583: Growthbusters called me extreme, so I responded

May 21, 2022 by Joshua
in Podcast

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.”

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