—Systemic change begins with personal transformation—

(Formerly Leadership and the Environment)

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Leadership turns feeling alone and complacent into action.

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522: Abdal Hakim Murad, part 1: Britain’s most influential Muslim thinker

October 24, 2021
Abdal Hakim Murad (born Timothy Winter) is an English academic, theologian and Islamic scholar who is a leading proponent of Islamic neo-traditionalism. His work includes publications on Islamic theology, modernity, and Anglo-Muslim relations, and he has translated several Islamic texts. He founded and is Dean of the Cambridge Muslim College, Aziz Foundation Professor of Islamic Studies at both Cambridge Muslim College and Ebrahim College, Director of Studies (Theology and Religious Studies) at Wolfson College and the Shaykh Zayed Lecturer of Islamic Studies in the Faculty of Divinity at University of Cambridge. In 2010 he was voted Britain’s most influential Muslim thinker by Jordan’s Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre. He has translated a number of books from the Arabic, including several sections of Imam al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ Ulum al-Din. A Sunni Muslim, he regularly leads Jum’a prayers at the Cambridge central mosque, and has spoken in major mosques in Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Spain, and the United States. Recordings of his talks are available on the Cambridge Khutbas website. His articles have appeared in The Independent, the London Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph, The Times, the Catholic Herald, Islamica, Zaman, the Times Literary Supplement, and Prospect. He is also a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day.
Abdal Hakim Murad

522: Abdal Hakim Murad, part 1: Britain’s most influential Muslim thinker

A reader followed up on my conversations with religious figures and authorities from branches of Christianity and Judaism. He wrote

You have presented religious people with «the book». That’s good, and I hope you will find space for a muslim person/scholar and relate it to your concern about the sustainability and climate. I can recommend one person. He is, I believe the leader of Cambridge Muslim College, UK. Abdal Hakim Murad (actually British who converted to islam). He is highly and well respected and also provide guidance on the contemporary society to the community of muslims in UK and also in Europe.

While I know about Islam, I don't know many Muslims, so loved the suggestion and connected with Abdal Hakim.

Beyond his leadership role in Cambridge, England, his personal story and accomplishments intrigued me. The conversation was for me enlightening, especially his insider view of communities that, to the extent I've learned of them, I got a one-sided, American view. He shared of erudite sophistication. We spoke about cultures intersecting and intermingling.

He also share of Islam's long history in Europe, patiently given my knowing little, so if you'd like to learn more and don't know much, I think you'll appreciate our conversation.

Religion and the environment

Our conversation also reinforced my impression that religious people connect with sustainability and stewardship with emotions mine are closer to: beauty and joy, for example, more than obligation and chore, which I hear from environmentalists. He recounts examples of Islam and sustainability, practiced naturally, not just following a recent trend.

Show Notes

521: Blake Haxton, part 2: Teamwork is crucial. How to solve that we're divided

October 20, 2021

I loved Blake and my conversation so much, I'm releasing our first two conversations back to back. Also, our first one didn't reach to The Spodek Method, so he hadn't taken on a commitment based on his environmental values, so we recorded a week later instead of having to wait for him to finish the commitment. He takes on a commitment in this episode, so he'll come back a third time at least.

We talked about how life brings us challenges. In his case a disease led to losing both legs. For everyone, generations of a polluting culture led to the risk of human population collapse. We won't be able to live as before, and possibly billions won't be able to live at all.

Blake is coming to grips with the extent of the situation and what anyone can do about it. We talk about value, teamwork, training, and how his experience and lessons could help everyone. By the end, you'll hear how he starts considering potential roles he could take on sustainability. As you can hear in the last episode and this one, I see his experiences, beliefs, and lessons could help everyone, especially Americans, who treat changing our behavior and the culture driving it as deprivation, respond with enthusiasm instead of the usual "what I do doesn't matter" or "only governments and corporations can act on the scale we need."

He's thoughtful and shares thoughts he's had before our conversation. You can hear him developing and reconsidering his perspectives during the conversation.

