Foreword to the Second Edition

The Ecology of Building Materials was originally published in Norwegian in 1992, and the first English edition appeared in 2000. The book you have before you now represents a comprehensive revision; it has been updated in the light of new materials, knowledge and practical experience accumulated during the past decade. If the quantity of information produced during these years is anything to go by, environmental questions have never been higher on the international agenda. The issue of climate change has played a central role, with successive and increasingly alarming reports from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Whilst keeping to the same basic structure, the book has been considerably expanded. In particular this applies to climate related issues. The wealth of information now available has also made it possible to raise the general level of precision in many areas.

As with the previous edition, it is still the basic intention that this book shall serve as a reference book, rather than being read from cover to cover. Some overlapping and repetition has therefore been necessary.

Whilst Filip Henley translated the first edition, the translation of this edition has been undertaken by my colleague in Gaia Oslo, Chris Butters, whose knowledge and experience in the field of building ecology is exceptionally broad. He has also contributed with suggestions and additions that are integrated into the present text. My colleague Dag Roalkvam, also in Gaia Lista, has contributed similarly within the field of building physics where he is a recognised expert; and Rolf Jacobsen of Gaia Tjome in the field of construction in straw and earth, one of his specialities.

I also wish to renew my thanks to others who have contributed to earlier editions of this work, including Frederica Miller, Howard Liddell, Varis Bokalders, Jorn Siljeholm, Hans Granum, Arne N^ss, Karls Georg Hoyer, Geir Flatabo, Per Richard Neeb, Odd 0vereng and Tom Heldal.

In this new edition, illustrations have been substantially upgraded and have been provided from many sources; in particular I wish to thank Anne Sigrid Nordby, Alice Reite, Rolf Jacobsen, Sergio G. Fox, Bertil Harstrom, Rod Ward Able, Dag Roalkvam, Camilla Hoyem, Inga Lindstrom and Anette Rosenberg.

Bjorn Berge Lista, 2008


We cannot cure illnesses, but we can help Nature cure herself.


I object! I do not agree that the Earth and everything that exists on her shall be defined by the law as man's living environment. The Earth and all that is hers, is a special being which is older, larger and stronger than us. Let us therefore give her equal rights and write that down in the constitution and in all other laws that will come... A new legal and moral status is needed where Nature herself can veto us through her own delegates... One must constitute the right of all things to be themselves; to be an equal with Nature, that is totally unarmed; do well out of it in a human way and only in accordance with their own nature. This means that one must never use a tree as a gallows, even if both its form and material fit the purpose excellently... What practical consequences should a law like this have? Before all economic considerations, this law would decide that nothing will be destroyed or severely damaged, all outstanding natural forms, landscape characteristics and naturally linked areas shall remain untouched. No economic or leisure concern shall be developed at the cost of nature, or worsen the living conditions of man and other beings. Everything that man wants to do in the future, he must do at his own cost and with his own strength. As a result of this law we may return to old methods of production or discover new ones which do not violate the law. The manufacturing society will crumble and multiply, the meaningless superfluity of similar products on the world market will give way to the local market, independent of transcontinental connections.

Ludvlk Vacullk, Czech author, in his essay An alternative constitution

The Greek terms economy, ecology and ecosophy belong together:

Oikos House Nomos Management Logos Understanding Sofos Wisdom

If we consider the world to be our common house, we can say that we have managed too much and understood too little. In Nature-the existential base of humanity - the consequences of this are becoming clearer: melting of polar ice caps, desertification, diminishing biodiversity. These are things of which we are all aware. The growing incidence of stress and mental problems among the populations of industrialized nations would indicate that we have not even understood the nature of ourselves - that we, too, have become the victims of too much management.

Ecosophy expands the Kantian imperative 'to see every person as a goal, rather than a means', and to include other living beings. In this way, it defends the value of Nature in itself, and acknowledges that it is impossible to escape the third law of ecology: 'All things are connected' (Commoner, 1972).

We need a sustainable perspective of Nature that has a guiding influence on human activity or, alternatively, a general morality which is acceptable to all. The ecologist Aldo Leopold maintains: 'A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.'

This represents an ethic for which, in ancient times, there was no need. Trond Berg Eriksen (1990) describes the situation in antiquity:

In antiquity, commanding the forces of Nature and bringing discipline to human nature were two sides of the same coin. In neither area did the interveners need to fear that they would succeed completely. The power of Nature was overwhelming. It took care of itself. Humans had to battle to acquire the bare necessities. Nature's order and equilibrium was unshake-able. Man was, and considered himself, a parasite on an eternal life system. The metropolis was a hard won corner, a fortified camp under threat from earthquakes, storms, drought and wild animals. The metropolis did not pose a threat to Nature, but was itself an exposed form of life... In such a perspective, technology was ethically neutral. Morality comes into play only when one can cause damage, in relation to someone or something that is weaker or equally strong. Therefore, the consequences of human actions for non-human objects lie beyond the horizon of moral issues.

Our ancestors' morality was based on the axiom that people themselves were the only living beings that could be harmed by human actions. Ethics focused on this; and ethics dealt with interpersonal relationships. At the same time this morality was limited to the moment - only the immediate consequences of an action were of significance. Long-term effects were of no interest and beyond regulation. Today, humankind's position and influence is drastically changed. The way in which we manage natural resources may have irremediable consequences for future generations of all life forms. Paradoxically, we still cling to antiquity's anthropocentric moral philosophy, often mingled with some of the Enlightenment's mottos of our sovereign supremacy.

'Four conditions to achieve a sustainable society', according to L.P. Hedeberg of the movement 'The Natural Step', are:

1. Do not take more out of the crust of the Earth than can be replaced. This means that we must almost totally stop mining and use of fossil fuels. Materials that we have extracted from beneath the Earth's surface (for example, metals, coal and oil) are difficult for Nature to renew, except in very small quantities. And that takes time. On the surface the rubbish pile gets higher because we have not followed this condition. Matter does not disappear; even if we reduce it to fine particles (by combustion, for example); it is only transformed into molecular waste. Every atom of a completely rusted car continues to exist and has to find a new home somewhere else. Everything may spread, but nothing disappears.

2. Do not use man-made materials that take a long time to decompose. Materials that Nature can break down and change into nutrients belong to the natural lifecycle. Many man-made materials, which have never been a part of Nature, are very difficult for Nature to breakdown. Certain synthetic materials such as dioxins, DDT, fluorocarbons and chloroparaffins will almost never be broken down by Nature.

3. Maintain the conditions needed for Nature to keep its production and its diversity. We must stop impoverishing Nature through forest clearing, intensive fishing and the expansion of cities and road systems. The great diversity of animals and plants are a necessity for all life cycles and ecosystems, and even for our own lives.

4. Use resources efficiently and correctly - stop being wasteful. The resources that are available must be used efficiently and distributed fairly.

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