creativity

It’s time to stop building on the Florida coast

Photo of a hurricane by NASA on Unsplash

Climate change impacts are hitting Florida hard right now in the midst of an out of season hurricane. Most of my immediate family lives in Central Florida. My sister messaged me this morning. The coast is a mess—houses washed away and no beach to speak of. Even Orlando, smack in the middle of the state, is in shambles. 

Working on climate change issues is necessary and vital to so many all over the world. That fact is motivates me every single day.

A sobering truth: even if we went to net zero across the globe today, there will still be dire impacts over the next few decades because so much damage has already been done. We have to change how we live now and build mitigation plans at the same time. It’s expensive but it’s the only way to secure any kind of healthy future.

Another sobering truth: we need to start relocating people in the United States. It’s tragic and heartbreaking to say that. No one wants to leave their home. The Florida coast is a gorgeous, precious place. Sadly, because we’ve stuck our heads in the sand on climate change and allowed the profits of big oil to persist and grow exponentially, we have no other choice now. 

It will only get worse from here over the next few decades. Building on the Florida coast is no longer viable. Living on the coast of Florida is no longer viable either. The longer we wait to relocate people, the worse it will get. It’s a brutal policy and will be wildly unpopular but the time for retreat has arrived. 

creativity

Spend time with trees to fight cancer

Blue Atlas Cedar tree in Central Park – photo by Christa Avampato

Last week I went to a talk by Dr. Diana Beresford-Kroeger, a botanist and medical biochemist. She’s also the author of one of my favorite books, To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest. She was speaking at the New York Times event titled How Can Art and Technology Help Us Tackle the Climate Crisis? You can watch it on YouTube and Dr. Beresford-Kroeger’s talk is from 1:55:35 — 2:30:38.

How forest bathing reduces cancer risk
In her talk and her book she advocates for 15 minutes of month forest bathing, particularly near evergreen trees, as a way to reduce cancer risk. As a cancer survivor, I do everything I can to prevent recurrence. Sadly, there’s a lot of nonsense out there and plenty of products that claim to prevent cancer. Most of it is just slick marketing taking advantage of people through scare tactics. But does this recommendation from Dr. Beresford-Kroeger have scientific research to back up the claim? Can 15 minutes a month with trees really help us reduce the risk of cancer? It does and it can. 

Numerous scientific studies (here, here, and here to call out just a few) have found that the biochemicals in our immune systems (collectively referred to as Natural Killer (NK) cells such as lymphocytes) are strengthened with even brief 15- to 20-minute visits to wooded areas and the effects can last more than 30 days. These research findings support Dr. Beresford-Kroeger’s recommendation and the ancient wisdom she’s studied and accumulated her entire life.

Combining indigenous knowledge with modern medicine for optimal health
Now, does this mean we can substitute forest visits for regular checkups and exams with our doctors or forgo medical treatments if we are diagnosed with cancer? No, I would not recommend that course of action. Modern medicine found and treated my cancer, and I’m forever grateful for the care I received at NYU. But did I also benefit from good nutrition, exercise, my time in nature, and my determination to find joy every day to keep up my spirits during the darkest days of my life? Yes, I did. 

Preventing and fighting cancer requires a multi-pronged approach. We can benefit from ancient wisdom and modern technology. I used both to keep myself healthy before, during, and after treatment. I’ll use both for the rest of my life that I’m so fortunate to have. 

Why I still got cancer even though I live a healthy lifestyle
Now, you might be thinking, “Well, Christa, you go to Central Park every day and you still got cancer. So how do you explain that?”

Yes, that’s true. I did get cancer even though I have no genetic predisposition to any kind of cancer, I eat a healthy plant-based diet, I exercise regularly, I’m a healthy weight, I control my stress levels, I spend a lot of time outside in nature, and I see my doctors regularly. Cancer is a sneaky set of diseases. It wears a lot of costumes and disguises in its attempts to thwart our immune system. Even in the best of circumstances, a cell can get past our immune system, not because we’re weak but because cancer is such a deft and relentless shape-shifter. All it takes is one microscopic cell. 

