—Systemic change begins with personal change—

305: The greatest danger from covid-19 would be not learning from it


My notes that I read from for this episode: Greatest danger is not to learn from it. Starting story: Preparing to launch on 9/11. While nothing on scale of victims, first responders, and those who fought, but went from 8 digit to limbo. Within two years squeezed out. Gave up following Einstein and Newton to outdoor advertising that I didn't even like. Now no way forward, backward, or anything. Lost trust in people. Closer to mom and other entrepreneurs with similar disaster. We feel everything shutting down. Huge unknown. Will things restart? How many will suffer? How many will die? What will happen to health care system? Have I bought enough to eat? Will I become infected? If so, how badly? Will I accidentally infect others? Images of China, Italy, Korea show fuller shut down ahead. Other nation's results show divide in effectiveness with if they faced SARS, MERS, and related situations. Nothing compares with experience. We've seen in America back-to-back 500-year storms, fires, and floods. My home of New York City has seen a hurricane, not nearly the country's severest. We know more is to come. We lack relevant leadership experience. I don't see a silver lining to lower pollution if it comes through suffering and death. If any silver lining -- that given predictions for generations that neglecting our humility to the environment by dominating instead of stewarding it would lead to sea level rise, unbreathable air, famine, pestilence, and more, we can expect more -- and however bad this problem, it may give us training for future disasters. Our greatest danger in responding to covid is not to learn how to handle a population far beyond the Earth's ability to sustain or regenerate. Because we could learn what nations hit by SARS learned. We've been fortunate enough so far to face mostly localized disasters at different times. Here is one of our first global ones. The US could come together to help victims of Katrina, Paradise CA fires, and so on. We've helped foreign communities -- however imperfectly? What will happen when two or three disasters happen? Four? Today's answer is that we don't know and have no basis to answer. But we could learn now. Not a silver lining for people in Italy or Iran and probably the US who are turned away from hospital care. Nor did I know what I would do on September 12. The fallout had barely begun. My life is far better for what I learned over what comfort and convenience I lost. Learned leadership and how to teach it, over a decade now. Students and clients apply it from the West Bank, to Silicon Valley, to the nation's least advantaged communities. Five years ago began my journey to serious meaningful environmental action. It began simply, challenging myself to go a week buying no packaged food. Learned to cook from scratch, found delicious, faster, cheaper, more accessible (Saturday cooked in Bronx at invitation from single mom in food desert to show her community what I'd learned). Mindset shift to expect acting on environmental values to improve life. So when I learned flying NY-LA r/t warmed the globe a year of driving, I challenged myself to go a year without flying. March 23 begins my fifth year of what I expected deprivation, sacrifice, obligation, chore, but turned out joy, connection, and community. I threw out my garbage once in 2019, 2018, 2017. Pure life improvement amid 90% reduction according to online calculators. I've spoken to about 1,000 people on my podcast and life about not flying. About 998 said impossible. Suddenly many not flying. It's always been a matter of motivation and imagination. One flight brings you to distant loved one or job opportunity. Flying in general separates to where you have to fly. More flying means less time with family and less control over career and is a sign of privilege that letting go of improves life. My mom texted me she couldn't see me last week. We don't know if my niece's Bat Mitzvah later this month will happen. Our family is closer, not more distant, despite the physical distance. We can learn from this. It will get worse before it gets better. Maybe it will just be a worse flu season. It probably won't become like the 1918 flu coming off WWI or the Black Plague, but they danger isn't how sick you get, it's how society handles it. Let's learn as much as we can.

304: How ecotourism can work


I view ecotourism skeptically at best. While I imagine someone could create tourism that increased the world's ability to sustain life and human society, every case I've seen at least doubly does the opposite. For one thing I've only seen ecotourism involving flying, which destroys what they pretend to help, perhaps dreaming that carbon offsets lower greenhouse concentrations while they more likely raise them. For another, they turn places into tourist traps that depend on outside money. Today's episode presents an opportunity for people to get most of what they look for in travel---adventure, different culture, cuisine, etc---without lowering the environment's ability to sustain life and human society. Visit decaying parts of the US or wherever you live. In the US, you could visit Flint, Camden, and so on. I bet visiting those places would check most or all the boxes of what most people claim they want from travel. They'd cost less, connect people to people and cultures they wouldn't otherwise. They'd bring money into depressed economies. It would develop some empathy and compassion from people claiming they want to help with those they pretend to help. Or it would expose the lie that most people claiming what they want from ecotourism really want other things, like to indulge, but to look good for it---what many people call greenwashing.

