Go Slow to Help Slow the Climate Crisis

CC BY 2.0. Slow travel: A hike in Iceland/ Lloyd Alter

It's a good time of year to look at the benefits of slowing down.

Meteorologist and climate correspondent Eric Holthaus writes a short essay, Slowing down to speed up the fight against climate change, in which he writes:

Slowing down is exactly what it looks like to be doing the right thing amid a climate emergency. Slowing down your thoughts and movements is a radical departure from business as usual. Slowing down is something that you, the person reading this newsletter, can do unilaterally to embody the transformative change that needs to happen throughout society at a breakneck pace. Slowing down is the fastest thing we can do to create rapid change.

He is being rather philosophical here, talking about "thinking ahead, pausing to contemplate instead of reacting." But this is something that we have been thinking about literally on TreeHugger for a number of years. Given the state of the climate crisis, it's time to revisit some of our ideas about slowing down. I apologize in advance if the pictures are small; we wrote these a long time ago.
It all started with the slow food movement, "founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world."

Slow Food


Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In terms of the climate crisis, we suggested that we should just be eating food that traveled slowly – no air-freighted asparagus in winter, but local and seasonal foods that don't need to travel far or fast. As Katherine noted, "When local foods are sold locally, their carbon footprint for travel is much smaller, using less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gases." Also, the slow process of preserving, essentially making food rot more slowly. My wife does it every year so that our food can move slowly, from garage to table.

Slow Cities

credit: Stockholm archives

Stockholm archives/Public Domain There actually is a slow cities movement; advocates argue that small cities should preserve their traditional structures by observing strict rules: cars should be banned from city centers; people should eat only local products and use sustainable energy. According to Heike Mayer and Paul L. Knox in Planetizen, writing in 2006: "The goal is to foster the development of places that enjoy a robust vitality based on good food, healthy environments, sustainable economies, and traditional rhythms of community life."

Writing a slow cities manifesto today, I would stress that slower ways of getting around are way less carbon intensive, and that slow cities should promote walking, cycling, and transit, all connecting vibrant main streets with local shopping.

Slow Travel

Via train in station

Via train in station/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

This has become a big deal lately with flight shaming and its corollary, train boasting. People are making the decision to travel more slowly and enjoy the ride. I did it recently and concluded that even though it took three times as long as flying, I got as much done, saved a lot of emissions, and had a lovely time.

Of course, in Europe or Asia, you have fast trains that can make a trip door to door, no longer than a plane trip.

Slow Cars

slow family

Isetta/ Slow cars can carry a family/via Finally, the TreeHugger addition to the Slow movement, slow cars. Jimmy Carter was right when he reduced the speed limit in the USA to 55 miles per hour, but it didn't last because our roads and our vehicles are designed to go so much faster. But imagine if the roads were designed for slower speeds; I wrote at the time:

Perhaps, like the slow food movement, we need a slow car movement, a radical lowering of the speed limit so that the private car can survive in an era of peak oil and global warming, simply by being smaller and slower. We don't need hydrogen cars and new technology, we just need better, smaller designs, lower speed limits and no big SUVs on the road to squish them.

Of course, intercity driving would be a pain, but that's why we need a good train system.
There are other slow concepts that we have written about, from slow design to slow furniture.

Slow Space


© Aamodt / Plumb Architects The latest slow concept that we have shown came from architect Mette Aamodt: Slow Space. In this world when we are 3D printing houses and prefabbing and shipping buildings everywhere, she suggests that we slow down a bit.

Our world is covered in junkspace* – bad buildings that are ugly, poorly designed, and unpleasant to be in, composed of cheap toxic materials that make you and the planet sick, and built by unskilled workers that are exploited, enslaved and endangered on the job. Every day more of these buildings go up, but we say enough! The Slow Space Movement aims to end the mindless proliferation of junkspace, to educate the public on its physical and psychological dangers and to inspire architects, designers, builders and artisans to stand up for buildings that are good, clean and fair for all.

Eric Holthaus is right; it is time to slow down. It is a lesson that should be applied to all aspects of our lives. Really, what's the hurry?