The house is burning

cnn-monsoon

India’s monsoon season, 2019 – starting hot and dry.

I’m seeking to educate myself more about the climate change impacts, forecasts and so on. Ever since Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth‘, I’ve had this discomfort way down deep inside. A discomfort that accompanied me on business trips, was resident in me at events, and was a companion during vacation times.

The discomfort resides in the fact that we have known for so long about this issue, yet have done little to slow ourselves down long enough to have a rational discussion and sobering moments-of-truth.

When I was a young kid, around 10 years old or so, there was an ecological push in the US. This was no-doubt spawned in part by the oil crisis of the 1970’s. Bumper stickers were printed and given away, the term ‘recycle’ came briefly into vogue, and even ‘noise pollution’ was raised as an enemy of the people and planet.  That was over forty years ago. *

I carry this discomfort, today, as I look back on my role in leadership development, and the opportunities I probably had to raise this issue further, to be a bit ‘inconvenient’ in my dealings with managers and leaders of various organizations – domestic and abroad.  Truth be told, some of those organizations were well aware and were acting in positive directions – reclaiming water, implementing renewable energy sources, seeking carbon neutrality.  But the vast majority, in my experience, continued to live in bubbles of their own creation – markets that operate (seemingly) outside of the larger sphere of ecological context and consequence.

So I’ve turned to a few sources to educate myself about where we are today.   I should warn any reader that a) I am NOT an expert in this field, and b) I believe in the scientific method (and therefore, I believe in scientists that are not under obligation to any corporate interests).  I am on a continuing journey here, and want to track a few things.

How bad is it?

David Wallace-Wells was interviewed by Joe Rogan.  This is a long interview, so I suggest getting a cup of tea to settle in.  His book, The Uninhabitable Earth, is on the shelves now, and paints a stark picture of a 1.5 – 2.0 degree Celsius change in temperatures, and, even worse, the current destination of a 4.0 degree Celsius change.  Ultimately, it comes down to those of us in this generation (my kids’ generation) to take bold steps to shift things in order to ensure a healthy existence for all.

In a response to Wallace-Wells’ book, scientists at The Ecologist wrote an open letter praising his work, but also counseling that we may have even less control than we think, and that the future will be one of ‘deep adaptation’.  This is terribly interesting, and terrifying as we think about our systems in play today – business, economic, political, social, etc. – that all revolve around existing models of what is valued.

It is this systemic responsibility that, in part, created this discomfort I have carried for so long.  Year after year witnessing managers and leaders fine-tune their approaches to marketing, sales, innovation, customer relationships, product development, change management, strategic thinking – all while in a bubble of true or self-imposed ignorance of the irrefutable facts of climate change and what it means for all of us.

How do I know this?

It was eight years ago that two retired oil company executives asked me to review a letter they were intending to share with the board of that company.   It was, in effect, their call-to-action to effect policy changes immediately in order to (hopefully) stem the impact of their industry on the health and safety of the world.  In that conversation, and in other research that was done, it is clear that the company in question had known, not for eight years, but for twenty years that their industry was the chief contributor to an irreversible and disastrous series of climate impacts.

So, forty years ago we had our first wave of awareness-raising around air pollution, water pollution and even noise pollution.  For at least thirty years, key contributors have known of their own responsibility in the destruction of the environment.  So where are we now?

Who could possibly oppose efforts to save the planet?

Well the Union of Concerned Scientists in the US has their list of those that, today, are opposing efforts such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.  This plan was tabled immediately after Donald Trump took office, in February of 2016.  Perhaps not surprisingly, three large energy companies (coal, oil), the American Legislative Exchange Commission (ALEC), and the US Chamber of Commerce are the top five on their list.  Please follow the link above if you want some insight into how these organizations have obstructed change and mislead the American public.

Well if it’s a global issue, which nations are the top offenders?

The World Atlas published a review in 2017 with this chart, with percent share of global CO2 emissions on the Y axis:

world-atlas

It is interesting to note that, from a population standpoint, both China and India have over 1 billion people, while the US has about a third of that (330 million).  So the U.S. is cranking out way more than our fair share of pollution.

Let’s get more specific:  Which companies are the largest offenders?

The CDP and the Climate Accountability Institute published a report (The Carbon Majors Report) in 2017 that lists the 100 companies that produced the highest greenhouse gasses from 1988 to 2015.  The top 10 are oil and coal companies.  In fact, the top 20 are oil and coal companies.

Each of these companies has leaders.  Those leaders are humans (for now).  They likely have children, and grand-children.

I know that many companies have now come public with targets for moving to renewable energy sources, carbon-neutral footprints, investments in carbon capture technologies, and so on.

