Some of the best-laid plans run into the buzzsaw of economic reality. I had started to write a book on green building last year and had hoped to find a publisher for it this fall. Then the housing market bubble exploded. Now people are much more worried about selling their home or retaining its value than environmental concerns. That's life.
So here's the proposal for the book that lays out my manifesto on green homes. Not only should they create their own energy and conserve resources, green of "ecodynamic" homes should be parts of communities that are connected to public transportation and use resources wisely. I live in a place that aspires to do that now: Prairie Crossing. It's a conservation community without a single solar panel, though. As I've written before, the economics of ecology have to align with good intentions, and that hasn't happened yet.
In any case, if you're a publisher and like what you see, let me know. I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org. I've traveled from Florida to Northern California to research this book. I'm hoping to see it in print one day. If you're looking for more conventional advice on home buying and selling, see my weekly column at www.bloomberg.com.
If you just want to learn about how my family and I live in a conservation community, skip down through the proposal to the sample chapter. There's quite a bit of biographical information there. I also outline my ideas on an ideal green home and community.
Home in the World:
Why American Homes and Communities Must Be Reinvented to Avert Ecocide
By John F. Wasik
Author, The Merchant of Power
A book proposal
Our energy- and resource-consuming culture will have to be rethought and reinvented if we're to survive on this planet. Few sentient people disagree with this statement.
But conventional thinking on how to reduce energy and resource consumption, make the suburban lifestyle sustainable and stem global warming issues on a daily basis is obsolete. And the 2 million homes that are built annually using the finest in 19th-century technology are not only hallmarks of eco-obsolescence, they are big contributors to the overall problem. The vast majority of houses and the communities in which they are built have become untenable in a global environmental, economic and community sense.
Why change? Are there barbarians at the gate? Are we suffering catastrophic climate events described in the movie The Day After? Countless scientists tell us we don't have much time left to stem our wasteful, carbon-spewing ways. Global warming has hit home in myriad ways and each of us needs to contribute to the solution. The "inconvenient truth" of climate change is staring us in the face with each new headline. An even more unpalatable -- and uncomfortable -- truth is that our homes and communities are at the center of what needs to change.
Global Warming's Harsh Evidence
A recent U.S. Department of Defense study says that previous estimates of climate change are understated. It's may be much worse than we think.
A massive heat wave swept through the entire country and electricity use hit an all-time high with power outages from St. Louis to New York this past summer. Fossil records and ice samples suggest our current era is the warmest it's been in 12,000 years. Polar bears are drowning because their icy habitat has melted. Only three years ago, more than 50,000 died as Europe experienced the hottest summer in half a millennium. The Greenland ice sheet is melting and will cause ocean levels to rise. Ironically, U.S. utility giants have united with consumer energy groups to form a coalition to prevent the building of power plants and focus on conservation. Gasoline and crude oil also hit record highs.
Homes are prolific energy consumers. More energy use means more global warming gases are pumped into the atmosphere. Natural gas usage, for example, also hit a record high at the nadir of the heating season because so much of the commodity is being burned to produce electricity. Meanwhile, the energy industry's top experts are saying that oil and gas production may have peaked and an increased combustion of coal from China to Pennsylvania is not only fueling global warming, it's poisoning the air we breath. This can't go on. The revolution that needs to take place to stem climate change must begin in the heart of American homes and communities.
Aggravated by sprawling metroscapes, energy-intensives lifestyles can change to become more renewable. But it will take massive personal and social commitments to change our households and communities. It starts with the Great American Dream: the home itself, a prodigious consumer of gas, oil, electricity, water and resources.
When the U.S. consumes one-fifth of the world's energy and creates one-third of the world's total greenhouse gases, everyone on the planet feels the impact. Much of what's wrong with the way we live is centered in the way our homes and communities operate. We drive too much. Our homes and lifestyles are energy gluttons. That results in the climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions, something that may be responsible for 150,000 deaths a year. Can it all be blamed on the American hometown? Certainly our energy-intensive way of life has something to do with it. And it's clear we need ecodynamic change that impacts a number of systems at once. What better place to start than in our homes? We've reached an ecodyne, an ecological tipping point that demands that we act soon to avoid global catastrophes.
A Book About Change
Why choose the American home and community as a wellspring for change? Buildings alone consume 30 percent of the energy used in the U.S., which consumes 25 percent of total global energy resources resulting in roughly that amount of carbon emissions. Combined with transportation-intensive lifestyles, the lion's share of resources can be conserved and renewed. It's a tall order, but one that can start one household at a time.
I'll take readers on an odyssey that starts in my own home and community and show them the history of the American home and metroscape. Along the way, I'll explore the thoughts and creations of such geniuses such as Thomas Jefferson, Frank Lloyd Wright and Jens Jensen and show how they seeded – and often failed – in integrating the anthroscape (man-made environment) into the gaiascape (natural environment). This is a personal narrative that starts and ends in my home, yet encompasses architecture, history, social criticism, urban planning, energy engineering and travelogues.
Readers will meet pioneers like Jeff Christian and Rosario Milana, who are dedicating their careers to bringing zero-energy homes to the masses. They'll gain insights from builder-developers like Perry Bigelow, who have a powerful spiritual vision of how to rebuild seminal suburbs. Along the way, they'll gain insights into what some of the greatest minds in architecture, urban planning and landscaping have discovered in trying to create "garden cities" and ``green homes.''
I derive my inspiration not only from researching this subject over the past 30 years and traveling more than 100,000 miles to nearly every major city in 48 states in search of ecological progress, but a wealth of new knowledge from people ranging from my own neighbors to government researchers, builders, politicians, clergy, philosophers, economists and dreamers throughout North America. I'll explore the New Urbanism and Smart Growth movements, which combine downsizing with an aesthetic sense of old, high-density community building. Readers will see renewal efforts in the South Side of Chicago, where there are 10,000 vacant lots in poor neighborhoods, and builders who are combining energy-producing technology in new communities to create the zero-energy home. It's a movement rooted not only in environmentalism, but touches upon housing affordability, urban renewal, economic sustainability, design, renewability and personal finance.
After having written several books on the relationship between environment and consumption in the 1990s, I can report some remarkable progress. At last, Western societies have gone beyond piecemeal approaches such as recycling to reinventing entire systems such as homebuilding and urban planning. Although the new paradigm thinking has roots reaching back into the middle 19th-century, the ecodynamic process is in full flower as energy and global warming issues dominate our future.
