Editor’s Letter: In Our Backyard

Editor’s Letter: In Our Backyard

Climate change is coming for all our homes. But there are ways we can build for the future.

We shouldn’t delude ourselves: We can’t shop our way out of ecological disaster. Obviously, no gadget you can put under your sink to save water is going to keep the earth’s temperature from rising—at least not by itself. 

But we should all still try to lessen the environmental impact of our homes. By switching to electric cooktops. Installing heat pumps. Or just saving paper with refreshing bidets. Buying home products that improve efficiency and reduce waste adds up, and it encourages companies to keep investing in research and development. In our annual home technology feature, we’ve gathered some of the latest innovations you can install to decrease electricity use, save water, charge your car, or otherwise help reduce your home’s ecological footprint and make it healthier for everyone who lives there.

Similarly, as climate change–related environmental threats proliferate, many of the homes in this issue consider how they might not only conserve resources now, but adapt to a future of extreme weather and material scarcity. That can look like energy generation, as in a home outside Amsterdam that pairs solar panels on a distinctive roof pitch with renewable materials inside. It can also mean experimenting with building strategies, as two homes on flood-prone sites in Australia and Argentina do. In New Mexico, it looks like a group of friends utilizing the very contemporary technology of Airbnb to revisit the autonomous, self-sustaining ecosystem of a 1970s "earthship." And in a much more urban setting, a family in Washington, D.C., takes advantage of changes to the zoning code to build in one of the city’s many alleys—previously the exclusive domain of parking and trash collection. This not only demonstrates how an increasingly unaffordable place can improve land use, with sustainably harvested poplar siding and a floor plan that revolves around natural light, but sets an example for responsible building. 

Doing what you can do as an individual, as a household, is important. But it’s obviously going to take bigger, structural changes to mitigate or reverse the effects of global warming. So, by all means, buy those photovoltaic shingles if you can. However possible, shore up your home against the various new weather normals arising pretty much everywhere. But no matter what, get involved in community- or city-level efforts to set ecological standards for your neighborhoods and your towns. Advocate for policies that can throttle global carbon emissions, and vote for people who support them. Protest against incomprehensibly large and seemingly intractable interests. Most of all, do it with your neighbors.

We can do a lot with our homes. But we can accomplish much more collectively.

Head back to the January/February 2023 issue homepage

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