Saturday, September 17, 2005

Green Foolishness?

Today's WPost has an article on how an environmentalist redid her kitchen in green, or should that be "greenly"? She says she turned down granite for her countertops in favor of recycled glass embedded in concrete because "granite is definitely not renewable -- once it's removed from the earth, it's gone forever."

I'm tempted to mock her--she fails to realize that concrete is made with cement, derived from limestone quarried from the earth, heated in a kiln fired most probably by fossil fuel, combined with sand which is also derived from the earth. (It's not clear to me which counter top would require more energy to make.) But seriously, it's an example of the limited vision we all have. We all argue based on a subset of data because you've got to close your mind somewhere. It's also an example of trends. To this old codger, the idea of a green kitchen seems a bit laughable, but it's taken seriously in the paper and may well be a coming thing. It's how social norms develop, just remember (as I do every time I watch an old movie) how norms on smoking have changed over the years.

4 comments:

  1. Ah, But what you failed to mention, is that the countertop is made from things that had already been processed for human use and were desinted for a landfill. They are not freshly harvested from the earth. That's a big difference.

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  2. Ah, but what you failed to mention, is that the countertop was made from material that had already been processed and was desinted for a landfill had it not been turned into a counterop. It was not freshly harvested from the earth as the granite would have been. That's a big difference, if you ask me.

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  3. I'll agree in part, and must plead ignorance in part. I don't know what proportion of the concrete counter top is broken glass; to the extent it is it qualifies as "green" to me. But as far as I know, concrete relies on "virgin" materials. I guess what offended me a bit was the writer's assumption that the issue was clear. I don't think it is. From my knowledge of geology there's probably more limestone available than granite, but it might well take more energy to process limestone into cement than granite into polished countertops. I think you should also look at the lifetime--if the granite top would outlast the concrete by a significant margin, that makes a difference. Also, is the couple going to stay in the house for the rest of their lifetime? If they sell, is the new buyer going to keep the countertop?

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  4. Ms Guterman's unstated and unexplored assumption that concrete was somehow clearly greener than concrete struck me as problematic. Maybe if she'd have stated that she felt this way because of, say, Natural Step's baseline condition that we stop mining the lithosphere (which is a little too categorical for me), I'd be inclined to cut her some slack.

    But concrete is a major contributor of C02. And what of the longevity of the materials? Compared to concrete -- with recycled glass or not -- granite is forever. Those who come to own her home long after she and her family move on would I daresay enjoy the latter for longer into the future.

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