—Systemic change begins with personal change—

207: My Sad Fig Tragedy


People tell me they prefer personal stories and stories of humility, not just success. Well, this morning I messed up my fig tree. I'm still learning about gardening. I felt like a brute. Plus you can hear about my morning holocaust of bugs.

205: Notes to a Future President


The U.S. is ramping up its Presidential campaigns. The environment is an issue for many reasons. At first you'd think because of global warming, plastic, mercury in fish, extinctions, bees are mysteriously dying, and so on. But any candidate knows it's important because people care about it. Any leader knows that when people care, a leader can tap into that emotion and motivation. One of my definitions of leadership is helping people do things they wanted to but haven't figured out how. I'm going to help you, political candidate, help voters achieve what they want but haven't figured out how. Because an overwhelming majority of people can see the litter on their ground, probably on their property, to know our environmental problems are out of control but they don't want them that way. Everyone knows back-to-back 500 year storms are trouble. Nearly everyone treats environment as problem to resolve. At root they treat it as a burden or a chore. We don't want to do it but we have to. We really want to keep doing what we're doing. Today's post shows how to lead them to change and enjoy it.

202: How We Choose


I hear a lot of people's reasons for not flying, for using single-use plastic, for leaving the air conditioner on when they're not home. I know them not just because people told them to me. I know them because I'm human and we all think similarly. When I want something that pollutes, I feel my mind justifying why getting it should be okay. It took years of training my mind to resist that knee-jerk thinking and to consider not just what I get from, say, flying or using the air conditioner, but how my actions affect others—also known as the golden rule. We believe we use logic to come up with reasons for doing things. We don't. Our ancestors made choices before we evolved reason. We choose and then back-rationalize those choices to feel better. In other words, the "reasons" we claim to use to justify our behavior, to fly or own slaves knowing we're causing helpless, innocent people to suffer, aren't reasons. They're rationalizations. The motivation comes from I feel like it, usually to preserve ourselves from feeling bad, like facing how much we're violating the golden rule, or not working hard to change the system that we claim victimizes us, lying that we have no choice but to fly or continue owning and beating slaves. The upside to all this is that we can change these feelings. Not only, can we. Doing so is the greatest skill to improve our lives. It's what Viktor Frankl did to feel bliss and love amid Nazis torturing him. It's what leads us to prefer broccoli to Doritos. It's how I feel closer to nature while picking up other people's garbage than passing it by, despite my actually touching plastic.

199: Be Fruitful and Multiply: What Does It Mean?


I've learned in leading that you can lead people best when you meet them where they are. That means speaking their language and understanding their perspective. Many people I talk to take their cues from the Bible, including guidance on how to act regarding the environment. Among them, the term stewardship plays a key role. A steward is one who manages another's property, finances, or other affairs. Everyone views and means things uniquely, but I understand them to mean the world and everything living on it, if we steward them, they aren't ours, but we steward them for both the true owner and future generations so they can enjoy and steward them for their future generations. This episode explores the source of stewardship as an environmental role as the interpretation of dominion, replacing dominance and ruling with responsibility. I then apply that result to another key area waiting for interpretation: being fruitful and multiplying.

197: Polarization, communication, and education


Everybody talks about political polarization, the communication messes this nation and world are in, and how people who disagree can't talk to each other any more, so we can't resolve conflict. I do it too---that is, get into conversations where I shut down meaningful communication---though less than before, telling me that we can learn to communicate effectively. I've learned tremendously the times I've reversed that trend---that is, to listen to people I disagree with. I learn from them, probably more than I learn from people I disagree with. Today's episode covers an interaction within a community of people formed to increase dialog. Even in a community for that purpose, I find them not knowing what to do about it, even augmenting the problem. One of the problems, as I see it, is depriving students the experiences that teach the social and emotional skills to handle difficult social and emotional situations. Teaching more facts, knowledge, and abstract analysis don't help, yet schools at all levels pile on that strategy.

195: How it feels to live more sustainably than mainstream


People ask me if I worry or lose sleep from my environmental habits in a world where most people pollute profligately and unnecessarily. In this post I try to illustrate by analogy how it feels. How would you feel if you were magically transported to the 50s or 60s and most people smoked and drove cars with no safety equipment but they all considered it normal? Or to 1850 Alabama and someone offered you products made by slave labor? Here are the results to a search on "Mountain Dew teeth," to which I refer in the audio. This click is safe, it's just text search results, but you may want to prepare yourself before clicking from there to images or videos, except that you see equally unhealthy things in the litter, exhaust, and pollution around us all the time. To expand on parallels with living in an environment accepting slavery, here are episodes 098: Would You Free Your Slaves? and 040: Which is easier, freeing slaves or not using disposable bottles?.

