Deserving of Our Best Work

I made an interesting discovery thanks to a wonderful writer and friend Julianne Lutz Warren. Her 10th anniversary edition of Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey includes a new 2016 preface. Within this note to readers, Warren describes a meeting Leopold attended with a small group of concerned scientists in 1947 – almost a year before his death.

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For two days they talked about the current state of humans and their relationship with the planet. By the end they agreed to form the Conservation Foundation. The Foundation’s purpose was to inform public policies that at the time were ignorant of the peril facing humans if our relationship with the planet didn’t change. “It’s safe to predict that civilization will be faced with a series of mounting crises unless a powerful movement counteracts present trends,” said the Foundation’s 1948 Statement of Purpose.

Today many resist this notion and propose conspiracy theories in resistance. For example some claim today’s climate scientists gin up false data and conclusions to keep climate change research dollars flowing. This seems plausible until we see from the outset there was genuine concern and curiosity – not financial or political motive – from scientists that suggested fossil fuel combustion was warming the atmosphere.

Here again, Warren brings forth a gem of environmental history by highlighting the alarm bell the Foundation was ringing long ago. She points readers to a 1963 conference convened by the Foundation. The purpose was to “discuss the problem of rising carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere.” In the conference report summary, Noel Eichhorn wrote,

It is known that the carbon dioxide situation, as it has been observed within the last century, is one which might have considerable biological, geographical and economic consequences within the not too distant future. What is important is that with the rise of carbon dioxide, by way of exhaust gases from engines and other sources, there is a rise in the temperature of the atmosphere and oceans.…It is hoped that the publication of this summary of conference discussions may contribute to further examination of the carbon dioxide situation. The subject should be one of considerable concern and controversy.

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Weather Extremes and Climate Change Graph from EPA

Reading the report today leaves me with a sense of optimism. Climate change conversations have expanded from the laboratory to the kitchen table. We have come so far in our understanding of the planet and ourselves. We can predict weather and climate change with accuracy unexpected in 1963. We have mapped the human genome – over 3,000,000,000 DNA nucleotides – and can change genetic mistakes that cause some diseases. And we understand how we think and can predict how we react to problems like climate change. This pursuit of knowledge harkens back to the period of Enlightenment and the great minds that agitated for and helped create the United States of America.

In his book Don’t Even Think About It – Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, George Marshall describes why we may deny climate change is happening or just choose not to talk about it:

It is complex, unfamiliar, slow moving, invisible, and intergenerational. Of all the possible combinations of loss and gain, climate change contains the most challenging: requiring certain short-term loss in order to mitigate against an uncertain longer-term loss.

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Coastal erosion in northwest Alaska (Photo courtesy State of Alaska)

Thankfully the impacts of climate change are becoming less invisible than ever. Either through published reports or first-hand observations, more and more people can see the climate is warming and weather, as predicted, is becoming more extreme. Whether it’s extreme rainfall in Fairbanks or heat in Yuma we don’t have to be a scientist to comprehend record-shattering weather events.

This is good news. Iris Bohnet, a professor at Harvard Kennedy School of Government, is an expert on human behavioral science and resistance to change. In a recent interview in Harvard Business Review she nailed succinctly something others have documented stating, “For beliefs to change, people’s experiences have to change first.” Experience leads to comprehension, which leads to change. The people of Alaska are experiencing climate change in a very real way. Back in a 2006 survey, 81% believed in climate change and a majority linked it with fossil fuel emissions.

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2014 was the rainiest summer in Fairbanks and 2016 appears set to become the 2nd wettest. (Photo courtesy Fairbanks Daily News Miner)

The odyssey Leopold began and shared with us continues and expands around the world. Julianne Lutz Warren believes so too saying, “We are members of humanity rigorously comprehending the ecosphere…We actively participate in an uprising odyssey of global land health.” She asks her readers, “When our own odysseys return us to the starting place, what patterns and values do we find and can we share in that make life worth living and deserve our best work?”

I believe life is worth living when we can do something beyond ourselves, for the born and unborn. My hope is we will take note of what is happening around us, and share our observations and experiences with each other – that is worthy of our best work.

If you don’t own Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, buy one…and when you’re done with it pass it to a friend. When you do, share your climate change experiences.

