Green Tech is a Fad

It’s not uncommon to hear people say that the whole “green thing” is a fad, that it’ll go away eventually and things will return to normal.

Well, they’re right: the green thing is a fad.

What they’re wrong about is that things will return to normal. Actually, what they probably don’t understand is that the “green thing” they’re referring to is really the promise that everything will stay the same.

Let’s clarify: the “green thing” they are referring to is what I’ll call green tech. I want to contrast it with green design, also known as bright green design, deep green design, resilient design, etc.

Green Tech Versus Green Design

Green tech means doing the same thing we’re currently doing, but doing it more efficiently, less toxically, with a smaller carbon footprint.

Green design means examining what we’re doing and asking the question “Why are we doing this?” and “Why are we doing this this way?”

Green tech looks at a building and says, “This building needs cooling. We’ll specify the most efficient chiller we can get and use environmentally friendly refrigerants1.”

Green design looks at a building and says, “This building needs cooling, but if we work with the architect to cut down on the amount of windows, orient it a little different, add shading, and beef up the insulation, we can forget the chiller and just use a cooling tower and natural ventilation. We’ll cut the energy use so drastically that we’ll be able to cover electricity consumption with on-site solar.”

Green tech is the philosophy of the swap. It finds nothing wrong with the way the world works; it maintains that we can and should maintain our current standards of living. It says we can still live egregiously consumptive lifestyles, we just need to modify what we consume (consume green things!). Green tech is the ideology of The Swap, which is

 “…the idea that we can change the components of suburban, high-consumption, auto-dependent lives without having to change the nature of those lives … that idea itself is non-reality-based.”

To quote Alex Steffen a bit more, from the same post:

“But the idea we that can swap the parts and keep the form is a necessary fiction: otherwise, business as usual would be seen (correctly) as a series of crimes against the future. Building a new freeway now, with what we know, is crossing the line from stupid to evil, but as long as we believe electric cars will somehow transform the whole system, we can pretend it’s sensible and realistic.”

Green tech says “We’ll build it green!”, where in some cases, green design will say “This should not be built.”

Green tech is a malignant economic system predatorily cashing in on a dawning awareness that all is not right, and exploiting people’s disquiet and genuine desire to positively change the world for the better.

So yeah: green tech is a fad, and the sooner it dies the better. We’ll be able to get to the important work of saving the world better and with less distraction when it’s in the ground.

1There is no such thing as a commercially available environmentally friendly refrigerant. There are refrigerants caustic to the environment, and there are refrigerants that are even more caustic to the environment.

3 Responses to Green Tech is a Fad

  1. Johnny d. says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate, there probably is some value in a “green tech” solution to the millions of square feet of buildings which were designed using ridiculous rules of thumb and a complete absence of “green design”. Particularly since it might be much more economically efficient (and even more carbon-efficient) to make their existing systems work more optimally.

    If you can cut the energy usage of an existing air handler by 30% by implementing more aggressive controls strategies, without ripping apart the system, re-designing it, and re-building it, isn’t that an argument in favor of “green tech”? Maybe it’s starting to blur your distinction between tech and design, but seems to me there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit that we’ve got to tackle even while we build new buildings and systems that challenge the existing philosophy.

    • Tyler Disney says:

      Yes there’s definitely some grey area / definitional issues with trying to split “green” into two camps like that. Really the deal might be that green tech needs to be cautiously couched within deep green design. It’s when it is taken by itself, away from the deep green design, that it becomes greenwash and unacceptable incrementalism. I agree that all the low-hanging fruit needs to be aggressively pursued, but I am concerned about spending time and energy on solutions that are not longer at an appropriate scale.

      These low-hanging fruit should have been picked over by the early to mid 80’s in an ideal world. By this time NZEB’s and net-positive buildings and a radical reduction in refrigerant charge and water usage “should be” nearly ubiquitous. Instead we’re at business as usual, more or less (am I wrong about that?), so the question to my mind is, now that we’ve delayed so long, that we’re decades behind schedule, the *only things* we should be doing are the things with the greatest return on investment in terms of decarbonization, even (or especially) if that means shocks to the social systems. We had a chance to ease into this but we blew it, in other words.

      I mean… I think no one will probably know what is or isn’t unacceptable incrementalism until we’ve gone through it. You sort of have to make a best guess and go for it. Maybe we’ve already locked in to some really serious tipping points, and nothing we do anymore is going to make a big difference? Or, the scenario I think we have to assume until we know better, is that we’re *really really close* to hitting those serious tipping points, so we need to make massive, wide-scale changes *now*. The risk of not doing so is astronomically higher than the associated cost.

      • flowxrg says:

        So to take your example of increasing the efficiency of an air handler by 30%: I think in general it’s a good thing to do, yeah, but not necessarily. What is it doing? If the AHU is serving a school or something like that, great, super, stick the VFD’s on there.

        Is it serving a casino in Las Vegas? Then no, it’s not part of a deep green design solution: Las Vegas itself doesn’t have a place in a post-carbon society, in anywhere close to its current form. That air handler should be abandoned in place or used for something else (spare parts?), along with the rest of that town. Making the fundamentally unsustainable more efficient is work that should not be done.

        Those are the sort of considerations I’m trying to get at here…

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