—Joshua Spodek's adventures in stewardship—

(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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444: Dar-Lon Chang, part 1: The engineer who made headlines for quitting ExxonMobil

March 5, 2021
Dar-Lon Chang made national headlines after taking a personal stand against ExxonMobil. In a world drowning in pollution, plastic, and more coming from fossil fuels we all support when we fill our gas tanks, fly, or buy needless plastic, most of us dream of taking such a stand. Inside Climate News' headline said: A Disillusioned ExxonMobil Engineer Quits to Take Action on Climate Change and Stop ‘Making the World Worse’ After 16 years of working for the oil giant, Dar-Lon Chang said Exxon would not address climate change. So he quit the sector for good, and began a new low-carbon life. The article continued Dar-Lon Chang, who was an engineer for ExxonMobil for more than 15 years, left his career in the fossil fuel industry in Houston and moved to the Geos Neighborhood, a geosolar development in Arvada, Colorado, with his wife and daughter. "I just wanted to go all the way and be a part of a community where my daughter could live fossil fuel-free and net-zero," he said. "So she could see it was possible." Dar-Lon's LinkedIn profile shows the engineer at heart, who just wants to help engineer a better world, not whistle-blow unless pushed to: Computational modeling and mechanical engineering researcher with 15 years of energy industry experience innovating simulation tools for design, analysis, and operations; co-invented and led early adoption of technologies for drilling operational recommendations based on evolving data analysis, characterizing potential well performance, and building flexible subsurface geologic models for reservoir simulation.
Dar-Lon Chang

444: Dar-Lon Chang, part 1: The engineer who made headlines for quitting ExxonMobil

Do you know anyone whose company pollutes more than they'd like, who wants to change things, but whose company keeps not acting?

I think that situation describes almost everyone. Even the most sustainably companies aren't close to sustainable. They just pollute a bit less than everyone else, from Patagonia to Greenpeace. Maybe it describes you. Maybe it fits your elected officials, school administration, church leaders, etc as much as your employer.

Today's guest worked at Exxon for 16 years. If any place qualifies as the poster child for contributing to climate change, well Dar-Lon Chang can tell us the view from the inside.

If you'd like to change but feel frustrated, Dar-Lon probably faced bigger hurdles, with more to lose. After 16 years, with wife and daughter, with no job, he left for a new life. He'll share his story, but a preview of what to listen for, he prepared, but he also shares why he wished he had acted earlier.

Another major theme that I consider more valuable coming from someone who knows the science, technology, financing, and history, he found technology has a role but is not the answer. It's much more about culture, which I'm bringing his story to help change.

As I told him, once I read his story, I knew I had to do what I could to amplify his story. If you're thinking of acting but think you won't make a difference or your risk is too great, first, consider Dar-Lon's risk and how he wished he'd acted earlier.

Over and over I see the people with the most resources, who say others with less can't do it, are actually the ones who feel the most trapped even though they can. Exactly what they got to create freedom traps them. If you feel you can't, consider that you may be more able to.

Show Notes

The quote I read:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back---Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.

443: Nobody understands what's so bad with climate change

March 3, 2021

Here are my notes I read from for this episode

It hit me recently that nearly nobody knows what's so bad about climate change. I've started asking people and nobody knows. Actually, of the dozens I've asked, one knew, though it took prompting for her to say it.

Everyone gets sea level rise, biodiversity, loss of coral reefs.

I'll grant we have to move cities. But I'll respond that after some loss, we'd rebuild, which could create meaning.

I'll grant more and bigger hurricanes, but I'll respond that we'll learn to build hurricane-proof buildings. Katrina's losses in lives and property, while tragic, are nothing compared to the material gains. Most people see fossil fuels brought billions out of poverty, longevity, prosperity. That trade seems worth it.

You've maybe read books like The Uninhabitable Earth or ones describing the hellscape we may turn the Earth into, but most people see science and technology able to fix those problems. We'll live underground or undersea.

To describe the problem I have to retell a story regular listeners have heard before. My friend Kevin and the elk.

