hearts over charts

This week I heard an insightful podcast interview with psychologist Per Espen Stoknes, author of the book “What We Think About When We Try Not to Think About Global Warming”.

In the book and the podcast, the author lays out what he calls the climate paradox – the more we know about climate change the less convinced we are that it’s real and the less action we take to fix the problem.

Continue reading hearts over charts

hope over despair

It’s easy to read the news on climate change and think we’re totally f*cked. Especially if, like me, you live in the Midwest, where even believing it’s happening seems to put you in some conspiratorial minority.

We may be totally f*cked—that might even be highly likely—but what happens if we flip the script of despair and focus on the opportunities of this moment?

Continue reading hope over despair

why we disagree with scientists

There’s a reason scientists are marching on Washington on April 22nd. They’re sick of us. We aren’t listening to them – our opinions still differ from theirs and the politicians we elect don’t make policies based on their recommendations.

No issue is more significant of this struggle than climate change. According to many polls, including a Pew poll from 2016, only 48% of the American public believe climate change is due to human activity despite consensus among climate scientists. When asked about the findings of these scientists, only 27% of the public acknowledges the consensus.

The gap is huge between what we believe and what the scientific method as shown to be true.


As it turns out, many reasons…

  1. First, this shit is complex
  2. We have a faulty view of science
  3. Our brains can’t handle a problem like climate change
  4. So believe what our tribes believe
  5. Most influentially, what our political tribe believes
  6. Some of our tribes have a negative stereotype of environmentalists, and we don’t want to be one

Continue reading why we disagree with scientists

what we can control

I’ve always thought about environmentalism as simply making “greener” personal choices – recycling, turning the lights off when I leave the room, eating less red meat, etc…

But lately, these personal choices have been feeling insignificant in light of everything happening in the headlines. That’s because a changing climate is quite literally a global problem. We didn’t cause it on our own and we can’t solve it on our own, but solve it we must.

To lend our-tiny-little-insignificant-selves some sanity in this quest, I think we should borrow our approach from Stoic wise guy Epictetus and focus only on what is within our control.

Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us.

– Epictetus

Our most important choice in life, according to Stoic thinker Epictetus, is whether to concern ourselves with things external to us or things internal. His trichotomy of control, which I pulled from the great book The Guide to the Good Life, involves separating things into three categories:

  • Within our complete control: Values, Belief Systems, Character, Adherence to Virtue, Goals, Self-Control, Emotions. The pursuit of these things brings tranquility.
  • Partially within our control: Let’s use the example of a soccer game to illustrate this one. You can play your best game, but it is not completely up to you whether you win. What can you control? You can control your work ethic, your practice regimen, your nutrition. However, many external factors play into the final result. In such situations, we’re best internalizing our goals.
  • Not within our control: Others’ opinions, others’ actions, luck. Stoics try to avoid reacting to these things.

In dealing with the massive issue facing our generation and future generations, we should focus on what is within our control. Let’s talk about what’s reasonably within our control in this context.

  • Searching for truth: Learning, thinking, asking questions, looking in the mirror
  • Personal choices that reflect our values: Many solutions are within our control, as referenced above.
  • Advocacy for collective choices that match our values: Many solutions are NOT within our control. We can only spread the word, vote, engage in debate, share newsletters, etc.

We’ll touch on all three of these this week on The Commons.

Should I be enjoying this weather?

I’m the guy who spent the last week trying to figure out if I was allowed to enjoy these unseasonably warm temperatures. I mean 75 and sunny, for multiple days, in February? This must be wrong…but it feels so right!

Turns out, Jay-Z feels the same way:

In all seriousness, yes, a vanishing winter (caused by human activity) is super fucked up and yes, it’s also okay to enjoy great weather. Preventing yourself from enjoying the present moment doesn’t make climate change go away. Being sad is not a solution.

This moral question really gets at the complexity of this struggle. An article on the Atlantic digs into this a little more and I explore the highlights below:

Continue reading Should I be enjoying this weather?

on the sidelines

I’ve been called an environmentalist for as long as I can remember. But in recent times, I’ve been feeling like a fraud. An imposter. I’ve been interested in environmentalism, but not informed. I’ve been enraged, but not engaged. I’ve bitched and complained and even cried, but I haven’t acted.

Finally, I’ve been asking myself: what side will you be on when we look back on this? I haven’t even picked a team. I’ve been on the f*ing sidelines, along with many in my generation.

As I’ve been trying to come to terms with this, I realized a few things about the environmental movement:

Continue reading on the sidelines

The Tragedy of the Commons

I’m in the beginning stages of launching a new email newsletter on environmentalism. I’m setting out on a journey to confront my in-activism and hopefully turn it into activism. I’m calling it The Commons.

The name is an ode to the late biologist Garret Hardin’s 1968 essay titled The Tragedy of the Commons. To me, this concept cuts to core of the environmental struggle and just how complex it really is. Straight from the original source:

The tragedy of the commons develops in this way. Picture a pasture open to all. It is to be expected that each herdsman will try to keep as many cattle as possible on the commons. Such an arrangement may work reasonably satisfactorily for centuries because tribal wars, poaching, and disease keep the numbers of both man and beast well below the carrying capacity of the land.

Finally, however, comes the day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.As a rational being, each herdsman seeks to maximize his gain. Explicitly, or implicitly, more or less consciously, he asks: “What is the utility to me of adding one more animal to my herd?” This utility has one negative and one positive component.

1) The positive component is the function of the increment of one animal. Since the herdsman receives all the proceeds from the sale of the additional animal, the positive utility is nearly +1.

2) The negative component is a function of the additional overgrazing created by one more animal. Since, however, the effects of overgrazing are shared by all the herdsmen, the negative utility for
any particular decision-making herdsman is only a fraction of -1.

Adding together the component partial utilities, the rational herdsman concludes that the only sensible course for him to pursue is to add another animal to his herd. And another, and another …But this is the conclusion reached by each and every rational herdsman sharing a commons. Therein is the tragedy. Each man is locked into a system that compels him to increase his herd without limit — in a world that is limited. Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all.

it’s all connected

Our belief in reincarnation is one example of our concern for the future. If you think that you will be reborn, you are likely to say to yourself, I have to preserve such and such because my future reincarnation will be able to continue with these things. Even though there is a chance you may be reborn as a creature, perhaps even on a different planet, the idea of reincarnation gives you reason to have direct concern about this planet and future generations.

In the West when you speak of “humanity,” you usually mean only our existing generation of human beings. Past humanity is already gone. The future, like death, has yet to come. Western ideas usually deal with the practical side of things for only this present generation of human beings.

– The Dalai Lama

I don’t have much belief in reincarnation, but thinking about it does leave me curious: what is at the heart of Western culture’s general disregard for what sort of planet we leave for future generations? And is religious belief in an afterlife in heaven (and not on earth) at the root of it?

I’m also curious about the many connections between environmentalism and all the different fields of thought I’ve been into lately:

  • Buddhism – connected to environmentalism through the main tenet of non-harming. Climate change is affecting many “sentient beings” and causing species extinction.
  • Minimalism – connected to environmentalism through the impact of all the stuff we buy and we don’t need.
  • Entrepreneurship – the private sector must take the lead on the environment given the political turmoil around the world. It isn’t near enough to the top of politicians’ lists.
  • Politics – although the private sector is probably most important during the Trump administration, there’s no solution to environmental issues without politics.
  • Computer science and technology – although many of the solutions to environmental problems are technologically simple, there are many ways that technology can and will help.
  • Behavioral economics – why do we make the choices we make? That’s at the core of it as well.