'The word 'alternative' implies an engagement with a subtler set of choices than Bigger, Faster, More. The so-called 'lifestyle question' is always present in various forms: whether we should change the ways we live because we'd be happier; or because we have to -- simply to avoid wrecking the planet; or whether we don't need to bother, and can sort everything out with clever technology.
In the early days it seemed to me that a harmonious combination of well-chosen technology and lifestyle change offered an optimum solution to the problems both of physical sustainability and the quality of life. I still do think this. But the expected closing of the 'carbon window' some time in the 2030s tells us we have run out of time. The prospect of irreversible and very serious damage requires vigorous and rapid, even brutal, technical interventions, just as a severely injured patient needs first aid and emergency surgery, not a healthy diet and aromatherapy.
This is not to say that life-style change is irrelevant. If widely taken up, it could make a significant difference. Indeed for many years I ran my home in Machynlleth as an experimental ‘lifestyle laboratory’ and demonstrated very substantial reductions in environmental impact, accompanied by an improvement in the quality of life. Of course many others did this too, but I tried to measure and quantify the results. I take it as a cardinal principle of alternative technology that you must do the numbers.
However it has become ever clearer that there will be no 'wide take-up'. The vast majority of our fellow citizens will strenuously resist voluntary changes to customary practices and 'standards'. Changing all this will take too long. For the time being we are obliged to work around the situation with technology, much of it of a kind and scale that would have horrified us in the 70s, and indeed still inspires grave anxiety. But this is not a time for 'aromatherapy'.
Thus my more recent work, partly as a member of the ZeroCarbonBritain project since 2007, has focused on the large-scale infrastructural changes required to decarbonise the UK economy within 20 years, with absolute minimum changes of lifestyle. The numbers require it.