Radicals Impede Using Wood and Alternatives That Work
Wood from sustainable forests is greatly underappreciated as the world’s most renewable and environmentally friendly building material, Patrick Moore, cofounder of Greenpeace, told the NAHB National Green Building Conference in New Orleans last month.
Changes in construction practices and technologies are increasingly making it possible to provide shelter without taking an unnecessary toll on the environment, Moore added. But some environmental groups — including the one he once helped lead and has since left — are impeding that progress in pursuit of political agendas lacking a scientific basis.
“One problem of green building standards is that they can become a Trojan horse to define political activist agendas to the green building movement,” he warned.
For instance, the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED certification program provides no points for lumber from a rapidly renewable mixed hardwood and pine forest in Louisiana, he said. But “you get a point” if you use bamboo from the same site after the forest was clear-cut to accommodate growing the exotic material.
As a result of a Greenpeace campaign to eliminate wood, no native wood, including eucalyptus, was used to build the infrastructure for the 2000 Olympic games in Australia, he said. Those structures were “all steel and cement,” he complained.
“Growing more trees is one of the most powerful tools for reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said Moore, a native of British Columbia. And when the winter Olympic games come to the Canadian province’s Whistler Mountain in 2010, its structures “will be made of wood, our most important industry,” he promised.
In addition to wood, Moore recommended a number of other approaches and materials to address the need for shelter and energy while improving the environmental health of the planet:
- Geothermal energy. “Fifty percent of solar energy is absorbed by the earth and oceans, he said, “and that allows us to use geothermal ground-source heat pumps to heat homes in the winter, cool them in the summer and heat water.” He said that heat pumps yield significantly more energy at a far lower cost than solar panels. Green building certification standards “are not giving ground-source heat pumps their due. They can completely eliminate reliance on fossil fuels and they should get 10 points instead of one.”
- Hydroelectric power. This is never included in renewable energy mandates, yet it provides 20% of global electricity, he said. British Columbia derives 95% of its electricity from this source. Canada on the whole generates 65% of its electricity through hydroelectric and 15% through nuclear plants, making 80% of its delivery environmentally clean, compared to 30% clean electricity in the U.S. The Three Gorges Hydroelectric Dam on China’s Yangtze River provides the electricity generated by 40 coal-fired power plants, prevents downstream drowning deaths during the river’s flood stages and is good for agriculture.
- Nuclear energy. With some 60 nuclear power plants, France relies more heavily on nuclear energy than any of the 20 other countries in the world today using nuclear to provide at least 15% of its energy and it has the second lowest carbon dioxide emissions of any country in Europe, behind Sweden, he said. The dangers of nuclear have been exaggerated, he said, and it is relatively safe. Nuclear waste can be “safely and securely contained,” he added, and 90% of the waste can be reused. Twenty-two percent of French reactors are burning recycled nuclear fuel, which he called “a valuable future energy source.” Once the waste is removed from the reactor, “only one one-thousandths of the radiation remains after 40 years,” he said, and the fuel can be guarded and saved for use in the future.
Holding promise for the future, two nuclear modular reactors being introduced in Pebble Bed, South Africa will be able to convert coal to liquid fuel without any carbon dioxide emissions. “Every oil refinery will want one,” Moore said.
“There would be a lot less coal-fired plants in the world today if nuclear were used,” he said. “The environmental movement has created a major obstacle and is opposed to alternatives that work; it is against genetic enhancement of trees, nuclear, hydroelectricity and wood.” Also, its support for solar is driving resources away from more effective sources of energy.
- Vinyl. Moore, who holds a doctoral degree in the science of ecology, said he came into conflict with the directors of Greenpeace in the mid-1980s, when they proclaimed that chlorine was “the devil’s element.” PVC (polyvinyl chloride) is “the best way to deliver water,” he said, “and there is no evidence that vinyl damages human health or the environment,” even though its detractors call it “the poison plastic” and have mounted a campaign to have it banned.
Vinyl is slow to ignite, needed for insulating transmission cables, energy-efficient, versatile, affordable and extremely durable, he said. “Biodegradable is great,” he said, “as long as it’s not on the roof of your home.” The material has a proven track record of delivering water and electricity, he said, and “most vinyl is so durable there’s no need to recycle it.”
For information on green building resources available from NAHB, click here; or e-mail Calli Schmidt, or call her at 800-368-5242 x8132.
‘National Green Building Standard’ Coming Soon From BuilderBooks.com
The “National Green Building Standard” from the International Code Council® and NAHB will be available from BuilderBooks.com soon.
For multifamily, home remodeling and additions, site development and single-family housing, the standard covers lot design; resource, energy and water efficiency; indoor environment quality; and owner education.
Visit BuilderBooks.com for availability.
Learn How Green Building Is Good for Business
The "Green Building as Good Business" audio seminar on Wednesday, June 11 from 2:00-3:00 p.m. EDT will show how building and remodeling green might just be the smartest way out of the housing slump.
Hear from three panelists who have found great success with green.
For more information and to register, visit www.nahb.org/GoBuildGreen, e-mail Agustin Cruz at NAHB, or call him at800-368-5242 x8472.