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A Legend Remembered

On May 26, 2016 an American conservation legend passed. Jack Ward Thomas represents perhaps the most successful conservationist of the post-Leopoldian generation. In the 1940s, Aldo Leopold helped us be aware every “cog and wheel” in Nature had value. Since the 1960s, Dr. Thomas was on the front lines of conservation figuring out how to intelligently tinker with Nature without losing all those pieces.

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Most Americans remember the spotted owl controversy. This conundrum was symbolic of that tension Leopold spoke to…attempting to keep all species while milking what we could from the Earth. Jack Ward Thomas is most widely recognized (and despised) as the spotted owl biologist.

Last year Dr. Thomas completed his autobiography, Forks in the Trail, that I highly recommend to every conservation professional and those interested in conserving Nature. In one of the most honest and riveting sections, Dr. Thomas describes his empathy for the loggers that feared logging restrictions needed to save the spotted owl (and other species dependent upon old growth forest). I include a few passages below to give a sense of his ability to diagnose the situation he found himself…his ability to manage his triggers and see the big picture – and to mobilize and inspire others to do what the law required.

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“The leaders of the USFS made it clear to successive administrations and Congresses that timber was being harvested from the national forests at unsustainable rates, given inadequate coincident investments in forest management….The full funding for intensive timber management and road management never came, so it was inevitable that timber yields from the national forests ratcheted downward and then essentially collapsed in the early 1990s. That collapse was abetted by the USFS’s difficulty in meeting politically imposed timber targets while trying to simultaneously comply with a veritable onslaught of environmental laws.”

“It was clear that impacts on the timber industry and on county and federal treasuries would be sudden and dramatically negative…..Significant social, economic, and political adjustments would be required in the status quo to implement the ISC [Interagency Scientific Committee] strategy….hard core activists of the environmental persuasion accused the ISC of ‘selling out to the timber interests.’ Those concerned with the welfare of the timber industry regarded the ISC report as ‘overkill’ and ‘collusion with environmental extremists.’

“Those whose economic welfare depended on continued harvests of old-growth timber, along with their rightfully concerned elected officials, desperately wanted to believe that there has to be a better – cheaper way – than that prescribed by the ISC….that would allow continued cutting of significant amounts of timber from old-growth forests on federal lands…Then in an unprecedented move the ISC was put ‘on trial’ in an adversarial hearing in front of an administrative law judge in Portland…The ‘trial’ was arranged by the secretary of the interior, Manual Lujan….The situation was bizarre – and becoming more so by the day. The Bush administration was putting its own employees – scientists and experts that it had assigned and charged with the task – through a hearing with the full hope and intent of shredding their credibility. After my turn on the witness stand being ‘defrocked’ for several hours, the hearing officer declared a recess. As I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air, I was approached by the grand old man of timber industry lobbyists in the Pacific Northwest. For many years he had been the industry’s primary spokesman, advocate, and dispenser of support to favored political candidates….He focused his ire on me as the nominal leader of the ISC. He stood close and said in his deep gravelly voice, ‘I know you boys think you’ve saved the old growth. Shit, kid, we’ve already cut the old growth! Live with it! What you’ve saved is nothing but the leftover crap. And in the end we’ll get that too!”

After the ISC recommendations were ignored by the Bush administration the courts called for enforcement of a ban on logging of old growth. During this time, Dr. Thomas was a hated man. He was vilified in the press and in yard signs. A dummy with his name hung in effigy in one logging town. Yet, he took those insults as data that told him how people were feeling about the situation – about him in his professional role. His humor was inspiring and on display in one interaction in an airport: “Say, mister, did anybody ever tell you that you look just like that spotted owl biologist guy – Jack Ward Thomas?’ ‘Well, yes, several people have told me that over the past few months.’ He gave me a sympathetic look. ‘Geez, man! That must really piss you off!’ I nodded, ‘Sometimes.”

