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Pavlov’s Dilemma: The Quest For Relevancy

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This letter, by Green Builder Media CEO Sara Gutterman, gets to the heart of the frustration with backward-facing solutions for our environmental woes and suggests ideas the building industry–and country at large–should be embracing.

Last week, I was a guest at a lovely corporate event in Phoenix, Ariz, during which I attended a session presented by a lead economist from well-known building industry publishing and data company.


Q4 hedge fund letters, conference, scoops etc

The economist offered a variety of interesting insights and financial projections: he anticipates a short-term pricing correction in the housing industry, shifting the market in the buyer’s favor.  He expects that the recent lowering of interest rates was only temporary, and that those rates will continue to increase over the coming year.

He also expressed grave concern over our crumbling infrastructure, and he ardently asserted that the explosion of the national debt is the greatest threat to the long-term health of our economy.

He hinted at a grand solution to address the ballooning debt crisis that he plans to reveal at the upcoming Design & Construction Week: flood the market with oil, bring down gas prices, and use the money for infrastructure projects.

The moment the words came out of his mouth, my heart sank.  “No, no, NO,” I screamed silently to myself.  And as I sat frozen in disbelief, all I could think of was that humanity simply cannot survive such a plan.

I felt scared. Then angry.  How could this intelligent man possibly be so out of touch, so removed from our current environmental realities?   How could he conceivably stand in front of a group of educated business professionals touting a 20th century solution to support our out-of-control fossil fuel addiction, when we have access to such a robust spectrum of clean energy solutions and advanced sustainable technologies?  Is he really promoting a strategy that would set us back decades, erode our nation’s international standing, and possibly make us a laughingstock in the eyes of our allies?

And then, harsh reality set in—this man’s blindness to anything other than profit wasn’t isolated to himself, his company, or even to the shelter industry.   It is pervasive throughout our economy.  It is the very thing that paralyzes our political system and creates extreme inequality in our social system.

It’s the elephant in the room that can’t be ignored, the anchor on our national economy—as well as our collective psyche—that precludes real progress.

With respect to the housing industry, Green Builder Media President Ron Jones asserts that this state of obliviousness may end up being the sector’s downfall.  “If the housing industry, and the trade associations that advocate on its behalf, continue to function in a vacuum, not taking into account social and environmental ramifications, they will become more and more of an outlier, no longer relevant in the national debate,” he says.

Which is ironic and sad, given that we have the technologies, the intelligence, and now even the political pathways to evolve beyond this type of antediluvian thinking.

What if, instead of flooding the economy with oil, we implemented the Green New Deal to stimulate the economy while simultaneously addressing climate change, developing a resilient built environment, creating new living-wage jobs, and tackling social justice?

What if we created a federal renewable portfolio standard, like California’s, which determines targets for clean energy, or a federal feed-in tariff like Germany’s or China’s, which pays a guaranteed price for energy produced by renewables, and then invested those funds into infrastructure projects?

What if we set a price on carbon, as advised by the last four heads of the Federal Reserve, 15 former leaders of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and 27 Nobel laureates, to decarbonize the grid and stimulate clean energy investment, and distributed those proceeds to consumers as carbon dividends?

What if we implemented performance-based policies to encourage companies and utilities to make sure their energy, fleets, and buildings were as clean, efficient, and cost-effective as possible?

What if we demanded that the valuation of our built environment was based on quality, sustainability, comfort, performance, and resiliency, rather than price per square foot?

And what if we considered the full cost of each degree of global warming, each calving glacier, each millimeter of sea rise, each superstorm, each wildfire, each home lost, and each dream shattered?

If we think about it at all, I doubt that we can any longer justify backward-facing solutions.

Interested in developed forward-thinking solutions?  Join us at our upcoming Sustainability Symposium 2019: The Desert Shall Bloom on Monday, February 18, 2019 at the UNLV campus in Las Vegas. Brimming with vision and ingenuity, the event’s agenda includes luminaries like General Wesley Clark, Academy-Award winning actor Jeff Bridges, and NBA legend Bill Walton.

Click here to register for the Sustainability Symposium 2019: The Desert Shall Bloom. Space is strictly limited and by reservation only, so reserve your seat today!

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