More importantly, I am writing this book because I believe in the power of new ideas and progressive change. What does all this have to do with the American home? Because where and how we live is at the center of the American progressive philosophy, we need to re-examine it, perhaps discard it and rebuild it. A man's home is his castle, the old saw goes. Yet we need to come down from the parapet of our self-centered existence to see what we're doing to ourselves and our planet.
I'll take readers back to the origins of modern Enlightenment-influenced, Eurocentric North American culture and how it cultivated unsustainability at its start. I journeyed to Charlottesville, Virginia, to examine the unique and perilous vision of Thomas Jefferson. I've explored mammoth American cities like New York, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Portland and Minneapolis. Along the way, I traveled coast-to-coast several times, along the way climbing Mayan pyramids in the Yucatan to the new pyramids in New York, Toronto, Houston, Memphis, Portland, Seattle and Chicago. All told, I've logged more than a 100,000 miles to show you the uniquely American developments in the man-made, natural, political, information and intangible environments. I'll profile the movers and shakers in each sphere, target where change is happening and paint a picture of a progressive future.
Not only do I tell specific stories about people who are change agents, but networks that multiply these progressive ideas and action agendas throughout the world. Because of the power of infinite nodes in a global knowledge network mushrooming in cyberspace, positive change can occur on an exponential scale. I'll look at the people behind bio-energy, zero-energy homes, self-produced power and sustainable community building. From Miami to Seattle, I've traveled the continent to explore the great leaders in the Ecodynamic movement.
I will go beyond the headlines and examine different pieces of the ecological world view. It will involve much more than Brad Pitt calling for ``green housing'' in New Orleans and Newsweek doing a cover story on green buying. I will show how suburbia is being reinvented and recreated, how transportation can be made more efficient and how the entire country can adopt a plan that works that integrates education, energy/land/resource use, political action and community building.
Why our Metroscape Is Imperiled: Some Myths
When you peel back the mythology upon which our lifestyle is based, some unpleasant realities emerge. Our entire way of life is built a lifestyle that's centered on energy- and resource-intensive homes and communities. It's a surprisingly fragile way to live, but most of us can't see it. You can't truly be ``at home'' in the world if you believe that our consumption of resources is infinite or our use of energy doesn't need to be curtailed and cleaned up. If you take a look at the truth behind these assumptions, it's clear that massive change is needed.
Cheap energy, water and land have been fueling the expansion of our metroscape since Europeans arrived on this continent. Long regarded as abundant and infinitely available commodities, that will no longer be the case as more than 6.5 billion people compete for ever-scarcer resources. These are the major fallacies that underlie our distorted view of the world and must change the way our homes run:
* There's Plenty of Oil to Go Around to Feed Our Homes and Cars. The world's petroleum producers are pumping 84 million barrels of crude a day and consuming about that much. By 2010, experts agree that the most accessible oil will be gone for good. While there may be trillions of barrels in the ground, it's in places where it's expensive and environmentally damaging to pump out – the tundra, shale deposits, deep ocean beds, etc. With the tumult in the Middle East and huge demand coming from developing Asian countries, prices are not likely to drop down to the lows of the mid-1980s. This means that everything from cars to plastics will rise in price and every manufacturing and energy process will have to focus on greener source fuels or a raft of alternatives. Much of the move away from the petroleum economy is pure lip service. More drastic changes are needed as alternative sources of energy will take decades to come on line. Meanwhile, shopping malls may be abandoned, mega-subdivisions will lie empty. Peak oil and gas production means many, draconian changes, but it doesn't have to be traumatic if we change the way our homes and lifestyles consume energy. As long as American consume 26 barrels of oil per year (versus 12 for Europeans), the consumption spiral will be out of control. The era of the SUV lifestyle may be over. Aggravating this vehicle-oriented lifestyle is the fact that more people are moving farther from cities just to be able to afford homes. These so-called "extreme commuters'' contribute to traffic nightmares, sprawl and, of course, global warming.
* There's Plenty of Home Power to Go Around. New records were set for electricity use in July and August last year, but there isn't enough power to supply the skyrocketing demand of plasma TVs, home computers, track lighting and Sub-Zero refrigerators. New and remodeled American homes consume more power than ever, yet the electrical infrastructure is outdated and there aren't enough clean power plants to fulfill the need. Buildings themselves, from apartments to skyscrapers, are largely energy hogs and never designed to conserve power. Some 80% of them were built before 1980. Each home can be redesigned and retrofitted to conserve power and produce its own energy. That's where we need to start.
* There's Plenty of Food to Go Around. Moving food in North America is labor intensive and inefficient. Most food travels at least 1,000 miles before it reaches its destination. A single calorie of iceberg lettuce consumes 36 calories of energy to get from the fields of California to the East Coast. If cheap energy is no longer part of the equation, food will be more expensive to transport and become less plentiful. Another salvo to turn Midwestern cornfields into "the Saudi Arabia of ethanol" will further diminish the food supply by turning some of the most fertile farmland in the world into energy factories. Homes can be made to produce food much more efficiently. The technology is nothing new, but we have to integrate food production into every community.
* Asia Will Never Catch Up to Us. What will happen if 3.5 billion people in developing Asian countries garner the economic wealth to drive as many cars, generate as much electricity (using fossil fuels), use as much land and pollute as much as the U.S., which already uses 25 percent of the world's energy output? It won't be a pretty outcome for any of us. If the Chinese buy three cars for every four people – the average in the U.S. today – it will have 1.1 billion cars. That's in addition to the 800 million vehicles on the roads today. It would take 99 million barrels of oil a day to power those cars, versus about 84 million barrels produced at peak capacity today. And China will have to build roads, highways and parking on the equivalent of all of the land it now uses to cultivate rice. And this is just China, and talks nothing of the pollution and resource depletion this will create. This book looks at the alternatives that can be created here and exported to the Third World. No one on the planet can afford for Asia to adopt the wasteful ``me-too'' consumption of the West. We can start the ecodyne rolling by reinventing our homes, streets, highways and transportation.
