241: Lt. General Paul Van Riper USMC, part 1: Thoughtful strategy before technology
Why a military general? Isn’t the US military one of the greatest polluters on the planet?
My goal is to bring effective leadership to the environment and your life because spreading facts, figures, doom, and gloom isn’t doing it. Leadership is about people. Technology and innovation have historically increased pollution, as I described in other episodes. Nearly everyone promoting technological solutions is unwittingly continuing the drive toward efficiency that created our environmental situation and continues to augment it.
They miss that increasing efficiency doesn’t necessarily lower total waste, which is our problem, as a glance at any plastic-covered beach or Beijing sky will attest. Again: efficiency has overall increased total waste.
I invited Rip after reading about the Millennium Challenge, where the military invited him to come out of retirement to lead the “red team”—a ragtag group to fight the “blue team”, representing the 21st century US military strategy using every advantage they could—technology, data, weaponry, size, intelligence, and so on.
It sounded like a setup—not a test but a cake walk to showcase what they considered an unstoppable, titanic force.
Titanic might be the best term because he mopped up the floor with them. I’ll put links in the text for write-ups on this historic David and Goliath exchange.
You’ll hear in this conversation why they so miscalculated and how he saw things differently that worked. More importantly, I hope to focus you on the value of focusing on people.
Rip shares the inside story you won’t find in those accounts. I was rivited, and he built it up from talking about his beginnings as a lieutenant, learning strategy like Von Clausewitz that remains timeless, US military development since WWII and Vietnam.
If the relevance to the environment isn’t obvious, I’ll clarify. Acting environmentally means facing an apparently unstoppable juggernaut. It’s not CO2, plastic, and mercury but the beliefs and goals driving people to keep doing what they used to—meat, flying, having as many kids as they feel like, buying SUVs, and so on.
Everyone who says that’s human nature is confusing following a system. Systems can change. Growth wasn’t always a goal, nor did people ship their garbage halfway around the world, nor did it take centuries to decompose. Cultures that had to deal with their garbage learned to live sustainably.
So can we. We can learn from Rip’s teamwork, historical knowledge, vision, and all the things that make up leadership to lead ourselves and humanity to overcome our Goliath: the beliefs keeping us doing what got us here.
Rip has made a big impression on me. I don’t know what makes a general. Talking to him, I think it means learning at a cultural level, or learning deeply about people.
I think we who want to influence human effects on the environment can learn from this experience and view. He talked about senior leadership. In my view, we lack senior leadership