Interaction 09: Experiencing Sustainability

by February 8, 2009

John Thackara’s Experiencing Sustainability keynote at Interaction 09 outlined some of the major issues we have at a global level and some opportunities for designers to address them.

  • Grim peaks are a set of global issues currently facing the planet.
  • Peak credit: we are living on debt across the world. Currently derivatives account for 800% of GDP.
  • Peak energy: 5% of energy used in industrial civilization comes from renewable energies. Its not possible to shift the organization of society fast enough to make an energy transition.
  • Peak movement: compound growth of mobility cannot go on even if our financial and energy issues are solved.
  • Peak “thing” movement: 90% of stuff is moving around only 10% sitting still across the world.
  • Peak embergy: there is a divorce between the materiality of the world and the result of our actions. We have to connect material weight to our use of resources.
  • Peak water: management of water around cities represents 20% of their ecological footprint.
  • Peak protein: in food production the 12 units of energy in produces one energy unit out.
  • Peak climate: high probability change might occur.
  • Because of the compound effect of all these peaks, it not possible to get back to business as usual.
  • Our current measures of the economy are based on growth. How can we bring our ecological footprint down when all our countries are focused on economic growth? There are several projects to rethink how we measure national accounts.
  • Corporations are starting to measure their impact on ecosystems in preparation for when they may be held accountable. There are several metrics in place for tracking biosphere impact.
  • We have an alternative framework for measuring the economy that is ready to be put in place. These new policies and systems of measuring biosphere impact need design help.
  • We can look to existing cultures and traditional methods for composting, food storage, water collection, and more. These design solutions can help address existing grim peaks.
  • We need to move away from making all our decisions in advance. Instead, we need to enroll the creativity of the people formerly known as consumers.
  • Radical reductions in the use of resources combined with collaborative ways of doing things. We need to share resources in new ways.
  • 70 million Africans are using cellular air-time as an exchange system.
  • Most of us are dependent on commercial enterprises. Not always best to go to companies looking for funding. Look nearby your home there is lots of local projects ongoing. Get involved.