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His humility and courage surely helped prepare him for the toll the situation would take on his personal life: “Our family had lived in La Grande for nearly two decades. Margaret and I were active in the community and acquainted with hundreds of people. Margaret was perhaps better known locally as the result of her musical endeavors, church activities, and club work than I. Most folks, and nearly all of our friends, treated us as they always had. A few, however, ceased to speak to us or otherwise made their negative feelings toward us obvious. That was painful. On the other hand, we could not help but empathize with their distress.” Speaking of tampering with his vehicle and Molotov cocktails left on his doorstep he remarked, “The message was clear, I should be afraid – very afraid!”

After a chance encounter and courageous conversation with the owner of a small logging business he wrote, “I drove away. Several miles out of Forks, emotions welled up that I could not choke down, and I pulled over and let the tears come. People, real people – with hopes and dreams and families – were paying a terrible price for what, as ordained by law and court decisions and belated concern for ecosystems thousands of years in their creation, now had to be faced. The steadily increasing timber harvest from public lands had evolved from being considered ‘good forest management’ to ‘sins of the past’ to a new and belated paradigm of ‘ecosystem management.’ It didn’t matter how right and how logical those ‘sins’ had seemed when committed. Time and circumstances change. The bill, long delayed and even denied, had suddenly come due. My colleagues and I were simply the delivery boys. Being on the receiving end, no doubt, was dramatically worse.”

From what I can gather Jack Ward Thomas was the right person for the job of leading us through a pivotal adaptation. He was a rare bird. He understood and retained an ability to think like a scientist. Yet he was emotionally intelligent too. He understood people.

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Maybe it was his humble, rural roots. He could relate with blue-collar people. He seemed to never forget his roots in rural Texas. But he could see the power of science. His ability to adapt yet appreciate, and understand, those who wouldn’t was perhaps a key to his success. I can’t know. But maybe it was a combination of those reasons that he was selected by the Bush administration to tackle the spotted owl mess.

With Forks in the Trail, conservation professionals can understand what helped Jack Ward Thomas rise from a state biologist to the head of the US Forest Service to university professor. Readers will have a sense for what today’s conservation professional can expect to face in a world of increasingly controversial conservation conflicts. Saving every “cog and wheel” is becoming more political. As more humans inhabit the Earth and consume more resources conflict is inevitable. But with humility, curiosity and courage, the women and men on the front lines of conservation will be as successful as Dr. Thomas – the conservation legend that led us through a pivotal period in American conservation.

Posted in Aldo Leopold, Anthropocene, Conservation, environment, Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Are you in the “sweet spot?”

The March 2016 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed research results that got me thinking about conversations I’ve had lately… and questions emerging in my mind, “Do we hire and promote for the wrong reasons? And does this contribute to problems and ultimately staff departures?”

According to HBR, a recent study found that the most competent undergraduate students underestimate their knowledge and the less competent overrate their knowledge. Sound familiar? Another study found that people in a group that followed someone that projected more confidence, was taller or louder, performed worse than their peer groups. Even after being told the group was on the wrong track, 45% continued listening or deferring to this “leader.” What is going on here? Does this happen in your organization, civic group, or board? Or in politics?

Another study surveyed sales reps and managers to determine who were best at forecasting their revenue. Researchers discovered the most accurate forecasters depend upon both logic and intuition. The least accurate rely overwhelmingly on intuition and obviously don’t bother with logic guided by facts. The salespeople surveyed were asked to rate their confidence in their forecasts. Interestingly the most confident forecasters were as inaccurate as those who expressed little confidence. The best predictors of future revenue were the salespeople and managers that expressed a “middle-of-the-road” confidence – holding to the notion their position is guided by facts while recognizing they might be wrong. It’s been said that exhibiting leadership on tough issues requires holding equally to the possibility that you could be wrong as you could be right.

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Olaus Murie (image courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service)

What lessons can we learn here? Do we follow or promote people that are humble or that project certainty? Is there a “sweet spot?” How many find and stay in that spot? Are we more likely to defend ideas expressed by an outspoken, charismatic person or someone that isn’t so certain they’re right? What role has “leader” bias played in appointments to the upper ranks of our organizations? And if this bias is at work in those appointments, what’s the long-term impact?

When I reflect upon the more notable conservation professionals in American history I sense they were in the “sweet spot.” As scientists they maintained a sense of humility that spurred their curiosity and learning. They listened and offered an opinion when asked. They didn’t rise to the top of their organizations. But what if they had? Would they have retained their humility or over time would they have become overconfident?

My purpose here is to surface a tough issue I hear about quite abit in my circles… to try and move the conversation from the individual to the system so we can make progress. I’m curious what you think.

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Excuse me, Mr. President…

I appreciate what you said during a recent interview for Popular Science. I too want to reach the end of my days knowing “the planet’s going to be in pretty good shape” and that I helped keep it that way. But I’m afraid you’re approaching global warming as if it’s just a technical problem. You seem to be missing the critical fact that it’s also a huge adaptive challenge.

You might have learned about adaptive challenges while you were at Harvard Law School between 1988 and 1991. A few blocks away at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky were lecturing about a pattern of repeated failures and successes they detected in tough social issues. In research they found we humans tend to not make much progress on complex problems. The pattern of failures includes:

  • waiting and hoping for a technical fix;
  • ignoring what people may have to give up; and
  • waiting for authority figures to solve the problem.

They found progress is made when people begin owning the problem, taking risks, experimenting with new ways of being, and engaging others – what Heifetz termed adaptive leadership.

Let’s think about this idea within your own life. You were a smoker once upon a time. At some point I’m sure you decided you needed to quit. You probably tried all kinds of quick and easy gimmicks – 10-step program, chewing gum, etc. You probably hoped scientists would develop a miracle cure. At some moment did you realize it wasn’t going to be easy? Did you realize part of the problem was smoking was a part of who you are? I bet you were finally successful when you accepted smoking was an adaptive challenge. The adaptive work was letting go of, psychologically, smoking cigarettes. I bet you took some risks – maybe you had to disappoint a fellow friend and smoker? You probably enlisted the help of others too.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.rollingstone.com

Mr. President I support the use of science and technological innovations to reduce global warming. But sir, we can’t just count on technical fixes. We have to adapt too. We have to change the way we live and work. To do so we need your help…we need you to exhibit leadership.

If you asked, Heifetz, Linksky and the folks at the Kansas Leadership Center they might suggest you help us diagnose the situation – help us see this isn’t just a technical problem. Identify who needs to do the work (hint: it’s not just politicians and scientists). Be ready. You will get major blowback when you go down this path. We want our authority figures to tell us we can go on about our lives. We want government to make problems just go away. So get used to uncertainty and conflict. The stress could be intolerable so don’t forget to take care of yourself.

Because this is adaptive work for every human on the planet, you’re gonna have to work across many factions. You will have to give the work back to us. In adaptive challenges the people with the problem have to be part of the solution. You’ll need to dial back on the rosy talk about how innovations will save the day. Tell us what we need to hear not what we want to hear. Speak to loss – acknowledge what you, me and others may have to give up. But to make the discomfort tolerable speak from your heart. Inspire a collective purpose – a peaceful, hospitable planet for our children is an excellent place to start.

Thanks for listening Mr. President. Good luck.

Posted in Adaptive Leadership, environment, Global Warming, Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Case Study – Leadership in Flint

The following article does a good job of illustrating facets of leading in an adaptive challenge. You’ll find people dancing on the edge of their authority for something they care passionately about. Can you name one person and what she or he did that was risky but purposeful?

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(Photo courtesy of the washingtonpost.com)

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan has elements of a technical problem and an adaptive challenge.

Solving the technical problem is straightforward:

  • Collect water quality data
  • Determine required solutions and funds needed
  • Authority figures provide direction, protection and restore order:
    • immediate acts provide clean water and protect health
    • long-term acts provide clean water and mitigate health impacts

Unfortunately there’s resistance to the technical solution. This indicates adaptive work and requires:

  • Bringing all stakeholders to the table
  • Understanding the competing aspirations held
  • Staying in the game despite the frustration
  • Finding a collective purpose among all
  • Speaking to what has to be given up to make progress
  • Identifying and doing what needs to be done

As you reflect on what is happening in Flint, think about a tough issue you’re facing in conservation. Are you treating the issue like a technical problem or an adaptive challenge?

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To Lead, Understand Others

I love my children. Like most everyone, I want a healthy planet so our children might live healthy, fulfilling lives. And their children, their children’s children and so forth. This post is the 3rd in a series dedicated to exploring how we might close the gap between the current reality and our aspirations.

Adaptive challenges are issues that require people let go of something that has worked for them in order to make room for new, necessary ways of being. Our most common examples include slavery, voter and workers’ rights, and now environmental degradation or the Anthropocene. The first step in tackling an adaptive challenge is to diagnose the situation. In diagnosis we identify various players, factions, tribes, user groups, etc. involved in the issue. We strive to understand the status quo, cultural norms, default interpretations, and behaviors. We do so to understand what they value and fear losing.

In the Webinar, Leopold, Leadership and You, Drs. Curt Meine and Julianne Warren touched on how Aldo Leopold attempted to diagnose adaptive conservation challenges in his time. They reflected upon his interactions with co-workers, supervisors, various scientists, native Americans, Anglo and Hispanic ranchers, farmers, hunters and anti-hunters as he sought to understand their hopes and fears. According to Meine, “…Leopold is always looking for common ground…where the overlaps of interest are…how to lift people up from their special interest to the common interest or the common good, the public interest.” On the issue of wilderness protection, Warren echoed that observation remarking, “…he would come up with ways to try and present the fact that these two interests actually shared this common ground, and that common ground was the land itself.”

Aldo Leopold visits with Wisconsin farmers. Image courtesy of Aldo Leopold Foundation.

Aldo Leopold visits with Wisconsin farmers. Image courtesy of http://www.aldoleopold.org

We have an advantage Leopold would have appreciated. Decades of research, particularly supported by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (and summarized in The Principles of Adaptive Leadership) have identified patterns inherent in progress on adaptive challenges. Here are three common techniques to help us diagnose a complicated issue:

Get on the Balcony. During meetings and discussions among factions make careful observations about the players. Imagine being on a balcony and observing. Being on the balcony allows you to see how people are reacting to each other and to you. Are the players truly listening to each other? To you? What triggers excitement and anger for each player?

Identify Cultural Norms. Notice the default behaviors of the various players to understand how they may react to various proposed solutions. What is the folklore for the group? Do they hold up the words of someone who lived long ago to justify their position? What are their rituals when interacting with various players? Are there factions that have similar behaviors but different interests?

Listen to the Song Beneath the Words. Pay close attention to what is not being said. Watch for non-verbal clues given by the players when you and others are speaking. Do you detect insincerity? Is eye contact avoided when certain subjects surface? Is humor inserted quickly after a serious comment is made? Making note of what’s just under the surface can help us uncover the real sources of resistance.

In addition, we should earn enough trust and rapport that the players tolerate our questions (imagine Leopold kicking dirt with those Wisconsin farmers). Invest time in finding common ground and developing relationships. After awhile we might begin asking probing diagnostic questions. The Kansas Leadership Center offers some good diagnostic questions, and I’ve added my twist in parentheses:

  • What’s our (your) story about what’s going on?
  • What story do we (you) imagine others are telling?
  • What aspirations do we (you) have related to this issue?
  • What needs to change to reach those aspirations?
  • What values might be in conflict here?
  • What processes need to be created to address this challenge?
  • What factions are involved with this issue? What does each value?
  • For real change to happen, who has to work on this? Who else?

In adaptive challenges we need to grasp the positions and alliances of the groups involved. For each stakeholder we must understand their desired outcome; how might they be affected by proposed solutions; what degree of power do they hold; what thing do they fear losing; with whom do they share interests? If we slowly bring out each players’ piece of the mess, we can help them identify adaptation strategies.

Regarding the ultimate adaptive challenge Leopold described as, “…living on a piece of land without spoiling it,” how might we begin diagnosing the situation? Below I lay out some diagnostic questions and, searching the internet, provide possible responses or positions from just a few factions involved in this global adaptive challenge.

What’s the story members of the United Nations are telling? And what aspirations do they have for the Earth’s future?

From the United Nations Environment Programme:

The most dramatic and pervasive example of how we have come to dominate our planet is climate change, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has unequivocally linked to CO2 and greenhouse gas emissions from human activities. In its latest report, the IPCC warns that failure to reduce emissions could exacerbate food insecurity and result in the flooding of major cities and entire island nations. This could cause further refugee crises, mass extinction of plants and animals, and a drastically altered climate that might change life as we know it today for hundreds of millions of people. All of these impacts are being propelled, to a large extent, by our current linear economic system: we extract, produce, consume, and discard. This has provided some with an opulent lifestyle, but continues to exact a great environmental toll on the planet.

