Published on Sunday, April 29, 2001 in the Chicago Tribune
Bush Loves Ecology -- At Home
by Rob Sullivan
The 4,000-square-foot house is a model of environmental rectitude.
Geothermal heat pumps located in a central closet circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet deep in the ground where the temperature is a constant 67 degrees; the water heats the house in the winter and cools it in the summer. Systems such as the one in this "eco-friendly" dwelling use about 25% of the electricity that traditional heating and cooling systems utilize.
A 25,000-gallon underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof runs; wastewater from sinks, toilets and showers goes into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is used to irrigate the landscaping surrounding the four-bedroom home. Plants and flowers native to the high prairie area blend the structure into the surrounding ecosystem.
No, this is not the home of some eccentrically wealthy eco-freak trying to shame his fellow citizens into following the pristineness of his self-righteous example. And no, it is not the wilderness retreat of the Sierra Club or the Natural Resources Defense Council, a haven where tree-huggers plot political strategy.
This is President George W. Bush's "Texas White House" outside the small town of Crawford.
Yes, the same George W. who believes arsenic and drinking water might not be such a bad combo, the same man who reneged on his campaign promise to lower carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, the same man who is doing everything in his power to fling open the Alaskan Natural Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
How does the President reconcile an eco-friendly abode for his own family with his persistent stand against anything that smacks of an environmentally friendly agenda for the nation as a whole? The answer to that perplexing question is a real mystery.
Perhaps sound ecological practices are only for those who can afford them: as a self-proclaimed strict constructionist of the U.S. Constitution, Bush must be aware that clean air and clean water are not guaranteed in that glorious document. Perhaps in Bush's Brave New Corporate World, clean natural resources are merely commodities in a free-market economy: if you can pay for them, fine; if not, tough. The rest of us will just have to put up with more toxic dumps and more public lands being turned over to logging, mining and oil companies.According to David Heymann, the house's architect and associate dean of the University of Texas architecture department, Heymann designed the house so that "every room has a relationship with something in the landscape that's different from the room next door. Each of the rooms feels like a slightly different place."
In a USA Today interview, Heymann said, "There's a great grove of oak trees to the west that protects it from the late afternoon sun. Then there is a view out to the north looking at hills, and to the east out over a lake, and the view to the south . . . out to beautiful hills."
I suppose in George W.'s architectural world only the rich and powerful have views; vistas that the public owns as part of its shared heritage are up for lease and sale.
Heymann also termed the house "stunningly small." Really? Would it be stunningly small for a single mother in South Central Los Angeles? How stunningly small would it be for an immigrant Latino family in San Antonio Maybe in the rarified heights where second homes are the norm, 4,000 square feet is small and on a stunning scale as well, but in Main Street America that much elbow room is pretty big for the first and only home.
But then most of us can't reconcile what might at first glance appear to be inherently irreconcilable. Maybe some day, like our noble president, we will be able to make that kind of staggering mental feat. That is, if we ever stop misunderestimating ourselves.
Rob Sullivan is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
Copyright 2001 Chicago Tribune
These are Longhorns, a type of bovine common to Texas. We see displayed here both adults and juveniles, called cows and calves respectively. The cattle are a part of the Crawford Ranch herd.
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