Thursday, February 24, 2011

What It Is.

When I first started getting into “sustainability,” I didn’t want to accept the inevitable changes it suggests. That we can’t drive gas-guzzling SUV’s, that we actually are changing the climate of our planet, that resources are dwindling, that every living system on earth is in decline, mostly due to human activity. It is such a bummer of a story, and at first, it feels so limiting. I felt like someone was suddenly telling me, “No, you can’t do all of that fun stuff that you’ve always wanted to do, because its bad for everyone and everything on Earth, including you!”

How, if I was to accept that statement, was I supposed to go on desiring to drive a fast sports car, fly around the world, buy the coolest computer, sell my image on TV, be enthusiastic about any new project that requires large amounts of electricity, resource extraction, water, or other polluting, emitting or otherwise harmful activity? It is a suppressing thought. My whole life, up until that moment, I had been expanding possibilities in my mind. I can do anything. My parents and teachers and society had always supported that idea. I was going to be a famous actor, that’s why I moved to Los Angeles. I was going to be rich, and live in a huge house wired with the latest, coolest everything. And then, somehow, with help from an amazing woman with whom I spent perhaps the 5 most formative years of my life, I discovered this reality about how all of the amazing, incredible stuff that I was obsessed with as a kid is hurting natural systems everywhere. The cool cars and space exploration and lasers and loud music and computers and gadgets that got faster and more capable every day…they’re all the problem. That’s what I felt this new way of looking at things was telling me. All the coolest stuff that I loved and spent a significant amount of my life planning around, buying, interacting with, gaining knowledge of and playing with was the enemy.

Now, no one came straight out and said that. My girlfriend at the time may have gotten close at some point, and she was probably the biggest ball-buster of anyone I knew who was involved in that movement, but she had a fabulous soft-side as well. And that’s what kept me with the movement, was the soft-side of all the people involved. There was so much love in the community that I found through caring about what was going to happen to the earth and all the people and plants and animals on it. All of our gatherings and celebrations and get-togethers and even the meetings and workshops were just filled with love. Every tea break and afternoon walk and meal and new idea and post-dinner massage circle was simply brimming with positive feelings for everyone else in the group. Sure there were disagreements between individuals, and larger disagreements about the big-picture, long-term structure of the organization we were building, but those all faded away at dinner time. We knew deep in our hearts that we were doing the right thing, based on an inevitable, somewhat grim reality and we loved each other for truly trying our hardest to make it better.

Looking back, I can see now - love was my main role in that organization. The only scheduled session I ever actually led in my 3+ years of involvement was some team-building activities. They went over well, and other than that, I helped with a lot of group hugs, individual hugs, and help in the kitchen. I still am not a meetings kind of guy. And truth be told, it took a really long time for me to be convinced that it was all worth the effort.

Harkening back to those same feelings I had when I first realized, “oh shit, I think these sustainability people are right, and that really sucks for all of the stuff I had planned.” I started caring, consciously, and trying to find my place in the “lets do something about it” camp. It was not long before I knew, deep down, that the environmentalists and the environmental justice advocates and the peace-lovers were right. The way modern western society treats the Earth and the living things on it will have to stop, whether in crisis or mediated by the forces of people like us. The way things are is un-sustainable. It cannot go on. The Earth and its living systems and limited natural resources simply will not be able to support our ever-growing demands for energy and raw materials. For a long time, I did not want to know this. I actually wished that I had not discovered it so that I could go back to my blissfully ignorant existence. I felt as if someone had pulled me out of the matrix, but I had been perfectly happy within it.

At some point, I just couldn’t go back to the ignorant bliss that I had genuinely had before then. I knew that someone had to change the status quo, and that I wasn’t going to be caught standing on the sidelines, wondering which way the ball would go. Taking up the sustainability cause is hanging out with the underdog team. I was waiting for a pass, but the team figured out quickly when I first got involved in the sustainability policy-change game, that my ball-handling skills were mediocre at best, and when the ball was passed to me, I passed it back. I let others kick it hard toward the goal. I left that job to those who had gone beyond clinging to whatever dreams and plans they had before they had discovered the truth about the world, those who had already been involved for several years under their own steam, and were uniting now to take this new team to greater heights.

