"Chairman" Bruce Sterling, science fiction writer and Texan, has been on something of a crusade lately. He is attempting — in a half-serious way — to build an artistic movement from scratch; the Viridian Design movement will have as its central theme the pressing aesthetic issue of…carbon emissions. His notion, as expressed in this speech and on his many, many Viridian Notes, is that by creating better, fancier, more attractive, cooler tchotkes that just happen to fight greenhouse emissions, one needn’t convince the Western world to do the environmental equivelant of eating ones vegetables. The rabid forces of consumerism, honed over the past fifty years, will do the job for you. If it suddenly becomes sexy to drive a well-designed electric car rather than a lumpish SUV, you don’t need to make the environmental case. I have lingering doubts about whether Sterling is willing and able to start guruing some designers into getting products to market, but now he’s started talking to furniture designers. My grandfather designed passive-solar heating systems for houses in the ‘70s; I think he’d be thrilled to see how the environmental housing movement has taken off. I still think Earthships are ugly as hell, but there’s a lot of less jarring work going on, and Sterling’s right that materials that require an active commitment from their buyers are going to be less effective. From bamboo tables to laminated bamboo flooring to cardboard furniture, designers are cranking out some attractive, functional stuff that people are going to want for reasons independent of their reduced environmental impact. And that’s just designers, not engineers, so we’re not even considering fuel cells and solar shingles and other home-improvement solutions to rolling blackouts.
(Sterling’s furniture page also links to SHoP, an architecture firm that has a crummy website but made a beautiful functional installation piece for MoMA/PS1 in New York. The thing looks awesome and reminds me of some of the impressive post-apocalyptic stuff people much more competent than I built at Black Rock last July 4. See also these computer-designed walking sculptures pointed out on caterina.net.)
The consensus is firming that global warming is real. MIT’s Richard Lindzen, one of the Kyoto Treaty’s principal academic opponents, now says that scientists "are quite confident…that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas whose increase is likely to warm the earth." And if the Bush Administration isn’t going to approve sharp cutbacks in carbon dioxide emissions, which they aren’t, and if we’re going to lose our lead in climate science which we are, we’re going to have to rely on free-market initiatives while we flit about in our holding pattern and the permafrost melts away.