Big houses, bigger houses and even bigger houses

March 26, 2008 | By | 3 Replies More

Marc Gunther created his blog to probe Corporate America for signs of social responsibility.   Hence, the name of his blog: “Marc Gunther – Corporate America: Making the World a Better Place . . . or Not.”

My sister-in-law (an architect who specializes in green issues) referred me to his site.   Marc’s posts are thoughtful and he has some impressive contacts with high-placed corporate types, giving him lots of good insight into the conscience (or not) of some huge and powerful organizations.

I especially enjoyed his post on the struggles of some well-to-do folks who are tired of even more well-to-do folks building houses bigger than theirs (the site of this squabble is the Hamptons).   This post is titled “Green Monsters.” The reference is to the so-called “green” luxury homes in the Seattle area (4,500 square feet) that were recently burned to the ground by eco-terrorists.  Though Gunther is sympathetic with the message of the eco-terrorists, he rejects their method. 

I do mean to suggest that those of us who are privileged ought to think and talk more about how much consumption is enough. Personally, I wish someone would find a way to raise questions about the morality of monster homes without burning them down. It’s probably too much to expect of the mainstream environmental groups that rely on donations from people living in big homes. Just look at who sits on the board of Environmental Defense or NRDC. Religious leaders could play a role, but they, too, depend on gifts from the well-to-do. Any thoughts?

Gunther is highly sensitive to the American consumption epidemic.  Although he is delighted to see some promising moves being made by some corporations, he is distressed that it is unsustainable business-as-usual for too many consumers.  The evidence?

I’d bet you didn’t spend any time at the malls or watching TV this past holiday season. Or realize that, for all the talk about climate change, roughly half the vehicles purchased in 2007 were SUVs and light trucks. Or see that despite the so-called credit crunch, millions of Americans continue to spend more money than they can afford to buy things they probably don’t need. Consider, for example, this shocking Los Angeles Times story about auto financing that, says, among other things that Americans are “slipping into a perpetual cycle of automobile debt,” that 45% of car loans are written for longer than six years, that the average loan is more than $30,000 (!)

The solutions need to happen at the grass roots level, but those solutions need to be inspired by those who are in positions to make a difference.   Will any of that happen?  It’s not going to be easy, because consumers appear oblivious and the big donors to prominent environmental groups “drive SUVs and own vacation homes.” 

I’ve added Marc Gunther to my favorites.   His driving interest in sustainable living, his unrelenting social conscience, his ability to write clearly, and his ability to serve as liaison to big corporations all put him in a unique position to communicate his worthy observations to us.

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Category: American Culture, Communication, Consumerism, Environment

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. grumpypilgrim says:

    It came as a surprise to me, but half the greenhouse gasses that the U.S. creates come not from motor vehicles, but from buildings. The energy we consume heating, cooling and powering our homes and offices consume gigantic amounts of energy and produce gigantic amounts of pollution. Where we choose to build our buildings, and how we choose to landscape them, add still more environmental stress; e.g., groundwater depletion, fertilizer run-off, invasive species, etc.

    I keep wondering when the current trend for building McMansions and watching Nascar races will seem as ignorant to our population as harpooning whales and shooting elephants (which were common a century ago) now seem. Why does it take such a long time for our species to recognize environmental collapse?

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Grumpy: Check out this article on the importance of implementing green building design: "Proactive architects fight CO2 levels" http://dangerousintersection.org/2006/09/19/proac

  3. Edgar Montrose says:

    Um, grumpy, just a minor point; I think that the people who live in McMansions are not usually the same people who watch Nascar races. Now, the people who SPONSOR Nascar races might be a different story. Also, I suspect that the energy consumed by the fans, driving to and from the races, far exceeds the energy consumed by the race cars themselves. Of course, the same can be said about baseball, football, etc.

    Back to the topic at hand; I am reminded of my sister and her husband, who are seemingly stereotypical of middle-class conspicuous consumption in the US today. Their attitude is that they never consider the actual purchase price of anything they buy, because they will never own it outright. Their only consideration is whether they can afford the monthly payments. On that basis alone, if they see something that they want, and they can afford it, they "buy" it (which is actually more like renting it). When they tire of it, they trade it for something else. Their intent is to die as deeply in debt as possible. Seriously.

    It's really difficult to argue with them. While they're in debt and I am not, they also have a lifestyle that I can only envy.

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