Posts filed under ‘Life’

Manifesting the Golden Rule

While philosophers may debate the purpose of life, I believe one thing all people seek in life is happiness. The traditional route to becoming a happy individual usually leads people to embrace religious or spiritual teachings. However, I also believe that the values and morals we learn from them can only take us so far. Because, let’s be real, the world we have created and live in is full of problems and constantly clashes with our values. As a result, people compartmentalize life as a coping strategy and we are forced to apply different standards to different areas of our life – this is something I really do not like.

We’ve created a world full of systems that is creating unhappiness – systems that we blindly serve rather than serve us. It almost feels like we’ve created a monster that is now controlling our lives. Call me crazy, but it seems to me like we should do something about it. Creating a sustainable civilization is a way to manifest the Golden Rule into our real world because they are both founded on the principal of respecting the individual. Likewise we might be able to say that by really living according to the Golden Rule, by treating others the way you want to be treated, we will by necessity create sustainable systems.

As a civilization, the challenge of the Golden Rule does not lie within the realm of the extraordinary, but in the ordinary. It is not a call to create a lifestyle of millionaires, but rather very simple, reasonable and achievable goals. And, we need not look beyond our own needs, wants and dreams to recognize them. I want to be able to achieve my potential. I want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. I want my children and their children to benefit from the planet’s abundance of species and have their share of the planet’s natural resources. If I’m sick I want to have access to health care. I don’t expect everyone to like me, but I want others to respect my personal choices. I don’t want my prosperity or happiness to come at the expense of others. I want to live in dignity and be able to provide for my family.

And, although the concept of sustainability may be new to most people and a challenge to grasp, the Golden Rule is an idea that most people already know. In fact, since it is the lesson of the Old Testament, it seems to me that the combined 3.6 billion Muslims, Jews and Christians should be in support of creating a sustainable world. And, I’m pretty sure Buddhist values also lead to sustainability so it’s actually about 4 billion supporters! The question then remains how to rally the faithful to action.

Ultimately our character as an individual or a civilization will be judged on how we treat others – both known and unknown to us. Yes, the challenge we are presented is a tough one, but what people don’t yet understand is that our physical journey and our spiritual journey are actually one and the same. The amazing thing is that making our civilization sustainable is inevitable AND we get to live our lives in harmony with our values. Why do we resist?


June 17, 2011 at 10:04 am 1 comment

Where Sustainability Becomes Philosophy

No one can disagree with sustainable principles – that we be able to sustain ourselves, our families and our communities.  The questions arise when the discussion enters the abstract of scope and time, but coincidentally this is also where the realm of philosophy begins.  It seems to me that it is commonplace today for most people to compartmentalize these life-guiding ideas into one of the neatly packaged religions of Judaism, Islam, Christianity or Hinduism without really questioning the source or meaning of their beliefs – and, that is okay – it is human nature.  The challenge of any of the great prophets has been to make the people of their time recognize societal changes and the religions that arose were that people’s adaptation to that new reality.

Well, we too have entered a new reality for which our current systems and beliefs are no longer adequate.  People don’t object to the principals of sustaining a way of life for them or their children.  And, it is within this narrow circle of interest where “modern civilization” as we know it seems feasible.  But humanity’s new reality lies in the domain of scope and scale.  In terms of scope, I’m talking about economic well-being for the people we don’t see or meet or hear from – i.e. everyone, all humanity.  In terms of time, people relate mostly to their own time scale which is their lifetime and maybe their children’s.  And, again the abstract asks the question: What about their grandchildren, their children’s children and so forth.  The notion of 1000 years is beyond most people’s calculations and grasp.  So, it’s in striving to achieve solutions which can be sustained for all humanity and across the millennia where we can realize this stark reality: the norms of today will not suffice.

While I believe compassion for our fellow man lies in the hearts of us all, it is fear that is guiding our societal decisions.  In English we have an expression “Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know.” And it probably offers some wise advice.  However, in Mexico there is a similar expression with very different implications.  They very often say “Better the devil we know than the angel we don’t know.”  Personally, I find this expression disturbing, but I feel is a better reflection of societal attitudes toward achieving a sustainable future because we do possess the technology and know-how to achieve that future – what we lack is the will.

And, ultimately these abstracts are irrelevant because to know the fears, hopes and dreams of others, we need only look at the fears, hopes and dreams of ourselves.  You do not need to personally know or meet the starving Sudanese child to what he or she or their parent hopes for – the same opportunity to fulfill their potential as you wish for your own children.  I believe people can and will agree to sustainable principals – not as a result of a logical explanation, but from a leap of faith to these principals because they are common to all major religions and are therefore ones which we already know and believe in.

We have arrived at a time of choice created by our own technological success that has allowed our population to swell and has simultaneously been impacting our environment.  A philosophy is ultimately a set of values that guides us in our day to day decisions of life.  If we make our choices based on our fears of what we will lose, I believe we are doomed.  However, if we make those same choices in hope of what we can become, then the “tough” decisions will become easy and humanity will face a bright future.

