Welcome to my blog on housing, culture, and design! I’m Steve Fudge and I’m celebrating my 31st year as a realtor and property consultant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The 53rd anniversary of Earth Day is upon us, and this year’s theme is both relevant and motivating: Invest In Our Planet.
Climate change has transitioned from a hypothesis to moderate changes in weather patterns and the natural environment, to where we are now: large-scale weather events that pose danger and disruption. Those events are a reality, even here in the usually weather-moderate GTA, and they are becoming more common. Thundersnow, anyone?
How did we arrive here? And what’s the best way to move forward?
The History Of Earth Day
The first ‘Earth Day’ in 1970 was the brainchild of a senator from Wisconsin, Senator Gaylord Nelson. A conservationist and environmentalist, he was alarmed at the destructive impact many of our products and behaviours were having on the planet. Senator Nelson – who rejected the popular capitalist belief that economic development should take precedence over environmental protection – hoped to harness the student protest movement at the end of the 1960s to foster change. He planned the original Earth Day for April 22nd, 1970 – just after spring break and right before exams – to create as much focus and momentum for the movement.
In the United States, the first Earth Day was recognized by nearly 10 percent of the population. Ever since it has grown in awareness as citizens around the world protest global industrialization, our reliance on fossil fuels, the damage we inflict on the environment, and our hedonistic culture of consumption. Earth Day now unites hundreds of millions of people annually to pause and reflect on humankind’s impact on the planet. By 2010, there were 75,000 global partners in 192 countries participating. Today, Earth Day is considered the largest secular observance in the world.
Here is a good synopsis of Earth Day’s history.
Climate Change & Real Estate
Climate change, of course, affects all facets of our lives. For humans, the consequences range from suffering minor inconveniences like power outages and flight cancellations to more serious devastation like complete property destruction and loss of life. Its ferocity is increasing and impacting how we live around the globe – including Canada which is experiencing atmospheric rivers, severe smoke from forest fires, and storm surges. Our PEI design incubator called The Black House (which I occasionally write posts about in our blog category The Tales Of Upper Hillsborough) was rattled in September 2022 when Hurricane Fiona roared through the Maritimes. We fared quite well, especially compared to our neighbour who had every tree surrounding their property crash onto the dwelling trapping them inside. However, the power was out 9 days in Charlottetown and for weeks in more rural areas. From CBC here’s –> A Photographic Look At Damage From Hurricane Fiona On P.E.I.
We are gaining a better awareness of the growing frequency of weather-related headlines as they relate to our home, as evidenced by the arrival of a climate change real estate metric in Canada, which I wrote about here – A Climate Risk Assessment Tool Is Now Available For Canadian Homebuyers & Homeowners. Homeowners can determine the likelihood that their real estate investment will vulnerable to weather events that could impact value.
We all have to gauge our risk. As homeowners and citizens of Earth.
In short, the choices we have made for our planet to date are now beginning to diminish our capacity for wealth – both financially and in preserving our planet. This tool is about awareness and action – just like Earth Day.
The Concept Of Investing & Why It Matters
It’s fitting that this year’s theme for Earth Day centers on investment. As a real estate professional, the psychology of investment, with the concept that it will yield wealth in the future resonates loudly with me – personally and professionally.
There are many parallels here.
We invest in real estate primarily (and primitively) for shelter although real estate serves a number of different functions, which I discuss here in Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs And Toronto Real Estate For Buyers & For Sellers. However, the other primary goal for most homeowners with real estate is to invest for their future – to grow their wealth, which in turn will establish their legacy, and will hopefully benefit their heirs.
It’s not a stretch to see the same concept applied to this year’s Earth Day theme. Actions taken today serve an immediate purpose, but the ultimate goal in investing is long-term.
Investment as a theme carries much meaning, especially around the language. It suggests action. It suggests community and involvement. It speaks to legacy and lasting impact. It suggests responsibility.
But most importantly perhaps, is that investment suggests hope for prosperity. But as most investors will tell you, that prosperity that is realized over time doesn’t come to pass without taking a step towards action, remaining patient, but consistent, and having an expressed goal.