But this fire did not just start.  The house – our house – has been burning for decades, from a slow smolder to what is now feeling like an uncontrollable blaze.  As David Wallace-Wells said, it is my generation that has created the majority of the greenhouse gasses that are now in the atmosphere.  For other tail-end baby-boomers and Gen-x’ers out there, this has happened in our lifetime.

What can we do?

  • Divest from any company that is fighting regulations that would help slow consumption of fossil fuels.
  • Consume less stuff.  It takes energy to create products and transport them.
  • Buy local.  Less transportation – less energy expended.
  • Invest in renewables.
  • Vote for politicians who believe in science.
  • Stay informed – through evidence-based research.

 

*Neil Young – After the Gold Rush.  1970  – Lyrics later changed from “Look at Mother Nature on the run in the 1970’s” to “… in the 20th century”.  Sadly, another change to the lyrics is needed.

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Banjo, resurrected

Yesterday my cat of 17 years had a stroke, and we had to have her euthanized.scooter2scooter1

Scooter was a quiet kitty for most of her life.  Having been orphaned as a kitten and bottle-fed by human attendants, she was quite content to lay back in your arms and let you rub her belly.  She would reach out and, with great deftness, pull your hand to her head without using her claws.  She would hide from strangers, and isolate herself when we were out of town for a few days.  Sometimes I would have to go find her, and extricate her from her hideaway – she seemed despondent when people weren’t around.

So we were.  We were around, and I even considered taking her to London with me

scooter3

Getting in the suitcase.

when I had that assignment for work.  In the end, I left her here with friends for a year or so.  She adapted, albeit through seclusion, to her changed life, and we were glad to be reunited with her upon our return.

Scooter, in her last weeks, became demanding – meowing loudly every morning for attention and treats, and had taken to climbing up into our bed at night and sleeping by my face, despite the presence of the poodle at our feet.  She even, willingly, ventured outdoors for the first time in her life last week – 17 years of contentedness indoors with never an attempted escape.  She seemed, in retrospect, to have her own bucket list.

In the end, our beautiful rescued kitty expired after suffering a stroke yesterday.  She

scooter4

Classic – reading, interrupted.

was reduced to limping with one leg completely compromised, and unable to eat, and, I think, having significant pain.  The doctor made sure it was swift.  We cried.

I’m adding some photos here from the last couple of years.  And, reflecting on this quite natural and devastating event, I was reminded of a poem I wrote years ago for a different kitten we had rescued.  One we named ‘Banjo’.

I hope you enjoy, even if it brings a tear or two.

The bottom of the ninth

For Banjo

Paused with paws outstretched
The nape pulled back in a nursing grip
Teeth and gums in unwilling expression
Of the end of it all

I look into Banjo’s one-year-old eyes
Deep orange, dark iris and staring forward
And pray for the light to come to him
His now strained body tensing

For what, who knows but a cat
Soon will, cashing in his cache
Of lives, I, the sudden minister of lives
Signing the deed

And Banjo, our poor Banjo,
Whose heart and swollen throat
Strummed still in his last moments
Wasted swiftly by disease

More swiftly still he soared
As new fluids rushed to quell
The pain, the fear, the life
Right out of him.

His once tense slender feline
Frame relaxing to an ever distant
Beat slowing quickly to the
Rhythm of dreams and

Heaven knows how high he
Jumps now, from what stylish
Crouch he bounds to what
Arching tree he climbs

He was a fine cat.

Steve Mahaley, 1999

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Give me the beat.

It’s been a very emotional few weeks as I’ve wrapped up 18 years at Duke Corporate Education.  I’ve realized, again, that leaving involves people on both sides of the equation:  I needed to say goodbye and process what this next chapter of my work life is going to (could) look like, and all the great people I’ve had the privilege of working with needed to share their sentiments with me, as well.

Today, I just ‘wanna get lost in the rock n’ roll, and drift away’.

Years ago I introduced this idea of Friday songs at work.  Just to have some fun, and most everyone loves music.  We would put on some popular tune on some speakers and sing along, or even get up and dance.  This led to all sorts of laughter and great memories.

Well, today, some colleagues conspired to put together a song list, and we gathered in one of the rooms downstairs, and songs by bands such as Meat Loaf, the Gap Band, George Jones, Springsteen, Billy Joel and others were shared.

We laughed, danced, hugged and may have had a tear or two.  The last song was “Drift Away” by the Doobie Brothers.  One of my favorites, and lyrics, below, capture so many of the sentiments we all have shared.

Goodbye, Duke CE.

