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Environmental Equality for Everyday People

January 2, 2012

Environmental Equality for Everyday People
The beginning germ for this book began when I was in the seventh grade and Duncan Phillips was on top of me. I know that sounds strange, but I was required to go out for some sport in the winter season, and I chose wrestling. My brother James, who is a year older than I am, wrestled, and I figured I would do what he did. That was how I chose most things early on in life. As it turns out, I sucked at wrestling. Also, as it turns out, Duncan Phillips did not. So one week into the winter sports season in 1972, I lay on my back struggling and Duncan Phillips was on top of me pinning my sorry ass to the mat. The wrestling coach’s hand slapped against the mat, indicating I was toast, and that was the moment I decided I needed another sport.The next day, I asked if I could switch to basketball, and that was when I discovered an entirely new world. I grew up in Washington, DC, which during the early 1970’s, was the most predominantly Black city in the country. In his African-American call to acknowledgement, “I’m Black and I’m Proud,” James Brown referred to Washington as “Chocolate City.” Since, DC has undergone significant social and racial changes, and I believe Detroit has supplanted Washington as the most heavily Black dominated city in the US, but back then we were “Chocolate City.” This is important, because once I began playing basketball, I found my true sports love. However, to fall in love with a sport is to commit one’s self to practice. And while we had a nice sized house in the Georgetown section of intown Washington, we sure as shooting didn’t have a basketball court. The nearest court available was an asphalt slab ten blocks away: Volta Park. My first time there I saw Black and White men, mostly Black, I’d say seventy-thirty, playing basketball. Every spare hour of every temperate weekend day from sun up to sun down from that day forth until I went to college, that was where I was. If you go to Volta and 33rd even today, you will see folks playing ball. It is a very nice city park, with a baseball field, a public swimming pool, tennis courts, and a small field house where during the week small children gather for day care. But to me, at the age of twelve, it was the hoops courts and nothing else. There I really learned how to play basketball. It was, more importantly, where I was introduced to Black America, prejudice with a human face, and my first inklings that America wasn’t the land of equality my powers that be wanted me to believe. My realization of injustice had names and faces to go with the stories: Briscoe, Cap, Black Earl, Downtown, Ced, and Crazy Bronx, to name those I can still remember from thirty-five years ago. These were men, mostly in their twenties and thirties, African-American, who experienced racism everyday in every way. I was the rich White kid that sat and listened and returned home to my stately residence and my tie and jacket private school with a sense of all is not right in this world. That feeling never left. It is now thirty-five years later, 2007, and I have another passion, the environment and the global warming crisis. I, like many others, am a recent convert. I saw “An Inconvenient Truth” and realized I had to do something. I already was involved in commercial real estate. Most of my work took place in destitute urban settings in Connecticut– cities like Bridgeport, New Haven, Waterbury and Hartford. However, within the last two years I started seeing shops and advertisements sprouting up in the tonier spots along Connecticut’s Gold Coast (meaning: Greenwich, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport, Weston, Wilton, Fairfield– Manhattan commuter communities with enormous McMansions gently nestled into two acre lots) touting “Green Remodeling!” As it turns out, a friend of mine was one of the leading contractors in this green remodeling movement and his business was booming. “You can’t believe how many of these rich Greenwich housewives want their houses totally redone completely green. I love Al Gore. He’s making me rich.”OK, so rich housewives are going green, and doing a fine job of carbon offsetting their SUVs and Hummers. Gerald Moore and James Smith, two African-American friends, both extremely bright men with post-graduate degrees but without the high-paying jobs to match, live in the area of Bridgeport where the proportedly the Mafia dumps much of its toxic waste and “green” construction is not even a blip on the radar screen, what with crime, poverty, police brutality, and missing social services to contend with first. What is wrong with this picture?However, this disproportion of justice doesn’t negate the fact: the “green” explosion is for real. If you examine the numbers, there is no question that even in the most negative real estate market in decades, “green” construction is going great guns, with industry growth in the neighborhood of twenty percent. Something of a disconnect is going on here. The housing market is in shambles. The economy is headed into recession. The environment is the hottest topic in the media. The “green” economy is going through the roof. My unjustice hackles are up. I’m afraid