I envision Blake taking a leadership role in sustainability leadership. No one has to act on it. Nearly everyone has chosen not to, to hope someone else will take care of things. Only people who want to make sustainability leadership their calling are doing so---nearly no one. But I see him seeing his potential for reaching people in ways no one else can.

520: Blake Haxton, part 1: This Paralympic silver medalist shares the mindset we can all use to face our environmental crises

October 15, 2021

I learned of Blake through the mailing list of the maker of my rowing machine, Concept2. Their piece on him described him as a Paralympic bound athlete. I was impressed, but only thought of him as a potential guest on watching his TEDx talk.

I think my message to his agent describes what I saw in him and when we talked about in this episode:

In Blake's case, I heard a message I've never heard with such clarity and experience I wonder if he realizes how much it applies to stewardship and the environment. It's almost the exact message nearly everyone needs. I can't put it as well as he can, but what he shared starting around minute 3 of his TEDx talk of a system breaking down, where most people would be ready to give up, technology being important, but relationships, faith, support, and laughter being the core of what worked.

I see roughly 350 million Americans and 7.9 billion humans ready to give in and accept a system breaking down. Then I see Blake living the opposite of their resignation leading to a better life, and there's been almost a decade since leading to what I read as yet more improvement.

In my book coming out next year, I quote Churchill's speeches during the blitz -- that it's bad, it will get worse, but we will fight on the beaches, we will never surrender, it will be our finest hour. I heard in Blake's message from a decade ago what America and the world would benefit most from hearing today. I expect it's stronger today.

Since he also just won a silver medal, I also ask him about the training and competing.

519: Terik Weekes, Chief Engineer for Elroy Air: The future of electric flight

October 13, 2021

Should you prepare for a future of clean air travel, curb your flying, or other?

I saw Terik speak on a panel on electric flight. As Chief Engineer at a company winning awards for battery-powered planes, he knew what he was talking about. He has to know about the cutting edge of various fields, including batteries, aeronautics, and materials.

When the Wright Brothers first flew a heavier-than-air craft in 1903, nobody could have predicted a 747. Are electric planes today at the Wright Brothers stage of development, with electric 747s around the corner, are they at the closing end of that line of development with few advances left, or something else?

The news covers the drone market taking off, advances in batteries, and small planes going short distances. I'm curious about the prospect of planes flying people across oceans. Can it happen? If so, when? If not, why not and what does that mean for a culture that values air travel, or may be addicted to it.

What does someone at the frontier of the field anticipate, professionally for electric flying and personally for spending time with his distant family?

Terik and I cover all these questions and more.

518: Killing cities, gardens, and parks, New York's cruel "Open Restaurants" overreach

October 11, 2021

Don't outdoor restaurants sound nice? During the pandemic, New York City allowed restaurants that couldn't host people indoors to serve them outdoors. Many restaurant owners credit the rule for keeping them in business. We neighbors happily supported businesses in need.

The landlords saw the huge profit in keeping this public space for their private property, started raising rents---profiting from a deadly pandemic---and tried to get politicians to give them that public land permanently.

I might not mind if that space were coming from just car spaces, or if restaurants weren't polluting the area so much with plastic, burning fossil fuels to heat the outdoors while California is on fire, other packaging, and noise.

There is a better alternative that no one thought of because we didn't know the city was willing to convert space from parking spaces and open sidewalk. We could turn it to living green spaces: community gardens, playgrounds, farmers markets, bike lanes, public pedestrian spaces, and such. There was already huge demand for such spaces. People wait years for plots in the tiny spaces we have. But search the web for "Manhattan community gardens" and you'll find almost nothing, especially around Greenwich Village.

This program is already raising rents, making new restaurants harder to start. It helps a few individuals while hurting the industry it purports to help.

Those who know New York City's history will see this land grab from the public on par with the failed Lower Manhattan Expressway. People organized to protect what became global destinations: Soho, Nolita, Tribeca, the Lower East Side.

