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Worldchanging and The American Future
Alex Steffen, 1 Oct 08

Here at Worldchanging, solutions are our business. We've spent the last five years exploring the world's most innovative ideas for addressing the planet's most pressing problems. Today's our birthday, so we thought we'd take this chance to let you know about our new plans.

Until now, we've largely focused on discrete innovations. Even our book is a compendium of individual insights, solutions and approaches. We've assembled a larger and larger pile of pieces to the puzzle of how to build a better future, but we've never really attempted to put those pieces together, instead allowing the existence of those puzzle pieces to imply that an assembled puzzle is possible. We've written much about the tools for building a better future, and not enough about that future itself.

But people need a new future. In fact, one could reasonably argue that people need a new future now more than any time in the history of the species. Our present way of living is an ocean liner colliding catastrophically with the iceberg of ecological and economic reality -- a collision that threatens to essentially destroy civilization -- and yet we cling to it with white knuckles, in large part because we can't really imagine another way of living. Given the choice between a sinking ship and dark uncertainty, most of us tend to hold tight to the rails and hope for the best.

If we are going to convince large numbers of people to embrace the kinds of creative, large-scale change sustainability demands, we need to offer them something more than scattered, loosely connected possibilities. We need to show them a new, brighter future, a plausible, inspiring, achievable -- and sustainable -- future towards which people can aim their aspirations. We need to invite people to abandon that sinking ship and swim for a future that works.

Imagining that future still strains our foresight, but more and more clearly it lies within the boundaries of possibility. We have much of the toolbox of solutions we need to build a bright green future: designs, technologies, policies, practices and insights that we can use to ratchet down the ecological impacts of nearly any aspect of our civilization. Some large gaps remain -- no one has yet invented a realistic sustainable model of the aviation industry, for instance -- but between solutions that already exist and new innovations leaping off the drawing boards now, we can at very least trace a plausible path from here to a bright green future.

That future is simply unattainable without America's wholehearted commitment. To begin with the obvious, we Americans are intimately connected with the causes of much misery, from our climate emissions and runaway resource use to our rogue-state diplomacy, and the simple cessation of that stupidity would go a long way towards making possible the good. But that's not the limit of the leadership the United States can offer. Simply, America remains the epicenter of possibility in the human imagination. No other nation has as thorough a sense of idealism and open-hearted mission, no matter how badly worn it may seem today. We are, even now, despite it all, still the place where many people who want to change the world struggle to arrive. What Emerson said in 1844 remains true today: “America is the country of the future. It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”

If the world is going to figure out one-planet prosperity, a bright green way of life that can lift everyone out of poverty while averting catastrophe, to some very serious extent, we Americans will need to invent our own version of it first.

Of course, America is far from sustainable today. Upper-middle class Americans, whose idea of prosperity is increasingly emulated around the world, often have ten-planet ecological footprints. Even middle class Americans weigh in at four to five planets (almost twice the ecological impact of the average European).

We need to show the possibility of a way of life every bit as prosperous as -- indeed, more attractive than -- the lives of today's American upper-middle class, but lived within reasonable ecological limits: prosperity with a small enough environmental impact that it could be shared by every person on the planet. We need to show that way of life, demonstrate its realism, and distribute tools for building it.

That is exactly what Worldchanging intends to do in the next twelve months, with four new projects.

We're launching a major book, tentatively titled Bright Green. With clarity, forceful arguments and concrete proposals this heavily illustrated book will show the American people that the tools exist, the thinking exists, the solutions are possible to build a country that's more prosperous, more just, more creative and so green that its practices could be emulated by every person on Earth without destroying the planet. Even more, it will show that transformation can be accomplished not in centuries or a number of decades, but in years, quickly enough that the model we create can spread around the world. It will illustrate that if we do it right, we will have better lives and be safer, happier, healthier and more connected to our friends, families and communities.

We're also concluding negotiations to put out a second edition of our first book, Worldchanging: A User's Guide to the 21st Century. This updated edition won't just highlight the world's best new innovations, it'll include an increased emphasis on global implementation -- on politics, business and social entrepreneurship -- showing how we can all come together to actually make global sustainability happen.

