It’s Not Easy Being Green

I stole this now well-known quote from Kermit the Frog. I think his was social/cultural commentary on going through life as a talking frog puppet. I mean it in a very different context, though I admit I always thought living one’s life as a frog puppet might actually be a pretty happy existence.

Rewind the clock a week or so. I was listening to the radio on a news station and the reporter was interviewing someone, perhaps a building owner (I can’t recall), about their efforts to make their office building “green.” I had just recently visited someone’s office building and they took me on a tour to show me how “green” it was. I was feeling a bit nauseated by all this greenness so I changed my Facebook status to:

 “Bruce Robertson doesn’t care how “green” your building is. In fact, I wonder how many hungry children could be fed in the world with the money you wasted making your building “green!”

Within 13 minutes of my posting that, an old friend replied “Really? Are you serious?” Her reply infers not only disagreement, but it suggests that I’m a lunatic for even thinking it, let alone posting my view for the whole world (or at least my FB friends) to see. As the evening wore on, I got a bunch of other folks “liking” my comment, but this kept gnawing at me. Was I a lunatic or was I onto something? Well, I decided to find out. Just as I was coming to this conclusion, I read in the paper about an 850,000 square foot building in Washington that was just being made “green” at a cost of $14.5 million. That’s about $17 per square foot to greenify a building. Hold that number in your head for just a moment.

I did some additional Internet research to round out the picture and here’s what I learned:

  • In order to become a “green” building, you want to get the coveted LEED Certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the United States Green Building Council.
  • USGBC reports that, to date, they have certified 1.6 billion square feet of building space as “green.”
  • I searched several websites to find out how much it costs to sponsor a poor hungry child in Africa (assuming Africa is a good surrogate for poor children in other parts of the developing world). The numbers ranged from about $12/month (Child Fund International) to $36/month (World Vision).
  •  I chose the approximate average of $25/month to feed and provide basic healthcare for an African child.

OK, now we have all the numbers we need to do the math. At $17/sqft to make 1.6 billion sqft of buildings “green” to date, the United States has spent $27.2 billion ($27,200,000,000) making buildings green. Now, the question we need to ask is “how many children could we have sponsored with that money?” Let’s assume that we start sponsoring the average child at birth and sponsor all the way to age 18 (18 total years). At $25/month, that works out to $5,400 to sponsor one child for 18 years.

Bear with me, we’re almost home.  The last calculation is to find out how many African children’s food and healthcare we could have sponsored for the $27.2 billion we spent on making buildings green. The answer is to divide $27.2 billion by $5,400 (the cost of sponsoring one child for his/her entire childhood). The answer is 5 million. That’s right – for the money we’ve spent making buildings green, we could have provided food and healthcare to 5 million children in Africa or other developing nations. That’s a difference maker.

Folks, I’m not against the environment. Ask any of my friends how I used to honk my horn and scream at people who tossed their cigarettes out the window. I once saw a lady get out of her Jaguar and drop a cigarette in the parking lot. I picked it up and tried to hand it back to her and when she wouldn’t take it, I put it in the mouth of the Jaguar hood ornament. We all need to be smart about the environment. The introduction of the automotive catalytic converter and scrubbers on power plants have dramatically reduced emissions. That’s a good thing.

But, we have now hit a point of diminishing return where we have let a bogus religion of global warming (or global cooling or climate change or whatever the faux climate crisis de jour may be), that is completely devoid of sound scientific evidence, completely take over the international discussion. My math above may not be perfect and I’m sure we could debate the numbers. But, the point will not change. There has been a massive misallocation of scarce resources to making things green when there is real human suffering going on that is getting a fraction of that capital. I’m sure my liberal readers will contend that one could apply the same logic to the profits of Goldman Sachs. And, perhaps there might be a pony in that argument. However, without private enterprise, there is no money to do any of this stuff (see, Union, Soviet).

