Click to enlarge photos.
Shelter Island brown pelican
Super Bloom; Borrego Springs, CA
La Jolla, CA
Homo sapiens is a serial killer of the ecosystem.
Yuval Harari author of Sapiens & Homo Deus
In Expedition New Earth—a documentary that debuts this summer as part of the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World science season—Stephen Hawkins claims that Mother Earth would appreciate it if we would find a new planet to call home.
And do so in the next 100 years.
Because of “climate change, overdue asteroid strikes, epidemics and population growth, our planet is increasingly precarious” wrote the BBC. Remaining on Earth longer than another 100 years places humanity at great risk of encountering another mass extinction, Hawking claims.
We must…continue to go into space for the future of humanity. Stephen Hawking
Another thought-leader said: “There are really two fundamental paths,” [Elon] Musk told an overflow crowd at the International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara, Mexico. “One path is we stay on Earth forever, and there will be some eventual extinction event. … The alternative is to become a space-faring civilization and a multi-planet species.” (CBS News; 9/27/16) (Elon Musk is the founder of Space X)
Words from an essay I wrote in 2008 remain true today:
Republicans have made clean-energy legislation a dirty word.
New York Time columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “We don’t have a ‘gasoline price problem.’ We have an addiction problem. We are addicted to dirty fossil fuels, and this addiction is driving a whole set of toxic trends that are harming our nation and world in many different ways. It is intensifying global warming, creating runaway global demand for oil and gas, weakening our currency by shifting huge amounts of dollars abroad to pay for oil imports…destroying plants and animals at record rates…..”
More fundamentally our problem is that six billion people (10 billion by 2050) are addicted to the consumption of our alive, interconnected, and interdependent planet.
That is not sustainable.
Lester Brown of the Worldwatch Institute, Washington D.C., wrote, “A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations.”
Sustainability is the moral issue of this generation.
We will change how we think, and we will figure out how to live sustainably on this planet or we will not. Either way, something spectacular is going to happen. If we change, we will renew our economy, restore American global leadership, and help save the planet. We will experience a new renaissance of ideas and an indefinite future. Nothing less will save our way of life and perhaps the young of today and the unborn of tomorrow.
People I believe (Al Gore, scientist Jim Hanson, philosopher Daniel Quinn, & explorer Will Steger) say we have 10 to 40 years to change. If we don’t change, the momentum that carries us to possible extinction will be too great to overcome.
We must understand that the disruption of global climate is not a linear process—predictable and measurable in discrete ways. Climate change is a nonlinear process—unpredictable and uncontrollable. Small changes will have large impacts—on storms, temperature, precipitation, humidity, soil moisture, atmospheric circulation patterns, snow and ice cover, and ocean currents.
Unintended systemic consequences may not be seen until it is too late. Impacts may well happen sooner and with greater destruction than even the worst predictions. Nature is amoral and species neutral; she doesn’t care about us–she just acts naturally. And such changes in our weather will set off equally nonlinear, unpredictable, and uncontrollable reactions that will affect all life forms on this planet—including the human population. A massive chaotic transformation of life may take place on this planet.
Without change, within 200 years we may perish as a species or a few islands of prosperity and privilege may survive surrounded by a sea of misery and violence. We need to move quickly and boldly.…
We, like addicts of all types, are experts at denial; we pretend the worst will not happen. We are irresponsible. We expect magic, God, or some heroic leader to rescue us. We need a spiritual awakening–a moment of metanoia: a shift of mind. Scientist Rupert Sheldrake said, “It is like waking up from a dream. It brings with it a spirit of repentance, seeing in a new way, a change of heart. This conversion is intensified by the sense that the end of an age is at hand.”
God will not rescue us. Nor will a hero or heroine save us. We are responsible for our collective fate. The great threats of climate change, population growth, species extinction, resource depletion, and global poverty have called for change for a long time. Are we ready to listen and to change how we live together on this planet….?
Change will be difficult but ease or difficulty is not the issue. The question is: are we ready to change or not? If we are ready, we will get behind a new vision for the renewal first of the United States and then of the world and we will do what is necessary.
We put a man on the moon eight years after John Kennedy challenged the nation. We can be free of foreign oil and produce 100% of our electricity from renewable energy within 10 years.