303: The environmental results I predict versus what I work for


People ask, "Josh, do you really think you can make a difference?" or comment that what I or anyone does won't matter. In the first part of this episode I describe how I think our environmental future will unfold---the outcome I consider most likely. It's not pretty. I foresee a lot of gloom and doom about nature, but however much problems in nature, I think human reactions will be more important, sooner, and more destructive. My main resources for this part are the Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells and Limits to Growth. In the second part, I share what I think could unfold if we get serious about addressing what's happening---what I'm working for. In the next part, I describe why I work at something that even I consider unlikely, drawing on Vince Lombardi. Finally, in a coda, I address why I don't expect technology to save us, or more likely to augment and accelerate our environmental problem.

301: Does It Scale? My Modified Tesla Strategy


If you've listened to this podcast, you know my Building Block---my technique to lead one person to share and act on his or her environmental values. You may also know my strategy to scale from influencing one person at a time to many. Describing that scaling model has taken effort. A conversation with a friend this morning about how Tesla scaled suggested to me a way to describe how I planned to scale. Today I describe what I'm thinking about calling my "modified Tesla strategy." I'm not describing a new strategy, but a new way to frame it and describe it. How one communicates influences how people understand and join a movement.

298: Is polluting child abuse?


After my third TEDx talk a few days ago, spoke to a couple that told me how much they reduced waste but wouldn't consider anything more. People love considering the biggest things immune from consideration, like flying or heating their homes to 70 degrees in the winter and cooling them to 60 in the summer, leaving the air conditioner on while they're out just so it's cool for thirty seconds when they get home. Or getting take out when they have vegetables in the fridge, most of which they throw out in a disgusting display of entitlement. My TEDx talk is about how after you act you'll be glad you did and wish you had earlier. I say people don't want to do small things, they want to do meaningful things and that when you act on something you care about, you may start small you may start big, but since you like it you'll do more, so as long as you keep working on things you find meaningful, big is inevitable. They said they loved my talk but he said, “I don't see how I can live my life without flying.” Actually, people keep asking me, what can I do. Everyone knows polluting behavior of theirs, from bottles and take out containers to vacations beyond the imagination of emperors before that they consider entitled to, to eating unhealthy amounts of meat and food flown around the world while local food they don't even consider buying while local farmers go out of business. The experiential, active learning educator in me wants to say, figure it out come back to me, and you tell me. It's not like millions of web pages aren't telling you. You can change plenty, most improvements as you cut out eating junk and other pure life improvements, before you have to challenge yourself. Generations ago nobody threw anything away. Now I have to help pay billions of dollars a year just to haul junk nobody wanted out of the city to landfills. Changing your life is the point! You're addicted to flying. It pollutes. If you want to change the outcome, you have to change the cause: your beliefs and behavior. My point is that you'll be glad you changed and no matter when you do you'll wish you had earlier. Nobody believes me. Well, you're not abstractly hurting people. You're hurting people and generations will suffer for your jaunt to Macchu Piccu. You have to change your life if it relies on behavior that hurts billions of people. No amount of dreaming for some deus ex machina invention like a plane that runs on rainbows will change that you're paying to pollute now. We have to change our behavior. Even if you think governments should change or corporations should change, every one living unsustainably will have to change too. You can't keep living the way generations of scientists have said will create the results we're already seeing and that we've seen nothing compared to what will come. So much I've said before. You're hurting future generations who are helpless to defend themselves. I started wondering, how different is neglecting to try to live sustainably from child abuse. First, not physically in the moment assaulting someone. But the similarities are strong. I wonder if there's