This Sustainable Life
138: A National Civilian Service Academy
Today's post covers a dramatic proposal I see as a clear winner. It's big and bold but everyone benefits from it. Its challenges are in garnering support and implementation, but once started I see it sustaining itself as a national jewel.
First some context.
I've talked about my return from Shanghai a few years ago to a crumbling airport, creaky trains, and crumbling train stations. Anyone can see this nation's crumbling bridges, roads, and infrastructure.
Same with my train trip across the country. Amtrak is a third-world train system. It measures its delays in hours. First-world train systems measure delays in minutes and seconds.
As a New Yorker I see our subway, which carries billions of rides annually, has fallen to disrepair. Its slipshod weekend repair schedule means you can't predict what lines will work or how long to plan a trip. First-world systems have built whole cities worth of systems. Other cultures update old systems instead of starving them like ours. We act like a few new stations are a big deal. That pride is a shame.
From New Orleans after Katrina, Miami's regular floods at high tide, New York after Sandy, California after earthquakes, Puerto Rico, Flint, MI, the list goes on, of our poor preparedness. Same with the aircraft carriers we send around the world after natural disasters. We do the best we can, but far from our potential.
The climate-based challenges are only increasing as the planet warms. The future's normal is a world where such challenges are normal. We'll have to move cities.
The nation lacks readiness to respond to aging infrastructure and climate change. Those problems are our future.
I propose a civilian service academy.
Its goal would be to teach trades -- construction, carpentry, electrical, programming, engineering, and so on. What we'd need to rebuild cities -- in the style of military academies, requiring academics, physical training, sports, arts, but civilian, not military.
It would embody a culture of rigor that would include uniforms, marching, honor, service, and military precision, but not military. More like engineering precision. Making beds, teamwork. Elite opportunities. Leadership through practice.
It would provide the leadership among and for the millions of students, veterans, and young people of McChrystal's program.
Listen for more depth.
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736. 736: Mattan Griffel, part 1: Online opioid addiction treatment that (actually) works01:05:06Regular listeners know I focus on understanding addiction. I see people in my neighborhood and in headlines nearly daily addicted to heroin, fentanyl, meth, and crack. Since our culture promotes craving and dependence as what many would call "good business," I see people on those drugs not as outliers or anomalies from culture. I see them as slightly more acute versions of mainstream America.I see addiction to doof as serious as addiction to illegal drugs. Increasingly medical professionals are recognizing what they would call ultra-processed foods as addictive. Plenty of other polluting things---fast fashion, cell phones, etc---are addictions our culture promotes. The product sells itself! What could be better for the GDP.Mattan cofounded Ophelia, which treats opiate addiction online. He shares the deaths he and people his community experienced that prompted him to start the company. You can see in his bio his entrepreneurial background.He brings a unique, healing, effective, passionate voice to addiction. You can tell the time and effort he's put into understanding the people he helps.Mattan's home pageOphelia: Online opioid addiction treatment that (actually) works
735. 735: Casey Mahoney, part 1: A Jazz Musician Lowering His Impact to 3 Tons CO2/Year in L.A.01:13:45Casey is a longtime friend. One day a few months ago he mentioned in a call he was choosing to lower his carbon footprint to a few tons of CO2 per year. I hadn't been trying to lead or persuade him, so I started asking him why, what prompted him, was it hard in Los Angeles where people drive everywhere and some people say they need air conditioning, and so on.Knowing me and my actions prompted him, but there was more to it. He faced challenges from his family and profession, but found parts easy too. He started biking to jazz gigs by electric bike. What jazz musician bikes to perform?!? . . . with his equipment in a bike trailer?!?I had to bring him here. If a jazz musician in Los Angeles can bike to work and enjoy it, a lot more people can than admit it. I think of jazz musicians as where cool originated. I see Casey raising sustainability's coolness for everyone.Casey's home page (he's done more than play jazz)
