We’re used to the notion of sharing libraries, public parks, and train cars. But in many ways, American culture in particular drifted away from sharing as a value when we spread out from city centers and into the suburbs. Molly Turner, the director of public policy for short-term rental lodging website Airbnb, evokes the iconic image of Richard Nixon, in Moscow, introducing Nikita Khrushchev to the modern marvel of the state-of-the-art washing machine, available for private consumption in every American home. Beginning with the era of that washing machine, Turner argues, we forgot how to share.
We came to prize instead personal ownership – of multiple cars, of large homes with private backyards and space inside for appliances that would never fit in a modest city walk-up. Today, this kind of bald consumerism is considered almost tacky. But the reasons underlying that cultural shift reveal why we’re witnessing a true change in paradigm. Much has transformed in the last few years alone: the economy, technology, and the allure of cities themselves.
“What’s really going on here is the urbanization of the world and the reurbanization of American cities,” Turner says. “Either consciously or subconsciously, [people] are realizing that that involves the public realm, the commons, sharing goods and services and infrastructure. And I think that kind of bleeds into your personal life.” In other words, if you’ll share a subway car, why not a kitchen?
This move back into city centers also coincided with the Great Recession. Those big houses and multiple cars, it turns out, were beyond many of our means. And it’s no coincidence, Turner says, that Airbnb – a company founded around shared housing – was born in 2008, just as the U.S. was entering a recession built on a housing crisis. For many Airbnb members, the spare rooms they were able to rent through the service helped them keep their homes. City living, for all its allure, is expensive, but the sharing economy makes it possible for more people, whether they’re sharing a car because they can’t afford to own one, or sharing a bike because they’ve got nowhere to store it.
A quote from The Atlantic Cities article, 'Share Everything:Why the Way We Consume Has Changed Forever'. Check out the rest of the article here.
Image source: Collaborative Consumption
In a week where Arctic ice has reached a new low and food prices have spiked due to severe droughts in Europe and the United States it feels strange to think that progress is being made in the fight against global climate change. However, over the last couple of weeks four big initiatives have been announced that have potential to make a significant dent in our collective carbon footprint.
Seven Chinese cities and provinces will launch CO2 emissions trading schemes over the next two years ahead of a national scheme later in the decade. (Reuters)
The country is currently the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.
On Tuesday, Australia and the European Union announced a partnership to create the world’s largest carbon market, which will begin trading by 2015. Harvard environmental economist Robert Stavins encouragingly described the move in an interview:
Given the relatively primitive state of climate change policy around the world, especially considering the scope of the problem, this is a very significant step forward. (Atlantic Cities)
For those keeping score at home, when California’s carbon trading system opens in November it will be the world’s second largest.
Finally, this week the United States stepped up and delivered a big one-two punch:
President Barack Obama issued an executive order on Thursday that would increase the number of cogeneration plants in the U.S. by 50 percent by 2020, a move that would boost U.S. industrial energy efficiency and slash carbon emissions by 150 million tons per year.
Thursday’s executive order came just two days after the White House finalized a rule - developed with U.S. automakers - that would double fuel efficiency standards for automobiles and light trucks to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The EPA said the car efficiency standards will be the most effective domestic policy in place to curb greenhouse gas emissions, cutting as much as 6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025.” (Reuters)
Canada has indicated it will copy Obama’s fuel efficiency rules.
Together these initiatives are significant because they include the countries with the largest carbon footprints, which must be in leadership roles if we are to get a handle on this predicament. We definitely have a long, long way to go and have some epic challenges before us. But, more and more people seem to be waking up, learning about where we are at, talking with others about it, and then making changes. Positive changes.
In essence, what I’m trying to get across is that it’s important to celebrate the positives. Dwelling on the bad news about our climate and the health of our planet and society can be counterproductive and self-defeating. Instead of feeling stuck, now more than ever I think we need to be awake and aware. Ready to adapt to what’s already in the pipe while finding new, old, and otherwise ways of remaking our homes, our food, our transportation, our cities, our economies, our institutions, and even our thinking that allow us to use energy, ecosystems, and other resources more creatively and wisely over the long term. As Charles Darwin is quoted, but apparently misattributed as saying,
"It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change."
Those are my two bits for now. Have a good long weekend!
(Photo source: Clean Technica)
Shifting to renewables isn’t a megawatt-for-megawatt swap between energy sources but a paradigm shift from one techno-logic to another. Renewables encourage smaller scale and decentralization; they reward efficiency over consumption; and they centralize the value at the level of technological development and implementation, thus to exploit free fuels.
In a market where small-scale, decentralized renewables thrive, you’ll invariably find angry conventional energy companies. They mastered a game and rigged a market for themselves, and now it doesn’t work quite as favorably for them. (Notice that none of Germany’s big energy giants, even the ones paying those big tariffs, went bankrupt during the solar industry’s heyday.)
Writer Chris Turner explains the differing “techno-logic” associated with renewable and non-renewable energy in his MNN article, 'What have we learned about cheap energy?'. If you’re interested, you can read one of Herman Scheer’s quotes about the transition to clean energy and its connection with democracy here.
(Photo credit: MNN)