My trip to London is done, and I am now sitting comfortably on WorldChanging contributor Nicole Boyer's couch in Paris. Now that I have steady connection for the evening, I thought I'd pass along some of my observations.
The picture illustrating this post was taken from outside the Design Museum, which houses (among other exhibits) Cameron Sinclair's entry in the "Under a Tenner" show (the extended entry has a few shots of Cameron's selections). Visible in the background of this photo is the Swiss Re tower (aka "the Gherkin"), notable for a number of reasons, including the fact that it uses 50% less energy than a conventional office building of comparable size. Swiss Re has been at the forefront of pushing businesses to take climate change more seriously, and is trying to live up to its own sustainability demands.
Climate change and sustainability became the recurring themes of the visit. In London, it's hard to avoid these issues. The Carbon Trust has billboards everywhere saying "How Will Climate Change Your Business?" The head of the Royal Society scientific academy had a lengthy article in the Guardian this week tearing into US oil company-backed carbon lobbyists trying to push their agendas into UK policy discussions. The Conservative party positions on climate change are as radical as the US Democratic party could hope for (and the positions taken by Labour and the Lib Dems (PDF) would leave the American punditocracy sputtering). I spoke to three different design and academic groups during my visit, and the question of "how do we make the community/business more environmentally sustainable?" came up again and again.
What makes this all particularly impressive is that London already displays many of the characteristics of a green city. It's quite dense, with a public transit system -- the Underground -- which is the envy of most of the world (although I'm told with great assurance that the Paris Metro is much better). The center of the city uses congestion charges to moderate traffic, and most cars are already much more fuel-efficient than the American average (we saw dozens of Smart cars, of numerous style variations, in the blocks around the place we were staying). You can even get home wind turbines that attach to the side of the house just like a satellite dish.
Add in the vibrant art scene, the booming economy, the casually multicultural mix (a British accent is a distinct minority on the streets, it seems), the rapid embrace of wireless technologies, and the widespread recognition that the city must continue to evolve... and it's clear that London in the 21st century is a truly worldchanging city. It draws me back like a magnet, and gives me hope for the planet's future.
That last one is, indeed, a land mine. The accompanying text says:
Every fifteen minutes someone is killed or maimed by a landmine. That's at least 15,000 victims a year. Millions more suffer from the agricultural, economic and psychological impact of landmines. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines estimates that there are more than 80 million in the ground in more than 80 countries. A landmine costs $3 to produce -- less than the price of a Big Mac -- and $1,000 to defuse. That's bad design.
Maybe we should all think about relocating. Hmm-mm?
Just found your site - looks great. I work for a UK sustainable development charity/think tank called Forum for the Future (www.forumforthefuture.org.uk) and I am delighted you are impressed by what's happening in our capital. I think you might be interested, therefore, in a project some colleagues are running called the London Sustainability Exchange (LSx - www.lsx.org.uk) which is aiming to make London the world's first sustainable world city. Lots of resources and info on what's going on here. Enjoy.
I, too, was visiting London and was amazed by a visit to BP's offices in Surrey, literally bristling with solar panels and signage on every corner reminding the viewer to recycle and conserve.
In the US, you still get smacked as a "tree hugger" for even mentioning some of these innovations in the workplace.
With the exception of Mayor Daley who put solar panels on every municipal building, are there any US mayors thinking like the Brits?