—Joshua Spodek's adventures in stewardship—

(Formerly Leadership and the Environment)

Community, support, vision, stories, role Models, experience.

Leadership turns feeling alone and complacent into action.

We bring leaders to the environment to share what works. Less facts, figures, and gloom. More stories, reflection, self-awareness, connection, support, and community.

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433: Adam Hochschild, part 2: Abolition then, pollution today

January 24, 2021
Adam Hochschild teaches narrative writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley. Adam Hochschild is the author of ten books; Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes is his most recent.  Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939, appeared in 2016. Of his earlier books, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the PEN USA Literary Award, the Gold Medal of the California Book Awards, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 were both finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels and the more recent Lessons from a Dark Time and Other Essays collect some of the articles he has done in several decades of writing for various newspapers and magazines. Earlier in his career, he was a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, a commentator on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” and a co-founder, editor, and writer at Mother Jones magazine. His articles have also been published in the New Yorker, Harper’s, the Atlantic, the New York Times Magazine, and elsewhere. In 2009 he received the Theodore Roosevelt-Woodrow Wilson Award from the American Historical Association and in 2014 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2020, the New York Times Book Review featured Hochschild as the subject of its weekly “By the Book” interview. At the Graduate School of Journalism in 2018, former PBS NewsHour correspondent Elizabeth Farnsworth interviewed Hochschild about his work (interview starts at 6:00 minutes into the video recording). Hochschild has also been interviewed about his writing on the Congo by Scott Pelley of “60 Minutes” and by Terry Gross of NPR’s “Fresh Air” about Spain in Our Hearts and about To End All Wars. The text of a print interview with him about his body of work appears here, and a C-SPAN recording of him talking about Lessons from a Dark Time is here. He has also spoken at the headquarters of Wikipedia, the Wikimedia Foundation. A recent magazine piece of his looking back at the Armistice that ended the First World War, appeared in the New Yorker, as did another article about a very Trumpian moment in American history a hundred years ago. Other subjects he has written about in recent years include  the civil war in eastern Congo,  a highly unusual museum, a shadowy general who was the father of American surveillance, an oddly personal connection to the latest Tarzan film, and, with a humorous take, 2020’s worldwide epidemic of toppling statues. His most recent magazine piece is a profile of a former pro football player turned restorative justice activist. He and his wife, sociologist and author Arlie Russell Hochschild, have two sons and two granddaughters.
Adam Hochschild

433: Adam Hochschild, part 2: Abolition then, pollution today

If you've followed my development on how to view acting on sustainability, you've seen a marked change when I learned about the British abolition movement of the late 1700s and early 1800s. Today's guest, Adam Hochschild, wrote about that period comprehensively in his book Bury the Chains. We talked about it in our first episode and in more depth this time.

Until I learned about this movement and this group of people, not unique but important actors, I saw few to no role models of what Adam points out is rare: people devoting themselves to helping other people become free.

We present ourselves as potentially suffering from environmental problems, but we are benefiting from ignoring how others suffer for our way of life. You are almost certainly more like the absentee landlords and shareholders in companies profiting from slave labor thousands of miles away than like the people suffering.

Adam's book gives us role models of people who said, "I could benefit and even though everyone around me does so, I cannot support or benefit from this system. I will make it my life's mission to end it." In their cases the distant sufferers were in the Caribbean. In ours it's Indonesia, the Philippines, India, southeast Asia, Africa, Central America, and most of the world.

This time I picked up on the importance of slave rebellion, telling me we have to connect with people on the receiving end of our disposing of plastic and the exhaust from our cars, jets, and power plants.

I also wanted to learn about the personal side of the people Adam portrayed. How did they persevere through discouraging times? We're facing discouraging times. Most of us could in principle pollute a lot less, but our culture creates resistance.

The more I learn about abolition, the more I find their movements and results relevant and inspiring. How better can we honor their legacy than to use it to reduce suffering today? To me, learning that people faced resistance like we face and overcame it as we'd like to. We have the benefit of their history. If you'd like to lead yourself and others to reduce suffering by changing culture and systems, I can't recommend enough to learn about people who have succeeded before.

432: Matthew Stevenson, part 2: What can environmentalists learn from disarming racism?

January 21, 2021

Many people talk about responding to threats or people they disagree with with empathy, compassion, treating everyone with respect. In practice, I see people doing the opposite. They don't feel, "I'm right, you're wrong." They feel "I understand reality, you don't. I have to teach you." or often they feel they have to force them.

Likewise, on the environment, nearly all environments try to convince people who disagree with them through lecture, facts, figures, and charts. When that doesn't work, they resort to shame, guilt, eventually disengaging and trying to outpower them through legislation.

Matthew Stevenson did the opposite. He practiced what many preach and it worked. In our first episode, which I recommend first, he shared how he worked and his mindset. The more I heard, the more fascinating I found it. More to the point, the more practical and effective I found it.

