This Sustainable Life

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538: How much should I reduce my pollution? How many slaves should Thomas Jefferson have freed?

Ep. 538

Here are the notes I read from for this episode:


Will hit 70 next week.

Dawning on people what has dawned on what we now call the global south, that the projections are more serious than they internalized. That their world is going to be rocked. Maybe they realize, that this will be the coldest Christmas for the next ten thousand years and that billions of people may be displaced. Maybe they realize that you can't move billions of people without many of them dying. The global north, including you, will not let more people into the country than are there now..

Many people considering polluting less. A few asking me about not flying, which for years no one would consider.

But their life depends on polluting activities. They didn't ask for system. What can they do, never see their family again? Think of all the good they can bring the world.

They just took down Thomas Jefferson's statue. Should they have? What excuse for owning slaves?

He inherited. Didn't ask for. Owning them allowed him to spend more time with family. Look at what it enabled him to do

Should he have sold them and made money? What if just freeing them bankrupted him? Left him with no way to contribute to world? It wouldn't have stopped slavery.

If your reason for traveling is work, instead of Jefferson, ask about some guy with an empty slave ship in Africa. He got investors and took out mortgages. It was a legal deal. He has investors to pay back. He may even have believed he was bringing backward people to civilization. So he's got an empty ship and he's an ocean from home. They didn't pack people into ships for their own health. Their business model required them to bring that many. If he brings a full load of slaves to the colonies, he can at least get home after dropping them off. Let's say for the sake of argument that if he doesn't trade them, he will make no change whatsoever to the system. How many slaves should he bring on this trip? How many more trips should he take? Is there any question he's hurting people?

How many more flights should you take? How much meat should you eat? How much plastic should you use? Do you wonder if your actions are causing people to suffer? Let's say for the sake of argument that your actions won't change the system whatsoever.

Why do we learn history if not to learn from it, not repeat its mistakes.

I had to struggle with these questions and challenges when I chose to avoid meat, packaged food, and flying. I don't know why you would think it's harder for you than for me, Thomas Jefferson, or the slave trader. It wasn't for me and if you stop and think for a bit you'll realize people will think it was easier for you and you'll realize how dehumanizing and insulting they will be of your struggle, so you may see how ignorant and insensitive you are being toward me.

But I do know you'll be glad when you realize what's right for you and the the people in the global south. That history will view you like the slave owner, no matter your skin color. Of course many differences between the system of slavery and the system of pollution, but the biggest one is that our system today produces much more suffering and death. 10M annually versus centuries. But it twists people into acting against their values, thinking more of themselves than the people they torture. What else could I do, not see my family?

The liberation and freedom you feel on the other side of the difficulty of realizing you yourself will enjoy life more and be able to get everything you wanted from it when you stop doing what you know kills others.

It's not fair. We didn't create this system. We didn't ask for it. If people before hadn't set it up, we'd never create it. We didn't ask to be born. We want to help the people being hurt. But all of that counterfactual doesn't change that we do live in this world as much as Thomas Jefferson did.

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