The Hudson Valley is a cancer hotspot
We also live in an increasingly toxic world, which can wear us down without our awareness. I grew up on an apple orchard in the Hudson Valley of New York State in the 1980s and 1990s. Sounds bucolic, right? In many ways it was. 

But what you may not know is during that time the rampant use of chemical pesticides was practiced all over that area. I have vivid memories of bright red tankers full of pesticides being sprayed in the air on neighboring orchards for months on end to keep the apples pest-free. Those farmers didn’t realize their sprays were poisoning our food, air, soil, and water. 

At the same time, General Electric (GE) dumped 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River from its capacitor manufacturing plants in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward, New York. Though they ended that practice in the last 1970s, the PCBs remain in the river sediment to this day. PCBs are known carcinogens (meaning they cause cancer). 

These practices of farmers and GE have partially caused the Hudson Valley to become a cancer hotspot. My family had well water. The toxic chemicals from the pesticides and GE’s practices seeped into the water table, not to mention were directly linked to our food and air. The truth is we can do everything right as individuals but collectively, the practices of others can harm us and we are powerless to avoid the impacts once they’ve happened. 

Though it’s difficult to prove, my cancer was likely caused, at least in part, by environmental pollution I was exposed to as a child. As the New York Department of Health explains, “Cancers develop slowly in people. They usually appear five to 40 years after exposure to a cancer causing agent. This is called the latency period. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to determine what causes cancer in humans. Also, many people move during this period of time, making it hard to link exposure to a cancer causing agent to where a person lives.” 

So, yes, I live a healthy lifestyle and yes, I still got cancer. But as my doctors always point out, because I was so healthy when I was diagnosed, I was able to withstand intense surgeries and treatments, and emerge on the other side healthier than ever. The combination of my good health, modern medicine, and indigenous knowledge saved me.

Fighting climate change is another way to fight cancer
Preserving and expanding natural areas and mitigating the impacts of climate change is another important piece of the puzzle to maintain our health. Said another way, our best defense is a good offense. We need to have nature on our side to maintain our environments, and that means we must care for natural and wild areas. 

This is why I advocate for the planting, maintenance, enhanced access, and expansion of forested areas, particularly in cities like New York where I now live and where trees are necessary for our health and wellbeing. Trees save and enhance our lives in so many ways by cleaning our air and water, lowering our stress levels, and enhancing our immune systems.

My forest bathing practice in Central Park
I’m fortunate to live near one of New York’s City’s green gems, Central Park. Forest bathing doesn’t mean you need to retreat to the far corners of the wilderness (though if you can, I recommend that kind of trip as well). Urban forest bathing once a month (or more) is highly effective, easy to do, and accessible. 

On a sunny Saturday, I went to Central Park with my dog, Phineas. For 15 minutes, we sat near a majestic Blue Atlas Cedar (Cedrus atlantica glauca) that stands near the Reservoir. The effects for both of us were palpable. Phin closed his eyes and went to sleep as I soaked up the sun and clean air, all the time quietly expressing my gratitude to this tree. 

When we got up to go home, I bowed to the tree in reverence for what this beautiful being had freely given me. “I’ll see you again soon,” I whispered.

I left with my heart and lungs full with all good things, thankful for what nature offers us if only we will take the time to accept her gifts and wisdom. When we take care of nature, nature can then take care of us. Go sit near a tree for 15 minutes once a month. You’ll be better for it. 

(Below are a few photos of me and my dog, Phineas, on our most recent forest bathing trip to Central Park).

creativity

What will the world be like if we take no climate action now?

We hear a lot about climate change and how devastating the impacts will be if we do nothing. To save the planet is the reason I decided to go back to graduate school at University of Cambridge in Sustainability Leadership and pivot my career to focus on this cause. But what does a lack of climate action mean specifically, decade by decade? What happens to the planet, and to us, if we stay on our current trajectory? And just as importantly, where do we go if we have an idea for climate action?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has a 2-minute video outlining some of the specific impacts of continued climate change on our current path starting in the year 2030 and going through 2100. The impacts are sobering, backed up by scientific research referenced in the video, and outlined in the list below.

