Leadership and the Environment


186: D-Day and the Environment

Ep. 186

Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

This post is about being a part of something greater than yourself, than all of us, benefiting us all, and benefiting yourself -- one of the great feelings and experiences available to humans.

I happened to read four documents around the same time that illuminated each other and our attitudes toward acting on the environment. Our complacency in the face of a danger threatening many times more lives than Hitler is all the more glaring when compared to the honor and service of the men who defended the free world storming Normandy.

The documents were

A Man Who Landed at Sword Beach, Normandy

From the Guardian article

Chelsea pensioner Frank Mouqué, 94, was a corporal in the Royal Engineers who landed on Sword beach and whose job was to dispose of bombs on a stretch of land beyond the parapet next to the beach.

“We approached Sword beach in a landing craft. We had all of our gear on our backs and a rubber ring around our stomach to help keep us afloat. Let’s face it, the landing was very gory. You didn’t have time to think, survival instinct kicked in,” he said in his account published on the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s website.

“After reaching the beach, I ran up towards a parapet, and searched for mines. After 12 hours of being on the go we were exhausted and then had to dig a foxhole to sleep in. We had to dig six foot down and two foot wide.

“I slept outside for the next year or so, we had no protection from the elements. We had an oversized gas cape to go over our clothes and all our gear. We rarely slept lying down. Each time we slept in a barn we were ravaged by fleas – so even that was no good.

“It was a different time: I wasn’t a hero, I was a little cog in a big wheel. When you add all those little cogs together – then we became important. We all worked together towards peace.”

A Woman Who Supported the Normandy Soldiers from London

From the Guardian article

“We knew something big was afoot because there was an armada of boats in Portsmouth harbour. That was a giveaway.

“The VHF radio was a one-way system. When you raised your lever to transmit, the recipient couldn’t make any interjections until you had finished, and said: ‘Roger and out.’ or whatever. Then they would raise their lever, and transmit their message”.

On D-day she was in direct contact with the wireless operators on the allied invasion fleet as they stormed the beaches.

“When they raised their lever, I could hear very loud, sustained gunfire. It was really so bad that you thought: ‘Oh my God. There’s a battle going on.’ You knew. You thought: ‘God, men are dying.’ The reality suddenly hit you. For a rather naive 17-year-old, I think it was terrifying. But it was a job. You got on with it.

“The messages were all in code, so you didn’t know what was being said. But you could hear the gunfire, every time the lever was lifted. I’ve never forgotten what I heard. Never.”

What the Earth Will Likely Look Like

I'm not going to copy the sections of the book I quote, but here's the long article its author, David Wallace-Wells, wrote that prompted the book, The Uninhabitable Earth,,Famine, economic collapse, a sun that cooks us: What climate change could wreak — sooner than you think.

From Avoiding Flying for a Year to "But I Want to Go"

Here are the passages from my email exchange.

An excerpt from a friend who had stated intent to avoid flying for a year:

I'm still investigating traveling to India via boat but so far, it seems to be very expensive (even on a freighter that accepts passengers) and not safe for single female travelers-my partner does not want to travel anymore so she's not flying as much as she used to. Most crew on freighters are men and the trip takes a month.

An excerpt from my response:

I don't understand how people can separate their actions from the front-page environmental news. How they can see pictures of, say, the air in New Delhi and not connect that they are polluting thousands of times more than the average person there. I'm surprised at how easily they can dismiss consequences they don't actually see.

Anyway, let me know if I can support you. I didn't write the above about you but because you're one of the few people I can share such thoughts with who I think wouldn't take it personally but might also think about it.

One thing that might help regarding India. North America is a stunningly beautiful, diverse land with equally beautiful and diverse people. No one could possibly sample it all in a lifetime. For whatever India offers, there's just as much unknown a train ride away. Before I sail to Europe, it looks like I'll sail to Mexico, Puerto Rico, or places near Florida, and probably at almost no cost, using Findacrew.net, where I've met friendly people offering spaces on their boats, though I haven't taken them up yet.