You'll also be seeing major changes on the Worldchanging site itself, improvements we'll be unveiling in stages over the next six months, but which add up to more original writing, better resources, more community and a stronger focus on the amazing people in our network and the work they do. Look for new columnists and features in the coming days.

Finally, we're planning a major conference and North American tour for late 2009.

Together, these four new projects will add up to a major acceleration of our work to bring the best thinking from the frontiers of change into a deeper conversation with a much larger audience. We hope you'll join us in growing that conversation and exploring those innovations.

Photo credit: flickr/Jared Zimmerman, Creative Commons license.

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Heady times indeed, Alex. Let me know how I can help out.

Posted by: Patrick on 1 Oct 08

Still riding the tide of swelling optimism,
Still believing in the potential!
An America, tried and revived, not far on the horizon
A world now speaking, a world now listening
Patient orbits, of scattered opinions
now coalescing
Day to day, we have the choice
Given the chance for equality, community, ingenuity and love
we can do this.

Congratulations World Changing! Five times around the sun! Keep it up, keep us inspired.

Posted by: Nathan Trachimowicz on 1 Oct 08

I've long felt that the pieces, as fascinating as they often are, have been left 'lying around the building site', as it were (... I think a brighter green analogy might be more appropriate there).

So, I'm delighted to hear you are starting to do something about it.

Here's to the next five years.

Posted by: Tony Fisk on 1 Oct 08

Happy 5th Anniversary WorldChanging, and all the best for the new projects!

Posted by: dina mehta on 1 Oct 08

Exciting news -- and exciting thinking. I can't wait to see Bright Green. It sounds like a great next step for WorldChanging...and for the world you're changing.

Posted by: Alexandra Samuel on 1 Oct 08

Happy birthday! Your plans for the future sound exciting - I'm particularly interested in the Bright Green book. Best of luck :)

Posted by: gogreener on 1 Oct 08

Congrats Worldchanging. Please let me know if Arup Foresight can help out with Bright Green or the North American tour...

Posted by: Francesca on 2 Oct 08

Bold, needed and inspiring. Let me know if I can help.

Posted by: Ian Yolles on 2 Oct 08

Happy Anniversary, Alex and fellow Worldchangers! I am excited to see you take it to an even higher level! Drop us a line at ONE/Northwest if we can help.

Posted by: Jon Stahl on 2 Oct 08

I fail to see how publishing a book and running a conference will change the world, will change the way we do business and will provide an opportunity for large amounts of people to change the way they live their lives.

Posted by: Una Morera on 3 Oct 08

Hi Alex,
The time is ripe for American political and community solutions to peak oil and global warming. Glad to see WorldChanging taking a lead here. Maybe SustainLane's City Rankings can play a part.

Is the future of America: Bike Cities? (Copenhagen) Trains of people...walking? (Kenya) "Squatter" Cities? (Rio, Mumbai, Detroit container condos)


Posted by: Ken Ott on 3 Oct 08

One thing that I have found to work is to show people local, successful examples of sustainability in action, that they can adopt themselves. For example, I was able to convince my local officials to incorporate sustainable features into a new park design, by taking them to sites in a nearby town that were doing the things I described.

Posted by: Dave on 3 Oct 08

Awesome awesome awesome news guys. I can't wait! :)

Posted by: Chris Lindley on 3 Oct 08

Dear Mr. Steffen,

I bought your book back in 2005. I will definitely purchase Bright Green as a point of comparison here in the Philippines. I,m a futurist to the extreme, and love to mix systems of all sorts (from my Engineering Background).

Please let me know if you need comments from here; I am also part of other groups spearheading talks on Renewable Energy, where we have many, small in scale but presentable nonetheless, in the little town of Cagayan de Oro.

