(Formerly Leadership and the Environment)
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Leadership turns feeling alone and complacent into action.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Here are the notes I read from for this episode
How to fix Texas
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.
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.
The notes I read from for this episode:
It's not fair!