* Water Is Plentiful. Not a surprise to anyone living in the Southwestern U.S., this largely off-the-radar problem is plaguing big metropolitan areas like Atlanta and Denver. Western cities, which have been fighting for water for decades, will again renew their skirmishes, this time fighting with mega-farms in the California breadbasket. More than 36 states will have water shortages within the next seven years, yet homes with verdant lawns and gardens waste water prodigiously. The water shortage crisis is a worldwide problem – the world has a finite amount of it -- although most environmentalists largely focus on global warming and pollution. China alone is adding 15 million people to cities every year and is severely short of water because most of its major watersheds are polluted. While most demographers look at the massive populations of China and India in terms of overpopulation and water crises, there will be 400 million souls in the U.S. by 2040. With the exception of a handful of cities, most of the highest-growth metroscapes are water challenged. Overall, water problems will be worsened by global warming. Last year alone, 45 percent of the contiguous US was in moderate to extreme drought, according to NOAA, the US government agency monitoring climatic conditions daily. This book will take an incisive look at the growing depletion of a truly essential resource.
* Land Is There for the Taking. Millions of arable acres are being devoured by developers every year, a disproportionate land grab that's far exceedingly population growth. While North America has plenty of land to support population projections, much of this development is occurring in places where water and energy are scarce. Irreplaceable farmland and topsoil are being lost forever. I will highlight new movements that are reshaping land use, urban planning and development. While the picture is certainly not bright in developing countries, where millions of acres are being burned or plowed under for farming, ranching or urban growth, North America is gaining a more enlightened attitude on land preservation. Over the last six years, more than $27 billion was set aside by American voters for land conservation with a 77 percent approval rate at the ballot box. This is a powerful, growing movement that rarely gets attention, although I'll highlight this part of the Ecodynamic movement in my book.
* Natural Gas Supply Is Plentiful to Heat and Power Our Homes. Not only is petroleum likely to hit peak production within the next 10 years, there's a more pressing concern with natural gas, which is in such short supply in North America that it needs to be imported. It will take years to fully build the infrastructure to do this and it's a dangerous and costly business. Few cities want the danger and potential terrorist targets of liquified natural gas terminals. Since most of the fertilizer produced in the world also comes from natural gas, this is an acute problem for agriculture. Most homes in the U.S. are heated by natural gas, which is in such short supply largely because we are burning it to produce electricity during peak consumption times. I will examine alternatives to this growing problem, including homes that produce their own heat.
* There's Plenty of Money and Credit to Go Around to Finance Our Homes. Every day, the U.S. borrows $1 billion to finance its energy habit. Asian countries buy that debt and hold their foreign reserves in dollars. What if these lenders decided to stop buying our debt or start dumping the U.S. Treasury bonds they own? To date, they haven't done so, instead choosing to export cheap commodities and provide even more credit. Since the lion's share of wasteful, ecologically unsound development is financed by debt and tax breaks, in an environment of rising energy costs and interest rates, this can't continue. My book will show that there's a profound new way of linking ecology and economics, one that focuses on life quality and can be measured.
The Birth of The Ecodynamic Home or E-Home
What we do in North America disproportionately impacts the rest of the world. We have the freedom to invent things, profit from them and spread them around the planet. I don't regard myself as a cock-eyed optimist, utopian, or burned-out product of the 1960s. I'm a pragmatic progressive, an economic realist and someone who sees personal ecology as not just a philosophy, but a utilitarian worldview. We're all part of the web of life and can destroy it all too easily. Nobody's stopping us from creating practical and profitable ecodynamic systems that any country can use. We need a blueprint, a home blueprint, that's modular and can be built or customized anywhere. The developing world clearly needs our ideas the way we need their human capital.
Most importantly, this book will give readers the tools to reduce their own household impacts on global warming. My final chapters show readers how to take direct action in reducing their "carbon footprint" and show how their personal ecological contributions will help people in the developing world. It all comes home to roost and we can all participate in ecodynamic change in a personal way.
Introduction: Why the World Needs the Ecodynamic Home. I lay out my blueprint for change, one that is ecodynamic and considers all realms of our culture and environment from the perspective of the American home.
I. My Home: Prairie Crossing and the Building of a Renewable Community. I start out literally where I live – a conservation community north of Chicago. This personal look at one of the nation's experiments in new urbanist developments takes the reader deep into the myriad dilemmas of the best use of land, resources and energy. As the first leg of my odyssey, I show how my community is trying to make a difference, yet is immersed in some of the most trenchant problems of modern life -- an energy-intensive home and lifestyle that can be changed for the better.
II. Jamestown, Jefferson and Manifest Destiny: How the Big Home and Land Grab Tainted the American Dream. Where did this idea of infinite land and resources come from? It developed as soon as Europeans were able to exploit the natural wealth of North America and continues to this day. The narrative continues with a critical, historical tour from Jamestown to Jefferson, profiling a vision of America and how the American Dream became firmly rooted in the homestead and domicile. The ecological examination of the American experience moves into urban planning from the Garden City movement to the post-World War II expansion of suburbs. With the creation of the megalopolis – built on the concept of cheap energy and land – the man-made environment or Anthroscape, accelerates a head-long collision with the Gaiascape. This section lays the groundwork for the specific ecodynamic ideas in the following chapters. I show how the American home evolved to consume less land, but more energy and resources, especially in the creation of the suburbs and the legacy it's created.
III. The Organic Home and City: How Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and Jens Jensen married Home and Cities with Nature. At several points in American history, there were visionaries who thought the home and community could be successfully integrated with nature. This chapter examines how these ideas came about and communities like Riverside, Illinois, where they took shape. This section shows how a handful of visionaries had profound impacts on how homes and landscapes were created, although many of their best ideas were ignored or fell out of fashion. Although leapfrogged by massive suburban growth, the organic home concept is a useful one with which to address the renewability of home and communities. The chapter looks at some of the key ideas behind Sullivan, Wright and Jensen and how they inform us today as we struggle with gargantuan ex-urban sprawl. Much of it was born in Chicago, where I will be profiling several seminal sites and events in the history of the American home. I'll also visit the vibrant community that spawned Frank Lloyd Wright and examine a little-known "solar hemicycle" home he built in the 1930s when he was considering doing manufactured housing. Adjacent to Wright's revolutionary home is a new urbanist community that seeks to perpetuate some of the master architect's ideals. From the modern era, I examine the creation of suburbia in one of the first, planned post-World War II communities, Park Forest, Illinois, and how it became a template for several environmental benefits and drawbacks.
