More Than a Pretty Face: Beth Galante

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Age: 40

Location: New Orleans

Marital status: Married

Notable quote: "It's hard to get people to focus on the long-term impact of building when all they care about is having someplace — anyplace — to live."

In the months following Hurricane Katrina, Beth Galante left behind a successful career in law and joined forces with Global Green USA, a national environmental organization working to rebuild New Orleans in an eco-friendly and energy-efficient way. Galante, now head of the local Global Green office, says things are off to a good start — last year, architecture buff Brad Pitt signed on to help sponsor and judge their competition for the best new green-housing design in New Orleans. Galante talks with MC.

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Q: From lawyer to advocate — how did that happen?

A: After Katrina, I called a mentor of mine to find out where I could volunteer my legal services. She said, "I have the perfect job for you." Global Green's main goal was to open a public resource center so people would know about green building. They were advocating a mind shift toward a new reality — that we can't continue to be so terribly wasteful because we're running out of things to waste, and we're damaging the planet. It's a shift in perception.

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Q: That seems reasonable. But some people resisted. Why?

A: We have people living in cars here. The homeless shelters are packed, and thousands of people are displaced around the country. There's a desire to build housing as quickly as possible — people desperately need homes.

Q: And so worrying about whether it's a green building is not a priority.

A: Exactly. It's hard to advocate for a more thoughtful building process when the immediate response is to just throw something — anything — up. It's hard to explain that utility rates will continue to go through the roof because of poorly constructed, energy-inefficient buildings or that the quality is too poor to withstand the next hurricane. That's just not as compelling as, "My God, I need a house."

Q: Global Green is based in California. Don't they have their own issues to worry about?

A: New Orleans has become the poster child for so many things: arguably the first city affected by global warming; a reminder that our government is not prepared for disasters. And, as the largest rebuilding in U.S. history, hopefully it will be a model for how to successfully redo a city's infrastructure.

Q: What do you remember most about Katrina?

A: The chaos. My husband and I left on Sunday for a friend's house about an hour away. We had our car and cat — there wasn't much else we could take. I had a bad feeling about the storm. Saturday night before we evacuated, we went to one of our favorite oyster houses, walked around, and just looked at everything, thinking there was a chance it would only be a memory after that. I needed to go and say good-bye.

Go to globalgreen.org to learn how you can join Global Green USA and help stem global climate change through the creation of green buildings and cities.

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