Bruce Mau on “Yes is More”
Why the green movement has failed to inspire—and why it’s time to "think orange."
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 us to “reduce,” “use less,” “give up” this or 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 as never before. Around the world, many cultures and countries may not have fully embraced the human rights, freedom, and secular democracy—but they have embraced traffic. The few remaining outposts that have yet to get cars in large quantity are desperate to have them.
During the last fifty years, we used most of our innovation and advancement in energy efficiency—about one or two percent per year—not to make cars lighter and cleaner, but to make them bigger and more powerful. En masse we went the wrong direction. As the bicycle-riding environmentalists scolded, we closed our power windows and turned up the air conditioning.
When it comes to changing attitudes about the environment, apparently “No!” is not the answer we were looking for. Getting hit with a green stick has had little effect. So how do we convince the 6 billion-plus people on the planet that changing the way they live is critically important to their future?
Think orange. Think carrot, not stick. Seduction, not sacrifice. Yes!, not No! If we are to accomplish the objectives of the environmental movement—to create a culture that can exist in perpetuity and in harmony with the ecological systems that support us—we must re-imagine and redesign everything we do. But we must also do so in a way that allows people to experience beauty, exhilaration, love, pleasure, and delight without destroying our planet and its nature.
There is only one way to make this happen: Use the power of design to make the things we love more intelligent. 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 we use in our daily lives. 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.
So far, we have 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.
Until we design a bus experience that is more attractive, more effective, and more elegant than the car, we will be selling a losing proposition. The same applies to the car itself. We must imagine and redesign the car as a product with positive impact, and not make our design objective a car that is less negative. We must 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 who reject the car. “No” is not the answer. Yes is more.
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