Best regards,

Mike Du

Posted by: Michelangelo Du on 3 Oct 08

Your optimism is great, I am sure your new book will be a treasure of information. I do though feel we as a people have missed the greatest opportunity before us this past week. Instead of the BAILOUT or RESCUE plan which ever you like we failed by not letting the system go down. Just think of what a Roosevelt WPA program could have done with 700 billion dollars. We could have rebuilt our national infrastructure, a sustainable infrastructure. Green and lean. Public transit, energy, food production, education and a modern health care model. We failed and we lost perhaps our last best change at real change because we held onto the old model. The future may hold other opportunities but I don't hold your breath. Move on Move forward don't give up.

Posted by: David E on 4 Oct 08

Here's to building the future we want to see. Here's to doing and not waiting for others to lead. And here's to making things better.

From Transition towns to upcycling, revolving loan funds for energy efficiency to a new national energy grid we have the ideas. From Gore's challenge to the Power Vote campaign, from the accelerating fight against coal to the explosion of green jobs demand, we're building the political will and vision. And with terra cycle, tesla, vespa and google, businesses are growing that will mee the triple bottom line. What are we missing? I believe that too few people have a sense of what's possible, or a sense of what they themselves can accomplish. Lets change that, and I think Worldchanging is headed in that direction. Keep pushing.

Posted by: morgan on 4 Oct 08

All the new initiatives sound most exciting! I look forward to seeing the plans unfold.

If improvements to the website are planned, I have one suggestion. Could improved ways to categorize the content of the site, perhaps with community involvement, be offered? During the retrospective it has been fascinating to see some of the best work being highlighted, but generally I find that its not that easy to browse older articles about a certain subject, place, time, event and so on. WorldChanging has excellent content as a resource as well as publishing about current ideas.

Posted by: Paul Mackay on 5 Oct 08

"Finally, we're planning a... North American tour for late 2009."

Perhaps you can come to EcoReality as part of your tour. We're just now working on our 2009 event calendar.

Posted by: Jan Steinman on 5 Oct 08

I have been an active blogger and follower of WC since it's inception and I have made huge changes in my life in the past 5 years, even started two sustainability projects: and www.esustentable (for the Spanish speaking community)

The bright green community has grown tremendously BUT things really overall have only gotten worst in the last 5 years.
WE NEED TO STEP IT UP BIG TIME! we cannot simply keep whispering to ourselves in these blogs and websites, that is not how the womens rights or civil rights movement forced change, WE need to get out there and confront our leaders and the large corporations in an organized and much more physically active way, we need to make bigger waves and transcend into the mainstream media. THIS IS A REVOLUTION AFTER ALL, LET"S ACT LIKE IT.

Your new plans are great and I support them fully but I feel that we need to do much more, put much more on the line, risk much more of our comfort, create much more conflict if we are really going to force change...

In the words of one of my optimism heroes "UTOPIA OR OBLIVION", the coin has been tossed and it's in the air we have to do all we can before it hits the ground....

Posted by: stiven on 6 Oct 08

Yeeeeehah! Let's rock neon green then! I'll come to you again for a big conference in 2009 I hope - or if there are ways to move that conference to Europe that enthusiasts don't need to travel, even better!!! All the best to you and ganbatte kudasai.

Posted by: uleshka on 6 Oct 08

Congratulations. I hope you'll find ways to more actively involve the worldchanging community in the development and execution of your projects.

I did cringe a bit when reading this post - and that is regarding your buying in to the American Exceptionalism meme (Simply, America remains the epicenter of possibility in the human imagination. No other nation has as thorough a sense of idealism and open-hearted mission, no matter how badly worn it may seem today.)

That's another version of we know best and we're better than everyone else state of mind that is so insensitive to the rest of the world. We can praise our past, our people and our potential without saying we're superior or the world's savior.

Posted by: Herb on 7 Oct 08

I agree with Herb. Why is it you think Americans are the ones to solve the world's problems? There are plenty of other countries that are much more ahead of the game in the sustainability department and already have policies that America could and should adapt. It's important for everyone in the world to learn from each other -- it's not a competition! It's time that Americans stop thinking solely of themselves and start thinking globally. The whole world (including America) has to stop electing officials that won't change outdated and harmful policies. That would truly be worldchanging.

