Thursday, March 17, 2005

Forward Environmental Thinking

The recent issue of the journal Conservation in Practice had an interesting article on architect William McDonough. McDonough is the type of progressive thinking person that I have championed before on this blog. His building designs revolve around what he calls, "The Next Industrial Revolution," by which he means the transformation of industries from the world's worst polluters into an industrial ecosystem where everything that the building produces is recycled. And not recycled in the traditional sense of your cans and bottles. Rather, everything produced by the factory and every by-product either gets used again by other industries or can be composted. He designs factories with living roofs that turn storm water into plants that eat up carbon dioxide. He has created biodegradable carpets that are both long-lasting and completely recyclable. Buildings purify their own wastewater through settling tanks and vegetation. For a fraction of the price that it would take to build a chemical treatment plant to treat wastewater, his design at Ford's legendary pollution-producing River Rouge Plant included man-made wetlands to filter the water. Such a design has many nice side-benefits as well such as wildlife habitat.

McDonough criticizes the environmental movement for playing the game that industry has traditionally sought--regulation that reduce emissions without eliminating them, accepting compromise in an arena that compromise only leads to slower death, and not thinking outside of the box on how to change the world. He recognizes the need for business to make money, so he designs plans that both eliminate waste and save companies money, thus ensuring that more businesses will follow suit. Does this mean accepting capitalism as a system? Yes, I suppose so. McDonough says little or nothing against capitalism. Rather, he moves beyond old-fashioned critiques and positions to create new solutions for the 21st century world that we live in. Ultimately, it's people like McDonough that we progressive need to emulate rather than Che or Lenin or Nader or whatever 20th century figure individual Progressives model themselves after. It is new ideas and programs that progressives need. McDonough is just example of the type of program we need to turn our attention to.