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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Building Green must first mean: Building Health

As I alluded to in my last entry, we are in the midst of a global momentum of humanitarianism – not focusing on an epidemic or a post-disaster reconstruction effort but what Sachs has described as The Climate Change Revolution. There is, without a shadow of doubt, the need and urgency to build green. Yet beyond the tax reliefs and altruistic motives, how do we incentivize ordinary homeowners, renters and household occupants - particularly the poor, to build, rent and live green? We must first necessarily build health.

The USGBC and EPA ask rhetorically, why build green? Among the responses, we are told that it ‘improves air, thermal and acoustic environments, enhances occupant comfort and health and contributes to overall quality of life.’ Meanwhile, the Healthy House Institute defines a green home as, among other things, ‘one which is healthier for the people living inside.’ In both cases, it would seem that at first glance, health is considered a by-product of building green rather than an incentive for taking such action.

However, what incentivizes the poor to conserve water or consume less energy in an attempt to save the planet, when it already requires every ounce of their energy to strategize how to save themselves and their families from overt risks to health? These are some of the irreconcilable issues that the poor must face every day.

Those who earn less than $10 a day represent 80 % of all our entire world population. For those living in poor housing conditions - informal settlements or otherwise, housing represents safety, a living place for the family and protection from adverse weather. Rarely is housing used as an operational term to suggest a way of improving health. If we can first change the paradigm in which we define and understand the concept of housing, we may be able to fully embrace the potential for housing to be considered a tool/process rather than a fixed entity.

Where the poor can be encouraged to build and improve housing as a means to improving their health, re-defining our concept of housing may be a key strategy in encouraging them to do the above in an environmentally sound way. But let’s not kid ourselves by thinking that this would be a new strategy for the poor. The world’s poor have been building green long before the developed world made it trendy. They have been recycling old car tires for use as furniture, using paint cans as flowerpots and utility cables as clothes lines.

Therefore, what is now needed is not a new solution but rather the deployment of a strategic focus to empower the poor to rent housing with features like adequate ventilation, which reduces humidity and potentially TB. Whether the target groups are those that earn less than $1 per day or $10 per day, incentivizing them to build, rent and live green must first mean: building health.

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