geekYoto: Fixing The Broken World

I’m getting my event blogging a little out of order but a few words on last weekend’s excellent geeKyoto seemed in order. Put together by Ben Hammersley and Mark Simpkins to see what a group of self-identified geeks would say in response to the question “We broke the world, how are we going to fix it?” the event brought together a couple of hundred of us in a hall in Central London for a Saturday for a fascinating journey through a wealth of ideas.

The presentations ranged from discussions of designing sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean to an account of arctic exploration, by way of ideas like Secular Sabbath (exploring the impact of Sabbath on Orthodox Jews’ carbon footprint), AMEE‘s aim to measure all energy usage everywhere, attempts to improve government web usage, and transforming bus stops into spaces for play.

Some might have complained that not much time was spent analysing the nature of the problem. The AMEE presentation was probably the closest to what you’d expect at a climate change event—demonstrating some of James Hansen’s recent work on the melting of the arctic ice shelf and the reality of climate change tipping points—but in general there was a refreshing sense that we didn’t need to dwell on such studies because we recognise we’ve gone wrong.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the event was the shared recognition that not only do we need to look for more efficient technology and ways that we can reorganise ourselves to reduce our impact, but that doing so may open up a wealth of possibilities. Whether that’s in recapturing communal, outdoor play (Bruno Taylor noted that 71% of present adults played in public spaces when they were kids, compared to 21% of current-day children), in building new awareness of the spaces around us, or in realising that the constraint of sustainability can drive more creative and more flexible aesthetics. In a sense that tapped into part of what we’re driving at with Generous. The vision of the project is to be more than just “green”, partly because we think there’s a lot of inherent value in some of the other commitments we ask people to make, but also because sustainability can only be achieved if we approach it with a broad vision of how we want society to be.

geeKyoto didn’t present solid answers on what we can do. It offered a few ideas, and reminded me of why it’s an exciting time to be working in this industry in London. There’s a growing sense that the web revolution’s implications spread throughout society and those of us designing and building in its wake have a lot to contribute. With events like Social Innovation Camp, geeKyoto, and a series of others coming up that strive to be more than just talking shops, it’ll be interesting to see where it goes.

The key question, of course, is how fast we get there. According to Hansen’s numbers we have around ten years before global emissions levels must have peaked, otherwise global climate change will accelerate beyond control. How fast can we turn some of the ideas floating around into significant practical change, and how do we manage the changes so they’re more than just lifestyle changes for the world’s rich?

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