Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Skyscrapers Going Green

Big Little Sister had her braces taken off yesterday. Yes, we are very much like every other regular suburban family, complete with kids who have braces. Now, you know.

While she was having the metal taken out of her mouth, I was in the waiting area, and I picked up a copy of Time magazine and started flipping through. I read I couple of articles that I don't remember, and then came to one with the title Greening the Skyline: The world's tallest buildings look modern by have old-school energy bills. Enter the new age of eco-upgrades for skyscrapers by Anita Hamilton (Time. April 18, 2011. p. Business 4). I asked the receptionist if she could make a photocopy of the article for me, because there were some things in the article that I wanted to remember.

The first is how exciting it is for me to hear that people are even thinking about making skyscrapers more "energy efficient." Built in a time when heating with oil or coal was dirt cheap, no one cared to consider how much energy and money might be needed to just keep the buildings warm, but those times are gone. Yes, despite what the naysayers want us to believe, those times of cheap energy and easy money do, indeed, seem to be gone, and if nothing else in this world will make us see that truth in that, an article discussing "greening skyscrapers" should do it.

According to the article, the owner of the Empire State Building is investing $13 million in eco-retrofitting for his building, which he says will pay for itself in three years. Among the changes that have been done is having the over 6000 windows "insulated" rather than replaced at a cost savings of $1800. Imagine. Instead of trashing 6000 windows, which would have, undoubtedly, ended up in the waste stream, Tony Malkin had a company (Serious Materials) come in and clean and insulate the windows.

Of course, Mr. Malkin has come under fire for some of his other eco-changes as well, which are described in the article as being "downright ordinary." Things like caulking, using spray foam insulation, and installing a system to better regulate the temperature of the heating/cooling system - all of this to save a few bucks on energy costs.

When asked why they didn't, instead, invest in an alternative energy system to produce their own eletricity and reap the cost savings that way, the manager who oversaw the Empire State Building retrofits stated, "it doesn't make business sense. It makes much more sense to lower energy use."

What a novel idea.

And in three years, they estimate a cost savings of over $13 million dollars - just from cleaning and insulating windows, filling in air holes, and making their heating system more efficient.

If the average suburbanite could take a lesson from the skyscraper retrofit, we might not save $13 million, but we would save a lot more over time than we invested - just like the owners of the Empire State Building.

Another very interesting observation from the article states that many feel greening older structures is more difficult, but according to those who were quoted in the article, this isn't wholly true. Older buildings are made from more insulative materials - like stone - as opposed to the more contemporary glass and steel buildings that are out there. Perhaps our (fore) fathers did know best??

It was such a positive article, and so exciting to see some of the more simple and efficient (and sustainable) ideas that have been passing through the green movement being put into practice - not because they're "green" (in fact, one building owner is quoted as saying the changes to his building weren't motivated by a desire to be eco-friendly, but rather by pure economics), but because they make sense.

And it does make very good sense, from an eco-friendly standpoint AND from an economic standpoint, to use less.

John Michael Greer, who seems to have an above-average amount of common sense, has been writing about the Green Wizard movement on his blog for almost a year. What I love most about his blog is that he doesn't just tell us what's wrong with the world and leave it to us to figure out how to fix it. He gives good, common sense advice about the kinds of actions we can take now, as the world contracts, and we get poorer. He's a true child of the sixties, and lived through the last great "greening" movement. His solutions are simple and time-tested.

I wonder if Mr. Greer saw the Time magazine article, and what he thinks about their very "Green Wizard" approach to Greening the Skyline?


  1. Again, another good blog with plenty of food for thought.

    Question - when did the 'replace with green' movement take over from the 'fix what you have'
    and 'use less' movements? I remember the latter two being highly promoted in the lat 60's and early 70's.

  2. Good to know that when TEOTWAWKI hits, Big Little Sister's teeth will be able to withstand the change :) This is just one more way you are taking steps to be ready :)

  3. Just so you know, I just left a long review of your book at Amazon, however it was long because I had a couple of serious criticisms. Most of your practical advice about suburban homesteading is fine, but I also think we may well avoid the sort of collapse that you fear. I'm not optimistic, but I have hardly given up yet, and you evidently have. Also, you need to get a biology degree before you start dispensing medical advice. It is fine to ask questions without being an expert, but to promulgate the answers you need more than an English literature degree. What you have written in your chapter on medical care is both ill-informed and dangerously irresponsible.

    Dave Johnson
    Manchester, NH

  4. Mr. Johnson - thank you for taking the time to write such a comprehensive review of my book. I really enjoyed reading it.

    I hope that you'll consider giving the chapter on health care (not *medical* care) another read. With the exception of whether or not to get vaccinated, it seems like you and I actually agree on most things - including why most fatal diseases were erradicated (I called it "improved sanitation" in my book, and you said it had to do with better water filters in your review ;).

    On the solar power generation question - in my defense, I don't say it's a bad choice. I just think there are less costly and more simple solutions, especially for someone who lives in a cold, wooded climate, like Maine (and New Hampshire). For the record, though, solar thermal collection is different from solar power generation. Using the sun for passive heating, cooking food or heating water does not require the same kinds of very high-tech equipment that generating electricity using the sun does. A wood-powered generator is much more simple.

    Again, thank you very much for the review. It meant a lot to me to have you confirm that a good deal of what I'm suggesting with regard to the small-space homesteading is not just possible, but that you, too, did it years ago. I appreciated your sharing your experiences ;). If you're in the Augusta area tomorrow (May 21), you should stop by Barnes and Noble. I'd love to chat more with you about your thoughts ... on the chapters you liked ;).

