It’s Time to Move from the Sidelines to Center Stage
It has become undeniably apparent that the shelter industry is due for a serious recalibration.
Those of us in the housing sector must adjust our frame of reference and embrace greater responsibility for the outcomes of our actions. There has perhaps never been a more urgent need to honestly reassess the impact and performance of what, where, and how we build.
This is a time when our country, and much of the rest of the world, is undergoing a series of painful self-examinations in order to come to grips with a host of social issues, looming environmental catastrophes, economic uncertainties, and threats—internal and external—to our health, safety, and security. We can’t sit this one out.
As we witness the ever-increasing destruction resulting from Climate Change—as manifested in the intensification of violent storms and flooding, unprecedented obliteration of entire communities by massive wildfires, megadrought affecting multiple states and millions of residents, and the extinction of countless species on this planet—we need to take a step back and own up to the part we have played in getting to this point.
Inexplicably, we seem to willingly participate in a deadly game of chance each time we respond to another disaster by rebuilding the same old way, in the very same places, with the same marginal systems and materials. We somehow expect a different outcome the next time our number comes up.
It is generally accepted that buildings account for roughly 40 percent of energy use in the United States and a corresponding 40 percent of carbon emissions generated. Yet, the industry resists all attempts to move the needle in a positive direction, instead hiding behind the skirts of “affordability,” a code word for profitability.
But it may not be possible to fly under the radar for much longer. The failed strategies and policies that have propped up the industry are coming home to roost. We are seeing increasing resistance to “business as usual” in a variety of ways.
For example, some insurance companies are refusing to renew policies for homes in areas with a high risk of wildfires. Similarly, the National Flood Insurance Program is undergoing big changes that will significantly impact those who have traditionally relied upon its protection.
We are also learning of building moratoriums predicated on concerns about the availability of water and perhaps other resources and essential services. The industry will no doubt rail against these policies as no-growth strategies conjured up by “environmental extremists.” But who is willing to guarantee that these necessities will be sustainably available?
Look at the abysmal condition of our infrastructure across the nation. The daily news is full of stories about crumbling dams, roads, and bridges, deteriorating water, and wastewater systems, an increasingly vulnerable and suspect power grid, and the dangerous conditions surrounding pipelines across the continent.
We are left to ask ourselves whether we are going to continue to contribute to the problem, or become part of the solution. Shelter is as basic a necessity for people as food, safe water, and breathable air. We can do better. We have the knowledge, the tools, the materials, and the technologies. The question is, do we have the will?