California Governor Jerry Brown, aka Governor “Moonbeam,” took on his many critics at the 2012 Greenbuild in San Francisco, saying the people who originally called him that are “no longer around, while I still am.” To huge laughs, he said “apparently, moonbeams have more durability than other beings.” In a rousing speech designed to rally the green building community, Brown walked the crowd through his profound “eco” philosophy, while also laying out a path for attacking climate change in California and across the U.S.

In Latin, Brown said “eco” means house. As an example, “economy” means “rules of the house.”  “Logos” means “lord, god, or the deep principles or patterns of nature.” So “ecology is more fundamental than economics. Economics sits within ecology. Not the other way around. This means through our economy, we still can’t repeal the laws of nature.” As a result, humanity “can’t mock the laws of nature or thumb our noses at the climatic system. We have to learn to work with nature.”

Unfortunately, the reality is that climate change is the “least important item on the agenda.” Climate change gets some lip service from politicians, but is still seen as a “little too out there” so politicians focus on the day-to-day issues of “crime, taxes, jobs, roads.”

The only positive trend may be that “we know far more than we did 50 years ago about the climate.” With Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring, which launched the modern environmental movement, and the Earth Summit, the 1992 UN conference in Rio, which effectively launched the sustainability movement, “there has been progress.” Today, scientific academies all around the world have independently expressed themselves on the climate, saying that “long-term, there are irreversible consequences.” The Union of Concerned Scientists even recently wrote a letter, a “warning to humanity,” saying that “people are on a collision course with nature.”

In California, Brown has pursued an ambitious agenda, which builds on a legacy of environmental action. Under Brown’s first term as governor, California was the first state to create fuel efficiency standards for appliances, leading the charge across the U.S. Now, the state has the only functioning cap and trade system for reducing carbon emissions in the union. As part of this effort, California is now quantifying greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and moving down the emissions quotas each year. “Year after year, this has required a collaboration among powerful forces.”

Today, California also has the most number of green buildings in the U.S., two times more than Texas, its nearest competitor. The state is also putting “more investment into renewable energy than anyone else. We are not waiting.” Still, Brown wants to go further: “We we need to get to zero-net energy buildings across the state. We need to get to a surplus of energy.” The state is not aiming for all residential buildings to be zero-net by 2020, and all commercial buildings to reach that goal by 2050. In addition to achieving net-zero buildings, Brown also wants all of these buildings to be healthy. “People want healthy buildings — they want indoor spaces to be as healthy as outdoors.”

To move forward the effort to make indoor spaces healthier, Scott Horst, executive vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council and the man in charge of LEED, said the upcoming LEED version 4 will be moving forward with a controversial effort to provide credits for those buildings that “disclose chemicals in materials.” The effort, apparently, created “blow back” by groups aligned with some chemical and building product manufacturers. The result was an onslaught of letters from Senators and Congressional representatives “threatening that the federal government and state governments would stop using LEED as a rating system and benchmark.” Comparing USGBC’s efforts to Rachel Carson’s efforts to end the use of DDT, the chemicals in sprayed agricultural fertilizers, Horst said the back lash reflected “old patterns of the environmental movement versus industry.” Horst said “we can’t have a “us versus them approach. We have to have business at the table.”

As William McDonough, one of the world’s leading thinkers on materials and ecology, showed, at least some businesses have gotten the message and are joining commercial and environmental goals. Announcing the official launch of his Cradle to Cradle (C2C) rating system, which “assesses a product’s safety to humans and the environment and design for future life cycles,” McDonough brought out a number of leading building product manufacturers to talk about how they using C2C, a “fulcrum for change,” to do business differently now, more in tune with the environment. The overall goals: to treat “materials as nutrients” and use these materials to achieve targets related to “revitalization, renewable energy, water stewardship and breaking social barriers.”

McDonough said his C2C approach is critical because “there are now 2,500 chemicals in mothers’ milk.” He asked, “is this our intention, to poison each other? How about the intention to improve our shared health and well-being?” The movement for healthier materials is “fundamentally a question of social justice. Do we want to tyrannize the next generation?”

Image credit:  Governor Jerry Brown / Wikipedia