If you have influence with New York City politics, end this program of pollution and destruction.

517: Michael Carlino, part 2: Faith, God, the Bible, and Values

October 8, 2021

Nearly everyone I talk to who works on conservation or would call themselves an environmentalist or something like it treats American conservatives and evangelicals as adversaries, lost causes, hurdles, or even the enemy. They love Katharine Hayhoe for being on their side while also practicing a Texas-friendly version of Christianity. They figure she'll fix them for them. (We're scheduling her appearing on this podcast, if you're wondering).

What do conservatives and evangelicals believe? If you're so right, why don't they agree? Do you believe they're stupid, ignorant, gullible, greedy, or what?

I don't think I've heard anyone talking about them from a place of understanding. I only hear them treated as caricatures with beliefs and motivations they only see as wrong, backward, or ignorant. I never hear them describe their beliefs as reasonable or grounded in something understandable.

Frankly, I'm only starting to learn, but I don't believe they're stupid, ignorant, gullible, or greedy. Michael is only speaking for himself, but he's getting an advanced degree at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, training to become a Pastor. He worked and studied hard to reach that level and has devoted his life to it. He's knowledgeable, connected, passionate, and studied.

In this conversation we continue learning about each other. Well I can only speak for myself, that I'm learning from him. I think he's learning from me. My views and goals tend to be subtly different than nearly anyone expects than mainstream environmental views. In this regard he may understand me better since I see values, beliefs, and behavior as the problem. Most environmental people focus on laws, technology, markets, and extrinsic things. I look at intrinsic. They look to study and recount. I look to act and inspire.

Michael and I talk about faith, hope, belief, and more.

516: Geoengineering: Prologue or Epilogue for Humanity?

October 4, 2021

Here are the notes I read from, responding to this op-ed piece and this review for a book I've talked to the author about but haven't read.

Geoengineering Prologue or Epilogue for Humanity?