November 23, 2009 at 10:39 am 1 comment

Jon Stewart Freaks-out on Environmental Conservation

… At least, that was my first impression.  Jon Stewart, host of The Daily Show is undoubtedly one of my favorite and I believe one of the most effective political commentators “out there”.  However, in a recent interview with Super Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, he seemed to side with the author’s position advocating techno fixes in lieu of environmental conservation efforts (see video).  However, after listening to the interview more carefully, Jon’s position seems much more middle-of-the-road.  I think the questions he raises are worth responding to.

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Levitt argues from the economics point-of-view.  I should point out that conventional, modern economics can also be considered a “secular religion.”  And, while the label of economics carries a hefty validation to what it professes, there are growing doubts to many of its underlying assumptions and therefore its solutions.  And, while geo-engineering fixes to the carbon problem could be a “band-aid” as Levitt puts it, such techno-fixes ignore a reverence and respect for what we don’t know.  Modern, human history is riddled with examples of environmental interventions gone astray due to complete knowledge of the very complex systems which they attempt to influence.  In a way, conservation is humanity’s insurance policy.

In general, the conversations regarding global warming are filled with misinformation, bias, self-interest and a host of other nouns.  And, in this age of political, and media partisanship, it can be even more confusing to get to the crux of such big problems.  As an example, the arguments against building windmills range from endangering birds to being ugly.  Do you know how many birds die from flying into high rise buildings?  I don’t know the exact number either, but I do know it’s a lot.  And, while windmills may not beautify the landscape they occupy a small footprint and can be dismantled in the future when we do arrive at a better energy solution. I feel that many times people raise such arguments for the sake of being argumentative to resist change.  To me, choosing clean energy such as windmills is a testament to our respect for our environment and conservation is our effort to improve the quality of life for all our brothers and sister.  And, that my friend is a beautiful thing.

Jon raised an interesting point regarding “5000 years of human nature”.  I think it’s a very relevant point in considering these issues, but I’m wondering if the behavior he refers to is human nature or socialized behavior?  I would argue that human history has been plagued by scarcity and that has translated into competitive behavior.  But, I don’t think that behavior is necessarily human nature.  I believe that “deep down” if we can satisfy our own needs, it is human nature to have compassion for others.  And, today we are technologically at that point where we can satisfy everyone’s needs.  What we lack is the will to overcome the systems and learned behaviors that prevent us from creating a sustainable future.  While the link between global warming, resources use and social justice might seem to be unrelated, they aren’t.  And, with at least two billion people living in poverty, I believe it’s time the public begin understating this very real relationship.

Jon Stewart is brilliant in his ability to capture the essence of arguments in an entertaining fashion.  And, while Jon’s comments were disappointing, I think his remark is a reflection of prevailing societal attitudes and offers us an opportunity to more fully understand the challenges that humanity currently faces.  I would recommend that he invite William Rees of the University of British Columbia to counter Levitt’s arguments.  Dr. Rees created the Ecological Footprint and I think would be helpful in explaining the deeper issues at play in this discussion of global warming.

November 13, 2009 at 11:36 am Leave a comment

The Responsible Society

We teach the subject of social responsibility in our universities, we lecture the topic to our children and I think many assume that society is generally responsible. But, are we? It seems to me that just as a person is responsible for their choices, society is likewise responsible for its collective actions. What does this imply? It implies that society is responsible for the failure of the systems it implements and that poverty, homelessness, hunger and inadequate healthcare are the manifestations of our system’s failures.

Throughout this blog, I’ve tried to capture the implications of responsibility by describing the essence of what distinguishes children from adults – taking responsibility for their actions. It does not magically happen at the age of 18, 21 or even 74. It is a state of mind that we accept when we are mature enough to comprehend it. And, like a teenager modern society wants the benefits of being an adult, but we still try to escape taking responsibility for our choices.

As a society, I think we have yet to mature to the point of accepting our full responsibilities. The huge variance in incomes demonstrates that we still do not believe every person and job in a system is essential to the mechanics of society. Our economics is like the unexplored frontier where everyone is on their own. But, in a day of global communication, transportation and trade, with a population racing toward 7 billion, we ignore the obvious interdependence and reliance of one people’s prosperity and wealth upon another’s labor. Indeed, we are all in this together and our individual prosperity stands on the shoulders of many others. In a responsible society we will be treating our brothers as we would have them treat us. We’re not there yet.

Getting people to wrap their heads around sustainability is an uphill battle, so framing the argument in terms of responsibility is more tangible, but still neither sexy nor motivating enough for most to take action. So, in search of motivation I ask the following: Is a responsible society also a moral society? The debate of what is moral behavior can become dizzying and lost in the relativism of perspectives. However, if you believe as I do that being responsible is a subset of moral behavior, then by society focusing on meeting its responsibilities we will move a long way toward becoming a moral society.

