If you've followed my development on how to view acting on sustainability, you've seen a marked change when I learned about the British abolition movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Today's guest, Adam Hochschild, wrote about that period comprehensively in his book Bury the Chains. We talked about it in our first episode and in more depth this time. Until I learned about this movement and this group of people, not unique but important actors, I saw few to no role models of what Adam points out is rare: people devoting themselves to helping other people become free. We present ourselves as potentially suffering from environmental problems, but we are benefiting from ignoring how others suffer for our way of life. You are almost certainly more like the absentee landlords and shareholders in companies profiting from slave labor thousands of miles away than like the people suffering. Adam's book gives us role models of people who said, "I could benefit and even though everyone around me does so, I cannot support or benefit from this system. I will make it my life's mission to end it." In their cases the distant sufferers were in the Caribbean. In ours it's Indonesia, the Philippines, India, southeast Asia, Africa, Central America, and most of the world. This time I picked up on the importance of slave rebellion, telling me we have to connect with people on the receiving end of our disposing of plastic and the exhaust from our cars, jets, and power plants. I also wanted to learn about the personal side of the people Adam portrayed. How did they persevere through discouraging times? We're facing discouraging times. Most of us could in principle pollute a lot less, but our culture creates resistance. The more I learn about abolition, the more I find their movements and results relevant and inspiring. How better can we honor their legacy than to use it to reduce suffering today? To me, learning that people faced resistance like we face and overcame it as we'd like to. We have the benefit of their history. If you'd like to lead yourself and others to reduce suffering by changing culture and systems, I can't recommend enough to learn about people who have succeeded before.
Of Adams' earlier books, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves changed my approach to sustainability---my hopes, expectations, role models, strategies, . . . a lot. It won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN USA Literary Award, the Gold Medal of the California Book Awards, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His stories recount people righting unfair situations. You'll hear how the British abolitionists of the late 1700s and early 1800s took on and overcame the most profitable industries funding the largest empire the world had ever seen. No other situation connects to our environmental situation as much as it does. We're desperate for role models. Reading his book felt like coming home for me. All the excuses we hear today applied then---if we don't the French and Spanish will, the Africans benefit from it, it's impossible to change even if you want to, are you crazy?, what one person does doesn't matter. Yet they looked across the ocean, saw people suffering from a system they participated in, and decided they couldn't participate. On the contrary, they made it their life missions to end that trade, what I have done regarding today's pollution. Few people know the story. Those who do usually know William Wilberforce's name most. Adam writes about the community most of all, but Thomas Clarkson as the main organizer and force. For more detail listen. Beyond the details, I hope you'll see the historical precedence for people with less resources than you taking on an industry as strong as one you want to take on and succeeding. Watch a movie like The Story of Plastic to see the suffering our system causes. Read Industrial Strength Denial. If you want meaning and purpose in your life, you can do today what they did then today. What would you rather do? What do you want your gravestone to say? Whatever holds you back applied to them more. They did it. We can too. If you're not sure specifically what to do, contact me. There's plenty.