of the world cooking to a light crisp and the rich being the only ones with sunscreen and an umbrella. So, my partner, Steve Schappert, and I have decided to actually do something about it. We are trying to start a company that makes housing which is cheaper than traditionally built housing, but which utilizes solar power and energy efficiency, thereby creating what we call Bios Homes or Zero+ Energy homes. Steve, who has always had a thing for environmental issues since his best friend’s dad gave him rides to soccer practice in the first home made fuel cell powered car in the seventies, is a visionary of sorts with all the baggage that comes with being a visionary. Visionaries rarely have that little something I like to call perspective. Instead, they see a single goal and head in that direction, the wind, weather, and whatever be damned. Great to have as a partner though. Let’s you know in which direction your compass is pointed at all times. Point is we’re in the process of creating housing which is about 17% cheaper to build than traditional construction but which is energy efficient and utilizes solar power photo voltaic cells. There are two basic benefits to this idea, both of which are big. The first is that while the wealthy have bigger housing than the non-wealthy in the US, its not 50 times bigger. So while Buffy and Reginald Davenport III may be going green, that leaves about 95% of US housing that is the same old crapola which eats energy like crazy. If we build regular houses which are green as can be, that don’t eat energy like crazy for the average Joe, then this green idea is no longer the plaything of the rich, but a possibility for everybody. Throw in the fact it will be cheaper and less costly to maintain with the diminished energy costs, well, you’re talking a home run. Heck, people can help the environment and save money. Most people are simply going to ask where they can sign up. The global warming crisis is not changing until the greening of American and the rest of the globe takes place in all construction, not just a small sliver of construction. Second, our plan is one of the few plans that is designed to make its designers wads of money while being good for everyone. This is key and yet it could come across as only self-serving, which it is, but is not as well. If a company like ours produces housing which is cheaper and lessens the carbon footprint of the average American home dweller and the idea goes over really well, we will be really rich. I know that sounds disgusting, but stick with me for a moment. If every builder out there saw us making gobs of money doing it greener and cheaper, that is the only way they are going to change what they’ve been doing up until now. You can’t change the way people do business by making them feel guilty. If that were the case, Exxon would have closed shop 30 years ago. GE would have committed suicide en masse if guilt were a business motivating factor. Does not work like that. Business is about making money. Make more money, better business. Simple. Now, we believe we have a way to make GREED, that big bad monster, not only run the economy, but this time save the planet.Change happens only when one must change, or the incentive to change is so great, you would have to be a fool not to change. Admittedly, there are fools in every walk of life and construction is not immune to this, but I believe most people, when presented with the obvious in a clear, logical, and realistic manner, will adopt the obvious as a new fact of life. Despite the present Presidential administrations attempts to convince us otherwise, the vast majority of Americans now realize we have a global warming crisis. Al Gore has presented the obvious in a clear, logical, and realistic manner, and most people get it. What has not been presented to the public is: how do you do anything about it on an individual basis that won’t bankrupt you? That’s what this blog book is about. I will attempt to show you what is out there for the “everyday people” to go green and with meaning. I will also show you how many forces out there don’t want you to go green, because it means money will be taken out of their pockets. Right now, one of those guys in your president, and that is a very big problem. But we’ll tackle that political mess a little later. There is a lot to cover, and I will attempt to do it topic by topic, but let it be known, that despite its reputation as being a pointless decade, the ideas for this blog book came from those very same 1970’s.Hey, make fun of disco all you want, but some interesting things happened back then that changed all of our lives for the better. The purpose of this book then, is to take those things learned from the seventies and turn them into something meaningful for everyone. The title of this blog, and what I hope will be a book on the net from blogs, Environmental Justice for Everyday People, is about the merging of two ideas: saving the planet by going to green construction, and combining it with reasonably priced housing stock, so some of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” can sit under the green revolution umbrella and catch some shade too.  – Miles Shapiro

via Building A Zero Energy Home.

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