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Alex in Grist

alex_artsy.jpgIn April, Grist's Dave Roberts had a lengthy conversation with Alex Steffen about WorldChanging, the environment and what it will take to create the Bright Green Future. Dave had hoped to run it alongside a "rather ambitious long-form piece," but events transpired to make that not possible (a situation with which we are intimately familiar). As a result, Grist finally decided to publish the interview on its own, split into three parts.

Part 1 of the interview focuses on technology and innovation, with an extended look at the importance of open-source and optimism:

[Alex]: To be anti-technology in this day and age is to be anti-environmental. No positive future exists without vastly improved technology.

The criticism you always hear is that we're relying on a "techno-fix," an artificial solution. But techno-fixes are what have improved all our lives the most. The fact that you and I beat the probabilities and didn't die of a childhood disease is directly attributable to technology; the fact that we don't starve once every few years is directly attributable to technology; the fact that we know enough about what we're doing to the planet to be worried about things like climate change is directly attributable to technology. Since we wobbled out of the trees and grabbed the first burning branch we've been using technology. Inventing better tools is part of being human.

For long-time readers, Dave's conversation with Alex will cover much familiar ground. Newer readers will find much to think about, as over the course of the discussion, Alex spells out many of WorldChanging's underlying principles in clear, compelling language.

We'll link to Part 2 and Part 3 as they show up.

Comments (5)

"The very fact that we have this backlash of radical fundamentalists of various stripes is a sign that we are winning. You don't get extremists pouring out of the backwoods of Afghanistan to blow up buildings in the U.S. unless they feel like our values are beating theirs."

Hmmm ... I disagree:
1) the US could be 'winning' and the rest of the world could be winning too. It all depends on your paradigm. I believe in the abundance mentality in which my winning does not entail your losing because there's plenty (of goods, ideas, opportunities) for us both to prosper. Especially now with the shift from physical goods to idea-based goods.
2) I think you have to be pretty hopeless, and really have nothing more to lose before you decide to blow yourself up for a cause, so just disliking someone's lifestyle and values may not be sufficient a reason. I think the motives are more complex than that and have to do with years of Western foreign policy and invasions.
3) As for American values: just how great are these ?I'm just back from 3 weeks of touring in the US, and I have to say it was shocking reminder of how many people in the US live in really miserable conditions. In Belgium, the political system is a mess, but overal, for most people quality of life is ok, there is universal healthcare, and people whine about the fact that 20 $ is too much for a doctor's housecall and 50 $ is too much for dental work (filling a carry and removing the plaque). In the US, spending on healthcare is on average, per capita, 2.5 times that of other industrialized countries, while 45 million Americans do not have healthcare insurance (*)

All the best,



(*)Read more about this in the New Yorker:

" Americans spend $5,267 per capita on health care every year, almost two and half times the industrialized worldÂ’s median of $2,193; the extra spending comes to hundreds of billions of dollars a year. What does that extra spending buy us? Americans have fewer doctors per capita than most Western countries. We go to the doctor less than people in other Western countries. We get admitted to the hospital less frequently than people in other Western countries. We are less satisfied with our health care than our counterparts in other countries American life expectancy is lower than the Western average. Childhood-immunization rates in the United States are lower than average. Infant-mortality rates are in the nineteenth percentile of industrialized nations "

Wilted Flower:

I choked on that para too. At first I thought 'we' was meant as worldchanging green types v's the religious fundamentalists of any chapter. But the "our values beating theirs" is US righteousness, conquering the rest of world. Pro-war Christian fundamentalism anyone? are worldchangers 'beating' the nasty afghanies? A Freudian slip or a sloppily expressed point perhaps. But I stumbled over some other US centric remark & lost interest.

Worldchanging contributors should actually have lived in more than 1 country, (not just spent some time in a developing country, but also see how they do it in other developed nations). Otherwise it's American viewpoint telling the world how to change. We're all inherently blind to our cultural influences, it's good to get out and have them challenged (unavoidable for Americans abroad these days!). Jamais get yr butt to UK quicksmart & drag Alex with you, by the scalp!

Jamais Cascio:

Alex will probably come by and explain what he meant by that line (and I'll encourage him to do so).

As far as WC contribs living in more than one country, I agree fully. And moving to the UK is actually on the calendar, albeit not as soon as I'd like.

No luck in dragging Alex by the scalp, though; as you can see from the photo, I'd have to use a suction cup or something.


Just superglue a tupe to him them grab him by that should work just fine;/

Taken a few days to respond... my apologies.

To clarify, the values I was referring to were Enlightenment values -- democracy, reason, human rights -- not US values (I often wish the two overlapped more fully). The "us" here is those in the world who hold Enlightenment values.

And, to further clarify, I've lived in Japan and the UK and traveled in 30 +/- other countries. But in this particular interview, I was speaking as an American to other Americans.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 30, 2005 12:24 PM.

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