Another Reason Every Product Decision Counts

Any manufactured item we purchase matters, now more than ever.

My brother Mitch works in the hard sciences. He’s one of those wonky people you never hear of, who’s spent years counting ancient pollen spores from Siberia and looking at core samples from the last Ice Age. He’s embedded in the world of earth science.

For years now, Mitch and I have been discussing something called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). It’s unknown to most people, but it has a huge impact on our lives, here in the United States and in Europe. And it’s a variable, he says, that’s vastly underestimated in terms of its potentially devastating impact on our current way of life. 


A new report from European researchers suggests that he may be right. These critical ocean currents are slowing down, and doing so much faster than anticipated by projections. (isn’t that always the way?) 

As they slow, scientists predict even faster sea-level rise on the Atlantic coast, plus massive storms and extremes of heat and cold not seen before in our lifetimes. Within a few decades, we could pass the “tipping point” where the movement of the currents collapses into complete instability. We don’t want to go there.

So what can we do? First, we can stop acting surprised when Texas freezes solid or a giant chunk of Antarctica breaks off. We need to cut global pollution emissions dramatically. For the building industry, that means moving quickly toward zero-energy-plus housing. We need airtight, super-insulated homes, with all-electric appliances, heating and cooling—systems compatible with renewable energy, durable materials that don’t need regular replacement. 

We still face a few technical hurdles. For example, it’s more complex to heat homes without some fossil fuel combustion, using, for example, a combination of “active” solar thermal and solar PV panels, along with passive solar, high-efficiency air source or ground source heat pumps. It’s harder, yes, but possible, and perhaps essential, to move in this direction. Even if promising new research on fusion generation yields success, prepping our homes to minimize energy use must commence now.

0321gb_c1aIf we can land a robot on Mars, and create vaccines in six months, we can pivot toward zero impact housing, and do it fast enough to save human civilization from the self-induced backlash of business as usual. Already, as the COVID-19 disaster begins to wane, global CO2 levels have shot past the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. It doesn’t look good for weather stability.

But we must stay on task, with a laser-like focus on sustainable housing and technology. That means picking the right products, the right materials, and the right designs to steadily lower the polluting impacts of every house, apartment, or community upon our fragile global ecosystems. 

How do you choose the right green products? Start with our March/April issue, which features our annual Hot 50 Products list, Green Product Brand Index (a compilation of public sentiment and reader picks) plus a host of other green building features!