Blogs > Matt Power > July 2013 > Let's Rig the System

Let's Rig the System

This year’s technology and innovation issue takes a more pragmatic approach to technology than we have in past years, where we’ve taken a “sky’s the limit” position. That’s because we’re increasingly alarmed at the damaging impact that entrenched technology—especially energy production—is having on the planet.

Of course, in terms of the built environment, some environmental trends are encouraging. As the report on page 25 points out, even some of the most aggressive corporate firms are shifting away from the bigger-is-better model, and migrating into denser urban areas. At the same time, the sharing economy is on the rise, and building performance is improving.

Yet, as we drill down below the macro level, we find that many new products, alternative energy systems and ideas seem to stall in the niche category, while our fossil fuel industry continues to rake in profits and ignore our descent into a climate dystopia.

It’s not that better, cleaner technology doesn’t exist. High-tech solutions such as solar PV and thermal, wind power and geothermal heating/cooling are gaining deep market penetration in parts of Europe, where the government “rigs” the market, the same way our current system subsidizes oil, gas and coal companies. Is it possible that people need extrinsic forces that will pressure them to make moral choices with regard to the environment? I use the term “moral,” because it’s the subject of a new column in the magazine (p. 55), and played a big role at our Earth Day summit at Epcot® in Orlando in April.

That top-down model is not something a lot of Americans are comfortable with. Land of the free, right? But we already deal with many such disincentives every day. Parking tickets make us want to leave our fossil fuel-powered vehicles at home. High gasoline prices push us toward less driving. Pay-per-bag trash programs (such as the one in my town) encourage residents to recycle and compost to avoid buying more bags.

Of course, products and concepts need to be designed in such a way that they inspire as well as raise the sustainability bar. No one forces millions of people to buy Apple iPhones. And, as my piece on Design with Intent points out (p. 14), there’s a science to designing “world changing” products.

Maybe the only way to reverse our environmental suicide trajectory is to “rig the system” with a combination of carrots and sticks. Carrots for good behavior. Carrots for inventions and innovations that do more good than harm. Sticks for lazy consumer choices. Sticks for poisoning our water supplies and oceans. Sticks for treating the world like a landfill. We haven’t got a lot of time to do what needs to be done. Let’s use it wisely.

Posted: 7/17/2013 8:21:15 AM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments

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About Me

As a veteran reporter, Matt Power has covered virtually every aspect of design and construction. His award-winning articles often tackle tough environmental challenges in a way that makes them relevant to both professionals and end users. An expert on both building science and green building, he has a long history of asking hard questions--and adding depth and context as he unfolds complex issues.


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