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woman lounging on sofa, eating chocolate

Just Sitting Around Waiting for the World to End (podcast episode 44)

woman lounging on sofa, eating chocolate

The Value and Joy of Individual Action

Is there any use in choosing to live more sustainably if you’re surrounded by an unsustainable system? There are those who argue there is little value in making efforts to trim your own ecological footprint. They lament, “It’s difficult to skinny up your life when you live within a system that needs structural change,” built to drive itself off a cliff. The GrowthBusters disagree. But who can you turn to for good advice on this? An astrophysicist, of course!


We’re joined in this episode by NYU professor Joshua Spodek. Yes, he has a degree in astrophysics, but these days he’s busy teaching and coaching leadership and entrepreneurship, doing TEDx talks, authoring best-selling books, blogging daily, and hosting his own podcast. It takes Joshua a year to accumulate a load of trash, and he hasn’t hopped on a plane in four years. So when it comes to both the joy, and the value, of individual planet-saving action, Josh is our guy.

Here is the complete email from Rob Boman in Oregon (we shared a portion of it on the podcast) Links promised are below this.

Hello, I just listened to podcast #35 (uncoupling nonsense). I could send a lot of stuff and I’m in the process of developing a website, but for now, you might find this interesting: I call it The Fifteen Criteria Points of Genuine, Meaningful Sustainability Thanks for your work, Robert Bolman

1) What people commonly refer to as “sustainability” is not truly sustainable. For example, people will refer to “sustainably harvested lumber”. Lumber may be harvested in a manner that is not destructive of forest ecosystems, but in order for lumber to be sustainably harvested, not only would the chainsaws and logging trucks need to be running on something other than fossil fuels, but the chainsaws and logging trucks would need to be MANUFACTURED using something other than fossil fuels. When you consider the amount of energy required to make a large metal object like a logging truck, it is clear that even Forest Stewardship Council certified lumber is far from sustainable

2) Genuine, meaningful sustainability is defined by a rigorous set of criteria including, but not limited to the use of nonrenewable resources and the impossibility of infinite growth on a finite planet.

3) It therefore follows that achieving genuine, meaningful sustainability is a dauntingly complex, remote, far-flung ideal. It will be VERY difficult to achieve.

4) As difficult as it may be, genuine, meaningful sustainability WILL be achieved because to do anything less is unsustainable. Whatever the human family fails to do voluntarily, we WILL do involuntarily. It is possible that we will become a sustainable, advanced, complex civilization. On the other hand, dust blowing on the wind is sustainable.

5) The longer we wait, the longer we procrastinate, delay and make excuses, the more wrenching and traumatic the transition to sustainability will be. We are squandering precious time and resources presently. We have used up approximately half of our one-time geological allotment of fossil fuels. The remaining half will be increasingly more expensive and energy intensive to extract. We should be feverishly using the remaining half to construct the post-fossil fuel infrastructure that we will need. This is especially the case when considering Climate Change. Fully preparing for life without fossil fuels could take decades. Also, it is not at all clear just HOW everything we do with fossil fuels can be accomplished with wind, solar and biofuels. The time to begin that transition is NOT when the fossil fuels are dwindling and the economy is collapsing.

6) Growth is unsustainable. Period. Within a closed, finite system like a petri dish, an island or a planet, growth of the physical environment cannot be continued. Thus, mainstream economics with its emphasis on perpetual growth is quite misguided and unsustainable. (The joke goes that an economist is someone who believes that given sufficient water and fertilizer, a tree can grow to be 100 miles tall.)

7) The best efforts at sustainability will be in vain if population isn’t addressed. It has been consistently shown that the best way to encourage poorer populations to have fewer children is to provide them with education, health care and a more humane quality of life, generally. Therefore, arguably, the extremely poor distribution of the world’s wealth is unsustainable.

8) When the consequences of a given action are not fully understood, it is best to err on the side of caution. This is called The Precautionary Principle and if so called “conservatives” were genuinely conservative, it would be the bedrock of their philosophy. It is safe, prudent and truly conservative. When looked at in the context of genuine, meaningful sustainability, so called “conservatives” are not conservative at all. They are radical, cavalier and dangerous.