If I always think of what I'm missing, I'll never be satisfied. If I enjoy what I have, I'll always feel joy.

An excerpt of her response to mine:

Hey Josh-- I hear you. Unfortunately, the research I'm doing in India is really important to me. I was invited to go back to India after last year's visit. I am doing my activist affordable housing work in my own city and doing much more walking to get places.


While it's easy to contrast the service and honor with our behavior today, concluding that we are acting with the opposite, which I guess would be selfishness and dishonorably, I see something different, focusing on the man's statement,

"I wasn’t a hero, I was a little cog in a big wheel. When you add all those little cogs together – then we became important. We all worked together towards peace.”

Our inaction on our environmental values robs us of our potential to transform ourselves from cogs who aren't heroes to becoming important, to work together toward peace.

The opportunity of acting on our environmental values---which I have felt in picking up other people's garbage daily, creating community, meaning and purpose without the distraction of flying, discovering the deliciousness of nature by avoiding packaged food, and so on---is to be a part of and contribute to something greater than ourselves.

We as a species will suffer from the ignorant behavior of our parents and our tragically informed but complacent behavior, but whatever disaster awaits us, we can ameliorate it. There are degrees of disaster, differences between a billion unnecessary deaths and five billion.

The difference may come through arbitrary accidents of how nature unfolds or it may come from our acting together.

The opportunity is for all of us to act as part of something greater than any of us or even all of us---one of the great feelings humans can experience---helping all of us and helping ourselves.

We did it at Normandy 75 years ago. I can't wondering if the greatest legacy of the under-appreciated defenders of the free world might be to show how we can team up under adversity and become like brothers and sisters. Men risked their lives and died in that endeavor.

All we need to do is replace flying with enjoying the area around our homes, as people have done since humans became sapiens, to lay off the air conditioning, to eat what food we buy and not let it spoil, to favor broccoli over Hot Pockets and beef.

The greatest joy humans can experience versus throwing away another coffee cup every day. How is that choice not obvious?

Why not make it for yourself once and for all?

More Episodes


358: Bald Versus Plastic

Ep. 358
Here are the notes I read this episode from:People keep acting like I'm different, that they have to balance things that I don't when acting on the environment.So I'll share a recent decision I made. People I tell have sounded intrigued and delighted to hear it so I'll share with you.First sensed hairline retreating at 19.Not much for maybe a decade following, I don't remember.Maybe 10 years ago started using minoxidil.Don't know if works or not, but used as insurance. Not insanely expensive.Tested on thinning in back, so even less sure if it works.Over the past few years noticed it becoming my greatest plastic consumption.Thought more about stopping.Even stopping flying was reversible. Never decided to stop forever, just kept finding that it improved my life not to fly. Constraints breed creativity.Stopping minoxidil not reversible. Might not do anything. Might go bald. I don't want to go bald. I like my hair.But I'm pitting purely my vanity against reducing plastic pollution.Last bottle of last 3 month supply was running low. Kept thinking about it. Risk balding, but maybe no difference.Last American president elected bald was Eisenhower. Have to beat Hitler to get elected. Women complain they get judged by appearance, but men do too.Felt helpless, yet also recognize the alternative is simply to live with my genes. What chemical shitstorm is in that stuff anyway?But the bottom line was every time I've chosen to live by my environmental values, it's improved my life. I used to have faith, but faith is belief without evidence. Between avoiding packaged food, avoiding flying, picking up garbage daily, plogging, all of which I thought would worsen my life, they've all improved it.So I made a deal with myself to flip a coin. Heads I'd keep it. If every 3 months I flipped, eventually I'd have to end.I started making deals with myself -- just get to 50 years old. It's so little plastic compared to everyone else. Just one more time. I found out you can buy the raw ingredients on Alibaba. What if I found a great price? Rite Aid had almost half off online. Another place even lower prices, but then more packaging.So I flipped the coin. Tails on the first try. I made a rule only flip a coin when I can't decide any other way, then never reverse that decision or it undoes the value of coin toss's decisiveness. Still I started bargaining with myself.Are you getting how hard I found this decision? I was deciding in the moment a choice to affect me possibly for the remaining several decades of my life.I didn't refill. I still went to Rite Aid intending to buy another box, against the coin toss, but the low price was only online. I was going to break my rule, but didn't because of circumstance.Within a day I could feel new breeze on my forehead. Maybe coincidence, but maybe I'll end up bald in a few months. Maybe it will recede a bit and stop. Who knows?I don't see a path to this choice improving my life, but I'm going with it. Talk about your first-world problems, right? But everyone goes through similar decisions too. Should I buy the coffee on the way to work in the disposable cup? Should I take a subway or shared ride?We all do mental gymnastics to rationalize behavior we know is against our principles. I do. My difference today versus me years ago is that I've moved my balance toward stewardship. Each time I do, I find it improves my life. Before long I find role models beyond where I am. I learn from them, for example Bea Johnson, whose family of four produces collectively less trash than I do.The world will see the results.Some relevant posts of mine:Choose easier by visualizing choices, part IChoose easier by visualizing choices, part IIWhy are decisions hard?How to ChooseHow to decide among close options

