Finding the Balance between ‘Green’ and ‘Gray’

by | Jun 20, 2013

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lawrence, gary, aecom“We live in a world of polarity — day and night, man and woman, positive and negative. Light and darkness need each other. They are a balance.”

–Carlos Barrios, Mayan Elder and Ajq’ij of the Eagle Clan I had the pleasure of speaking at several conferences last month on the topic of climate resilience and adaptation. Brilliant and compelling as the arguments of my fellow panelists were, some of their opinions triggered a bit of an anxiety attack.  I started wondering if the discussion of resilience methods in coastal zones was going to become an ideological struggle, like the one sustainability is caught up in.  Was the discussion going to be about requiring a choice between “either green or grey infrastructure?”  Some seem to favor all green and some all grey, yet only “both green and grey” responses can work.

Choosing one or the other suggests we know the answers, despite a future filled with random and uncertain probabilities.  No mortal has the perspective necessary to be able to say with confidence that they know exactly what to do.

This musing on mortal flaws brought to mind the Ancient Mayan creation myth. According to the story, the gods had three attempts at creation. Their first attempt created the Mud People who were to resemble and praise the gods. The Mud People, unfortunately could neither move nor speak, and quickly crumbled apart. The second attempt produced the Stick People. Disturbingly, the Stick People turned out to be really mean and godless. So mean in fact, that even their household pots and pans turned against them and they had to be disposed of by a giant flood. On the third attempt the gods created men out of maize (the primary food source for the Maya) and here we are today. The Corn People. The Corn People have hearts and souls and the capacity to honor and celebrate their origins.

Doing only small violence to this metaphor, I realized I was caught between two key constituencies: the Green People and the Grey People.

The Green People believe that constructing infrastructure from concrete and other aggregate materials creates a hardscape that essentially exacerbates climate problems because it diverts and waylays the problem rather than letting the properties of the natural environment deal with it where it arises.

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy the Green People stepped forward to argue that we should not attempt do anything with dykes and draining but rather leave the beaches alone to replenish themselves over the generations to come.

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