Yes is More
The future — if we have one — will be orange not green — sexy not sacrifice.
When it comes to changing behavior, we have fifty years of evidence that going negative doesn’t work.
For over half a century, environmentalists have scolded and scowled at Americans — and people around the world — to “reduce” and “use less” and “give up this” and “give up that”, and most pointedly, to “get out of your car!” Over all those years, the total number of cars in the world inexorably increased. Last year alone we produced roughly 66 million new cars — adding four times as many cars to our roads as we did in the sixties.
Instead of rejecting it, we embraced the car and its intoxicating effects like never before, and tried to forget about the ecological impact. We clamored for cars. People everywhere — and I mean everywhere — insisted on having cars. Around the world, many cultures and countries may not have fully embraced the human rights, freedom, and secular democracy that are at the core of American culture — but they have embraced traffic. Even in places that stand violently opposed to American values, the car and its transformative impact is wholeheartedly embraced. The few remaining outposts that have still to get cars in large quantity are desperate to have them.
As environmentalists, why do we ignore the evidence that going negative isn’t working? Imagine if we could conduct a market research survey over fifty years to determine our attitude towards personal sacrifice, environmental impact, and automobiles? And what if we could include everyone on the planet in the research? Well, that is exactly what we did! The outcome: we love cars! No matter the environmental impact, we will not deny ourselves the exhilaration, status, utility and delight they provide.
In fact, during all those years we used most of our innovation and advancement in energy efficiency — about one or two percent per year — not to make them lighter and cleaner, but to make them bigger and more powerful. En masse we went the wrong direction. We ignored the bicycle-riding environmentalists scolding and scowling, closed our power windows and turned on the air conditioning.
When it comes to changing attitudes to the environment, apparently “NO!” is not the answer we were looking for. Getting hit with a green stick has had little effect. Try convincing a sixteen-year-old boy that he should not experience the rush of driving his own car.
So, how will we change things? How will we convince the American people, and the other 6 billion or so we share the planet and the problem with, that changing the way they live is critically important to their future?
Think carrot — not stick. Seduction — not sacrifice. Yes! — not No! If we are ever to accomplish the objectives of the environmental movement — to create a culture that can exist in perpetuity, in harmony with the ecological systems that support us — we must reimagine and redesign everything we do. We must redesign everything to allow people to experience beauty, exhilaration, love, pleasure, joy, and delight without destroying our planet and its nature.
There is only one way to make this happen: we will use the power of design to make the things we love more intelligent.
We will embrace the revolution of possibility that we are living through, to radically reduce the material and energy we use, while increasing the positive impact and effect of the things that we use in our daily life.
We will make the new sustainable ways more compelling, more attractive, more exciting and more delightful than the old, destructive, short-term ways.
We will compete with beauty, and make the smart things sexy.
One day in February in Toronto, I was sitting at a stoplight with my wife in our family minivan — pre-hybrid. I looked out and noticed a woman, huddled against the biting cold in a glass box bus shelter. I turned to my wife and said, “In a million years, I’m not getting out of this car and into that ice box bus shelter, and no one else in their right mind is either!” At that moment I realized that we had failed in designing a real alternative to the car. When you compare the bus and the car as experience, there is a clear winner and loser. Why does my minivan have 17 cup holders — but my bus has none? Why is my bus shelter not heated, but I can start my car remotely and let it warm up? Why is my bus uncomfortable and noisy, when I can listen to Beethoven in my car in relative silence? My bus is a design failure. It’s a stick painted green, and out of desperation or inspiration, I’m supposed to want the experience. In Toronto, the slogan of the transit company is “the better way.” Well, actually, no. Its not the better way, and everyone knows it.
Dude, pimp my bus.
Until we use design to seriously compete with the car, by designing an experience that is more attractive, more effective, and more elegant and beautiful than the car, we will be selling a losing proposition. If we intend for ecologically intelligent options to win — to compete and triumph over unsustainable models — we have to design them to win!
The same applies to the car itself. We have to redesign the car. We have to imagine and develop the car as a product with positive impact, and not make our design objective a car that is less negative. We have to design an ecology of movement options that are thrilling in every way, and that also fit together as an ecological, sustainable — but most importantly, sexy system.
If we are ever to achieve the ambition of the environmental movement, we have to get beyond “No!”, face the problem directly, and define what “Yes!” would look like, and not simply continue to hope that one day we will somehow collectively wake to a world of altruistic people that reject the car.
“No!” is not the answer. Yes is more!