Chinese youngster scavenges in a landfill.

Chinese youngster scavenges in a landfill. Image courtesy of www.voiceofpatriots.xanga.com

The aspirations for the United Nations Environment Programme might best be summarized in its mission statement: “To provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.”

Conversely what is the story the Energy & Environment Legal Institute is telling? And what aspirations do they have for the Earth’s future?

According to their Web site:

The Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) is a 501(c)(3) organization engaged in strategic litigation, policy research, and public education on important energy and environmental issues.  Primarily through its strategic litigation efforts, E&E Legal seeks to address and correct onerous federal and state governmental actions that negatively impact energy and the environment.  E&E Legal advocates responsible resource development, sound science, respect for property rights, and a commitment to markets as it holds accountable those who seek excessive and destructive government regulation that’s based on agenda-driven policy making, junk science, and hysteria.

What needs to change to reach those aspirations?

There is a lot of information related to change proposed by the UN and EELI that I encourage you to explore but here I provide just a glimpse.

Here’s what members of the UNEP have agreed to:

When addressing current and future social, economic, and environmental challenges that are facing the planet there is now an established consensus that these challenges are interlinked and must be addressed through an integrated approach. The environment, along with social and economic factors, must play an important role when aiming to achieve truly sustainable development on a global scale. Only through integration of the three dimensions will it be possible to achieve the transformative change required to secure long-term human and environmental well-being.

And here’s the change desired by E&E Legal:

E&E Legal was founded in 2010 under a different name [American Tradition Institute] to promote free market environmentalism, and it has enjoyed tremendous success for a small organization. Hard-core environmentalist activists like the Natural Resources Defense Council have been highly effective for years in utilizing the court system to enact policy, affect change, and generate significant exposure for their cause.  The same opportunities exist for those who advocate a free-market approach, and we have an impressive track record in the courts despite being significantly overmatched by those promoting more regulation, and government-based solutions.  In September 2013, E&E Legal’s Board of Directors voted to refine its focus primarily to the area of strategic litigation, and to change its name in order to reflect more accurately its work in the legal arena.

What current values might be in conflict?

Perhaps values that are in conflict include free market principles versus environmental sustainability and self-determination versus communal interests. With 7 billion of us living, collectively, an unsustainable lifestyle what kind of planet will we leave behind for the 9 billion anticipated to be alive in 2050? Can we fulfill our immediate desires for goods and services without jeopardizing our children’s basic needs? Or must we separate want from need?

Speaking directly to one possible conflict of values, on September 28, 2015 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked that he and President Obama both value, “…an uncompromising commitment on climate change without affecting our ability to meet the development aspirations of humanity.” I wonder if the Prime Minister truly believes these two values can be pursued and accomplished without compromise?

Family in Juanga India. Image courtesy of ourbusinessnews.com

Family in Juanga India. Image courtesy of http://www.ourbusinessnews.com

What processes need to be created to address symptoms of the Anthropocene?

Governments have created international processes such as the United Nations Environment Programme with its goals and objectives but it seems they have failed to involve the people with the problem and encourage them be a part of the solution. What holding environments have been created to stimulate much-needed dialogue among the many factions? Are the world’s authority figures willing to tell us what we don’t want to hear? Have they placed the work where it belongs? Are they willing to admit they don’t have the answers but they will help us search for them together? Are they willing to protect voices of dissent? Without conducting their own diagnoses, it’s likely governments will fail to understand what they are asking people to give up and will fail to help them adapt.

What major players are involved and what do they value?

Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church has emerged as a major player in this adaptive challenge. He is a senior authority figure providing direction, protection and order for approximately 1.25 billion people or 1 out of 7 people on Earth. Here’s what he said on October 8, 2015:

As Christians we wish to offer our contribution towards overcoming the ecological crisis which humanity is living through.  Therefore, first of all we must draw from our rich spiritual heritage the reasons which feed our passion for the care of creation, always remembering that for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for us, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us.” (cfr Encylical Letter. Laudato Si, 216). The ecological crisis therefore calls us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.” (ibid., 217). Thus, “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”(ibid)

Pope Francis' tablet on Creation Care. Image courtesy of www.davegrunland.com.

