104: Live Off the Grid Sustainably with Joshua Spodek PhD, Author, Podcast host, TEDx Speaker
Guest Name(s): Joshua Spodek
Learn how you can live off the grid sustainably in this modern world with Joshua Spodek. He is the model of sustainability, as he shows us through systematic change how to drastically cut down your carbon footprint.
#104 – Joshua Spodek – A Climate Change with Matt Matern
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host and welcome to the program. We’ve got a great guest on the program, Joshua Spodek. Today’s guest is going to challenge us to think differently about the environment to act differently.
Joshua talks to talk and he walks the walk. What does that mean? Well, he stopped flying for seven years, for instance. And he believes in systemic change through personal change. Some have argued that, hey, it takes the government and corporations to make the big changes, and the systemic changes. Joshua seems to make the point that these two things are interrelated.
And we can’t kind of expect systemic change if we don’t make individual changes. And Joshua had, you know, well educated guy astrophysics, PhD, from Columbia, as well as an MBA author of a couple of books one leadership, step by step, as well as having hosted I believe it’s four TED talks, and has his own pie podcast this this sustainable wife, Joshua, welcome to the program.
Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.
And I hope I didn’t get your name, mispronounced. There.
You got it. Right. Yeah, thanks.
Well, you know, I was fascinated by a number of things that you’ve written and spoken about? And what kind of brought you to the environmental movement as somebody who was an astrophysics major, how did that connect you to the to the environment?
If I go back, so I was born in 1971, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about the risks of global warming and plastic pollution and extinctions. And when I was a kid growing up, I’d watch nature shows, and they always ended with, and this species or this environment is under threat. And here’s what you can do to help it. As an aside, now, I think that’s, that’s the whole thing.
Now, the nature shows are only this is the threat, there’s no, here’s this beautiful thing anymore. It’s just, I mean, there’s a little bit of that. But in any case, I always knew about it. If you talk to me, most of my life, I would say, Well, what can I do, though? I mean, I could maybe work around some edges a little bit. But what I didn’t see, I couldn’t see how an individual can make much of a difference. And I also felt, well, only governments or corporations can make a difference on the scale that we need. And besides, they’re the ones that caused the problem.
They’re the ones who fix it. in astrophysics, and with a PhD in physics, I think I knew a bit more about, say, fusion than most people. So I figured there was an answer there. 10 years ago, something changed. And by the way, I should I should say, like, I would take public transit, if I could, I would. But I also flew around the crazy, you know, I was I had a bucket list. And I wanted to see all these different places. And I certainly felt like whoever dies with the most toys wins.
So I definitely liked acquiring things. And I didn’t, you know, try not to pollute, but I wouldn’t really go out of my way. And figuring someone else, hopefully, you know, faith that someone else will solve it. 10 years ago, something happened that I really did not intend to be an important part of my life. I had been for various reasons, I was a little more in touch with food at this point.
And I was joining CSA around this time and starting to learn how to shop at farmer’s markets. And I looked at my garbage in my kitchen. And for the first time, I saw how much garbage I was producing and how much of it was food packaging. And I had this idea, sort of in line with things I’d done before I’d stopped eating meat sometime before I’d stopped then went vegan sometime before that, or maybe it’s after that.
Anyway, I had this little experiment that I do and I thought I wonder if I could go for a week without any package food. Now intellectually, I knew that I could because packaging hasn’t been around that long and humans lived with that packaging for a long time. But I didn’t really know how to do it. I’d grown up cooking my family the kids cooked but it was always packaged stuff that I just read. You know Buy Box epoxy pasta, cook it and put a jar of sauce on maybe fry some garlic and onions with some broccoli to make a little special, but always something to throw away.
And also living here in Manhattan. I mean, the best foods from all around the world are flown and shipped in from everywhere. Why wouldn’t I like the best stuff? So I felt like I could do it in principle but why would I? Why should I do something to deprive myself When it makes a big effect on my life negative, and it doesn’t really affect the rest of the world, and somehow decided to do it anyway. Actually, it took me a while of analyzing plant like, what do I do day one, day two, day three, how do I make this work? And after a few months of analyzing and planning, I realized that I was not actually doing. And I knew I wasn’t going to die.
And one day after six months, I just said, I’m starting right. The second, I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I’m just starting right now. And they’re all these little questions of like, do rubber bands count to stickers count? What about stuff that’s in my cupboard already, is that finishing something that already bought or whatever. So I just thought, I’ll answer these as they come.