Whatever we do, something spectacular is going to happen soon. We will experience an evolutionary bounce or an evolutionary crash.
Back to 2017:
Republicans are now leading America. Donald Trump is our president.
I just want to think about the future without being sad.
Elon Musk in conversation with TED’s Chris Anderson (4/17)
Life is a process. We are a process. The universe is a process.
Anne Wilson Schaef
Jack Kornfield in Path With Heart told the lesson in patience and unintended consequences from Zorba the Greek:
I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of the wings needed to be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.
Zorba’s not alone in his impatience and lack of trust in the process of life to unfold naturally.
I went on a photo workshop in Yellowstone National Park with professional wildlife photographer Tom Murphy. Tom said he could always tell which photographers were from the city: They jumped out of their cars, took a quick picture and jumped back in their cars to get to the next location. He advised us to be patient and to watch and observe animal behavior and get some great photos in the process.
I’ve been an amateur nature and wildlife photographer for a long time. I’m always in a hurry to get the next location—to jam as much into the time I have. I wonder how many great shots I’ve missed because I couldn’t sit still to watch and wait for the behaviors of the wildlife I watched or for the light to be a bit better over the scene I wanted to photograph. Only in the past few years have I tried to tame those inner drives. I was the same in my work. My friend, consultant and Clinical Psychologist Diane Olson, Ph.D. said I had the intensity gene.
To become patient and to trust the process of life may be the biggest challenge I have.
I have so much I want to do, so much I want to learn. The speed of change in our world increases faster than I can keep up. Aging only intensifies my intensity to move fast before I run out of time. The madness of our world makes it hard to trust in the process of life.
I began to meditate a couple of years ago hoping to understand my mind better and calm my inner drives. Maybe I can uproot my impatience and accept that I am not in control. Meanwhile, I can be aware of my impatience and difficulty in “trusting the process” and make conscious choices to act counter to my inner drives.
I think many of us feel exhausted and overwhelmed due to our impatience and pace of life. In Uncommon Friends, author James Newton shared a letter he received from Anne Lindbergh who wrote about her pace of life:
I have not yet learned quite how to deal with those periods when one is learning and living too fast to digest. There was a wonderful story once told by Andre Gide of a trip he took through the jungle, very fast, with African guides. One morning the native guides sat around in a circle and refused to move. When Gide urged them on, saying he was in a hurry to get somewhere, they looked up at him seriously, reproachfully, but with complete rock-like firmness and said, “Don’t hurry us-we are waiting for our souls to catch up with us.
I want to do my small part to contribute to sanity and greater consciousness in the world. One way you and I can do that is to slow down and take time to be present without thought and separate time to think quietly.
How We Spend Our Days is How We Spend Our Lives–Annie Dillard
Melanie, granddaughter Saige and I were at the lake in northern Minnesota last July (2016) during the Republican National Convention. Obsessed with the presidential campaigns, I couldn’t bear to watch or listen to the Republican speakers. But I had FOMO: fear of missing out, I had to know what was going on. I turned to Twitter.
I followed my favorite pundits, experts, consultants and journalists. Tapping the Twitter icon was the first thing I did upon waking and the last thing I did before a fitful night’s sleep. I checked my phone constantly throughout the day. I’d go through new Tweets and see the notification that I had newer Tweets and I would begin scrolling all over again.
My body was at the tranquil lake with Melanie and Saige; my attention was fragmented and scattered all over the angry and anxious political landscape. I felt guilty about what I was doing and unhappy with what I was reading but I kept checking my phone apps: Twitter, Facebook and newspaper headline notifications. Every click of an icon brought me a new jolt of fear, energy or joy depending on the news of the moment. I knew my behavior was physically and emotionally unhealthy but I didn’t want to quit; I wanted more. My mix of fight/flight adrenaline and happy dopamine levels must have maxed out. When I felt depressed being away, I went to my phone for another fix. I was out of control.
Today, when Melanie and I spend time with Saige, they talk and laugh about their time at the lake–they have great memories. I remember the angst I felt and my crazy behavior that I did not like.
Tristan Harris, previously a Design Ethicist at Google, now leads Time Well Spent, a nonprofit movement to align technology with our humanity. He wrote that the average person checks her phone 150 times a day. I am not alone. Many addicts and potential addicts click away out there.
