The Second Best Time to Reduce Carbon

So the second most exciting thing of the week before last, after finally getting this project launched, was the SXSWEco meeting here in Austin, which Dan Moutal and I attended in between hacking and slashing at WordPress.  Probably the high point for me was the keynote, which Alex Steffen delivered brilliantly.And I got to exchange a few words with him afterward as well.

Alex’s point is that carbon consumption and conversely its conservation is essentially a design aspect of the urban fabric. That in the process of designing our way to a cleaner life, we can also design our way to a better one. I don’t know if his SXSWEco talk is up, but this shorter TED talk delivers the gist.

My friend Jon Lebkowsky was also there (he introduced me to Alex) and tweeting up a storm. And he captured Alex’s point about timing.

When should we start doing this? Ideally, by about 1980. But the second best time is “now”.

The best line was to forget about dream homes and start thinking about dream neighborhoods.

I think there is no shortage of anything except sanity. These are not hard times. These are good times with bad distribution mechanisms. So cities replace stuff with access. I may have a modest kitchen but I have easy access to some of the finest kitchens in the world.

If I have any criticism, it is about what Alex did not say. Yes, density and brilliant design are the best of possible environments for some people, but others hate crowds and cities. And somebody actually has to keep the great spaces between cities reasonably healthy. So the biggest problem is in pretending that this is the whole solution.

But it is a part of the solution. I am convinced of that. Part of our job is to start conveying the beauty of the potential urban future so people can understand it and want it.

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Photo: mt

Comments:

  1. Caroming off of MT's
    > "If I have any criticism, it is about what Alex did not say....[some] hate crowds and cities. And somebody actually has to keep the great spaces between cities reasonably healthy. So the biggest problem is in pretending that [Alex's prescription] is the whole solution" -

    How do we address two unfortunately synergistic problems -

    First, preferential "feeding" of the less threatening (aka less effective) efforts:
    Orgs are pushing on all points in the system, & they're points that have wide differences in leverage; and if "innocuous & not drawing criticism" efforts are more likely to be funded, then resources will preferentially flow to orgs that are pushing at less effective leverage points (since any pushing at *more* effective points will draw the attention/ire/criticism of threatened & powerful interests).
    So, conflict-averse (and definitely change-averse) funders will give the most effective leverage points the least funding (and hence "airtime", in public discourse).

    Second, a "human psychology" consequence of this funding disparity will be that spokesfolk for the less-effective leverage-point efforts pull attention away from the "how best to do what is to be done", "what efforts have greatest leverage" big picture; because these groups chose (& were funded) to do X & not Y, they will naturally believe & convey that their effort, X, is more important, and you'll never hear them saying "actually, the most important thing to do is Y, & without more effort there, our own effort is doomed".

    (or so I think)

  2. > "I don’t know if his SXSWEco talk is up"

    Grrr, no way to find out - since the SXSWEco "contact" form is _one-way_ "contact" (for subscribing to newsletters), plus when (earlier) I looked for contact info for Steffen, I couldn't find any.

    I expect better service from the interwebs.
    (i've gotten spoiled, i admit)

  3. Just for the record, there was a not insignificant amount of momentum to reduce carbon even before 1980. Although a stronger motivation was the oil crisis of the 1970s, it was also around the time Gore first started having hearings on climate, and Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House. All that began to change, January 20th,1980. While some called it "Morning" in America, many others went into "Mourning".


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