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Viridian Redux
Jon Lebkowsky, 15 Sep 06

Viridian logoThe environmental movement can be boring, strident, depressing; this is why I never quite became an environmental activist despite my initial interest and commitment in the sixties. It struck me as too burlap and granola. It felt reactionary (despite the great calendars). I think Bruce Sterling found himself in a similar quandary when, after researching Heavy Weather, he realized there was a significant climate problem. Who was going to take it on? Certainly not the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the Wilderness Conservancy, organizations cycling cash and promoting the great outdoors but not equipped to generate real soltuions to a problem like global warming. And certainly not the U.S. and other governments, whose attitudes are reflected by the Murray Hamilton character in the movie "Jaws." Lifesaving solutions are fine, but they have to wait til the tourist season is past.

Sterling figured design movements like futurism and dadaism had been effective in disrupting the lazier aspects of our consciousness and perception and driving new ways of thinking about the world and its problems, so he started the Viridian Design movement, beginning with the Manifesto of January 3, 2000

We have a worldwide environmental problem. This is a truism. But the unprecedentedly severe and peculiar weather of the late 1990s makes it clear that this problem is growing acute. Global warming has been a lively part of scientific discussion since at least the 1960s, but global warming is a quotidian reality now. Climate change is shrouding the globe in clouds of burning rain forest and knocking points off the GNP of China. Everyone can offer a weird weather anecdote now; for instance, I spent a week this summer watching the sky turn gray with fumes from the blazing forests of Chiapas. The situation has been visibly worsening, and will get worse yet, possibly very much worse.

Society has simply been unable to summon the political or economic will to deal successfully with this problem by using 20th century methods. That is because CO2 emission is not centrally a political or economic problem. It is a design and engineering problem. It is a cultural problem and a problem of artistic sensibility.

New and radical approaches are in order. These approaches should be originated, gathered, martialled into an across-the-board cultural program, and publicly declared -- on January 3rd

WorldChanging is one spinoff from the Viridian work, which continues apace at

It's worthwhile to reread the Viridian agenda at the end of the manifesto... which I duplicate here, encouraging comments and suggestion from today's perspective – six years later, post 9/11, post Katrina.

The Media

Today. Publishing and broadcasting cartels surrounded by a haze of poorly financed subcultural microchannels.

What We Want. More bandwidth for civil society, multicultural variety, and better-designed systems of popular many-to-many communication, in multiple languages through multiple channels.

The Trend. A spy-heavy, commercial Internet. A Yankee entertainment complex that entirely obliterates many non-Anglophone cultures.

The Military

Today. G-7 Hegemony backed by the American military.

What We Want. A wider and deeper majority hegemony with a military that can deter adventurism, but specializes in meeting the immediate crises through civil engineering, public health and disaster relief.

The Trend. Nuclear and biological proliferation among minor powers.


Today. Currency traders rule banking system by fiat; extreme instability in markets; capital flight but no labor mobility; unsustainable energy base

What We Want. Nonmaterial industries; vastly increased leisure; vastly increased labor mobility; sustainable energy and resources

The Trend. commodity totalitarianism, crony capitalism, criminalized banking systems, sweatshops

Industrial Design

Today. very rapid model obsolescence, intense effort in packaging; CAD/CAM

What We Want: intensely glamourous environmentally sound products; entirely new objects of entirely new materials; replacing material substance with information; a new relationship between the cybernetic and the material

The Trend: two design worlds for rich and poor comsumers; a varnish on barbarism

Gender Issues

Today: more commercial work required of women; social problems exported into family life as invisible costs

What We Want: declining birth rates, declining birth defects, less work for anyone, lavish support for anyone willing to drop out of industry and consume less

The Trend: more women in prison; fundamentalist and ethnic-separatist ideologies that target women specifically.


Today: large-scale American special-effects spectacle supported by huge casts and multi-million-dollar tie-in enterprises

What We Want: glamour and drama; avant-garde adventurism; a borderless culture industry bent on Green social engineering

The Trend: annihilation of serious culture except in a few non-Anglophone societies

International Justice

Today: dysfunctional but gamely persistent War Crimes tribunals

What We Want: Environmental Crime tribunals

The Trend: justice for sale; intensified drug war


Today: MacJobs, burn-out track, massive structural unemployment in Europe

What We Want: Less work with no stigma; radically expanded leisure; compulsory leisure for workaholics; guaranteed support for people consuming less resources; new forms of survival entirely outside the conventional economy

The Trend: increased class division; massive income disparity; surplus flesh and virtual class


Today: failing public-supported schools

What We Want: intellectual freedom, instant cheap access to information, better taste, a more advanced aesthetic, autonomous research collectives, lifelong education, and dignity and pleasure for the very large segment of the human population who are and will forever be basically illiterate and innumerate

The trend: children are raw blobs of potential revenue-generating machinery; universities exist to supply middle-management

Public Health

Today: general success; worrying chronic trends in AIDS, tuberculosis, antibiotic resistance; massive mortality in nonindustrial world

What We Want: unprecedently healthy old people; plagues exterminated worldwide; sophisticated treatment of microbes; artificial food

The Trend: Massive dieback in Third World, septic poor quarantined from nervous rich in G-7 countries, return of 19th century sepsis, world's fattest and most substance-dependent populations


Today: basic science sacrificed for immediate commercial gain; malaise in academe; bureaucratic overhead in government support

What We Want: procedural rigor, intellectual honesty, reproducible results; peer review, block grants, massively increased research funding, massively reduced procedural overhead; genius grants; single-author papers; abandonment of passive construction and the third person plural; "Science" reformed so as to lose its Platonic and crypto-Christian elements as the "pure" pursuit of disembodied male minds; armistice in Science wars

The Trend: "Big Science" dwindles into short-term industrial research or military applications; "scientists" as a class forced to share imperilled, marginal condition of English professors and French deconstructionists. I would like to conclude by suggesting some specific areas for immediate artistic work. I see these as crying public needs that should be met by bravura displays of raw ingenuity.

But there isn't time for that. Not just yet.

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Apropos of little: Breathing Earth.

Posted by: Enoch Root on 15 Sep 06

It sounds corny, but it's true that the human imagination is just about the most powerful renewable resource on the planet. After all, it's stronger than gravity and able to alter ecosystem functioning on a global scale. I met Al Gore this week and asked him about how he hopes to capture that power to address global warming. He waxed almost poetic about the problem of "paradigm blindness" and the difficulty of breaking out of familiar patterns of thinking, and he's clearly impressed by the WorldChanging idea. It would be wonderful to build on the success of his movie and create a companion piece that actually offers a compelling vision of a sustainable world, one that engages the arts, tells an inspiring story, and allows people to imagine themselves in a more satisfying, constructive relationship to the rest of nature. I'm ready to work on making it happen if you are!

Posted by: Rachel May on 17 Sep 06

This is one of the best blog posts I have ever seen. Thank you and keep up the good work.

How can you get the ears of congress on this type of subject matter? Hopefully there will be major lobbing reform in the next few months if Liberals can win a majority in congress.

Posted by: Joe on 18 Sep 06



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