Monday, July 19, 2010

Oil and Pop Cans

By Jason Yots

It’s hard not to feel utterly helpless as you watch TV reports of oil gushing into the ocean. The problem seems so enormous, and the circumstances seem so unknowable, that you can only sigh and change the channel. Sure, we can do the consumer-sized stuff like take the bus to work or use a cloth grocery bag, but some days doesn't that feel like a mere drop in the proverbial ocean?

My dad and I recently spoke to a group of government officials about historic preservation and its positive spin-off for our world. On the ride home, I thought about our argument that historic preservation promotes sustainable living. To illustrate the point, we like to quote Donovan Rypkema’s estimate that demolishing a small commercial building negates the positive impacts of recycling 1.3 million aluminum cans. How perverse that we recycle our soda cans but throw away our buildings.

And demolishing a building isn't just tossing bricks and sticks into a landfill. It’s also squandering decades of embodied energy – energy that, in many cases, was generated, directly or indirectly, from oil. Maybe, then, as preservationists we are doing more for the BP mess than simply flipping to the next channel. By supporting historic preservation – whether fixing a building or advocating for one – we’re reducing our global consumption of oil. Plain and simple. In the meantime, we’re also doing something pretty cool for our community and our karma.

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