My Story

journeyI was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in December l926. During summers I worked as a farmhand, factory worker, Alaska salmon fisherman, and carpenter. I studied electronics when I was inducted into the Navy and later attended the University of Wisconsin, and then the University of Colorado, where I received a B.S. in Architectural Engineering. I had been lured into architecture by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, but during a trip to Chicago I was taken by the powerful simplicity and beauty of some buildings by Mies van der Rohe. I went to study with him and city planner Ludwig Hilberseimer at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

After receiving a Masters degree, I spent a year in Europe visiting architectural masterpieces, savoring European life, and working in the architecture office of the University of Munich, and the city planning office of Frankfurt. While there, I was invited to attend one of the last meetings of the Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne, which was composed of important renegade architects from 1928 up to 1959. While there, I joined a group that Le Corbusier guided through his famous Marseille apartment building. I very much wanted to make the world a better, more beautiful place, adapted to the needs of modern society, and prepared myself for that. On returning to the United States I went to work in architectural offices in Milwaukee and Chicago.

While in Chicago, I read Harrison Brown’s The Challenge of Man’s Future. It described the dangers of excessive population growth, food and mineral shortages, and overconsumption that threatened our future. It gave me a lot to think about. Having a good imagination, I could see the massive misery people would someday face if we did not resolve these problems. I was moved. I was designing and working on exciting buildings in the Chicago architectural firm which was leading the way for all-glass metallic curtain wall designs for commercial buildings. But the book was unsettling–everything I was doing was environmentally wrong!

I changed direction, became a committed environmental architect-planner, and married a German opera singer. During this period, and after, I spent time teaching at five institutions of higher learning, including one in China and one in India. At the University of Michigan I developed a system for directing urban expansion away from sprawl into chains of compact, pedestrian-oriented new towns connected by transportation belts. By looking at the basic question of what a city is, we can design better places to live and greatly reduce vehicle traffic, while conserving land and energy. This project led to my being hired as the master planner for an environmentally sound, socially integrated community of 80,000 to be built outside of Cincinnati. When this project had to be abandoned, I tried, without success, to develop several small eco-communities outside of Cincinnati, then did successfully develop, design, and build eco-friendly, condominiums on small empty parcels of land in central Cincinnati.

When Ronald Reagan became president, and the Arab oil boycott was called off, public interest in conservation evaporated. As I recognized that my efforts and those of like-Minded others seemed to be heading toward a dead end, a question kept haunting me: “When we see that our future is seriously threatened and we know what we can do about it, why don’t we act?”

Starting around 1990, I gathered all the information I could regarding this problem, and I set my mind to work on it. At that time, I had been doing considerable reading about the human brain, mind, society, governments, and politics, and saw some answers there. Thinking about this led to another abrupt change in my career. I turned to writing. After failing to obtain production funding for a television documentary, “Invisible Walls,” addressing this problem, after years of hard work, in 1998 Invisible Walls: Why we Ignore the Damage We Inflict on the Planet … and Ourselves came out as a book . Since then I have focused my time on researching and producing books and articles related to this problem of irrational inaction.

For some time I had been bothered that an important, innovative idea for a new academic discipline that might be called “Survival Research,” developed by a political scientist friend, John H. Herz, had been largely ignored. I mailed about 50 copies of his paper on this subject to people I thought should know about it. This resulted in my being asked to edit a special issue of a journal, World Futures, devoted to this subject. Then in 2006 this was expanded into , Global Survival: The Challenge and Its Implications for Thinking and Acting, Select Books, 2006. edited by Ervin Laszlo and myself. A number of forward-looking thinkers contributed chapters demonstrating how many different disciplines can contribute to resolving our environmental problems.

One thing I enjoy is thinking backward and forward in time, looking at where we’ve been and where we’re going. When trying to relay my insights I soon realized that facts don’t move people like a good story can. As a kid I loved to tell stories, so I blended my interests and created the world we now seem to be headed for. I described and dramatized this world in a novel, 2045: A Story of Our Future, Prometheus Books, 2009.

Since then, as time has passed we have continued to undermine our life-support system at a geometrically increasing rate/or: at a rate that is now increasing geometrically. Although we now know much more about what we are doing and what we can do about it, we fail to respond in a meaningful way. This can only lead to a terrible future. To do better, we need to get to root causes. My new book, There Is Still Time! does that. It gives a broad picture of what we are doing and the roots of this behavior in both human nature and our now-outmoded thinking apparatus, the human brain. In writing this book I worked with Gary Gardner, who authored Part Two of the book, which gives a very clear and concise yet broad picture of the different environmental problems we face.