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"Climate Pornography." Comment No. 4.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on April 9, 2007

If you are interested in design, sustainability and business, you must read Thackara’s blog, Doors of Perception.

Here’s what he has to say about designing a more sustainable world.

John Thackara | Doors of Perception, Netherlands

“Are Designers The Enemy Of Design?” I never thought about that question before, so I went to check out Bruce Nussbaum’s article. In it, there’s a touching story about “venture capitalists at the latest TED conference crying, literally crying onstage, about the planet.”
I suspect Bruce may have misread the situation. Those VCs were not crying about the planet, they were crying about the imminent collapse of the money system. But the underlying story stays the same: “The biosphere is in trouble! Let’s all start feeling sorry for ourselves!.”

That’s a great idea. Should clear up the problem in no time.
It’s true, we designed our way into this mess. We’ve all been in denial for several years. And it’s also true, as Bruce complains, that most designers are ill-informed about sustainability. But so is pretty much everyone else on the planet. And with good reason. “Climate pornography” — the promotion of apocalyptic climate change scenarios is counter-productive. As one British think tank put it, climate porn “offers a thrilling spectacle, but ultimately distances people from the problem.” Let alone the answer.

Most of us suspect something unpleasant is about to happen, but we are confused over what to do about it. So — surprise surprise — we go into denial. But beating up on designers — or blubbing on a stage in Monterrey — is not going to move things forward one inch.

So what to do? It’s simple: get out there and help the people who are already active. Paul Hawken reckons that over one million organizations, populated by 100 million people, are engaged in grass roots activity designed to address climate and other environmental issues. “This worldwide movement of movements flies under the radar,” he believes, but “collectively, this constitutes the single biggest movement on earth.” It’s a big movement, but it lacks design skills. You can make a big difference in no time.

If grass roots activism is too much to contemplate, go and get a job with Unilever. Patrick Cescau, Unilever’s Group Chief Executive, said recently that “by applying new design principles, we can progressively drive down our usage of resources and move towards ever more sustainable consumption.” Stirring stuff. But I’d be surprised if all of Paul’s 234,000 colleagues are 100% up-to-speed on these “new design principles” — if, indeed, they have even heard of them. I’m sure they could use some help.

If corporate life is even less enticing to you than hugging trees, go and work in Switzerland. Switzerland has set a target of becoming a “2000-Watt society.” That’s one third of the 6000 Watts of energy consumed by each of its its citizens today on food, goods, heating and cooling buildings, mobility and so on. An added benefit of this move is that even if the worst case sea level rises come to pass, all of Switzerland will remain above water.

Even I am following my advice: I’m busy at We would love to see you at our Festival in October. So long as you walk.



Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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