A matter of belief

Faith in greenliness

Brian contemplates soulful things on his roof. In the foreground is his new solar attic fan. Not pictured: Brian.

Brian contemplates soulful things on his roof. In the foreground is his new solar attic fan. Not pictured: Brian.

Photo By d. Brian burghart

Every once in a while, I reserve the notion to write a spirituality column regarding the places in our lives where we depend on faith, but we don’t really think of the place as requiring “faith.” Usually, it’s something that’s weighing on my mind because of events in my life, which I always imagine mirrors where other people’s minds might be. In the past, I’ve written about faith in love, faith in medicine, faith in prayer and faith in politics. This week, I’ve been thinking about how we place faith in certain ideas and products that we believe will help improve the environment and reduce global warming.

It started like this. Saturday morning, my son, Hunter, and I installed a solar-powered attic fan on the roof of my house. I can tell you, I didn’t do it with the idea of saving energy—I don’t have air conditioning—but more with the idea that an active circulation system would help cool the house. But that didn’t diminish the good feeling I had at doing something “green” for the environment by creating a more comfortable environment without using electricity.

My solar-powered attic fan wasn’t free. I paid about $350 at Costco. I also had to buy a tube of roof caulking at around $6.

The installation went pretty smoothly, and believe me, it took a certain amount of faith for us just to climb onto the peak of the roof on our split-level house. But the greatest leap of faith took place when I removed the shingles and took the reciprocating saw to the roof. I sat there and contemplated the 13-inch diameter hole, and I mentioned to Hunter that we’d just passed the point of no return—if the fan didn’t work or leaked, it was going to cost us a heck of a lot of money to repair what we’d done.

Here’s where faith—and I guess to some extent, ignorance—came into play. I’ve got very little experience with photovoltaic solar powered devices. In fact, I think my only experience was the solar-powered garden lights I purchased last year. Basically, the garden lights absorbed light during the day, which charged some AA batteries and powered the lights throughout the night. My unfounded faith led me to believe that’s how the attic fan would work—it would charge some capacitor or something, and the fan would run all night long, sucking cool air into the attic.

And that’s when I had my crisis in faith. As the day passed, I watched the fan run through the attic entry in my bedroom closet. That afternoon, when the thunderclouds gathered, the fan shut off. Let me say that again: When the temperature cooled because the sun went behind the clouds, the fan stopped sucking cooler air into the attic. I honestly can’t say whether the space was cooler than on a normal day or whether the fan tended to keep the house cooler.

Whether it’s minimally effective or not, I’ve installed a product that brings with it the carbon footprint created by the mining, processing and manufacturing of the solar panels, plastic cowl, the aluminum fan, the cardboard packaging—who knows what all?

And now to try to put a tight bow on something I’m still thinking about: Did I put faith in the marketing of a “green” product simply because it’s been sold as environmentally friendly? Am I more likely not to question a “green” product’s claims because I consider myself a social and environmentally conscious individual?

I’ve learned that it’s incumbent on individuals to examine any claims made by the environmental movement as closely as they’d examine the claims made by the mining industry or government officials or the health-care industry. My question is whether I can dismiss certain areas of willful suspension of disbelief.

I guess I have to take it on faith.