734. 734: Alon Tal, part 1: Israel, Hamas, and overpopulation from a former Knesset member01:00:03Last month I read Hamas-Israel story from an angle few will touch, but is critical: overpopulation, which I wrote about in my post Overpopulation in Israel and Gaza. The population in Israel and Palestine have both more than quintupled since 1950. There are plenty of sources of problems there, but not many places can handle that kind of growth, especially when mostly desert.The article led me to read Alon's book The Land Is Full: Addressing Overpopulation in Israel. You can't understand the situation there without including population---including human violence and environmental degradation.Alon isn't only a professor. He also served in the Knesset, Israel's parliament. He's one of the few politicians to talk about overpopulation. In Israel it's impossible to miss, though many people still want to keep growing it.In our conversation, we talk about population, participating in politics, the meaning of his book title The Land Is Full, and Hamas.Alon's page at Tel Aviv University
733. 733: Jacqueline Bicanic, part 1: Listener as Guest: Australian University Student, Very Active in Sustainability01:19:22Jacquie emailed me that this podcast is inspiring her. She wrote that she'd "always had a spark of interest in sustainability, but I mostly followed the herd mentality and went about my life not really making a conscious effort & just thinking about ways I could reduce my impacts. In the last couple of years, it’s like jet fuel has been added to that spark and it’s changed the trajectory of my career aspirations, and had a significant impact on my life as a whole. . . It’s comforting to know that there are people all around the world who feel similarly to me, and it’s been inspiring to hear other peoples’ stories. I find this especially helpful on the days where I feel helpless/hopeless or even on low energy days."She asked me for advice, we got to emailing, and I invited her to be a guest, following the lines of other impassioned listeners who contacted me. You wouldn't believe it from her sounding natural and confident in our conversation, but she hadn't been on a podcast before.In our emails, she talked about how busy she was, which I hear from everyone, especially businesspeople, who say: "I'd love to work on sustainability. It's very important to me. I just have to do this one thing first, then I'll get to it." If you've felt that way, you may learn a lot from Jacquie and our experience doing the Spodek Method.Working on a podcast may sound like me talking to guests a lot. There's a lot of solo work, so I can't help but quote her from her first email again, since I appreciate her validating all that solo work: "Again, I’m a hug fan of the show and yourself. You’re an inspiration and a wonderful reminder that individuals don’t have to fix the worlds problems overnight by themselves."
732. 732: Siddharth Kara, part 1: Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives57:06Living unsustainably means you need resources beyond your immediate environment. It requires you take from others. When done on a cultural level, it's known as imperialism. When we take their land too, it's colonialism. When we take their labor, it's slavery.All of these things are happening in the Congo. If you think solar and wind are sustainable or avoid human suffering, read Siddharth's book Cobalt Red. If you listened to my last conversation with Adam Hochschild on his book King Leopold's Ghost, you know about the west's cruelty in the Congo. It hasn't ended. Adam put me in touch with Siddharth.The book will change your views on what we call clean, green, and renewable. Siddharth doesn't outright say it, but it seems every rechargeable battery, therefore every phone, electric vehicle, laptop, and so on should be labelled: "Produced with slave labor."Cobalt RedReviews in the New York Times and L.A. Times
731. 731: Debate and Understanding on Population Projections with Wolfgang Lutz and Chris Bystroff46:32I hosted two professionals who model population growth with different views, some complementary, some conflicting: Wolfgang Lutz and Chris Bystroff. I learned from both and recommend listening to their episodes first. I've also recorded episodes with many guests and solo episodes on population:475: We Can Dance Around Environmental Problems All We Want. We Eventually Reach Overpopulation and Overconsumption294: Population: How Much Is Too Much?251: Let's make overpopulation only a finance issue250: Why talk about birthrate and population so much?248: Countdown, a book I recommend by Alan WeismanI invited Wolfgang and Chris to talk about their different views and see if they could learn from each other and we could learn from them. That's this episode. I clarified I wasn't looking for Crossfire-like talking past each other but seeing what each or the other is missing and mutual learning. I think you'll enjoy the conversation. My only regret is that we couldn't have talked longer because we could have covered more.Past guests who spoke on populationJane O'SullivanAlan WeismanAlexandra PaulBill RyersonDr. Michael GurvenKaren Shragg
