The International Society of Sustainability Professionals invited me to speak to their New York Chapter. Here is that recording. We "whooshed" out the participants' words, so it's just my speaking. Their mission is "ISSP empowers professionals to advance sustainability in organizations and communities around the globe." I described my work, my path to get here, intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation, how you can't lead others to live by values you live the opposite, and concepts relevant to sustainability leadership. I didn't take them to task as much as I could have for living unsustainably, undermining their credibility and trust.
Last night I had trouble falling asleep because before getting in bed, I noticed I had to record two podcast episodes first thing in the morning but I wanted to cook some stew, the forecast was for rain all day, and didn't think my battery had enough charge to pull everything off. Plus I had lots of computer work to do, which would use more energy from the battery. I could always rely on my "cheat" to charge my computer and phone at NYU, but I prefer not to. I'm trying to avoid polluting. I also didn't have enough time between calls and obligations to walk to NYU without possibly missing the beginnings of calls. I found more and more ways to avoid needing battery energy. Toward the end of the day, I realized I not only would I achieve everything, I wouldn't need to go to NYU and use any grid power. I happened to have a call just when some sun shone before sunset; not enough to charge from but enough to make me feel great. I commandeered the beginning of the call to share how I felt, recorded it, edited his parts out, and here it is.
In this episode, I answer a question a listener emailed: Can you share more details on what exactly prompted you to make the switch to acting more sustainably and if it was abrupt or gradual. And perhaps more practical ideas on what to do if you have kids, especially picky eaters, or if your schedule is just too busy to prepare meals 100% of the time. If you have questions on leadership, sustainability, sustainability leadership, doof, a guest, or anything I cover on the podcast, email me.
In this episode I answer: Have you tried making home made yoghurt from plant milk and friendly bacteria. I guess you'd want non packaged options like make from almonds or coconut although home made soya milk is possible with some work. (Using my yoghurt maker is one way I've tried to reduce packaging). Likewise have you tried making vegan cheese? and If you didn't work at NYU what would be your dream job?
Here is the listener's question this time: Where do you think your concern and consideration for others comes from? Is it mostly nature or nurture? (E.g. influence from up bringing). I'm thinking about your social conscience about how your pollution or lack of it has an impact on those you've never met. I like to think I care about others but the truth is I continue to do things like drive to modern jive because it suits me even though it contributes to damage for others.
The notes I read for this episode were long, so instead of including them in the podcast notes, I posted them as a separate blog post.
I answer my first listener questions. If you have questions on topics I write about, like leadership, sustainability, sustainability leadership, sidchas, habits, academia, physics, podcasting, and so on, contact me. This episode's questions: Hi, Joshua, in the winter months of this year, in New York, in your flat, will you use heating or blankets? Can you describe a time when you struggled with a decision about a polluting act? To give an example of what I mean from my own life, as you know I'm trying to reduce my car use. To go to my modern jive night requires car use (no suitable public transport and too far to walk in dark). So I've wrestled with giving it up but decided I didn't want to because of all the benefits to me. Can you think of an example like that in your life? Perhaps something that you couldn't find a less polluting alternative but didn't want to give up
Listening to an episode of Sam Harris's podcast featuring Roland Griffiths, Johns Hopkins neuroscientist researcher, on psychedelics revealed that much of their benefit sounds a lot like my guests talking about their experiences of nature. I think we don't know how much we're missing by paving over and cutting off as much as we do from nature. I'd guess people before we cut ourselves off from raw, wild nature so much would never have guessed we could deprive ourselves from forests, beaches, and birdsong so effectively. As I'm typing these words, cars are driving by with noise engines blasting music you could hear from blocks away. How can we experience the sublime or transcendent under these conditions? I suggest we can't. By contrast, our ancestors generally lived a few minutes' walk, maybe a couple hours, from solitude. I play a couple clips from that podcast and compare their description of the effects of taking psychedelic drugs to simply experiencing nature, commenting on how much we've isolated ourselves from it, having paved over the most abundant parts.
Regular listeners know I started an experiment disconnecting from the electric grid. I began May 22. Then on July 22, I posted an episode that the solar panel or battery broke, or both. I didn't see how I could continue so said that after I finished recording, I'd declare victory, reconnect to the grid, cook lunch, and move on. Regular listeners and readers of my blog know that I posted about keeping going. What gives? Did I stop or not? I'd meant to record an episode explaining that I kept going without even solar power, though still using my "cheat" of allowing plugging my computer and phone at NYU. Recording my second episode with Michelle Nijhuis, I got to share that story, so I'm posting it here. She lived off the grid for fifteen years, so had plenty of relevant experience.