In a podcast interview with Sam Harris, Tristan Harris said app users should recognize that 1000 engineers work behind the screens empowering people to spend more time on the apps. Put more bluntly: Intentional or not, app designers, with no set of values to guide them, seek to maximize profits by manipulating users to spend more and more time on their apps. Some users become addicted with damage to their jobs, lives, health and relationships. Designers don’t try to help us make better life choices: they want our attention. We need to be aware of the dark side of technology so we can make smart choices for how we use our devices.
I quit Twitter on November 9, 2016. I stopped watching anxiety provoking cable news shows. I read newspapers for my news and quit going to their home pages many times a day for fear of missing something. I don’t look at my phone in bed or when with others. I recently decided to limit my time on Facebook to one short time period a day. I block out time for Internet surfing instead of going on and off it mindlessly many times throughout the day
Most important to me: I block out quiet morning hours to meditate and read books or listen to podcasts that challenge me and to write, which makes me think. These activities fulfill me and stretch my aging brain. I do not use any phone apps or visit the Internet before or during this period of time. I turned my phone notifications off so they won’t steal my attention and disrupt my focus and concentration. I believe that brains high-jacked by phone apps and constant interruptions are diminished brains.
To try to find meaning, purpose, self-esteem, and a sense of community from an addiction is futile and guaranteed to end in serious suffering. I know how hard it is to break an addiction: I quit smoking cold turkey 35 years ago and drinking in 1974. I consider myself a sugar addict. After a sugar binge, it takes three days of abstinence for the craving to subside. I resist app/Internet temptations daily. I replace them with healthy alternatives. I know from experience that the craving will pass. Excessive users may be able to break their habit on their own. Addicts whose behaviors interfere with work, school or relationships may need help.
I have a finite amount of attention to give and I don’t want to waste it. I want to give my attention to people I love and to activities that make me feel alive naturally. I don’t want my brain hijacked and dumbed-down or manipulated into addictions or excessive use of phone apps that drain my time, energy, attention and enrich others.
The Internet, iPhones and the apps available to us are tools for us to use with thoughtful awareness to help us live more efficient, more productive and better lives. We need to be aware of the dark side of these tools and make our own choices about how to use them or the machines will make choices for us and absorb us. Now is the time to learn to use them in life-enhancing ways because future technologies will be more threatening to our humanity and freedom.
I look forward to being present at the lake with Melanie and Saige this summer.
The recent United Airlines fiasco illuminated the dark and anti-human side of the machine model of organizations. United has much to learn about leadership.
The following excerpt comes from Learning to Lead, a book manuscript I wrote in 1995. The book described an organizational transformation in the Customer Service department of the Star Tribune newspaper in Minneapolis, MN from 1990-94. These thoughts remain relevant and I offer them freely to United Airlines.
During the fall of 1990, we established five strategic objectives.
- To improve the quality of work life for employees
Technology is important, but we felt that our employees had to come first. If they felt good about themselves, each other, their products, and their company, they would then provide enthusiastic service to the newspaper’s readers. Customer satisfaction and retention rates would then improve.
Quality of work life didn’t mean happiness. We knew we could not make everyone happy. Quality of work life meant creating a culture that treated everyone with respect, involved people in decisions that impacted them, empowered employees to serve the customer, gave employees the tools they needed to serve the readers, and provided opportunities to learn and perform.
- To improve customer satisfaction
It would be more important to retain our existing customers than to utilize promotional activities of marginal value to add new and usually temporary customers. We would retain customers by providing outstanding service, recovering rapidly when we made a mistake, and developing good relationships between front-line employees and our readers. These activities would grow our customer base.
- To become more creative
We realized that we would need the creativity of everyone as we moved to the future. We would change how we related to one another. We would encourage, draw out, and reward creative thinking and risk taking. To do this, we would have to change how we led. We would give up control, get out of the way, and allow people to be the best they could be. The job of leaders would be to facilitate this process
- To become faster moving and more flexible
We would do this through empowerment. Employees would have the freedom to serve their customers and make decisions about work processes they managed. The flow of information would be opened up and would support empowerment; secrecy would end. These changes in how we led people were required to encourage different ways of thinking about work and willingness to doing our jobs in different ways. The results would be speed and flexibility.
