We’ve Reached the Tipping Point

Urbanist and Author
Industrialism taught us how to be wasteful of material and human resources. We need to get out of this mess.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How will climate change affect the geography of our country? 

Richard Florida: Well, I mean, we made a mess of this. We made a mess of the earth, we made a mess of this incredible natural environment that God gave us. And it’s just tragic when you think about it. I mean, when you really think about what industrialism has done to this planet, you almost say, “Were we aware? Did we have a giant stroke?” What happened to human beings, and maybe we invented these technologies that we just couldn’t fully understand, but we’ve destroyed so much of our environment. 

My hunch is, now we've finally—and I’m not an environmental expert—we've finally reached a point where we understand we have to stop doing this. One, I think people are much more aware. Most people are much more aware of their environmental impact, of being more energy efficient. There’s kind of a new culture emerging where people are just more careful, a little bit more careful, and we have to do much more, but I think the other thing that’s really occurring in our society, is we just can’t afford the time of giant commutes, people are understanding their time is valuable, they have to live in denser areas, and they, there’s a fabulous book by David Owens, and I quote it in my book, “The Great Reset,” called “The Green Metropolis.” And when he looks at it, as counterintuitive it sounds, big cities like New York, like Tokyo, are much more energy efficient than these sprawled out, stretched out, suburban areas. 

So, I think one of the things we’re going to find is, if we can find a new way of life which is denser and combine that with environmental efficiency and by engaging people and being smart about it, we can do a lot better. But, boy oh boy, you know, I’d say it’s one of the two or three big challenges of our time, but it may be, it may well be the number one challenge of our time... I think the important thing is not to draw a distinction between a natural environment and a human environment. And here’s the way I’d phrase it:

One of the things industrialism did to us, which was so tragic, it had taught us, encouraged us to be wasteful. On the one hand, we could be wasteful of environmental inputs, we could be throwing stuff back into the environment that was toxic. We were just terribly wasteful because we were producing these things with new technology. But it also encourages to be very wasteful of human resources. We treated workers like crap, we saw them as cogs in the machine, we didn’t skill... I mean, Marx talked about this and the alienation and exploitation, we can’t waste our natural resources and we can’t waste our human resources and what gives me great hope, I say in the book, “The clock of history is always ticking.” The competitive nature of capitalism means though who are less wasteful win over time. So those who waste less natural resources get more efficient. Those who waste less human resources and use human creativity and don’t neglect that talent, win. 

So I think there’s something in the logic of capitalism that is at least pointing us, pointing us toward potentially a more efficient and more creative—and I say in the book, you know, “The history of capitalism, for the first time now, economic development requires human development.” You probably could add to that it requires to some kind of natural resource cultivation as well. So I think all those three things point, at least point us in the direction of a better future. 

Recorded on April 27, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman