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Alex Steffen sees a sustainable future


Sustainability. What is it? It is something like this - about a million years ago, a bunch of monkeys fell out of trees, got a little clever, harnessed fire, invented the printing press and built the society that we now live in

Unfortunately, while this society is the most prosperous and dynamic the world has ever created, it's got some major, major flaws.

One of them is that every society has an ecological footprint. It has an amount of impact on the planet that's measurable. Our society, have a really dramatically unsustainable level of this. We have only 1 planet and it is the first problem.

The second problem is that the planet that we have is being used in wildly unfair ways. People simply do not have enough to survive. Our planet is going to be a pretty crowded place, at least eight billion people in 20 years.

Our planet is a very young planet. A third of the people on this planet are kids. And those kids are growing up in a completely different way than their parents did and they want their own version of a life which is more prosperous, and more dynamic, and more enjoyable. And all of these things combine to create an enormous amount of torque on the planet. And if we cannot figure out a way to deal with that torque, we are going to find ourselves more and more and more quickly facing situations which are simply unthinkable.

Everybody has heard the worst-case scenarios. But, what's the alternative? At the moment, the alternative is unimaginable. 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.

So, first of all, what are we looking for? Bright Green city. One of the biggest levers that we have in the developed world for changing the impact that we have on the planet is changing the way that we live in cities. We're already an urban planet. People who live in cities in the developed world tend to be very prosperous, and thus use a lot of stuff. By first of we should create cities that are denser and more livable. We're able to now build buildings that generate all their own electricity, that recycle much of their water, that are much more comfortable than standard buildings, use all-natural light, etc. cost less.

We also have people living in close proximity to each other, one of the things you can do is - as information technologies develop - start to know where things are. When you know where things are, it becomes easier to share them. When you share them, you end up using less.

Another thing that information technology lets us do is start figuring out how to use less stuff by knowing, and by monitoring, the amount we're actually using. We could just re-label things. Bio-morphic building with neo-biological design is an example of bio-mimicry, which is something we're really starting to look a lot more for and it can be an emerging model of how to turn cities into Bright Green ones.

But unfortunately, most of the people on the planet live in the emerging megacities of the developing world. Most of those cites are growing incredibly quickly. They don't have existing infrastructure; they have enormous numbers of people who are struggling with poverty, and enormous numbers of people are trying to figure out how to do things in new ways.

So what do we need in order to make developing megacities into Bright Green megacities? The first thing we need is, we need leapfrogging. The idea behind leapfrogging is that if you are a person, or a country, who is stuck in a situation where you don't have the tools and technologies that you need, there's no reason for you to invest in last generation's technologies and you're much better of looking for a low-cost or locally applicable version of the newest technology.

The second thing is tools for collaboration, be they systems of collaboration, or intellectual property systems which encourage collaboration. When you have free ability for people to freely work together and innovate, you get different kinds of solutions. And those solutions are accessible in a different way to people who don't have capital. So we have open source software, we have Creative Commons and other kinds of Copyleft solutions. And those things lead to things like this.

So one of the things that that's leading to is a sort of southern cultural explosion. And one of the things we're really interested in at Worldchanging is the ways in which the south is re-identifying itself, and re-categorizing itself in ways that have less and less to do with most of us.

All of us have the ability for people to start coming together and acting on their own behalf in political and civic ways, in ways that haven't happened before.

We have to craft new political realities, not only in places like India, Afghanistan, but at home as well. Another world is possible. We need to start acting a little bit more on that possibility.

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. Although we don't hear those stories enough it's happening all over the place, and these tools are part of what's making it possible.

When we add all those things together, what do we get? We get a Bright Green future for the developing world and water solutions, the most pressing problems.

The tools we use to change the world, ought to be beautiful in themselves. We've got to make something better than what we've got. And I think that we will. I think that better things are on the way.


Date: 2015-04-20; view: 1437

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