractor we focus a lot on this in our green brownstone renovations. Before we look at green technologies like solar power and high efficiency boilers we focus on REDUCING the need for these things in the first place through lots of insulation, weathersealing and other load reducing techniques.

Check out the map and info at EarthJustice.org, a really great organization.

No Fracking in NY

If you haven’t signed a petition against Fracking please do so with this link.

http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/676/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=4322&tag=youtube

If you want the negative view on Fracking check out this three minute Video. And yes Haliburton and Cheney are once again part of it. It is so funny how they pop up wherever there are mass deaths, ecological disasters and wanton greed.

Funny weird, not funny ha ha.

Educate yourself on fracking and please be aware that the oil and gas industry has spent a lot of money for many years trying to make fracking seem like a harmless issue you don’t have to worry about t. I suggest countering that momentum by creating a bit of your own and doing what you can to stop the spread of fracking. The petition above is a good start. Calling government officials is another. I’m sure you can think of others.

Brooklyn Farmers’ Market and Twinkies

I see the Brooklyn Farmers’ Market as the antithesis of a Twinkie.

The Twinkie is always the same. It lasts forever, is full of chemicals and is made on some distant planet. And never does it create a healthy sense of community.

The Brooklyn Farmers’ Market on the other hand is possibly the most powerful community force since Indians sat around camp fires on the banks of the East River.

The Farmers’ Market is never the same, bursting with a variety of heirloom vegetables, intelligent people and seasonal fare. It does not last forever but rather only happens during a certain window of time at a certain place, thus pulling you into the immediate world around you. It is devoid of chemicals and unites local people and food together. And it creates such a powerful sense of community.

As a Brooklyn green builder I am passionate about things that build community – not only for people but for the diverse species of plants and animals in the world. The Farmers’ Market encourages farming a diversity of small ecosystems where humans and nature interact in a more balanced way.

You can feel this at the Farmers’ Market. The people selling their food are passionate about health and holistic thinking. Everyone has found themselves in a supermarket asking a question of the supermarket employee to realize not only do they know nothing about the food they are stocking but couldn’t care less.

Not so at the Farmers’ Market. I educate myself on food and the environment but I look to these people for advice. The guy who sells cheese not only knows the scientific names of the cheese cultures but what temperatures they work best at and what foods bring them to live. The mushroom vendor knows all the medicinal attributes of their food. Never will you look at a shitaki mushroom the same after hearing about their psychological and physiological impact on your body.

Today I went to the Farmers’ Market, like I do every Sunday and like always it was an enlightening joy. I ran into neighbors, I discovered new fruits and vegetables, and it was pointed out by the bread guy how the organic flower that is sprinkled on the freshly baked bread had a “cool zen garden pattern”:

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I saw exotic colors and unusual shapes. Life had come back to food. Food had come back to life.

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The market was buzzing with smells, music and invigorated people. There was a bioculture. There was life. Healthy life. Despite the sweltering heat people were being part of and actively making community.

Just for fun, for a dose of contrast, I popped into the local box store across the street. Its super air conditioned halls were so cool and refreshing compared to the heat outside. And yet the halls were empty. The place was lifeless. The worker didn’t know if they sold Twinkies but he did point me to the food isle, if you can call it that, just beyond the candy isle and before the footcare  isle. It had an variety packaging, all containing dead food, all a variation of corn syrup and salt.

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It is a sad fact that people actually consider this a place to buy food. The Farmers’ Market, despite its wonder, is VERY expensive. The people from the projects two blocks away do not and can not shop at the Farmers’ Market. They shop at the box store, where you get what you pay for.

You see, the Farmers’ Market charges up front. When you buy an heirloom tomato you are paying for the real cost of food. You are paying for a living wage, for healthy crop yields, for small scale economy, and for health. It is like paying in cash. You leave the market not owing anyone anything.

When you buy the tin of processed food you are not paying up front. Despite the sub par quality of the food, you don’t pay for the soil erosion, the chemical contamination, the diversity extinction, the poor wages or the many other costs associated with selling a product under cost. It is put on a credit card you that you pay later. In fact we may well be paying for many generations to come.