But all isn’t lost. We do have a short period of time right now to make massive changes to save the planet, the species with whom we share it, and create 395 million jobs with the transition to a nature-positive economy. Said another way, biomimicry and creating our built environment, products, and services based on nature’s design principles is the answer—we must transition to a nature-positive economy and society.

And if have an idea for climate action, WEF wants you to share that idea and get involved through their free online community portal called UpLink where you’ll find hope, information, data, and updates on climate action projects that are underway right now.

What does the world look like in the coming decades if we don’t take climate action. Here’s a sampling of that future:

The 2030s:

  • Ice caps and crucial ice sheets continue to melt, swelling sea levels by 20 centimeters [7.87 inches]
  • 90% of coral reefs threatened by human activity, while 60% are highly endangered
  • Dwindling crop yields push more than 100 million more people into extreme poverty
  • Climate change-related illnesses kill an additional 250,000 people each year

The 2040s:

  • The world has shot past its 1.5-degree Celsius [2.7-degree Fahrenheit] Paris Agreement temperature rise limit
  • Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Thailand are threatened by annual floods, sparking mass migration
  • 8% of the global population has seen a severe reduction in water availability
  • The Arctic is now ice-free in summer
  • Sea levels have risen 20 centimeters [2 feet] in the Gulf of Mexico, where hurricanes deliver devastating storm surges

The 2050s:

  • 2 billion people face 60-degree Celsius [140 degrees Fahrenheight] temperatures for more than a month every year
  • In much of the world, masks are needed daily–not for disease prevention, but to protect our lungs from smog
  • The Northeast United States now sees 25 major floods a year, up from 1 in 2020
  • 140 million people are displaced by food and water insecurity or extreme weather events

2100 and beyond:

  • The average global temperature has soared more than 4 degrees Celsius [7.2 degrees Fahrenheit]–and even more in northern latitudes
  • Rising sea levels have rendered coastlines unrecognizable, and Florida has largely disappeared
  • Coral reefs have largely vanished, taking with them 25% of the world’s fish habitats
  • Insects have been consigned to history, causing massive crop failures due to the lack of pollinators
  • Severe drought now affects more than 40% of the planet
  • An area the size of Massachusetts burns in the US every year
  • Southern Spain and Portugal have become a desert, tipping millions into food and water insecurity

This is a terrifying, painful future and it’s only a few years away right now. But again, we know what we need to do—create our built environments, products, and services to mimic those of the natural world. Biomimicry can save us and the natural world. This means we must:

  • exit fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources
  • restore, protect, and expand natural habitats and wild areas
  • end the use of single-use plastic and harmful chemical pesticides

None of this will be easy but the choice is truly one of life—ours and all the other species who are counting on us to change our ways and clean up how we live on this planet—or death. Either we choose to make these difficult choices now in our companies and governments, or we are forced to make them later when it may be too late. To learn more and get involved, please visit UpLink: https://uplink.weforum.org/uplink/s/. We have no time to waste and the planet needs all of us to take action.

creativity

I’m on my way to the U.K.

Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash. Taken at the Marble Arch in Park Lane, London.

I’m on my way to the U.K. to begin my dream of starting a graduate program in sustainability leadership at University of Cambridge and the Cambridge Institute of Sustainability Leadership. Such a mix of emotions at this pivotal moment in history— gratitude, elation, responsibility, nervousness, excitement, fear, anticipation. All of that is in my heart now as I start this path of purpose to hone all my business, science, and storytelling skills and experience to play a role in saving our planet, our stunning natural world, and all species, including our own.

When I booked this flight months ago, I had no idea how consequential this time would be for the U.K. and the world. The passing of Queen Elizabeth II and the beginning of the reign of King Charles III has brought a new sense of meaning to this trip. For decades, The Royal Family and especially King Charles III have been advocating for economic and social transformations to address climate change. King Charles is a graduate of Cambridge with a close association with the graduate program I’m about to begin, and I feel fortunate to be on this path in this place at this time. I will witness this moment in history, and will share what I experience by posting regularly here on this blog.