After my first heavy dose of reality, in the form of taking the Education for Sustainable Living Program (ESLP) class at UCLA during my last year there, my mind was convinced. My heart, however, still held onto my childhood dream of becoming an actor. In high school, I enjoyed nothing more than getting on stage, getting into character, and doing my damndest to convince people that I was someone else. I was good at it, I enjoyed it, and I felt I could make a good life pursuing it. So after graduating UCLA with a degree in Psychology, I reverted back to my original goal, and got myself an agent, a manager and started going on auditions. In order to tie in my newly discovered “sustainability” reality with my previous dreams, I convinced myself that I would use my fame, once achieved, to influence people to save the Earth! Unfortunately, the realities of life and of Hollywood were more than I could take. The first two auditions that I was sent on by my new agent were for McDonalds and Coca-Cola. The biggest, baddest, least healthy, most money-wasting, consumer-promoting advertisers who’s products I detested and represented every aspect of un-sustainable living I could think of. The enemy!
Confused about how I was supposed to maintain my principles in this situation, I eventually decided that I had to make a drastic change, and I took a job helping teenagers in the wilderness. And my life has changed forever.

In the past few months, I’ve been hanging out with a new love. She has again changed the way in which I see the world, and thankfully, re-opened doors for me that I thought had been shut for a long while. The dreams that I had as a youth of driving fast cars and fame and fortune were, I believe, what I genuinely wanted at that time. I want different things for myself now, like a supportive network of good friends, meaningful work, a healthy lifestyle, to be a good father. But I’ve also realized that I didn’t have to shut down my dreams just because they appeared to be at odds with sustainable living. It is possible, through creativity, to have it both ways..
Spending time in a community of artists has been eye-opening in many ways. I met many people who spend huge amounts of time thinking meticulously about the abstract, the imaginary, and the improbable. Coming up with things that straight up don’t exist, manifesting them into realities, and being fluid with that process. I take sustainability, and the future of humans on this Earth, incredibly seriously. I really spend vast amounts of time thinking about the big-picture, long-term problems and solutions, and it often causes me great stress. I’ve realized through my recent mingling with the arts community, that my approach to these problems has been entirely too rational. While the solutions to many of the problems we have created already exist, perhaps the greatest solutions have yet to be dreamt of. And more importantly for me, love is what has drawn in everyone that I know to the sustainable front, and creative, loving solutions are what it is going to take to draw in the rest of humanity.

Because of the seriousness of situations like global climate change (having just seen floods in Australia with my own eyes, I feel very aware), I often feel like the weight and urgency of these problems is so great that I just have to stop thinking about them entirely, or I’ll be drowned in the hopelessness of either their dire consequences, or the amount of work its going to take to fix them. I am now just beginning to embrace a new way of thinking, to incorporate the irrational, the improbable, the beautiful and the loving into solutions that also make genuine, physical differences to ‘matter & energy’ problems (such as green house gas emissions, toxic pollutants, etc.). When I look back, it seems as though this approach is exactly where I started, but through the years, as my knowledge of the depth and breadth of the change necessary to lift us out of our current situation grew; my approach grew more serious, more business-like and less open to creative, loving, irrational solutions. Since everyone I’ve met in both the sustainability and in the arts world are open-minded, loving people interested in dynamic, original ideas, I feel like this is an amazing new perspective.

A question that I continue to ask myself is how to get all the folks who are where I was before ESLP to where I am now, in terms of knowledge and desire to make real, lasting change. How can I help people to know that our modern, western, wasteful lifestyle is on its way out, and encourage them to join me in coming up with what will take it’s place in the future? It is ironic that I keep asking myself this question, as it is really other people whom I need to be asking. This is a big part of my motivation for the bicycle trip that I’m planning starting in June. I strongly believe that real, lasting change will be from the bottom up as well as from the top down, but that it has to start in the hearts and minds of the people. Once there is truly a change in the mind-set and values of Americans and other G20 countries, the world will follow. Now, it is time for me to take the ball. I’ve got my eye on the goal, and I’m ready to kick that ball hard in the right direction. The reality of sustainable living is my future, and I’m getting started with a bicycle tour around the US, to learn and live and love. Lets collaborate!

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