By Diane MacEachern

It is the ultimate irony: the extreme weather events that have shaken so many American communities recently, have created opportunities to reduce the build-up of greenhouse gases that could be responsible for those events.

Extreme Weather Leads To Disasters And Green Opportunities

Superstorm Sandy. The EF5 tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma. The Yarnell fire in Arizona. And of course, the raging floods in Colorado where thousands of people are still recovering from the muddy torrents that have destroyed their homes and property. All have been linked to the excessive build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, due in large part to the burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas.

Though they may never really get over their shock at having so many of their possessions destroyed, at some point these people will need to reconstruct their homes. When they do, there may be some consolation in knowing that the disasters they endured have also created an opportunity to rebuild in a greener, cleaner, more resilient way.

They’ll be getting some help from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which has proposed new rules that would place limits on carbon pollution from power plants. They – and you – can help right back, by supporting EPA’s efforts.

There’s a lot homeowners can do in their daily lives to make a difference, too. Many have heard about green living. They probably recycle and may have replaced incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient compact fluorescents or LEDs. Yet for a lot of consumers, it can be prohibitively expensive to take the actions that make the biggest difference: add insulation, replace existing appliances with more energy-efficient models, and perhaps install solar panels on their roof.

Building From The Ground Up

Fortunately, when building from the ground up, it makes sense to choose the most energy-efficient options available, given how much money they save on utility bills while reducing the amount of energy consumed.

This certainly has proved to be the case in Greensburg, Kansas. In 2007, the entire town of Greensburg was obliterated by a tornado. Almost every home was destroyed, leaving the community’s 1,400 plus residents with only two choices – move to a completely different part of the state or country, or rebuild. While some individuals did leave, the city’s leaders decided to take the “green” in their town’s name seriously. They educated residents about energy-saving and eco-friendly options and determined to rebuild the city’s infrastructure to maximize energy efficiency.

Their efforts are paying off. Thanks to fundamental energy-efficiency improvements made when homes were rebuilt, of the first 190 homes constructed after the tornado, about half were analyzed for expected energy savings (heat and electricity), and found to use, on average 40% less energy than code.

A 20-year power purchase agreement with Exelon Corporation allowed  Greensburg to install a 12.5 megawatt wind farm that supplies enough electricity to power every house, business, and municipal building in the town, meeting a community-wide goal to get most of energy from renewable sources that do not emit greenhouse gases. The hospital, school, arts center, and Best Western hotel all power up with dedicated wind turbines as well.

Additional energy comes from hydropower, ground source heat pumps, and small photovoltaic systems. Plus, Greensburg is the first city in the U.S. to use LED lamps in 100 percent of its street lights.

Take A Whole Living Approach

Greensburg residents didn’t only focus on energy. Taking a “whole living” approach, they focused on water conservation and non-toxic products as well, installing:

400 dual flush, low-flow toilets and dozens of water-saving sinks, estimated to now be saving up to 2,500,000 gallons of water per year over the pre-storm toilets

260 low-flow showerheads, saving the average family of three up to 2,700 gallons of water per year

300 sets of microfiber kitchen and bath cloths, saving every family that uses them money they might otherwise spend on paper towels. TADGreen, which donated the cloths, estimates that if each household in the US. replaced one roll of paper towels with an E cloth, America could save 544,000 trees annually.

Residents also received instructions on how to use non-toxic products to clean their homes; reusable shopping bags to minimize use of disposable plastic bags; and subscriptions to Mother Earth News for regular information on topics like organic gardening and solar energy systems.

A reclaimed lumber project was launched, as well. Instead of burning fallen trees or dumping them in a landfill, the wood was salvaged so it could be used for furniture and trim.

A Green Lining

Six years after the tornado hit, Greensburg, Kansas has become a model for what a green town can look like when people put their minds to it. Would anyone have willingly experienced that terrifying event just to “go green?” Of course not. But once they decided to look for the “green” lining in the clouds hovering over their community, they could envision a future that offered hope, rather than desolation. In doing so, they’ve set a standard that any town or city in the U.S. can emulate.

It’s absolutely vital that parents advocate for strong regulations that support the EPA’s new limits on carbon pollution from power plants. These sensible limits will cut down on greenhouse emissions that fuel extreme weather and compromise our children’s health.


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