More continual improvement: the more sustainably I live, the easier each next step. Business people know about continual improvement, also knows as kaizen, the Toyota Way. How do you go from the Wright brothers' airplane to a 747? Not in one jump. Continual improvement, part of the process I have to convey more. I share observations on my week without using the electric grid: about food, climbing stairs, timing sleep to use more sunlight, and more. The picture shows my solar panels and battery on my rooftop.
I share thoughts after two days using only solar power in Manhattan. After recording I turned off the circuit to the whole apartment. I'm on the roof now, charging the battery. The recording shares more. The main themes: freedom and continual improvement. Also fun and curiosity.
The notes I read from for this episode: Notes for Growthbusters comments I love the Growthbusters documentary and helped fund making it free online. I listen to every episode of the podcast. They know I love them and their message and I would only comment on them out of love and support. They quoted and commented on an email I sent them and have to comment back. They’ve hosted me on the podcast. Dave Gardner has been on mine. We’ve become friends and have many mutual friends and colleagues who agree on our environmental problems and that more solar panels and windmills won’t solve them. They’re serious but fun and funny, plus geeky, like me. Recent episode, number 69 coincidentally for the immature out there like me, read an email I sent commenting on a previous episode’s guest. The guest had reduced his consumption based on one among many environmental problems, global warming, trying to consume little enough that if everyone lived that way we’d keep to 1.5 degrees Celsius warming. Regular listeners will see my problems. The small one: Why only look at one symptom? Global warming results from our behavior, which results from our beliefs, images, role models, stories, . . . culture. If we don’t change our culture, we’ll resist and push back on living in what we consider deprivation, sacrifice, burden, and chore. The big one: why present living sustainably as deprivation, sacrifice, burden, and chore? It’s not, as I’ve learned from getting a lot closer, dropping my footprint over 90 percent in under three years. More importantly, I recognize that most of 300,000 of homo sapiens history we’ve lived sustainably. Yet more importantly, I’ve learned that our ancestors didn’t live on the verge of starvation or working non-stop, except when human culture made it that way. Most of the time, things weren’t paradise, we faced challenges, but cultures that ours colonized—and if you use computers, drive a car, fly, and order takeout, you’re a part of this culture, though you don’t have to be, or at least you can try to live sustainably and exit it, otherwise, as long as you pay for unsustainable things, you’re helping drive it—most of the time other cultures lived with higher or at least similar marks of health, longevity, stability, resilience, and what we value. Here’s a clip from that podcast episode, reading my email. [play clip] A few comments First, I loved Dave’s laugh at “There’s Josh for you. He is really good at living a small-footprint lifestyle.” Dave knows me and how I live. It was a friendly laugh. He knows I listen to every episode. “Lead by example”. I’m not leading by example. Experience has taught me that people can look at someone doing what they could and lie to themselves that they can’t, that there’s something special about me that I can or about them that they can’t. Lying to themselves is easier than facing the guilt and shame of hurting people. Believing themselves helpless means they can believe they aren’t responsible and can keep doing what they were doing. I’m living by my values. I’m happy if people see me as a role model, but I don’t expect it. I lead in other ways. “Being extreme.” Here’s the quote that I have to comment on. And it will lead to a gut check with Dave and Stephanie. “Extreme” implies values, as does “middle ground” and “balance.” Everyone is extreme by someone else’s views. They are extreme to Newt Gingrich. Should they balance his values with theirs? Nobody calls me extreme for using zero heroin or killing zero people, but zero is as extreme as I can go. Everyone I talk to says they are balancing, that extreme is too much. What are you balancing with if one side is sustainability? How can the answer be anything but growth and unsustainability? People will say family, work, making money, but it doesn’t change that they are fueling growth and driving a system we are trying to change. Nobody said changing systems is easy, but