And one of the things I learned I’m jumping ahead here a step or two, but one of the things I learned is that if I try to solve everything before starting, I can conceive of every possible, I mean, there’s an infinite number of problems I can come up with, and therefore, never be able to start if I have to solve all of them.
Yeah, or the way I put it is, if you give a bunch of economists and engineers a problem, a hard problem to solve, and a budget and time and money to solve it, they will use up all the time and money and come back and say, we’re almost done, we just need a little bit more of each. Whereas if you just actually if you Okay, some problems are life and death problems, this is not one of them, going for a week without package food. So if it’s not a life or death problem, there’s a lot of, I gotta say, here, I started wanting to do theory in physics, but switch to experiment.
And I’d like experiment. And doing you solve the problem, as you saw the actual problems that actually face you as they come. What now that means I’m going to solve problems that I faced, but not everyone else’s. But I also know that other people are also can solve their problems as well. In any case, as it happened, I started you know, the first couple days, I said, you know, stuff that’s in my cupboard, I’ll finish.
So I’m not going to buy any packaged food. So for a couple days, I was just finishing stuff in my cupboard. One day, I go to the store, and I just walked up to the shelf where I normally start. And I look up and I realize this is all boxes and bottles and cans and jars. And there’s not actually I can’t actually touch food from where I’m standing here, even though there’s food there. And if you want me to go into more depth, I can.
But this is this is actually a big moment in my life when I realized that I couldn’t eat without polluting. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t live without polluting. I mean, I needed to eat to live. And it was this existential moment of like, what was my life about if if everything I did every meal I’ve ever eaten caused harm to someone. And you might say, well, it’s a little bit of harm, okay, well still harm. And it wasn’t necessary,
I knew that people have lived for 3,000 years without doing this. We’re coming out of the moment was that I was hungry. And so I look over the produce aisle, and I’m like, okay, so I can get fresh produce. And I also decided already that I could keep getting for the bulk section. So I’d bags with me. And for the first time in my life, I got dried beans. So for the rest of the week, and for the next six months, because I finished two and a half weeks without any without buying any packaged food. And I thought
I’m going to keep with this maybe not zero, but I’m going to minimize my packaging. And for a long time, I thought, well, so I was having a lot of like just, I don’t know, steamed broccoli and asparagus on lentils with little salt and pepper and was really bland. But I didn’t like bland and I did like not polluting. So I stuck with it. And eventually I started learning what tasted good for me. And I started really liking it. And I may have said the story a bit too long. But there’s a reason for it. Is that exactly what I thought I would lose out. That’s what I benefited more in.
So I thought it would take more time I thought I would lose flavor. I thought it would be more expensive. I was always concerned what if I have some solution that doesn’t work for others. And those are exactly the things that I’ve benefited. It’s cheaper, it’s more convenient. It’s much more delicious. It’s more healthy, it makes things more accessible to others to people who might live in food deserts. I mean, it’s not solving the problem completely. But certainly the worst way to help. Some of the way to exacerbate exacerbate problems of food deserts would be to shop at places that squeeze out farmers markets like Walmart and Whole Foods and places like that.
And so I had this mindset shift that I didn’t intend to have happen. Why did I think that the things that would be suffering and deprivation and sacrifice actually benefited me? Why did I believe that? What other things might be that way?
So that led me to challenge myself to think of other things that might have that same pattern where I think it’d be horrible but might be awesome. So a couple years later, I learned that flying polluted and much more than I expected. So I challenged myself to go for a year without fly In a similar pattern happened exactly what I thought it would make worse it made better. So I don’t know if I’ve gone too long.
How did you? How did you kind of resolve that conflict? I mean, I assume you still wanted to kind of travel from time to time, how did you travel without flying?
Well, the main thing was, I mean, first, when I first thought of not flying, I thought, well, this is gonna be the worst year of my life, my family is gonna disown me, I’m gonna go broke, I’m gonna lose my apartment, I’m not gonna know how to eat. And I’m not gonna have any fun. It only took a couple months before I started feeling like, Oh, I’m actually connecting more with family.
And I lost a couple jobs right off the bat, some speaking gigs in Europe that would have paid well, but it resolved. And it was through experience that I experienced the opposite of what I expected, I experienced that I actually connected more with family, and sometimes not in person. Sometimes it’s more distant, but it’s more meaningful.
And so I’d only plan to one year, you said when you introduce me, that hadn’t flown for seven years, it’s seven years and counting. I don’t expect ever to fly again. I like it more this way. I’ve traveled by train, I’ve traveled by bike, I’ve traveled by, by bus. And I’m getting more out of it this way, in a way that it’s really hard to explain.
Well, I think anytime that we sometimes make a change, some new, something new opens up when you when you close that door. And I think we’ve all kind of experience that in in various ways. And you certainly have made some radical changes from the norm here in the United States, maybe not in other areas, maybe that are more sustainable.
And maybe we’ll talk about that in a minute. You had talked with some indigenous folks from Colombia. And I’d like you to share with us a little bit about that, when we come back from the break. You’re listening to A Climate Change, this is Matt Matern, your host, and I have Josh with Spodek on the program today, and we’ll be right back with Josh.
You’re listening to A Climate Change this is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Joshua Spodek. On the program, podcast host of This Sustainable Life, as well as the four time TED Talk speaker.
Joshua, you were just talking about how you made these radical changes in your life. To reduce your carbon footprint and to live a more sustainable life. We kind of took a break one or two, when it you finish up your answer on that.
Yeah, I’ve recognized throughout all, I knew that one person’s actions didn’t really matter that much. That’s how I felt. But also, you know, I teach leadership also. And so I know that one person can lead. So I really look at what I was doing as practice. I think if you want to play an instrument really well or play sport, you got to practice the basics. And I’m jumping a bit, I feel like, well, I think I can relate to that a bit in that, like, I wanted to make some changes, and I bought a hydrogen powered car.
So then I started to learn about hydrogen and what it was as a fuel source. And just by making that change, I became much more educated about it. And I started talking about it on the program and started to talk to other people. It’s like, by taking that leap, you become more informed.
And I think you had written something about kind of the corruption level of our leaders and making decisions that are, you know, bad decisions. Whether it be Clarence Thomas getting money from donors, or Joe Biden, agreeing to put drilling up in the pristine Alaskan wilderness wilderness that are going to generate 360 million tons of carbon from the pollution that will be generated from that oil production.
You know, these are not in in accord with what we want from leaders. So if you have a leader that’s kind of corrupt, you kind of corruption flows from that leadership.
You said a few things and I more than I can comment on, one of the things was that you bought the hydrogen car, and that would view as a yes, that’s how you learn how these things work is hands on stuff. I didn’t know how solar works until I knew in principle, how it worked, but didn’t know how many watts I needed, how many kilowatt hours I need and so forth, until I actually did it.
In the case of like, I would say that was working on engineering or management. But leadership I focus on sustainability leadership. Leadership is about people and culture, and beliefs and role models and stories. And I don’t see many people working on that I think the biggest people argue about what’s the biggest change that someone can make, by far the biggest is what influence you can have on others.
Because if whatever you do yourself, it’s nothing compared to what you can do if you can influence 100, or 1000, or a whole culture. And no one’s doing that. I feel like we live in times when people recognize there’s like this command performance that we all have to play humanity as a whole, certainly the nation as an orchestra together. And everyone seems absolutely steadfastly refused.
They refuse to practice their instrument themselves. It’s no one. It’s as if they’re saying, We got to play Carnegie Hall as an orchestra. But no one comes to see me play scales. That’s a waste of time. We shouldn’t play scales. In fact, we’ll just have people make better instruments, we’ll have some genius scientists make some great instruments virtually play themselves, but absolutely not play their instruments.
And they’re like, No, BP tricked us into thinking that we should play our instruments when actually we should focus on and the best way to play together is you got to learn to play your instrument yourself. I mean, I could take another you know, basketball and no one’s practicing dribbling, or free throws. And they think that somehow, but by contrast, one of my favorite videos on online is this video of LeBron James practicing, it’s an hour of him just practicing with the trainer.
It’s possibly the most boring video online. It’s just like shooting for some foul shots and some layups and maybe some stretches, and some. And except, it’d be boring, except for one thing. We’ve all seen him play, and we does a crazy spin moves and all the stuff that like makes the highlight reels, he doesn’t practice that he practices, the basics.
And the basics and sustainability is yourself living sustainably. And anyone out there who thinks but that’s deprivation, sacrifice doesn’t know them practiced. I mean, when I was a kid, I did learn to play violin. And I didn’t like it. And there were times when I was practicing my scales, tears streaming down my face. And my mom was like, play, play play. I’m like, I don’t like it. No, I can see why someone from the outset might think, Oh, if I have to live sustainably, I have to give all the best food and I have to give up all the flying and I have to give up disposable diapers and I can’t drive my SUV. And I’m not gonna get to see my family. And I’m gonna get fired from my job.
It might look like that from the outside. But there’s something about nature. And community. That’s different than like, you might like this sport and not like that musical instrument. But everyone is the big discovery, my podcast, everybody has deep, meaningful, rewarding, strongly motivating emotions about the environment.
And as long as we tell people, you have to do this or else extrinsic motivation, obligation, they’re going to we lead them to feel like, well, it’s something I want to do I have to balance sustainability with actually living my life. And here’s what happens when you actually practice it, which is why I’m practicing the basics is you realize, or I’ve realized, it’s joyful. It’s fun, it’s free.
Where do you where do you start? I mean, as somebody looking at from the outside, who doesn’t have that sustainable of a life, maybe has made some steps, but we’d like to make a bigger step. What do you what do you tell them?
In my experience, the first step really meaningfully is the mindset shift, if you’re doing it for extrinsic motivation, because you’re afraid that Bangladesh is going to be underwater, if you don’t do this, unless you’re Bangladeshi, or spend time there.
That’s abstract. I mean, through my podcast, I’ve developed what’s now called the Spodek method, which is a way to, for people to explore their connection with nature, so that they have to evoke what nature means to them, and act on what nature means to you, even if that doesn’t really make much of a different difference in the world.
Because if it’s meaningful to you, you’ll do it again. And if you do it again, and the next time will be more, and you want to share it because it’s joyful. This is leadership starts with where the other person is, not with where you are, or you think they should be. Or Eisenhower said, I’m paraphrasing, leadership is the art of getting the other guy to do your thing for his reason.
Well, if you don’t know what that person’s reasons are, if you ask me what’s what, what’s something some, some person can do, and I don’t know who that person is. I don’t know. If I just tell them to avoid straws. I don’t know straws mean anything from there or not. So it really has a…
They’ve gotta find their own thing…
Yeah, and it usually comes through I mean, as a leader as a leadership coach, leadership professor, author, I can work with someone and evoke from them one on one and that’s why my strategy is to work with CEOs and executives of major polluting companies as well as politicians and elected officials because their leverage points of systems so I can work one on one that way.
People listen to podcasts, sometimes they get the patterns. But you really have to start with where the person is. And so I recall on your one of your TED talks you were talking about what’s your sledding hill? Yeah. And for you, it was this hill in Philadelphia, where you went sledding as a kid. And now there’s rarely snow on that hill. And, you know, so that’s kind of like a basic, tangible loss in the environment that you saw. You know, yeah, that is that the beginning of the Spodek Method, where, you know, where’s your sledding hill? What’s important to you? Or what have I seen as an individual that has changed in my lifetime that’s meaningful to me? Or what kind of pollution is meaningful to me?
Because you touched on something very deeply meaningful to me. That time when I was in my kitchen, looking at my garbage, I actually thought to myself, this may end up on someone else’s sledding hill. So I’ve been back home and saw this particular hill that was very meaningful to me. And now my sledding hill is important to me.
I’ve had on my podcast, many people, I had this one guy who’s from Kazakhstan. And he talked about their Apple, apparently, I looked this up. Apparently, the Apple when humans discovered that was in with modern day Kazakhstan, or thereabouts. That’s when humans started going around the world, they found apples there. And that was very meaningful for him. And, but apple trees might not be very meaningful to other other people.
I had a guy of super hardcore Trump supporter. And when I asked him what the environment meant to him, for him in a small town, America, different for me than for others. And he lives in a small town, and we talked about big cities, they’re very polluted in his perspective. And that was a big change. For him. That was something meaningful for him. So when I evoked what those things meant to them, I could then say, based on what small town America means to you. I wonder if you I invite you to act on that. And then he will, he acted on something on small town America.
He chose to do something that was meaningful for him. In fact, he chose to recycle for the first time in his life. And he said, Okay, I’ll recycle for a month. At the end of the month. There’s a whole lot of details, but when I asked him about his experience, he really liked it. And he talked about, you know, he brought his recycling to the same recycling place, and he’s like, I got six bucks. You know, the money is not important. It’s not really money, but it’s not serious money. But it’s, it felt fun. It was good. It was easy. And I thought, and then he said this, he said, everyone should do this. And I want to repeat here, I’m not big on. I’m not big on plastic recycling. And it was mostly Gatorade bottles, he was recycling.
But I want to put out a Trump supporter said everyone should recycle. Not because he was imposing, not because we should, but because he enjoyed the experience. And he enjoyed the experience because there’s no way I could have come up with myself what he should do based on I don’t know his life.
Right, came up with it. With the proper evoking what meant something to you.
Well, you’re listening to A Climate Change. I’ve got Joshua Spodek on the show, podcast host of this sustainable life. And I want to talk to you Joshua about, you know, your role models, your heroes, when we get back and we’ll be right back in one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change, this is Matt Matern, your host. I’ve got Josh with Spodek, podcast host of this sustainable life. Check out his podcast online.
Joshua, just talking about who your role models are a number of them, for me are Terry tanaman, who was a former head of the California EPA who’s done a lot of great work here in California. They are Rex Paris, Mayor of Lancaster, here in Los Angeles County, who has taken his city to be a netzero city of about 150,000 people. Senator Ben Allen, who has been a leader on plastics legislation here in California, Leslie feel the Stanford professor who has done a lot of great work on trying to develop a technology to preserve ice, particularly on glaciers and things like that.
So you know, those are some my role models or heroes. Tell us a little bit about who your role models and heroes are?
Well, growing up the big ones that are relevant here, Nelson Mandela comes to mind as someone who’s dramatically changed culture, live by his values. More or less, the king has always been big for me, Gandhi in sustainability Do something that hit me hard was a case of where a small number of people changed a global institution forever. Were the abolitionists. And when I started learning about Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce and Equiano, and people in England, that led to England first. Making the slave trade illegal, and then slavery illegal and its empire, slavery still exists, as everyone will point out to me.
But lately, Abraham Lincoln, and the movement in the United States to abolish slavery. I mean, it’s illegal ever in the world now. And for 10, at least 10,000 years, it was normal everywhere. And that’s virtually overnight, we took something that if you asked anyone at the time that was around, I mean, we look back now with perfect clarity that that’s a terrible thing. At the time, that clearly did not exist. And there’s no question in my mind that future generations should we make it will look back at us and say, What were you guys doing for so long, polluting like crazy.
And I believe that we can see with clarity, what now we’re torn apart on that the amount of the amount that we’re polluting for comfort and convenience is just when we’re not the ones getting the comfort and the convenience, I think we consider it open shot. Then also on personal behavior, when so people don’t know I challenge myself to work after Okay, so I unplugged the apartment, I’m sorry, I stopped flying for a year. And that kept going later on, plug the fridge to see if I could live without a fridge for a while because I’ve read that how many places live without refrigeration. And as did every human being ever, up until about 100 years ago. And wash it technology made me so dependent. And that led me to unplug my apartment.
So my apartment right now is disconnected from the electric grid. And that leads me to go up and down the stairs all the time to the roof. And to where I can put the solar panels. Because I live in apartment I live in an apartment building i don’t i My cup board would never allow me to install something permanently up there. But like Teddy Roosevelt wrote, or quoted someone else, do what you can with what you got where you are. And I’m not going to wait for others governments, corporations, of course, they’re the hugest part of the solution.
But that is the that’s the end of the marathon, not the beginning. It’s the beginning of a whole other marathon. But that one was the winner on our backs. So personal action. My role models are like, you know, great athletes, and great people have really devoted LeBron James and Michael Jordan, like what I’m doing is people like “oh, you’re so extreme going up on stairs all the time.”
I’m like, that’s nothing compared to what I like to play. Even that even like a bench player on the on any sports team does way more than that. And they enjoy it, I enjoy it. I don’t enjoy. I mean, I enjoyed doing something for alleviating suffering of others. And like I say, push back on that or a just question. And I don’t know if pushing back but just questioning like, hey, you know, we’ve got to make these enormous changes very quickly. How can we we make that unless, you know, your your call to action is heated by literally billions of people, certainly 10s of millions. You know, within a very short period of time, don’t we need to have some technological breakthroughs as well.
Well, we’ve had a lot of technological technological breakthroughs that have exacerbated the problem. Starting from since well before the steam engine, which was more efficient and increased pollution. I’m sure the listeners are familiar with Jevons paradox and things like that rebound effects. And if you make a polluting system more efficient, more effective, you will pollute more efficiently and effectively. You may reduce pollution in some small area, but you’ll increase it overall.
I said earlier, very precisely how what I did. I expected things to get worse. And in exactly the places it got, I thought it would get worse, my life got better. I said that precisely for a reason. When someone is dependent on something or addicted, there’s always a pleasure attached to it. So gamblers feel like winners, people that take meth, they feel like they have lots of energy, and they do get these jolts of that pleasure. But the rest of their life, they have less of that thing. So social media addicts feel connected, but most of them if they’re actually isolated, and gamblers feel like winners, but they’re actually losing money.
Overall, alcoholics feel like they’re the life of the party, but they’re actually losing social connection. If you say to someone who’s addicted to something, consider stopping gambling consider stop taking heroin. It may seem like I live by Washington Square Park in New York. There’s a lot of heroin and crack and metal meth and fentanyl are being used there there sadly.
And if I say to one of them considered to stop taking heroin, to me, it feels like I’m saying, Look at, they’re always surrounded by garbage destroyed by other people, they’re surrounded by garbage. They’re taking great health risks. They’re throwing their lives away. That’s what it looks like to me. But from their perspective, there’s two big things.
One, it sounds like if I say consider, stop taking heroin, it feels like they’re like, but that’s euphoric. Or if it’s meth, that it gives me energy. But there’s something deeper, it also feels to them like, this is my refuge. This is something good, it’s warm, it’s like family, it’s very meaningful to me, and you want me to in a cold, harsh world, it’s, it’s brutal to me. So if I say to someone, consider flying less, to me having not flown, I’ve gone through the withdrawal phase. To me, I feel like, to me, it’s like stop polluting the world stop flying away from your family so much that you have to fly toward them again. But to them, it feels like but I like the jolt of joy when they go to a new place.
And it feels to them like I’m saying, take away your family, consider not seeing your family, again, consider losing a job, consider losing the source of warmth and comfort in a cold, hard world. And what I’m so the way that put this shortly is you tell me what you fear losing. And I’ll tell you exactly what you will gain. And it’s very hard for people to internalize this. But if you think you’re going to lose connection to family, you’ll gain more of that. If you think you’re going to lose your job, you’ll actually have more control over your career, if you think but this isn’t fair to people living on $2 a day, this actually helps them more.
And so when you say people have to get on board, the big mindset shift is to recognize this change, there will be a withdrawal period. And that will be painful. But another side of it, you won’t want to go back. I’m not asking people to give something up. It looks like that. Just like to a heroin user, getting losing heroin feels like a horrible loss. But it’s a restoration of values that we’ve jettisoned of community and the Golden Rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Well, I promised the listeners that you would be challenging them to think differently about the environment and to act differently. And so you are delivering on the promise for sure. I just call them heroin addicts.
Yeah, it’s a little challenging. But I think that, you know, those of us who are probably primarily listening to this show, are, you know, get the fact that our consumption model is excessive. And it is essentially an addictive type model that we, we want more and more and more consumption, and it, it’s like a never ending need.
And so at some point in time, that has a cost. And we’re looking at the tremendous cost of an existential breakdown in our environment, resulting from it. At what point in time do we wake up and say, enough is enough.
And not just enough is enough. But what I’m trying to convey, one of the biggest things I’m trying to convey is that it’s very easy to see the withdrawal. It’s very difficult to see past it. I mean, for a gambler, a gambler. The idea of giving up gambling feels to them, like they’re going to lose money, but they’re actually going to gain. So to get out of the the craving of the cycle of consumption that’s leading up to this pollution feels like we’re going to lose comfort, convenience. I mean, the washing machine. Isn’t didn’t isn’t that a labor saving device?
Doesn’t it free us from all that time doing all that backbreaking labor. But you mentioned I haven’t lived among, or actually spoken to indigenous people I’ve had on my podcast, many people have lived among the Kogi and the sun and the hodza and that Somani and the mod says various different indigenous cultures, they look at us and they say, Why do you guys work so hard? Why so cruel? Like the idea to them have they look at us and this, some do join us?
But many of them look at us and say you’ve lost freedom and and equality and mutual support? And what’s life about? If not, if not those things? And we look at them and feel like often but wait, what about anesthesia? And what about flying around and they know about this? I mean, enough of them know about those things that they’re choosing consciously a better life that we’ve we have access to. And I’m not saying we have to give up all these things.
Well, one of the I’ve regularly read the Tao Te Ching and one of the quotes from it is essentially at the very end of the verse And I have is that the person who hears the call of, you know, you know, a civilization or country very close to him and does not go to investigate it because they’re happy where they are. And, you know, that’s a challenging one for me because I have a bit of wanderlust as I think lots of people do to want to go visit and want to kind of expand their horizons.
But I think that quote that passage and the Tao is saying, hey, being content where you are, where you’re don’t have to go see this, see that? See the other thing? If you’re really content, those things aren’t necessary.
So you’re listening to A Climate Change, this is Matt Matern, and and I’ll be right back with my guest, Joshua Spodek, podcast host of This Sustainable Life. We’ll be right back in just one second.
You’re listening to A Climate Change, and I’ve got Joshua Spodek, who’s a podcast host, and four time TED Talk speaker.
Joshua, you know, you’ve lived a sustainable life, or you’re certainly working on that, and very, you know, very diligently and I guess I want to ask you a question about all the different technologies that are out there that are trying to work on having a more sustainable economy, I had some guests on the program, we’re in the garment business, and they’re using fabrics that are kind of sourced from reusing other fabrics and things of that nature.
And so what is it really? Is it kind of a false hope to do something like that? Or do we need to do be even more radical or change, make more radical changes in our lives to have a sustainable economy and a steady, sustainable life?
You started by saying that I’m living more sustainably than.., more definitely more than myself before. I want to clarify. Yes, I’m doing that as part of leadership exercises in order to lead people more effectively. So and also to explore the frontier to see what’s out there to see what’s possible. Because if people don’t believe it’s possible, they’re not going to try.
So if someone thinks what I’m doing, if someone thinks that what I’m doing is just about me, they’re completely missing the boat, they, you can’t lead someone to live by values that you live, the opposite of, that does doesn’t work. So otherwise, I’d have no integrity or credibility, I wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. So it’s really that’s just the table stakes. It’s just getting started. But that isn’t by no means the final end. So if someone thinks, oh, he’s just trying to do that, he’s leading by example.That’s not it.
So that’s a small piece of it. And I do enjoy exploring the frontier of what’s possible. So technology, if I were gonna go, I mean, I had on my podcast, this woman, beta, Maxine beta, who wrote about the fashion industry, and I don’t know if people seen the movie, the true cost, and it’s like, the number two pollution is fashion, something like that. If I were gonna work in fashion, the biggest thing most people a lot of entrepreneurs seem to go for, what are some new fabrics that we can use that are less polluting?
To me, it’s really, it’s not that we don’t need more sustainable things. We need less unsustainable things. How can we put the brakes on H&M and Zara and all those companies? Because the amount I think it’s something like for every shirt, they sell, they throw away 10 Or nine, something like that. That’s got to go away.
I mean, that’s that kind of that part of our culture of disposability. And I would work on how can we decrease H&M, and Zara and their peers Uniqlo more than how can we increase the more sustainable things? The big problem is the pollution and the attitude behind it.
Right. So I guess so sorry. Also, there’s this idea that fashion, it looks great. And then a month or two later or six months later or a week later? It’s horrible. Must get rid of it. So how much stuff that was like oh must get is in landfills a lot. So that philosophy of disposability. That’s something that’s what that’s the leadership.
Focus is the mindset, the role models. Not there’s an engineering thing which I do not want to take away. I fully support How can make more sustainable things. because I wear clothes, I think humans, we wear clothes. So we do need ways of making sustainable stuff. But we’ve been doing that for 300,000 years.
So that’s not a hard problem that’s been solved before, with much less technology. But how do we change the mindset so that we’re not getting stuff?
Knowing we’re gonna throw it away? All the time? Why don’t just get one pair of jeans to last you for a long, long time, instead of I think we wear jeans, the average and average of seven times that mindset, it’s kind of go. I don’t think it’s making people happier health, your ethics impoverishing people to
Right, right? Absolutely. What about we’ll switch the car industry and electric cars or hydrogen cars and you know all that, is that also a false promise? Or should we be investing billions and billions of dollars into that? Or should we just be trying to drive less?
Well, we it’s difficult for people, okay, I live in Greenwich Village, I can walk 10 minutes to get most of the necessities. And most people are saying, well, why can’t do that, Josh? Yeah, no. So I mean, in New York, I think of the Cross Bronx Expressway as like, no one likes it. It’s a big mess. It tore a community apart that was a working class community is Robert Moses back in, I think the 50s. And people built highways into cities at the time not knowing what was to come. So I don’t ascribe ill will to them.