I feel a huge sense of responsibility and duty to use my time to protect our only home. This work is personal and professional for me. Everything I’ve been through in the past 2+ years, from the pandemic to my own successful battle against cancer caused by environmental toxins, has been fuel for me to take this journey. With the help of my doctors, modern medicine, innovative science, and my community of friends and family, I healed myself. Now I want to heal the planet.

I am willing to do whatever it takes. The changes we make (or don’t make) now will dictate how the history of our world unfolds for the next several thousand years. The consequences are that profound. We will absolutely turn the corner over the next few years. The question is what awaits us when we do, and that answer is up to all of us, individually and collectively.

I want to thank everyone who helped me to get to this place and cheered me on. There are so many of you who moved mountains and I promise to pay forward all of it. Now, it’s time to go have an adventure and personally witness this momentous time for Britain and the world. I’m excited to bring you with me.

creativity

How writers using multi-sensory storytelling will save the planet

Photo by Marc Wieland on Unsplash

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” ~ Antoine de Saint Exupéry, author of The Little Prince (among many others)

Today I want to talk to you about how storytelling has a vital role to play in saving the planet. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been consumed with getting ready to start my new graduate program in Sustainability Leadership at University of Cambridge. I’ve completed my first set of assignments and the first (very long!) reading list. I’ve read well over a thousand pages of documents, reports, data collections, and science journal articles. I have 10 new books on my to-be-read list, many relating to the connections between the economy, nature, and societal structure. It will come as no surprise that much of it is bleak, and there is some hope sprinkled in here and there.

Here’s what I didn’t find on a single page I read: what will our world look, feel, sound, smell, and taste like when humans learn how to live on this planet in a sustainable way?

The science matters. We have to have the reporting and data to show what’s happening in real-time right now, and explain what can happen if we don’t turn things around and fast. We need the urgency provided by the dire warnings. The doomsday scenarios are true possibilities and we’re on a collision course with them.

We also have to give people hope by explaining all we stand to gain if we change our ways, systems, governments, businesses, cities, economies, and — here’s the kicker — our values.

For decades we’ve been obsessed with efficiency and convenience, and in the process have caused a massive number of extinctions and destroyed priceless ecosystems that we’ll never see again. We stand to lose much more if we don’t realize we must value nature because nature underpins every aspect of our lives and livelihoods.

We have no future without nature and we need to wake up to that reality.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it would take to give people an experience of what a truly sustainable world will be like. How can we make it an experience that sticks with people long after the experience is over, motivates them to make changes in their lives, and causes them to demand change from the businesses they patronize and the governments of which they’re citizens?

How can we, in the words of Antoine de Saint Exupéry, make them long for the healthy, thriving, clean sea, literally and figuratively?

I’ve been immensely inspired by the immersive exhibits that are all the rage right now — Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience and Imagine Picasso are two examples of the tech-centric, projection-based exhibits that are everywhere. In February, The New Yorker wrote a long, exceptional piece on this trend. For many years, I’ve been a fan of immersive theater like the wildly popular Sleep No More that’s a bit like Clue meets haunted house meets Eyes Wide Shut, complete with masks for all guests so you feel like you’re at a costume party. Since I was a child, I’ve loved choose-your-own-adventure stories. And let’s be honest; I still love choose-your-own-adventure stories.

So here’s my proposal — what if we take the:

  • technology of immersive art exhibits
  • participatory storytelling of immersive theater
  • user-guided choice of choose-your-own-adventure stories
  • science of climate change

to not tell, not show, but allow people to experience how climate change will look, sound, smell, taste, and feel if we continue on our current trajectory and if we make the needed, massive changes to save the planet, save ourselves, and save all the species who call Earth home? There would then we an online component that would connect people to one another and provide support for making the changes we need and charting collective and individual progress because as we know, what gets measured gets done.