systemic change begins with personal change. Our greatest challenge is not finding theoretical solutions on degrowth. I can give you dozens of plans that would work if more people agreed with them. But they don’t, because they’re balancing other values. They’re living by other values. If we want others to live by values like sustainability and stewardship, how can we influence them if we live by the excuses they do? If they hear us live by growth, why shouldn’t they? What’s the difference? Every person who resist degrowth agrees they prefer clean air, land, food, and water to polluted and nearly all say they have to balance, not be extreme. I would only ask this challenging a question if I had discovered that every step toward sustainability, while often hard at first, improved my life and that there is nothing special about me in how being humble to nature reveals our shared humanity, what we love and makes us thrive. When I hear someone say I’m extreme, it sounds like calling a parent who changes their child’s diaper every time as soon as they know it needs changing extreme. Parents change their lives far more than I have. In all my sustainability work, I’ve never gotten someone else’s poop on me, nor paid tens of thousands of dollars for others’ education. If you own a pet or garden, you’ve changed your life more than I have. If you own a car, you’ve sacrificed more. If you eat takeout or McDonald’s, you spend more on your indulgences than I do on my basics. “It’s okay for Lloyd to set an example of living a 1.5 degree lifestyle that many many people aren’t close to.” My point isn’t the logistics of how to do it, nor the tactics, strategy, or mission, but above all our values and character. No one raises their kid halfway. We do it out of love, passion, joy, fun, and all sorts of reward, no matter how much poop, vomit, injuries, failing grades, and challenges of family life. My goal is to help people live by values of stewardship and freedom our culture has led us to suppress so much we think we should balance them with dishwashers and flying to vacation. If you want to experience the world, get rid of your bucket list. If you want to love your family, don’t fly to visit them rarely. I don’t want to sound like I’m pushing too hard on them. On the contrary, I believe that all of us, when we switch cultures, will wish we had earlier. Am I overstating myself or speaking out of ignorance, not being a parent, that I feel like I’m suggesting to a parent who abuses their child that they’ll prefer not abusing it? I don’t want to suggest nature or Earth are human children, but we sure are abusing them. When you pursue sustainability enough, you go through many transitions. One big one is from thinking of yourself first, as in “but I want to see my family” to justify flying or “but I had a headache” to justify buying water in a plastic bottle, as one of my NYU students did this semester, to thinking of the people displaced from their land, actually helpless to stop our pollution from entering their lungs, stomachs, and arteries. If I sound uncompromising, it’s because nature is uncompromising. Too many people measure their sustainability action by how much they feel like they tried. That’s why they say it’s so hard, so that every little bit counts for a lot. But two things. One, nature doesn’t respond to your feelings, it responds to your actions. “How much did you pay for pollution?” is the main question, along with “How much did you pay to displace people from their land and kill wildlife to extract?”. Exxon, Trader Joe’s, Apple, and other huge polluters can’t do anything without our money. Whether you can change systems or not, how much are you helping drive that system is a matter of values and character. So I’m only expressing nature’s lack of compromise. If we could bend the laws of nature sometimes, maybe I would. Two, it’s not hard! It only looks hard until you commit and sweat the withdrawal. Then it’s easy, so easy our ancestors did it for 300,000 years without even the wheel. Once you commit, everything falls into place. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes: “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.”
Aren't we living in the best time in history? Don't we have to keep pressing forward to avoid returning to medieval serfdom or the Stone Age and everyone dying young? No. History, anthropology, and archaeology show these beliefs wrong. Humans weren't living on the verge of starvation or nonstop working all day long. Other cultures than the one we descended from enjoyed more health, longevity, abundance, resilience, and freedom than we do, but we keep telling ourselves stories to make ourselves feel better.
