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Saw this while out and about this weekend:

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Saw some better ones but the camera was not with me. For a long time we’ve been trying to focus people’s attention here at TUW on separating intentions from outcomes, on not getting caught up in emotion and to use the tools of logic and reason, and of course this has been to no avail. Symbolism is all that really matters.

The act of slapping a LEED plaque on a building matters, not whether it actually conserves resources. Sticking a pretty logo on a recycling bin matters because it shows you care, because it shows you are doing your part, that you put people and the planet over profits.

And the folks that stifle analysis and reality by saying this symbolism matters, I think, put themselves in a terrible bind when they say that symbolism is important. Why? Well, what are they to think about companies like British Petroleum which spent tens of millions of dollars on an ad campaign touting its green credentials all the while spending virtually nothing on green energy (well less than 1/2 percent of its spending) and who owns most of the rights to Prudhoe Bay drilling? If after all the symbolism matters, them please do tell me on what grounds any “E”nvironmentalist can say that BP or any oil company is bad? They all “want” to be green. They all say they care about the planet. How is that in any way different than slapping a LEED tag on a building that is not actually green?

And if evil planet paving people like myself pronounce that we care about the planet, and even buy some Fair Trade coffee to prove it, on what grounds am I to be dismissed but the inane curbside recycling programs and green building standards and many alternative energy programs that are certainly not green to be embraced?

What if I believe that paving rainforest is actually green? How would the “symbolists” argue against it? I can paint the pavement green and I can make it drain well and do all sorts of good looking things. If we are not to evaluate the object on its actual impact then how does one argue that some symbols are “greener” than others?

You can’t of course. And you can’t just say we all have a right to our opinions. On matters of fact, we actually don’t.

2 Responses to “Symbolism and Sophisticated, Soothing Rhetoric”

  1. Former Student says:

    On the topic of LEED certification : The Navy thought they were going to be able to have all new facility construction have LEED certification, well it turns out you have to pay quite a bit for it. That didn’t stop them from paying the extra costs involved and then seperately paying 50k just for the plaque to say “LEED Certified.” They met all the requirements to say they were LEED, they (we) paid just to have the wooden plaque hung on the wall.

    What might be worse : You receive points for various design elements that are considered “sustainable.” So, designers often choose the easily accomplished benchmarks to reach the required points. This led to the construction of various bike rack and steel roof structures throughout a training facility in Rhode Island. Aside from the fact that its Rhode Island, no recruit has the means or even option to ride a bike! They sit empty and unused but hey, there’s a LEED certified building someone can proudly point to for their boss.

  2. Alex A. says:

    Fleshing out that point on outcomes vs. intentions, it’s important to note that “intentions” in terms of “expected outcomes” matter, but not “intentions” in terms of “wished-for outcomes in the absence of evidence”. So if you’re acting on a correct maxim but it sometimes leads to bad consequences in a stochastic fashion, it still matters that you were acting correctly (and vice-versa). I.e. one shouldn’t judge consequences blindly.

    For example, a gunman who fires upon a crowded mall and happens, through random chance, to have killed a dozen at-large murderers and zero innocents, is no hero. He was intending to kill a roomful of innocents and was thwarted into doing justice by sheer randomness! Clearly “fire upon crowds in the hopes of killing criminals” is a faulty basis of action, even if it had unexpected good consequences in a particular case.

    So it might be good to *try* LEED designs where there are prima facie reasons to think they will lead to good consequences, but it’s still incumbent upon us to evaluate the consequences and further tune our basis for action using the feedback. And it sounds like Wintercow is reasonably upset that the feedback isn’t being pursued and so the necessary retuning of our “E”nvironmental priors isn’t happening.

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