Pope Francis’ commandments for Creation Care. Image courtesy of http://www.davegrunland.com.

Who has to work on this? Who else?

Obviously the authority figures representing many of the global states believe they are working on this adaptive challenge. But who else should? Who else owns a piece of the mess? You and me. When Pope Francis’ recent call for creation care comes up in conversations with your friends what are their responses? What is not said? What probing questions could you ask? If you’ve never had a conversation about the future of the planet with others, why not? What would it take to get you to do so?

Thank you for following along. If something in this post resonates with you (or troubles you), weigh in and share your response with others. And as always I encourage comments, questions and observations.

Posted in Adaptive Leadership, Anthropocene, Leadership, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Deeper Dive Into Economic Growth

Setting Things Straight for the Steady State

By Brian Czech

Editor’s Note: The forthcoming A Future Beyond Growth (Routledge, 2016), edited by Haydn Washington and Paul Twomey, explores the vision and process for moving toward a steady state economy. This edited volume stemmed from the Australian Academy of Science’s 2014 Fenner Conference on the Environment. Haydn is the co-director of the New South Wales chapter of CASSE. The following is Brian Czech’s foreword to “A Future Beyond Growth.”

Extremely dangerous political rhetoric has proliferated over the past several decades, seducing the masses onto a path that leads to the destruction of nature and civilization. This rhetoric is centered on the claim that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment!” Politicians are all about economic growth but, at the same time, none of them want to be seen as willful destroyers of the environment. Therefore they stretch, warp, and corrupt the truth with the win-win rhetoric that we can have our cake and eat it too.

Such is the world that CASSE—the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy—was born into on May 1, 2004. In fact, the win-win rhetoric about growing the economy while protecting the environment was the primary impetus for establishing CASSE. The CASSE position on economic growth sets the record straight that “there is a fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection,” leading up to this fact with seven “whereas” clauses and following it with eight other “therefore” findings.

Rat_RaceThose having a counter-reaction that “there doesn’t have to be a conflict; it’s not a fundamental conflict” should read the full CASSE position. The fundamentality of the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection stems from the first two laws of thermodynamics. “Laws of thermodynamics” might sound intimidating to the uninitiated, yet the first two laws can be summarized in such common-sensical terms as: Law 1) You can’t get something from nothing; Law 2) You can’t be 100% efficient in the production process. These laws set up a limit to economic growth, as well as the fundamental conflict between economic growth and environmental protection, as evidenced most clearly by the erosion of biodiversity in lockstep with economic growth.

So read the CASSE position, and read this book. While the relationship between economic growth and environmental protection is not an overly simple matter, the key points are readily grasped by sober readers, with the benefit of a clearly written book such as A Future Beyond Growth.

Among the 13,000 signatories of the CASSE position are some of the world’s leading sustainability thinkers, including authors of A Future Beyond Growth. Over 200 organizations have endorsed the position. Despite growing support for its central position, CASSE has been David to the Goliaths of Wall Street, neoclassical economics, and mainstream politics worldwide. Economic growth remains the top domestic policy goal among nations and lesser states as well, even as it causes more problems than it solves in the 21st century.

Of course if you’re going to be a responsible critic of economic growth, much less a long-lasting one, you better have an alternative to offer. Fortunately it is easy to identify the basic alternatives to growth. There are but two: economic degrowth and the steady state economy. The best way to summarize the alternatives is with a reminder of what, precisely, is meant by “economic growth.”

Economic growth is simply increasing production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate. It entails increasing population and/or per capita consumption. Economic growth is indicated by increasing gross domestic product, or GDP. It entails higher demand for materials and energy, because “you can’t get something from nothing.”

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Economic growth should be distinguished from “economic development,” which refers to qualitative change regardless of quantitative growth. For example, economic development may refer to the attainment of a fairer distribution of wealth, or a different allocation of resources reflecting the evolution of consumer ethics.

