I am a self-proclaimed sustainability nerd. I’m passionate about the topic, devour all sorts of news and information about it, talk about it arguably way too much (often depressing people in the process), and love hanging out with other people equally passionate about sustainability. Which is how I found myself at a Carbonauts Sustainability Dinner Series event this week.
What are the Carbonauts?
The Carbonauts is a sustainability education company founded by Graham Hill and Meg O’Neill, founding team members of Treehugger. Treehugger was one of the original sustainability news and advice sites, which they sold to Discovery. Pretty much everything I learned about sustainability before going back to graduate school in sustainable design was from Treehugger.
The dinner series takes place around the country and pulls together 10-15 people who are interested in the topic. It’s informal -- one person gives a “micro-talk” on the topic of their choice - and the rest introduce themselves. Then people just start talking.
So what do 10 sustainability nerds talk about?
- Nuclear. Particularly when one of the attendees spent five years in the Navy on a nuclear submarine so actually knows what he’s talking about. It’s normally a contentious topic in sustainability circles, but the fusion breakthrough last year has the sustainerati, at least at this table, more favorable and optimistic.
- The Mafia. Particularly if you are trying to get the weight of your waste for your facilities in Long Island. I had never thought about the implications of having sustainability nerds all up the waste haulers business to get data they need. It had all of us laughing pretty hard.
- Eels and lobsters. Ocean warming in the Gulf of Maine more specifically and the great lobster migration, line-less traps and Right whales. Which led to a curious conversation about eel migration to the sea - and how little we know about it.
- Behavior change & big oil. Assaad Razouk’s new book, that says individual behavior change doesn’t matter, we just need to go after big oil, got some airtime. We agree with going after fossil fuel subsidies. We think telling people individual actions make no difference shows no understanding of how companies and government, which are ultimately made of people, choose to take action.
- Leadership. That conversation inevitably led to consensus that the most critical factor for whether we get the climate crisis under control is leadership. Paul Polman’s leadership as CEO of Unilever is legendary. Why aren’t there more Paul Polmans? Where’s the breakout civic leadership? The optimists say the next generation will have a lot more leaders who care. The pessimists think the short-term nature of our economic system and campaign finance laws makes it nearly impossible for that type of leadership to emerge.
It may be the magic of the Carbonaut’s invitation process, but what was most energizing about this group was the diversity for how we are involved in sustainability. We had passive home builders, sustainability journalists, entrepreneurs, corporate sustainability professionals, and people working on creating industry standards. A number of attendees had military backgrounds. Most are parents.
The dinner was a great reminder that people who go into sustainability are what my friend Koann calls “courageous optimists”. Not one person at that table believes we are on track to keep global temperatures under 1.5c of warming. And this group knows the dire social and environmental consequences of missing that number. But we choose to spend most of our waking hours trying to make a difference anyway. As one attendee said, “If it’s really bad, I just need to be able to look my kids in the eyes and tell them I did everything I could.”
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