Leadership and the Environment

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063: Technology won’t solve environmental issues and you know it

Ep. 63

If anything marked the beginning of the industrial revolution, it was James Watt’s steam engine. It wasn’t the first steam engine, but was more efficient than any before.

More efficient means using less energy and less pollution, right?

Wrong.

Each engine, yes, but more people used engines, so Watt engines used more energy and polluted more than anything. They drained mines, which helped collect more coal, which fed more engines.

The direct result is today’s polluted world. If you fantasize that technological improvements will, after centuries since the industrial revolution increasing pollution and demand for natural resources somehow, magically, in your lifetime change their effects, you’re dreaming.

Two main effects drive this pattern—obvious when you see them, however counterintuitive at first. People believe self-serving myths in the opposite direction of millennia of countervailing evidence, probably because they prefer comfort and convenience over the guilt that would come from conscious awareness of how they’re hurting other people. We know the polluted world we were born into. We know the pollution we’re causing—that is, unless we keep lowering our self-awareness with myths.




Efficiency increases overall use, not decreases

When costs drop, people use more. For example:

  • LEDs are more efficient than incandescents and now people light things they didn’t—by more than the energy saved.
  • Gas engines are more efficient today than decades ago and people make cars bigger, heavier, and faster—so mileage is lower than many cars from half a century ago.

A similar effect: building more lands and roads creates more traffic. People already project that autonomous vehicles will increase traffic too.

If you think electric cars, solar power, nuclear power, a hyperloop train system, etc will lower pollution, you’re ignoring history.




Making a system more efficient achieves its goals more

Steam engines, LED bulbs, nuclear reactors, and technology in general are elements of a system. Even the whole economy is an element of a global system including the environment and other human systems.

The goals of this overall system have long included growth and individual comfort and convenience. As long as those goals remain, technological innovation will drive them over competing considerations such as conservation and community.

We took generations to learn that building more roads increased traffic, congestion, pollution, time lost, and so on. In that time we locked in infrastructure parts of which will endure centuries, increasing traffic, congestion, pollution, time lost, and so on.

As long as we hold on to these myths that solar planes or whatever will lower overall pollution, we’re locking in more damage.




How you know it

If you think, “Technology may have increased pollution since the steam engine and before, but this time it will be different,” then you see that we have to change just applying technology as we used to.

You know that for a different result we have to do things differently. Efficiency alone won’t reduce pollution and will likely increase it.




There is a way out

We don’t have to work within the system. We can work on it.

Instead of making the existing polluting system more efficient, we can change the system. That’s the point of my Leadership and the Environment podcast. Leaders change systems. Some do, anyway.

Steam engines, LED bulbs, nuclear reactors, and technology in general affect parts of this system but they don’t change it overall.

Changing the beliefs and goals of a system change it. I’m trying to help people change their beliefs and goals—not just anyone but influential people that many follow. If we don’t change the most influential people then people will keep following them and not adopt new beliefs and goals.




We’ve done it before. We can do it again.

Christianity was more merciful than many systems before it.

Buddhism was more compassionate.

The Enlightenment more observation-based.

Science more skeptical.

We’ve changed systemic goals many times.

We can change from growth—always wanting more—to enough, or as I think: loving what you have. When you realize you can’t have everything, you learn to appreciate, celebrate, and love what you have—in my experience more than when you believe the fantasy.

We can change from individual comfort and convenience to responsibility and caring how we affect others. As any parent, pet owner, or team member will tell you, taking others into account and caring how you affect them increases your compassion, empathy, and overall emotional reward.

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365: Assaulted again and scammed

