Alex Steffen, the car-less Columbia City crusader of Worldchanging.com, left the Bay Area to hone his journalistic skills at the Japan Times before coming to Seattle 15 years ago. Now the 41-year-old executive editor of the top-rated sustainability site takes time out from advising world leaders (he’s a keynote speaker at next month’s all-important UN Copenhagen Climate Convention) to give us a preview of his two-part Town Hall presentation, “Building a Planet with a Future” and “Seattle’s Bright Green Moment,” on November 11 & 12. Tickets are selling fast.
I read that you met Al Gore. What do you think of him?
I respect the man enormously. The man is pretty much as close as we have to an American hero. He wrote the foreword to our book [Worldchanging].
What is the difference between bright green vs. green?
Green has been defined, in a lot of people’s minds, with the idea of sacrifice, downscaling, and reducing quality of life. That’s been the traditional way people looked at green. Bright green is really about saying that not only can we have sustainable prosperity, but that a sustainability which is built on the idea of giving people a higher standard of living and more quality of life is more likely to be successful.
Where is Seattle on the green scale?
You say ‘Seattle’ everywhere from Scandinavia to India and they instantly think, ‘That’s the place where unicorns pick up the recycling.’ They have this crazy idea that we’re this Emerald Utopia. But the reality is that in some really fundamental ways, we’ve fallen behind.
What are the three biggest opportunities for our bright green future?
Cars and compact development is one of them. That set of issues is really important, hard to overstate. Another part is regional economic development. There’s a whole array of expertise and solutions that are necessary for building a bright green economy. The regions that get there first are going to be the ones that prosper. A third piece of it, which is particularly appropriate to Seattle, is this collision of urban space with technology. The new wave is really about technology suffusing through urban life.
What do you do when you’re not talking about bright green?
Is there something else other than talking about bright green? [Laughs.]
Catch Steffen’s tweets directly via Copenhagen @AlexSteffen