9). Carrying on with business-as-usual, assuming that technology will emerge to save us is optimistic to the point of irresponsibility. This is a good place to invoke The Precautionary Principle. No doubt new technologies will emerge to help us through the coming transition to sustainability, but we are facing some                 serious challenges and there is no guarantee that technology will make this an easy transition. Technological optimism IS NOT a sound basis for public policy.

10) Human labor is environmentally neutral. So, wherever any toxic, energy intensive industrial or agricultural practice can be replaced with a different process using human labor, that’s what we should do. Seen in the context of the approaching depletion of fossil fuels, we perhaps don’t need to worry about unemployment. There will be plenty of work for people to do.

11) In order for market forces to govern a sustainable world, environmental and social costs must be accounted for. The way mainstream economists view the world, countless true environmental and social costs are nonchalantly brushed aside – dismissed as “externalities”. Then, with a straight face, these same economists insist that the “wise and invisible hand of the free market” should be allowed to decide things for us. We might as well have a chimpanzee with a Ouija board making some of society’s more important decisions. It’s absurd. For example, if the true environmental and social costs of fossil fuels were accounted for, they would be far more expensive and we would be living in a very different world with dramatically different transportation, land use, manufacturing and agriculture.

12) So many powerful economic interests make so much money from such unsustainable business practices and so many people enjoy such great levels of comfort, convenience and entertainment through such unsustainable means that achieving genuine, meaningful sustainability will be very upsetting to a lot of people. In other words, the necessary and inevitable changes are gonna PISS PEOPLE OFF.

13) Therefore, in order to achieve genuine, meaningful sustainability, those in positions of power must carry out dramatic, sweeping changes for which there may not yet be widespread, popular support. The practice of politicians tiptoeing around, reluctant to upset people must end. True leaders must be ready to say, “Here’s what we’re gonna do. Here’s why. And this pallet of document boxes is the scientific research supporting our decision, so please stop shouting and start reading.”

14) It follows that in order to achieve widespread, popular support for sustainability, the public must be educated – a task too important to be left to the mainstream media & “education” as it commonly exists. Corporate lawyers should not earn ten times the income of a public school teacher. Rather than cutting funding for National Public Radio and Television, funding should be dramatically increased with the condition that all corporate underwriting be eliminated. We should consider a national public print media to provide an alternative to the New York Times and Washington Post.

15) In order to function better as a species, human beings must develop an enhanced faculty of discernment whereby we will tend to believe what is true as distinct from believing what happens to be convenient. It has been articulated by people ranging from Albert Einstein to Shirley MacLane that HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS MUST CHANGE for the world’s problems to be resolved, but this idea is viewed as being vague or abstract – better discussed by philosophers and psychologists than by policy makers. But there is nothing vague or abstract about the DENIAL, DELUSION and sometimes SOCIOPATHIC BEHAVIOR being exhibited by those in positions of power in the world. The hierarchies of power don’t groom and condition the finest people among us to rise to the positions of leadership. In order to achieve and thrive in positions of power, people often find it necessary to embrace a deeply flawed view of reality. Or in many cases, sociopathic behavior can serve those in power very nicely as they dig, claw, kick and gouge their way to the top. This is how politicians and corporate executives wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, genuinely believe that their behavior is acceptable and then spend their days doing a gross disservice to future generations. It is high time we bring the full weight of modern psychology to bear on those running the world.

LINKS: (We didn’t get around to discussing all these, but we want to share them with you, anyway.)

Joshua Spodek website

Leadership and the Environment (Joshua Spodek’s podcast)

Dave Gardner episodes of Leadership and the Environment

What everyone Gets Wrong About the Environment – TEDx Talk by Joshua Spodek

Find Your Delicious: Leadership and the Environment – TEDx Talk by Joshua Spodek

Joshua Spodek on flying:

What a Year Without Flying Taught Me About Responsibility, Empathy, and Community – in Inc. Magazine

Covid-19: Addiction to Flying and Other Polluting Behavior Was a Lack of Motivation and Imagination

Year 4, Day 1 of Not Flying

The Longer I Go Without Flying, the More People Talking About Flying Sounds Like They’re Talking About Heroin

The Longer I Go Without Flying, the More People Talking About Flying Sounds Like They’re Talking About Heroin, Part 2

Joshua’s 20-Minute Vegetable Stew

A Christmas Thought on Climate and Population – by Joshua Spodek

Towards the ‘Walden Wage”

Waiting for the World to End – by The Mavericks

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