A while back, I did a blog on the little town of Greensburg, Kansas, a place which is slowly rebuilding in an environmentally friendly way after a major tornado hit the town in May of 2007. I was impressed by the fact that this town was taking the opportunity in such a devastating situation to really make some changes that would not only put the town back together, but do it in a way that is inspiring to every other town, village and city in the world. And one of their town’s residents, a kind and generous woman by the name of Anita Hohl
was nice enough to respond to my blog regarding her town. So I thought, why not see what our readers out there are thinking and doing with their lives. I asked Mrs. Hohl a number of questions regarding the changes her town is making, in hopes that we can all learn something from their situation and possibly improve our own “green” standings, and the following is our email “conversation”.
(Carleton Place Public Library) – There was a question about the ultimate goal for Greensburg [in an interview on the town website that was conducted just after they started rebuilding]. Is the actual goal to promote awareness of the town through a “green” effort or will that just be the outcome? Do you think that more people will move into your community specifically because it is/will be a green community?
(Anita Hohl) – **I think that’s just the outcome. The ‘green initiative’ is primarily for us, as a town. Sustainability was the only way for our town to survive in the future. I do think more people will come here. There are so many people, both individually and companies, that are very dedicated to sustainable living, and the idea that our whole town is working toward that goal will make it a very attractive place to work, and live. I also think that although other small towns can’t really ‘start over’ like we’ve been able to do, they really need to start making some changes like what we’ve made to make sure they can survive in the future.
(CPPL) – I love your idea of wanting people to create “new” jobs such as a delivery service for groceries. As small communities, this would really benefit a lot of people, and not just the ones who are trying to save on gas and time, but also people who just can’t get out themselves. However, I think in my community, it might not fly, even if people think it is a great idea. People don’t want to part with their hard-earned cash these days, it seems. How would you encourage people to use services like these if they were available in your community?
(AH) – **Here in Greensburg, especially now, most things we need we have to travel out of town for. With the prices going up, especially the price of fuel, it will be cheaper in the long run to pay a small fee for someone else to pick things up… plus the big thing is that it creates less traffic, less emissions, and saves the environment that much more if one vehicle is making one trip instead of 5 vehicles making 5 trips!
(CPPL) -You educate your children at home, as do many people. I assume you are encouraging and teaching them about living a greener life. I think that we really need to get the children involved because they will be the ones living with what we choose to do today. Do you think there should be a whole new curriculum taught in schools now, just as we teach math and spelling, that would educate our youth about the environment?
(AH) – **Most definitely! The only way for kids to have a future at all, is to do things so much different than we have in the past! I am seeing a real change in this generation over my own generation, in that the really understand the effects of our actions on the environment, and really want to do things differently. Greensburg GreenTown started a Green Club at our high school that has really taken off. There are assemblies where people who deal with environmental issues in their work come and talk to the kids. Our new school system is being built green, to LEED standards. I really look forward to Greensburg kids in particular going out into the world and making a huge difference for the environment, but kids everywhere are stepping up to that challenge and making a difference wherever they live. I have taught my kids to see beyond their own lives – that we are not just Greensburg residents, but we are citizens of the world, and that we need to work to help everyone on every continent, and that what we do as a nation effects the entire world.
(CPPL) – I think the fact that people in your community get together to teach each other about their own cost saving and green measures is absolutely wonderful! Somehow, I think people might be reluctant to share these little secrets in some communities (for whatever reason), even if it really is a great community-oriented thing to do. Any ideas on how we could promote an exchange of ideas here? How does your community really make this work?
(AH) – **We weren’t near as close as a community before the storm. Sadly, it often takes something catastrophic to bring people together. GreenTown is a non-profit organization that works very hard to keep people together, and keeps them talking… It just takes perseverance and planning to arrange events that will get people talking together, interacting. It’s a lot of work, but in the end it is so necessary to our survival if we work together! In times past, people were always sharing information, whether it was at public gatherings, or just over the back fence… but today people don’t talk like they used to, their lives are too full, too frantic. Simplifying our lives is really the key.
(CPPL) – We are such a “NOW” society in general. Everything has to be so instant these days, especially to young people. How can we get people to really think into the future and know that we need to do so? Is Greensburg promoting its changes as something good for the future, or more as cost savings for the future?
(AH) – **We maintain that sustainability is the only way we will have a future. Some people here are only concerned with the savings to them, but most of us have learned enough about what is really going on to know that life can’t go on the way it has been… So many people are still ignorant of the facts – they think conservation is only about saving the polar bears, or some endangered species in a jungle somewhere, but they don’t see it’s about conserving us! I think if people knew the facts about how our water is being depleted, and about how the water we do have is getting more and more polluted every day, they would understand things like water conservation so much better. Education is the key.
(CPPL) – What is the main source of renewable energy that your community is focusing on? Wind power? Solar power? Or are you more concerned with individuals making changes which will add up to a greater community difference, rather than town-based changes?
(AH) – **The city plans utilize wind, solar, and geothermal energy, as well as rainwater collection systems, passive solar, and a host of other technologies. Individually, we are all encouraged to do as much as we can on whatever level – every little bit helps! This is just a start for us all and I’m sure more will be added in the future. I think that people don’t realize how big of a difference small changes can make. If not in the energy savings themselves, then in the influence on others we create when we make these smaller changes. Look at the impact our tiny town has made on the world – and one person’s efforts can make just as much impact in their circle of friends!
(CPPL) – We have several “off-the-grid” homes around here and although the start-up costs when building can be daunting, the result is huge savings to run the home. However, there are still many glitches involved in running these homes and in the winter months here, that can be disastrous. Do you think that off the grid homes are realistic anywhere in the world or should they be reserved only for communities without a great deal of weather change?
(AH) – **I think that currently they can be quite a bit of work. I think the more technical they are, the more that can go wrong! 150 years ago, all homes were “off the grid” and I think one way of making “off the grid” work better is to simplify life itself. Drastically reduce things that need energy to work, and reduce square footage of the homes. Going completely off-grid is not feasible for everyone, or even possible. I think it can be done everywhere, but not by just anyone. Simple living is the key to going green that seems to be the hardest thing for people to understand. They want to keep all their vehicles, and huge houses, and all the newest electronic gizmos and gadgets, and still go green… but it just doesn’t work that way! The “bigger is better” theory is one thing that created the environmental mess that we’re in!
I think that many of Mrs. Hohl’s answers touched on very good points. I think I was most struck by the simple statement about how 150 years ago, all homes were “off the grid”. How true! It seems like such an odd idea that people actually lived that way, without electricity and luxuries we have today, and they were perfectly able to sustain themselves. I know that it was not an easy life, and it would be a HUGE thing to most of us to have to give up the way we have always known to live, but it is worth thinking about. With the state of the world today, we are constantly trying to find ways to make our lives better, go greener and use fewer resources. Maybe the scientists of the day shouldn’t be focusing on alternate ways to make things run the way they are now, but rather, maybe they should be focusing on the fact that going back to the old ways might save us altogether. Simple is the solution, I’m afraid.
Many, many thanks to Anita Hohl for her great insight and suggestions for our blog readers. Hopefully, she and her town will inspire you to make a few changes in your lives today. For more information on Greensburg and their GreenTown initiative, visit this link: