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  • benjaminnewman01

Mod. 2.1 - Reflections on Sustainability

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Spend an hour reflecting on the content you’ve engaged with this week using the journal prompts listed below.

  • What was most inspiring, most resonating? What do you feel most compelled to share with others? Why?

  • What was most depressing, most daunting? What do you feel most compelled to share with others? Why?

  • How does this align with and/or build on your own current thinking, values, and approach to leadership?

  • What content are you struggling with? Why?

  • What new questions are coming up for you, particularly around “leading”, “regenerative”, and “sustainability”?

 

This week’s assignments were very comprehensive and provided a great deal of context for my own understanding of where sustainability as a subject matter has come from, is now, and where it’s going. I was very inspired by how many young people are aware of sustainability, have been able to make climate activism or education a part of their understanding around what it means to be a person on the planet, and how unwavering they are in the face of difficult circumstances. Conversely, I’m depressed by how many members of older generations, particularly those who have bought into a climate colonialist ideology like Milton Friedman’s that led to very influential people embodying the business practices described by the Jack Welch effect, who appear unwilling to change, turn a blind eye to sustainable practices unless it maximizes profits, and have no regard for the negative impact their decisions have on communities, people, and planet. Since I grew up in Michigan, the impact of the Flint water crisis in particular is one that hit home in a very deep way. I recall hearing an interview on NPR in the last few years in which a reporter was interviewing the then retired former mayor of Flint who had been in office when the crisis became national news. They asked the mayor if there were any elements that were surprising at the time of the crisis that stuck out. The mayor responded saying “I didn’t expect how many mayors of major cities around the United States would call me and ask for advice on how to avoid a crisis like this from happening in their towns, because they were starting to see similar reports of what had happened in Flint.” This really drove home just how little responsible oversight there has been in essential areas of every day life that has contributed to the myriad health problems we are now dealing with.


Where I find sustainability aligns in my own emerging practice and thinking is in the frameworks that have been developed by researchers and leaders in sustainability. When I think about how arts orgs operate, I almost always talk about them as an ecosystem to help conceptualize the roles different people play in each company’s success. I use words like holisitc, and now I’ve started to apply words like biomimicry in conversations around different initiative design models, and innovation in the field. Where I struggle with some of the information is not with the concepts themselves, but in how to measure them contextually. There are seemingly endless amounts of statistics that paint a grim picture of just how poorly we are doing in our sustainability efforts and I realized I lack foundational knowledge in the sciences to help me know how to contextualize the “bad news” without generating a sense of feeling overwhelmed.


Many of the stats are shared to demonstrate the severity of our current situation, to help people who may not be aware to understand how important it is that every person add sustainability practices into their lives, but personally, each new measurement I read about just makes me feel a bit hopeless, despite the “good news” that also exists. If I think about how many white people experienced a racial reckoning in 2020 and 2021 and some of the DEI curriculums and practices that emerged since then that focus on thinking about the work as a constant journey and practice in anti-racism, I think there are many parallels to the climate crisis and the need for sustainability practices. But where the parallels stop for me is in the scale to which the climate crisis has an impact. This is not to say anti-racism work is not a global, or large-scale systemic effort in need of attention and repair, but that the ability for one person to make a difference or at least feel like there is an individual difference to be made, seems more tangible than with the climate crisis.


That is one area where new questions are emerging for me. How can actions around climate change be framed in ways that can give individuals a sense of personal ownership or individual power to facilitate change or make a difference that doesn’t feel like it’s feeding into yet another corporate lie or virtue signaling? One potential answer that I was encouraged by came from the Earth.org article outlining the biggest environmental issues of our time and noted the adoption of ‘Ministers of the Future’ into government as an area people can look for in their political leaders' platforms during election cycles. I’ve been working on a sound healing opera that takes place in the near future in which humans have elected “Ambassadors” who function as human emissaries to the public representing different elements such as the sun, life, and space. The way the characters of the Ambassadors are framed in this world is a combination between Dr. Fauci and Yoda. Ambassadors are trained at an academy in which they receive an education in their specific element, kind of like jedis. If their element is space, they are trained in astronomy, aerodynamics, physics, chemistry, engineering, and any other area related to space, much like any other expert today who ends up working on a team at NASA. Where their work is elevated to the next level, is that they lead the public in rituals devoted to their element as a means of generating an even deeper connection to and reverence for the natural forces of the planet. Ministers of the Future sounds somewhat fantastical in name, but where this opera has inspired me, is to connect our understanding of the sciences and the planet to the practice of rituals that so many people are familiar with and generate meaning and respect from. If we could create a weekly gathering like a church in which people congregate and receive communion that grounds their lives, but focused on the environment and sustainability, I could imagine that we would experience a radical shift in environmental progress.

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