Climate change means looking back doesn't work and the collapse increases. I'll describe the problem in simple terms. It may sound moralistic or ethical, but I'll just state it like if I drop something it will fall. The sun rose this morning in the east and set this evening in the west. Dogs growl. Cats purr. And climate change would result in billions of people dying.

This result is why I devote myself to changing course. My podcast is practice leading people. I plan to use my book to help lead more people and to launch big-time to reach the most influential people in society.

Business people should get this most. They know how markets can drop in recessions and that companies can have to downsize. They know the pain. The problem with them is that they think, "well, we recover from recessions." They don't distinguish between people losing jobs and people losing lives.

So I don't agree with the trade with Katrina, because we don't only lose thousands of lives. But as long as people see that as the loss, climate change doesn't look so bad to them.

It looks bad to me.

442: Jonathan Hardesty, part 1: The Journey from Absolute Rookie to Mastery

February 27, 2021

Longtime listeners and readers of my books and podcast know I draw the analogy to learning and mastering a skill to learning to play piano or a sport. You start by playing scales or practicing groundstrokes. Likewise with leadership or taking initiative, acting entrepreneurially, both performance arts you can master. Also acting in stewardship. People don't get that learning to cook without producing tons of garbage took training from when I started, producing a bag a week. Maybe I should explain better.

Some listeners my have heard how I once found but lost a web page of a guy who sketched every day for a year and posted each day's sketch. Chicken scratches for 300 days, then a month of interesting stuff, then beauty. Anyone can master if they train. It takes neither a lot of time or money, just keep at it. Most people spend much more time and money watching TV or scrolling social media, which they get good at instead.

Jonathan Hardesty, today's guest, kept at it. Starting without experience, connections, or resources, he reached mastery. On the way, he recorded and posted his years of development. You can see how rudimentarily, even remedially, he began. Watch that video, Journey of an Absolute Rookie. Prepare to be inspired at how accessible your potential is.

He's kept going beyond where that video showed. In this episode he describes where he began and where he went. You'll love how accessible mastery is and how much more you get from it than you expect.

It's also one of my most fun conversations. Can you tell how much I learned about self-expression and personal growth?

I don't think I'm fooling myself to think acting in stewardship, in service of others is a performance art one can do with sensitivity, nuance,  personal discovery, and what other performance art forms bring.

441: John Sargent, part 1: The CEO who reduced a Big Five publisher's footprint

February 24, 2021

I learned of John's work through his statement at Macmillan's Sustainability page while researching Ray Anderson:

In 2009, after reading Ray Anderson’s “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist,” I decided it was Macmillan’s responsibility to lessen our impact on the earth, and in particular, to lower our carbon emissions. We created a senior position in the company and spent well over a year measuring our carbon footprint. We then set ourselves the daunting goal of reducing our scope one, two, and “major” three carbon emissions by 65%, and we gave ourselves a decade to get it done. Over the course of the last nine years, we have made sustainability a major component of all our decisions at the company. In 2010 we instituted a carbon offset program to supplement our efforts. Over the last nine years, we have lowered our carbon emissions by roughly 50%, and with our offsets, we have been carbon neutral globally for the last two years.

Getting here has not been easy. We have initiated lots of projects. We have often failed, but we have been relentless in our efforts. We always tried to make good common sense decisions along the way, keeping a balanced approach. In the end, we will not reach our goal of a 65% reduction, but we have been relentless in our approach and it has become a matter of great pride in our company.

The completion of our ten-year plan leaves us again at the starting line. Climate change is now a burning issue (as I write this the Amazon rainforest is literally burning). We must rededicate ourselves to the cause, and willingly sacrifice when called upon. There is a lot to do, and I’m looking forward to getting after it.

I often lament the lack of what I call leadership in the area of sustainability. What I call management, plenty, which I'm glad to see. That's things like measuring, facts, figures, seeking compliance. By leadership I mean stories, images, working on the system not just in it.