My proposal and rationale for the next amendment for the United States Constitution. It will sound crazy, impossible, and too hard at first, as it did with me. But the more you consider it, the more the objections will fade. It is the right tool for the right job. Nothing else is. I'll write more about it later. For now, just the audio.
Here are the notes I read from: 40% of pregnancies are unplanned. Overpopulation is a major problem for environment so it's a topic for this podcast. Girlfriend who pressured me into unprotected sex and got pregnant Not only women's issue. Men have as much value to add as anyone who hasn't been robbed or murdered to speak on robbery and murder. Her power, reversing her word, pressuring, irresponsibility, tear Financial abortion. If you support abortion, it's consistent and will help you win your case Stories of pro-lifers getting abortions Many men who support abortion and many women who oppose it What if someone believes unique human life begins at conception To me, fertilized cell is not a human being. Like an ant, not an anthill, nor are a dozen ants or even thousands. Yet at some point an anthill forms. Or a cloud. Water vapor everywhere, yet where cloud begins in space or time not clear. Somewhere clump of cells becomes human capable of suffering, before nine months. If you believe the cells don't become human until late and don't accept that others could consider it murder, have some compassion. It may help to learn that many past cultures, including likely yours into the twentieth century, and many others today consider infanticide after birth within days, weeks, or even longer acceptable. How do they look to you? Would you kill a born baby? Can you see that others might see you that way? What would you do if you saw a parent preparing to kill a baby already born that was viable? What would you say to a society that left twins to die from the elements or hunger? Democracies debate life, death, self defense Seems to me a conflict to resolve democratically. No scientific proof Let's say you're absolutely right and not a unique human life at conception or even until birth. People can vote however they want. Can you at least acknowledge their point of view? To lead, you have to go where they are. You're losing. Maybe reconsider your tactics. Likewise, say you can prove unique life begins at conception. Still not well defined. When sperm enters egg? Can't be. When DNA combines? If DNA doesn't finish combining, you'd allow some birth defects to be killed. My point is you still haven't found a hard line Or what if we can clone humans from one cell. Then you must do everything possible to keep that machine running and build as many as possible. Both sides keep pushing toward greater extremes, listening less, not more, trying to circumvent democracy. Stating more extreme positions. I think democratic debate is best solution at high level. Also practically, I think it will win you more support and disarm opponents more. I can't help mention a creative solution from The Satanic Temple. It's making abortion a religious ritual protected by law that health care providers apparently have to honor. If all it takes to force by law a doctor to give an abortion is converting to a religion, I suspect TST may see an influx, new religions may start forming, or existing religions will begin their own rituals. I'll link in the text.
Having just started month three of living off the electric grid in Manhattan, technical issues led me to stop the experiment. I'm not sure the problem, but connecting the solar panels to the power station, it doesn't charge. I don't know how to diagnose it without another power station or solar panel I know works to find the problem. Here are the notes I read from: Last use of electronics off-grid before cooking lunch with pressure cooker, which will mean reconnecting the apartment's master circuit that I disconnected in May. I knew I'd feel dirty because I would cause pollution. Up and down stairs, sleeping in heat, knee injured The hard part wasn't living traditionally. My food was more fresh. I lived with more meaning and purpose. The hard part was living in a different culture, even if just me, than America. I lived by Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You and Leave It Better Than You Found It. As for America, by its fruit shall ye know a tree. What are America's fruits? Not Do Unto Others or Leave It Better. American culture: more men with breasts and fewer sperm than any culture in history. But choice made for me: Power station broke, the computer battery, then charger, now either power station or solar panels. Yesterday had to postpone two meetings. Used power from last time it charged down to six percent on station, about an hour on computer, though longer on phone. Will cook stew, declare victory, and keep using little, especially the fridge. I expect to make twelve months without the fridge Earlier episodes on the experiment: 586: My Kitty Hawk moment, on the way to a Moon Shot 584: Freedom, continual improvement, fun, and curiosity: day three only solar in Manhattan Plus I spoke to a city government advisory group and talked about leading up to it. 593: How I disconnected from the electric grid in Manhattan for 2 weeks (and counting)
Here are the notes I read from: Yesterday my mom suggested I move away from the city if it makes me feel so bad. Last week my dad reaffirmed that he wouldn't appear on the podcast without some vague conditions he was using my invitation to cajole me into. To move away from the problem is exactly the opposite of my mission. Nearly everyone else identifies my work as helping the world, even if they don't see the underlying beauty, harmony, glory, and such I do, but my parents get annoyed and try to change me. Why the discrepancy? If you listen to this podcast, you're probably interested in leading people on sustainability. You probably face different problems with your family than others you try to lead. Maybe my story will help your situation. They love and support their son, or something pretty close to me. How is it that my sharing my mission with them results in misunderstanding? Pivotal life moment: manager suggested sharing problems Growing up we didn't