So, to my friend who asked me the question on my FB post, and anyone else inclined to listen, yes, I am serious. Deadly serious.


About Bruce Robertson

Bruce Robertson is an amateur writer and professional provocateur
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4 Responses to It’s Not Easy Being Green

  1. Dan Grabois says:

    Interesting post, and glad you are back at it! I would point out a few things in rebuttal:

    1. You say the argument for the existence of the climate crisis is “completely devoid of sound scientific evidence.” Hmmm. I’m not a climate scientist myself, though my next door neighbor, as it turns out, is. What I hear from him, and what I read in the newspaper, is that there is near unanimous agreement among scientists that we have a problem, and a big one, on our hands. For example, my neighbor takes climate readings from a particular spot in northern Wisconsin. He has solid evidence that the climate is changing at his site. He’s not using a thermometer that is slanted toward the liberal agenda. If someone has really managed to get all our scientists to obfuscate (lie?) in unison, then that someone has tremendous power. It seems like the only people who are saying the climate crisis is manufactured are people who benefit monetarily from industry continuing unabated. I think I have to go with the academics on this one.

    2. If it turns out that you are wrong, and that there in fact IS a climate crisis, then I’ll feel bad for the next generations, including your children (my cousins) and my child (your cousin), who will pay the price for your certainty.

    3. If it turns out that you are right, and we act anyway to clean up pollution, then … hey, we will have cleaned the place up. Nothing wrong with that. I’m sure you won’t dispute that we’ve made a royal mess of the environment, and there is a large human benefit to fixing that mess, even if you can’t measure it in dollars (though you probably can).

    4. The argument that you make, that the money we would save by not greening our buildings could be used to save millions of starving children, could be used in any context. We could eliminate air traffic control and save millions. We could stop fighting wars in the Middle East and save trillions. Think of the money we would save by releasing every prisoner in the country! One is always having to prioritize one’s spending, to allocate monies (love the plural) as sensibly as possible given a multitude of problems and a finite supply of those monies. For you, as an individual, to choose saving starving children over installing a solar panel in your house is a noble decision, and I would sing your praises for the good works you were doing (I think you are saving around 25K by not going solar, btw). The government, however, has to look at the big picture and figure out where the priorities lie, on a societal and global level.

  2. Dan, if you are going to throw fastballs over the middle of the plate, I will hit them out of the park.

    1. The entire climate debate has been controled by a relatively small group of academics with a political agenda. They have completely shut out any opposing ACADEMIC voice by denying them publications in any journals. It is inaccurate to say the only dissenting voices are those who would directly benefit. In fact, the greenifying of buildings has become a multi-billion cottage industry.

    As a scientist, let me suggest you be very wary when anyone starts a sentence with “a consensus of scientists agree….” Nobody ever said, “a consensus of scientists agree that e=mc^2.” No, it was theory, put to the test of data, reviewed by peers, and proven to be true. We have nothing approaching that in climate change. The jury is still out and until it comes in, we should tread lightly. The IPCC is one of the most corrupt bodies around. Read the East Anglia e-mails where they strategized ways to prevent all publications of opposing views. That is NOT how we advance scientific knowledge. Also, I suggest you read the blogs on this topic by Walter Russell Mead ( who is a democrat and voted for Obama.

    2. Read my blog again. I am not advocating for removing the catalytic converters from our car to increase horsepower (it would) nor for dumping our excess chemicals out in the yard behind the plant (used to be accepted practice). I’m suggesting a sound, but rational approach to the environment.

    3. This is perhaps the most specious argument on the green agenda. It presumes there’s no cost associated with all this regulation. There is tremendous cost associated with it. Just one example: the EPA’s illegal back-door (around congress) attempts to take traditional power generation off-line to reduce carbon consumption will increase energy costs dramatically. That is a drain on the economy and personal check books. With stubborn 9% unemployment, we can ill afford that, when the benefits of so doing are so tenuous. I thought liberals were the party of the little guy? To be blunt, if my monthly eletric bill went up by $100, I would never even know it. The bill gets paid automatically and I never even know what it is. However, lower and middle class Americans know exactly what their electric bill is and it would have a devastating impact on them to have it go up $100/month. It could be the difference between staying in their home or not. Doesn’t sound like party of the little guy stuff to me!

