—Systemic change begins with personal change—

256: Why Personal Action Matters


Why bother not flying if you're one person out of billions? Aren't you just missing out and suffering without meaningfully changing anything? These questions flummoxed me for a while. The longer I act, the more I realize the answer. Most people answer that little things add up or that it's like voting. I won't argue with those answers, but I think they're small effects. I've evolved since earlier episodes and my TEDx talk to find more important reasons. This episode shares my bigger reasons for personal action: you learn to act environmentally the way you learn any activity: practicing the basics. Don't act and you don't learn. If you want to influence others and you don't do what you lead them to, you lose credibility. They'll follow your inaction more than your words. Personal action doesn't guarantee they'll follow, but it gives you a chance. Without it, I don't see much chance at success. Would you take piano lessons from someone who can't play piano? Here are some notes I used for today's episode: Podcast: Do you ever go to the gym or some activity you've done enough to master, and someone new shows up and starts giving advice to people, beyond not knowing what they're talking about -- not even knowing they don't know what they're talking about? If you don't act sustainably yourself, you don't know what you're talking about. I used to let slide comments that one person's actions don't matter. Then I learned to distinguish. Now I see personal action is essential. Would you take piano lessons from someone who can't play? You know the person at the gym or fitness activity giving advice who clearly doesn't know what he or she is talking about? That's most people talking about environmental action. What it takes is not just an idea of what will lower emissions or produce less plastic. On the contrary, action leads to understand the issues. In particular, people's motivations, relevant emotions, world views. If people believe electric planes will solve airline emissions problems, no amount of data will influence them. We all have such blind spots. Our world is built on them. Community motivates. If your community believes or practices one thing, changing it means facing community challenges. Experienced leaders know how to face and overcome those challenges, not engineers. Creating a sustainability committee for my building and trying to get it to collect food scraps, a program New York City is bending over backward to help buildings do, the co-op board resisted for all sorts of reasons that experienced people could rebut with data. Still they resist. People laud me for taking over a year to fill a load of trash, but that personal change would be small compared to a building changing. But community change requires knowing my results from my personal change or I'd give up. The challenge with the board isn't lack of facts. They aren't bad or backward people. Because humans learn through experience and they lack experience, most people proposing solutions don't know what they're talking about. I met someone this morning who talked about how authentically and genuinely he, his company, and the company's famous founder-CEO committed to sustainability. Then, as we walked from the cafe where we met to his office, he ordered a coffee from a different cafe, which he got in a single-use disposable plastic cup, explaining to me that he skipped the straw, yet got a second plastic lid. This man has not experienced the personal change that leads to living authentically and genuinely. He's the guy at the gym who read a few books before going for the first time telling longtime regulars how to improve their form. A man telling a woman about pregnancy. A woman telling a man about being drafted. Fitness, and sustainability, comes from practice, consistent refinement, and such. It is as much mental as physical and nothing substitutes for experience. Resilience, persistence, focus, empathy, compassion, and so on are the tools of the trade. Yes, you must start and end with science, systems thinking, and nature, but until you push yourself to where you find the joy, glory, simplicity, and value of acting sustainably yourself, you're talking gibberish.

