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Sunset printed an article in their January 2008 issue that offended my sustainability sensibilities (say that 5 time as quick as you can). They had an article about a second home, a cabin to be accurate, that they referred to as “true sustainable living.”

I disagreed, see below.

Dear Sunset,

In your January 2008 Issue, I took issue with your article Cutting-edge cabin. The first line sets a false premise for the article by stating “True sustainable living starts at home.” The article is not about a home, it is about a cabin, at best it could be called a second house (second home is a misnomer by any account).

What is sustainable about a second house (home, cabin, etc)? The answer, absolutely nothing.

It violates the simplest and most effective tenet of sustainability, reduce consumption. The best way to do this when considering building is, of course, by not building at all.

Not building would have preserved what I presume to be a natural site, maximized the reduction of energy and materials simply by not using any at all, and would have eliminated the transportation and infrastructure costs involved with getting to the cabin.

Furthermore, the cabin/second house phenomena is one that is haunting the real west. Lifelong westerners are finding they are no longer able to live in their hometowns as the influx of affluent latecomers buy up property for their second houses, or their high-end retirement homes. Secondly, this commonly takes place in the most beautiful of places, circling National Parks, National Forests, and public waterways with private landholdings, virtually isolating non-property owners from these national treasures except at the crowded visitor sites. Jackson Hole is an example of this tragedy, but certainly only one of many.

Kudos to the owner and designer for a beautiful property and cabin, if you must build this certainly is the way to do it.

To Sunset, I recognize you are a magazine of pleasantries, not activism, but please ensure when you claim a project is sustainable that it in fact is. Your story makes for a great title and glossy-prints, but does little to promote the real practice of sustainability or to protect the western way of life. Consider if each of us builds a second house in view of a beautiful setting. Clearly, the environmental impact would be enormous, not only to the environment at large but also to these remote places you celebrate in your pages.

‘Cutting-edge cabins’ may reduce the impact, but only marginally.

In closing, not achieving true sustainability, and recognizing it for what it is, threatens a final sunset on the many beautiful places, people and communities you publish. Please treat the subject with the seriousness and honesty it deserves.

Thank you,

name withheld

Fairbanks, Alaska

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