- To increase profitability
Financial success would be a natural result of realizing the first four objectives. Energized and committed employees would provide outstanding service to readers resulting in satisfied customers who would stay with the newspaper longer. Improved customer retention would mean reduced expense for generating new customers and less money spent on rework and recovery processes. A larger readership impacts advertising rates in a positive way. A creative, faster moving, and flexible workforce, empowered to provide outstanding service to customers, would require less supervision and fewer supervisors.
Creative employees would find new ways to bring revenue to the company. This business unit would eventually conceive of an alternate delivery system that would serve advertisers in targeted ways, initiate the marketing of products bearing the company logo to readers and non-readers, and investigate the use of our distribution system to deliver other products until told to stop by senior management (that wasn’t the business of a newspaper). There was a surge of wonderful ideas–most coming from front-line employees.
In addition to establishing these objectives, we wrote a vision for the business unit and a definition of Value Driven Leadership–those core values that would guide us as we moved toward our vision. Our key strategies were employee involvement, culture change, and market driven quality. We then created new norms for our emerging culture, developed specific planning objectives, and formed project teams. Values and vision drove our planning.
The redesign of our work and the involvement and empowerment of employees awakened those long dead to the organization and led to phenomenal business results and dramatic improvements in already outstanding customer service. Our work was recognized nationally, we spoke at conferences on employee engagement and people from around the country visited us. We had learned and shown that great human potential resides untapped in every group of people. Technology is really important; engaged people are even more vital. We do not have to choose humanity or technology. The right choice is humanity and technology.
I wondered why more leaders and organizations weren’t doing, in their own ways, what we were doing? While on the leading edge, our work was not the first effort to engage and involve employees nor was it unique in the specifics of what we did. Our story was a local one within a larger company, but the deep insights and underlying dynamics we discovered exist at all levels of organization: The newspaper, the newspaper industry, across industries and across all communities of people and life itself. Why didn’t United Airlines, and thousands of other enterprises (and the newspaper industry) do similar things long ago with the knowledge available to them?
In 1994, I left the Star Tribune to join a movement to transform how we lead, follow and work in organizations and institutions. Under new leadership, the workplace we created was destroyed in short order.
I delved into the deeper dynamics that led to our success at the Star Tribune. I attended a Meg Wheatley dialogue where we discussed the new sciences that led to our success before we knew about the new scientific knowledge. Meg talked of the Fortune 500 clients she had worked with in recent years. When she returned to visit those organizations, she saw no evidence of change or learning. She asked, “Where did the learning go?”
I spent 13 years consulting in organizations and writing about organizational transformation and the kind of leadership required for such change. The movement I had joined had success stories but, unfortunately, I watched leadership in our organizations and institutions regress instead of evolve in life-affirming ways. Promising change efforts were destroyed routinely; their leaders marginalized. I asked the equivalent of “Where did the learning go?” over and over again.
Today, more than 20 years after Meg Wheatley’s question, we have the United Airlines story within the larger societal context that contains powerful forces for regression and dehumanization. Many feel disheartened. I believe the crazy and dangerous resistance to facts, truth, learning and knowledge along with the marginalization and demonizing of the powerless are the final fearful and desperate efforts of a mechanistic world view that no longer solves our problems. I believe an ecological and living system world view will emerge.
As the rate of change accelerates in the future now upon us, I do not believe that leaders (or anyone else) who want a sustainable enterprise and a good and relevant life can continue to refuse to learn, ignore new knowledge and run from the hard work of human and leadership development. And I believe that new leaders and everyday people who love to learn and relish the hard work of personal growth will emerge from the rubble of places like United Airlines. I believe this because I trust that humanity will, in the end, choose renewal over decline. But then, I am an optimist.
On a global scale, a life affirming awakening flowers in the midst of a strain of madness. We must nurture this movement. If we pay attention, we can see great things happening locally and regionally every day. I hope our human awakening also becomes a great remembering of what humanity has learned through the ages. I hope our conscious evolution and greater enlightenment as a species happens fast so we have time to turn back anti-human forces and the great forgetting not only in our organizations but throughout our human community.
Whether a leader, a celebrity or an everyday person, we can ask, “Am I learning and reinventing myself over and over again so that I can feel alive, be fully human and create a good life for myself and my family?”