(Formerly Leadership and the Environment)
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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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451: Alexandra Paul, part 1: A Genuine Celebrity Role Model
I saw a TEDx talk on population where the speaker spoke thoughtfully and persuasively on overpopulation. I consider the topic among the most important on the environment, yet nearly no one talks about it, so I had to find out who she was and invite her to the podcast.
She turned out to be a huge celebrity. Most people who talk about population are academics, at least in my experience. They know the facts but tend to present them abstractly. Who was this Alexandra Paul?
You could see from her bio that she's acted in movies and television. She cohosts the Switch4Good podcast on veganism with an Olympic athlete. She's also finished Iron Man triathlons and been arrested for non-violent civil disobedience. She's genuine, authentic, and mission-driven. Where others lecture or tell others what to do, she smiles and does it herself.
If I hadn't met her, I wouldn't have believed she existed. She does and here's the conversation with her.
Though I haven't actively practiced physics since defending my thesis in 1999, it felt great to talk science with the author of a book named one of the best non-fiction books of all time. The conversation stayed where nonscientists could understand, but we spoke, I think, how physicists do, though I'm out of practice.
We talked about values, the difference between theory and experiment, the beauty of experiment, running experiments by the South Pole and tops of mountains, Einstein, Feynman, and technology. Of course, sustainability too.
He shared about the writing of his book, the life that led to it, and the life it led to of becoming a spokesman for science.
We also closed with him describing his podcast, where he interviewed me.Click here to see the video of our conversation.
How do you face challenges? Not little ones like a pandemic lockdown for a year. Big ones.
Regular listeners hear me talk about role models like Viktor Frankl and Nelson Mandela in the context of handling life challenges. During the pandemic, for example, I recognize there was suffering before, there will be suffering after, and there's suffering now. Our challenge is not to take on things outside our control since we can't, but to figure out how to respond, not just to the world but within our hearts and minds.
We're locked down. Nelson Mandela was locked down for 27 years. If he could create meaning forced to break rocks, I can find meaning in my home, able to go out every day, with access to communicate with everyone, access all the culture ever digitized, and so on.
In the context of sustainability, do we just give up? How do we find hope and resolution to act even when everyone around us says what they do doesn't matter or that only governments and corporations can make a difference? What role models can we find.
Today's guest, Chad E. Foster, lost his eyesight as a teenager, but that didn’t stop him from becoming an executive for Red Hat, the world’s largest open source software company and securing over $45 Billion in contracts throughout his career.
He is the first blind graduate of the Harvard Business School leadership program and did what Oracle said could not be done; he built a software solution that created job opportunities for hundreds of millions of people. His direct and confident style, combined with a go-for-it inspiring belief system (he is an avid downhill skier… and that’s not a joke), has made him a high-impact speaker for leaders at companies such as Google, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, GE and Microsoft.
He also skis double black diamonds, which he talks about learning.
Your blood contains PFOA, also known as forever chemicals. They cause cancer of several types, birth defects, and more.
Dupont and other companies produced this stuff after learning it caused harm and dumped it into our environment. As best we can tell, they chose enormous profits over the health of their employees at first, and eventually all Americans and all humans because this stuff takes millions of years to break down and accumulates in our bodies.
We know because Robert Bilott, today's guest, took on a small farmer's case. His cows were dying, we now know from water poisoned from Dupont dumping these chemicals. They pulled on the thread and the whole sweater unraveled. Robert's story became on par with those in the movies Erin Brockovich and A Civil Action.
The highly-reviewed 2019 movie Dark Waters featured Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway, and Tim Robbins playing him, his wife, his coworker. The New York Times featured him in its 2016 magazine article The Lawyer Who Became DuPont's Worst Nightmare. The most personal account is his 2019 book Exposure.
In our conversation I tried to bring out what we who want to conserve our environment could use: what is it like to face something we feel is right, to fix a great problem, to act on our values, even when it seems like we will have to swim upstream?
Because regarding sustainability and nature, we all sense how much easier swimming upstream would be.
Or would it? The more I act, the more I find new role models like him who make the choice I feel right more clear. Listen for yourself. Would you like to feel about your life and family how he feels about his? Could acting even when it's hard help?
People often call my not flying or taking two years to fill a load of trash extreme. Not by the standards of role models like Robert. The more I act, the more I find people like him and the closer I feel to them.
Maybe I could fantasize about living in a world where I could act without caring who feels the consequences of my actions. Not really, because I find caring for others creates value, not ignoring them. In any case, I don't live in such a world. Everything I do connects me to others. I've come to find that connection improves my life, even if it means not flying or ordering takeout.
I've got a long way to go to reach his level of giving and his level of getting. He said he wouldn't change a thing.
Kathryn Garcia, candidate for Mayor of New York City joined. No matter where you live, the mayor here matters. Many national trends in politics, business, culture, education, sports, and more start here. Our output in entertainment, culture, but also pollution and population affect the U.S. and world.
I wanted to treat two issues: sustainability and leadership. Also hear Kathryn Garcia as a person, not just a candidate.
Talk about a welcome change from all-too-common American politics! You'll hear a public servant speaking with experience, knowledge, and heat.
