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Our homes, our egos, and our environment

I think I’ve discovered the root cause of all our environmental ills. Okay, that might sound like an outrageous claim, but let me explain. The particular villain I blame for mankind’s relentless attack on the planets eco system is our Collective Ego.

The more I investigate, the more I see the fingerprints of this villain everywhere. Take for example the average New Zealand home. Not so long ago we were satisfied with a modest house, big enough to fit our family, the dog and a television. But somewhere along the line our egos became restless; we needed bigger, fancier houses. We wanted to outdo our neighbours – out-build them, out-furnish them and over-impress our dinner party guests.

A home for 3 people used to contain a living room, a bathroom, three bedrooms and perhaps a study taking up around 180m2. Now days, you look at the typical specification for a modern home and you see all kinds of features that were virtually unheard of in the not-so-distant past such as a home gym, media room and more bathrooms than there are residents, sprawling over a massive 600m2. We install more bedrooms, living rooms and other rooms than we’ll ever need.

These gratuitously oversized (obese?) homes produce a number of environmentally negative effects. Firstly, the cost of heating these homes is substantially more than a more modest abode. Given the cold New Zealand winters (especially in the South Island) we install energy guzzling heat pumps in the rooms to heat our excessive space. This of course puts strain on our electricity grid, driving the call to dam more rivers or build polluting coal powered plants. The resources needed to build these homes are significantly increased – more concrete, more metals, more wood and so on. This of course equates to more mining, more mono-cultured forestry and more waste.
Another down side is the shear space large houses take up on the section. Rather than having more room for vegetable gardens, trees and other nature we’re stuck with homes that push out at the all corners of a section.

So, back to the culprit; we’ve moved beyond our need to live in comfort and moved into the territory of wanting to impress our friends, family and neighbours. We’re striving to be like our ‘role models’, the insanely rich celebrities that inhabit 50 bedroom mansions they frequent a few times a year and for the most part sit idle, a giant waste of space. You only have to look around at some of the ‘mega rich’ in our own country to see them indulging in this egotistical fantasy. Large mansions being built on prime coastal land Auckland and elsewhere.

For the sake of the environment it’s time to change the goal posts. Imagine if our way of impressing the neighbour was to brag about how well insulated our house was, or how our new rainwater collection tank had halved our water usage for the month? Imagine if we strived to put in photovoltaic panels to offset our electricity rather than spend the money on a new room for the home gym we’ll never use? Imagine if having more room for a vege garden or another tree in our backyard was more important than spending exorbitant amounts of cash on designer furniture?

Article by Carlin Archer

Showing 1 Comment

Posted by Colin Prouse on 03/11/2015 03:02 PM

EGO vs Knowledge
Ordinarily I would wholeheartedly agree with Carlin on her claim that much of our attack on the environment is caused by our collective 'ego', but my experience suggests a contributing 'culprit'...a lack of appropriate 'knowledge'. As a building technologist I find that there is a pervasive ignorance about many subjects that we need to have a better understanding about if we are to collectively protect and maintain a healthy environment. For example presently I am studying the cost-benefits of using local sewerage treatment options instead of relaying on the Municipal waste water system, which in Christchurch's case, reliance on the latter has caused considerable inconvenience (for better or worse). How well do home owners know about the options? And what are the costs and benefits of the options? It would seem that in this case knowledge, rather than ego is more likely to determine whether a residential developer or new home builder is likely to affect the environment for better or worse. The question that arises from this view, is how does one provide such knowledge to the public? This is to me is the more interesting subject.

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