Category Archives: Op-Ed

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

My Inconvenient Truth : Reflections on Al Gore’s Impact, Ten Years On

In May of 2006, Al Gore’s now-classic climate change documentary “An Inconvenient Truth was released. The movie won an Oscar in the Featured Documentary category, and Gore was co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The nominating committee recognized Gore and the IPCC “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

For many, it was as if Al Gore invented global warming. Or that global warming invented Al Gore, I’m not sure which. What is certain is the enormous impact the movie and Gore’s advocacy through the years had on raising awareness about the, well, inconvenient truth of climate change.

To be perfectly candid, I think “raising awareness” is among the canon of over-hyped phrases like “paradigm shift.” Meaningful at their core, these idioms are overused, often with a pretentious tinge, to the point of diffusing much of their impact and credibility. This is ironic given that we live in transformative times ourselves, witness to a global paradigm shift of raised awareness.

It’s tricky.

I read Gore’s 1992 nonfiction book “Earth in the Balance,” so I was no stranger to his environmental advocacy. But “An Inconvenient Truth” brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness like little did before or since (except the changing climate itself), for better and worse. I can only speak anecdotally, but I believe Gore is likely the most famous straw man alive — and for some, also the most reviled. He raised awareness about global warming so masterfully that he has become synonymous with it, often not in a good way.

This may sound like I’m being critical of his work. If I do admit some ambivalence, it is not for lack of admiration and inspiration for what Gore has done and is doing in the public campaign to push for climate action. I’ve heard Gore speak on several occasions. I’ve gone through his Climate Leadership training. He is passionate and sincere about his work.

Perhaps my ambivalence is directed more toward the climate change narrative itself than to Gore’s engagement with it. It is a narrative too often oversimplified, tortured beyond all recognition of civility and imbued with an ideological fervor that has little to do with the task at hand.

And it’s for all this that I’d like to take the opportunity of the 10-year anniversary of “An Inconvenient Truth” to thank Al Gore for changing my life.

An inconvenient journey

I can’t say exactly when I first learned about climate change, but it was long before Gore’s movie. I’d also read other cautionary works like Jeremy Rifkin’s early work “Entropy,” Paul Ehrlich’s “Population Bomb,” Robert Heinberg’s “The Party’s Over” and The Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth,” among others. 

From a very young age I was a budding Malthusian.

But while contemplating this doom, I also found great joy in the beauty of the world around me. My ambivalence was my own.

I acquired the domain name “globalwarmingisreal.com” several years earlier, but after seeing “An Inconvenient Truth” in May of 2006 I decided to focus my efforts on what I cared about most and launched the official blog GlobalWarmingisReal.com (GWIR). It was a humble launch, but 10 years on it is still going strong.

What’s more, I’ve had an opportunity to temper my general Malthusian worldview with a sense of guarded optimism. While I’ve endured over the years the expected heaving of hate and fear, I’ve also seen firsthand the hard work of many talented, passionate and brilliant people focused on moving the world toward a better future. That’s what gives me inspiration to engage with these pathfinders, tell their story and each day try a little bit harder to help light the way.

“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself,” Robert Kennedy said in a 1966 speechin South Africa, “but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” We all have within us the power to send out “tiny ripples of hope” that will converge into a mighty current of sweeping renewal.

Few of us have the influence or reach of Al Gore, but we all have a responsibility to pursue the harder path before us, so that others may follow. Each in our own way.

Is Al Gore the reason I am concerned about global warming? No. But Gore and his documentary helped set me out on the path I am on today, and upon which I intend to remain for the rest of my life

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed
I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,
with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.”
— Adrienne Rich

Image credit: Woody Hibbard, courtesy flickr

This post originally published on TriplePundit

Steps on the Road to a Great Transition

Arguably one of the most important things to come out of the COP21 climate talks in Paris last December, aside from the Paris Agreement itself, is the signal sent solidifying the growing shift in the global consciousness. We seek a transformative path forward into the new century. But any desired transformational change requires both the vision for a long term outcome and a mechanism to achieve that outcome in the ongoing grind of our day-to-day reality.

In a  globalized economy powered by fossil fuels embedded in that reality is the expectation of ceaseless energy to drive nearly every aspect of our lives, at least for some of us. The rest must live either in the shadow of the waste and destruction brought as a consequence of a fossil fuel energy economy or start out on their own quest to catch up.  Many suffer. Some resort to violence and anarchy in their desperation.

The Paris Agreement sets in motion a renewed sense of urgency in our aspiration for climate action specifically and a more equitable and sustainable society in general. The more cynical among us might suggest we’ve heard all this before, half-hearted calls to action that bear little change, leaving the rhetoric in the dustbin of broken promises and hardened souls. It’s easy to be cynical.

What is harder is to accept the failures of the past, the circumstances of the present and challenges of the future, and determine that change is not only inevitable, but that we can shape it toward a desired outcome. This is the promise of the Paris Agreement.

Choosing our future scenario

In an essay entitled Great Transition: The Promise and Lure of the Times Aheadthree classes of future scenarios are outlined, each with two variants. First is the Conventional Worlds scenario, then Barbarization and finally Great Transitions. Each scenario is characterized respectively by essential continuity, fundamental yet undesirable change and fundamentally favorable social transformation.

The two variants to Conventional Worlds are “market forces” and “policy reform.” Market forces assumes no real deviation from business-as-usual, suggesting an eventual deterioration into one of the two variants of Barbarization, either “fortress world” or complete “breakdown.” On the other hand, the policy reform variant of the Conventional Forces scenario, working in the spirit of Keynes and Bruntland, offers the possibility of progress toward a Great Transition scenario. Here we have an “eco-communalism” or “new sustainability paradigm” worldview.

Some may pine after a world of eco-communalism rooted in “pastoral romance, human goodness and the evil of industrialism,” but the authors suggest the more likely and desirable possibility, given our present situation, is a new sustainability paradigm. This is a world built out of a philosophy of sustainability as progressive global social evolution organized around human solidarity, new values and “the art of living.”

Whether we end up in a scenario of Barbarization or Great Transformation, I argue that one thing is apparent: from our current perspective of Conventional Worlds, we have a choice, even if that choice is making no choice at all – or muddling through, as the authors in the essay define as the last option; simply turning a blind eye to the whole issue of future development. By default that will almost certainly lead to a fortress world or complete breakdown.

Our best choice from here is one of policy reform, defined by growth and environmental equity achieved through stewardship, better technology and management. The framework set in place through the Paris Agreement, as well as the Sustainable Development goals, is the first step toward policy reform in a Conventional World that might lead to the Great Transition of a new sustainability paradigm.

World Bank Group Climate Action Plan: policy reform for favorable transformation?

Earlier this month the World Bank Group announced its Climate Action Plan. The plan builds on the foundation of the Paris Agreement, reinforcing the ambitions of individual countries and the global community toward new policies for every sector of society.

Through capacity building, leveraging resources and creating a framework of transparency, the World Bank’s Climate Action Plan is an example of how we can get from here – a conventional world committed to policy reform – to there – a Great Transformation rooted in human solidarity and global social evolution.

Of course, it can be difficult to hold in our mind’s eye what this transformation will look like, and this is only a small step on the road to get there. But we must look at each step as part of the whole and keep in our hearts and minds the ambition and vision set forth in Paris.

Featured image credit: Stephan Ridgway, courtesy flickr

This post first published in our blog GlobalWarmingisReal.com