Introduction, context
  • Geoengineering is becoming a more common topic as people feel more desperate. The common theme is that when things get serious, we have to put everything on the table, even things that may not work. The problem isn't if they'll work on their intended goal, but everything else. Over and over again in history, the unintended side-effects dwarf the intended ones. In fact, the story of oil, plastics, and most of our environmental problems today, since nobody chose to pollute but did try to improve people's lives despite side-effects they hoped would be small, geoengineering continues that story. Each time people thought they would solve. Each time it exacerbated and here we are.
  • What got us into this mess won't get us out. It will get us deeper.
  • Two recent pieces on geoengineering: Gernot Wagner book and David Keith NY Times editorial. Both results of months of just writing based on years of research and dedicated practice. I've met Gernot in person. Haven't read book but got some of it vocally. Don't know Keith but mutual friends.
  • David Keith invited to engage by Twitter, which I think is disaster and one of our main problems today. People trying to checkmate each other in 160 characters, as he did in saying, please provide data.
  • I will provide data, but not the kind he thinks. As you'll see, I believe history proves his approach disastrous.
  • Both present unassailable perspective: we have to study, not dismiss out of hand, though I think they miss many have studied and out of thoughtful consideration and with difficulty but confidence reject.
  • With 7.9 billion people, no objection to some studying. Plenty of resources.
  • I don't say don't read the article or book. Besides that I haven't read the book, they mean well and want to save humanity from ecological catastrophe. Both value stopping emissions as primary.
  • I'm not saying don't read them, but I recommend other works first. I'd start
  • I may be misinterpreting, but I see them as approaching in two ways: at science and engineering level, understanding the situation, both the state of nature and the state of our technology, and innovating solutions. At the decision-making level, figuring out what we should do.
  • I have a PhD in physics, I helped launch satellites with NASA and ESA to observe atmospheres, I've invented and patented several inventions, brought them working to the world, raising millions to do it. I also ran businesses, got an MBA, and coach executives at some of the world's largest and most prominent organizations, so I'm not a babe in the woods in these areas.
How to look at it
  • What data do I suggest and what do I suggest reading first, before their works?
  • While tempting to look at it as engineering issue, I see it as high-stakes decision-making where we don't have the luxury of not responding somehow, can't possibly have all the information we want, and sections of global economy including millions to billions of lives affected, even human extinction in play.
  • There is precedent, which is the data and history to learn from.
  • Caveat: nothing is perfectly relevant. We are in uncharted territory. In all comparisons, more differences than similarities. But we have no alternate universes to practice on, only history of huge decisions. I don't like situation either, but agree on research.
  • Each comparable itself could be studied forever in infinite detail. None had control groups or alternative realities. But like Gernot and Keith, I believe more study. At end I'll get to where lines of research I prefer could lead.
Comparables and resources
  • Vietnam
    • McNamara and best and brightest from Harvard, etc.
    • Data was last war. Sought numbers in kill ratio, etc.
    • But underlying model was Domino Theory, we're huge and they're third-world, we beat Hitler
    • Johnson focused on domestic agenda, where he was master, and just wanted this to go away. Didn't face it.
    • Military said we have solutions. Believed they could overpower, had to overpower because of Domino Theory.
    • Domino Theory was wrong, without basis. Numbers distracted from hearts and minds.
    • Simple, enjoyable resource on decision-making: Path to War, "Television critic Matt Zoller Seitz in his 2016 book named Path to War as the 6th greatest American TV-movie of all time"
    • Also Fog of War about McNamara's reflections looking back
  • Space shuttle
    • Some data but not relevant so had to extrapolate. People felt desperate and scared not to act.
    • Lots of ways to interpret. There always will be. In this case they made the wrong choice. They knew if they chose otherwise, people could always second guess and say they were wrong.
    • Resource: One of Harvard's case studies of conflicting interests. As physicist, Richard Feynman's stories of decision-making morass.
  • Building highways into cities, Robert Moses, Jane Jacobs
    • Robert Moses always had the data and always got the funding. But data and projections were based on a model as flawed and unfounded as the Domino Theory, that traffic implied demand and more roads would lower congestion. Opposite happened most of the time. We have to live with results for centuries, including today's climate and pollution.
    • By contrast, look at Amsterdam, especially channel called Not Just Bikes. Amsterdam could have looked like Houston does today. Imagine Houston looked like Amsterdam and was as livable.
    • Resources: The Power Broker and Death and Life of Great American Cities.
  • D-Day and Eisenhower
    • To launch or not launch invasion where weather is difficult to predict, can make all the difference, and if you don't go one day, moon and tides mean next time might be a month or never. Hundreds of thousands of men's lives at stake, or all of Europe and free world.
    • Resource: Ike: Countdown to D-Day starring Tom Selleck for focusing on the decision-making and teamwork amid civilization-in-the-balance stress.
  • Green Revolution and Norman Borlaug
    • Faced with people dying immediately, he did what he could to save them. Mid-career he saw the consequences. He enabled more population growth. He used the term "population monster". If anyone knew population, the consequences of its growth, and balancing saving people now and risking bigger problems later and facing the systemic problems now, he did.
    • He spent the latter half of his career talking about the population monster, helping the Population Media Center, for example.
    • Resource, his own quote: The green revolution has won a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation; it has given man a breathing space. If fully implemented, the revolution can provide sufficient food for sustenance during the next three decades. But the frightening power of human reproduction must also be curbed; otherwise the success of the green revolution will be ephemeral only.
