Newark Green Future Summit – A Rebuttal

Sunday, 14 September 2008

As a guy who has lovingly been called a “tree hugger” and a “granola” by his friends, and was told to become a “florist” and a “landscape designer” instead of an architect by his professors, one would think that I approached this weekend’s Green Future Summit with anticipation. Unfortunately, after being at odds with the mainstream for being green before it was trendy, I am now at odds with the mainstream green movement itself!

“Why all this confrontation?”
“We should stand united!”
“Why would one of our own be hindering the progress of The Movement?”

In response, I urge laypeople and green enthusiasts alike to question everything and take nothing for face value in this marketing driven society. If you really think about what the current leaders of the green movement are proclaiming, you will realize that they are just fooling their gullible customers through clever language and statistics. Language like, “reduce carbon emissions 25% by 2040” and “our product contains less toxic chemicals than our competition” make most people comfortable with the progress being made. I guess I’m strange because I am not very comfortable with any toxic chemicals in the products I buy or any toxins being poured into the air and into the earth. I’m sorry to be a party pooper.

People who are successful set very high expectations for themselves. They aim to be the best at what they do, they aim to make no mistakes, and they aim to have a 100% positive impact on society, not a less bad impact on society. The leaders of the green movement should reevaluate their goals. They should aim to eliminate all toxic waste production as quickly as possible. Better yet, they should aim to create waste that has a positive effect on the ecosystem.

You’re going to say that my expectations are too high. I say to you that our goals must be set at the highest pinnacles of our imagination. We rarely achieve all of our goals, so when goals are set low, our achievements are even lower. When our goal is perfection, we just might come damn close.

You might also say that waste is dirty by default – it can’t be any other way. You are wrong. Only the human beings of the past 300 years have produced waste that is poisonous and literally changed the surface of this planet in almost every corner of the globe. An example: what is one of nature’s most effective fertilizers? The answer: earthworm excrement. Chinese farmers know all about it. In some agrarian communities in China it is considered proper for guests to leave an after dinner gift for their host in the rice paddy! It gives new meaning to the cliché; one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure, doesn’t it. My point is that in the natural world, everything is food for another, including waste, so don’t let anyone tell you that we can’t produce clean waste.

Now on to the Green Summit. The commissioner of the NJ Board of Utilities, Joseph Fiordaliso gave a rousing speech about his green ideals that was fondly reminiscent of some energy speeches given by the current fascist regime running this nation. I guess the audience was too busy clapping to hear him say “everything is on the table – wind, solar, biomass, and even nuclear.” Wait a second, did he say nuclear? Oh my, he did, and he repeated it for those who thought they misheard, “Nuclear.” Someone forgot to tell him that nuclear energy is quite possibly the most dangerous, unstable, and destructive technology to ever come out of human creativity. Not to mention that the scientists still haven’t figured out to do with the deadly radioactive waste that it gives off.

Cory Booker and Toni Griffin were the positive highlights of the afternoon as usual. The Mayor gave an off-the-cuff speech about his relative ignorance on green issues and his desire to learn from others and change the way he lives and runs the city. A nicely done speech by the Mayor. Ms. Griffin gave an abridged presentation of the Newark Master Plan. She has gone into great depth to uncover the planning issues that plague the city and the social ills that have been impacted by poor planning choices. The statistics about the poverty and unemployment rates in this city are mind-boggling. 40% unemployment in adult males, 31% of children are in poverty, 80% of the residents would have to move to make our neighborhoods as diverse as 100 years ago! These are numbers that go much deeper than planning, but planning has had its role in creating these problems. The goal of the Master Plan is to be fulfilled by 2025. A legitimate timeframe, but how many people will wait for it?

The panel discussion on Green Buildings became lively once the audience was invited to ask questions. The first question was excellent. It was directed to Sandy Wiggins who represented USGBC (the organization responsible for the LEED program). Mr. Wiggins was asked to explain how LEED will evolve in the future to keep up with other less-known certification programs. For those of you who don’t know, LEED is the de facto benchmark for building certification in the US. However, it is by no means the best or most holistic, it is just the dominant program in the market. Mr. Wiggins responded that the USGBC does make strategic partnerships with other organizations and “big changes” for LEED will be unveiled over the next 12 months.

The second question created the fireworks for the afternoon. A representative of Workforce (a job placement organization) asked if the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District attempted to hire any unemployed Newark residents for construction jobs. Before the director of LPCCD, Baye Wilson, could answer, the microphone was usurped by Marty Schwartz, the president of Essex County Building and Construction Trades Council. He used this time to scold Mr. Wilson for not using union labor on the LPCCD projects. Beneath his cuddly, union boss exterior, Mr. Schwartz actually made a fine point which was probably lost beneath his histrionics. His point was that by placing local unemployed men and women in the union, they would be taught the skills necessary to not only get a well-paying job, but have a career and a future. He is right. To be lifted out of poverty, one must be taught the skills that empower a person to build a meaningful and sustaining career without living off of government subsidies for the rest of his/her life.

I will leave you with a few thoughts… are we being the best we can be? Are we attacking the problems at their roots? Are we designing with Nature’s laws in mind? Have we chosen the right people to lead us and teach us? Are we part of the universal cycles that Nature has made for us, or are we an enemy of them, daring Nature to do something about it? I believe Nature always keeps things in balance, and to oppose the natural law is a losing battle, that has already been decided.