Late last November Alex Steffen gave a two-night presentation at Seattle’s city hall concerning the climatic crises the planet faces, and how single towns and cities can change the direction we are heading. at his group’s website, worldchanging.com, and we think they are well worth a watch.
The talks are about 90 minutes each, and your time is rewarded with an entertaining survey of existent green technologies and a shocking review of the environmental and economic problems we face. But what distinguishes Mr. Steffen’s ideas within the environmental movement is his enthusiasm for growth and prosperity.
A briefer talk by Alex Steffen at TED in 2005
Alex Steffen’s message is a humanist one, in so far as he wants more humans in more cities doing more things. He wants us all to get rich making our economy green. His message is intended to ruffle corporate feathers because he believes the problem is not more building or more buying (easily dismissed as leftist anti-capitalism), but what we build and what we buy. In particular Steffen stresses the need to reconsider our definitions and our ambitions. He describes garbage, for example, ‘the right stuff in the wrong place.’ Once someone who wants the stuff can get at it, the ‘garbage’ suddenly becomes a ‘resource.’ And access to resources (whether books, energy, food, or finished products) enriches the communities who use them.
The dystopian vision of a future Los Angeles in ‘Blade Runner’
Steffen’s ambitions certainly have their ‘radical’ elements: he wants to limit, if not remove, cars from cities (even, whose lifespan carbon footprint is really not much smaller than traditional cars). He wants to encourage rises in population densities that might cause some to envision a ‘Blade Runner’-type future.
A ‘Green Box’ in Portland to prioritize bikers as they traverse the city
But perhaps the most disarming quality of his talk is that time and again he refers to existent technologies and existent urban planning to demonstrate the ‘do-ability’ (my word) of many of his aspirations: city-centers given over to bikes and public transit, population centers with more services and entertainments within walking distance, and reconsideration of what we consider ‘wealth’ and ‘success’ (both of which, he points out, currently include in their definitions a long commute). He is no Pollyanna, but his optimism and his pro-(smart) growth serve as warning and as motivation for groups to green their cities.