Carbon Zero imagines what our cities might look like in a carbon neutral world. We've pulled out some of best ideas for transforming our cities to meet the challenges of the coming century.
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"Twentieth century environmentalism was about behavior, but the key to 21st-century sustainability must be found in systems."

Check out Alex’s interview with Dwell.

Alex Steffen TED conference

Alex is doing an evening talk for SPUR on climate and the future of cities. It’s going to include a bunch of new material and ideas. If you’re in the Bay Area this Wednesday, there are still a few tickets left.

More info here:

In or around San Francisco on February 6? SPUR will be hosting a discussion on the future of cities with Alex, followed by a cocktail reception. How could you miss it?

SPUR describes:

"How do cities succeed in the age of climate consequences? 2012 saw some of the most extreme weather events ever recorded, from record floods to rising seas, polar ice melt to epic droughts, Australian megafires to Hurricane Sandy’s unprecedented storm surge. At the same time, urbanization has hit a breakneck pace, with increasingly cosmopolitan cities around the world pushing a new wave of technological innovations and urban solutions. How does a planet of cities respond to a planet in crisis — and what does that mean for us?

In a special evening talk with SPUR, Alex Steffen — one of the world’s leading voices on sustainability and the future of cities — presents his provocative ideas for understanding how urbanization can save the planet, and how San Francisco and the Bay Area can thrive amidst massive change.”

Watch Alex’s TED Talk, The Shareable Future of Cities, and read his new book, Carbon Zero.

CLICK HERE for more details.

Good news! Carbon Zero has broken into the top 10,000 best-selling books on Amazon. We’re doing a snap campaign today to see if we can push that up to the top 100 Kindle books. Please help us, by buying a copy today.

Why? Breaking into the Amazon 100 changes dramatically how Amazon promotes a book, and leads to many, many more people seeing the book when they browse or search. Since the whole point of Carbon Zero is to get the word out about climate action and cities, this is a good thing!

The key to achieving this is simply a number of people buying the book on the same day. Today.

So, if you can, please go to Amazon right now and buy a copy (or two). Don’t have a Kindle or a smart phone? You can still buy a copy to give away (or even just buy one to show support for the project).

While you’re there, if you want to “like” the book, post it to Facebook and/or write a review, all of these would be really helpful as well.

Here’s a link to share:

The future is a tough place, and as we move into it, we are going to need to think of ways to reduce our vulnerabilities to not only climate chaos, but all sorts of instabilities that are happening as our economy shifts in the face of planetary realities. I generally divide those steps we can take into three categories: Ruggedization, distribution, and resilience.

Ruggedization is simply making stuff that is harder to break. Many of the systems we depend on, including stuff our lives depend on, are extremely brittle. They’ve been optimized for a very narrow set of circumstances, which means that the minute something happens that’s outside those normal expectations, they break, they collapse. This is not a good thing. There are certain systems you want to make sure work no matter what. You want your water supply to be safe no matter what. You want medical care to be available no matter what. So the first step is just making sure the things you cannot afford to have fail, you future-proof.

The distribution piece is that the things that are able to fail, should fail in parts. You distribute the capacity to do things throughout your city, throughout your region. So for example if you have a more distributed energy system, you can have the energy system in one neighborhood go down, and energy systems in other neighborhoods remain unaffected. By distributing things, you make it possible for disaster to strike, and not have everything go down if something fails.

Then there’s resilience. How well do things bounce back? How well do we recover from extreme circumstances? Personally, I think a lot of the resiliency effort we ought to be investing is really human. It’s people’s skills, it’s connecting them to the way things work around them so that they know how to help fix things or how to keep people safe in hard times. And it’s having the ability as larger metro regions as states, as a nation, to get resources to people who have gone through a bad time and are suffering quickly enough to make a difference.

Alex’s interview with The Atlantic about Carbon Zero

The question of “What is realistic?” has been heavily influenced by people who have a lot of money at stake. If you listen to the Beltway debate, what you hear is nothing but a mixture of denial and the ducking of responsibility. That itself is the product of the Carbon Lobby spending a ton of money to define the debate.

We need to counter that with the truth, which is that every choice other than bold action is completely unrealistic. How “realistic” is choosing to melt the icecaps?

The facts are on our side. Reality is on our side. And we need to be unashamed about standing up for what is actually true. If we do that, even here in the United States, we have a coalition of political interests that can make this happen.

Alex Steffen, interviewed by Treehugger about Carbon Zero

Powerful people doing bad things LIKE cynical, despairing citizens. The fossil fuel companies and other interests trying to blocking progress began with a massive campaign of denialism, but have now begun promoting the notion that, if the climate crisis is real, it’s too big and daunting to tackle anyway, so we should just do nothing, or pin our hopes on geoengineering or something

And those opponents of change—what we might think of as the Carbon Lobby—have been really effective. They’ve gained decades of massive profits through our inaction.

You can’t fight that with despair and cynicism. You fight that with creativity and optimism. You fight that by showing we can do better and demanding it.

Alex Steffen, interviewed by Treehugger about Carbon Zero

There is a scientific term for the bounty of nature on which all farming depends: ecosystem services. And these ecosystem services are not minor matters. An international network of scientists estimated that the monetary value humans get from the ecosystem services that maintain civilization is at least $33 trillion a year. That’s 33,000 billions of dollars. But even that vast sum (equal to roughly half of the value created by entire human economy each year) is ridiculously low if we try to measure the replacement value of ecosystem services, because in many cases we simply don’t know how to replicate an essential service (say pollina- tion) at any price. We don’t know how to remake the planet at will.

“A deep and inspiring manual for imagining how our cities can become the solution to our climate woes.”


“Could help us find a way to survive and even thrive in the face of a planetary challenge that political leaders… have been reluctant to face.”

—The Atlantic

“Hurricane Sandy reminded us that cities are where climate change crashes into everyday life. But the news isn’t all bad — this remarkable little book shows how the future of the planet depends on building better cities and the kind of new thinking we need to get started. Read Carbon Zero right away, because time is short.”

—Bill McKibben

Click here to get the book.