“Green” Techie Futurism Is Not Reality-Based

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’re featuring a post from Alex Steffen at Worldchanging that takes on the ever-burgeoning fetish for "green" technologies. Everywhere you look these days, there’s talk of "going green." But Steffen, who’s been paying attention to these issues for 20 years, says the ecofads are hopelessly inadequate.

His post, which is well worth reading in full, notes the depth of self-deception involved in the idea that switching a gas-powered car for an electric car, for instance, is going to solve our global ecological problems:

3867815284_a90a97a345.jpg"Green" cars are not the answer. (Photo: Michael Cavén via Flickr)

I’ve gotten more than a little jaded about the uptake of green
techie futurism in the media. See, I’ve covered sustainability since
1990, and so I know that what was the next wave of green ideas then
(hybrids, energy-saving appliances and CFLs, biofuels) is still "hot"
now. Widespread media uptake of 90s green ideas would be great, if
those ideas were not now woefully insufficient.

Many of these ideas are still being presented as support for the
idea that we can conveniently retrofit North American 20th Century
suburban life for the 21st Century. We still see hundreds of stories a
day promoting the Swap — the idea that we can change the components of
suburban, high-consumption, auto-dependent lives without have to change
the nature of those lives — but that idea itself is non-reality-based.…Building a new
freeway now, with what we know, is crossing the line from stupid to
evil, but as long as we believe electric cars will somehow transform
the whole system, we can pretend it’s sensible and realistic.…

The one bright shining note in all this is that our capacity to
innovate and invent is now profoundly greater than it’s ever been. The
number of people working on envisioning practical, adaptive yet
transformative solutions to the problems of cities is mushrooming; and
many take for granted that they’ll have to work against the economic
grain. It’s thrilling to be even a small part of the brave, creative
work they’re doing.

Steffen doesn’t get into the specifics of that work in this post. If you agree with him, let us know in the comments about any exemplary efforts you’re aware of — people and institutions that are making meaningful change happen. Because we could use a lift today.

More from around the network: Spacing Toronto writes about a horrifying surge in pedestrian deaths in Greater Toronto. The Transport Politic posts on today’s highly anticipated announcement of high-speed rail grants. And Honking in Traffic takes a hard look at distracted riding, walking and running.

  • Kim

    In Michigan, we’re working on getting BRT into our cities and using it as an incentive to also revitalize the neighborhoods it would serve. Pretty small, but if every city did it…

    I have been thinking lately and I realize the change has to happen within us before it happens in a big, national way. People will really have to let go of some of their perceptions of comfort, security, freedom, and happiness (and the idea that America NEEDS to be the number one superpower). I think we can do it, though.

  • Small vehicle transit is the answer.

  • “Building a new freeway now, with what we know, is crossing the line from stupid to evil, but as long as we believe electric cars will somehow transform the whole system, we can pretend it’s sensible and realistic.… ”

    With the status quo of placing the traffic disproportionately through poorer area — aka NYC’s Bronx and D.C.’s SE — and what has been accomplished with tunneling elsewhere, the above foolish overly simplistic anti freeway dogma is just more pontification against environmental and social justice.


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