  5. I went back and re-read your chapter on health care, and it is clear that you are giving your readers very specific advice on the treatment of illnesses with herbal remedies.

    If you were not simply writing about such things for a general audience (who may or may not be seeking medical advice), but instead were advising individuals with particular diseases, then you would be practicing medicine without a license, which is illegal in all fifty states - and for good reason.

    You have a Constitutional right to voice your opinions on nearly any subject, and I myself would defend that right vigorously, but I have an equal right to throw those opinions straight back in your face, as well as a right to add caustic comments for the sake of emphasis, which I will now do.

    Studying any modern science is hard work, and for several reasons.

    First, there is simply a massive amount of material to study.

    Thousands of people have spent many centuries carefully working out and testing the ideas that are now accepted as valid, and just reading a good summary of that material can take several years of full-time effort.

    Second, many of these ideas are highly counter-intuitive, so they are hard to understand, even though they may have been tested to a fare-thee-well by the best minds in the world, and still found valid, despite their lack of common-sense appeal.

    For example, quantum mechanics is truly weird by ordinary standards, yet that set of theories not only explains many phenomena consistently, but also predicted many more well in advance of their actual observation.

    Moreover, all of modern electronics is predicated upon quantum mechanics, and the very fact that the Internet and billions of cell phones all work as intended is massive proof that physicists and engineers really do know they are talking about - even though the average citizen has not the slightest clue about the real details.

    And the same is true of modern molecular biology, upon which all of modern medicine is based.

    Third, the key idea in science is the method for testing and establishing the validity of any particular idea, and applying the method correctly is exhausting, nerve-wracking work in many cases.

    For example, it is simply not adequate to say that you have had "good luck" using garlic oil to treat ear infections. The operative word in that statement may very well be "luck", and nothing more. One small, sloppy experiment - ON HELPLESS HUMAN BEINGS - is not remotely good enough evidence. Period. To say nothing of the ethical horror of casually using children a guinea pigs.

    If you recall, Nazi doctors who did that sort of thing in concentration camps were prosecuted for war crimes, and correctly so. Josef Mengele the White Angel of Auschwitz was hunted for the rest of his life, and was lucky not to be caught, because he would have been imprisoned for life, if not executed.

    I had a co-worker in New York some years ago whose own mother met Mengele face-to-face when he casually decided to make a slave laborer of her instead of sending her straight to the gas chamber. And I have met quite a number of other Holocaust survivors over the years, so I feel very strongly about these ethical principles.

    No civilized society experiments on human beings, much less on those incapable of consenting on an informed basis. It is considered a crime in every jurisdiction that purports to establish high moral and legal standards.

    Yet, you not only casually experiment on your own children, but you may not even have taken them to see the doctor for a second opinion. Then you compound the ethical error by publishing a book, intended for a nation-wide audience, that purports to give valid medical advice, based solely upon your own pathetic standards of evidence.

    So, kindly excuse me if I offend you personally in my analysis of this sort of dangerous idiocy.

    [The system limits a comment to 4096 characters, so the rest will be in the next submission.]

    Dave Johnson

  6. [continued from previous comment]

    If you do not care for the criticism, and the pejorative comparisons, then perhaps you should take more care in the future to check your facts, and your methods, before putting your foot in your mouth in front of a national audience.

    And I daresay that you should be glad that I was nowhere near Augusta on the 21st of May.

    I was raised by people who took scientific debate seriously, and it can be very rough stuff.

    The scientific community is very well aware that the results of their work can and often does affect millions or billions of people, so they go into that line of work prepared for the toughest possible review of their results. The world at large is entitled to nothing less than the utmost care on this point.

    Again, the average citizen simply does not have the energy, the intelligence, or the integrity to play this game well, so instead some sit on the side-lines and make foolish comments like yours.

    Nor would I normally care very much, but sometimes, as in this case, the ignorant and the foolish do say things that are simply dangerous.

    Thus, had I been in Augusta I might well have taken the trouble to make the foregoing remarks to your face and in public. I would have been impeccably polite and soft-spoken, but I still would have made the same comparison to Nazi war criminals.

    After all, you admit in so many words that your own children are your experimental subjects.

    All I am doing is noting the blatantly obvious similarity to those who were notorious for flouting the rules of civilized behavior.

    Again, what you have written in your chapter on health care is fundamentally irresponsible, and after reading the chapter again, very carefully, I see no reason at all to change my opinion. If anything I am more horrified than I was the first time around.

    Further, the shallow, weasel-worded distinction you make between "health care" and "medical care" just reinforces my conviction that you have no grip on the fundamental issues at all. The intellectually honest response to my comments would be to ask for the references on which I base my analysis. Instead you offer a bit of clumsy wordplay that has no probative significance at all.

    In the end it is Mother Nature herself who will decide who has the right and the wrong of it on this issue.

    I am betting that those who are immunized with modern methods are more likely to survive and reproduce in the long run than are those who avoid those advantages.

    As a friend of mine was fond of saying, "Darwin was right. Some people are just too stupid to live."

    Finally, I have a small bet with myself as to whether or not these comments will ever see the light of day on your blog. Obviously you will see them, but do you have the integrity to put them out in public, much less with any sort of real response (beyond some complaint of personal annoyance)?

    Dave Johnson

  7. Huh! I see the last half of my comment, but not the first part. I didn't think you'd put it all out there, so no surprise.

    Good luck with your medical career.

    D. Johnson