IV. The Zero-Energy Home: Houses that Produce Power and Directly Address Global Warming. From the organic and conventional wisdom of tract-home heaven to the ecodynamic, I leapfrog through history to what can be done today. This section will examine how the modern home can be completely re-invented to accommodate ecodynamic principles and produce its own energy. I examine the total redesign of the home that will eventually lead to entire communities of "zero-energy" homes that create their own energy and have little impact on the Gaiascape. I will also show how the ecodynamic network of change is completely restructuring ideas on how we should live in a truly sustainable manner and builders and scientists who want to build entire communities of zero-energy houses. I will profile the revolutionary work of people like Jeff Christian, who is developing a holistic concept of a home that cuts outsides energy requirements to zero in some cases and throws out old ideas on how American homes should be built. This section will highlight some of his exciting ideas and look at the kind of home that could dominate the future. I will visit and profile some zero-energy homes from California to Florida and show how they can reshape our environmental future.
V. The Soul of the Zero-Energy Home: Inside Its Revolutionary Design. In this chapter, I continue the examination of a home that produces it own energy by detailing its inner workings. I will discuss specifics on photovoltaic/solar heating, lighting, window, wall insulation, appliances, foundation, roof, cooling and water conversation systems. All of these components are integrated into a house that produces/saves energy, conserves resources and reduces its ``carbon footprint'' and may even be ``carbon neutral'' during certain times of the year. This section will explore the concept of the ecodynamic home, one that interacts and responds to the environment to produce and retain energy and water and may be capable of recycling its own waste. It's truly a revolutionary concept that could change the way we live and reduce our burden on the planet.
VI. Resistance to the Revolution: Why Ecodynamic Homes Aren't Being Built. The economics of these homes, once they are built, are astoundingly beneficial. But builders still cling to the idea that few homebuyers will want them, much less pay a premium for items like solar appliances. Advances in technology and modular design are increasingly tilting the economic equation in the favor of mass production. I will discuss how this formula is changing and how these homes can become the standard models for future development. This section will take a hard look at the often-unfavorable economics of ecodynamic homes and how that formula is changing. Builders, economists, architects and environmentalists will be featured.
VII. Homes Everywhere: How to Fix Sprawl. This chapter looks at the unique history of the American suburban home and how it brought cheap housing, larger lots and endless highways to the American metroscape. Readers will see the re-development of the first centrally planned suburb (Park Forest) and witness its revival and spiritual renewal in the guise of Legacy Square, an energy-efficient development in the heart of the town. The chapter will dismiss a number of myths about sprawl and look at some of the alternative visions presented through the New Urbanist movement, which seeks to revive the small-town, high-density layout. This section explains why re-inventing the American home isn't enough -- entire communities must be rethought with consideration for transportation, amenities, social activities and energy conservation.
VIII. The Renewable Home in the City: How Inner-City Communities Can be Reinvented. There's little question that there's a huge need for renewable and affordable housing within cities. This section shows how cities are being revived through the innovative design of homes and developments within neighborhoods. Readers will witness the rebuilding of a blighted area of South Chicago, where steel mills used to dominate a working-class neighborhood that is the site of a new megadevelopment, nature park and energy-producing urban homes. Largely focusing on renewing the city through affordable, efficient housing, this chapter will highlight the pioneering work that's being done by people like Rosario Milana, who wants to rebuild places like the blighted West Side of Chicago with energy-producing homes that can be assembled in a week.
IX. Leaving Home: Renewable Transportation that Works. No community can be ecodynamic if you can't get there and back without spewing tons of carbon dioxide and other poisons. Rather than condemn sprawl and car-crazed suburban life, this chapter embraces the concept with surprising new alternatives for transportation. Concentrating on the home as the center of transportation, this section will show how vehicles can be integrated into the home's power system. This means that cars can not only be emission-free, but the home itself will be generating power for the vehicle in many cases. Better yet, typical tract homes that represent ``garages with attached homes,'' can become part of mass transportation networks and short trips to local retail, commerce or office locations can be fueled by solar energy that renewable homes produce themselves. I will profile the new mode of suburban transportation that favors ``transit-oriented development'' and a new generation of electric cars that can be powered cheaply and produce no emissions.
X. Personal Ecology: Applying Carbon Footprinting to Household and Community Lifestyles. I will outline the importance of doing "carbon footprints" for home and transportation energy consumption and give specific pieces of advice on how to make the mundane aspects of life more renewable and rewarding. Readers will be able to see how they could personally change their energy-intensive lifestyles to make a difference in a number of significant ways to reduce pollution and carbon emissions. Most of the surprisingly effective items center on their use of home and transportation.
XI. Massive Global Change A Home at a Time: Why Reinventing the North American Home is in the World's Best Interest. Closing with the powerful theme of personal ecology writ large, I show how my home – and anyone's household – can make a difference in helping the environment here and abroad. I extend the promise of the ecodynamic home to widespread environmental problems that can be addressed in the developing world.
This non-fiction, mainstream narrative will appeal to a wide audience of readers who enjoy authors like Michael Lewis, Eric Schlosser, Malcolm Gladwell and Jared Diamond. Those who buy environmental, business/management, social criticism, historical, architectural and general-interest titles would buy this book. Although the book will delve into urban planning, architecture, transportation, energy and environmental subjects, I see it as a general-interest trade title that would be of great interest to those who need to know about real estate, development, business trends, economics, urban history, architecture and finance. I project that business readers would be my primary audience much in the same way they were attracted to Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and The Tipping Point.
The readers of this book will be committed ``cultural creatives'' who want to take action on environmental responsibility and global warming. They have likely seen or read Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, participate in environmental activities, camp, hike, bike, jog, birdwatch and donate money to progressive social organizations. Politically, they tend to be progressive or moderate. They buy organic produce, recycle, garden and own hybrid autos. They may even be activists and academics.
The most well-known work in this area has been authored by James Howard Kunstler. This stinging critic of suburbia has written three books that are at the center of this genre – The Long Emergency (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005); Home From Nowhere (Simon & Schuster, 1996) and The Geography of Nowhere (Free Press, 1994). His most recent book falls into the genre of catastrophe tomes. My book will focus less on overt criticism and more on pragmatic solutions to the sprawl problem as well as providing detailed profiles on the leaders behind the most progressive ideas and communities. The middle book in his ``sprawl'' series Home from Nowhere, superficially profiles the New Urbanism movement, but doesn't explore demographic trends, the housing bubble or highly-efficient homes. The last book forecasts an energy crisis. I will delve into these subjects with the latest insights into real estate markets, tax policy and new building technologies.