Here are the notes I read from (maybe better just to listen):Yesterday two things, I'll start with second because more poignant.Ran into old friend a few weeks ago, clubbing, Submedia.Met at bar, first time since March, ready to walk away, wasn't going to order doof. But distant, outdoor, nearly empty.Talking for about an hour, a lot on how I transitioned.Talking about TV show.As an aside, he remarked knowing my regular background made stewardship more compelling and interesting than just tree hugger.While talking, some guy starts rooting through trash can on street, throwing trash everywhere. I remark, almost act.Then he starts yelling at us, threatening.Dave, fresh from kickboxing stands and advances toward.Guy points at me! throws bottle, shatters, leaves.Five minutes later comes back, hauls off and throws bottle hard, shatters huge, all eyes are on situation.Dave advances, I back him up. Gut yells at Dave, hard to understand since mostly Spanish, threatening, fists up, mostly at Dave, partly me.Guy crosses street, Dave pursues, guy has lost advantage.Dave crosses street, in guy's face, less threatening physically, but aggressive.Through broken Spanish while still threatening Dave and me becomes clear.He felt we were putting him down for having to eat from trash.Instead of resolving or trying to reach understanding, throws bottles, so still crazy but different, not just malevolent or hurtful, defending.Dave and I walk away feeling compassion, sad that he's in that situation, and sad that his resolution involves assaulting us.Coming back workmen curious, cop asks a few questions.You may have heard that I swam across Hudson River two weeks ago today for first time since 2008, twelve years ago. At nearly 50 years old, sort of risky.Major life achievement. Why am I holding back on posting it? Because I wanted the video. Here's that story.Two years agoLast year, friend commits, backs out for reason he could have known.Invite other friend, he loves it, life goal for him too I knew he was swim instructor, life guard too. Says he'll bring equipment.I say, so I don't need to bring a camera. No, he has one.Before swimming, I interview Joe De Sena and get invited to Vermont.I invite friend, who is overjoyed, another life achievement.He's marketing his coaching, sees huge benefit to webcasting from Spartan Race farm.Joe and I have hit if off, hence the invitation to an invitation-only event, plus as I've shared, my carrying my rowing machine and kettle bell to roof. I offer to introduce him to Spartan community. As long as I'm there, I intend to share friends with friends.We swim across, I'll share in post about swimming.Ferry approaching us, scary. He jokes, good to have white person in facing authority.After we reach shore, I hold on to his swimming equipment so ferry people don't identify him as swimmer they thought breaking lawn Before Friday, he says he can't drive. Family needs car.I feel disappointed, but contact Spartan Up people. We go into overdrive finding someone I can ride with.Many potential options, but only one works. I have to take train to.Connecticut early next morning, but I make sure space for my friend.Turns out he can't make early ride.After we get back I text him how he would have liked it but next time, and ask him about video. No response.Read text trail.Our mutual friend defends him. Says I'm making a big deal about nothing, but sends twenty texts. What's going on?I give up. Confused about what to do as weeks pass that I can't share about life event without explanation.Finally yesterday he emails me. Read email.My read of situation: I didn't bring camera because he said he would create. Never discussed charging.Now I have huge interest in something he has uniquely and holds it ransom, having said he would take care of it so I didn't try, as I wouldhave.So I figure I'll write him and remind, when I offered, it sounded like major life event. I invited as friend. No thought to charge for conceiving or planning, but what price would he consider fair?No thought of introducing him to Joe and Spartan community, happy to help him make that invitation into making him look great to his community.Now, of course, I see I dodged a bullet as if he started nickel and diming them, it would have made me look bad.But no thought of charging him for introduction. On the contrary, put in extra work to make sure he would be welcome and could get a ride.All he had to do was send a link to a file. Instead he holds it ransom for two weeks, maybe indefinitely, and tries to make money off me.Cheap nickel and dime stuff. I don't make money on my blog. I don't know where he's coming from, but taking advantage of my huge demand and scarcity he created, whether intentional or not, deceptively.When I asked him if I said anything offensive, I knew I hadn't. I was giving him an out from behavior anyone I know would feel embarrassed and ashamed to be doing.Race and gender seemed to play roles in these interactions. Would the guy have thrown a bottle at us if we were female? He was definitelyracist toward Dave. Would friend have tried to scam me if female? Comment on race while swimming would have been called micro aggression or macro if reversed.Was I targeted because I am white or male? I can't say because I don't know their hearts and minds.But I know this. When I share how I suffer, people consistently tell me how others suffer more. Nobody ever asks my experience.Do I need for the bottle to hit me and knock me out, for the guy with the knife to cut me for people to stop telling me to put it in perspective?Can you imagine lecturing a woman victim or a black victim about distractions from their experience?All this prelude to what I'm getting at People often send me to articles describing how inequality feels when you have less. When you start the race behind the starting line.Many of these articles describe how you can never escape feeling of being outside, being other, not being