The word convince, by the way, comes from the root -vince as in vanquish, to defeat. Attempts to convince generally provoke debate. After all the person was already right in their own mind before you talked to them. Maybe you're wrong. If you aren't open to it, why should they be? When was the last time someone defeated or vanquished you and you said, "Okay, now I agree with you and I'll follow you."

I invited Matthew back because he shared how to do what many of us talk about and we know great historical figures practiced, but few of us know of people-on-the-street role models we can follow.

Would I have predicted when starting this podcast, this effort to bring leadership to sustainability, that I would talk about a white nationalist website Storm Front with an orthodox Jew? I doubt it, but I find him one of the best role models for me. Most guests I think of as role models for listeners, experimenting sharing environmental values most of us don't, acting on them, doing what almost no one has yet so we can all learn from them.

With Matthew, he's doing what I endeavor to. It's emotionally incredibly hard when I feel I know I'm right or that I understand reality but they don't to end up condescending or sounding self-righeous because I feel self-righteous, it's hard then to conjure up humility, empathize, listen, and get to a place where they're right and I'm wrong.

So he's a role model for me. His strategy took a long time but it worked and the solution is enduring. Plus he laughs and jokes about it.

He didn't convince, vanquish, or win. He made a friend.

431: I sang every day for two months, unplugged (still going)

January 20, 2021

What do you do if you use less power? No social media? No listening to music? No TV?

Sound like a fate worse than death?

Inspired by guests on my podcast who find amazing activities to live by their environmental values, I committed to turning off all my electronics to sing every day. I've almost never sung in my life beyond Happy Birthday and The Star Spangled Banner so I'm mortified to play my remedial results live, but I love it. I know I'll keep going so today's recording isn't the end.

I recorded singing a couple songs at the beginning. to record I opened the laptop, all other times I sang with the power off. At night I had to open the door to the hallway to read the words with my apartment lights out until I started singing outside during my daily walks picking up litter.

So far I've spent zero dollars. The first two weeks I sang fifteen minutes a day. Later I shifted to at least one song, so a few minutes a day.

Today's episode starts with my describing the experience and a few stories, then with neither pride nor shame, I play the "before" recording, then the "after."

The track listing:


  • 14:42 The Beatles, Across the Universe
  • 19:30 The Beatles, While My Guitar Gently Weeps


  • 22:40 The Beatles, Across the Universe
  • 26:28 The Beatles, While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • 28:44 John Denver, I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane
  • 31:26 Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
  • 33:01 Spandau Ballet, True
  • 36:12 The Cure, Pictures of You
  • 38:54 Earth, Wind, and Fire, September
  • 42:19 Woody Guthrie, This Land Is Your Land

430: Rabbi Yonatan Neril, part 1: The Eco Bible

January 18, 2021

In the midst of several episodes on religious approaches to sustainability I learned of today's guest, Rabbi Yonatan Neril's book The Eco Bible: An Ecological Commentary on Genesis and Exodus.

He founded and directs the international Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, including its Jewish Eco Seminars branch. He wrote the book to shine new light on how the Hebrew Bible and great religious thinkers have urged human care and stewardship of nature for thousands of years as a central message of spiritual wisdom.

He has spoken internationally on religion and the environment, including at the UN Environment Assembly, the Fez Climate Conscience Summit, the Parliament of World Religions, and the Pontifical Urban University. He co-organized twelve interfaith environmental conferences in Jerusalem, New York City, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.

On a personal note, I saw the chance to learn about my family and upbringing. My father is the person I know most knowledgeable and practicing about Judaism. He is also among the people I know among the most resistant to reconsidering views on nature, pollution, and considering changing how he interacts with it. I was curious how his religion influences him.

Yonatan presented another approach full of joy, community, connection, service, and faith. I can't say others all approach it like a chore or burden, like something we have to do but really don't want to, but I sure see that approach more. I like Yonatan's mood more.

429: What about jobs?

January 17, 2021

"What about jobs?" people often ask to counter proposals to constrain some activity. Today's episode answers.

Here are the notes I read from:

  • What about jobs?
  • People out of work drain on society, not so happy
  • Store near me that sells trinkets
  • Of any value?
  • I'd prefer a hug, shoulder rub, or make me dinner
  • Many stages to make: plastic from oil, factory to make, transportation, store clerk
  • Factory, put near landfill
  • What about trucks and boats?
  • Better to drive and sail around in circles
  • Absurd, but actually better world paying to do worthless work with more hugs, shoulder rubs, and home-made dinners, oil in ground, people not displaced, skies clearer
  • Classic historical case of buggy whips
  • If legislated, people wouldn't die.
  • People out of work now clamor to work. People love to serve.
  • I don't know where people's faith in entrepreneurship goes. Constraints breed creativity.
  • Need problem to exist to solve it. If you wait for planned jobs to exist before demand, will never happen. If you keep going in counterproductive industries, we'll destroy Earth's ability to sustain life and society.
  • Economists are incredibly wrong in this area, especially free-market, Ayn Rand types.
  • I'm studying Edwards Deming. Japan: government and industry post WWII did what would be anticompetitive in U.S., but transformed nation and world, more happiness and products, no shortage of competition. Have you seen pictures of Sao Paolo before and after banning billboards.
  • So I'm pretty sure that if we outlawed just producing dioxins and PFOS and carcinogens and created some jobs programs to teach Initiative, which would be enough, or something better if you know, as other nations without our addiction problems do, we'd improve the world by everyone's standards, including the free-market, Ayn Rand types.
  • I think at the root is a belief that people want to be lazy. I just don't see it in at least 99%. If last 1% say 5% scare you, are you really going to let your fears of 5% of people drive economic policy to ecological ruin?
  • I would much rather have shoulder-rubs, dinner made for me, or to make dinner for her, hugs, and what entrepreneurs come up with than destroyed planet. Remember, all those trinkets mean extracting oil for materials, to drive factories, truck, boats, etc to deliver, $1.6B to haul away.

428: Vanessa Friedman: The New York Times Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic

January 14, 2021

Vanessa Friedman sees the fashion world from a vantage point few others can as the Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic at the New York Times. She arrived there after pioneering roles covering fashion at Financial Times in a first-ever role there, InStyle, Vogue, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and Elle.

She shares the industry's forays into sustainability---or responsible fashion in her terms---as well as sharing her thoughts on it.

Right off the bat she talked about reducing consumption, which I differentiate from reusing and recycling, which most people jump to, but I consider tactical. Reducing is strategic. Harder to get at first, but leads to easier life and work.

I was awkward, as I don't know the fashion world, but you can hear from her that environmental responsibility is catching on in fashion. Barely so far, but in some places at least authentically and growing. It looks like there's hope in the industry, though they have a long way to go, a lot of resistance, and many players acting in the opposite direction.

I'm also glad to hear Vanessa's personal attention, thoughtfulness, interest, which all sounded heartfelt, thorough, and genuine. At the New York Times she's at a leverage point so I suspect she will influence. I like that celebrities are acting because, however small that change, they influence others. I believe they can help change culture.

427: Behind the Mic: Attraction and leadership

January 3, 2021

Former guest and founder of the most popular men’s dating advice website Chase Amante guest-hosted me to continue the conversation I started with Dov Baron on learning attraction, dating, and seduction and applying it to leadership. My conversations with Dov are in earlier Behind the Mic episodes.

I start by sharing why I broached this topic at first with Dov, despite it not obviously connecting to sustainability. The short answer is that leadership for me means sharing relevant parts of yourself candidly and openly. While business school leadership classes opened the door for my learning social and emotions skills of leadership, practicing in the world of learning attraction gave me practice on many social and emotional skills for leadership. After mastering them, I honed how to coach and teach them being hired by one of the top gurus in the field.

We treat misconceptions about the field, or at least our exposure to it and our practices and community. I'm sure some will retain misconceptions and misapply them.

We also shared about our experiences in the field.

426: Why unplug?

January 1, 2021

I'm in my second month since I unplugged my fridge. Why unplug it?

Not because I think its power makes anything more than a negligible difference. This episode describes why.

Here are my notes I read from:

The other two reasons I unplug the fridge. The first was after reading Vietnam and much of the world ferments, I was curious to learn fermentation. Second is reading how much backup power a grid needs to maintain perfect uptime. Resilience. Each bit after 99% costs a lot more. Alternatively, 95% requires almost no backup. Third is to learn and grow myself. Neediness and entitlement, especially to things that hurt others and nobody needed for hundreds of thousands of years, doesn't make me better person. Do you know anyone spoiled? Do you describe them as "You know what I love about Kate? She's spoiled and acts entitled."

425: General William “Kip” Ward, part 1: Security, Stability, and Sustainability Start with People

December 28, 2020

Kip Ward is a retired General who, among other things, was the first leader of the Africa Command. He shares his background so you can hear it from him. It's extensive, having served at every level of the army. I met him through previous guest Frances Hesselbein and watched a few videos in which he spoke of leadership, which I linked to below.

He spoke of things I don't see in sustainability and environmental stewardship but work. I took away from those talks

  • Addressing the conditions that led to a situation
  • Good, effective governance through sustained efforts, which he contrasts with technology or authority
  • Authority and force being the last option, despite it being what he was trained in to reach that level
  • Understanding the society and people you want to lead. Their interests and views drive all you do. You have to know your team and goals, but theirs drive strategy.
  • Get to know people and what matters to them.
  • Listen.
  • Do yourself what you expect them to do.

I particularly like his commitment for reasons you'll understand when you hear it. Kip is choosing deliberately. I believe action by leaders helps others to follow.

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