Would that be a way to use multi-sensory storytelling as a tool to motivate people, open their hearts and minds, and give us a fighting chance at building a sustainable society together? If executed flawlessly and meaningfully with heart, I think this might be part of the solution we need that doesn’t yet exist. What do you think?

creativity

How my life and career prepared me to work on climate change

When people ask me, “what do you do?” my response is always, “have you got a minute?” If they say yes, I say, “I’m a digital product developer / business leader / journalist / author / biomimicry scientist / public historian / tour guide, and I kicked cancer’s ass during a pandemic. Now I’m bundling up all of that experience together to fight climate change and protect the planet. Do you have any questions?”

Some of the most important research on climate change has yet to be done: What happens in a worst-case scenario? This week, an international team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge (where I will start my graduate studies in Sustainability Leadership in September) published a paper about the urgent need to do this work. As I read the piece and considered my experience, I realized my life and career have primed me to be a part of this endeavor.

Cancer during COVID-19
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. You think taking precautions to protect yourself and others from COVID is inconvenient? You think changing your lifestyle so we curb climate change in inconvenient? Trying getting cancer. Now that’s inconvenient. 

Cancer upends every facet of life to battle it. And even if you do everything right, there’s no guarantee you’ll be cancer-free. Having to face that demon and my own mortality (several times thanks to a life-threatening chemo allergy I had and never knew about) changed me. Then to find out that my cancer had a strong environmental component added insult to injury. It also lit a fire under me to change my life and dedicate my career to healing this injured planet. 

Nothing teaches you how to live like having your life on the line. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Since I had to go through it, and have emerged on the other side cancer-free, I’m determined to use what I learned to help make this world a better place for all beings.

Hope for the best; expect the worst
I’ve lived my entire life by this philosophy. At times, it’s exhausting but the tremendous upside is that I’m often prepared and rarely surprised. This thinking gave me a stiff upper lip as I’m not someone who runs from conflict or difficulty. I’m incapable of deluding myself or anyone else with any kind of pollyanna scenarios. Just give me the facts. Tell me what I could be up against and I’ll take it from there. I’ve mastered pro-con list making and I love a good SWOT analysis. Difficulty doesn’t depress me. I can sit with suffering and not be consumed by it. I’m not afraid of the future; I’m here to shape it. 

Product development
All product development, regardless of the product, service, or system being built is anchored in two principles: what problem are you trying to solve and who are you trying to solve it for? I don’t fall in love with anything I build or any idea I have. A long time ago, I fell in love with serving others and making the world a better place. My ego and my fear of rejection hover near zero. Being a product developer requires me to be measured and methodical, to care about the grand vision and every tiny detail. Strategy and tactics are two sides of the same coin and they serve each other. I like both of them equally. 

Business and leadership
I’d love to tell you that well-meaning governments, NGOs, and nonprofits are going to save the planet and humankind from destruction. They aren’t because they aren’t the problem. Business, and how we conduct business, is the problem. Because business is the problem it’s also the solution. 

Business is responsible for climate change because of the way it operates. Change the operations and you see progress toward solving the challenge. It’s not easy work. There are a lot of stakeholders with conflicting interests and priorities. Then you add the whammy of many people in the world being down on business and capitalism, and rightly so. Given all that, it’s easy to see why some businesses toss up their hands with a “I can’t do anything right so I’m just going to soldier on as I always have.” 

Except they can’t. Business and businesses will have to change and evolve. It’s not a choice anymore. Destroy the planet and every business, every person perishes. So business colleagues: buck up, roll up those sleeves, humble yourself, and get to work to make your business sustainable. I’ll be in the trenches with you and I’ll help you.  

Scientific studies in biomimicry and sustainability
Biomimicry begins and ends with the mindset of looking at a problem and asking, “how would nature solve this?” It’s a fascinating, hopeful, and wonderful way to live and work. I feel fortunate to be a biomimicry scientist. I’m excited to begin my studies at Cambridge to extend my work in biomimicry and business through sustainability leadership and bring them together to build a better world. 