understood.That's how I feel. Maybe there's a white male suburban culture blind to suffering, where cash is free and no one hurts. I don't know. It's as foreign to me asevery description I've come across.I'm aware of my sex and race every day, all the time, and how people see me as less than human, as fair targets for violence, as fair targetsfor scamming.Twice in two weeks after deciding to open up on race. Do you think that's coincidence? Sorry, three times. No, it happens all the time,since my entire life. I could tell hundreds of stories like this.I see marches full of whites saying how bad it is for blacks and other people of color. I see videos of white kneeling before blacks askingforgiveness for I guess ancestors' crimes, or system I am not an ally for equality. Nobody wants equality more than I do. People of other skin colors or sexes don't because of their skincolor and sex know racism or sexism or homophobia or pick your stereotype and I don't or can't because I'm white.I know it. I live it. If you can't accept that, I hope you get over your stereotype and see me as a person who feels pain, who is attacked,who started behind the starting line too and then gets beat up along the race but gets told he had a head start and says he caused getting beat up or at best those assaults downplayed or ignored, then told if I really understood I would see my privilege.All these whites and men saying how bad it is for others, are they really not suffering? If so, I'd like to learn what it is to be white and male like them because it is as far from my experience as anyone else described their distance.I think more likely, they aren't comfortable sharing their troubles and are only postponing actual open, honest talk and action about equality. Everything I see seems consistent with white bad, male bad, but we aren't bad. We're just like everyone else.There is racism, sexism, homophobia, and more.The path we are on will lead not to the end of these things, but to putting different groups on top or battling it out.Anybody can see that when one group says the best thing you can do is shut up and listen, while also claiming diversity and inclusion, you can see who has the power in that relationship.Everyone has their story. I'd like to say nobody got a free pass or automatically feels understood. Possibly many whites and males do, which is hard for me to grasp, but if so, their story is not my story, nor the story of many other whites or many other men and to paint me with their brush further beats me up on this privilege race track analogy I didn't make up but that people keep imposing on me. People who know me increasingly tell me that my story and experience are different, implying that maybe I do know suffering more than theaverage white or male. Most haven't felt such lifelong repeated assault from women and people of color. Either I'm a special case, in which case it would seem my voice has value and people should listen more to me. Or I'm not, in which case we should recognize that all whites and all men suffer too and the starting line analogy starts falling apart.Or maybe you say I haven't really suffered, in which case what more do you need? How many more women need sexually assault me, what some would call rape, how many men do I need to know sexually assaulted and raped, how many whites victimized? What does it take?I believe everyone has known this pain. If not, maybe my voice can help illuminate what by any definition except white bad male bad heterosexual bad is exclusionary, non-diverse, sexist, racist, and all the other stereotypes exactly when claiming the opposite and trying toachieve the opposite.I believe it doesn't take much to pursue seeing equality of humanity in each person, but we aren't doing it. At least I don't see it in the protests nor the counter protests.My issue is the environment. I believe working together on what ties us together and transcends skin color, sex, orientation, age, etc -- project-based learning -- can solve these problems more than marches.Yes, there's police brutality, unequal access to resources, and more.If you want to see suffering, as an American, look at what your system no matter your color or anything does to people everywhere for your comfort and convenience, to ourselves. It's not litter, it's sterilized, cancer, birth defects, war, famine on scales greater than the wholepopulation of this country, and not just this country, even within the countries suffering most, people there contributing to this system.Even greater suffering, look at future generations to make today look like a walk in the park IF WE DON'T ACT TOGETHER TODAY TO STOP POLLUTING and reverse this system that relies on pollution and treating others as inhuman independent of their skin color or anything else.Beneath everything else, we breath the same air, drink the same water, and eat the same food from the same land and seas.Focusing on those things, I believe, can bring us together in common humanity more than anything else. In the past, sports, military, arts, science, and other cultural activity has helped us overcome stereotypes.I think of Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Ping Pong diplomacy, Zora Neale Hurston, Duke Ellington, Paul Robeson, Marie Curie, countless men sharing the same foxhole in battle who learned to love each other I believe that stewardship, loving nature, battling the systems that pollute, impoverish, and separate us will bring us together like nothing before.Beneath skin color, beneath genitals, beneath it all, we breath air, drink water, and eat food. Frankly I see almost no one seeing that starting point, nor fighting the systems taking away even that.But I am. If you see me as a white who doesn't understand non-white or a male who doesn't understand non-male or heterosexual who doesn't understand the rest of that rainbow, then you don't understand meeither.Now let's restore the nature we all need to live together.