expose problems. If conflict, talking about it was the problem. So that moment was revolutionary. People just are that way. Each person is just that way. You just have to work around them. But above all, don't mention any conflict. When I did, I have memories of my dad bellowing with anger. My mom would more play the martyr and imply the person bringing up the problem hurt her. After all, if no one brought it up, she wouldn't feel bad. So I learned not to expose conflict. All those years I would let it fester. Sad at the relationships I lost. Then learned how to manage conflict. Then learned to manage emotions, learning the difference between a given emotion, even one I didn't like---like say anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, guilt, shame, inadequacy, insecurity---and suffering or misery, which to me are like meta-emotions, emotions arising from emotions. I can feel shame but not misery, which allows me to face shame and act on it, to change myself. I haven't seen that self-awareness in my parents. Once they feel the emotion they don't like, that's the end of the story. That situation is bad. The way out is to change the subject. Other huge life interest: science, understanding nature Conservation of energy is beautiful, on its own and connecting all I don't remember my parents ever showing any interest for science or my study of nature. They supported it, but I don't think it means anything to them. I don't know if they can read a chart. I can't imagine they understand a differential equation let alone see the profound beauty in it. So as I understand them, they can make no sense in working on sustainability. Regarding connection to others, they've already decided how to live their lives. To include the people hurt by their decision makes their lives worse. If ignoring how their behavior hurts others makes them feel better, as far as they're concerned, the problem is solved. They feel better. What's the problem? To bring up at that time that others are suffering for our decisions makes them feel bad. Why not just talk about relatives and who's doing what? From their views, I'm talking about something abstract that makes them feel bad. The possibility of seeing beauty or changing culture is, as best I can tell, beyond them. In the past I've described myself like Meathead, the son-in-law in All in the Family. He believes in equal rights across racial, sexual, and class lines. Most of us would agree with him, but he lives in Archie's house and in that house, roles were prescribed by sex, race, and class, so equality angered him. Archie was the racist with the heart of gold, but what's easy to lose sight of when the show is written to make him understandable, is that a racist with a heart of gold is still a racist. So while I'm Meathead, they're polluters with hearts of gold. So, still polluters hurting people. The more I see how the system of slavery evolved into the system of pollution today, with the biggest difference that the scale of pain, suffering, and cruelty today is much much greater---in that every year today as many people suffer and die as took centuries back then---the more I see a divide like households that split along slavery lines during the American Civil War. Sometimes a family member supported slavery and another supported abolition. That conflict may have torn some families apart. I'd like to think everyone today, if magically transported back to then as a slaveholder surrounded by other slaveholders, would choose abolition, but I think some people, maybe most, if honest with themselves, if magically made a slaveholder surrounded by slavery culture, no matter their skin color or politics today, would support slavery, not to support slavery itself, but not to shake things up. You can tell by how as polluters surrounded by other polluters avoid shaking things up. In the case of my mom and dad, I don't think history will look kindly on these polluters with hearts of gold. I know they love me and support me pursuing what I consider important, even if the connection between our behavior and helpless people suffering is for them mostly abstract, otherwise a source of misery and suffering for them, but they can't see that that human connection is beautiful to me. They can't see that facing a problem can help solve it. We don't just have to accept a system handed down to us that makes what we enjoy hurt people. But I'm not going to move away from the problem.
Here are the notes I read from for this post: Walking through park 2017, pandemic "Thanks" Not thankworthy Restored faith / Nobody does / interrupting / construction worker Office Continual improvement Enjoying Fat / "Titty twister!" / salt "I can't" See meth, fentanyl, heroin users "I can" Forced $20 bill on me Had to run but kept talking Partly wish I'd gotten contact information
"Your story is truly inspirational": feedback from an attendee. The government advisory Manhattan Solid Waste Advisory Board invited me to speak on sustainability leadership Wednesday. I spoke on what led to my experiment going off-grid in Manhattan, two-and-a-half weeks at the time. Here's the video of the presentation, which includes the slides I refer to, though here is the Venn diagram and here is the footprint chart. Here's the audio for that presentation. It starts a bit slow, but stresses one of my main discoveries, that my method goes beyond shifting your mindset. It leads to a cycle of continual improvement. Looking back, I see the pattern. My challenge to avoid buying packaged food for a week gave me the humility and curiosity to question sacred cows like that flying is good and expect that experimenting will yield results that idle speculation won't. I describe the difference between living by my values and leading others. I don't think you can lead people to do what you're doing the opposite of. Living by your values is necessary to lead others. Otherwise you don't know what you're talking about. Then I describe what I did after learning to live without a fridge for most of the year: buying a battery, buying solar panels, testing them, and using them. Then I describe my results: physical, emotional, skills, my evolving connection to nature, and so on. Finally I answer audience questions.