Digital media
I’m often asked, “do you make your whole living in biomimicry?” No. I don’t. I have an MBA from the Darden School at the University of Virginia and I’ve worked for years to become a storyteller in a variety of mediums. I make the majority of my income working as a product developer for a media company and from my writing. I also produce and host a podcast about joy called JoyProject, used to manage Broadway shows and national theater tours, and hope to get back to producing and hosting storytelling shows, in-person and on screens large and small.

Science is what I do because I love it and it’s a force for good in the world. With my studies at Cambridge, I’m hoping to work with energy companies to end the production of fossil fuels. You can read more about my career plans here

Being a journalist and a fantasy and science fiction author
Writers make stuff up and write it down. We love playing out scenarios and asking questions like, “What if…?”, “And then what happened?”, and “How did we end up here?”. We research. We interview people. We observe. We dig through historical documents and archives. We create characters and we put them into impossible situations. This is the kind of thinking and acumen the climate change movement needs. 

Public historian and tour guide
Science was my first love. History was my second. I was a history and economics major in college at the University of Pennsylvania. I majored in history because everything has a history. It felt to me like I could do anything if I was a historian. I can happily spend countless hours reading and uncovering history, talking to people about history, showing people history, and imagining what once was, why it impacts what is, and how it will shape what’s yet to be. 

I’ve never been a person who easily fit into a box of any kind. I had no interest in that. When I was interviewing for my first job out of business school, a man interviewing me commented that my resume looked like I had done a lot of exploring. He didn’t mean this as a compliment; he was criticizing me because he thought I lacked focus. I didn’t. My focus just happened to be on anything and everything that interested me, and a lot interests me. 

I got the job, but that guy who called me an explorer was never approved of me. That’s okay. He just couldn’t see what I knew to be true—the solutions to worldwide problems need worldwide views. They need lots of different types of experience to create something that’s never been done before. Turns out all my exploring gave me exactly everything I needed to make the world a better place, and that’s what I will do. 

creativity

JoyProject Podcast: The Joy of Water Skiing with Kate McGormley

Let Kate McGormley describe the rush and unbridled joy she experiences every time she goes water skiing, a sport she’s done every year since she was 6 years old. An advocate for mental health and the power of kindness, she takes us through how she got into the sport, the mechanics of getting up on skis, and how being outside on the water helps her appreciate her body, her health, and the goodness that always exists in the world. Her infectious laugh is something that will brighten your day and may just convince you to give water skiing a try!

At the end of the podcast, I share something that brought me joy this week related to the episode. Given Kate’s focus on the joy of the outdoors, please check out the latest Fix Solutions Lab publication—The Joy Issue. Fix is a storytelling team at Grist, a nonprofit, independent media organization dedicated to telling stories of climate solutions and a just future. Fix was founded on a simple premise: promising solutions to the climate crisis exist — they just haven’t yet gained sufficient momentum to tip the scales.

The Joy Issue has stories about using joy as a tool for climate change activism. It’s the perfect blend of so many things I love that create the foundation for my life and career—top-notching writing and storytelling, joy, curiosity, and protecting our beautiful planet.

Topics discussed in this episode:
– When Kate started water skiing
– How she got started water skiing
– The mechanics of water skiing
– How water skiing make her grateful for so many things

Links to resources:
– Kate on Instagram – @kathryn.mcgormley
– Kate on Facebook – @Kate McGormley
– Kate’s blog – KindnessMatters365
– The Joy Issue by Fix at Grist – The Joy Issue
– Christa on Twitter – @christanyc
– Christa on Instagram – @christarosenyc
– Christa on Facebook – @AuthorChrista 
– Christa on Medium – @christaavampato
– Christa on TikTok – @christanyc
– Christa’s website – ChristaAvampato.com

About Kate:
Kate McGormley is a higher education professional living in Indianapolis with her husband and two sons.  Kate is a champion for mental health advocacy and kindness. She spent 2013 doing a kindness act each day with her young sons and blogging about it at KindnessMatters365. She spends most of her time with family and friends, but also loves serving on the board of her local Habitat for Humanity and occasionally pounding some nails.  Her greatest obsession in life is her English Bulldog, Mack!

creativity

How being a writer will help me get my dream job working with fossil fuel companies

In September, I’m starting a Master’s program at University of Cambridge in Sustainability Leadership. It’s my intention to use that degree as a springboard to work with fossil fuel companies — and convince them that it’s in their best and most profitable interest to stop producing fossil fuel and invest everything they’ve got in clean renewable energy. 

