This Sustainable Life

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325: My Mom, Marie Spodek: All in the Family

Ep. 325

I thought about recording with parents for a while. Environmental action is personal and people keep asking me what motivates me.

Well, now you'll get almost 50 years more background.

Another issue with family and changing habits, lots of people talk and ask about challenges of changing others or selves within close relationships. This episode will give you my background, environmental and otherwise, how it affects our relationship, her views, and some dirty laundry.

Both my mom and I think or hope you'll enjoy toward the end, where we talk past each other. We think you'll find it funny, though frustrating for us.

For context and what precipitated doing this episode now: COVID-19 has led me to live in her and her husband's (my stepfather) house outside New York City. We haven't lived in such close proximity since the 80s. Understandings in some areas have increased but decreased in others.

You'll hear at the end that she asks for feedback. I hope you'll give her and me feedback.

For my part, I enjoyed the conversation and in a whole mother-son relationship. It's not the worst thing, but I feel misunderstood about my motivations, as you'll hear. I wonder how many people see me as someone actually depriving himself trying to make a point, not realizing I'm just sacrificing.


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2/24/2021

441: John Sargent, part 1: The CEO who reduced a Big Five publisher's footprint

Ep. 441
I learned of John's work through his statement at Macmillan's Sustainability page while researching Ray Anderson: In 2009, after reading Ray Anderson’s “Confessions of a Radical Industrialist,” I decided it was Macmillan’s responsibility to lessen our impact on the earth, and in particular, to lower our carbon emissions. We created a senior position in the company and spent well over a year measuring our carbon footprint. We then set ourselves the daunting goal of reducing our scope one, two, and “major” three carbon emissions by 65%, and we gave ourselves a decade to get it done. Over the course of the last nine years, we have made sustainability a major component of all our decisions at the company. In 2010 we instituted a carbon offset program to supplement our efforts. Over the last nine years, we have lowered our carbon emissions by roughly 50%, and with our offsets, we have been carbon neutral globally for the last two years.Getting here has not been easy. We have initiated lots of projects. We have often failed, but we have been relentless in our efforts. We always tried to make good common sense decisions along the way, keeping a balanced approach. In the end, we will not reach our goal of a 65% reduction, but we have been relentless in our approach and it has become a matter of great pride in our company.The completion of our ten-year plan leaves us again at the starting line. Climate change is now a burning issue (as I write this the Amazon rainforest is literally burning). We must rededicate ourselves to the cause, and willingly sacrifice when called upon. There is a lot to do, and I’m looking forward to getting after it.I often lament the lack of what I call leadership in the area of sustainability. What I call management, plenty, which I'm glad to see. That's things like measuring, facts, figures, seeking compliance. By leadership I mean stories, images, working on the system not just in it.It looked like John was leading so I brought him to share. I believe I found a role model and leader in business.
2/20/2021

440: Andrés Reséndez: The Other Slavery

Ep. 440
About six months ago the parallels started forming for me between our global economic system today that creates great suffering on the scale of hundreds of millions of people with nightmarish cruelty, but also people benefiting from it looking the other way or saying "what I do doesn't matter" or "the youth will solve it". . . And the systems of slavery.Also looking for role models who changed systems of that scale.My historical knowledge of abolition and slavery was limited. You've heard guests Adam Hochschild, Manisha Sinha, Eric Metaxas, and others sharing historical background on the systems of slavery and abolition, as well as individual abolitionists. I believe we can learn from them and honor them by learning from them. Our situation is different, but on the scale of billions and we are alive to act.Today's guest, Andrés Reséndez, wrote The Other Slavery, a book on the enslavement of Native Americans, mostly by the Spanish. I knew little about it and what I did know was off. Our conversation covers the different character of the Spanish enslaving Native Americans to mine gold and silver, leading to global trade and a different character.Motivating me was to consider how future generations would look at us. Listeners may recall from, say, my conversation with Rod Schoonover, the scientist in the US State Department who described the suffering facing climate refugees in Central America. Once they cross borders, they face war atrocities. Then there is Syria and more. We can expect those numbers to increase by some estimation into the billions of climate refugees, as one of many places our system generates cruelty for our way of life, which is totally optional. We don't have to extract, exploit, and so on. I believe that there is nothing more meaningful and purposeful than to take responsibility for how our behavior affects others.What more can we do for the past than to learn from it, to avoid repeating the mistakes of exploitation and discounting where our material wealth comes from?I ask myself what I would have done then. Would I have accepted the silver?Would I have said what I did didn't matter?I have to be honest with myself because I can easily say I would do then what I today would. What do I consider right today? Can I look away from those at the receiving end of my plastic, pesticides, jet fuel, and so on?The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America
2/17/2021