Including their greatest proponents, nearly everyone thinks of and uses solar, wind, and other so-called renewables wrong if their goal is to reach sustainability or to stop reducing Earth's ability to sustain life. They all pollute in manufacture, transportation, installation, maintenance, recycling end materials, and disposal. I'm not saying we can't or shouldn't use them. I'm saying using them as we do is exacerbating more problems than we're solving. Their shortcomings don't come from a lack of insight, innovation, or ingenuity but physics. I'd love to hear of any evidence giving hope around the need for pollution to create, use, and handle at their ends of lives renewable technologies. In the meantime, we don't need them to pollute less, including dropping fossil fuel use over 90 percent in a few years.
The text of this episode: Regular listeners know I’ve been living with my apartment off the electric grid for two weeks, in Manhattan, not off in the woods. Most of the benefits are about connecting more with nature, being humble to it, not dominating it. I’m waking up earlier, for example, to work and read by daylight, so I don’t have to drain the solar-powered battery. Direct sunlight is free. Likewise, during a spell of three overcast days, I had to pay attention to my power use and take advantage of what sunlight I could to charge the battery. Speaking of reading by daylight, the great benefit prompting today’s post is nearly finishing a biography, Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald. I’m on page 507 of 600, not counting the over hundred pages of footnotes. Past the Gettysburg Address, he’s just been nominated for his second candidacy. Talk of amending the constitution is starting to appear. The war appears mostly won, though deaths mount, Confederate wins still happen, and no one knows how to plan for or handle reconstruction. I talk a lot about slavery relating to pollution. I’ve for years taken inspiration from British abolitionists around 1800 who looked across oceans to see people suffering for their culture’s indulgences. For the first time in history, according to podcast guest and author of Bury the Chains, Adam Hochschild, one group worked for another group’s freedom. Every argument you’ve heard to avoid giving up polluting, their peers used to avoid giving up slavery (what I do doesn’t matter, only government and corporations can make a difference, if we don’t others will, it’s not that bad, it will work out, etc), but they refused to accept the cruelty, injustice, and inhumanity. Through their work, and others’, without a civil war, England made illegal the slave trade and then slavery. I look across oceans and see people suffering and dying, displaced from their land or poisoned and killed on it because we fund companies and governments to do it by buying their packaging, fossil fuels, and so on. People commonly describe America as a racist nation, especially white Americans, especially white Americans who don’t act against racism. A Constitution permitting slavery and a three-fifths clause certainly back up that view. What do we make of all the people born into that system who did nothing to create it and who worked against it? Besides Lincoln, consider William Lloyd Garrison, Thadeus Stevens, Emerson, Thoreau, and everyone who opposed slavery from before the Constitution to today? What about the hundreds of thousands of men who fought for the Union, many volunteers, maybe not all fighting specifically to end slavery but many for just that reason? One could argue they should have done more. When they take down statues of Thomas Jefferson, who opposed slavery they point out he owned slaves. You can’t argue he created the system he was born into. How much could he do to change that system within his lifetime? Can you blame him for not ending slavery? Say you blame him for owning slaves, would his freeing his slaves changed the system? Alone, clearly not, but you could argue he should have acted his conscience and done what he knew was right, whether it significantly changed the system or not. Everyone knows everyone prefers being free to being enslaved. What could a free person, benefiting from living in a system of slavery or not, have done? How would they make a difference? Lincoln took a lifetime to reach a position where he could do things like issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which didn’t end slavery, and along the way embraced many crazy notions, like shipping blacks to Africa and many compromises allowing slavery to continue. Most of his life, he wanted to preserve the Union and would allow slavery if it preserved the Union before he would abolish slavery if it would break the Union. In other words, he chose America first over freedom until the Civil War clarified that the Union required freedom. What could anyone do? How can we blame people who looked at the long odds of their actions achieving any meaningful results and went on with their lives? I hope you’re listening and saying, “but they could have done more. We didn’t need over four score and seven years from a Declaration of Independence saying all men are created to an amendment ending slavery.” I’m not saying results were impossible, but what? I’m not just asking for historical reasons. If you feel they couldn’t have done more, can you not see this nation ever since the Constitution including huge numbers not racist and supporting slavery but the opposite: fighting for freedom and against slavery as best they could, meaning this nation contains a huge contingent fighting inequality, racism, and systemic racism, always has, and likely always will. That’s a different picture of this nation. Does it make you feel uncomfortable? Do you believe they could have