I’ve talked to a few people about this dream. Most laugh at me. Some think I’m wasting my time and talents on this dream. Some think I’ll never be able to do it. 

Here’s why it’s worth trying: 89% of CO2 emissions come from fossil fuels and industry

We could do everything else right when it comes to slowing down or, dare we imagine, to reversing climate change and it won’t matter if we don’t quickly and massively reduce and eventually eliminate fossil fuel production.

What Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. got wrong about the SCOTUS majority opinion on the EPA
The SCOTUS majority ruling in West Virginia v. EPA removed the ability of the EPA to limit emissions by power plants. The majority opinion is a travesty for many reasons. It also happens to be false, or at least incomplete. “There is little reason to think Congress assigned such decisions to the Agency,” Roberts wrote. “A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself.”

That last bit about Congress isn’t entirely true. The energy industry could make the choice to limit, or eliminate, its emissions.

I know some of you are laughing at that idea. You know what’s even more laughable? Imagining that Congress will get its act together to make it happen.

I understand why people hate on and rail against capitalism. However, it’s the economic paradigm that powers the world. We barely have time to get for-profit businesses to change their behaviors before the planet faces irreversible damage that will compromise life on this planet. We absolutely don’t have time to reinvent and adopt a new world economy before that happens.

Yes, capitalism is deeply flawed and yes, I wish humans were neurologically wired to act in the best interests of the greater community rather than themselves. I can’t change either of those facts and neither can you, not in time to protect the planet.

We have to work with what we have right now. We don’t have time to lament over human selfishness. We have to use it to our advantage; that’s exactly how nature would solve climate change and it’s exactly what we need to do. Now. It’s what I plan to do by working with fossil fuel companies. 

What fossil fuel companies care about
Fossil fuel companies don’t produce fossil fuel because they love it. There is precious little to love about dirty fuel that’s poisoning the planet and poisoning us. Fossil fuel companies love two things: money and power. Their long-term profits and power aren’t in fossil fuel. It’s in renewables for one simple reason — they’re cheaper to produce and are, as the name implies, limitless. Imagine the economics of a business built on inexpensive, infinite raw materials that produces a final product that protects the health of every living being? You don’t have to imagine it. It’s here. It’s renewable energy. 

What West Virginia cares about
Why did West Virginia bring this case against the EPA? Jobs. Plain and simple. Money and income. West Virginia and other fossil fuel producing states have no particular attachment to fossil fuel except history and a large number of jobs. 

If they could preserve jobs, or better yet increase the number of them and the income those jobs generate, they’d do it. With renewables, they can retrain people, preserve their beautiful land, water, and wildlife, protect workers, increase tax revenue, and promote the health of all beings. But they can’t do it alone. We have to work with them. We have to support them. 

The power of legacy
Legacy is a powerful motivator. As Hamilton says, “Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?” In addition to money and power, fossil fuel companies and those who head them care about legacy and how they will be remembered. In 2019, BP spent millions on an advertising campaign about its low-carbon energy and cleaner natural gas when 96% of its annual expenditure is on oil and gas. This was greenwashing to the extreme, and BP isn’t alone. Greenwashing is a fossil fuel industry problem

Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Drax, Equinor, ExxonMobil, INEOS, RWE, and Shell have all done it. The advertising campaign they all need, rooted in truth, that will send their stock prices soaring, generate priceless innovative partnerships, and cause the best and brightest talent around the world to work for and with them is this: “We will reduce the production of fossil fuel by at least 50% by 2030 and completely replace it with renewable energy by the year 2050.”