That’s precisely the messaging around Earth Day and the concept of investment. Today is the day to build consciousness and adopt behaviours that, when applied consistently, will create wealth and prosperity, to create a legacy for our heirs. Change starts small. But it has to start.
Build Back Better?
As anyone who has experienced a life-altering event will tell you that there is a clear division at that moment, which in hindsight is a pivot from the present to the future. There is life before and life after.
One could say that this is what happened to us collectively during COVID-19; our world screeched to a halt, and immediately, life – how we knew it – stopped. And stayed still. Eerily still. Those worldwide photos of empty streets in the early days still wrench me.
In terms of the planet, what that quiet time did was show us what life on the planet looks like, when the dust settles so to speak. In the spring of 2020, in my post called The Irony Of Navigating COVID-19 On The 50th Anniversary Of Earth Day which I posted in the early days of the pandemic, I wrote:
We each understand that effective change comes when everyone is committed to taking small steps. Certainly, as we’re witnessing with the global lockdown, drastic steps yield big results, but these actions – freezing our economies & halting most travel are not sustainable for the long term.
To move towards sustainability, there must be a framework in place from policymakers, as well as a shift in mindset for individuals to adopt change in their daily habits when the choices are theirs to make. This United Nations article “First Person: COVID-19 Is Not A Silver Lining For The Climate, Says UN Environment Chief” provides insights into what this framework must look like to ensure a positive momentum for the planet: “ an important pillar in our post-COVID-19 recovery plan must be to arrive at an ambitious, measurable and inclusive framework, because keeping nature rich, diverse and flourishing is part and parcel of our life’s support system.”
The article continues: “And as the engines of growth begin to rev up again, we need to see how prudent management of nature can be part of this “different economy” that must emerge, one where finance and actions fuel green jobs, green growth and a different way of life because the health of people and the health of the planet are one and the same, and both can thrive in equal measure.”
Meanwhile, this article “How Canada Can Build An Environmentally Sustainable Future After The COVID-19 Crisis” has a number of practical suggestions on how policy and practice can both help the economy and the environment moving forward, including support to retrofit commercial buildings, switching to greener transportation, protecting our freshwater Great Lakes, and outlawing products and goods which are toxic for the environment (such as hair dyes, cleaning solutions, and pharmaceuticals).
For homeowners specifically, this article suggests that policies be introduced that reward those who actively embrace energy efficiency, sustainable practices, and green materials.
One would hope surviving a pandemic would be the paradigm shift that advances our housing design and construction for the foreseeable future, including a focus on shelter that serve multiple purposes for work/life/play. I’m anticipating a resurgence in forgotten design elements like the beloved front porch and the foyer, both of which offer a division and distance from the outdoor world. And I’m hoping we improve our living environments on the four design principles regarding Indoor Air Quality; Water Use; Building Materials; and Energy Efficiency. I wrote about this in How COVID-19 Will Likely Change How We Design Our Homes.
There is also a surge in sustainability in housing, as homeowners are connecting the dots, having had the time at home to reflect on how we live there – and what impact that has on the planet. The trend towards biophilia is now the “it” trend, where décor mimics the sensation of the outdoors. This includes a preference for natural materials and ways to live sustainably at home, including no-waste in the kitchen, eco-friendly fixtures, and sustainable finishes. Here’s my post called Dear Urbaneer: What Is Biophilia And How Can I Use It In Home Design?.
But what else needs to happen post-pandemic? This piece called “COVID-19: Lessons For Sustainability?” straight up reminds us that the most profound lessons from COVID-19 are the same ones required to effect meaningful change to combat our Climate Crisis. It’s about our capacity for swift change that proactively protects Mother Earth whereby private citizens feel compelled to make the right choices, and policymakers create the infrastructure to support and sustain transformation.
While the job is enormous, the steps to take are small – and doable – when embracing the momentum of the movement. Small choices, at home and in society are a daily investment, which is the call to action set forth by this year’s Earth Day theme.
On the topic of world health – whether that be the well-being of the natural environment or our built environments – I invite you to peruse my other Healthy Home blogs here.
With a love for the planet and its people, I am passionate about sustainability in all aspects of living, with a particular focus on shelter. Here are some of my other posts you may enjoy:
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