Why I’m an Eco-optimist
There’s an old joke:
An optimist says the glass is half full,
A pessimist says the glass if half empty,
An engineer says the glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
I’m an engineer so, naturally, I’m an entirely rational person who acts purely on objective evidence. Except of course I’m not, I just like to think I am. Like everybody else us engineers are irrational, fearful, illogical and we distort our perception of the world to match our inner feelings. But I do make a real effort to read both sides of an argument, if only to understand which side I am rejecting – the most depressing thing in the world is people who are so (un)sure of their worldview that they boycott newspapers who write something that challenges it.
Speaking of the press, I heard a quote attributed to Nassim Taleb yesterday along the lines of “Judging the world from newspapers is like judging a city by spending a night in its hospital emergency room” (I’m taking that on trust, Google wouldn’t cough up the original words). This reflects the fundamental rule that good news rarely if ever dominates the flow of negativity from the media. So we get the tales of gloom and doom from both sides of the green debate – the “we’re all doomed!” brigade and the “eco-loons want to impoverish us” squad. Any good news, like the fact that 25% of the UK’s electricity is now from renewables without any adverse effect on our lifestyle, passes by both groups without notice.
But it’s more than who’s right and who’s wrong – both negative points of view switch people off. Only hope can galvanise us. Martin Luther said “I have a dream” not “I have a nightmare” (as pointed out by Shellenberger and Nordhaus more than a decade ago). The people who will deliver Sustainability are not the doomsters, but those who grasp the opportunity to change, like the late Ray Anderson of Interface, Tesla’s Elon Musk or Unilever’s Paul Polman.
My influence is less than these guys, but I do my best to counterbalance the doom. As well as orienting my consultancy, training and coaching towards pragmatic solutions, I have developed the habit of seeking out and sharing good news, ideally on a daily basis. This is not because I think the sustainability challenge is trivial, but because, without hope, the challenge is impossible.