It looked like John was leading so I brought him to share. I believe I found a role model and leader in business.

440: Andrés Reséndez: The Other Slavery

February 19, 2021

About six months ago the parallels started forming for me between our global economic system today that creates great suffering on the scale of hundreds of millions of people with nightmarish cruelty, but also people benefiting from it looking the other way or saying "what I do doesn't matter" or "the youth will solve it". . . And the systems of slavery.

Also looking for role models who changed systems of that scale.

My historical knowledge of abolition and slavery was limited. You've heard guests Adam Hochschild, Manisha Sinha, Eric Metaxas, and others sharing historical background on the systems of slavery and abolition, as well as individual abolitionists. I believe we can learn from them and honor them by learning from them. Our situation is different, but on the scale of billions and we are alive to act.

Today's guest, Andrés Reséndez, wrote The Other Slavery, a book on the enslavement of Native Americans, mostly by the Spanish. I knew little about it and what I did know was off. Our conversation covers the different character of the Spanish enslaving Native Americans to mine gold and silver, leading to global trade and a different character.

Motivating me was to consider how future generations would look at us. Listeners may recall from, say, my conversation with Rod Schoonover, the scientist in the US State Department who described the suffering facing climate refugees in Central America. Once they cross borders, they face war atrocities. Then there is Syria and more. We can expect those numbers to increase by some estimation into the billions of climate refugees, as one of many places our system generates cruelty for our way of life, which is totally optional. We don't have to extract, exploit, and so on. I believe that there is nothing more meaningful and purposeful than to take responsibility for how our behavior affects others.

What more can we do for the past than to learn from it, to avoid repeating the mistakes of exploitation and discounting where our material wealth comes from?

I ask myself what I would have done then. Would I have accepted the silver?

Would I have said what I did didn't matter?

I have to be honest with myself because I can easily say I would do then what I today would. What do I consider right today? Can I look away from those at the receiving end of my plastic, pesticides, jet fuel, and so on?

439: How to Fix Texas

February 17, 2021

Here are the notes I read from for this episode

How to fix Texas

  • Just got off conference call a Texas attendee couldn't attend because her power was out.
  • There are helpless people suffering. I empathize with them and feel compassion. I support helping them.
  • If we want to prevent future suffering, we have to look at systems. That's not ignoring present pain or loss. It's preventing future pain and loss.
  • In that call, one person had been in touch with the Texas person. She told us of ice forming inside her house and other problems.
  • The present attendees lamented each mention of a problem as if she were suffering some horrible hardship. For tens of thousands of years, humans have lived without power including in the cold, including sudden, unexpected cold.
  • Is it not obvious that what we call technology and innovation has made us dependent, needy, and the opposite of resilient?
  • I'll repeat that people in hospitals, homeless, elderly, and others have always needed extra help and they do today. Nothing of what I'm saying suggests neglecting them.
  • But she also talked about our Texas friend tweeting. However spotty, she has the internet.
  • Let's talk systems.
  • NYTimes headline: A Glimpse of America’s Future: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids: Systems are designed to handle spikes in demand, but the wild and unpredictable weather linked to global warming will very likely push grids beyond their limits.
  • While the proximal reasons may be technical, the systemic cause is our dual focuses on meeting demand no matter what and growth but not focusing on resilience. The result is that when demand is always met, we grow (population and consumption) until we hit problems like this. Then we build more capacity.
  • It costs a lot to go from 99.99% uptime to 99.999%, but we do it every time.
  • The savings to go from 99.99% uptime to 99.9% is also huge. Most of the world does fine with under 99% and we could too if we built our systems and lives to handle power going down sometimes, even unpredictably. Hospitals, elderly, etc would need special treatment. The rest of us could reduce our needs and learn from how people lived all the time for hundreds of thousands of years.
  • We'd save tons of money, live healthier, and pollute a lot less. We'd learn to treat nature with a bit more humility and respect.
  • Listen to my episode on why I unplugged my fridge. I didn't do it because I expected my power savings would amount to anything divided by 7.8 billion.
  • I did it because other cultures as well as humans for hundreds of thousands of years thrived without power. While some disasters, like Vesuvius erupting, we can't defend ourselves against, we can prepare for cold without polluting.
  • My main results for unplugging my fridge? More delicious food from increasing my skills and experience preparing it. Saving money. Increasing my freedom, decreasing my neediness.
  • Again, repeating my compassion for helpless people in pain now, whose rescue and support I support in the moment, I suggest seeing this weather as impetus to make your life more resilient, less needy, to support a power grid more resilient and less brittle but, and a culture not so entitled, spoiled, dependent and needy that its answer to everything is something polluting more, deepening that entitlement and being spoiled.
  • If you can't live without power dropping for a few days even in terrible weather, and you aren't someone that lions would have eaten in previous eras, you're part of the problem. Fix yourself without drawing more power and polluting everyone else's world.
  • If your society suffers from the only way it handles problems is to use more power, polluting more, leading to suffering from by people who aren't polluting so much, which for Americans means the entire rest of the world outside Saudi Arabia and its oil producing peers and maybe some insanely rich tax havens in the Caribbean, fix your society.
  • Changing culture and systems begins with changing values. In this case from coddling, spoiling, externalizing costs, and ignoring others' suffering to resilience and freedom.