Architects who've published works in this area include Peter Calthorpe and Andres Duany, whose work and books have been well noted, although not all that visible in the mainstream media. Unlike these aforementioned books that have a critical or urban-planning focus, my book will employ a holistic overview that includes specific details on how homes can be built with the latest in energy-producing/conserving technologies and new policies. My book will also address the no-less-important issues of housing affordability and urban revitalization.
The title can be promoted effectively through my extensive media network, business magazines, newspapers, radio, television and internet campaigns. There are a dozens of planning, environmental and architectural groups that would be interested in bulk sales. Groups such as the Congress for New Urbanism, American Institute of Architects and American Planning Association would be bulk-sale prospects. Nearly every environmental and urban planning group will be interested in this book as it will present their stories, struggles and successes.
This book can be promoted through a targeted media campaign and lecture tour. This book would also serve as a source for a documentary on public television, cable or direct DVD.
About the Author
My latest book is The Merchant of Power, an epic tale of the life and times of Samuel Insull, the Chicago utilities magnate from the 1920s. Studs Terkel called the book "not only personally enthralling but an informal history of that traumatic time.'' The book tells the story of how the modern metropolis was created through the broad distribution of electricity and rapid transit systems. The book was one of only 26 books reviewed annually by The New York Times Sunday business section. It was also featured in The Chicago Sun-Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Boston Globe, Washington Times, Arizona Star, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Ft. Myers News-Enterprise, The State (Columbia, SC) and dozens of other papers throughout the U.S. Fortune Magazine named it to their 2006 Summer Reading List. I also promoted the book on NPR's Marketplace Radio, PBS (Nightly Business Report), WOR and WGN.
The award-winning author of 10 books, I've spoken to crowds from coast to coast on investing, retirement and social issues. Three of my books have been on environmental topics. In addition to being a journalist, teacher, author, speaker and musician, I am an active environmentalist and community activist.
As personal finance columnist for Bloomberg News, the world's third-largest news service, my columns reach 400 newspapers on five continents and have appeared in The Financial Times, International Herald-Tribune, Washington Post, Orange County Register and other papers in Canada, Europe, Japan, South America and Africa.
I've won 18 awards for my columns and investigative reporting, including the National Press Club award for Consumer Journalism. I've also contributed to Reader’s Digest, The New York Times, Modern Maturity, Parade, Smart Money, Popular Science, Health, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Barron’s, The Chicago Tribune and other papers.
My books include:
The Merchant of Power (2006)
The Bear-Proof Investor (Owl, 2002)
The Kitchen-Table Investor (Holt, 2001)
Retire Early and Live the Life You Want Now (Holt, 2000)
The Late-Start Investor (Holt, 1999)
The Green Company Resource Guide (NCI, 1997)
The Investment Club Book (Warner, 1996)
Green Marketing & Management: A Global Perspective (Blackwell, 1996)
The Green Supermarket Shopping Guide (Warner, 1995)
The Electronic Business Information Sourcebook (Wiley, 1987)
I've appeared on NBC, NPR, PBS, CNBC, MSNBC, CNN, CNNfn, WGN, Marketplace Radio, Bloomberg TV/Radio and on hundreds of TV and radio stations across the country.
I earned my B.A. (psychology) and M.A. (communications) from the University of Illinois-Chicago and reside north of Chicago with my wife and two daughters.
The sienna glow erupted from the burning prairie like an aurora. My neighbors were at it again with the help of a crew of professional fire-starters, known in our circle as ``restoration ecologists doing a managed burn.'' This was not a scene out of Fahrenheit 451, however. My community was burning the prairie sections of our community's open space, something we do every year to keep out invasive weeds and restore the native forbs and grasses that thrive after the burnings, the way natural fires and Native Americans applied their restorative powers over the past 10,000 years. Great blue herons, fresh from fishing in the lake nearby, squawk indignantly as the see the searing flames approaching. They flap their long, silken wings, lift their spindly legs and glide away in a huff. Patches of big bluestem, joe pye weed, goldenrod and dropseed whirl in the miniature cyclones created by the upswirl of heat and smoke. My neighbors gather on the streets, in backyards and watch through their back windows as the autumn sky is a miasma of color and convection. It's a strangely controlled fury of intense light, flame and horrible possibility.
This is not your ordinary subdivision; this is one of the many ways we amuse ourselves while we renew and protect the land around us. It may seem counterintuitive in a community dedicated to land conservation to scorch the landscape, but then so many things are in Prairie Crossing, one of the first New Urbanist developments in the U.S., a place still struggling to find its identity. We burn the prairie in order to nurture it. Yet we have homes that consume inordinate amounts of energy, plugged into the ``grid'' of power plants that contribute mightily to global warming. While our dedicated residents contribute a portion of their home's sale price to the local conservation group and are environmentally conscious, some think little of driving gas-guzzling Hummers and run every electric appliance you can imagine. In the quest to be ahead of the curve on environmental awareness, we are stunningly average in our consumption patterns.
Despite our many contradictions, when I look out my back window or front door I see the verdant promise of hope.
I live in a Northern Illinois community that advocates change on a daily basis, although like most places in America, it's slow in coming. At the core is a working organic farm where we can buy our vegetables. We have the only community-owned windmill producing electricity for the farm – one that I helped build -- conserve land around the development for eternity, are connected to open greenspaces, a trail system and have two train stations that connect us to downtown Chicago and other suburbs.
Our homes are designed to be more energy-stingy than average suburban dwellings. We can even compost our kitchen waste, which is picked up on Monday, to make organic fertilizer and produce bio-diesel fuel from cooking oil. Our main, man-made lake, named after the great conservationist Aldo Leopold, is so pristine from water filtered by surrounding, functioning wetlands, we regularly swim in it during the summer. It's one of the cleanest bodies of water in a county that will burgeon to nearly 500,000 people within the next decade or so. In an ecological connection to the rest of the world, most of our storm water filters through three lakes (one of which shelters endangered fish species), then into a creek that flows into the Des Plaines River, which eventually joins the Illinois, Mississippi and Gulf of Mexico. We also try to restrict the amount and toxicity of our lawn treatments.
