After pondering this country’s energy future for the past 40 years when our reliance on fossil fuels first came up as a limiting factor to our growth and security, we are no closer to agreeing on a significant course of action than we were when President Jimmy Carter walked that plank in 1980. And like the old married couple who drive around lost—stubbornly arguing over the situation—we find ourselves at the same crossroads we faced all those years ago. Except now, instead of a four-way stop sign, we find this intersection has transformed itself into an unbelievably complex cloverleaf of exits and overpasses.
The choices were clearer and easier back then. Although there were early concerns about environmental quality in the form of air and water pollution, the warnings had been sounded about energy efficiency and alternatives to fossil fuels. And when it came to the basis of information we needed to proceed in the right direction, we had plenty to go on. The fact that we’re sitting at the same intersection again 40 years later and having the same national debate is proof that we’ve been taking wrong turns ever since—and ignoring the clear road signs planted along the way.
So now the energy question we’ve punted on for 40 years has become much more complicated and dangerous, implicating the accumulating effects of inaction evidenced through the complex web of climate change symptoms and the immense challenges these effects pose against efforts to slow and reverse them.
This fall we are also witnessing a strange yet symbolic convergence—a record-setting heat-and-drought summer that coincides with one of the hottest political debates in recent years, positioning diametrically opposed visions for the goals we need to set and, more important, the path that will lead us to achieve them. I am uncertain where this divisiveness finds its roots or why anyone would play Russian roulette with the future of our planet and its inhabitants, which I can only assume include the families and friends of the politicians who seem to place their own agendas over the health and safety of the people they are supposed to represent.
I guess posturing has taken the place of leadership, partisanship has replaced citizenship, and a closed mind is now mistaken as a sign of clear vision. No matter which side of the political spectrum you’re on, we are inseparably joined by a common fate that will be defined by the choices we make today. Inaction is no longer an option.
I can’t ignore the important progress we have made over this same time period. Residential design, materials, products, and practices have all advanced well—especially over the past decade. The homes we build today are not only more energy efficient than ever, but they are longer lasting, more comfortable, and healthier places to live. The good news is that with increased leadership and commitment our industry can continue to be at the heart of the turnaround, opening up entire new categories of opportunities for every sector that will contribute to crucial environmental solutions while fortifying the long-term health of the companies that comprise the housing industry. It is heartening to look back and measure our progress.
But I still can’t help but wonder where we would be today if we had made different choices when we first faced them in the 1970s. And I worry that 40 years from now, future generations will look back at 2012 and wonder why, when we faced the same challenges, we lacked the vision, courage, and sense of responsibility to choose the right path—with them in mind.
It’s as if we’re content to sit at this same crossroad and squabble endlessly about which way to head—and we’ve forgotten that our kids are in the backseat.