In tough times, some of us see protecting the climate as a luxury, but that’s an outdated 20th-century worldview from a time when we thought industrialization was the end goal, waste was growth, and wealth meant a thick haze of air pollution.
We get so little news about the developing world that we often forget that there are literally millions of people out there struggling to change things to be fairer, freer, more democratic, less corrupt.
The Internet has made some phenomenal breakthroughs that are still only poorly understood in terms of changing people’s ideas of us and them. If mass media, social isolation in the suburbs, alienating workplaces and long car commutes create a bunker mentality, the Internet does the opposite.
What makes creative people tingle are interesting problems, the chance to impress their friends, and caffeine.
I think there’s a gigantic generation gap in terms of how people understand the Internet and how much they think technology is an important factor in social change.
There are a lot of different ways of building a prosperous society, and some of them use much less energy than others. And it is possible and more practical to talk about rebuilding systems to use much less energy than it is to think about trying to meet greater demands of energy through clean energy alone.
Saying the Tech Bloom is not commercially driven is like saying Mother Teresa had an interest in the poor.
At its very heart, Worldchanging is about using the best of people’s new ideas, bringing them together and applying them to the massive problems that we all face.
The planet’s biggest problems have to do with sustainability, environmental decline, global poverty, disease, conflict and so forth. Really, they’re all interconnected – it’s one big problem, which is that the way we’re doing things can’t go on.
There’s no law of physics that says we have to be an unsustainable society – in fact, quite the opposite. The planet’s ready to work with us if we’re ready to think differently, but we do have to make that jump and start to do things in new ways.
When the Internet really first started to hit, people felt this would be the death blow: after suburbs and long commutes and television and the death of the family dinner, this would be the last straw that would totally break society.
If mass media, social isolation in the suburbs, alienating workplaces and long car commutes create a bunker mentality, the Internet does the opposite.
For most people, using the Internet broadens their sense of who ‘we’ is and actually ends up leaving us in a place of greater compassion and understanding. It leaves us more connected to a larger group of people and more at one with a lot more people in our community.
I think we’re going to start to see a new model of civic advocacy where people get together once in a while to protest, but it’s more about an ongoing, sustained engagement in issues, networks and communities about which people care.
One of the most unfortunate side effects of the urban activism of the ’60s and ’70s is the belief that development is wrong and that fighting it makes you an environmentalist.
In almost all city governments in America, the small group of people who don’t want change are able to block change.
The biggest thing growing cities need to do is minimize barriers to development so that as long as someone is doing good urbanism, they can get permitted quickly and get building quickly.
If we’re talking about transportation, the best thing a city can do is densify as quickly as it can. That needs to be said every time this issue comes up, because it’s the only universal strategy that works.
Cities are responsible for the vast majority of the creation of the economy. They’re also places into which we pour the vast majority of resources, the vast majority of energy and the places where a huge percentage of the decisions about how systems are built and how products designed, etc., happen.
Carbon zero simply means that the emissions you are releasing either are zero or balance out to zero.
Deep walkability describes a city that is built in such a way that you can move from one area to another on foot, on bicycle, on transit and have an experience that remains a pleasant one, that you feel you are welcome not just in the neighborhood but moving between neighborhoods.
Copenhagen has done a remarkable job creating streets that are focused on bicycles and pedestrians.
For carbon-neutral cities, there are things worth talking about in how our consumption patterns can change – sharing goods, etc. – but those are a fraction of the impacts of transportation and building energy use. If we need to choose priority actions, the most important things are to densify, provide transit, and green the buildings.
We don’t know yet how to build a society which is environmentally sustainable, which is shareable with everybody on the planet, which promotes stability and democracy and human rights, and which is achievable in the time-frame necessary to make it through the challenges we face.
The idea that we are going to be able to take our entire society as it currently works and simply change the source of energy and make it sustainable is not actually congruent with reality.
There are plenty of people out there talking about how difficult it is for some of us to just deal with all the stuff we already have, from packed closets that need organizers to storage spaces to maintenance costs, etc. Lots of people are reevaluating whether or not they need giant garages full of stuff and finding that they don’t.
We unfortunately already live on a planet where the climate has changed and will continue to change no matter what we do now. We’re playing a game of making the problem less bad rather than preventing it.
Make no mistake: Tackling climate change is vital. But to see everything through the lens of short-term CO2 reductions, letting our obsession with carbon blind us to the bigger picture, is to court catastrophe.
