Dante’s Inferno adds seven new floors

Yesterday, the Vatican announced the designation of seven new deadly sins. Added to the good old-fashioned standbys of gluttony, greed, sloth, lust, anger, envy and pride (I’m going on the record as having indulged in all seven) are taking drugs, genetic modification, human experimentation, causing poverty, extreme wealth, social injustice and polluting the environment. I’m guilty of fewer of these, but I’ll cop to at least two—and extreme wealth isn’t one of them. Just a few days earlier, in a subdivision 25 miles northeast of Seattle, five McMansions—albeit with water-saving irrigation and recycled lumber—had been singed, supposedly by Earth Liberation Front, an anarchic coalition of ecoterrorists. Their website, which advertises Viagra samples as much as calling for support for an imprisoned ELF sympathizer, Daniel McGowan, describes them as an “underground movement with no leadership, membership or official spokesperson.” They’ve been known to bomb research labs thought to genetically engineer plants and are held responsible for a string of arsons in the 90s. Their act was the equivalent of anti-abortion activists gunning down abortion doctors or bombing clinics, one sin to prevent the proliferation of another.
As unseemly as their acts were, they raise an important question, one that no one seems to be asking. Can $2 million homes in the 4,500-square-foot range, as those that burned were, be green? The basic tenets of green building have to do with materials used (yes, the recycled, the fume-free, the harvested-locally all count); site location (if you have to drive 45 miles to and from your solar-powered shack every day, the shade of green lightens); indoor air quality (good air ventilation and mold-free sheetrock are green); and energy and water efficiency.

To many, McMansions aren’t green no matter how many Plyboo (plywood of bamboo) sheets or geothermal heat pumps or fume-free paints made of hemp and soy involved in the building process. The green designation can’t rest on the materials alone, if we’re not dividing the amount of those materials used by the number of people using them. If we count extreme wealth as a sin, then those buying up enormous green homes at Quinn’s Crossing are indeed sinners—who else can afford them?
Of course, it takes a sinner to know one. Those fires caused pollution and wasted valuable building resources, making the ecoterrorists sinners themselves.  

Whatever we think of the new list, we probably all agree that the seven virtues still seem like good behavioral guides: abstinence, temperance, diligence, patience, kindness, humility and chastity. Well, maybe not the last one.