    No, I don’t agree that we’ve made a mess of the environment. I believe the exact opposite. Over the last 40 years, we’ve made huge strides in cleaning up the environment. I contend that we should continue to be smart, but slow down the rate of stuff we do that has little benefit.

    4. I take your point here and, in fact, I acknowledged it in the original post with the GS comment. However, most of your examples are nonsensical. I see a big difference between planes crashing left and right, killing thousands, and a very dubious set of regulations based on hocus pocus, politically-driven “science.” Your analogy with fighting foreign wars has more merit. I remain optimistic that the reordering of the middle east will have lasting positive benefit to future generations, but there are plenty of Republicans who would reallocate that money to feed the hungry.

    Thanks for commenting!

  3. Dan Grabois says:

    Bruce, if you are going to hit an easy pop fly, I have no choice but to catch it!

    A tiny group of scientists control the research on ANY scientific topic, because science is tiny and specialized. A tiny group of scientists understands e=mc2. As it turns out, many Americans do not understand the theory of evolution. The theory has not been proven, but it satisfies 99.99999999% of elite left-leaning scientists. The fact of their leftwardness has nothing to do with their belief that evolution is a theory with explanatory power. And should I be concerned that “a consensus of scientists agree” with this theory? If the fact that most scientists agree on something is to be taken as a sign that that something is wrong, then we are deeper into the New Dark Ages than I ever thought (and I thought we were in pretty deeply). Climate scientists are doing things like measuring the size of the ice caps and watching that size decrease, or looking at the recession of glaciers, and so on. If you are going to impugn scientific research as so reflective of political bias, based on a couple of emails, then I don’t know how we can even have a discussion.

    On another topic, it is very easy to toss around costs and say that projects are not worthwhile. Your example of catalytic converters is perfect here. Car companies didn’t want them, and said they would have to pass on the costs to the consumer, who can ill afford the extra burden. I believe you and I were around 8 when this was going down, and I have little memory of it, but I will go way out on a limb here in speculating that the Republican Party cried bloody murder, liberal maniac scientists, etc. Well, it turned out to be worth it, according to you and me. If the internet had existed then, there would have been a Bruce Robertson who blogged that a bunch of crackpot lefty scientists were trying to limit the freedom of the little guy. But all these costs are tied together. The same little guy is now less likely to get cancer because all those catalytic converters have made a huge difference. And not just a difference to our wallets, but to our quality of life. I was just in Mexico, and the air quality in Mexican cities is absolutely foul. That country can ill afford new regulation, and can ill afford its lack. It’s a tough problem, but sometimes you just have to pay the money. Perhaps people like you, who don’t notice the extra $100 on their electric bill, could chip in with some greater taxation. Just a crazy idea.

    The thought that we should slow down our environmental regulation I find quite frightening. We have made strides, but small ones. Meanwhile, the fouling of the planet continues apace (granted, a lot comes from developing countries, a lot from China). You would like to go easy on the stuff that has “little benefit” (though you can’t always know what will have the greatest benefit, when you start stacking invention on top of invention) which sounds great to me, especially if the savings instead goes to feeding the hungry. Right now, we are in a situation where we are neither cleaning up the environment, nor feeding the hungry, nor supporting the basic science that will help us in the future. I can only think of one bright spot in the picture, and if I may, I would like to quote you: “the greenifying of buildings has become a multi-billion cottage industry.” At least one industry has figured out a way to try to kick the economy into action while doing some good for the planet. That should be change you can believe in.

  4. Pingback: Bathroom Technology | Bruce's Blog (til I come up with a catchier name)

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