something to this angle. For one thing, I'm not a parent so imagine some would react strongly, however accurate. Asked friends their thoughts. They surprisingly easily agreed. One pointed out how much people will defend themselves. If they don't stop, they'll rationalize why what they do is good and reinforce doing what they've done, filing the claim under groundless attack. I suggested targeting the message at children, who don't need to fly for work. For them to call out what older people are doing to most of their lives. A friend suggested changing beliefs so much might not be possible. I pointed out how we changed drunk driving from something sometimes okay to tantamount to murder. In my lifetime, you could say, “one drink calms me down. I drive better that way.” Or cigarettes. My high school principal smoked a pipe in the school building. Now people would view doing so as giving children cancer and addictions. My friend also suggested creating an alternative. An alternative to smoking is not smoking. For drinking and driving, we created designated drivers and programs to get rides home. If we don't create alternatives, people may feel they can't act, resulting in reinforcing beliefs that sustain polluting behavior, like that they can't do anything about it, which is a lie, I'll comment on now. There's plenty of low-hanging fruit in the form of leisure travel, especially in the US where you don't need to fly but there's beautiful land everywhere. A friend and I rode bikes from Philadelphia to Maine and back when we were 16 years old. The less fit someone is to do it, the more they'll benefit. Most people are near a coast with a beach. Most business travel is low hanging fruit easily cut in favor of not meeting or meeting by video. Anyway, the big difference, why this idea sticks with me not as shrill yelling or name-calling is that nobody suggests stopping child abuse by taxing it or raising its cost a few percent as a way to deter it. If a helpless child receives a black eye from a parent or is emaciated, we have decided as a culture that justice can go as far as taking a parent's child away, possibly the greatest execution of justice short of execution. And we consider it appropriate. We do almost anything to protect a child from harm. How about no future for billions of children facing starvation, disease, wars over resources, billions of climate refugees, and so on? How about an adult that takes pleasure in abusing the child? Do you also feel another level of revulsion? How about adults that fly first class to Acapulco, or India to pick a place nearly half way around the world, many for some meditation retreat or to see something they consider exotic? I take a bus to a meditation retreat. So can they, but they prefer to get their pleasure with tens of tons of CO2, maintaining a military to maintain the supply lines, destroy communities with the misfortune to live over the fossil fuel extraction site, and destroy the land and see there too. Should we add animal abuse? This recording is my first publicly sharing the idea, so it may need refinement. Maybe it needs rejection. I'm not proposing adopting it, but considering it. I wasn't abused. Would someone abused feel hurt or empowered? How would that feeling change as disasters accumulated? Might it not be strong enough? I also think they people who would share it would be children. I fear for my future and many of them face 40 years more of what scientists have predicted for generations and the adults who could have acted didn't. How justified or not would you consider children facing most of a life of a hellscape not of their making? How bad would it be for children to levy the charge at adults? Might it lead to fast change? When I hear an adult say they love how younger people are taking responsibility, I hear an adult trying to shirk responsibility—tragically a responsibility that he or she would consider improving his or her life to change. Well, how about when they children point out what you're doing? Could we move from merely taxing and making slightly more expensive to making many behaviors illegal, maybe with penalties on the scale of penalties we give child abusers? How is heating the planet, poisoning its air and water, using up nonrenewable resources, and not trying to change not abusing children—billions of children? What do you think of the perspective? If you see problems, can you think of ways to improve it? That is, if it did work and help, what would have had to change from what I shared to what worked well? I wonder if anyone has pursued this view before. I haven't heard it regarding the environment, though smoking and drunk driving campaigns seem to have sounded similar. How about a social media campaign showing pictures of people polluting with a hashtag #childabuse?