There are more issues than a mayoral candidate could talk about in one episode with the city in the midst of a pandemic, ethnic and racial strife, a cultural scene that's been shut down, disparities in wealth greater than before the depression, and so on. I didn't want to leave them out but wanted to focus on these issues that matter to everyone, but are less covered elsewhere.
You'll hear for yourself. I heard someone speaking from her heart and experience that she's acted and reflected on that matter to everyone who breathes and pays taxes.
I noticed a trend among podcast guests that the people who have already acted the most on sustainability find new things fastest. By contrast, people who do less say they're already doing all they can, or at least all they can think of.
That's backward, or would be if you thought there were a limited number of things you could do. The so-called experts who themselves haven't acted promote big, Earth-saving projects which of course I support, but they end up knowing only big, complex things. Most people can't think of what to do when they want to.
That the people doing the most find more to do fastest suggests the more we act the more we want to act, the more we know what we can do, the more we enjoy nature.
How big or small you start matters less than if you enjoy it. If you enjoy it, you'll keep acting and eventually reach big. You'll also share with others. Big acts that we share add up.
We got into territory I'd wanted to talk to a religious scholar about. I would have expected being recorded would make us more tentative, but I found the opposite. I didn't keep track, but several times I said feel free not to answer. Instead he answered more, sharing what he'd thought and researched about in depth.
We cover Joseph, Isaac, the Arch Bishop of Burundi, population, contraception, consumption, and more, both in principle and in our personal lives. We also cover his personal experience in the woods near his home, his family, his work, and how they all interplayed.
Family is the number one reason people give about not being able to act. "Josh, you don't have kids, you don't understand how it's impossible." Well, take it up with yet another family man who found nature and stewardship bringing his family closer.
This conversation, along with ones with religious guests like Bob Inglis, Brent Suter, and Eric Metaxas, as well as unrecorded ones with friends, make me evaluate the approach of many environmentalists, including myself often. Too often their message comes from a place of "I'm right, you're wrong, let me explain how." I'm not excepting myself.
What works? I'm sure I've mentioned the root of convince -- vince as in vanquish. When was the last time someone vanquished you and you responded, "You beat me, now I agree with you."?
I find it more interesting to learn from people I disagree with, more fun, more engaging, and I learn more too. I don't want to imply I'm a paragon of humility or even remotely like that ideal, but I've come a long way and am glad for the distance I've traversed.
Do you know anyone whose company pollutes more than they'd like, who wants to change things, but whose company keeps not acting?
I think that situation describes almost everyone. Even the most sustainably companies aren't close to sustainable. They just pollute a bit less than everyone else, from Patagonia to Greenpeace. Maybe it describes you. Maybe it fits your elected officials, school administration, church leaders, etc as much as your employer.
Today's guest worked at Exxon for 16 years. If any place qualifies as the poster child for contributing to climate change, well Dar-Lon Chang can tell us the view from the inside.
If you'd like to change but feel frustrated, Dar-Lon probably faced bigger hurdles, with more to lose. After 16 years, with wife and daughter, with no job, he left for a new life. He'll share his story, but a preview of what to listen for, he prepared, but he also shares why he wished he had acted earlier.
Another major theme that I consider more valuable coming from someone who knows the science, technology, financing, and history, he found technology has a role but is not the answer. It's much more about culture, which I'm bringing his story to help change.
As I told him, once I read his story, I knew I had to do what I could to amplify his story. If you're thinking of acting but think you won't make a difference or your risk is too great, first, consider Dar-Lon's risk and how he wished he'd acted earlier.
Over and over I see the people with the most resources, who say others with less can't do it, are actually the ones who feel the most trapped even though they can. Exactly what they got to create freedom traps them. If you feel you can't, consider that you may be more able to.
Here are my notes I read from for this episode
It hit me recently that nearly nobody knows what's so bad about climate change. I've started asking people and nobody knows. Actually, of the dozens I've asked, one knew, though it took prompting for her to say it.
Everyone gets sea level rise, biodiversity, loss of coral reefs.
I'll grant we have to move cities. But I'll respond that after some loss, we'd rebuild, which could create meaning.
I'll grant more and bigger hurricanes, but I'll respond that we'll learn to build hurricane-proof buildings. Katrina's losses in lives and property, while tragic, are nothing compared to the material gains. Most people see fossil fuels brought billions out of poverty, longevity, prosperity. That trade seems worth it.
You've maybe read books like The Uninhabitable Earth or ones describing the hellscape we may turn the Earth into, but most people see science and technology able to fix those problems. We'll live underground or undersea.
To describe the problem I have to retell a story regular listeners have heard before. My friend Kevin and the elk.
Climate change means looking back doesn't work and the collapse increases. I'll describe the problem in simple terms. It may sound moralistic or ethical, but I'll just state it like if I drop something it will fall. The sun rose this morning in the east and set this evening in the west. Dogs growl. Cats purr. And climate change would result in billions of people dying.
This result is why I devote myself to changing course. My podcast is practice leading people. I plan to use my book to help lead more people and to launch big-time to reach the most influential people in society.
Business people should get this most. They know how markets can drop in recessions and that companies can have to downsize. They know the pain. The problem with them is that they think, "well, we recover from recessions." They don't distinguish between people losing jobs and people losing lives.
So I don't agree with the trade with Katrina, because we don't only lose thousands of lives. But as long as people see that as the loss, climate change doesn't look so bad to them.
It looks bad to me.