(Formerly Leadership and the Environment)
Community, support, vision, stories, role Models, experience.
Leadership turns feeling alone and complacent into action.
We bring leaders to the environment to share what works. Less facts, figures, and gloom. More stories, reflection, self-awareness, connection, support, and community.
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687: Should We Amend the Constitution for the Environment?: A constitutional scholar (Michael Herz) and American abolition historian (James Oakes)
See the video for this episode here.
I speak about the concept of a constitutional amendment on the environment with former guests on this podcast:
We approach the concept from many perspectives, especially comparing it with the Thirteenth Amendment.
This is my first conversation with two experts on a topic I'm just starting to learn about based on very detailed fields, including law, history, abolitionism, and politics. I have to start somewhere. We recorded this conversation months ago and I've learned tremendously since.
Some context leading to my conversation with Maya:
When I first thought of a constitutional amendment to protect us from pollution, I thought the idea was crazy, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. The more I did, the more it made sense.
Since learning about the Thirteenth Amendment prompted me to think of it, I first spoke to previous guest James Oakes about it. Since it involved constitutional law, I spoke to previous guest (and Nobel Prize holder) Seth Shelden, who put me in touch with his constitutional law professor and previous guest Michael Herz. Besides my conversations with them one-on-one, I also spoke with Michael and Jim together. I recommend listening and watching those conversations for context.
My conversation with Maya:
Then I learned of Maya's work with "green amendments," as she calls them, at the state level as a foundation for the federal level. She has been working on it for years. She shares that history, including a major win in Pennsylvania and New York State's recently becoming the third state with a green amendment.
She describes the value of an amendment over statutory law, how current legislation doesn't prohibit pollution it legalizes it, the state of the movement, and goals.
If you, as I did, considered environmental amendments interesting but far-fetched, you'll love this episode. Maya is achieving the seemingly impossible and showing it's beyond possible. It's happening.
In the first part of our conversation, we start by reviewing Gautam's commitment to sailing, which seemed and still seems a good idea to him. but maybe too much for now. We revisit what motivated him and come up with a new commitment.
The second part gets more exciting. Gautam expresses that we need to develop technology to help people who aren't living as well as us so we can help them. (I may not have summarized accurately; listen to his recorded words for his precise meaning.) This view is like waving a red flag to me since I used to think things like that but now see otherwise.
We engage in different views on technology, progress, how humans used to live versus how we live today, values, and such.
In other words, we openly talk about the underlying beliefs driving our culture and individual behavior we don't question or talk about, but that guide our decisions and behavior. If we can only imagine a world working a certain way, we can't change course. If that course leads to billions of people dying, being stuck in beliefs is a problem.
I greatly appreciate a civil, productive conversation on topic that many find inflammatory.
Chris returns to share his experience with the Spodek Method. He did something different than he committed to: he stopped using his smart phone---the latest Apple iPhone---in favor of a simple flip phone hearkening almost back to the nineties.
What happens? Does his life fall apart? Does he find more calmness?
Should you simplify your life by avoiding the call for the latest and greatest?
He shares his experience and you can find out (I'm not sure he did it for this podcast, in that I think he was planning to do it anyway. Still, he shares his experience).
Simon is a mining engineer who both researches the minerals and mining necessary if we were to try powering our culture with various sources. His work has brought him to work with government teams, especially economists and politicians around the world.
He shares in our conversation that we will transition to a low-energy future, what it will take, and how little we have tried to figure out if we can do it. It's worrying to hear how poorly we understand the problem, how unprepared we are now, and how poorly we are preparing ourselves.
What he shares is challenging to process considering the risk for catastrophe coming up. Situations like he describes is why I act so much. If you think scientists, engineers, politicians, or anyone understands the situation better than you and you can have faith people smarter than you will solve it, don't hold your breath.
I don't understand how people don't take responsibility, prioritize solving these problems, and act.
The more I move toward living sustainably, the more I learn about cultures that haven't become as polluting, depleting, addicted, and imperialist as ours. I grew up thinking they were stuck in the Stone Age, but they aren't. Conversations with Alan help me learn about the Kogi, with whom he's lived in the mountains of Colombia and made two documentaries with the BBC. The relevant differences is that compared to us, they live sustainably, free, and in abundance. Alan shares more in our third conversation about what he's learned from them, including how they see us, which is sobering.