297: RIP James Lipton, a huge influence and inspiration


James Lipton, who started and hosted the show Inside the Actors Studio, died yesterday. Here are the notes I read from for this episode: I could talk about how much I enjoyed the episodes, his humor, and a few things I learned from his guests that only his interviewing could have elicited but I will go deeper, to share how fundamental his work has been to mine. Many times I've said that if my courses existed before I went to business school and someone were teaching them, I would have taken them instead of business school and gotten more of what I valued. He helped me create them. Context: I had taken leadership classes but, despite high grades from top school, I didn't know how to act. Watched Inside the Actors Studio for entertainment. Noticed great actors excelled at social and emotional skills, beyond what my professors could do. Noticed they tended to have dropped out of school, been kicked out, or never enrolled. How to resolve this conflict? Also noticed names popping up a lot—Stella Adler, Lee Strassberg, Sanford Meisner, Group Theater, Harold Clurman, most of all Konstantine Stanislavsky. Looked them up and learned of tradition often called Method Acting that grew in America from Russia. Around recession because friend sold his business to take Meisner Technique classes. Asked him all sorts of questions about it. He suggested taking it. Realized actors didn't stop education. They switched style of learning. Experienced new levels of learning social and emotional skills, relevant to all relationships, not just acting. Taking it changed how I learned ASEEP fields, combined with learning about John Dewey and project-based learning, which led to how I teach leadership. Led me to start founding a school for leadership. NYU ended up hiring me to teach, which led to my books. The structure of how I teach and coach leadership, initiative, entrepreneurship, sales, and social entrepreneurship is Meisner Technique. The exercises are similar, but drawn from their respective domains instead of acting. Start with basics and build toward mastery with no big jumps. Results include students consistently saying they didn't know they could learn these things at all, let alone in a structured class. All this comes from James Lipton making known the style of learning from Inside the Actors Studio. I since realized the structure exists in teaching to play musical instruments, to sing, to dance, to play any sport, improv, the military hence basic training, and all ASEEP fields. In a totally other direction, since I interview people on the podcast, I follow him a lot—supportive, not confrontational, getting to know the person, though I don't do the quick end questions. I went to see them record Inside the Actors Studio live twice. Sarah Silverman and Bryan Cranston. 5-hour events. I loved. I brought notes to leave to invite him to be a guest on the podcast. Spoke to several people. Actually, went to his office at Pace and spoke to people there, but nothing came of it. Thank you, James Lipton for helping form two of the foundation stones everything I do rests on.

296: Solutions have to work for everyone


In this episode I describe how important I consider the accessibility of my personal behavior solutions -- a matter of integrity, not to be confused with behavior to influence others, which is a matter of leadership. Here are my notes I read from for this episode. I recommend reviewing my memes on famous people saying what everyone says about acting on the environment. Access and its importance to me. Food available in food desert. I spend nearly no money on fitness. Yes, I live in a nice neighborhood, but I don't make much more than the average American. I treat Greenwich Village as a village -- that is, I try to meet my neighbors, local farmers, local shopkeepers, and not try to escape every few months. I don't buy expensive things like Marie Kondo sells. I buy little I don't need. My most exotic recent vacations include a ten-day meditation retreat a bus ride away and a train trip across the country. My top food habits include foraging for food within walking distance, though some berries a subway ride away, and getting the most abundant and cheap vegetables in season. I eat more beans than almost anyone. I carry bags with me and sometimes containers and bring food home from events. I make my own sauerkraut and vinegar, which take minutes to prepare. I buy nearly all my clothes from thrift shops. I rarely eat out, nor do I waste money on soda, coffee, or doof, which most Americans spend thousands of dollars a year on. I don't spend money on a TV or any subscriptions and use my cell phone's hot spot for wifi. I air dry my clothes on a drying rack. I haven't flown in years, saving more thousands of dollars. I don't think I've spent money on alcohol in years -- nothing against it, I've just come to prefer my calories come with nutrition. I haven't bought a book in years but read what I can online without paying or borrow from the library. I borrow about two or three books a month. computer used, all free software $50 month for phone, internet, everything podcast not making money but costing nearly none while creating purpose $50 for microphone and a little for hosting. More for editing. Books cost little to write, substitute for tv My two couches I got free from neighbors, as anyone in New York City can if you check CraigsList free. For that matter, my mattress I got for a couple hundred dollars that way too. My kettle bells too. I scan CraigsList for months to find them and then pick them up by subway. you get the idea I still buy things no car or payments on it, under $20 week on subway some will say I was privileged no matter what they are reason for 2016 election result and maybe next one mom loved on welfare street, hence the 5 muggings, not particularly privileged. learned to connect with women on personality not spending money. Picking up garbage for an hour while taking a walk. common practice because I trained myself so it makes me feel clean. I cut my own hair. I used $1.90 in electricity last month and put my bill online to see. For those who don't know, PhD physics programs pay tuition and give a stipend, so I incurred no cost there. If anything an opportunity cost in not earning money for the pay for equivalent work had I gone into finance or engineering. I'm still finishing paying for the MBA. I went to a public high school. I got into Columbia on my merits. My dad went there, but since Harvard wait-listed me, where I had no connections, I figure I didn't get in for legacy reasons. My father's father made enough to pay for Columbia undergraduate and some of my apartment's down payment. All of this adds up to accessibility. I know the tug to say, "Oh, something about him is special that makes it easier for him." Well, How to save I just mentioned is available to everyone. My splurges include my rowing machine, which I bought about ten years ago, and my kettle bells, also going back years. I bought them all used from CraigsList, including taking a 62 pound kettlebell home by subway. If everyone can't do anything I do, I look for what everyone can. A solution that doesn't work for everyone doesn't work. Of course, food and vacation opportunities vary by location and climate, so I don't propose people follow my solutions exactly so much as the process and attitude to apply in their lives to solve for themselves what I've solved for myself in my life. Not watching TV is available to everyone, as are bodyweight exercises and drying your clothes without a dryer. If you think I have some way to do what you can't and you assign it to privilege, look inside yourself. What can you do besides judge others?

