What a summer!

I remember my astonishment, in the early days of COVID, when people in New Delhi reported that they could see the Himalayas for the first time in more than 30 years. One of the early markers of the new normal, as people liked to call it.

But before long we reverted swung to a newer normal. Fires across Canada. Temperature records broken around the world. Ocean waters at hot tub temperatures. Was this the hottest July ever? Or the coolest July you’ll ever see again?

With that in mind, our last—and unusually rich and moving—Living Between Words conversation began with two assertions that we’ve been hearing a lot lately: “Nobody’s talking about…” and “There are no plans for…”

These are different yet similar. Both say as much about who’s listening—and to what—as they do about what’s “really” going on. Saying “there are no plans,” for example, for dealing with the climate crisis, is actually saying “the plans aren’t adequate, the plans aren’t working, I’m anxious about the future, I don’t know what to do”—which are assessments that generate very different sorts of conversations than “There are no plans.”

We’ve got plans coming out of our ears. Some have even been enacted. (California’s 50 year renewable energy journey, the Green New Deal plan that drove the Inflation Recovery Act, countless munical climate and resilience plans, to name a few.) It’s just none are big enough, fast enough, perfect enough, or engage committed action enough at the scale, scope, and speed we need.

Some better, more generative questions might be “Where are the plans that can capture people’s hearts and move them into action? Where are the plans that build, drive, and support the new practices that we need—personal, corporate, political—for the world we want? Where are the plans that build the political will and coalitions that can overcome the deeply entrenched obstacles that stand in our way?” Oh, and of course, “What am I doing, in my life, work, investments, and conversations, to bring these plans into sight, into action, into fruition?

I’ve long suspected that when the disruption gets bad enough, people will clamor for change. (As Abba Eban famously observed, “Men and nations do act wisely when they have exhausted all the other possibilities.”) But it will likely be too late for effective and sufficient action to avert the damage. (And the Republicans and the deniers will probably blame the Dems and the climate hawks for inaction.)

“If we still had any doubts on this point, the pseudocontroversy over the climate suffices to dispel them. There is no evidence that any major corporation has spent a penny to produce ignorance about the detection of the Higgs boson. But denying the climatic mutation is another matter entirely: financing floods in. Ignorance on the part of the public is such a precious commodity that it justifies immense investments.”
– Bruno Latour
So what is to be done? Simply put (as Theodore Rooseveldt quoted Squire Bill Widener): “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.” In three key ways:
  1. Know that even though incremental steps are essential in large, complex undertakings, it wasn’t incrementalism that got humanity to the moon and back. So ask: “Are my goals sufficient to the challenges, risks and opportunities we face? Is ‘sustainability’ a worthy enough goal, when the challenge perhaps is to nurture the regenerative capacity of the living Gaian system on which all that we value depends?”
  2. Know that you every time your company makes a capital investment or commits to a supplier, every time in launches a product or makes an offer in the marketplace, every time you buy a car or a meal or a t-shirt, every time you slap a dollar or dinar, a yuan or a ruble on the counter, you’re voting for a future. Not every two or four years. Every day. So ask: “What future is this spend voting for?” (Be sure to vote in the regular elections too.)
  3. Know that the purpose of your business is not, as Milton Friedman said, to maximize returns to capital. It is, as Bank of America founder AP Giannini said, to do what the business is there to do. The returns to capital are a result, not the pupose. So ask: “what business are you really in?”
As always, than you for who you are and what you do.
Yours, in solidarity with life,

Gil Friend
CEO, Natural Logic Inc.Business as though we actually belonged to the living world. And each other.
Managing Director, Critical Path CapitalGrowing ecologically-grounded, employee-owned, community-rooted companies.
Coach/Mentor, Trimtab4Trimtabs™—A new kind of coaching…for a new kind of leader.

PS: Two important upcoming events for you to consider: The annual r3.0 conference, Activating Restorative Norms. And Introduction to Regenerative Economics, from John Fullerton and a helluva faculty at The Capital Institute. (Tell ’em I sent ya! 😉

PPS: Yes, there’s lots more to say. About woke, shallow, and the ESG shuffle. About, subsidies, BSAU, and change without change. About externality-denying capitalism. And more. Tune in next time for the next exciting adventure of “The Future You Never Expected!” If you’re more in the mood for close-in, hand-to-hand, one-on-one work, check out my Trimtab4Trimtabs™ program for leaders and emerging leaders doing this work.

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