Brenda Vale Telling It How It Is

Sometimes we do things that look like they are for the greater good when really they are just about following a personal whim!

As a student of architecture with an ever increasing appetite for things green and sustainable, I have long been a fan of Brenda and Robert Vale. So when someone suggested I ask Brenda to come and speak to the community, I knew immediately that I wanted to do everything I could to make it happen.

Brenda kindly obliged my invitation and I sent her instructions for getting the train here on the day -I get the feeling she really does walk the talk. In the end we had a great turnout of locals and even some from farther afield.

Brenda Vale with her captivated audience in St Peter’s Hall, Paekakariki.

Brenda has this lovely quiet dignity and humor which really captivated the audience. She talked about many things which are incredibly challenging to some of us – your cute puppy will have a higher carbon footprint during its lifetime than running a humvee for example. Brenda has nothing against dogs by the way, and she’s not really telling you that you can’t have one, but she will make you think a lot harder about the lifestyle choices you make, and their implications.

Brenda really knows her stuff too. Both her and her husband Robert Vale have made it their life’s work to design for and research living in a truly sustainable way. Authors of ‘The Autonomous House‘ and ‘Time To Eat The Dog? The Real Guide To Sustainable Living‘, they have done extensive and detailed carbon footprint calculations for almost every aspect of our lives. Many of the Vale’s calculations come with comparitive stats for other nations which really throws some perspective on the scale of (predominantly) western over-consumption. Plenty of us are consuming more than five or even ten people do in poorer nations. In some cases the figure is much higher.

Interestingly, the Vales have used footprinting data from the KCDC Greenest Street’s to compare with other sustainable housing developments. The short of it is, Green St residents have achieved amazing results even with their comparatively badly designed houses. Which goes to show, it really is lifestyle changes that matter the most.

The most important take home message for me was that it really doesn’t matter how amazingly eco/sustainable/perfect your house is, the lifestyle choices you make about the way you live in it, your mode of travel to work, the food you eat and holidays you take, can cancel it all out very quickly. We do need to take a long hard look at our lifestyles and work out the things we want to have and those we can live without. Maybe it would be only fair that a person who chooses to have a dog would then give up their car. A family of four with a house bigger that 100m square could all become vegans to counter their over consumption of land and building resources.

Brenda suggests we need to change our attitude to transport and poses this question: ‘If you want to fly, why not convert the car into a henhouse?’ Meaning that if you really insist on flying internationally for holidays, you can’t keep your footprint in check without giving up something else. It’s easy to understand if we think of it in terms of a ration card. You only get so many stamps and you therefore need to choose what you’re going to spend them on.

It’s the wanting to have it all that’s literally costing us the earth.

I’ll leave you with some final words from Brenda – she paints a rather nice picture of the future: ‘So Wellington 2050 could be a city of pedestrians and cycling, healthy vegans, working part time, being active social citizens, and caring for each other….would this be so bad?

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