Saturday, December 16, 2006

Go Green, go plant your own 10 trees, and stop global warming

The numbers from Thursday night’s fierce storm have finally come in and they are staggering. Four people dead, 1 million without power, hurricane force winds that reached 69 mph at Sea-Tac (a record) and an unfathomable 113 mph in the Cascades.

Last night, finally in the warmth and comfort of my in-laws’ home, I sat down to watch the appropriately scheduled National Geographic special “Planet Earth”, the theme of which was the climate change that is pummeling our blue planet. I started thinking about global warming as more than a euphemism and more like reality. Can the recent natural disasters be attributed to climate change and should we be worried? If yes, then it affects us all. The American isolationist mentality has often blinded us from the truth; we don’t believe that we could be breathing pollution from the other side of the globe. But yes, research shows that up to 25% of the LA smog is pouring across the Pacific from Beijing. Growing acidity in the ocean waters – which affects everything from food supplies to epidemics to water supplies – is perhaps the most troubling issue.

Can we really ignore these telltale signs? From the Tsunami in 2004 to Katrina in 2005 to the Storms of Seattle 2006, climate change is affecting us all. Gosh, my wife reminds me of how obsessed I have been about making sure we were prepared for a disaster, and yet this sudden storm still got the best of us. I’m forced to write this Blog via my Blackberry, being forced out of our home due to lack of electricity. Still 500,000 people without power today in the Seattle metro area; who cares about real estate when you can’t warm yourself, feed your family, find light in the darkness. I can’t focus on mortgage rates after witnessing a storm with the power of an Atlantic hurricane, as deadly as a tornado on the Midwestern plains. And I thought we were safe in our beautiful Pacific inlet.

As the climate changes become more dramatic, the consequences pack much a bigger punch. The papers report a full 1 million people were without power by Friday morning. My own home used to feel like a fortress: a strong, well-built, turn-of-the-century structure atop the hill in Queen Anne, protected on either side by similar buildings. This hearty home has survived three major earthquakes in its lifetime, innumerable Pacific squalls, scores of hard winters. So how did the power stay out for so long and why do we find ourselves at the mercy of an increasingly more violent natural world?

I assure you that I don’t have the answers to all these questions. But to find answers, you must start by asking questions. Six leading scientists, including Stephen Hawkings, contributed their viewpoints to the National Geographic special. They convinced me something important is happening. I’ll finally rent the Al Gore movie tomorrow, hopefully viewing it in the comfort of my own home. Nothing against my in-laws’ residence in Federal Way, just that I miss the beautiful view of Queen Anne. You know the view I’m talking about: the famous shot of Seattle from on high, with the Space Needle in the foreground and the blue of Puget Sound stretching out to the horizon. To me, it’s the most beautiful view in the world. Funny how it’s the peaceful face of nature that brings me such joy and it’s the violent fury – no doubt brought on by ourselves – that destroys it.

So, being temporarily transported back into the medieval era, long before the Internet was our portal to everything, I began to wonder how we ever got along in the real estate business without our precious World Wide Web. How did agents sell? How did buyers buy homes? I asked my in-laws about their first home. I thought back to my own nervous first home buying experience. I remembered the stories relayed at my first brokerage office, the oldest Coldwell Banker branch in Seattle.

And then with great fortune – the direct result of having to unplug, disconnect, and remember how to live simply – I stumbled upon that most simple and powerful of media, a book. Published in 1996 – exactly ten years ago – the best-selling ‘how-to buy a house’ volume sat humbly on my father-in-law’s shelf. It was the silver lining in those angry Pacific clouds. I pondered how a massive windstorm – which I had cursed for taking me away from my work – actually brought me closer to the truth. It made me remember for a moment that wise old curmudgeon, Henry David Thoreau, and his plea to “Simplify, simplify, simplify.” I realize now that sometimes the keys to the future lie in the past. So tomorrow I begin again to tell the tale of technology, the Internet, and the real estate industry.

And I will start by opening a book.



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