Alex Steffen starts the last talk of the day reminding us of advice he once got from his grandmother: “Never be a man standing between a mob and its booze.” But he distracts everyone from drinks and dinner for at least a few minutes with a fast, furious and passionate overview of the possible green future.
Alex, of course, edits Worldchanging.com, which he cofounded (and whose board I chair.) He introduces our new book… which is described in wonderful detail on the Viridian design site, and fast forwards into a view of a possible future: “One planet prosperity that can work for everyone on earth.”
Alex wants us to do this really, really quickly – “The debate [over climate change] is over:
you’re either on board, or you’re just wrong.” But he believes in a future that’s bright green, liveable and here now, at least in prototype.
His first examples focus on the developed world, and particularly on cities, which he describes as “tools for dematerialization”. The goal is to concentrate population so we can share resources – roads, public transit, cars. Netflix is a great example of dematerialization – we don’t need to drive to the video store, or even build the video store – let’s just take advantage of the mailman delivering the mail. Sharing cars is possible now through connectivity, precision and proximity – and some estimates suggest that for every car shared, six are taken off the road.
Other technologies are as important, but haven’t achieved the same “cool”. Tool libraries keep people from having to buy drills when they only want the hole. But there’s no FUH2.com – a site of people flipping off Hummers – focusing on people like me who buy and hoard power tools.
Alex wants to see producers take responsibility for artifacts they create, figuring out how to recycle and dispose of them as well as building them. And he wants us to meassure better. If you have a mileage gauge on your car, that alone tends to make cars 5% more efficient – a household energy meter tends to lead to 10% savings. We train ouselves to conserve without even knowing it.
But we can’t just focus on the developed world: “if we don’t get it to work for everyone, it doesn’t work.” So Alex gives a quick tour of tech in the deveopling world: foot-powered pumps, rural solar systems, one laptop per child, the pot in pot refrigerator, fogcatching water generators, plumpynut and the life straw. The ultimate message – the biggest barriers to building a sustainable planet are not technological – they’re political.
But Alex believes that’s changing to. The internet increases transparency. And he believes that those fighting against this sort of green change are fighting the future. If you’re not with us, he says, “in the future, you will be found out.”