The good news is that a responsible society also turns out to be a sustainable one. So, while people may not understand what sustainability is, most people value and can strive for being responsible. But now I’m wondering does that also imply our society will not be a moral one until it is sustainable? Hmmm. Curious, very curious…

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March 31, 2008 at 11:28 am 5 comments

The Transportation Trap

If we look at the modern world and ponder what single element defines it, I would pick transportation. It has been an essential medium for both our technological and economic progress and in less than 50 years we have conquered the distances that used to separate and isolate us. However, judged against the scales of time and innovation, this transportation system organized on the building blocks of planes, trains and automobiles could easily be described as “version 1.0”. And, while I like what our system accomplishes – mobility, I don’t like how we achieve it – through environmental degradation and the consequential social inequity. So, to achieve a sustainable future we will need a “system upgrade”. Unfortunately, our greatest obstacle to sustainability is our child-like infatuation with the current transportation system based on fossil fuels and the resource intense automobile.

The private car is the foundation of our transportation system in America and in my earlier entry, Transportation and Social Equity, I argue that the auto is also a barrier to participation in our greater society. But, if you consider all the pieces of infrastructure needed to support this system, the investment costs become clearer. These pieces include : roads, gas stations, mechanics, driveways, garages, parking lots, land and space, fuel, refineries, pipe-lines, car manufacturers, dealers, junk yards, traffic police, road signs and lights, regulations, the commute time we invest, bridges, tunnels, pollution, injuries, lives (1.2 million deaths/year), labor to build and maintain, insurance and the health care costs that result from the sedentary lifestyle it systematizes.

Even if we develop a car that travels 400 miles on a gallon of water, the costs are too high – the infrastructure needed to support it largely remains the same and continues to be inefficient, wasteful and a source of poverty. What is the alternative? Public transportation seems the obvious answer. The problem with this simplistic answer is that the domination of the almighty car has shaped American society into a suburban sprawl that makes our current paradigm of public transportation ineffective and not a realistic solution.

In our quest to achieve a sustainable civilization, if public transportation utilizing high speed trains, light rail and automated people movers is to become a reality, then we will need to change the paradigm by reorganizing how and where we live. That is to say, rather than build this system to go where people currently populate (the current mindset), we will have to build the system to connect strategic resources such as agriculture and energy, and let people populate along those routes.

Barriers to realizing this “Transportation System v2.0” reside in the public’s mindset – Americans are unlikely to lead the world toward a sustainable future because of our deep association of the car as a symbol of freedom and individuality. In this way our success also becomes our trap and sustainable transportation systems will probably appear in underdeveloped countries first. Why? One, with scarce resources they must be more strategic in their infrastructure choices. And two, neither their egos nor livelihoods are as invested in the current paradigm to resist such innovation.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” – Albert Einstein

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March 3, 2008 at 12:21 pm 3 comments

Would Jesus be a Republican?

The American political dialogue irks me in several different ways. Among the most needling is the debate among conservative Christians about which Presidential candidate to support and has led me down some interesting thought experiments. While they presume many of their beliefs, they likewise might presume that were Jesus here today, he would definitely be a Republican. But, would he? And, more importantly to my readers, how does this relate to sustainability?

First, for the purpose of full disclosure, this is not my first trip down this particular thought experiment. A couple of years ago I wrote a screenplay investigating a similar idea. If a modern day prophet lived among us with all the answers to our problems, would anyone pay attention to him or his message? While I gave the story a happy ending because people like happy endings and that’s generally what Hollywood buys, we have a real-life example from which we can draw a more rational conclusion.

As I understand the situation, Jesus and most prophets were problem-solvers of their time and culture, so likewise he would be concerned with today’s problems in the context of today’s culture. Being pragmatic, he would not have any party loyalty, but support the one which best tackles the problems he believes most pressing. In a way, the prophet does exist through the concept of sustainability – it explains to us dispassionately the problems humanity faces as well as the solutions, but no one is paying attention – particularly conservatives.

Growing political will for sustainable alternatives is a factor of time and we are at the start of that change in consciousness. While our biggest obstacle to change lies in our culture of presumptions and assumptions, there are signs of hope. For example, among young, conservative Christians, “creation care” is a movement gaining ground that prioritizes the issues of social justice and environmental care before politicized concerns. Pragmatism is reaching solutions and requires everyone to start sleeping with strange bedfellows by crossing political, religious and philosophical lines — democrats with conservatives, conservatives with democrats, and most likely both democrats and republicans with some out of the box ideas that are hard to identify where they fit on the political spectrum.

So, would Jesus be a Republican? No, he would be as apolitical as is the concept of sustainability. And, like a concept, the prophet has no power to change anything. It’s through the billions of choices we collectively make every day that we create our own fate. And, when will we mature as a society to achieve this solution-oriented ideal? I don’t know, but from this perspective it feels like we are not changing fast enough. One thing is true, if we are to find sustainable solutions, change is inevitable.

February 18, 2008 at 7:11 pm 1 comment

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