186: D-Day and the Environment


Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of D-Day. This post is about being a part of something greater than yourself, than all of us, benefiting us all, and benefiting yourself -- one of the great feelings and experiences available to humans. I happened to read four documents around the same time that illuminated each other and our attitudes toward acting on the environment. Our complacency in the face of a danger threatening many times more lives than Hitler is all the more glaring when compared to the honor and service of the men who defended the free world storming Normandy. The documents were 'I count myself lucky': D-day remembered on the 75th anniversary, a compilation of interviews of D-Day survivors in The Guardian The Uninhabitable Earth, a book describing the consequences of global warming, to say nothing of plastics, mercury, extinctions, and other environmental consequences If Seeing the World Helps Ruin It, Should We Stay Home?, a silly account of selfish mental gymnastics for how to deny responsibility for contributing to global warming An email exchange with a friend abandoning a plan to avoid flying, instead planning to fly to India A Man Who Landed at Sword Beach, Normandy From the Guardian article Chelsea pensioner Frank Mouqué, 94, was a corporal in the Royal Engineers who landed on Sword beach and whose job was to dispose of bombs on a stretch of land beyond the parapet next to the beach. “We approached Sword beach in a landing craft. We had all of our gear on our backs and a rubber ring around our stomach to help keep us afloat. Let’s face it, the landing was very gory. You didn’t have time to think, survival instinct kicked in,” he said in his account published on the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s website. “After reaching the beach, I ran up towards a parapet, and searched for mines. After 12 hours of being on the go we were exhausted and then had to dig a foxhole to sleep in. We had to dig six foot down and two foot wide. “I slept outside for the next year or so, we had no protection from the elements. We had an oversized gas cape to go over our clothes and all our gear. We rarely slept lying down. Each time we slept in a barn we were ravaged by fleas – so even that was no good. “It was a different time: I wasn’t a hero, I was a little cog in a big wheel. When you add all those little cogs together – then we became important. We all worked together towards peace.” A Woman Who Supported the Normandy Soldiers from London From the Guardian article “We knew something big was afoot because there was an armada of boats in Portsmouth harbour. That was a giveaway. “The VHF radio was a one-way system. When you raised your lever to transmit, the recipient couldn’t make any interjections until you had finished, and said: ‘Roger and out.’ or whatever. Then they would raise their lever, and transmit their message”. On D-day she was in direct contact with the wireless operators on the allied invasion fleet as they stormed the beaches. “When they raised their lever, I could hear very loud, sustained gunfire. It was really so bad that you thought: ‘Oh my God. There’s a battle going on.’ You knew. You thought: ‘God, men are dying.’ The reality suddenly hit you. For a rather naive 17-year-old, I think it was terrifying. But it was a job. You got on with it. “The messages were all in code, so you didn’t know what was being said. But you could hear the gunfire, every time the lever was lifted. I’ve never forgotten what I heard. Never.” What the Earth Will Likely Look Like I'm not going to copy the sections of the book I quote, but here's the long article its author, David Wallace-Wells, wrote that prompted the book, The Uninhabitable Earth,,Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think. From Avoiding Flying for a Year to "But I Want to Go" Here are the passages from my email exchange. An excerpt from a friend who had stated intent to avoid flying for a year: I'm still investigating traveling to India via boat but so far, it seems to be very expensive (even on a freighter that accepts passengers) and not safe for single female travelers-my partner does not want to travel anymore so she's not flying as much as she used to. Most crew on freighters are men and the trip takes a month. An excerpt from my response: I don't understand how people can separate their actions from the front-page environmental news. How they can see pictures of, say, the air in New Delhi and not connect that they are polluting thousands of times more than the average person there. I'm surprised at how easily they can dismiss consequences they don't actually see. Anyway, let me know if I can support you. I didn't write the above about you but because you're one of the few people I can share such thoughts with who I think wouldn't take it personally but might also think about it. One thing that might help regarding India. North America is a stunningly beautiful, diverse land with equally beautiful and diverse people. No one could possibly sample it all in a lifetime. For whatever India offers, there's just as much unknown a train ride away. Before I sail to Europe, it looks like I'll sail to Mexico, Puerto Rico, or places near Florida, and probably at almost no cost, using Findacrew.net, where I've met friendly people offering spaces on their boats, though I haven't taken them up yet. If I always think of what I'm missing, I'll never be satisfied. If I enjoy what I have, I'll always feel joy. An excerpt of her response to mine: Hey Josh-- I hear you. Unfortunately, the research I'm doing in India is really important to me. I was invited to go back to India after last year's visit. I am doing my activist affordable housing work in my own city and doing much more walking to get places. Synthesis While it's easy to contrast the service and honor with our behavior today, concluding that we are acting with the opposite, which I guess would be selfishness and dishonorably, I see something different, focusing on the man's statement, "I wasn’t a hero, I was a little cog in a big wheel. When you add all those little cogs together – then we became important. We all worked together towards peace.” Our inaction on our environmental values robs us of our potential to transform ourselves from cogs who aren't heroes to becoming important, to work together toward peace. The opportunity of acting on our environmental values---which I have felt in picking up other people's garbage daily, creating community, meaning and purpose without the distraction of flying, discovering the deliciousness of nature by avoiding packaged food, and so on---is to be a part of and contribute to something greater than ourselves. We as a species will suffer from the ignorant behavior of our parents and our tragically informed but complacent behavior, but whatever disaster awaits us, we can ameliorate it. There are degrees of disaster, differences between a billion unnecessary deaths and five billion. The difference may come through arbitrary accidents of how nature unfolds or it may come from our acting together. The opportunity is for all of us to act as part of something greater than any of us or even all of us---one of the great feelings humans can experience---helping all of us and helping ourselves. We did it at Normandy 75 years ago. I can't wondering if the greatest legacy of the under-appreciated defenders of the free world might be to show how we can team up under adversity and become like brothers and sisters. Men risked their lives and died in that endeavor. All we need to do is replace flying with enjoying the area around our homes, as people have done since humans became sapiens, to lay off the air conditioning, to eat what food we buy and not let it spoil, to favor broccoli over Hot Pockets and beef. The greatest joy humans can experience versus throwing away another coffee cup every day. How is that choice not obvious? Why not make it for yourself once and for all?

