ART CENTER SUMMIT 2008, DAY 2: THE POSSIBILITIES OF A WELL-DESIGNED FUTURE
Two things are uniquely true of the current crop of young adults. For one thing, as Art Center instructor Geoff Wardle pointed out in remarks closing The Art Center Summit 2008: Systems, Cities & Sustainable Mobility, this baby boom generation born of the post-World War II baby boom generation is uniquely passionate about the idea of sustainability and about their desire to live green. The second uniquely true thing about them was perfectly demonstrated by the last panel of the Summit, “21st Century Strategies”: Despite the passion, despite the widely recognized importance of being green and living sustainably, nobody knows exactly what “sustainability” is, what “green” is or how to get there from here.
Without romanticizing or oversimplifying the past, it is probably pretty accurate to say that the similarly passionate post-War baby boomers had a relatively simpler set of challenges in their youth. Not better, just simpler. The threat of nuclear midnight hung over the mid-20th century like the nightmare that it could have been but it left little choice other than commitment to engagement. From Harry Truman to Ronald Reagan, it was – as John Kennedy admonished – negotiate from strength but negotiate. All those boomers could do was protest nukes until the leaders finally listened. On the environmental front, the first baby boom generation had to invent the movement, but its fights were usually local and were always about cleaning up the mess.
The current generation has an entirely different kind of geopolitical challenge and, though Kennedy’s words might very well still be a guiding light, it is rarely entirely clear who to negotiate with. Meanwhile, diplomacy might be unremittingly successful even as a disgruntled fanatic strikes a shard of nuclear nightmare into the brightest dreams.
As to environmental issues, when these young folks look wise men to ask what the problem is and how to fix it, they might do a lot worse than University of Houston Future Studies Professor Peter Bishop, Designer/optimistic-entrepreneurs-advocate Freeman Thomas and Axel Friedrich, Director of the Environment, Transport and Noise Divison, Umwelt Bundes Amt (the German environmental protection agency). But when these 3 elders were asked in the Summit's closing panel to succinctly summarize their ideas about how to get to a solution on sustainability, Friedrich said more government, Thomas said more entrepreneurial spirit and Bishop said it was an undelineated combination of the two.
Glad they settled that.
An easier to understand description of problems and solutions came from Futurist and Author Hazel Henderson. She made her presentation via satellite so she didn’t have to travel to appear. That made her carbon footprint near zero by anybody’s calculation. She didn’t have to talk about how new technology offers solutions because she was living it. She urged her audience to design the future and described how even economic statistics can be shaped to tell the truth. She pointed out to the car design crowd that Gross National Product (GNP) goes up when there is a car accident because it doesn't subtract the harm. She showed her “wedding cake” slide and pointed out that GNP only accounts for half of society’s layer cake while the “Love Economy” goes uncounted.
The message was simple. Not easy, but simple. Live the future you believe in, even as you seek to understand it better and design it.
Henderson's layer cake. (click to enlarge)
Art Center Summit 2008: System's Cities & Sustainable Mobility
February 6 & 7, 2008 (Art Center College of Design)
“21st Century Strategies” panel: Peter Bishop, Freeman Thomas, Axel Friedrich and Jane Poynter (moderator); Hazel Henderson
A discussion of “21st Century Strategies” moderated by Biosphere 2 crewmember, author and Paragon Space Development Corporation President Jane Poynter.
Friedrich created an auto world uproar when he told German automakers these efficiency measures are more important to the next 20 years than the hydrogen fuel cell. (click to enlarge)
- Bishop began by talking about society is currently shaped by its place at the end of the oil era and the end of the fossil fuels era.
- Friedrich made the point that throughout the Summit he had heard no satisfactory definition of “sustainable” but it is not hard to see what “unsustainable” is.
- Thomas talked about what the horse meant to people a hundred years ago, said the car was that symbol of freedom today and suggested the digital communicationwill provide that freedom in the future.
- Bishop described society as now needing to cross a chasm to the next energy era and said the only question is how deep into the chasm society must go.
- Friedrich described how to design a “city of short trips” by including regulations requiring regional production and efficient transportation systems.
- Thomas described seeing a new development being built on the old El Toro Naval Station land and expressed disdain and dismay at the lack of design.
Henderson showed how economic statistics need fixing. (click to enlarge)
- Bishop insisted government’s role is to do one thing: Internalize the externalities so that citizens can see the true cost of their choices and respond.
- Friedrich insisted, as he always has, that efficiency measures are the only improvements needed to make cars sustainable. He talked about his super-efficient 2-seat VW that actually got 250 mpg and described the theoretical 4-seater capable of 150 mpg.
- Thomas said that the problem with government leaders is that they lack vision so change can come only from the marketplace. He asserted that cars aren’t likely to change until gas is $10 per gallon.
The visual theme of the Summit. One last takeaway: Keynote speaker Paul Hawken recalled Model T inventor Henry Ford's observation about the marketplace - "If I'd asked my customers what they wanted, they'd have told me they wanted a faster horse."
- Friedrich: “Government must lead…Female mayors run cities differently…”
- Thomas: “When gas is so cheap nobody is valuing what we have.”
- Bishop: “We’re involved in a very slow moving train wreck.”
- Geoff Wardle, Art Center instructor/Summit principle: “The word ‘sustainable’ may go out of fashion in a few months or a few years but theissue will not. The issue is here to stay…”