Why It’s Impossible for this Wallingford Home to Be Green: Its Owners Are Asking for $2.1 million

This looks really green...
Here is exactly why most green certifications are bogus. They tend to focus on materials, and not on context or market forces. And the fact that the application of “green” materials is not universalized—meaning, the legal standards for energy consumption, methods of insulation, renewability, the substance of floors, walls, and furniture are weak or nonexistent—means that a house or building certified as green has no deep social or public impact. It becomes, for one, a way to consume without guilt. In this case, what a green building makes cleaner is not the city, but the image of money. It has the appearance of doing something good or positive, for once. The buyer is satisfied. They are making the world a better place. You get the picture. But this is just the beginning of all that is wrong with the subject of this post, which is not so much the green racket as a whole, but specifically about a green Wallingford home asking for a cold $2.1 million.

Curbed Seattle reports that “the quaint aesthetic (and its green features) start at the driveway.” Yes, the driveway is were this house’s greenness begins. The driveway. And where does this driveway lead to? A three-car garage. (We will pass over that in this post.)

The house is “surrounded by cobblestone walls and is permeable to allow water through” and has “domestic solar water heating, solar energy from the roof panels, and 3000-gallon rainwater collection cisterns for toilets, laundry, and watering the garden.” All of these features are not for the environment, however. They are just class codes for the owner or buyer. In the absence of context, green materials, solar panels, and what have you, signal, like the views of “surrounding mountains and forests,” a station in society that can be described as “the ‘enlightened’ elite.” But this fetishization is not the worst of it.

There are two main fundamental problems with this green-certified house. One, it is a single-family home. Now, the idea that we must all get out of our heads for good—and is what secretly charges the utopian nimbus on the marketing (or certification) schemes of such residences—is that of a dialect operating between green materials/behavior and the single-family home. There is no aufhebung here. These opposites will never resolve into something higher and more perfect. One of these sides will never cancel out what’s wrong on the other in a new synthesis. That other side is a single-family home; it is too resilient, too wasteful, too luxurious to surrender one meaningful gain to a virtuous composition of green technologies and materials and practices.

The second problem is the stunning value of the home. It reveals the huge distance between the house’s value as value and its value as use. To speak plainly: When a home costs $2.1 million, it is effectively a very pricey financial asset and its buyer is a wealthy investor. This fact further negates all of the virtues of the green stuff because they are now not located in the real world of utility but in that fantastic realm of speculation. And as Bruno Latour pointed out in his new book Down to Earth, this realm does not have just one world but many, and all of these other worlds, which are fantastic, exert a tremendous amount of pressure on the real economy of the one real world.

This realm is also fueled by ever-growing private (not government) debts. And why does this matter? The Guardian:

Debt is the reason the economy has to grow in the first place. Because debt always comes with interest, it grows exponentially – so if a person, a business, or a country wants to pay down debt over the long term, they have to grow enough to at least match the growth of their debt. Without growth, debt piles up and eventually triggers an economic crisis.

But the language of that article is still a little too nice. Let’s read this more forceful passage in a little book, Just Money: How Society Can Break the Despotic Power of Finance, by the South African-born economist Ann Pettifor:

It is my contention that there is a direct link between the de-regulated, uncontrolled expansion of credit, increased consumption and rising greenhouse gases… By failing to understand that repayments on high levels of expensive debt lead to, and demand rising exploitation of the earth’s scarce and precious resources, environmentalists will fail to check rising greenhouse gases and the depletion and extinction of species.

It is important to understand that a proper green world can only be one world, and this necessarily means it has to be a cheap one. (If you want a better understand of this meaning, I refer you to the last three chapters of Hyman Minsky’s book John Maynard Keynes.)