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Altruism for Sustainability

Green Building Commentary

By: By Sonja Persram - Sunday, February 24, 2008

Green building proponents have contributed greatly to the industry’s expansion. Visionaries who recognized swiftly the logic of using green buildings for environmental, social and economic benefit, have contributed much to this cause. And, as the data substantiated that the value of high performance buildings supercedes the costs to stakeholder sectors, the movement has swelled, and the industry – and the humanity it serves – have all benefited.

These commitments of time and expertise have immeasurable in-kind value. Key practitioners have gifted much time for advocacy on green buildings, and in identifying sectoral appeal. Two books by Jerry Yudelson, Green Building A to Z and The Green Building Revolution are examples of this humanitarianism as they will enable the industry to spend less time in education and effectively target their marketing efforts. Jerry shared with readers his wealth of information and expertise in an open and accessible style, and so porous-paved the way toward even faster industry growth.

Further, experts’ industry supports have been growing with greater climate change risks to the planet. I believe these risk timelines are approaching, given recent research findings on climate change, and so this high level of altruism needs to needs to be embraced rapidly by all sectors outside of the green building industry.

One study, published in December 2007, in my opinion, compels a rapidly increased implementation rate of energy efficiency and renewables than currently considered vital. As well, it spurs greater consideration of when to translocate people from flood-risk locales, and how to protect their livelihoods.

The altruistic humour of Dan Piraro:Used with permission.

Climate Change Humor


Environmental humor

In December, NASA scientists reported stunning Arctic sea ice findings. Joey Comiso, a senior polar oceanography research scientist with the Goddard Space Flight Center at NASA, noted in relation to reductions in perennial Arctic sea ice, that “the decline may be the tipping point for perennial ice and a recovery may no longer be possible in the foreseeable future.” As well, summer Arctic sea ice has been predicted as having reached a tipping point, and that it would be disappearing by 2013. However this conclusion was based on modelling that did not include data for 2005 and 2007 (the two most recent years with sea ice at minima), and so researchers concluded that 2013 may be already too conservative.

A second major report published in February indicates to me the enhanced need to focus on water issues: for conservation, stormwater management; and to reduce human impacts on our waterways, oceans and marine life. According to A Global Map of Human Impact on Marine Ecosystems, our fishing methods, and the discharge of human, agricultural, industrial, benthic, and shipping effluents including toxic wastes into water systems, have strongly impacted 40% of the world’s oceans. Only 4% remain comparatively unharmed.

Humans’ ‘region of influence’ has expanded. What we do in one region – massive fossil fuel energy consumption, and emitting GHGs and pollutants into our air and waterways - impacts not just ourselves, but earth’s communities. These studies indicate to me that impending climate change impacts may be much sooner than previously expected, and that they likely will magnify many people’s already immense deprivation and cause new deprivation to others.

This is a growing time of stress – on the earth, on earth’s inhabitants, and on the people striving to save both. Given the volume of work to accomplish in short time, we need both full government support and amplified altruism.

Research conducted by biologist and physicist Dr. peter Beamish links altruism in nature to a ‘now’ concept of time during low stress conditions, which is helpful for this analysis.

Time concepts of whales, bald eagles and beavers (among other animals) are in relation to ‘now’ – there is no concept of future like humans have. Dr. peter has applied this in a rationale for his observations that altruistic behaviours abound in nature, which also may explain why/when they occur in humans: “It is … impossible to expect a reward, in the future, for the deeds that you do if you consistently encode all of your information into now time…” Further, altruism not only requires a low stress rhythmic synchronization, but it also produces low stress.

From this research it appears that an altruistic outlook is an appropriate approach to handle the volume of sustainability work at hand, and it may also spare people from this work’s stress impacts.

How much would it cost altruistic nations, corporations, communities and people, to provide everyone with basic health requirements for shelter, energy, air and water? The situation is urgent. The time is now.

Altruism. More than just good for us. It’s essential for the planet.

Green Syndicated Columnist Sonja Persram is lead author of Marketing Green Buildings to Owners/Tenants of Leased Properties for the Canada Green Building Council (2007) with co-authors Nils Larsson (MRAIC) and Mark Lucuik (P.Eng, LEED AP). Ms. Persram wrote: Green Buildings: A Strategic Analysis of North American Markets for Frost & Sullivan (published Aug 06) addressing Energy, Water and Facilities Management; and the U.S.A. portion of International Sustainable Building Policy Initiatives, a 2007 study for Canada Mortgage & Housing Corporation whose project lead was Nils Larsson. She is a member of the USGBC’s Social Equity Task Force and the WorldGBC’s Tools & Projects Committee. Contact: Sustainable Alternatives Consulting Inc:

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