356: I was assaulted again this morning. Can I talk about it?

Ep. 356
While I was jogging (actually plogging) along the Hudson River around 7:30am, a person not wearing a mask stepped into my path, blocking me, saying the person's shoes had been stolen. The person seemed to let me pass, but then threatened me and threw a bottle that shattered at my feet as I ran past. I kept running, the hair on the back of my neck standing up and my adrenaline high. I don't know if the person had a weapon.I describe more and some of how it affected me in the audio.I was first going to say I was threatened since he didn't touch me. I'm not a lawyer so I looked up the definition. According to FindLaw.com's page on Assault Torts and Injury Law:legal scholars define assault as an intentional attempt or threat to inflict injury upon a person, coupled with an apparent, present ability to cause the harm, which creates a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm or offensive contact in another.Notice the words “attempt” and “threat” above. In tort law, assault does not require actual touching or violence to the victim. We use another term for the touching or contact: “battery.”Here are the notes I read from:The story from this morning runningHappens all the time, not daily but throughout my lifeI don't think he did it because black, but I suspect were I not white it may not have happened. Can't say this time.When I stayed in AtlantaFriends say, you can say to us but careful with othersShared about mugged childhood, but still happeningMaybe there is a secret white suburban life I don't know aboutRecently white friends have started sharing how they've been muggedConsistent with Dov's saying how sharing stories will lead to others feeling they can share tooThat's all background. Here is my point: every time I bring up suffering or being threatened, while I may get some listening, the other person always says, remember others have it worse---not that person, not even someone with their skin colorSo they don't know from experience but they're telling me as if I haven't heard before, and they're presuming to know my experienceI don't know anyone's experience but mine, but everyone absolutely everyone dismisses it without asking, presuming it's the caricature in the mainstream.When I hear white people talking about BLM, George Floyd, there's always this mea culpa. Maybe they are guilty, I don't know. I never hear them speak about their problems. Maybe they have no problems, maybe I'm unique, but that people open up with me when I share and they hear I'm not white supremacist or racist---though in today's world white people even mentioning race without saying how they are allies or something making up for guilt or things like that---then they tell me about their experiences, but they insist on my respecting their confidence, which of course I do.So much of what I hear from white people sounds so similar andinauthentic, I don't think they're being open, honest, or candid. Maybemany are as privileged as they say, but people have told me about being attacked, their lives threatened with weapons, and so on.I think about risks maybe not every day, but all the time. And when Idon't, some guy walks into my path, throws a bottle at me, and threatens me.For a while I feared sharing messages like this because people mightsuspect I'm turning into a white supremacist. I came to terms that ifpeople think that about the opposite, I can't let their preconceivednotions hold me from acting for equality."White Like Me," Eddie Murphy's Saturday Night Live sketch I referred to