Degrowth, then, is simply defined as decreasing production and consumption in the aggregate, as indicated by decreasing GDP. Decreasing population and/or per capita consumption is required. The word “degrowth” tends to have political connotations in addition to meaning a smaller economy, especially in Western Europe where the degrowth movement originated as “La Décroissance.” (Frankly, “economic growth” also has marked political connotations, but society has gotten numb to them.) As with economic growth, degrowth in the sense of a shrinking economy is ultimately unsustainable.

The sustainable alternative to unsustainable growth and degrowth is the steady state economy, which has stabilized production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate. “Stabilized” in this context means mildly fluctuating. A steady state economy has stabilized population and per capita consumption. Energy and material demands are gradually stabilized—in the aggregate and per capita—as the limits to productive efficiency are reached. All else equal, a steady state economy is indicated by stabilized GDP. The “all else equal” (as I described in Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution) includes level of technology, inflation, the propensity to use money relative to other means of exchange, and environmental conditions. But the bottom line, so to speak, is that GDP is a fine indicator of one thing: the pure size of the economy. Which makes it a good indicator of one other thing: environmental impact.

Obviously the pursuit of a steady state economy invokes a thousand devils in the details of political and cultural reforms. Macroeconomic goals, tax codes, budgets, interest rates, terms of trade: these are some of the aspects of statecraft to be dramatically overhauled with steady statesmanship. In the private sector, what about the sociology of consumption? Imagine the attitudes toward conspicuous consumption in a world that finally gets it about limits to growth.

A basic measure of justice, with an equally basic measure of logic, suggests that the place to start in moving toward a steady state economy on Earth is with the wealthiest nations. Impoverished nations need economic growth, almost by definition. We all know who the wealthiest nations are—look for example at nighttime lighting imagery—and concerned citizens from these countries have helped raise awareness of the perils of pursuing perpetual growth.

This NASA image from a composite shows the earth's city lights at night. (AP Photo/NASA)

This NASA image from a composite shows the earth’s city lights at night. (AP Photo/NASA)

Which brings us back to CASSE, the uphill-fighting, philanthropically disadvantaged, non-governmental organization with the mission of advancing the steady state economy, with stabilized population and consumption, as a policy goal with widespread public support. CASSE is almost entirely a volunteer organization. Its “business model” should be referenced in quotes, as “business” tends to connote things like money, salaries, contracts, and related financial features that are rare in the context of CASSE. But CASSE has a volunteer model that includes international chapters unified by the CASSE position on economic growth.

CASSE’s New South Wales Chapter, led by Haydn Washington and Anna Schlunke, has demonstrated the potential of this volunteer model. When they invited me to give the keynote address at the Australian Academy of Science’s 2014 Fenner Conference (the AAS’s annual environmental conference), with the conference’s theme being the steady state economy, I had to check if it was April Fool’s Day. To convene a major academy on the steady state economy in the United States, where Big Money calls the shots even in “academic” affairs, would have been inconceivable. The fact that the CASSE New South Wales Chapter (and its partners) managed to deliver the goods on a national academy conference for the steady state economy says a lot about the New South Wales CASSE chapter, the Australian Academy of Science, and even Australia itself.

What exactly does it say? For starters, it says Haydn Washington and Anna Schlunke are diligent scholars, determined organizers, and capable communicators. It says that the Australian Academy of Science is a faithful champion of its scientific communities. It suggests, too, that an inquisitive, open-minded spirit prevails at least in Australia, which offers hope to the international community. Open minds in Australia have gleaned crucial insights from CASSE’s tireless Australian National Director, Geoff Mosley (Melbourne), and from one of the world’s leading steady state economists, Philip Lawn (Adelaide), and other Australians who presented at the 2014 Fenner Conference.

A Future Beyond Growth grew out of the proceedings of the 2014 Fenner Conference on the Environment. Not everything from the conference made it to print. My own talk, for example, stays mostly in the pages of Supply Shock, plus the current prefatory remarks. But much of the highly memorable Fenner Conference is presented herein, and I feel delighted to preface the chapters with one more thing:

The next time you hear the win-win spin that “there is no conflict between growing the economy and protecting the environment” or the equivalent in your regional culture, don’t just throw up your hands in resignation to the rhetoric. Think instead about a future beyond growth. That’s where there’s no conflict with protecting the environment, national security, and international stability.

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