730. 730: Tony Hansen, part 1 : McKinsey's Director of Natural Capital and Nature53:39Most of the partners I know at the top tier consulting firms have worked there since business school. Tony has a different background, as he describes at the beginning.Because the Firm influences people at high levels of business and government, therefore potentially able to help change culture, I'm very interested in working with them. They are as prone to inertia as any other group, so I'm curious how much they can change others. After all, it's hard to help someone stop a habit while you keep doing it.I consider the Spodek Method the most effective way to help people who want to lead others lead others---a mindset shift followed by a continual improvement. It opens the door to systemic change, which begins with personal change.If you don't mind my spoiling what happens a bit, but I think I can safely say that Tony responded positively to the Spodek Method. Listen to hear how. I can't wait for the second episode to hear his results.Tony's publications at McKinsey
729. 729: How to Develop a Sustainability Leadership Culture in Your Organization: a Panel I moderated01:02:02If no one is changing culture in your world, it's your opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum, no matter where you are in your organization or communities.Many companies are making strides toward goals for greening their businesses but need to find ways to maintain the momentum now that they have tackled the easiest challenges. Others are about to embark on their sustainability journeys and seek a roadmap and best practices. Increasing regulations, particularly in Europe and the U.S., and demands from investors are pressing businesses to define, monitor and publish their net zero targets and green their practices and products.The IPCC reports that there is a closing window in which global citizens can mobilize to reduce carbon emissions and hope to achieve the target needed to stabilize the climate. It is becoming clear that it is up to leaders to transform corporate and political cultures to meet these inside and outside pressures. The webinar panel featured guest speakers:Lorna Davis, TED Speaker, Coach and Board Member, created largest B-Corp on Earth (Danone USA)Gautam Mukunda, Author, Podcast Host, Senior Advisor, America’s Frontier Fund and Professor at Harvard and YaleMichael Ventura, Advisor, Author of Applied Empathy, Entrepreneur and Keynote SpeakerBob Inglis, former U.S. Congressman for South Carolina, Executive Director of RepublicEN, leader of EcoRightThey shared success stories and lessons learned: how they got reluctant board members, voters, and employees on board; what products and processes they prioritized and how; how they held suppliers accountable; what worked; and what didn’t. Speakers discussed their journeys and answered questions. If you are a senior executive responsible for mobilizing your organization’s sustainability initiative, a shareholder who realizes her investment companies’ efforts need a boost, a citizen considering running for office, or a board member who wants to catalyze the greening process, you'll enjoy this lively panel.Moderated by Joshua Spodek PhD MBA, a premier voice in sustainability leadership, host of the award-winning This Sustainable Life podcast, four-time TEDx speaker https://joshuaspodek.com/tedx, bestselling author of Initiative and Leadership Step by Step, professor at NYU, and leadership coach.
728. 728: Chefs Irene and Margaret Li, part1: Winning Awards Saving Perfectly Good Food55:22I first read about Margaret and Irene and their book Perfectly Good Food: A Totally Achievable Zero Waste Approach to Home Cooking in an article on doof in the New Yorker. Then the next week the magazine devoted an article just on them and their approach to avoiding wasting food by eating it all.You might say to me---someone who avoids packaged food, in his fifth year on one load of trash, who eats citrus peels, who almost never throws away something edible---their perfect for you. But avoiding waste alone wasn't what made me invite them here.What made me invite them here was their attitude: They're fun! They make enjoying every last bit of food fun. I invited them here because I'm working on changing culture and they belong to the culture I do, which is joy, freedom, fun, and delicious. I don't hear anything from them that's obligation, judgment, telling people what to do, our what I call CCCSC bludgeoning (convincing, cajoling, coercing, seeking compliance).They also win awards and organize community.Listen for the fun and freedom of it. Enjoy never throwing food away again.Their restaurant, cafe, community center: Mei Mei Dumplings Factory, Cafe and ClassroomThe New Yorker article on them: The Sisters Behind the Fridge-Cleanout DinnerThe New Yorker article on doof that mentioned them the week before: The Perils of Highly Processed Food