I’ve been to Saudi Arabia, met with some of the highest officials in Saudi government, and traveled to the Empty Quarter. Saudi Arabia and its neighbors have the geographic space and wealth to be the largest renewable suppliers in the world. Forget greening the desert there. Create the solar fuel farms we need on land that has very little life to disturb. 

Fossil fuel companies are fiercely competitive. Once one company does this, the rest of them will scramble to do the same. There’s a first mover advantage here. With this kind of decision, they will rewrite the history of this planet and forever be remembered as the company that protected and saved life on Earth in its darkest hour. Now that is a legacy.

Why I’m built for this work
I’ve worked inside a number of large multinational matrix for-profit companies. Many are populated with enormous egos and deep pockets. 

Bureaucracy doesn’t grind me down; it sharpens my resolve. 

I love finding out what makes people tick and what they care about most. Then I show them how my projects help them in their pursuits of what matters to them. I learned this skill as a fundraiser and as a product developer who had to internally lobby for project funding. My mentors were the best of the best at this. They showed me how it’s done, and done well.

Being a writer will help
While building a successful business career working with a variety of startups, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies, I also honed my communications and storytelling skills by building a strong portfolio as a writer, author, journalist, editor, interviewer, public speaker, and podcaster. 

This shift from fossil fuels to clean renewables is as much about storytelling as it is about science and business. 

Being a writer means I’m constantly inventing characters with motives. I build worlds with words. Now I will use my words to paint the picture of what a clean, sustainable, and healthy world looks, feels, sounds, smells, and tastes like. 

While the climate change movement has done an excellent job of describing the grim future we’ll face if we don’t shift away from fossil fuels, they haven’t shown us the alternative of a happy, joyful future on this planet. We need to long for that alternative so much that we’re willing to change and endure the transition, which may be painful, expensive, and inconvenient.

My cancer was environmentally-driven
During the COVID-19 pandemic prior to vaccines, I was diagnosed with and treated for early stage breast cancer. My doctors believe my cancer was driven, at least in part, by environmental factors. We can’t prove this definitively, but when we triangulate all the data we know about my case it becomes clear that the environment was at least a major contributor. 

Nothing motivates and activates like nearly dying. My health, your health, and the health of the planet are inextricably linked. And they’re worth fighting for. I’m fighting for all of us, and that means I have to work with fossil fuel companies. 

In the words of the late great Babe Ruth, it’s tough to beat someone who never gives up, and I won’t give up until we get this done. 

Change is an inside job
While change can be driven by outside pressure, I’ve seen change happen quicker and more extensively when pursued on the inside of an organization. Sometimes to get things done, we’ve got to go into the belly of the beast. We have to walk right into the lion’s den armed with the undaunted courage and willful determination to sit with the lion, understand their perspective, and then show them how you can all move forward together for everyone’s benefit. 

I know it’s going to be a steep climb. I know there is a chance it may not work. There is a chance I’ll come home empty-handed with nothing to show for my effort and time. 

There’s also a chance that it could work. There’s a chance that this could be the most meaningful, valuable thing I ever do with my life that will make the world a better place for all beings. And so with that hope and that goal, I’m going to give it my best shot.

Allowing climate change to progress unabated is akin to burning down our own house and wondering why we have no place to live. Nothing survives — not a company, a government, nor a living being — if the planet perishes. With that in mind, there is no work more important than getting fossil fuel companies to stop producing fossil fuel. This work is what matters most.

creativity

Joy Today: Making our coasts resilient to climate change

I’m studying sustainable coastal resilience strategies in the face of climate change and rising sea levels. Seawalls don’t provide sufficient protection, harm wildlife, pollute waterways, and are difficult and expensive to maintain. Artificial walls don’t work in nature. What works is building longer buffet tables and larger homes that make accommodations for all stakeholders—coral reefs, mangroves, oyster beds, and salt marshes. This idea is much more than a metaphor or allegory. Seawalls are a cautionary tale of what happens when we exclude beings who have all the same rights that we do to survive and thrive. Sustainable solutions have successfully played out over the course of 3.8 billion years of natural history’s R&D lab. We would be wise to follow its example.