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Science Wednesday: Living the Sustainable Life

2010 September 22

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

By Becky Fried

Amory Lovins, winner of a MacArthur “genius” award, owner of 10 honorary doctorates, one of Time’s most influential people of 2009, and world renowned energy policy expert, kicked off Monday’s EPA 40th anniversary lecture with a self-proclaimed “stupid multiple choice question.”

“How would you rather die?” he posed to an eager audience. He then proceeded to list off possible answers:

“A: Climate disaster”

“B: Bioterrorism”

“C: Nuclear holocaust…”

There were scattered giggles in the crowd, but mostly silence filled the room.

“The real answer we want to see,” he said, “isn’t shown here. It’s D: None of the above.”

It was a dramatic way to make a solid point—sustainability isn’t about making things “less bad,” it is about designing things to be better, smarter, more efficient, and even beneficial—both environmentally and economically.

Lovins spent the next hour listing off dozens of ways that using combinations of technology and policy with smart design and strategy could not only lessen our use of unsustainable fossil fuels, but could actually make economic sense.

One case study he used was his own home. Despite being situated in Colorado, where temperatures reach well into negative digits, Lovins’ house has no traditional heating system. Instead, it is built and fitted with sustainable principles in mind— both for the environment and for his budget.

When it was constructed in 1984, Lovins’ home used just one-tenth the energy of a typical U.S. home of equal size. Now, with new photovoltaic panels installed, the house produces more energy than is needed, and even supports an indoor, banana-producing forest (really). The home is fitted with extra-wide plumbing pipes that run diagonally across the ceiling. This minimizes friction and reduces the amount of energy required to pump water through the pipes.

The virtual tour of his home captured the audience’s attention, but also showed that sustainable choices are both feasible and economically smart—Lovins saved thousands of dollars by building his home without traditional heating and plumbing systems.

The lecture was presented in the context of the “Reinventing Fire,” a campaign led by Lovins through his post at the Rocky Mountain National Institute. The campaign aims to “create a clear and practical vision of a fossil-fuel-free future for the United States,” and “to map a pathway to achieve that future, led largely by business.”

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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9 Responses leave one →
  1. armansyahardanis permalink
    September 22, 2010

    Just half an hour ago, I was read The Washington Post and I confuse too much datum just only one page because its attaches. And also almost officials in my office collected datum for their job with many information attaches. So, I think that, why the human “greedy” to collect datum that they aren’t usefully for their life ? However, our body just need a couple of breakfast (or not), lunch (or not) and dinner (or not)……!!!!

  2. iphonedeveloper permalink
    September 23, 2010

    Environmental pollution is one of the biggest problems the world faces today. It is an issue that troubles us economically, physically and everyday of our lives. The contamination of the environment is also being linked to some of the diseases that are around currently. Yet, most people do not know about this problem.This article will help people to understand that where we are going as environmental concerns .I’m great ful for this post.


  3. Consumer Reviews permalink
    September 23, 2010

    This was a great read, thank you! I am all for living Green, and would love a Green house. However, the cost is a big problem for many. Especially in this economy.
    Kind regards.

  4. Chris G. permalink
    September 23, 2010

    Everyday people pollute the air with dangerous chemicals. Most of these pollutants people don’t really realize that their actually putting into the air. People don’t really think about the Earths health as well as our health. Were like the blood cells in a body we have to try and help Earth fight off the bad. So we have to start trying to help save the Earth. This post was very informing and helpful. Good post.

  5. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    September 26, 2010

    Sustainability is the critical issue for the 21st Century. Some would like to keep us in the dirty energy eras of the 19th and 20th centuries with polluting oil and coal and all the environmental and public health problems they cause. One example is coal fired power plants produce coal ash that is put in ponds. If the holding ponds are poorly maintained, they can break with enough force to knock houses off their foundations and if the coal ash in the ponds seeps into ground water or rivers or streams where people get drinking water, drinking one glass of coal ash polluted water is as unhealthy as smoking one pack of cigarettes a day. And coal and oil are finite resources–once you use them, their gone. Solar energy and wind power are two much better and sustainable ways to go about providing energy. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  6. Jesús Torres Navarro permalink
    September 26, 2010

    Muy interesante e ilustrativo el artículo, es de esos documentos que necesitamos difundir más, porqué existe la creencia generalizada de que, debido a los altos costos, resulta imposible pensar en un futuro en el cual se termine la dependencia de los combustibles fósiles, sin embargo y de acuerdo al artículo, personalmente considero que sólo es cuestión de ser más inteligentes para encontrar la forma de tener, ahora, una vida sostenible, una vida verde que nos reporte incluso beneficios económicos, además de cuidar nuestro medio ambiente y, lo más importante, que nos permita avanzar hacia un mundo independiente de los combustibles fósiles, un mundo verdaderamente verde

  7. kaimccla permalink
    October 4, 2010

    Sustainability initiatives will be critical for the next few decades as climate change progresses and the American economy continues to be under great stress. Thankfully the Federal government is tackling the issue of promoting sustainable practices aggressively. Under President Obama’s Executive Order 13514, “Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance,” all Federal agencies must create and appoint members to a Sustainability Council, meet certain reductions of Scope 1,2, and 3 greenhouse gas emmisions by FY2011, and continue to reduce them through FY2020. The EO also contains targets focusing on energy, water, and waste issues for which agencies must aim to meet each year from FY 2011 through FY2020. This initiative makes sustainability a Federal priority. Under these EO requirements, Federal agencies will streamline and strengthen their environmental efforts, reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and implement more cost-effective measures. For example, the Department of Defense Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan introduces efforts to obtain more alternative fuel vehicles which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our dependence upon foreign oil.
    It is imperative that the Federal government promotes and enforces sustainable practices to ease climate change and make the most of limited assets. President Obama’s EO puts Federal agencies on the right track, and now it is up to agencies to follow through with sustainable practices and uphold their responsibilites.

  8. jessimen permalink
    October 6, 2010

    Global warming is one of the most important topics of concern, these days. Whether the topic of global warming is political propaganda or a major threat does not make a difference. More and more people are more concerned about it.

  9. Steve Jordan permalink
    October 15, 2010

    In thinking and writing about sustainability recently, I recognized an alarming possibility – that the consequences of unsustainable resource depletion, in combination with accumulation of wastes on land, in the oceans, and in the atmosphere, could be sudden and catastrophic. Advancing technologies and efficiencies in industry, agriculture, and energy use are obscuring the ultimately disastrous course of the eternal growth economy.

    We have exceeded the Earth’s carrying capacity. Sustainability may be forced upon us in the most brutal way. Whether from runaway climate change, depletion of water supplies, food crises, pollution disasters, or all of the above and more, billions could suffer; billions could perish.

    Catastrophe may not be inevitable. The consequences could accrue more gradually, but the end will be the same if society doesn’t change course and make a strong commitment to sustainability before nature forces it on us.

    It is not just good to be green, it is a matter of survival for future generations, perhaps the very next one.

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