Why Haven't We Been Green Building All Along?

Why haven't we been green building all along? Americans have made sacrifices for comfort that have caused us to use up more and more of our resources. 50 years ago, we were actually building pretty sustainably,...

50 years ago, we were actually building pretty sustainably, except for clear cutting. We were cutting down all the Douglas fir trees and the redwoods on the west coast, and the long leaf pines in the south were all gone by the 50s. So we used up all our good lumber, and that was a big mistake. Instead of using all our really good lumber for studs, we should have used it only for siding and places where the house is exposed to the elements because it was such good wood. But now it's all gone except in parks. There's virtually none left. So now anytime you make siding out of any North American woods, you're getting second growth, and that's "quick grown" wood. It's not going to last outside unless it's treated with chemicals. But the old houses, in terms of durability and conservation of raw materials, were actually pretty sustainable, except that they weren't very energy efficient because energy was cheap then. Gasoline was only 23 cents a gallon.


As we progress in more and more comfort, people saw more and more opportunities to make money from home-related products. Along came air-conditioning and bigger houses with rec rooms and extra bedrooms. More conveniences, more appliances went into the kitchens - dishwashers and garbage disposals. None of those things were necessary, but because someone invented them and someone else saw an opportunity to market them, they were sold to the American public pretty aggressively. All the magazine and television ads told us this stuff was really cool and we couldn't live without it. So, gradually we became more and more dependent on these things until the turn of the millennium. Now it's totally out of control. It's not at all unusual for a couple with no children to think they need 4,000 square feet of space to live in. But 50 years ago, the standard house was about 800 or 1,000 square feet, and families were bigger then, too. We're using so much more energy and space now. I think it's capitalism run amok. That's the bottom line. It's snowballed. It's become a way to make a buck and everyone has jumped on board because it's sexy and it looks more comfortable. But what we've given up to have all that is considerable. We've given up a lot of our leisure time so we can make more money to pay for this stuff.


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