I’ve thought a lot about the difference between the message and the messenger. I am grateful as someone who has taught various subjects to different populations in health and personal growth that people can understand the difference. I am not a perfect human. Even though I teach stress reduction, there are still times where I let stress get the best of me. Even though I teach mindfulness, there are still occasions when I spend too much time on my phone or eat while I’m watching TV. How do we talk about change when we are still part of the problem? Do we need to be removed from the culture to address the issues in it?
I find it disheartening what is happening to Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. I’ve been watching people insult and make fun of her for having the courage to speak about something that is important for humanity to discuss. Whether you agree with her or not, to attack the person rather than the subject is a weak approach. Especially if you’re an adult and that person is 16-years-old.
The thing is, even if you find the topic of climate change debatable, a conversation can still be had about the sustainability of an economic model based on continuous perpetual growth and the burning of fossil fuels. Do we not owe it to future generations to take pause and examine where we want to be in 50,100, 200 years? The level of rapid expansion on all fronts is something we’ve never seen on this scale. If you owned a business with continued pressure to expand, would you do so without a plan, limits, or policies? The globalization of our economies requires us to figure out a path moving forward as a global community.
What happens when China and India continue to follow the industrialized Western model?
The idea that anthropogenic climate change is debatable is a Western, mostly American mindset. Maybe because as the world’s largest consumers and users of fossil fuels per capita, we risk the most change to our daily life. But let’s pretend for a moment that it is debatable. What do we have to lose by acting more sustainably? What do we have to lose if we don’t? Would the world not be better off by using more clean energy or by protecting our air and water?
People worry about hurting the economy or relinquishing control, but really it is about power. Currently, our approach is exerting our dominion over nature, our power over it. Living in harmony with nature and honoring the earth and her inhabitants, flies in the face of corporate interests and American exceptionalism. That’s why the oil industry tries to quash any plans for light rail in cities like Phoenix and Nashville. Saying, it is un-American to take public transit. As the most intelligent species, we should look at ourselves as stewards rather than masters. Living in Japan, we don’t have the luxury of pretending that it does not exist. There is no debate; there is only mitigation and preparation for it’s worsening effects.
So I welcome the Gretas, the Leos, and the soccer moms to speak loud and let your voice carry. And please, don’t stop. This conversation needs to happen.
Are they perfect? Hell no, but here is the thing, we are all imperfect messengers. The vegan who wears leather shoes, the activist who flies on private jets, the environmentalist who drinks out of plastic. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in eating less meat, taking public transportation or using less plastic. None of us are flawless. If we wait to consider a message because the messenger is sometimes out of alignment between their vision, values, and actions, then we will not improve. When it comes down to it, it isn’t perfection that is required. It is about balance and harmony. Individually, globally, and spiritually.
Sustainability is just balance and harmony in action.
Sustainability is just balance and harmony in action. And this doesn’t require infallibility, only that we come together, conscious and honest about where we stand. We can debate about the timeline, but perpetual growth based on the exploitation of the earth’s resources is a lose/lose proposition. So while Greta’s pleas may have seen a bit heavy-handed, her worries are not unfounded. At our current pace of growth in all areas, to not include the environment in our discussions, is just insane. The silver lining is that we already have many innovations and emerging technologies; we just need the personal and political will to put them into action.
We aren’t going to solve our problems by longing for the past.
There is not a single person among us who hasn’t lived incongruent to their values. We all take part in the culture we live in, which has been continually formed and developed by present and past generations. It’s okay to discuss where it is failing and more importantly, make a conscious effort to look where were are going. We aren’t going to solve our problems by longing for the past. We are too many, too globalized and too technologically advanced for that to work. Industrialized thinking doesn’t cut it in an information age. So, this requires us to allow all fallible people to speak up because, without them, there would be no one — not a single person to champion this cause. If we focus on the message rather than the messenger, we might be able to get some real work done.