When I allow myself to lapse into know-it-all-ism, it is a mistake. In fact, I don't know the answers to this catastrophe that threatens our health, happiness and security as it depends upon our planetary habitat.
And I've never met anyone else who knows the answers either.
What I hope to do with this blog is not to impart answers so much as to pose questions and to encourage you to believe that you have a part in answering them.
The problem is complex. It's local, regional and global. It's related to the habits of individuals and the practices of large corporations. It has to do with changing laws and changing lifestyles. It has to do with rich people and poor people.
Let's call it a distributed problem. You've heard of distributed computing, right? Where a huge calculation is broken down into smaller tasks and sent to networked personal computers all over the world?
Our habitat problem is like that. We need a distributed solution that looks at every aspect of how we live and how we're governed. The problem is broken down into small tasks depending on what your life situation is. Each of us are like those personal computers with a small part of the task to complete.
What is your task?
Please hold onto that question. Never let my so-called expertise or anyone else's lull you into believing that you need not keep trying. Please keep asking. Please come up with solutions. Post them here. More and more and more answers.
Most importantly, demonstrate them in real life, out of the blogosphere. In real life. Try them out.
Riding my rickshaw on the bike lane on 9th Street on Thursday, the traffic was stopped and a car pulled to my left and overtook me by speeding along the parking lane and then swerving back out and through the bike lane, brushing my front tire.
I was fine, but he could have killed me. A bucket-load of adrenaline hit my bloodstream. He scared me so badly that I shook.
A red light stopped him up ahead and my adrenaline--read fight or flight weighing heavily towards fight--sped my bike up. I swerved my rickshaw in front of his car so he couldn't move and started shouting.
I'm not a shouter, by the way, but I attracted a circle of people standing around to watch.
I'm not even sure what I screamed but something like "you nearly killed me" and "I'm going to call the police" and I waved my cell phone in the air like a crazy person.
He said, "Go ahead and call the police." He crossed his arms across his chest defiantly.
Then I shouted, with swear words I don't write on the blog interspersed, "I don't actually want to call the police. I just want you to apologize. I want you to realize that you nearly killed me so you could get somewhere five seconds faster."
Then another bicycle rides by. I shout at the man, "Do you want to kill him, too? Why don't you just kill everyone. Is your rush so important to you?"
I'm not saying I wasn't out of control because, well, I was definitely out of control.
But then the most amazing thing happened. Suddenly, the man walked back out into the street and he touched my arm and he said, "You're right. I wasn't thinking. I did a bad thing. It's the job. I'd lose my job if I didn't rush..."
I was still a crazy man. "Your job! You think your job is more important than my life?"
"You're right," he said. "We are both immigrants," he said. "We should be kind to each other, and I was not kind. Please will you shake my hand and give me forgiveness."
And my heart broke open a little. I am not an immigrant, as he thought, but I am, like him, a human being. Suddenly I realized that he lived his life in fear. If he lost his job, how could he pay his bills? If he couldn't pay his bills, how could he stay in the country?
"Will you shake my hand?" he said.
"I have a daughter, you should know," I said.
At that moment, I looked in his eyes and knew that he really understood what had happened. "I am sorry, my friend," he said.
"Will you be more careful of bicyclists from now on?"
"Yes," he said.
And we shook hands. We shook hands as friends.
This environmental thing is so much more complicated than it appears at first glance. Just take this case of my near miss on the bike.
More bicycles on the road would mean fewer cars, fewer CO2 emissions, cleaner air for us to breathe and an altogether better city to live in.
But people are scared to ride their bikes because of crazy drivers. Suppose it turns out that, in part, people are crazy drivers because they are scared to lose their jobs and get kicked out of the country.
In other words, if we want a culture where it's safe to ride bikes, we may also have to find a way to make it safe to drive slow for low-wage workers.
Unkindness to people begets unkindness to the habitat we depend upon for our health, happiness and security.
Kindness, though, begets kindness. If we want people to be kind to the habitat, might we have to find a way for our culture to be kinder to people?
I don't know the answers. You have to find the answers. We all have to find the answers. This is a distributed problem. It needs distributed solutions.
There is a part of the close-call incident that I left out. It's crucial. It has to do with finger-pointing and wanting everyone else to be different and blaming the politicians on the other side and not being aware of my own part in the problem.
Here's what it is:
When the delivery man pulled to my left and began overtaking me, I registered the fact that, at the speed he was going, he was either going to stop when he arrived at the parked car ahead or potentially clip me on the way out. I made a split second decision not to brake.
I thought, "If he's going to drive that way, well, he's just going to have to stop when he gets up there." It's a little hard to explain without drawing a diagram, but you get it right? On some level, I anticipated the potential for trouble.
In other words, though the near-brush with fate was, legalistically-speaking, his fault, I could have avoided it if I had more presence of mind and was clearer. If I had been willing to be kind at that moment.
What I'm saying is, for all my shouting in the street. I had a part to play.
What is my part?
Drill, baby, drill, they say, but how do I contribute to the atmosphere in which they can say that and get away with it?
How is it that I--we--have not got the message across about what is happening to our habitat to our friends and fellow citizens whose concerns may lead them to vote differently than us? Have we played a part in creating the us and them mentality?
This is the bike lane, I thought. You have no right to weave in and out of the bike lane, I thought. I will stand my ground, I thought.
I am in a rush, the driver thought. How can you expect to me to slow down, the driver thought? I could lose my job, the driver thought. Is it too much for me to expect you to let me pass you so I can earn a living and stay in the country that is my new home?
Which of us is right? Whose concerns are more important? The driver's or the biker's? The people who are worried about climate change or the people who think, without drilling, gas prices will keep their kids from being able to get to their jobs?
We have to talk. We have to listen. I have to keep my own side of the street clean. I must understand that we are all one. I must practice the kindness that I preach. I must create conditions where meaningful dialog can take place. Old-fashioned politics may no longer work.
How can that man keep his job without driving the bicyclists off the streets? Where are the solutions that work for everyone? What part can I play in finding the solutions that cater to the many concerns? How can I put down my anger and pick up my compassion?
They say the intellect is humankind's greatest faculty. It's what separates us from the animals.
I don't believe that.
I believe humankind's greatest faculty is the ability to love.
What a tremendous opportunity we have to make a wonderful society for ourselves, one that we build together.
The crisis is no more than a big reason to focus on the opportunity.
When it comes to this glorious opportunity, I don't know the answers, but I do believe that if we all work on it together, we can do find them.
There is no easy preset course.
Day by day, maybe we could all hold this question, "How can I help?" Maybe we could hold this question and live with the ambiguity of the fact that the answer will change and change and change again before we get there.
It's not as simple as imposing our morality. Nor is it not something we can outsource to the politicians (though they do, of course, have a huge role to play).
This is a battle for hearts and minds.
So what do we do? How do we start? What's today's next step?
And tomorrow, we must begin again.
Colin Beavan (that's me!) is now leading a conversation about finding a happy, helpful life at Colinbeavan.com. If you want to know how people are breaking out and and finding authentic, meaningful lives that help our world, check it out the blog here and sign up to join the conversation here.