Grist's coverage of Copenhagen climate talks

jpgh 350Family and crew show their climate commitment at the JP Green House.As I write this, the Northeast is methodically being blanketed with a thick blessing of snow, shutting everything down, as if the earth knows we need comfort and beauty after this horrible week.

The crisis of our planet manifested at Copenhagen. We held a vigil for 350, singing Dylan into the howling winds of downtown Boston, outside of John Kerry’s empty office. We fasted at the request of 350.org. We followed the grim updates with little expectation, and we rejoiced at the protests of the people and the righteous rage of the global South.

Down at the house, Monday morning we found only two of our work-team, looking grim. Placetailor is a design-build firm that specializes in Passive House design. They’re serious, purposeful, knowledgeable young men who ride their bikes onto the site each day because they eschew unnecessary use of fossil fuels. They work on one project at a time, meticulously, getting it right. Over the weekend their upcoming project had fallen apart, and with nothing else on the horizon once they complete work on the JPGH next month, they had to lay off most of the staff. Mitch, Michael, and Tony were gone, off to look for other building work in a tough economy.

Sign Up for More News from GristThough there are both state- and utilities-sponsored programs to support and promote green building in our area, the JP Green House and Placetailor have failed to qualify. Going well beyond weatherizing and insulation, into the realm of zero-carbon, perhaps inspires anxiety in funders? We have to ask: Where is the real impetus and funding to build the houses of the future? Where is the bailout for the planet–and shouldn’t this be a part of it?

Worse still, Ken and I seem to be ready to fall victim to the stereotype that building houses ruins relationships. For a year we have struggled with the mounting costs of this project, which has come out at 10 times the cost we originally (naively) projected. I have the full-time job and most of the capital, and Ken has the vision, the carpentry skills, the fundraising experience. It seemed workable, but the reality of the past year has been a constant struggle  to procure the right amounts of money at the right time, costing us both much of our retirement funds.

In a fallen economy, and with the level of denial pervading our society about climate change, there is little work for a radical environmental campaigner. And we have chosen to put our political energy behind 350.org, the most effective, and least-funded environmental campaign ever seen. My job, too, has suffered from the fracturing of my attention and commitments. It can be difficult to take anything not related to climate seriously. We risk underemployment if not unemployment by taking on this commitment to activism.

JPGH snowNew siding, fresh snow.We both carry marriages behind us like bags of bones, and I, in particular, have such abiding doubts about the institution itself that I refuse to ever consider remarriage. I have been prone to spells of witchiness, wherein I rage and stomp and declare that I never intended to take in a homeless environmentalist and his child. I have insisted on binding contracts to codify what each of us owes the other, and the project itself. Ken has fairly countered that he cannot live with the unpredictability of my anger, and that we must act as a team going forward, or not go forward.

We have tried to take the thing apart, reduce it to its essence–which for us seems to be love and activism. Perhaps that essence will remain even if the relationship fails. We have, if nothing else, always been able to envision a very different future.

The JP Green House stands majestically with the snow against the beautiful red siding, the huge Canadian windows opening the south side to the light. Last week we were offered a great deal on two wind-turbines. Generous gifts and loans have been coming our way, and a community is watching. It’s our job to make this happen for our kids, if nothing else. It’s bigger than we are, and it stands for a real, livable future–we couldn’t abandon that.

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