Dear Sam

Dear Sam,

We met at the narrow, cavernous bar in the Philadelphia Airport. You were heading home to Ohio from Maine, a business trip. I was heading home to Maine from Ohio, a business trip.

You were in Maine to refurbish a commercial building in a long-time-ailing, once-industrial town. I was in Ohio to learn about building green.

I called you an idiot for being a climate change sceptic. You might remember me.

My flight delayed in Philadelphia, I lay on the floor at Gate 14 waiting (and waiting) with a copy of Vanity Fair, the Green Issue, the one with Leonardo DiCaprio photo-montaged beside an adorable polar bear pup. This magazine is not my usual read…so Hollywood, so New York gossip, so superficial. I suspect it may not be yours either.

Feet aloft, here’s a taste of what I saw in this heavy, glossy magazine stuffed with ads for cars, fashion, gadgets and alcohol:

  • an ad in black and white of sexy and sweaty young models obliviously getting it on in Diesel clothing while Manhattan, London and South Dakota flood. In one of the ads, a model dreamingly straddles a palm tree. The Diesel pitch: “Global Warming Ready.”
  • ad ad for Levi’s “eco jeans. 100% organic cotton” with a full-page image of another half-naked couple geting it on.

But for an ad from Abundant Forests, the line-up is the usual overdose of consumerism. I read that Lancome is “embracing a range of eco-chic initiatives” and “will plant one tree for each of the first 10,000 bottles of Cell Defense that are sold.” (That’s a lot of landfill for one tree, right?) I read that a beauty entrepreneur “has launched support of the endangered sea life [coral] with a luminescent two-toned powder compact encased in nickel and embossed with a coral branch” A portion of the proceeds from the compact will benefit research on the effects of global warming on coral reefs.

I understand your sceptism about climate change…your aversion to ditching the Expedition you worked hard to afford. I have my loves as well (imported perfume, imported wine, soft toilet paper.) I understand that the messenger (“Algore”) isn’t a trusting source for you. I get it. It can be hard to get past the messenger, but you said you would try.

I hope your project in Maine moves forward. As I heard in Ohio, the greenest building is the one not built. If we should meet again, we can talk about greenwashing, starting with the ads in Vanity Fair. If you do pick up Vanity Fair, read the article about Myron Ebell at Competitive Enterprise Institute. I mentioned it and him at the bar. It’s a very good article. We can talk about astroturfing. And, next time, I buy the drinks.

PS I’m sorry I called you an idiot.

Other Goings On This Week
My brother and his wife are gutting their house in the Hudson Valley. They just bought it; it needs a gutting. I stuck around last Saturday for an interview with Radiant Construction, contractors who bring Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) credentials to the project. I liked them, partly because Joe Levy and I scuffled over green building concepts. Joe uses Icynene(R) Spray Foam. The program with which I work, Home Performance with ENERGY STAR(R), advocates dense-pack cellulose. Personally, I’d use both depending on the application. Joe said the whole-house ceiling fan was a great way to remove warm air from the house. I was taught whole-house fans are bad. The fan is going away when the ceiling is opened up to the rafters, so that argument ended abruptly. Ken Tohinaka of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation said during the ACI Conference in Ohio, “it’s better to be approximately right than precisely wrong.” The saying could easily apply to green home construction. I look forward to seeing how my siblings and I attempt to get things approximately right.

Heather Rae, a contributor to, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she begins renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

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