439: How to Fix Texas

Ep. 439
Here are the notes I read from for this episodeHow to fix TexasJust got off conference call a Texas attendee couldn't attend because her power was out.There are helpless people suffering. I empathize with them and feel compassion. I support helping them.If we want to prevent future suffering, we have to look at systems. That's not ignoring present pain or loss. It's preventing future pain and loss.In that call, one person had been in touch with the Texas person. She told us of ice forming inside her house and other problems.The present attendees lamented each mention of a problem as if she were suffering some horrible hardship. For tens of thousands of years, humans have lived without power including in the cold, including sudden, unexpected cold.Is it not obvious that what we call technology and innovation has made us dependent, needy, and the opposite of resilient?I'll repeat that people in hospitals, homeless, elderly, and others have always needed extra help and they do today. Nothing of what I'm saying suggests neglecting them.But she also talked about our Texas friend tweeting. However spotty, she has the internet.Let's talk systems.NYTimes headline: A Glimpse of America’s Future: Climate Change Means Trouble for Power Grids: Systems are designed to handle spikes in demand, but the wild and unpredictable weather linked to global warming will very likely push grids beyond their limits.While the proximal reasons may be technical, the systemic cause is our dual focuses on meeting demand no matter what and growth but not focusing on resilience. The result is that when demand is always met, we grow (population and consumption) until we hit problems like this. Then we build more capacity.It costs a lot to go from 99.99% uptime to 99.999%, but we do it every time.The savings to go from 99.99% uptime to 99.9% is also huge. Most of the world does fine with under 99% and we could too if we built our systems and lives to handle power going down sometimes, even unpredictably. Hospitals, elderly, etc would need special treatment. The rest of us could reduce our needs and learn from how people lived all the time for hundreds of thousands of years.We'd save tons of money, live healthier, and pollute a lot less. We'd learn to treat nature with a bit more humility and respect.Listen to my episode on why I unplugged my fridge. I didn't do it because I expected my power savings would amount to anything divided by 7.8 billion.I did it because other cultures as well as humans for hundreds of thousands of years thrived without power. While some disasters, like Vesuvius erupting, we can't defend ourselves against, we can prepare for cold without polluting.My main results for unplugging my fridge? More delicious food from increasing my skills and experience preparing it. Saving money. Increasing my freedom, decreasing my neediness.Again, repeating my compassion for helpless people in pain now, whose rescue and support I support in the moment, I suggest seeing this weather as impetus to make your life more resilient, less needy, to support a power grid more resilient and less brittle but, and a culture not so entitled, spoiled, dependent and needy that its answer to everything is something polluting more, deepening that entitlement and being spoiled.If you can't live without power dropping for a few days even in terrible weather, and you aren't someone that lions would have eaten in previous eras, you're part of the problem. Fix yourself without drawing more power and polluting everyone else's world.If your society suffers from the only way it handles problems is to use more power, polluting more, leading to suffering from by people who aren't polluting so much, which for Americans means the entire rest of the world outside Saudi Arabia and its oil producing peers and maybe some insanely rich tax havens in the Caribbean, fix your society.Changing culture and systems begins with changing values. In this case from coddling, spoiling, externalizing costs, and ignoring others' suffering to resilience and freedom.Episode 426: Why unplug