Climate change is not a discrete issue; it’s a symptom of larger problems. Fundamentally, our society as currently designed has no future. We’re chewing up the planet so fast, in so many different ways, that we could solve the climate problem tomorrow and still find that environmental collapse is imminent.
We’re not going to persuade people in the developing world to go without, but neither can we afford a planet on which everyone lives like an American. Billions more people living in suburbs and driving SUVs to shopping malls is a recipe for planetary suicide. We can’t even afford to continue that way of life ourselves.
We don’t need a War on Carbon. We need a new prosperity that can be shared by all while still respecting a multitude of real ecological limits – not just atmospheric gas concentrations, but topsoil depth, water supplies, toxic chemical concentrations, and the health of ecosystems, including the diversity of life they depend upon.
People – especially the geeks who created it – have tended to look at the Internet as something that’s hermetically sealed: there’s the Internet and the rest of the world. But that’s not how people want to use the Internet. They want to use it as a way of better navigating the real world.
We don’t need more recycling, we need a completely different system of closed-loop manufacturing, and no matter how many cans I crush, my personal actions at the consumer level are of very little importance in getting us there.
It is very possible to have lives that are just as prosperous, and nicer, that use 5 percent of the fossil fuels and virgin materials we do now. But if we’re living anything like the average McMansion-ite, SUV-driving suburbanites, there’s simply no way that can be powered in a climate-friendly way.
The denser places get, the lower the amount of energy people use to get around it.
The most climate friendly trip we are ever going to take is the trip we never had to take because we were close to what we wanted.
We already have many of the technologies and tools that we need to build a sustainable future. What we don’t have is a new way of thinking, and that’s really the hardest part.
If nothing else, the Internet allows people to put their ideas out there and let the world decide whether they’re worth paying attention to.
If people are given the opportunity to really make a difference in their own lives, their own communities, their own businesses and their own governments, then we can really transform the prospects of life on this planet. We can find ourselves living in a world that is more like the world that I think most of us want to be living in.
It’s not that hard to imagine the natural world recovering it’s health in our absence: it’s more difficult, and more necessary, to imagine it recovering its health in our presence.
Cabbies in particular seem to like discussing the fate the Earth.
Cities generate most of the global economy, and most of its energy use, resource demands and climate emissions. How we build cities over the next decades will largely determine whether we can deliver a bright green future.
The brutal reality is that newer, more sprawling suburbs – and especially the cheap boom-years exburbs – aren’t just a bit unsustainable, they’re ruinously unsustainable in almost every way, and nothing we know of will likely stop their decline, much less fix them easily.
I’m fascinated with design. I realized early that I had no talent in that direction, but I love talking with architects and designers about what they do. I appreciate applied creativity as a source of pleasure and meaning.
Americans trash the planet not because we’re evil, but because the industrial systems we’ve devised leave no other choice. Our ranch houses and high-rises, factories and farms, freeways and power plants were conceived before we had a clue how the planet works.
You don’t change the world by hiding in the woods, wearing a hair shirt, or buying indulgences in the form of ‘Save the Earth’ bumper stickers. You do it by articulating a vision for the future and pursuing it with all the ingenuity humanity can muster.
More is not better. Better is better. You don’t need a bigger house; you need a different floor plan. You don’t need more stuff; you need stuff you’ll actually use.
Clean air and water, a diversity of animal and plant species, soil and mineral resources, and predictable weather are annuities that will pay dividends for as long as the human race survives – and may even extend our stay on Earth.
There’s no really rosy scenario ahead, where climate change just doesn’t happen, but I believe we don’t have the ethical right to throw our hands up in the air and say, ‘Game over.’ Whatever pathway we choose, our descendants will be dealing with that reality for centuries to come.
There’s a lot of evidence that shows that if we push as hard as we need to for net-zero emissions, we’ll find ourselves with cities that are more secure, healthier, and have more economic opportunity – are frankly better cities to live in – than if we settle for the status quo.
By fundamentally changing how we design the places and systems that enable our daily lives, we can slash emissions way beyond the immediate carbon savings – because our own personal emissions are just the tip of a vast iceberg of energy and resources consumed far from our view.
We’re becoming a planet of a thousand new major cities. The economy of the 21st century is a city-building economy. It’s within our power to make it a carbon zero one, too; and to be blunt, civilization depends on our success.
Cities offer us powerful leverage on our most stubborn, wasteful practices. Long commutes in our cars, big power bills from our energy-hogging buildings, shopping trips to buy stuff that’ll spend a few short months in our homes and long centuries in our landfills.