    • Most people still fail to comprehend the magnitude and menace of the “Population Monster”. . . Since man is potentially a rational being, however, I am confident that within the next two decades he will recognize the self-destructive course he steers along the road of irresponsible population growth…
    • We haven't acted, his prediction is happening, and geoengineering will at least repeat the problem, more likely augment it. At least it seems a close comparison.
    • Also, recent PBS American Experience on him.
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
    • Joint Chiefs of Staff said situation was serious and we had to act before missiles were armed.
    • Even JFK thought negotiation wouldn't work. It did. We didn't invade.
    • We learned decades later that the warheads were armed, Castro had approval. If he expected to be killed, he could have launched missiles to kill tens of millions and start WWIII.
    • Data suggested invading was best option.
    • Resource: Movie 13 Days. I haven't yet read the book.
  • CVS Drugs -> Health
    • All advice was to keep selling their top profit line. If they didn't, anyone could walk a few steps to another store.
    • Within twelve months they reached former profit levels.
  • Big case: the abolitionists pushing to end slavery in the British Empire. 1807.
Their model and mine
  • I think they see situation like we're heading to a cliff and have to stop the car. They say best solution is to take foot off gas, which is pollution and greenhouse gases, but that doesn't stop the car. Their solutions are more like putting chemical in gas tank to stop engine.
  • I'll grant that view, but only looking at climate misses full situation. Our environmental problems are more than just temperature. If they see the cliff in front and rapidly approaching, I think they see it like the end of Thelma and Louise, broad, flat, lots of space. Not cops behind.
  • But more than climate. It's more like we're on a thin promontory or like thin pier over since there are many other dangers. To the right might be biodiversity loss, which could doom us too. To the left, pollution. About 10 million people a year die from breathing air. But we need more dimensions we could fall off so maybe there are land mines, which represent deforestation, and huge storms representing ocean acidification, and we have to construct more things to represent overpopulation, overfishing, running out of minerals, depleting aquifers, depleting topsoil, and you've seen the headlines and know many more, few of which geoengineering would help and most of which it would exacerbate, not buy us time.
  • So geoengineering is more like we're headed toward a cliff, already with cliffs immediately to our left and right, and more, and geoengineering is like slashing the tires or causing the engine to seize violently, which might possibly keep us from the cliff in front, but first causing us to lose control. Here the analogy is too small because it could cause us to fall off both the left, right, and other dimensions, hit a land mine, get hit by lightning, roll over and crash, and so on.
  • But their version of the Domino Theory and self-confidence blinds them from seeing anything other than one problem and all the other side-effects and the line of thinking that got us here.
  • Acting out of desperation, helplessness, and hopelessness, even when desperate, produces poor decisions.
  • Don't have to ignore long-term to act on short-term. We can regret wrong decisions
  • Study leadership and decision-making. Rarely do technical solutions to social problems solve them.
  • Look for social solutions to social problems. Look at Mechai Viravaidya in Thailand, Population Media Center.
  • Expect unintended side-effects to be greater than effects, as Norman Borlaug eventually realized.
  • Then there's how to learn any performance-based skill: practice. Want to get to Carnegie Hall, Wimbledon, or NBA finals? Practice. If you haven't practiced, you haven't developed the skills. Want to live sustainably? Try! If you pollute more than the average, you probably don't know many solutions that work. Just spoke with James Rebank, a bestselling author, a farmer who started path to industrial. When he tried regenerative things he couldn't have imagined worked.
  • Watch Fog of War to see how McNamara saw how flawed their process was. For that matter, the term fog of war comes from Von Clausewitz. I'm in the middle of reading his work, but listen to my episode with Marine Corps General Von Riper, who cleaned up the floor with the US military in the millennium challenge, playing a woefully under-resourced red team.
  • My goal here is not to be comprehensive, just some quick thoughts since I don't want to take too long to respond to David Keith's tweets.
  • There is a solution that works. Not full solution but major part: live sustainably, as humans have for about 300,000 years. The knee-jerk response is, "but we live differently today." Yes, how we live is what we have to change. The longer we wait, the harder.
  • I just recorded a conversation with a guy who lost his legs to flesh-eating disease. Would you rather live sustainably or lose both legs? Because if you prefer living sustainably, well he was minutes from death, but just returned from Tokyo with a silver medal and shared how lucky his life and great he's made it. He points out everyone suffers and we all face challenges often we didn't ask for. If he can with the choice you don't want, we can do so with the preferable choice. Only we'll eat more vegetables and live closer to family. Mostly life improvements.
  • They downplay the possibility. Listeners to this podcast know I lived like the average American, probably polluting more, but dropped 90 percent. It was as hard for me as everyone, but once committed, doable. Once done, fun, freedom, joy, and better, because living by universal values. Actually, still going as skills develop.
  • Engaging people we disagree with, who think there's no problem, who see population as impossible to change
  • Pope and evangelicals
  • Following domination to stewardship transformation (and Earth not center), grains of sand prophecy interpretation.
  • Contraception: I haven't had vasectomy, but if you can imagine colonizing Mars, I can imagine an implant that can stop and start flow of sperm. Nearly half of pregnancies accidental. Nearly 300,000 years of human history was replacement level and endured. I can imagine a similar device for women. I can even imagine Popes endorsing.
  • When we change our values we innovate just as much, but in direction of new values, which I propose to be stewardship and increasing Earth's ability to sustain life.
  • We can come up with more solutions if we try. Few people are innovating by those values, certainly not in Silicon Valley, Washington DC, or academia.