Our little paradise is brimming with ideas like a tree bursting with fruit. We have a community barn that hosts everything from concerts to weddings. Our organic farm a block away from my home, run by my neighbors Peg and Matt Schaeffer, has had many shaky starts, but seems to be on a sound footing as three new greenhouses are in place and they find new markets for their organic food. A special Montessori school and learning farm tie into the many sustainable agriculture projects going on there. For those who don't grow food in their yards, there's a community plot next to the pig house, goat pen and horse barn where my daughter Sarah grooms and rides our neighbor's feisty pony Norman.
Across from my front yard is an open area better known as the "fire pit." Once a month and sometimes on impromptu occasions such as the winter and summer solstice, we gather before the bonfire, roasting marshmallows, making s'mores, drink beer and exchange stories. Even though a bonfire is not doing global warming any favors, it serves as a communal focal point. Our community has often been ridiculed by the relatively conservative towns beyond our borders, which is a source of amusement for us in the "collective."
Our utopia is not without imperfections. We are struggling with how to make all of our activities environmentally sound. Many of them, like our monthly bonfire, will never make a list of environmentally sound practices. Although the developers of Prairie Crossing did a noble deed in preserving hundreds of acres of open land around us, they declined to use active or passive solar technology in any of their homes and commercial buildings. Our three charter school structures use geothermal heating systems, daylighting, sustainable materials and conserve water, but they are far from state of the art. They don't produce a watt of electricity.
The Prairie Crossing houses have had construction defects and leak more air through windows and doors than they should, considering that they were part of the energy-efficient "Building America" program. My roof vents leaked, for example, and eventually blew off because they weren't nailed down. None of the 300-plus homes uses real passive solar construction nor is there a single solar panel or windmill on any home.
The hardest reality about the unsustainability of my community may be the economic stress in the community. Since there's little or no retail, commercial and industrial tax base around us, we pay dearly in property taxes. Our 2,100 square-foot home has a $9,000 annual tax bill that climbs nearly every year. Some of my neighbors are paying up to $15,000 a year. These bills are felt especially deeply in our household since we homeschool our two daughters. It's a constant source of anguish and economic strife around here since we seem to be surrounded by ever-newer subdivisions and endlessly clotted highways.
Although we are billed as a conservation community, we are reminded of our sins by looking west to an asphalt plant and huge landfill. Only a handful of my neighbors own hybrid-electric cars. Most of us own either minivans or sport-utility vehicles, our family included. It's difficult to find a house here priced below $400,000, as homes here are well above average for this county. I doubt if my children would be able to afford to live here when they are starting their lives as independent adults.
In short, we are a flawed oasis of ideas stuck between three highways and a prairie preserve within walking distance, which we cherish and volunteer to restore. Like a nascent republic, we have "guiding principles" that call for environmental protection/enhancement and energy conservation; lifelong learning; healthy lifestyles; a sense of place and community; convenient and efficient transportation; esthetic design and high-quality construction and economic viability. Of those principles first articulated by our developers George and Vicky Ranney, our crowning achievements to date are our establishment of a vital community around good train transportation, aesthetically indigenous homes and charming open space that is at least embracing some ethics of environmental protection. We are probably one of the few communities with a full-time "environmental leader," our friend and neighbor Mike Sands, who not only guides our prairie burns twice a year (sometimes we torch an occasional dead tree stump), he's one of our guiding lights.
The rest of our manifesto is a challenging work in progress in which we are happy to participate. Although our little community is a flawed social and economic experiment, at least it's guided by our principles, which, is a starting point that's sorely lacking in the typical American runaway development paradigm. It's also a bold attempt to build upon personal ecology, or the idea that we are personally connected to other communities and natural systems.
Filling the Void
When my wife and I first moved to Prairie Crossing, although we were environmentally sensitive, we weren't necessarily environmentally active. The ideas of better-insulated homes with more energy-efficient appliances surrounded by conserved open space sounded good to us, but it wasn't the primary reason we moved here. At first, the appeal of a shorter commute and more living space held more sway. When we bought the home, I was hoping to cut my driving time to my (then) job as special projects editor at Consumers Digest magazine, which was typically at least two hours a day, four hours when it snowed. Nearly a year after we bought the house -- which nearly tripled our property taxes -- the magazine's management downsized and fired the entire editorial staff and I was out of a job. It turned out to be a godsend as I rebounded as a columnist with Bloomberg News and could work from home. My commute then effectively went from 20,000 miles a year to about 10 feet per day. Despite the obvious joy of not having to brave the increasingly agonizing traffic in Chicago every day, I discovered that I drove very little, nor had any desire to get into a car unless I was running an errand or driving to the train station. It only occurred to me about a year later that I was also employing one of the best carbon-reduction strategies available -- not driving. I have relished this opportunity to spend more time with my family and on my work and less time on the road. Yet it didn't seem to be enough. Something was absent, a feeling that a void was left and that I wasn't quite home free in my obligation to be a decent environmental citizen.
As we availed ourselves of the organic farm by buying produce and eggs and using compost for our garden, it sank in that we were part of a system that encompassed much more than the 2,200-square feet in our home and our quarter-acre lot. We were part of a much larger network of consumers, and we were devouring a disproportionate amount of resources relative to someone in Europe, Japan or a developing country. Were we entitled to this resource gluttony? As 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq instructed us, the answer was no.
Catalyzed by Hurricane Katrina, the two Gulf wars and the Bush Administration's steadfast opposition to energy conservation legislation, we turned our gaze inward. We started to once again question how we were living. Were we somehow implicated in the need to go to war to protect resources? While the 9/11 conspirators clearly had other objectives, they pointedly reminded us of our poisoned relationship with the oil-rich Saudis and other regimes that were funded by petrowealth.
As is usually the case with damaging American lifestyles, we paid a price for our arrogance in zealously protecting our petroleum addiction. The markets reacted to our fear of losing the opium war of our time and penalized everyone except the oil-producing nations, commodity traders, hedge funds and natural resource companies. At the beginning of 2003, a barrel of oil sold for around $30. Since then, the average price has been near $50, having soared to $78 in the summer of 2006. As a result, gasoline climbed over $3 a gallon. Apart from the impact of war, natural disaster (Katrina) and speculators roiling the markets, there's the uncontested reality that more people in the world want energy and are willing to pay whatever it takes to get a steady supply of it. In addition to the European Union, South America and Asia are hungry for oil, gas, coal, uranium (and other commodities) and electricity. The markets have responded to this demand. In 1997, coal was $29 a ton. It's now $35. Natural gas cost $2.91 for a thousand cubic feet and more than doubled in price. Uranium went from $12.50 a pound to $36. You can look at these cold numbers and say, well, this means it costs more to produce energy and these expenses are passed along to everyone who needs it. It also means that each homeowner and renter is paying for these costs. Although there's plenty of coal left on every continent to meet energy needs well into the future, burning it heats up our atmosphere and unleashes a pandora's box of poisons ranging from mercury to nitrogen dioxide.
