Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - January 29, 2010

Positively Green

Why commit to sustainability?

by Iris Harrell

As I gaze beyond my rented condo patio into the common space of a Palm Springs country-club golf course, I see an orange tree flush with ripe fruit ready to be picked. With green, grassy knolls all around me, I stare at the naked rugged mountains jutting up very close by, as two more golfers drive by in their electric cart eagerly ready to try for par one more time before heading to the clubhouse.

It is a perfect 70 degrees Fahrenheit in January. Fluttering tiny birds are happily chirping in nearby trees. I lazily contemplate how many more generations will be able to enjoy this oasis in the desert. How long is this paradise sustainable? How long will there be enough water from the Sierras to pump down hundreds of miles to a desert with very little rainfall?

As my winter vacation draws to a close, I start to reexamine my own level of commitment to furthering sustainability of our planet's seemingly fragile eco-systems and I stumble over what my level of commitment should be on goals I have already made and ones I have yet to make.

While reading the Sunday newspaper, I found a "self-help" article revealing the nuances on this very topic. The five described levels of commitment were taken from Reality Therapy Institute.

1. I'll do whatever it takes.

2. I'll do my best.

3. I'll try (sort of ...)

4. I'd like to, but it's too hard.

5. I won't and you can't make me.

Most people will make their commitments be at a level 1 effort when they feel their very survival depends on it or if they feel a calling that supersedes the importance of any other commitments they may be obligated to perform. Any commitments below level 2 effort rarely get achieved.

"I'll try" did not get me very far in understanding physics in high school. I barely passed. I did not understand the premise of the problems I was trying to solve. I did a lot better in plane geometry because I understood the dilemma of the question I was trying to answer. Not being a computer jockey, I have too often relied on others with a commitment level of 4 (I'd like to, but it's too hard), which means I am going to be a dinosaur in daily technology if I don't move my commitment level to 2.

I made a strategic error in my life when I refused to floss years ago (level 5 —"I won't and you can't make me") and therefore I had some gum surgery to go through a decade ago. My commitment level on flossing has moved up to a safe 2.5 (I'll try to do my best).

Unless we understand what is at stake with each of our individual and collective decisions, we won't know what level of commitment to apply to any personal changes in habits we need to make. While ignorance may create short-term bliss for some of us, there may be long-term hell to pay for all of us if we do not inform ourselves about why and how we need to reduce our carbon footprint.

Perhaps our own level of commitment will rise to a higher level by examining the very meaning of sustainability: Can the way we live our lives now be passed on to the next generations in perpetuity? Do we see ourselves quickly approaching the edge of a precipitous cliff? Should we do anything to change our course or our speed of the journey to the edge of life as we know it?

Most of the world's scientists agree that we are endangering future life and our planet's habitability if we do not make rapid changes in our habits collectively. Even if they were all wrong (which is highly unlikely), wouldn't it be wise for us all to pretend they are right and adjust our ungreen habits long enough to see if the scientists are right?

We have too much at stake to not become more green in 2010. If we don't move to level 1 and 2 in making our commitments, our immediate progeny may not have the opportunity to be making commitments of any kind further down the line.

May your New Year's resolutions be green.

Iris Harrell is CEO and president of Harrell Remodeling, Inc. in Mountain View (www.harrell-remodeling.com). She can be reached at 650-230-2900 or irish@harrell-remodeling.com.

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