I've made it no secret that sustainability lacks leadership and leaders. If you want to help on sustainability, I suggest that the most valuable thing you can do is learn to lead. If you know how to lead, improve it. Nothing can change as much as leading cultural change.
Gautam's passion is to learn how leadership works, how to teach it, learning more about it, writing about it, the military, most relevant to our conversation: conveying what he knows and that passion.
The upshot: someone who knows as much as anyone about leadership, what works, what doesn't, learning more about it, how to teach it, and passionate to convey what he's learned. He also knows and has befriended some of today's most effective leaders, whom he mentions in our conversation. He calls General Stanley McChrystal "Stan."
Let's see if we can bring Gautam's knowledge, experience, and connections to sustainability.
Regular listeners know I've been asking people what the environment means to them as part of the Spodek Method. Many people respond with touching answers that I would call something close to life-altering. Maybe more like life-guiding, life-enhancing, or giving meaning and purpose.
I've heard of increasing research into psychedelics recently. Reading reports of people who took psylocibin in clinical settings with guides for the experience, I was struck by how similar their effects to those of quintessential moments in the environment. Both talked about oneness, awe, humility, understanding, feeling understood, connectedness, and similar things, though, of course, each experience was unique. Many said that the effects of their experiences lasted sometimes years, potentially permanently. Many could stop addictions overnight without relapsing. Some improved relationships with loved ones.
I hypothesized that some of the experience of psychedelics might have been a regular part of the lives of our ancestors who lived in the 250,000 years or so before civilization, as well as those who live outside it today. Might the drugs just be achieving something remedial that had long been part of our lives?
Might we who live in human-built environments be missing deeply meaningful parts of our lives that were regular for nearly all our ancestors? Might that lack be contributing to our not knowing what we're missing when we capitulate, abdicate, and resign to choose comfort and convenience over alleviating suffering and caring for our neighbors?
I emailed with Roland Griffiths, the head of the Johns Hopkins Center for Psychedelic Research, which I understand to be the premier research center in the field. He put me in touch with Albert. I couldn't wait to compare the effects and potential of psychedelics with the effects and potential of simply spending time in nature.
Wolfgang Lutz is one of the world's experts in projecting global population levels and demography. I contacted him to help understand the differences between projections based on demography like his and the United Nations' versus systemic ones like in Limits to Growth.
He gave a comprehensive overview of who projects and how, at least as much as can be covered in under an hour. Some highlights:
Who projects based on demography: the UN, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), and the Wittgenstein Center, among others.
He described what and how demographers project: Assumptions, methods, variables of age, sex, education, migration, fertility rate, mortality rate. He consistently repeated the importance of education.
On Limits to Growth, he pointed out that systems analyses include feedback mechanisms, but their demographics tend to be less sophisticated, for example lacking age structure or effects of education. Demographers don't take them seriously because of their oversimplification.
I asked how demographers include feedback. He described a few ways, including asking experts and translate their responses into different scenarios. What about big events like fish or aquifers depleting? He pointed out extreme events are hard to predict, though humanity's historical resilience suggests we'll figure out ways to level their effects. Demographers also include probabilistic models for tipping points, disease, and such, and report levels of variance.
The results of his research and projections: Human population peaking somewhere around 2080 at around 10 billion then declining. It may reach about 3 to 4 billion by 2200, which could be long-term sustainable, though the transition is uncertain. Humanity could reach a healthy, wealthy, more equal, more resilient, and well educated future, but not given.
Potential problems: heat waves, drought, floods, sea level rise. Humans can solve to some degree, but we have to prepare.
What to focus on: since population changes slowly, behavior, technology, and migration first, then education especially of women in the long term since its effects happen more slowly. Also family planning, women's health, contraception, and sexual equality.
We covered a lot, though scratched the surface, gives understandable overview of demographics and global population projections.
I put greater weight on difficult-to-predict extreme uncertain events. At least I'd make the uncertainty go down more than the symmetry I see, but our conversation was about learning and understanding, not debate. I've learned a lot each time I've listened to this episode. It's dense with information, but on an important subject.