If you choose to act on sustainability, you will face darkness. You will want to give up. You will feel alone, misunderstood.
I don’t say so to dissuade, but to prepare to face a part of all of us. Nobody is polluting because they are monsters. We’re all human. What is the alternative to confronting this part of us? To give up? To try to ignore and forget and try to find blissful ignorance? Hope someone else solves it? Hope the predictions that have been accurate for generations turn out wrong? Or, most common and most ghastly, hope the worst hits only after you die?
Nearly everyone has disengaged for the past few generations. Their vain hope has only resulted in more pollution and less nature. Eventually, Netflix doesn’t distract us from our dire situation. We need bigger special effects, a bigger screen, bigger speakers, more drama, more sex, and more violence to hold our attention. But no passive watching matches discovering ourselves through effort or activities with family and friends.
Your reading my blog tells me you’ll find you can no longer accept for yourself to disengage. You can’t look away any more. Others may continue littering, or in corporate boardrooms and on Capital Hill choosing not to change policy, to abdicate leadership, and to give in to their Resistance and Addiction Speaking. There is for us stewards no way forward but learn to look into the abyss and motivate ourselves.
Here is one thought pattern that re-motivates me. It recurs maybe weekly.
I can’t believe someone would leave their air-conditioning on all day while they aren’t home . . .
If people do that, knowing our world, we have no hope . . .
Why should I bother? Why not just join them and enjoy life without thinking of the future? . . .
But looking away doesn’t solve the problem . . .
I’m almost fifty years old. Maybe the worst of it will happen after I die. Then it won’t be my problem . . .
But that’s what people have been saying for decades and the effects are bigger than ever. It’s probably too late for me to escape . . .
But if I act, what difference can I make, really? . . .
Well, Nelson Mandela negotiated his release from prison and became president of a formerly Apartheid nation. Besides, all my transformations to live by my environmental values before have improved my life. Plus there’s Deming, Clarkson, Wilberforce, Viravaidya, and others who achieved so much . . .
Then I reach the thoughts and feelings that really motivate me, where I laid myself on the line, vulnerable and open to public failure and ridicule, and discovered myself.
What keeps me up at night
For me sports hit closest to home. I played on teams at Nationals and Worlds levels. Sometimes we played against teams we believed we could beat handily, others against teams we couldn’t hold a candle to. We’ve won against each and we’ve lost against each. Losses to teams we believed not in our league still keep me up at night, ashamed that we didn’t play to our potential or didn’t prepare, by practicing halfheartedly the week before. But beating teams we thought beyond our ability made for some of my life’s peak experiences. As we played, we learned about them, ourselves, and life. We played beyond what we believed to be our potential to find new potentials, emerging as greater people than we started.
I prefer winning to losing, but even narrow losses to great teams grew us and narrow wins to poor teams shamed us. Regarding things we value, what determines meaning and how we feel is not the final score but how we perform relative to our potential.
I don’t know how we’ll fare with our environment. We’re facing problems resulting from people’s actions generations ago. If we stop polluting today, our actions yesterday will still affect people generations from now. We can’t stop the ship from hitting the iceberg. People who don’t know a field see in black and white, thinking, “If we can’t stop it, might as well give up.” But there are levels of disaster. I’ve seen projections of two billion climate refugees by 2100. If you and I act and lead others, we may bring that number down to one billion. However abstract these large numbers sound, that’s one billion people suffering less. I believe we can do more. Most scientists lack any experience leading so can’t imagine a cultural change like those of Deming, Clarkson, Wilberforce, and Viravaidya.
If we’d started twenty years ago, we could have worked for a green future, a planet vaguely like Earth before the Industrial Revolution, but with modern society running renewably and regeneratively. The population would have been 5 billion and we wouldn’t have decreased Earth’s capacity to sustain life and society so much before starting. Instead, our best hope may be to keep from reaching a planet globally like Syria today. If we succeed, humanity may never know we did, or what we avoided. There are many curses of choosing to know and choosing responsibility, but we stewards won’t choose any other way.
But even if we can’t avoid the worst, how we stewards will feel will result from our actions relative to our potential. How they acted relative to their potential will determine how everyone feels, but those who don’t try will end up pointing fingers, giving in, and fighting. If I go down, I will go down giving everything I can, living by my values, doing my best to help others overcome Resistance and Addiction Speaking to live by theirs. I can’t change the past, that I was born to the greatest challenge the human species has ever faced. Given our world, living now means the greatest opportunity to help those otherwise helpless, to create the greatest meaning, purpose, and legacy of stewardship we’ve known.
Those are my thoughts. Then I pick up the person’s litter, and learn a little more how to lead myself and others.
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