We are clearly paying a tax for the increased demand for energy and the threat that its supply might be interrupted either by terrorism or Mother Nature. Our heating bills have doubled, for example, and our electrical bill will likely climb 20 percent to 50 percent. Although most of our electricity is generated by nuclear power plants -- there are more of them in Illinois than in any other state -- it provides cold comfort. Less carbon means more nuclear waste that will sit somewhere for tens of thousands of years. They have to put it somewhere and they can't recycle it into anything useful. Even John Rowe, the chairman of Exelon Corp., which owns our local electrical utility, says he won't propose any new nuclear plants until a way is found to dispose or reprocess nuclear waste in an environmentally sound manner. The cost of our energy for our home and cars -- and the way it's produced -- began to trouble us, even though our energy bills rose modestly relative to our income.
Then it dawned on us: We were falling miserably behind in doing our fair share in the undeclared war of resource dependency -- a global conflict that gave the world's remaining superpower and allies tacit permission to battle for petroleum and gas, bolster brutal regimes and oppress native societies. The cost has been too high. Some 400,000 Iraqis have lost their lives in addition to more than 3,000 Americans, with no end in sight. Nearly everywhere there's petroleum and gas drilling, transport and refining in the Third World, there's been death, destruction and environmental degradation from Sudan to Burma. We feel that burden deeply -- and feel partly responsible for it. You don't see lives being lost over wheat, soybeans or hay. Is this all in the name of being able to fuel our mini-van for under $3 a gallon, heat our homes and create more plastic?
Adopting a Personal Ecology
The grievous acts of war are not entirely due to energy concerns. There are other geopolitical concerns at play that are rarely discussed in detail on the evening news. Yet I feel pressed to examine what we can do as homeowners, indeed, as a nation of dwellers, to introduce some piece of what will be a multi-layered solution to global warming and resource depletion. There are so many bright lights, powerful ideas and innovative approaches coalescing, that they deserve to be illuminated, because they garner so little attention in this world of millions of trivial distractions. Then again, we start with the home and move outward.
In the U.S., we have the zero-energy home movement, an odd but relatively tiny smattering of architects, engineers, manufacturers, entrepreneurs and visionaries who believe that homes can produce their own energy, store their own water, and use resources in a renewable manner. In Europe, this revolution is called the "passive house" movement. The same principles of conserving energy and tapping solar, wind and geothermal power is very much at play. In Japan -- and to some extent China -- energy resources are even more critical as China and India expand, industrialize and add hundreds of millions of new souls to the planet's burden. In this global perspective, I am connected to the need to narrate the many forms of progress that start with simply redoing the average home. I am going to see how homes can be made more ecodynamic, integrated into a community that's in the world and not just of the world. I may even build one of these homes myself.
We all need to have a personal stake in change and personal ecology gives us a framework. What's needed is a widespread sense of personal ecology; an awareness of the intimate connections between the various parts of our lives and the outside world. Since they are bound together in a web of often subtle connections, environmental, social, political and commercial concerns are inter-related.
Ecology is derived from the Greek word oikos, meaning household, and is the root for both economics and ecology. Even the ancient Greeks knew that matters of balance and money began in the home. Personal Ecology, in my definition, should not be the exclusive study of relationships in nature, but the observation of links between man-made things and the environment. There are connections between what I call the Anthroscape and the earth that we are only beginning to understand. When Brazilian housing developments are built, they displace and redirect water flow. When American highways are built, they channel pollutants into soil and trees. When Chinese and American power plants emit massive clouds of particulates, we breath these toxins all over the world. Ecology is the over-arching science of all of these relationships, which are omnipresent. We avoid examining these links at our peril.
It seems natural that ecology should become a guiding philosophy in understanding politics, the economy, resource use, education and citizen action. Tying that into physics, chemistry, biology, the humanities and civic responsibility is also logical. Not only is my approach multidisciplinary, it focuses on how the different realms of our world are coming together to create planetary solutions for the daunting problems of global warming, resource depletion, pollution, poverty, overpopulation and sprawl.
You know the old Chinese saying that a butterfly's wings flapping on one side of the world impact events on the other? This has been proven to be true in quantum physics. You take a pair of sub-atomic particles, separate them and reverse the spin of one and the other will follow suit. On a larger scale, reducing the water in the glaciers of Tibet will reduce the water flow to rivers flowing into China. A hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico will make oil prices rise all over the world. We are all connected in some way and we need to employ this thinking to help heal our culture. Ideally, I'm borrowing and integrating the thinking of systems/network theory, information theory, quantum physics, evolutionary biology, holism, sociology, economics, finance and the perennial philosophy of the world's great spiritual traditions.
I'm on a quest. I've traveled a long way from my home in Prairie Crossing to search for the true ecodynamic home and community. I haven't found it yet, but my odyssey continues. It was more than a divine accident that I was born at the crossroads of America. At least that's what the sign said at the corner of Dixie Highway, which went from Chicago to Miami, and Lincoln Highway, which once linked San Francisco to New York. At this otherwise unassuming intersection was St. James Hospital in Chicago Heights, Illinois, where I was born in 1957. It was the perfect point of departure from which to explore the world. Over the last 50 years, I've come to travel and relish each horizon and try to learn from the places I've been. My personal ecology has led me to question the way I am living and to see how I can make a personal contribution to a renewable lifestyle.
I've traversed the length of the Mississippi by car and by plane several times, renewing my connection to New Orleans, the devastated bowl of misery that gave Chicago the genius of her people and the blues and jazz tunes they brought up from Storyville to Streeterville. Belfast, Paris, London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Rome, Florence, Munich, Amsterdam and Vienna were my destinations during and after college. Then I longed again for the perplexing breadth of North America, traveling to Canada, Mexico, the Pacific Northwest, Southern California, the South from Texas to Florida and then from Acadia on the coast of Maine back to Chicago. I spend the bulk of my out-of-town trips in Manhattan, a place that I continue to learn from and relish.