But no one wants to live next to a highway, they want to live at the end of the highway. So over the decades, people moved out to the suburbs. And then the cities were impoverished, and the communities torn apart. Because a highway who wants to live in a community with the highway in the middle of it. It’s loud, it’s noisy, it’s polluting. So people adjusted.
So if we took the highways away, people to just and come back into the cities. Now, I’m not talking about specifically how to do it. But as long as those roads are there, people are going to drive on them. So San Francisco had this thing. Apparently, there’s some study about the Embarcadero highway, that they were like, how do we what do we do about this and some people came back and said, We should tear it down.
And people may have believed the study, but no one was going to tear down this highway and then an earthquake comes. And they realized, Okay, we got to tear it down. Because it’s, we can’t fix it. Something, there’s probably details I don’t really get but no one wants to put it back up there. Actually, it’s better without the highway, there are lots of highways, that the world would simply be better without tearing the band aid off can be painful. I don’t I’m not saying how to do it. But as long as those roads are there, people will use them.
We rewild the road. Well, I got to tell people about this podcast or video series called “Not Just Bikes,” on YouTube. And this guy who lived all over the world in different places, eventually settled in Amsterdam. And he he starts thinking, Why do I like Dutch cities so much. And you start doing a series on city planning. On what so I’m sure people know Amsterdam is full of bikes. But it’s not just bikes. They actually were gonna build highways into the middle of Amsterdam.
And the citizens protested and made it not that. And they’ve been doing decades and decades and decades of trial and error and figuring out how to make the city more livable without cars. And it’s much more accessible for old for young, for infirm for poor, for rich, and everything. I mean, they did, it took them decades, but they had no role models of taking the highways out of what I’m saying. So I’m not just saying some pie in the sky stuff. It’s happened before, deliberately, as well as accidentally with a San Francisco. But the roads have got to go.
I mean, I’m not saying politically how to do it. But as long as they’re there, they will generate pollution. And whether it’s pollution in the form of internal combustion engine exhaust, or it’s battery powered stuff. That’s the mines and the resources required for that, the minerals. But the alternative is livable cities with 15 minute plans.
I mean, I don’t know anyone who wakes up in the morning and thinks I’m gonna go watch some videos on city planning. And yet this guy gets millions of views because it’s really intriguing. So in terms of cars, we’ve got to change the system. So that the natural way to get around is not highways. And, you know, when you don’t use highways, highways are isolating, they’re polluting, they’re isolating and that you’re in a car and defensive and other cars are threatening.
And I mean, we like to think about being on the open road, but most people’s time in cars is stuck in traffic. And we’d like to think of electric vehicles or hydrogen vehicles as not polluting from the tailpipe, but they’re polluting in the manufacture in the manufacture of them. And they’re not particularly commercially viable right now, the hydrogen ones, I mean, you have one. But a bicycle and a city designed for human.
I mean, there are cities with millions of people, or at least a million people 2,000 years ago. They got all the people in and they got all the people out and all the ways down. Why is technology making us less?
Right. Yeah, I get what you’re saying. And, quite frankly, I have some experience in that model and that I moved to Venice about four years ago, Venice, California. And, you know, it’s a little bit denser than the area I used to live in. And so it’s a lot more walkable.
And so I don’t use my car, you know, probably 50% of the time, 50% of the days, I do not get in my car, maybe more. And, and it just feels actually like a luxury. I mean, if you if you told me before, that not using my car would be a good thing, I don’t think I would have completely bought it.
But now, you know, not using my car, it feels great. I mean, I don’t want to get in my car to get to drive here and drive there, it just doesn’t seem like that’s a benefit, it actually feels like, oh, that’s more stressful. It’s it’s so much nicer to just take a walk to go to wherever.
And so it is along the lines of what you had just shared or shared a number of times during the program of why you were the thing that you think is, is going to be such a difficult thing to give up actually just opens up new pathways in your life.
And, you know, it’s a fascinating journey. And I guess you don’t really experience it until you start which is also something that you shared is like, hey, just take a start. And, you know, these things will start to happen.
Great to have you on the program, Joshua.
Everybody should tune in to This Sustainable Life, Josh’s podcast and check it out, check out his TED Talks.
You can see all of our older episodes on aclimatechange.com. Check that out. Please go out and do something. Everybody volunteer to help take some small steps today. use less energy, pick up some trash, drive less. You know, fly less, consume less, and engage with people that you know on the environment and go out there and be a leader. Have a great week. Thank you for tuning in.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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