294: Population: How Much Is Too Much?


My notes I read from for this podcast: What is Earth's carrying capacity? Why is it important? Many ask how we will feed 10 billion people. Mathematician way of asking is if we can feed so many and if so how. Maybe we can't. First, don't want to know. While it depends on many assumptions that aren't hard or measurable numbers, like standard of living, distribution of resources, and technology, we can say it's maximum misery per person. How do we narrow it down? Could ask resources per person and how much resources Earth can provide. Limits to Growth projects how much planet would sustain from a systems perspective including history and how we live our values. I prefer a historical perspective I learned from Alan Weisman based on the Haber-Bosch process, which enabled artificial fertilizer. Before artificial fertilizer, limitations on fixing nitrogen to grow food suggest Earth could sustain about 2 billion, enough to create Einstein and Mozart. Want people like Jesus, Buddha, Laozi, and Aristotle? We needed only a few hundred million to create them. If we're over the planet's carrying capacity, especially by factor of 3 or 4, strategy isn't to ask how to feed 10 billion but if we can lower the population before processes like famine, disease, loss of critical resources, war, and so on do it for us. I couldn't answer except in ways where the cure was worse than the disease, but the history of Thailand's Mechai Viravaidya's leading a nation-scale cultural shift from 7 babies per woman to 1.5, voluntarily, peacefully, leading to abundance, prosperity, and stability changed everything for me. Mechai's success makes lowering the population plausible and fun. The limitations of growing food without artificial fertilizer make it necessary to avoid famine and other natural disasters. These two factors clarify our priority, it seems to me.

292: The environment is the outward manifestation of our beliefs


Here are the notes I read from for this episode: Outward manifestation Been saying lately When you see pollution, dingy skies, sea levels rising Any one person listening may not have But if American, likely more than nearly anyone Less technological, more social and personal Results from our behavior, from our choices From our beliefs, stories, images, desires Opposite would be stewardship, caring about others first, service Why leadership matters Crazy part is harmony with nature simplifies life Creates joy, community, connection Not about guilt or shame, just perspective In all fairness, some past systems I'm just like everyone else. When I think of something fun and polluting, I think, maybe it won't matter, the plane was flying anyway That's the cause of global warming and our climate problems Maybe I'll get away with it. Maybe my contribution won't count You can blame it on lots of things, but that attitude and ones like it are at the root of that behavior The outward manifestation of that thought is pollution

290: On Excessive Self Interest, from Thomas Kolditz


I ask people their reasons for polluting activities like flying, take-out, taking taxis or ride shares where public transit serves. They consistently tell me that they love these things. They love visiting family, seeing remote places, etc. If you feel similarly, you're about to face some tough love. These motivations came to mind while listening to Thomas Kolditz on a podcast I listen to and that has featured me. He is one of today's premier leaders and leadership educators. A few words about him: Tom Kolditz is the founding Director of the Ann and John Doerr Institute for New Leaders at Rice University–the most comprehensive, evidence-based, university-wide leader development program in the world. The Doerr Institute was recognized in 2019 as the top university leader development program by the Association of Leadership Educators. Prior to Rice, he taught as a Professor in the Practice of Leadership and Management and Director of the Leadership Development Program at the Yale School of Management. A retired Brigadier General, Tom led the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership at West Point for 12 years. I heard him on The Leadership Podcast, hosted by Jan Rutherford and Jim Vaselopulos (who interviewed my in 2017 “What An Ivy League Degree Can’t Teach You.”). I recommend only listening if you're prepared for some straight, sobering talk on what those motivations mean. I also include a quote from that conversation about our sorry state of leadership education, which I relate to our sorrier state of environmental action education.

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