Problem 9 - The Danger of Wishes

ferry crossing Lago Maggiore near Isola Bella in northern Italy

   This post is part of the serialization of the first chapter of the Original Green [Unlocking the Mystery of True Sustainability].

   There are a number of well-meaning programs in place that set various sustainability targets. And let’s be clear: I am fully in support of both programs that will be described here. But all target programs have a core problem which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, let’s look at the two examples:

   I have great admiration for Ed Mazria, who has single-handedly taken a great idea and pushed it tirelessly until it has gotten onto many people’s radar screens across the US and abroad. Ed has become the model, in many ways, of what I am attempting to do with the Original Green: one person making a difference beginning with nothing but a great idea.

Ed’s great idea is an initiative that he calls Architecture 2030, the essence of which is a call for all new buildings to be carbon-neutral by the year 2030. There is much more, of course. Check out the Architecture 2030 website for details.

The British government has issued an even more immediate challenge, calling for all buildings in the UK to be carbon-neutral beginning in 2016. Other countries are adopting carbon targets; a web search returns a growing list.

   So what’s the problem? Targets that may be characterized as “you should do this...” simply are not as compelling as those that begin as “I will do this...” “You should do this...” targets are a special kind of wishful thinking: they are the things you wish someone else would do, rather than the things you’re willing to commit to yourself. Even when wishful thinking targets carry the force of law, such as the British 2016 target, they are susceptible to being missed. What will the government do if the British construction industry hasn’t figured out how to be carbon-neutral by 2016 in a manner that most citizens can afford? Will they shut down the entire construction industry until they figure it out? Can you imagine any public office-holder with the guts to do that?

   Targets are not without merit, and they have worked in the past. Probably the most notable success was President Kennedy’s call for putting man on the moon. Without Kennedy’s target, Apollo 11 would never have occurred. But we should not be lulled into thinking that everything’s OK just because we have carbon targets. Until people commit to “I will do this...” targets are little more than wishes.

~ Steve Mouzon

Legacy Comments:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009 - 12:04 PM


This makes tons of sense.  I personally believe in setting goals but I always find that rather than one huge step, I do better to break it down into bite size pieces.  An example is setting a goal to run a mile, two miles then six miles, etc is much more doable than setting the goal to run a marathon, even if the marathon is where I want to end up. Maybe this is what needs to happen with sustainability.

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