Category Archives: Environmental Justice

Climate Refugees and the Delusion of Isolation

One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic

Forced MigrationBe it from social unrest, economic upheaval, or environmental collapse, forced human migration is at unprecedented levels. According to the UNHCR, there are more than 65 million displaced people in the world today. Of those, more than 22 million are forced refugees. Over half are under 18 years old. Nearly 20 people are displaced from their homes every minute.

Sixty-five million people forced to flee their homes?

However disquieting, it almost doesn’t matter. As awful as that sounds, our emotional and mental resources aren’t naturally up to the task of finding empathy for so many. What researchers call “compassion fade” creates “psychic numbing.” Our minds are desensitized by numbers like these. It is, as research psychologist Paul Slovic calls it, the “arithmetic of compassion.”

Continue reading Climate Refugees and the Delusion of Isolation

The Cognitive Dissonance of Earth Day

Marching for science in the Anthropocene

For what you have tamed, you become responsible forever
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

I ask the same question every year: how do we balance our sense of hope and despair? Another Earth Day rolls around and the question has never been more cogent.

Barely three months into Donald Trump’s America decades of policy and progress are now at risk of abandonment. As the world hurtles forward into an unknown future, the fractures within our society seem to grow wider; our self-absorption deeper our disconnect with the natural world more profound.

The ascension of Donald Trump to power and the appalling process that put him there seems to exemplify all of this. Trump, I argue, represents no cause; only effect.

As tens of thousands take to the streets to “March for Science” this Earth Day, the reality of what Donald Trump represents awakens within many a feeling of “resistance” in a world of increasing distrust and narcissism.

This is a good thing, but the anger and resentment we place at the feet of Trump change nothing unless we come to grips with our own disconnect; our own cognitive dissonance.

At war with ourselves

It may seem strange for someone spending so much of their time, energy, and resources advocating for environmental causes, but I am ambivalent toward Earth Day.

Like a tiresome preacher on Easter Sunday, it is too easy for me to look at the throngs of Earth Day supporters and wonder where they’ve been all this time; where they’ll be tomorrow.

Perhaps this a valid point, but it belies my own culpability. My own profound disconnect.

Do my efforts really make any difference or am I just assuaging my own guilt? To what extent am I responsible for the world into which I was born?

I write my articles on a computer made up of plastics, rare earth elements, toxic materials. A mysterious stew of components destined for an “away” that does not exist.

I often engage in my advocacy by traveling halfway around the world. Whether flying thousands of miles or driving hundreds, it doesn’t happen without adding to the destruction of which I claim advocacy.

I am a hypocrite.

I wouldn’t last a week without a lifestyle made possible by a global supply chain in an industrialized, fossil-fuel driven economy. Few of us would.

And yet we continue to play fast and loose with the resource base that makes it all possible.

Many days I would prefer to ignore the dark secret that it cannot go on forever. What choice do I have?

We start from where we are, a place of cognitive dissonance. One way or another, we are all hypocrites.

We all live with our own contradictions and conflict. Nothing will ever completely make sense. Accept it and move on.

By choosing our narrative we define our values.

The choice we all need to make is: “what kind of hypocrite will I be?”

Living with choices

There is still a debate about “Anthropocene” as a measure of geologic time, but surely “anthropocene” isn’t. We control our environment and there are a lot more of us.

Some dismiss it as modern-day Malthusianism. I believe we have ridden the industrial revolution to glorious heights, but at catastrophic cost for all.

I’m not getting any younger. Choices need to be made. I try to look at the world I inhabit through a lens of gratitude, consistently falling short.

That I have the luxury of time to devote to “a cause” makes it my responsibility to own it. For now, it works. I try to make it better. It’s what I can do.

Ripples of hope

I do, admittedly, often trot out these words from RFK’s historic South Africa speech. Nor am I the only one.

For me – for us –  it embodies among the most eloquent expressions of humanity, human agency, and change. It is the narrative I choose and therein lay my act of faith.

It’s my way of saying Happy Earth Day.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”


Thanks to all the people I’ve met, talked to, and worked with the past year. It is your work, insight, and expertise that informs any value in my efforts.

The gang at TriplePundit

Richard Matthews

Kurt Johnson:  Social System Physics

Natasha Zellerbach:  Zellerbach Associates

Andrew Burger

Mai Amit

Adrian Wain: Circular Economy, UL  EHS

Lynelle Cameron: VP of Sustainability, Autodesk. CEO, Autodesk Foundation

Sherry Flumerfelt: executive director, Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust

Jim Brainard: Mayor, Carmel, Indiana

Cyril Dion: filmmaker, Tomorrow

Anthony Barnoski: biologist and executive director, Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve

Noah Kaufman – World Resources Institute

Johnson Bridgewater, president, Oklahoma chapter, Sierra Club

Ondra Berry

 

Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity
– Horace Mann

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
-Edward Everett Hale

The Future of Sustainable Development : A Citizen Journalism Project

Beacon is a crowdfunding platform for journalists. For more than two years Beacon has supported hundreds of worthwhile projects, adding a perspective to journalism free from the internet echo-chamber or vagaries of the advertising business model (here’s one we recommend and support).

We’ve just launched our own campaign on Beacon to help fund a series of articles and interviews exploring the future of sustainable development. The capstone of this series is one-on-one discussions with global leaders in government, business and academia at the GRI Global Conference in Amsterdam this May.

We’ll look at the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN last year as well as the Paris Agreement signed at COP21. We want to examine how these frameworks create a platform for progress, not only as aspirational goals but by defining steps for real action on the ground.

The revelations last week from release of the Panama Papers is clear evidence of how a lack of transparency leads to increased economic and social disparity.  It’s no surprise that the among the world’s most wealthy and powerful people, including top business and government leaders, use whatever means at their disposal to protect their wealth from the vagaries of economic, social and policy constraints.

On the other hand it is a stark reminder of the need to redouble our efforts to align our values with our functioning global economy if there is any hope of achieving the aims of our higher aspirations. 

The importance and nature of the “socially conscious enterprise” is changing rapidly and along with it sustainability reporting. Information exchange is opening up opportunities for sustainable investment and increasing corporate and government transparency.

Is all this just pie-in-the-sky rhetoric to greenwash us into believing such a change is possible? Can we possibly “consume” our way out of the challenges we face? Is the “Triple Bottom Line” (people, planet, profit) an effective business strategy? 

Help us find out!

From my previous conversations over the years with business leaders, scientists, engineers, NGOs and policy wonks, one thing is for sure: business-as-usual is fast becoming untenable. But as we acknowledge this urgent need for change, we need to define a clear and sustainable path forward. 

Help my colleagues Andrew Burger, Richard Matthews and I explore the changing business and public policy landscape in an ever more crowded, resource-constrained world. 

Support citizen journalism!

Contribute to Making Sustainable Development a Reality today!