Downsize Now!

<p>Stan Cox argues that the massive square footage of so many modern houses -- no matter how "energy efficient" the construction -- is a luxury the planet can no longer afford.</p>
March 16, 2008, 5am PDT | Michael Dudley
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"Monumental bad taste is indeed fascinating. But far more serious is the lasting environmental damage these incredible hulks do.

The manufacture and transportation of concrete to build a typical 3,000-square-foot house generate greenhouse gases amounting to 47 tons of carbon dioxide. And laid end to end, the pieces of lumber to make that house would stretch for more than four miles.

Wood, unlike concrete, gets some credit for being a "renewable" resource. The lumber and construction industries point out that they are taking greenhouse carbon out of the atmosphere and locking it into wood-frame houses. But that ignores the ecological effect of wrecking complex forest ecosystems to feed industrial wood production.

And in addition to requiring greater quantities of wood, concrete, plastics and copper, large houses have more volume to heat and cool, and more room for appliances and gadgets. Over a 50-year lifetime, a standard house pumps out greenhouse emissions amounting to 30 to 40 times the weight of the carbon that's socked away in its frame.

The bigger the house, the bigger the emissions. Based on University of Michigan figures, a typical 3,000-square-footer will emit as much carbon dioxide as would three - count ‘em, three - 16-miles-per-gallon SUVs driven the national vehicle average of 12,000 miles per year over 50 years.

Energy consumption is being addressed in a limited way by eco-friendly construction. But a 2005 analysis in the Journal of Industrial Ecology concluded that a 3,000-square-foot, super-efficient house consumes 50 percent more energy than does a 1,500-square-foot house built only to mediocre energy standards."

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Published on Thursday, March 13, 2008 in Common Dreams
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