254: Accidents of birth: communicating despite differences


Following up episode 253, I address race, sex, sexual preference and other difference people use as excuses to stop listening or understanding over. Here are my notes I worked from: Podcast: Race, sex, sexual preference. I mentioned the race of the people who mugged me and my friends and who punched me in the jaw. Mayhave sounded unnecessary, which I suppose would raise questions as to why I mentioned. Because people keep bringing race, sex, and such up with me. Talking about race is a minefield outside a few platitudes in this country, especially for whites. They keep losing their jobs. Maybe talking about it will bring me down before I reach being well-known. Well, if it brings me down, it brings me down, but as it stands, people use preconceived notions to stop hearing me, as I'll describe in a second, so what do I have to lose? Changing culture to change billions of people's environmental beliefs and behaviors means people collaborating across all divisions so we have to figure out how to overcome these preconceived notions. Most recent and clear: person refused to participate in panel Most common: telling me I don't understand single mother in food desert working three jobs. To some extent, I don't because I'm not one, but none of them are either and they act like they know more. Also common: saying not flying is privileged Also common: I have special access to food. Somehow this stops them from changing their food behavior, which tells me they aren't thinking Commonly calling me privileged, not understanding. Condescending Some listening have preconceived notions they'll never change. I was watching a documentary on Evergreen State College in 2017, where they said anyone born white is racist no matter what. I'm not going to try to engage people with such fixed views. Once a student in leadership class, after I mentioned my top leadership role models -- Gandhi, Mandela, and MLK, the next usually being Ali and Barkley, eventually Thoreau, and among living I usually mention Oprah first -- said "All your examples are white men." Let me go through the list again. Story of single moms from Bronx and Brooklyn who loved my stews and the respite they bring. So I think people are out of touch with their experiences and with mine. No one has asked me what it's like to have someone threaten you with a wrench in your face or a large rock or to have your bike stolen multiple times. Or to live in a neighborhood where they give out welfare food freely because nearly everyone there is on welfare. Look at any of my activities. Accessibility has been critical since service and leadership gained importance. Fitness: I've spent not one penny on all my burpees and bodyweight exercises. In over a decade I've spent about $100 on kettlebells, $500 on a rowing machine, and that's it. I spend 30 minutes a day on calisthenics and about another 30 minutes a day on other exercise. The average American watches 5 hours of TV a day, so I'm saving time and money. Back to my mentioning race. A racist might conclude skin color determines behavior, but that's not why I mention it. I presume anyone in the same circumstances would behave roughly the same since we seem to share the same emotional and motivational system but different environments. But I do note that in today's world and all of human history, people with different physical attributes like skin color, sex, whom they're attracted to, physical size, and so on have grouped themselves differently, producing different behaviors. As best I can tell, people look at me and figure: blue eyes, fair skin, fit, straight: he doesn't understand suffering. He's never suffered for his skin color, sex, fitness, or sexual preference. It occurred to me recently that people might think the Ivy League degrees mean privilege, which I confirmed by asking some people. So I mention the skin color of the people who mugged and assaulted me because I was suffering and I seemed to have been picked out for my skin color. I've spent years of my life as a racial minority and one without power, certainly as far as a child could tell. My point is not to win an oppression Olympics, but not to accept preconceived notions in any direction because of skin color. I also mentioned my assailants' sex, though I doubt people would call me sexist for pointing out my assailants were male. Even my blue eyes and blond hair, at least it was blond when I was young, didn't change that in my seven years of Jewish day school I was taught that I would have been sent to the same ovens that my grandparents' relatives were gassed in. And as someone who doesn't believe in any stone age myths -- as far as I can tell I was born this way -- that forcing religion on me against my will, plenty of people call that oppression. I've seen zero people with my religious beliefs in the White House and maybe one or two in congress, none in the supreme court. Not many in business leadership. My sexual preference, while healthy, has been illegal many times in history, including a capital offense at times. People have certainly treated me with derision for being born this way, including people in groups claiming to be the most inclusive and supportive. Living in Greenwich Village, a parade goes almost outside my doorstep that celebrates nearly every preference, but not mine. I could go on, but my point is not to get into details. I expect the more I describe places I couldn't go, people I couldn't talk to, times I was targeted, times I was in a powerless minority, the more some of you will say he's so out of touch, he might as well say, "some of my best friends are" whatever you want to accuse me of. My point is that as long as people keep asking to understand me better and where I'm coming from, if people are also going to reject my experience and message from preconceived notions then let's get past those notions. We've all suffered. We've all gotten lucky breaks. As far as I know, no one who suggested I didn't understand others' challenges hadn't had their life threatened at knifepoint as I did. And the people they said I didn't understand, at least a couple examples so far, loved my results. Maybe I did understand them across race and sex lines. I'm trying to increase that understanding, I hope by giving some depth about me beyond what you see in a picture. I do my best to assume depth in you. I hope you will with me too. You yourself probably wouldn't, but plenty of people have condescended to reject what I say for accidents of my birth that don't fit their notions anyway. I'll tell you what we do all share: air, water, and land, which we're polluting and overusing by a population beyond what nature can support. Distrusting each other and misunderstanding basic natural processes will keep us from the most important strategies to maintain humanity: lowering our consumption and lowering our birth rate. Plenty more, but those are the big problems that mindless distrust undermine. I hope this message helps contribute to seeing each other as humans with rich and multifaceted selves but common emotional systems. It feels terrible to be misunderstood and prevents cooperation.

253: My greatest triumphs, my greatest shames


Here are my notes that I read from for this post: My greatest triumphs, my greatest shames. When I share personal stuff people always write how they like it. I think it's less important than learning the joys of stewardship and recognizing that flying any time you want or having blueberries 12 months a year doesn't improve your life, but it may help people understand where I'm coming from and maybe hold off a bit on saying, "yeah well you're privileged." Triumphs Making the best ultimate team I played on Passing Columbia's qualifying exam Shames Bike stolen on Greene Street Bike stolen from Wissahickon Creek path Bike stolen from Art Museum Shoved on Walnut Lane Sucker punched near Central Don't remember: girls touching my skin, boys firecracker My stepbrother teasing me for my fat I'm not sure if people will consider these stories unimportant or learning important things about me. Maybe sharing such things are essential parts of leadership.