438: Avoiding Creating Garbage, Advanced Edition

February 13, 2021

When they hear I take two years to fill a load of trash, people ask how I do it, what's in my trash. In this episode I share a couple stories from last week of facing things entering my life that would result in my having to take responsibility for trash---acquiring a new cell phone and acquiring bagged food.

I've done things like these processes enough to know that they result in joy, community, and connection. It may sound like too much effort or annoying. Regarding too much effort, I put the stories in context of how much people put effort and time into TV and gyms, which my practiced lead to saving time and money, resulting in plenty to spare. Regarding annoying, I used to think so, but you'll hear that my interactions as they happen, not how you might erroneously imagine, result in more understanding.

Some day our culture will prevent things like these interactions happening. We'll look at single-use packaging how we look at asbestos.

437: Bill Ryerson, part 1: Population matters

February 9, 2021

No matter what you think we should do, everyone gets that there is some connection between population and sustainability. Everyone knows our population is increasing. We're consuming more than ever.

How do we talk about this issue? I think most people shy away from it. I know I did, until recently feeling "what's the point in talking about something we can't do anything about?" I saw problems with overpopulation but the only cures I knew of seemed worse than the disease.

Today's guest, Bill Ryerson, has been working on these issues with tremendous effects increasing prosperity, stability, freedom, and things everyone prefers---think the opposite of the One Child policy. He shares what he does, his sources of inspiration, why what he does works, and how it started for him with Mexican soap operas.

Actually, it started long before with action of the sort nearly everyone talks about today---laws, information, facts---but it didn't work. The Mexican soap opera started what worked, and has around the globe for decades.

After you list, read the book Over. You only have to see a few images to get the value, and understanding that seeing can create.

I hope this episode helped loosen the grip of beliefs of mainstream culture. I wish I had heard things like it decades ago.

436: You're right, it's not fair!

February 7, 2021

The notes I read from for this episode:

It's not fair!

  • Back from picking up litter
  • Forecast, a few inches of snow
  • Just want coffee, not to dispose. Ancestors could
  • Just want to travel, not pollute.
  • Don't want to think about others all the time
  • Just want to relax
  • Tons of trash from last snow
  • Asked cafe to ask people not to litter around trash
  • Not our responsibility, city, customers
  • Someone else, some other time, never me, never now
  • Yet improves life
  • So no, it's not fair. Others got to do without thinking what if we do, we hurt others, people far away
  • But any parent knows responsibility improves, stewardship
  • If we live by their values, tragic
  • If we live by values of cultures that have endured, joy, community, connection
  • So no, it's not fair, but what will you do about it
  • What will you do about your contribution?
  • Not zero.
  • Lament? Take responsibility? Live in past? Create future?

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