183: Reusing and recycling are tactical. Reducing is strategic.


I finally saw how to see reducing versus reusing and recycling. The distinction is subtle until you get it. Then you see that missing it leads people to counterproductive behavior and, egregiously, feeling good about that counterproductive behavior, leading them to do it more. I read yet another person posting about recycling who didn't realize or address that if we keep producing plastic, it won't matter how much we reuse or recycle, we'll still choke ourselves with it. The pattern and view I describe in today's episode applies for mercury, CO2, ocean acidification, using up resources other species need until they're extinct, and so on. Actually, it's more, because reusing and recycling increase supply, which lowers the cost. The place to look for the effect of recycling is not at the specific case. Yes, if you recycle a given water bottle it will stop that bottle from polluting, but lowering the price by putting it back into circulation leads to more uses, like individually wrapped apples and other waste. It's like the fat on an obese person who keeps eating more calories than he or she uses. You get rolls on top of rolls and fat stuffed between all his or her organs. We're bursting at the seams with plastic, and everyone stops at recycling or reusing while we produce ever more. Same with CO2, mercury, etc. I've tried to figure out how to explain that feeling good about counterproductive behavior accelerates it. Today's episode shares the view I came to recently. The title describes it: Reusing and recycling are tactical. Reducing is strategic.

181: The Time I Met Mark Cuban


My book, Initiative, launches in two days. In it I start by describing how Shark Tank, other media, and other parts of our culture that claim to promote entrepreneurship actually discourage it. A few months ago, I met Mark Cuban, one of Shark Tank's main figures, at NYU-Stern and saw him playing his Shark Tank role with students presenting. I was impressed with Mark and initially with the format, but then things changed, which I describe in today's episode.

180: The Difference Between Me and Nearly Everyone I Know Acting on the Environment


Imagine someone said too much stress and proposed giving someone with stress shoulder rubs or body massages. I bet a lot of people would say, "I'm stressed. I could use a shoulder rub." If they were ready to give the shoulder massage then and there, they wouldn't say, "You know who should really get them: the government or big corporations." Yet suggest acting on their environmental values and they'll say their doing something wouldn't make a difference. They'll say go to government or big corporations first. My difference is that I've learned that acting on environmental values is like a massage, but for your soul, after assaulting it for your whole life by living against your values, twisting yourself up inside trying to convince yourself that the jet fuel you paid for that's coming out the back of the plane doesn't really have anything to do with you. There's nothing special about me giving greater access or ability to enjoy nature. I just had yet another meal where a past guest recommended I meet a friend where for a couple dollars, we both ate to our fill with enough for two or three more meals left, almost no packaging (she brought chard with rubber bands), we both repeatedly commented on how delicious the food was, it was convenient, quick, and led to greater conversation. Avoiding food packaging once felt like a challenge. Now food packaging seems disgusting. Avoiding food packaging is like avoiding stepping in dog poop. Living a processed life handed to you by organizations motivated by profit and growth is the opposite of a massage.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter