Being Green – Accountability

Hi Folks:

Before I get started on this week’s ‘Being Green‘ post I wanted to mention two things. First, last week I mentioned that several members of Victoria’s Emerging Green Builders collaborated on an entry for the USGBC’s 2010 Natural Talent Design Competition. You can find more information on their entry here: ARK | Hurricane Resistant Flooding Solution. Second, if you’re in Kelowna, BC on June 15, 2010 you can “Explore the Future of Architecture at Okanagan College”

Okay… it’s taken me a little while to get started on this week’s post. I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to say, but I wasn’t sure how to get started. In short, writer’s block! For all you non-writers out there, writer’s block is not when you’re sitting there staring at a blank screen or a blank page. Writer’s block is when you’re doing everything but sitting there staring at a blank screen/ page.

So, in desperation (that’s my belief and I’m sticking with it) I decamped to the local Starbucks for a tea and a cookie. Starbucks is about a 20 minute walk from where we live, but because I was already behind schedule I elected to take the bus down instead. As I stood there waiting for the bus I picked up about 10 or 15 pieces of litter and put them in the trash can located beside the bus shelter. I didn’t get to the many cigarette butts before the bus arrived.

Right then I knew I had found my ‘hook’. It begs the question, of course, of why there was so much garbage littering the ground in the first place. It really comes down to one word: responsibility. The root word ‘spond’ or ‘spons‘ means to ‘promise, answer for’, and ‘re-spond‘ means ‘to answer in kind’. The suffix ‘ible‘ is equivalent to ‘able’, so a responsibile person is one who is able to respond, able to promise, answer for, and to answer in kind. So much for the English lesson, but it seems ironic to me that we live in a society where everyone wants personal freedom and no one wants to take responsibility. This applies to our buildings, our work, our food, our very way of life. Imagine a world where each of us, individually and collectively took responsibility for our thoughts, ideas, beliefs, words and actions, because in the end we have to. It doesn’t matter if we try to push the blame off onto some ‘other’, whether it be political parties, business leaders, religious groups or anyone else; it comes down to us. When I was doing environmental inspection work for a pipeline construction job one of the expressions used by the men there was (excuse the vernacular), “You don’t crap where you eat, because you always end up downwind of the stink”.

Some years ago I was giving a talk for a group of Boy Scouts, leaders, parents and a few others, and the camp where we were at was situated on the edge of a lake. One of the questions I asked the assembled group was, “What would happen if I was to take a jug of poison (say something nice, like an octo-dioxin) down to the edge of the water and pour it into the lake?” I took the liberty of answering my own question, which was that eventually it would find it’s way out of the lake via the outflow stream, and from there it would eventually end up in the St. Lawrence River, and from there it would end up in the ocean. And then where would it go? Absolutely nowhere. This planet may be 25,000 miles in diameter, but it’s a very tiny marble in a very big galaxy. That afternoon after I finished my talk the leaders began building a composter for the camp. I was secretly pleased.

This past week I came across three interesting articles that speak of this in their own way. The first was, “BP, Goldman Sachs, and Massey could learn a lot from ultimate frisbee“. Basically the article states that when something happens like the oil rupture in the Gulf of Mexico, everyone starts looking for someone to blame and there is a general clamoring for tighter enforcement, greater government regulation. The US is already one of the most litigious countries in the world (and I’m not picking on any person, group or country in particular here): another good example is an article outlining that in at least 3 US states it is illegal to photograph any on-duty police officer. The problem with this (aside from the blatantly obvious) is two-fold. For one, negative enforcement doesn’t work. Negative enforcement will not stop people from doing _____. It never has. You don’t have to take my word for it; I have a friend who has a Masters Degree in Criminology. You don’t have to take her word for it either – look at the growing populations in penal institutions for your answer. The insurance industry has published studies that higher fines for speeding will not reduce speeding. On the other hand, offering lower premiums to those who are good drivers will have a positive effect. This has been proven over and over. Second, we don’t need more government regulation or new laws to keep people, corporations or countries under control. What we need is a more general sense of personal responsibility. The third article I read this week is, “In 500 Metres, Turn Left at Common Sense“. The beginning of the article mentions a woman in Utah who is suing Google because she followed the Google Maps walking directions – right into a moving vehicle – and a man in Germany who drove his car into a port-a-potty because he was following the directions of his GPS. Makes one glad that important things like breathing are autonomic processes. Even multinational corporations are not simply nameless, faceless entities. At the heart of every corporation is a group of people – a you and a me, an ‘us’. Come what may, we’re all playing in this garden together.

Robert Fulghrum wrote a book titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten“:

All I Really Need To Know
I Learned In Kindergarten

by Robert Fulghum

All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten. ALL I REALLY NEED TO KNOW about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Don’t hit people.
  • Put things back where you found them.
  • Clean up your own mess.
  • Don’t take things that aren’t yours.
  • Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Wash your hands before you eat.
  • Flush.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
  • Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Take a nap every afternoon.
  • When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.
  • Be aware of wonder.
  • Remember the little seed in the styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
  • Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die.  So do we.
  • And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere.
The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation.
Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had a basic policy to always put thing back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

© Robert Fulghum, 1990.
All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, Villard Books: New York, 1990, page 6-7.

I think it’s good advice for all of us.

Okay, the links for this week include:

Okay, that’s it for now. Have a great week!

P.S. Last week I mentioned a few ‘green’ vehicles. These two take it to an entirely different level: Klavir photosynthesis car and Terrestrial Shrub Rover (video).

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