People and nations are funding Russia's invading Ukraine, where tens of thousands have died and millions have become refugees. The laws of supply and demand dictate that any use drives up price, so any use helps fund Russia, being such a big supplier. Everyone acts like the only alternative to burning fossil fuels is burning different fossil fuels, as if humans haven't thrived for hundreds of thousands of years without them, generally showing higher signs of health, longevity, abundance, equality, and stability than recent times. In this episode, I view this bullshit view from the perspective of having improved my life by dropping my pollution over ninety percent in under three years in ways you can too (even if you believe you can), also improving your life. Here's the article I read and commented on: Germany is Dependent on Russian Gas, Oil and Coal: Here’s Why | Why Germany Can’t Just Pull the Plug on Russian Energy. Here's the graph I described:
"What I do doesn't matter," say many environmentalists as they order steak or buy tickets to fly some place. That's the addiction speaking. I recently heard Alan Mulally speak on how he led turning Ford around from losing tens of billions of dollars to number one in many categories creating joy, teamwork, and fun despite challenging work. Before being CEO of Ford, he led Boeing, among the two greatest promoters of pollution in the world. Nonetheless, because he leads, which I distinguish from telling people facts and numbers, protesting, or cajoling, coercing, or convincing, I contend that he would be more effective than nearly any environmentalist I know of. I consider him one of my top role models because I see his methods among the most effective in results. In this episode I highlight a passage from a recent talk he gave that addresses "what I do doesn't matter" from a leadership perspective. Though he's talking about Ford executives running the company into near bankruptcy, it applies to all of us lowering Earth's ability to sustain life.
I decided to avoid putting screens on while I ate for a month. I expected to enjoy my food more, to find the euphoria I often feel from fresh, healthy food. I was surprised to find more the feeling of wanting to open a screen: a silky, seductive feeling that said, "It's good to turn on the screen. It's bad not to watch. You'll waste time if you don't put the screen on." The feeling came from inside. I've felt that feeling before, but I felt more conscious of it this time. I wasn't selling-family-heirlooms-to-fuel-the-habit level addicted, but I felt the feelings enough to explore them. I share them in this episode, and how we've built our society and culture around profiting from creating those feelings in doof, social media, travel, online shopping, and increasing parts of modern life. It's sickening. The challenge arose in training Conrad Ruiz, the newest host of the This Sustainable Life podcast family. He hasn't posted his first episode yet. I'll announce it on my blog. He led me through the Spodek Method as part of his training. Normally the first time someone practices, we don't record, but this experience affected me to where I wanted to share my experience. Regular blog readers know my interest in understanding addiction since I see most of our continuing behaviors that pollute, that we know are killing others, is addiction most people would consciously say they aren't but they are. It's hard enough to stop someone addicted from their habit when they don't want to or if they don't think they're addicted. How about 330 million people, or 7.9 billion, who don't even realize they're doing anything in the realm of addiction? Few people think their watching TV or flying is an addiction. Few see using the cell phone as something worth avoiding, even as they use it five hours or more a day.
My notes that I read from for this episode: Sea wall for Manhattan, like Holland: expensive, huge, likely won't work Controversial already. Natural solutions might work better. Let's say they worked. On Staten Island, Fresh Kills Also everywhere, all coasts unprotected Now think of Cancer Alley Gulf coast, oil refineries and global toxic dumps All that pollution will be dispersed to seas and biosphere I'd guess hundreds of thousands of years Think of the suffering Challenge is more than energy. Also thermodynamics. Everything will disperse. Best solution: stop using fossil fuels now. Yes, we'll face problems, but we'll solve switching problems more easily than global garbage. Not an option: keep going as we are and maybe the problems won't happen.
"People want to act, but it's hard," my business friend said to me, speaking on the environment. I said it to myself for most of my life before learning that acting on the environment, however hard, was fun. Raising a child is hard too, but people do it. This time we happened to be speaking over video and recording it. I'm posting what I happened to say extemporaneously. I wouldn't describe it as a rant, but sort of close. I talked about slavery, abolition, learning, doing hard things, and more. I said what I wish someone had said to me twenty years ago. I would have acted earlier. It also shares how someone who has acted more sustainably for more than a few years thinks.
