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A whole lot messier
on December 28, 2012
The book makes no pretense that climate change puts humanity in a dramatic situation, and the question is no longer whether we can avoid it or not. It's whether the effects will be catastrophic and "beyond adaptation" (4 degrees of global warming or more) or just "extremely dangerous" (2 degrees). To achieve the latter, industrialized nations will need to achieve zero carbon emissions, and do so rather quickly.
How can this be done? Switch to clean energy and make all cars electric? That's completely unrealistic, says Alex Steffen, it would take too long. Instead he proposes structural changes to the way we build cities -- make neighborhoods walkable by increasing density, for example.
While the ideas that he puts forth are great, stunning, insightful, I don't quite buy that any of this can be done easily in the available time-frame. At least not any easier than turning individual transport completely electric.
There are quite a few gems in the book, e.g. the observation that a typical home power drill could drill thousands of hours, yet is only used for about 6-20 minutes over its lifetime. Overall, the book suggests what many futurists have told us: Everything we need to solve our problems is right in front of us, there is no question that survival for the human race is not only possible, but what we could in fact lead much more healthy, prosperous, and fulfilling lives than we currently do.
But it looks like our actual path into the future will be a whole lot messier than that.