done more, ended slavery earlier? If they could have done more to end that unjust system, prove it by doing it today to end our unjust system based on pollution. First, let me clarify what oil executives have long known: they are they same system. You can also, if you choose, look across oceans and see people suffering for your lifestyle. You can also choose to say what English people drinking plantation-grown tea, sweetened with plantation-grown sugar and molasses, paid for with profits from mills processing plantation-grown cotton about your flying, ordering takeout delivered in plastic by a fossil-fuel driven vehicle, ordering from Amazon.com. I’ll link in the description to my post showing the systems diagram that the two systems function identically. But I can’t describe it better than oil executives themselves. Andrew Hoffman, University of Michigan professor in its business school and its School of Natural Resources and Environment, wrote of his discovering the historical connection between slavery and fossil fuels. The first time these two concepts were linked for me was seven years ago, when a senior oil industry executive in London asked me a rhetorical question: "If it wasn’t for oil, where would we get our energy?” His answer, to my astonishment, was “slavery” Many people say “never compare anything to slavery. It’s tempting, but nothing compares with slavery.” The biggest difference between the system then and now is that our system today is nearly incomparably bigger and more cruel. As one measure, according to widely and credibly reported studies, pollution kills over nine million people per year. It took the Atlantic slave trade centuries to reach what one aspect of our system does in one year, and we’re increasing that number, you’re paying for it, and there are many other ways our system is killing and causing suffering. Does that it’s happening across the ocean change anything? If you believe it was possible for them to change anything then, prove it. Do it today on our incarnation of the system. If they should have done something, shouldn’t you? If you consider America’s history racist and criticize them for putting other things first, like balancing doing the right thing with paying their bills, and believe their petty concerns dwarfed in comparison to fighting the cruelty of slavery, even if they couldn’t see the cruelty themselves, even if they weren’t holding the whips, what do you think of yourself? What should you do? If Thomas Jefferson should have freed his slaves even if his individual action wouldn’t change the system, should you stop polluting? If it would have been hard for him, should he still have done it? Wouldn’t it enable him to make a bigger difference? Those nine million annual deaths aren’t benign or just a part of life. They’re cruel. Each person wants to live free. Their families see them suffer and have to live with the loss. They are helpless to defend themselves from our jet exhaust, packaging, garbage, and armies and mercenaries kicking them off or killing them for the resources where they live. You may believe we need to make progress to avoid sliding back to the Stone Age, when thirty was old age and mothers died in childbirth, but for one thing, that myth is a lie and another, that’s one of the excuses they gave to abolitionists. We don’t need what we call “progress.” On the contrary, once you commit, you’ll find that every step toward stewardship for all humans and humility to nature makes the next easier. Other cultures than ours have resisted nearly every time they’ve interfaced. As Benjamin Franklin noted in colonial times: When an Indian child has been brought up among us, taught our language and habituated to our customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian ramble with them, there is no persuading him ever to return. [But] when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoners young by the Indians, and lived a while among them, tho’ ransomed by their friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good opportunity of escaping again into the woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them. A contemporary wrote in 1782 Thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of those Aborigines having from choice become European. There must be in their social bond something singularly captivating and far superior to anything to be boasted of among us. This pattern happens all over, including today in the few places left that our flying, takeout, air-conditioning, and so on haven’t paid to plunder and destroy. If our material abundance is so great, why does nearly every culture resist it to where our cultural ancestors and we kill, displace, and displace them for what they have? Maybe you’re not white, or you might throw in not male or straight, and claim your ancestors were oppressed too. I’ll grant your genetic ancestors may have been oppressed, but if you fly, order takeout or Amazon.com, or empty your garbage more than once a year, you have been assimilated and the colonizers are your cultural ancestors too. You’re paying for it. I’m not judging or criticizing. I’m just pointing out what your dollars pay for when you choose to follow the culture you were born into like Jefferson was and balance fighting it with whatever holds you to just buying an electric vehicle. You can change. Which is harder, for Jefferson to have freed his slaves or for you to go camping for your next vacation instead of flying? People who fly for vacations while I bike criticize my buying fresh vegetables as expensive and inaccessible. Even if they were right, though I spend less on food than any of them and have posted my annual expenses so you can compare, then they can stop flying. Why aren’t you doing it?