Day after day I’m more confused
Yet I look for the light in the pouring rain
You know that’s a game that I hate to lose
I’m feelin’ the strain, ain’t it a shame
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Beginning to think that I’m wastin’ time
I don’t understand the things I do
The world outside looks so unkind
So I’m countin’ on you to carry me through
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
And when my mind is free
You know a melody can move me
And when I’m feelin’ blue
The guitar’s comin’ through to soothe me
Thanks for the joy that you’ve given me
I want you to know I believe in your song
Rhythm and rhyme and harmony
You help me along makin’ me strong
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Oh, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Hey, hey, give me the beat boys, and free my soul
I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away
Na na na, won’t ya, won’t ya take me
Oh oh, take me
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Do Rising Tides Lift All Boats?

There is a popular saying, when it comes to economic forecasting, that ‘a rising tide lifts boat and anchorall boats’.  This expression provides a comforting and confident view of top line growth in economies, with the associated presumption that even small and struggling boats will do better in better economic times.

Would that it were true.

I found myself thinking about anchors – those devices that hold us in one place.  For many of the smaller vessels bobbing around in this stormy global economic sea, they have disproportionately huge anchors, with mighty short chains, that hold them down.  While the massive cargo ships, tankers, destroyers and aircraft carriers are built for deep and stormy waters, these smaller mom and pop businesses, in my view, are held down by the increased power that giant corporations have – power to create advantageous regulatory policies; power to merge and grow larger; power to undercut on prices to kill small businesses.

I think this is worth consideration and debate.

And if you’d like a more authoritative view on this, I’d encourage the reader to explore Klaus Schwab’s (founder of the World Economic Forum) 2016 article about the fourth industrial revolution, and the need to ensure a future that is bright for all:

In the end, it all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them. In its most pessimistic, dehumanized form, the Fourth Industrial Revolution may indeed have the potential to “robotize” humanity and thus to deprive us of our heart and soul. But as a complement to the best parts of human nature—creativity, empathy, stewardship—it can also lift humanity into a new collective and moral consciousness based on a shared sense of destiny. It is incumbent on us all to make sure the latter prevails.

photo credit:  fotolog
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Bias in Reporting = Bias in Thinking = Bias in Reporting

One of the reputable news sources I go to with regularity is The Conversation.  I recommend it.

Today there is a post regarding research done on the reporting of mass shootings, and specifically on the characterization of the person doing the killing*.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a stark difference in how White American killers are portrayed, vs. Latinos or African Americans.  (BTW fewer than 1% of the cases studied from 2013 -2015 featured female killers).

shooting profile

The above chart is featured in this report, and I encourage the readers to read it, and then commit, or re-commit, to the practice of telling new and different stories (to ourselves) about people for whom we may hold bias – the poor, the racially different from us, the ethnically or religiously different, etc.

I find this to be a useful practice:  I tell myself a different, interesting, perhaps compassionate story about the person I see that normally I would brush off, or otherwise rapidly categorize in some way.  So when I see the young and hoodied person of color looking shiftless on the sidewalk, I remember my own youth.  I remember being shy.  I remember seeking to hide in my clothing.  I remember following fashion trends (to my close friends, that comment will make them laugh out loud).

And then I seek to look him in the eye, and smile.

Good luck 🙂

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A Brave and Startling Truth

exoplanets

My hope is that, as we continue to discover more and more about our place in the galaxy and universe, that this outward expansion of inquiry will be accompanied by an equally-deep introspection into who we are as people, and how we will be with one another, and with our natural world that sustains us.

A Brave and Startling Truth

Maya Angelou, 1995maya-angelou_D1TR3

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Traveling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of indifferent suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers
From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn are scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons and daughters
Up with the bruised and bloody grass
To lie in identical plots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the Gardens of Babylon
Hanging as eternal beauty
In our collective memory
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun
Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.

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Killing Time

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6427459251555438593

Thinking about this over coffee as well. I fear we may be falling further into a reductionist mode of thinking that killing perpetrators is an appropriate answer to violent crime. Jeffrey Fagan, professor of Law and Public Health at Columbia University points out (in 2006) the lack of validity or reliability of evidence that would support such thinking:

“There is no reliable, scientifically sound evidence that pits execution against a robust set of competing explanations to identify whether it can exert a deterrent effect that is uniquely and sufficiently powerful to overwhelm these consistent and recurring epidemic patterns. These flaws and omissions in a body of scientific evidence render it unreliable as a basis for law or policy that generate life-and-death decisions. To accept it uncritically invites errors that have the most severe human costs.” (https://deathpenaltyinfo.org/FaganDeterrence.pdf)

I happen to know an expert witness MD (in anesthesiology) from a prominent US hospital that regularly is called upon to comment on the mis-administration of one form of capital punishment, lethal injections. I would much rather see our government and institutions focused on the root causes of why and how such violence happens, and then to propose and create mechanisms for mitigating those causes.

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