And yet “poor” people can’t afford anything other than buying on credit. The Farmers’ Market is out of their economic reach. They are stuck in a system they not only keep alive by consuming it’s output but are the slaves that run it. They produce the garbage in the big box stores and that garbage is all they can afford.

How do we break that cycle. How do they get access to the Farmers’ Market?

I don’t know. I am a green builder. I know about other things. I however do appreciate the Farmers’ Market and am grateful I am part of its cycle.

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Eco Brooklyn Green Building Terms

On the Eco Brooklyn job sites we have certain green building concepts that we use. They are mostly coined by me to help the crew and clients understand what Eco Brooklyn’s core goals are. They are easy rallying points to help us all stay on track.

These terms can be searched on this site for more details. Here they are in short:

Build It Forward

We have been given a gift by the builders who originally built brownstones. They are wonderful structures. Our job as green builders is to be custodians of those brownstones and build them forward, meaning we build so that our work is a gift to future generations. This means we build with value, longevity and integrity – all sustainable concepts. We don’t build crap that saps the resources for future generations rather we add value and store that value in the brownstone.

Zero Brownstone

A zero brownstone has been renovated along certain low waste, low consumption and energy efficient principles. During the deconstruction phase (aka demo phase) zero waste is created. All “waste” is salvaged and organized so that it can be reused onsite or on another job. During the rebuilding phase no new materials are bought. Everything we put back into the brownstone is salvaged or recycled. The final brownstone is built using energy efficient techniques so that it consumes no energy off site.

Firstly it consumes very little energy due to good design – insulation, solar design, energy efficient appliances – and the energy it does consume is generated onsite via PV, Solar Thermal or geothermal. The brownstone is also designed to create zero waste via gray water, composting food scraps and toilet waste. These are lofty goals but with each renovation we perfect the process further.

The City Provides

This concept plays on the idea of abundance. The city has everything we need via dumpsters, other job sites, craigslist, and throwaways. We treat the city as our big momma who provides us with everything we need to turn it green. When we need something instead of presuming our only resource is a store we presume the resources are just around the corner.

Harvest the City

Along the same lines as The City Provides, Harvest the City revives the idea of old fashioned harvesting of nature. It helps us see the city as a biological entity rather than a dead layer of concrete and steel. The city is our field from which we harvest resources – again from other dismantled buildings, dumpsters etc. The city is also under our custodianship so that it continues to provide a bountiful harvest – we manage the resources intelligently and share then with others so they are maximized.

Gotham Forest

This is not my term. The Gotham Forest is the millions of board feet of timber sequestered away in our buildings. About a hundred years ago forests of old growth trees were cut down to build New York. This ancient wood sits in our buildings protected and ready for reuse. Each time we dismantle a building for another use or for an upgrade we get access to this amazing wood. It should provide us with wood for a long time to come.

Eco Brooklyn has yet to buy new wood. We have not bought any new flooring, studs, joists or molding. Yet we build mostly with wood since it is harder to salvage metal. We do this thanks to the abundance of wood it old New York and Brooklyn brownstones.

Guerrilla Green Building

I mentioned this during an interview once and it was published. Only then did I realize how key this is to Eco Brooklyn’s model. Guerrilla Green Building is what allows Eco Brooklyn to build green while keeping our costs low and making a large impact. Basically we turn green building into a political ethical enterprise and not merely another consumer market.

Eco Brooklyn has shattered the connection between high costs and green building because we source our materials differently than other wanna be green builders. Their idea of building green is buying green. There are countless companies who have met the demand for green stuff. And they charge a premium because there is limited competition and the volume is still low. But that is still stuck in the old model of consumerism, which is the root of our ecological crisis.

Eco Brooklyn practices Guerrilla Green Building by not only changing how we build but also “why” we build and how we source. We build not only because it is a great business opportunity but because it transforms how business is done for the better. We are Turning Brooklyn Green and by connection the world. That is the why.

The sourcing – dumpsters, salvage etc – is more than a practical way to save money. It is a direct snub of consumer practices, something we believe needs to be drastically reduced if we are going to save the planet. The director of corporate sales at Lowes is a business friend of mine. But he jokes that Eco Brooklyn is his worst client. And we are. We are determined to minimize what we buy new.

