The Keys to Environmental Salvation

Feb 7, 2013 by

Casey Danson

Director, Global Possibilities


A new e-book by futurist Alex Steffen argues that cities are the key to environmental salvation.

Obviously, there is not the political will which will lead to rebuilding American infrastructure and many like Ed Mazria are attempting this through his Architecture 2030 mission which is reaching many architects and designers in a constructive, solutions-oriented manner.   However, there are not enough of us doing this and the word desperately needs to be part of the dialogue to solve our dependency on energy/fossil fuels which clearly is causing Climate Change.

The following clip is from the Documentary film “Who’s Got The Power?” produced by Global Possibilities which we made in 2006.   How about we all get on the same page quickly instead of talking — start doing something.

 And now to Karrie Jacobs’ article in Metropolis about Alex Steffen’s book Carbon Zero: Imagining Cities That Can Save the Planet, by Alex Steffen (Steffen, 2012), Seattle-based futurist.

Steffen’s premise is global: The planet is rapidly urbanizing. Therefore, how countries around the world build and rebuild cities is the key to the future of the Earth. However, what’s useful from an American perspective is his observation that cities are small enough that “committed people” can change them, but large enough that chang-ing them can have an impact: “If our cities reinvent themselves, finding pathways to low- to no-carbon futures, our nations can rapidly cut climate pollution, even if most of our compatriots lag behind in reducing emissions. “The key phrase here is “our compatriots.” In other words, if we leverage the wealth and intellectual capital that is concentrated in cities to change the way we build (denser is better), the way our utilities work (smart infrastructure, renewable energy), and the way we live our lives (sharing instead of consuming, walking or biking instead of driving), we don’t need the consent or cooperation of our exurban brethren. They can keep driving their SUVs to Walmart (or oblivion) while we in the cities strive to make their way of life obsolete.

I love Steffen’s enthusiasm and find nothing naive about being positive about saving ourselves and saving our planet, merely because it’s what I have been doing for thirty years through my own work in non-profits, American Oceans Campaign, founded with my ex-husband and now Global Possibilities.  As Steffen writes  “Almost everything we need to do to drop our climate emissions also leaves us more rugged and resilient to disasters and global instability.”   SO TRUE!  Let’s just get on with it.

Here are some worthy books for those of you as passionate as I am to solving the climate crisis through the built environment:  The Hannover Principles: Design for Sustainability (W. McDonough Architects, 1992) by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce (HarperCollins, 1993), Andrés Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and Jeff Speck’s Suburban Nation (Macmillan, 2000).

We welcome your comments!