Yet all roads led back to Chicago as I began to ask some questions after my 50-year sojourn and the more than a hundred thousand miles that have enriched my soul. What troubles me is that much of what I've seen can't continue the way it has been. Are we at the end of the road with the metroscape as we know it? If we've nearly reached peak oil capacity, raised the temperature of the planet past a perilous tipping point and depleted resources to such an extent that we have sowed the seeds of our spaceship's destruction, where can we travel to find the redemption we must find from our excesses?
My home and Prairie Crossing in general, are a rough draft for what needs to be done. It's clear we need a better blueprint to create renewable communities. What would this blueprint look like? My Ecodynamic Home would have the outward appearance of my family's modified Chicago bungalow with a number of key innovations:
1) It would be an energy producer. Solar "tiles" would be integrated into the roof and any south-facing surface to produce electricity. An ultra-efficient horizontal turbine would convert the wind's energy into electrons.
2) It would store energy. Long-term storage batteries would store power for the days when the sun wasn't shining (quite a few of them in the Chicago area). South-facing walls and floors would have thermal mass or have water-storage units that would soak up solar energy during the day and release it at night. Super-insulation would keep that heat from leaking out windows, doors, walls and ceilings. Even the roof would be able to store and transfer energy for heating water and the house.
3) It would heat and cool itself. Solar energy could be employed to heat water and an exchanger would be combined with a fan to circulate that heat throughout the house. A geo-thermal heating and cooling system would convert the earth's constant temperature to heat in the winter and coolness in the summer. The tight building envelope and windows would prevent the structure from overheating or losing its comfortable temperature in the winter.
4) It would not be stick built. Modular sections would be mass produced and built to exacting, energy-efficient standards in a factory. The home would be assembled on site in a week. Not only would this home cost less than $200,000 excluding land costs, it would be much more affordable in city and rural areas with existing infrastructure. It would employ renewable and recyclable materials that don't emit toxins. It would be built with either sustainable or recycled materials. Since it would be built in a factory, I would avoid sending 30 to 40 percent of the building materials (used in stickbuilt homes) to the landfill.
5) It would recycle its own waste. Organic garbage would be composted to make fertilizer for a biodynamic garden that could be planted year-round inside of the home or in an attached greenhouse. "Gray" water from baths and showers would be used to water the garden or lawn. More advanced models with larger lots would have functional wetlands to recycle other waste water. A rainwater cistern would store water from the roof and gutters for the garden and the bathrooms.
6) It would have little or no carbon footprint and conserve energy. Ideally, it wouldn't burn any fossil fuels and produce little or no carbon dioxide and other air pollutants. Although it could be hooked up to the electrical grid, as a nominally zero-energy home, whatever net power it produced would be "clean" power and sold back to the local power company. Lighting and appliances would use as little power as possible through either LEDs or systems that turned themselves off when not in use. A computer would monitor energy use and tell me when to turn off things. It would be a "smart" house.
7) It would be integrated with plug-in cars. Electric cars would be recharging at night using cheap, off-peak power that costs from 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour versus more than 8 cents during the day. Deep-cycle batteries could store power from the solar roof and wind turbine. My zero-emission vehicle would be used for short trips and commutes and be recyclable. It wouldn't require any oil changes, fill-ups or tune-ups.
8) The grounds of the home would employ resource-efficient, energy-efficient landscaping. I would use hybrid or natural grasses and shrubs that require little or no water. All of the ornamental plants would be perennials. Evergreens would be planted to block the Northwest wind in the summer and deciduous trees would provide shade in the summer. Fruit-bearing trees and bushes would provide food. A computer system linked to the Internet would tell the home's sprinkler system when the outside plantings needed to be watered from my cistern containing either rainwater or recycled graywater.
9) My community and home plot (and even a green roof) would produce food. I would only have to walk a block to find fresh organic produce, eggs and meat. A farm would be at the center of the community and my family would support it through labor, purchases and compost materials (this is already a fixture of Prairie Crossing). A greenhouse would be attached to my home.
10) My community would foster lifelong learning, entertainment, political discourse, renewability education and culture. This is a principle that would strengthen my community and perpetuate its growth and development into the future.
11) Public transportation would be within walking distance. At present, I have access to two train lines that link my community with downtown Chicago and the far Northwest Suburbs and O'Hare Airport. The growing commuter train system in the Chicago area could also be expanded to take me to Western and Southern suburbs. Ideally, this home would be within walking or biking distance of public facilities such as supermarkets, libraries and post offices.
12) My home would have access to open lands, trails and nature preserves. A hallmark of Prairie Crossing now, trail extensions would be extended to our town's center, library, supermarket and other trail systems. Every community should have some preserved open land that includes working wetlands, meadows, groves and other natural areas.
Sound like some unrealistic utopian vision from the 1960s? Actually, most of what I described exists in pieces in various places, including my own community. Current technology can implemented with a little imagination, planning and capital. It's truly an ecodynamic community that starts with individual homes and doesn't conflict with the gaiascape, utilizing the marvelous power and creativity of the infoscape and poliscape.
If this blueprint works for us, our technology could help make growing countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and South America more manageable and self-sufficient. There is no downside as we will be creating and preserving jobs and wealth. In the words of John Ruskin, ``that country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest, who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence , both personal, and by means of his possessions, over the lives of others." It all starts in our homes and communities – my home, your home.
I once made a pilgrimage to Walden Pond to try and feel the spirit of the place. At the time, I was between jobs and thought I might move to the Boston area to be near by (then girlfriend, now wife) Kathleen. I have read Thoreau and Emerson countless times and am always struck at how they wanted to pull the world back from the dehumanizing piper's call of the industrial age. Walden Pond offered me some serenity, although it yielded few big answers at the time (I decided not to move East).
In summing up his ascetic experience of living in a hut on the shore of Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts, Henry David Thoreau gained some profound insights into how we could best live with nature – and ourselves.
``I learned this, at least by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which [one] has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings...If you build castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.''
We all still live in Thoreau's world of promise, hope and imagination and strive to build our castles. First, we need to transcend those invisible boundaries that divide our political and intellectual spheres. It can be done. In order to build a home in the world that will outlast our proclivities for waste and energy consumption, we need to rethink and rebuild where we live.