Earth Island Journal: "Conversation with Alex Steffen"

Earth Island JournalConversation with Alex Steffen

"Environmentalism developed during the Industrial Revolution, and a way of looking at the world was juxtaposing a traditional, rural lifestyle and an industrial, urban lifestyle. And when comparing those two, it’s pretty clear that the traditional lifestyle had many sustainability benefits in comparison. So environmentalism as a whole took on a sort of pro-rural, pro-back-to-the-land, anti-industrial, anti-urban standpoint – which made total sense in its emergence. But since then we have come to realize that the rural is no longer what it was. It’s transforming so quickly everywhere that people who live in the countryside are using industrial systems to farm and forest and fish, and are increasingly connected to urban expectations about consumption and access to resources and education and so forth. That trend is only going to accelerate. We are increasingly an urban species – already half of humanity lives in cities. By the middle of the century, something more like 70 percent will live in cities, but something more akin to 95 percent will live within a day’s travel of a city. And we know that when people have access to cities they start acting much more like urban people than like traditional rural people. That being the case, we have to figure out how to make cities work better environmentally. During the last 15 years a lot of people who have been working on the future of cities have come to understand that it is possible that cities are the best tool to get us to a zero impact way of living."