Turn Brooklyn Green

This is the daily ongoing goal of Eco Brooklyn. It is our mantra, the meter with which we keep ourselves on track. It is a simple localized focus that is very easy to gauge. Do our decisions help turn Brooklyn green? Will building this wall help turn Brooklyn green? Will this job help turn Brooklyn green? With this guide we stay focused on a mission that is easy to rally around and easy to feel you are making progress on a daily basis. It makes it easy for us to feel we have a purpose in life, easy to feel good about what we are doing.

Triple Bottom Line

This is not my term. The triple bottom line is another easy metric. Do our actions benefit People, Planet and Profit? Again we ask ourselves this on an ongoing basis. You can expand and contract the scale depending on the situation and make the focus global or very localized to one job situation. Basically does it help the people involved, the planet and does it make profit (or savings) for the people involved (workers, clients, neighbors, people in China etc).

Green Building is More Dependant on Natural Cycles

One of the many differences between renovating a Brooklyn brownstone the old fashioned way and doing a green renovation is the difference in cycles.

A normal brownstone renovation is very similar to all post-industrial activity: MAN OVER NATURE. And ever since the “triumph of science” we have been able to overpower the earths natural cycles and impose our own. The classic example is the invention of electricity and the light bulb.

Since the beginning of time man stopped most activity when the sun went down. But now the passing of the sun has very little impact on our activities. We have created our own light/darkness independence from nature.

In the typical construction of a Brooklyn brownstone we see this in the way materials are sourced. The construction cycle is determined by what the builder wants. He simply calls up the local building supply store and says, “I want the (Canadian) plywood sub floor to come on Wednesday, I want the (Brazilian) hardwood floors to come on Thursday, and I want the (English) kitchen cabinets to come on Friday.”

God has spoken and the building supply store sends off its minions around the world to rape and pillage the earth and they come back with the goods by Wednesday. More or less. The availability of anything at any time and we don’t have to feel the burden of it since most of the impact is across the globe.

But a green brownstone renovation doesn’t work like that at all. We don’t call up the local building store and command. We scurry around to the local dumpsters, we scour the used salvage yards, we surf the web for second hand materials, and we make connections with other contractors who might have overstock.

What we get and when we get it is very determined by the local cycles. For example if a job site down the road is doing demo of the walls we know there is a good chance that in about two weeks they will be ripping out the floors. We plan our job accordingly to be ready for those salvaged floors.

And the color of the floors we salvage will influence the color of the kitchen counter we will look for. The process is much more a give and take with our environment. We go out in the morning in search of plywood for the subfloor but instead we find sheet rock. Guess what we will be doing in the afternoon? We’ll change plans and instead of doing the floor we’ll sheet rock the walls.

This give and take at first seems chaotic and unproductive to the Divine contractor who can call and demand whatever the want whenever they want, but we see it as much more in tune with the environment. And that harmony is very important to us on a global scale. It is an acknowledgment that we are part of a larger flow.

We see the post-industrial attitude as extremely arrogant. The “make it happen at whatever the cost” attitude that arguably built the Western Empire and that is now building the Chinese Empire in my opinion has too high a cost attached to it. You can’t push against the universe for too long until it pushes back and completely annihilates you.

I was speaking with my electrician today about how Eco Brooklyn could just as easily be a environmental nonprofit fighting for California Redwoods or working for the rights of the Amazonian Indians. Our main purpose it to improve the ecology of the world. It just so happens we are using green building in Brooklyn as our tool to do that.

This is why the way that we source materials is so important. If we source locally, in harmony with local cycles, then we are so much more than a construction company and hopefully we are improving the world’s ecology.

Permaculture, Pigs and Bees

Here is a cool insight into nature. It is by Michael Pollan. He also talks about the Polyface Farm which is run by “grass farmer” Joel Salatin. Joel is interviewed a lot in the Food Inc Movie. Check out the talk below, follow the links above. All very cool stuff.

Not directly connected to green contractors in Brooklyn but indirectly very much so. We can do this stuff in Brooklyn in our own language and with out own circumstances.