515: Chad Foster, part 2: A blind man overcoming the trap of feeling you have to fix the world

October 2, 2021

Our conversation in this episode starts by covering his commitment from last time. After a few minutes, it becomes apparent he picked a commitment based on feeling he had to fix the world---that is, extrinsic motivation disconnected from his heart.

We revisited his intrinsic motivations and came up with a new commitment. Acting on intrinsic motivation is leadership. Your emotions create meaning or not. If you've been acting halfheartedly on stewardship, you may have fallen into a trap of feeling you have to act because the media or whoever warned you that you have to but the warnings didn't connect with you. So you feel you have to act for abstract, impersonal reasons.

No wonder anyone would fall into that trap. Nearly all loud voices on the environment push them. We feel if we don't do enough to save the world, there's no point in trying.

Chad changed his commitment to something more aligned with his connection to nature. See if you can pick up the shift. You'll hear he prefers acting for personal reasons. I predict you'll also hear his motivation increase, even become inspiring. I predict he'll do more and, more importantly, influence more people also to change, by starting where he is, not where others think he should be.

If you've felt obliged to act but not inspired, Chad's experience and our conversation may help distance yourself from that burden

514: Jojo Mehta: Ecocide: why you want this law more than you've imagined

September 30, 2021

First, I'm so used to talking to people who don't act and try to convince themselves and others that individual actions don't matter, I loved talking to someone inspiring a movement to change international law, making progress, and enjoying the process. If you like meeting people improving the world, you'll love this episode.

If lowering Earth's ability to sustain life is such a problem, why not just make it illegal? Problem solved, right?

It sounds too easy, or simplistic, too naive. Or does it? Genocide wasn't once a crime and now is. Slavery wasn't a crime and now is. Land mines were made illegal and the group to make it happen won a Nobel prize.

Making something illegal doesn't end it. People still commit genocide. Slavery exists today, as do land mines. But so do theft and murder and I don't hear anyone proposing making them legal. We want institutions of law enforcement and justice to help reduce them as much as possible.

I went from thinking the concept was a crazy distraction to supporting it quickly, which led me to find Jojo Mehta, co-founded Stop Ecocide in 2017, alongside barrister and legal pioneer the late Polly Higgins, to support the establishment of ecocide as a crime at the International Criminal Court. Today she's the Executive Director and speaks on it internationally. I hope you also heard about it recently as the media have picked up on it.

In this episode, Jojo goes far beyond the history and goals of making ecocide globally illegal. She laughs within seconds of the episode starting and doesn't let up. She shares her ebullient energy to act, to share her motivation and goals. You'll feel motivated to act, beyond for yourself.

I love her leadership tip to start: find what outrages you most and act with what you love to do. Listen for her full explanation and examples.

Incidentally, the root eco- comes from the Greek, meaning home. Ecocide means destroying our home. Destroying our home is crazy. Or ignorant.

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