In his recent book, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, former President Jimmy Carter asks the poignant question: "Where are the major threats to the environment?" In a chapter of the same name, he attempts to answer the question, in effect, by holding up a mirror at the United States. Not surprisingly, the reflection isn't flattering.
As U.S. government policies toward environmental protection and conservation have spiraled downward over the years, Carter says that it has become "one of the most prevalent rallying points of people around the world who condemn the United States and its rejection of environmental standards." And as we face inevitable political and economic competition with China and other rapidly developing countries as they assuage their skyrocketing thirst for oil, Carter says, there will be geopolitical consequences.
When asked about America's environmental policies, Senator John McCain said, "There's no justification for not taking action now." Indeed, this sense of urgency is one that needs to spread to industry and to the public, as scientists warn that if greenhouse gases are not capped immediately, they will "spin out of control," with some climatologists predicting that global temperatures could rise as much as 10 degrees this century, the effects of which would be catastrophic.
That isn't to say we're without hope. As individuals continue to work toward making sustainability a way of life, rather than an ideological concept, progress is being made. And while the big picture does seem daunting, it's the collective efforts of individuals and teams that will ultimately solve our environmental woes.
It's people like Andrea Traber, founder and principal of Andrea Traber Architecture + Sustainability and the subject of our cover story, who recognize the importance of changing the way we design and shape our world. When I asked her why she thought sustainability was so important, she said the reasons were abundantly clear: "To me, there's a sense of urgency of changing the course of the way in which we build. Our civilization is facing serious issues in terms of global warming. I think it's necessarily raising the bar in the profession—not just to design a wonderful building that people want to be in, but to dig deeper into how it's really impacting a larger scale, how it's impacting people on a deeper level."
While the urgency is clear, the path to affecting change seems splintered. Critics argue that the immensely popular LEED rating system that has swept the A&D industry is a lenient point system with inherent flaws. Manufacturers are introducing product offerings that claim to be "greener" than their competitors. Designers are often scrambling to find reliable information and hard data to convince clients that sustainable design is a viable business model. Everyone seems to have their own idea of what sustainability ought to look like, but perhaps what's needed is a new vision, a collective vision, in order to advance the cause of sustainability.
"I think individuals hold strong visions, but as a collective consciousness, so to speak, I don't think we really have a shared vision of where we're going," Traber says. "I think we're all motivated by knowing that we need to go toward a certain direction or vision, but I'm not sure that we all really know what that looks like."
What does sustainability look like to you? What do you think it looks like to the person next door? Maybe the answer to the latter question will be the one to bring our future into better focus.