251: Let’s make overpopulation only a finance issue


Here are my notes that I read from for this episode. New comment from reading Countdown by Alan Weisman Overpopulation is major issue. Challenges are culture, religion, lack of education, lack of birth control He presented research results of demand for birth control by women -- about 250 million. Figure about a guy for each: 500 million I figure low because many don't know it exists or are swayed by not seeing it so not realizing they could want it He also showed results that unwanted children lead to poverty while smaller families where most people live today, ie cities, prosper Combination of huge unmet demand that when met leads to money tells me birth control isn't a moral issue, nor legal, religion, or charity issue but a finance issue. The money comes later if demand is met Should be profitable if someone can figure out financing Many people may default, may be hard to keep track, but look at how huge the demand Women risk their lives and die for abortions. No products or services have that kind of demand. Maybe heroin, which is also profitable. In all of environmental efforts, reduction being major goal and profit coming from growth, profit rarely comes from conserving environment Most would-be environmentally sustainable businesses look like steam engine, which I've talked about before. It looked like it would lower coal use and did for each use but increased it overall Making meeting the interests of half a billion people a finance issue seems a huge change in perspective Don't have to look for charity or government aid As for morals and legality, Coca-Cola shows what happens when profits face against morality. They sell unhealthy sugar water everywhere in the world, including parched places with no water, charge for it, and people keep investing in it. Could be a major route to bringing human population down to sustainable level of a couple billion. Signs I see show we are over sustainable and projections people say imply we're leveling off still show growth in 2100. I hope some enterprising entrepreneur sees opportunity and meets it. Many stories of successful family planning nationwide in Thailand, Iran, Mexico, Costa Rica, as well as cultural shifts in Japan, Italy, and more And economics seem likely, unlike growth economics which are failing everywhere, environmentally, culturally, socially, failing in every way but making a few people incredibly wealthy, mostly by birth

250: Why talk about birthrate and population so much?


Readers and listeners have commented on my writing and posting lately about population and birth rates. Why do I talk about them? Isn't America below replacement level? I recently finished reading Countdown by Alan Weisman, which I recommend. I read passages and commented on them in episode 248: Countdown, a book I recommend by Alan Weisman. It looked at population around the world, illustrating and describing research finding that we've overshot the carrying capacity, which will lead to population collapse. That book put the issue top of mind, as does listening to the Growthbusters podcast. This episode describes why I see value in discussion population.

248: Countdown, a book I recommend by Alan Weisman


I just finished an eye-opening book, Countdown, by Alan Weisman. It covers population. Weisman traveled to and reported on about a dozen places' views and practices on population and family planning. In this episode, I read a few passages that I found shocking. I barely scratch the book's surface, but I believe you'll find the sections equally noteworthy. I recommend reading the rest to understand this integral part of our world.

247: Balancing jobs and junk


People resist environmental projects to protect jobs, even to keep producing products that pollute. My absurd proposal to balance jobs with junk: put factories next to landfills. Despite it being absurd, the proposal would create a cleaner world. Instead of making junk as a pretense for some counterproductive welfare, let's stop making it.

246: The Emotions Around Environmental Action


What emotions do you associate with environmental action? I find people associate shame and guilt with it. I find these emotions lead people to suppress the emotions and hide the behavior leading to it. I propose reacting to pollution and polluting behavior with disgust. If someone hands me a plastic bottle of water, I feel disgust. I propose replacing the terms they've come up in Sweden for flight shame with flight disgust.

244: Lessons from extinction


Learning that humans only recently developed the concept of extinction. Much of the West, for example, believed in a Great Chain of Being, spontaneous generation, and a biblical flood. That perspective suggests that many past behaviors we consider unconscionable may have seemed even humane then, like walking up to a rhinoceros and shooting it in the head. If you can't imagine it going extinct because new ones will form, how is shooting it point blank any different than slaughtering any other animal? Since we are in future generations' pasts, how might they see our polluting behavior? If they live in messes we created, won't they likely see us as we see people shooting rhinoceroses point blank---that is, with horror? Does understanding others with compassion lead us to act with compassion?

243: Confusing distinct modes of acting


Tired of people saying what you do doesn't matter? Or personal action in general? They're confusing different types of action. In this recording I distinguish three of them so you can feel comfortable acting by your values without the naysayers and navel-gazers distracting you. The three categories are Personal action, like avoiding packaged food Leading others, like hosting a podcast Influence one's local community, like sharing joy Distinguishing them protects me from feeling dissuaded when others confuse one person not polluting with that person trying to change the world. Nobody says, "why do you bother not murdering? You can't stop everyone from doing it." Yet they still say, "why bother avoiding meat? People will still do it." They're confusing personal action with leading others.

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