Posted by: Jason on 9 Oct 08

Regarding "Simply, America remains the epicenter of possibility in the human imagination. No other nation has as thorough a sense of idealism and open-hearted mission, no matter how badly worn it may seem today."

This is hard to swallow....

The USA and it's expansionist, exploitative worldview has created far more problems than solutions in recent history.

American consumers and a corrupt, business-driven political system have been the "epicenter" in creating the world's biggest problems ... climate change, reckless, inefficient use of resources, an unsustainable "growth is everthing" economic model based on years of money supply inflation and huge debt creation, biased free trade and "globalization" strategies (beneficial for US MNC's ... bad for US workers), invading other nations under false pretenses (Iran for oil) and creating more (not less) hostility in the world with a military machine the country cannot afford.

And, of course the latest example of American "imagination" ... selling the world highly leveraged, toxic paper products (derivatives, CDO's, CDS's, MBS's, etc.) used to finance American housing bubble and enrich elitist banker CEO's. The collapse of this latest "American innovation" has brought the world financial system to it's knees, and created the worst financial conditiions since the Great Depression.

I would suggest that Americans stop trying to push "American" ideologies and solutions on the world and focus on fixing your own house first (financial system, political system, healthcare?) .... then, maybe, the rest of the world will gain some respect for Americans and start to listen. You are far behind Northern European nations in energy efficiency and creating sustainable societies.

Until then, I think that the world has had enough of "American idealism and open-heartedness" ... we're ALL paying for it now.

Posted by: Look_in_the_mirror on 15 Oct 08

Will someone please tell me whether it even makes any difference --the problems are soooo big, and I conserve gas, recycle everything possible, even run around my home turning off everything I can, but at the end of the day, I get discouraged by the news and wonder, does one person's efforts even help?

Posted by: lifesgood on 15 Oct 08

A great time to meet and chat with the environmental professionals on board the Titanic America you mention is within your reach.

"Making Sustainabilty Happen: Goals, Practices, and Challenges" is the theme of the next annual (let's call it global) meeting of the National Association of Environmental Professionals. Perhaps a perfect opportunity for conversation, dialogue, buy in.

As the Conference Track Chair on Sustainability and Chair of the NAEP Sustainable Systems Working Group, I cordially invite you to participate in our 2009 Conference. It will be held May 3-6, 2009, at the Yavapai Nation's Fort McDowell Radisson Resort and Casino, Scottsdale, Arizona.

In addition to this invitation I extend another to you. At the conference, we will be plotting out our newest product, a book titled "Sustainable as Wisdom." It will address the three definitions of sustainable -- the current definition, the correct definition, and the "compleat" definition. It is to be a universal conversation on developing into a true sustainable world. Your ideas on "Bright Green" are welcome ones and we offer you opportunity to expand on our ideas, borrow them, redefine them for the betterment of all.

Please reply at your earliest convenience -- the conference track chairs meet October 24th to finalize speakers and presenters and invited guests.


Posted by: Don Sayre on 17 Oct 08

Dear Lifesgood ....

You are making a very important difference, because you are TAKING ACTION and living a "sustainable" worldview that will (hopefully) overtake the expansionist, "growth and consumption" worldview prevalent today.

But individual actions are only part of the solution. We must also realize that the sustainability worldview must come to dominate our government and commercial organizations. If this does not happen, then all of our collective individual efforts, while ethically admirable, will unfortunately not be enough to solve the growing problems.

To change these organizations, we need a two-pronged strategy: we need to work on changing the existing system through demonstrations, petitions, boycotts, our votes, our purchases, etc. ... and we also need to work on designing new systems that make the old systems obsolete. The internet global network gives us the opportunity to look at a new system of participatory (not representative) democracy and bottom-up (not top-down) leadership. We now have the technology that allows us to participate in global decision-making on the issues that affect us all.

This exciting potential of global communication, cooperation and decision-making keeps me positive. We are just on the threshold of truly evolutionary changes in our ability to influence and in some ways "control" nation/state governments and multinational corporations ... to rightfully return decision-making power back to the true sovereigns of this planet .... you and me.

Posted by: look_in_the_mirror on 20 Oct 08



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