Here are the notes I read from for this episode: Will hit 70 next week. Dawning on people what has dawned on what we now call the global south, that the projections are more serious than they internalized. That their world is going to be rocked. Maybe they realize, that this will be the coldest Christmas for the next ten thousand years and that billions of people may be displaced. Maybe they realize that you can't move billions of people without many of them dying. The global north, including you, will not let more people into the country than are there now.. Many people considering polluting less. A few asking me about not flying, which for years no one would consider. But their life depends on polluting activities. They didn't ask for system. What can they do, never see their family again? Think of all the good they can bring the world. They just took down Thomas Jefferson's statue. Should they have? What excuse for owning slaves? He inherited. Didn't ask for. Owning them allowed him to spend more time with family. Look at what it enabled him to do Should he have sold them and made money? What if just freeing them bankrupted him? Left him with no way to contribute to world? It wouldn't have stopped slavery. If your reason for traveling is work, instead of Jefferson, ask about some guy with an empty slave ship in Africa. He got investors and took out mortgages. It was a legal deal. He has investors to pay back. He may even have believed he was bringing backward people to civilization. So he's got an empty ship and he's an ocean from home. They didn't pack people into ships for their own health. Their business model required them to bring that many. If he brings a full load of slaves to the colonies, he can at least get home after dropping them off. Let's say for the sake of argument that if he doesn't trade them, he will make no change whatsoever to the system. How many slaves should he bring on this trip? How many more trips should he take? Is there any question he's hurting people? How many more flights should you take? How much meat should you eat? How much plastic should you use? Do you wonder if your actions are causing people to suffer? Let's say for the sake of argument that your actions won't change the system whatsoever. Why do we learn history if not to learn from it, not repeat its mistakes. I had to struggle with these questions and challenges when I chose to avoid meat, packaged food, and flying. I don't know why you would think it's harder for you than for me, Thomas Jefferson, or the slave trader. It wasn't for me and if you stop and think for a bit you'll realize people will think it was easier for you and you'll realize how dehumanizing and insulting they will be of your struggle, so you may see how ignorant and insensitive you are being toward me. But I do know you'll be glad when you realize what's right for you and the the people in the global south. That history will view you like the slave owner, no matter your skin color. Of course many differences between the system of slavery and the system of pollution, but the biggest one is that our system today produces much more suffering and death. 10M annually versus centuries. But it twists people into acting against their values, thinking more of themselves than the people they torture. What else could I do, not see my family? The liberation and freedom you feel on the other side of the difficulty of realizing you yourself will enjoy life more and be able to get everything you wanted from it when you stop doing what you know kills others. It's not fair. We didn't create this system. We didn't ask for it. If people before hadn't set it up, we'd never create it. We didn't ask to be born. We want to help the people being hurt. But all of that counterfactual doesn't change that we do live in this world as much as Thomas Jefferson did.
NOTE: I recommend watching the video of this episode, not just listening to the audio. What does the environment mean to you? We are motivated by what's in our hearts more than facts or numbers so I believe we will act more when we connect with what's in our hearts, which inspires us. The fastest, most effective way to influence governments and corporations is to act ourselves here and now, keep acting, keep learning, and then lead others based on our experience acting. I also ask most of my podcast guests what the environment means to them. I start my third TEDx talk, Stop Suggesting Small Things. Do Meaningful Things, with my answer by saying how I grew up near the best sledding hill in the world. I visited for the first time in a long time, took a few pictures, and narrated them. I hope the experiences put you in touch with what you find meaningful in nature. I couldn't bear in the video to comment how this idyllic appearing spot isn't far from where I got mugged a couple times, my bike stolen, threatened with a wrench in my face by one group of kids and a rock by a couple others demanding my watch, etc. In the beginning of the video I walked past the house of the family that barely escaped Hitler. And everything in between. It was a childhood of diverse living.
I've meant to record this episode for a while, as the idea of saying "fuck it," not trying, forgetting about the future and my effect on others, and enjoying what our society offers seems everyone else's choice. So I'm going full snarky. A rare unedited episode, starting from these minimal notes: Reasons not to care Money Clothes Travel Understanding Disgust, can look away Disposability Kids: was going to say I couldn't look them in the eye Sales and marketing Get credit anyway Showers Cars Eat anything Community Society is for you Reasons to care Help other people you don't know and aren't born Animals Why I can't not care I lack the privilege of scientific ignorance