speaker interview | March 01, 2011

"I Am Really Optimistic. But I Think We Need to Define Optimism." Alex Steffen Q&A with The New York Times

This week, sustainability speaker Alex Steffen released the second edition of Worldchanging — though second edition is kind of a misnomer; the book consists of mostly-new material that happens to fall under a familiar banner. In an interview with The New York Times’ Dot Earth Blog, Steffen spoke about the new book, the future of online education, the difference between bright green approaches as opposed to deep green approaches, and — of course — his natural optimism.

Alex Steffen, in The New York Times’ “Dot Earth” Blog:
I am really optimistic. But I think we need to define optimism. Optimism is a process of carefully measuring all the challenges we face and all the solutions that are emerging and being willing to make a bet that humanity will pick up the solutions more quickly than we drive the problems.

I don’t for a minute underestimate the severity of the problems. I do think generally the public debate has consistently failed to understand the gravity of the situation we’re in.

But I really do think we’ve shown there are capacities for innovation and whole new tool sets and solution sets that give people reasons for hope. What makes bright green approaches different than old deep green or techno-optimist approaches is the idea that, first of all, these problems are complex and interrelated but they are understandable. It’s not enough to simply hope things will come together nicely if we trust markets or invest in gewgaws. But similarly, this is not a situation where people can’t understand something and can’t make a change and so are driven to retreat to their personal spheres.

As the scope and speed of the problems we face have become clearer, the fundamental factors at play in the creation and acceleration of these problems has become clearer.

The best work out there is helping people see the system, and see that the system is built through conscious choices. When we look at things that way, you find out many are amenable to systemic solutions. Many of the solutions already exist, but in bits and pieces here and there, making things more sustainable, rugged, resilient and fairer. That is really encouraging.

Hope is something that you have against all logic.

Optimism is something where you look at a situation and say good outcomes are possible here and you work to make them happen.
Read more about keynote speaker Alex Steffen

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