Alex Steffen is, hands down, the smartest environmentalist around today. He’s got that rare constellation of vision, scientific smarts, communication skills, and (rarest of all) a sense of perspective that keeps a keen awareness of the challenge our planet is facing in check with a bright imagination
Alex Steffen: We need to rebuild our entire society in next 3 decades. The debate on sustainability is over. There are two kinds of people: People who understand that we’re running up against the limits of the planet and can’t continue as we are, and people who are wrong.
Why can’t we build cities that work with natural systems. We treat water that falls from the sky as pollution and channel it to sewers. Why don’t we fly windmills like kites? Why don’t we deploy spherical solar panels?
In order to move quickly, we need to think in new ways.
Date: Tuesday, March 13
editor of one of the Internet’s most popular green destinations
discusses several common-sense geek solutions for a more sustainable
Alex Steffen, Executive Editor, Worldchanging.com
Take Netflix. To rent movies we used to drive to a store which is heated and lit, take it home, watch it, return it. If you order it with Netflix, the postman is coming to my house anyway, and the ecological footprint of the movie when I order it by Netflix is much lower than when I go in a car to rent it. We can still have the things we want at a much lower ecological cost. We can get rid of the extraneous stuff: compact living in well-designed cities. Dematerializes transportation and infrastructure. Access by proximity.
Grid system on the left: blue is how far you can walk in one mile. Imagine which encourages more driving.
Ze Frank: if the Earth were a sandwich. Never before have two piece of bread been simultaneously put on the ground directly opposite each other thus making an Earth sandwich. The fact that the earth has never before been made into a sandwich is probably why it is so fucked up.
Knowing where things are in a compact city makes things more efficient. Google maps of garbage, Freecycle, car sharing. 1 car shared can take 6–20 cars off the road.
People who share cars are better drivers. They get more done with each trip. They plan better.
The average powerdrill gets used between 6–20 minutes in its lifetime. Some people do need drills on a daily basis. Most of us keep them around for years waiting for something to need to drill. This is the epitome of of inefficient waste. What we need is the hole, not the drill. There are cheap convenient tool sharing and tool lending possibilities.
When you measure things, you change the way you use them. Just moving the energy meter wn
inside simply makes you use less. Observed flows can be made beautiful: light cord that glows the more electricity goes through it.
The little airplane pillow on the airplane? We don’t have an attachment to it. Why should carpets or dishwater or drills not be the same?
Cell phones. If you are a manufacture who has to recycle, you build different. Cell phone that disassembles itself when heated on return.
Imagine if products came with environmental impact ingredient panel: how much carbon was used in making this product? We all want affluence, but we want guilt-free affluence. We want things around us that tell better stories.
Redesigning a civilization which uses no raw materials, powers itself with clean energy, recycles all waste and gernates no toxins is not only possible, it might be fun. It might be a life we love better. There’s a lot of money to be made there. People who want to charge ahead on that frontier. Do we then need to leave behind the developing world?
The models we have already created are being implemented elsewhere. If we come up with better models, the tools that other people share with us will be better tools.
Land mine detecting flower. Bloom changes from white to red in the presence of the kind of nitrogens that the decaying explosives emit. Using a genetically engineered flower to overcome the landmines.
Fog catchers suck water out of the air.
Lifestraw emergency water purifier.
Plumpy’nut. Kids who have suffered malnutrition lose interest in eating, but shouldn’t eat just anything. Peanut Butter scored high as a universal Yummy, so they created a therapeutic food product.
Merry-go-round that pumps water, harnessing the power of kids at play.
Why not make a water barrel that you can stick a rope through and roll home?
Acumen Fund: Malaria prevention nets, being created in Africa for Africa.
Mortgages for squatters.
to sum up, the choices are:
Keep going, replicate flawed pattern.
OR, we forge a path to an as yet unimaginable Bright, Green Future.
Smart people with creative minds are the ones who need to make this happen.
You are Brilliant, and the Earth is hiring. –Paul Hawkin
Earth doesnÂ´t need a bunch of martyrs, it needs a bunch of better ideas.
Air travel is a tough one, there’s no real green option. Cheap airfare is one of our civilization’s greatest achievements, but flying is a terrible thing to do. Reduce the things you can reduce, offset what you can’t. Biking: we need to model better alternatives. Simply by biking across LA you may be setting an example to others.
Those of us that consideer ourselves environmentalists have made some mistakes along the way: we have hit people over the head with the end of the world and then left them with nothing to do. A few solutions jammed in between the credits of Inconvenient Truth after 90 minues of doom is not good enough.
We can’t ask people to recycle on the presumption that it’s an addictive substance and will lead to harder drugs: giving people meaningless things to do is counterproductive.
Those of us who think about the future have a responsibility to create compelling vision of where we might be heading.
Sentiment without Action is the ruin of the soul –Edward Abee
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