(a bit bleary-eyed this morning – getting up at 4:50 a.m. after staying up until 12:15 a.m. watching the Nationals win Game Seven of the 2019 World Series. Hardly a sustainable lifestyle – but what a climax to a special season!)
The Washington Nationals have some advice for those of us here in DC, those of us in the Weather, Water, and Climate Enterprise, or Earth Observations, Science, and Services, or in ____________ (fill in the name of the family or enterprise or institution or group with whom you self-identify here). Or, for that matter, those of us here in the United States, or anywhere across the larger world:
Stay in the fight.
Like most good advice, this is general enough to allow broad interpretation – or, for that matter, misinterpretation.
Let’s start with the latter. There are nearly eight billion of us on the planet these days. And here’s the truth. Almost every single one of us, barring possibly the merest handful – wake up each morning and start the day hoping to make the world a better place.
We all share the same goal! And what better goal or happier circumstance could there be? But our work and our aspirations are dogged by tragedy:
Instead of embracing this wonderful reality, instead of seeing ourselves as embedded in the center of a similarly-minded, eight-billion-person support group, we think we are the tiniest minority of “the only (righteous) ones.”
In this misdirected frame of mind, we see the world as divided into us and others. We see those others as hostile to our work and goals. And we therefore see the fight as directed against those others. We divide up, take sides with respect to virtually every aspect of our lives: on the basis of politics, ethnicity, geography, gender, wealth, and values and spiritual beliefs. You name it – we can polarize ourselves on that basis. And in the process, the common, lofty goals we should be pursuing – equity, education, public health, prosperity, peace, stewardship of the planet, resilience to hazards, to list a few – fall by the wayside. We delude ourselves into thinking that shelving these larger, communal aspirations is only temporary, but after many days or months or even entire careers, if we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that what we thought we were working on we’ve really been ignoring all along – in favor of “pushing back,” against any and every other, day in and day out.
So much for the misinterpretation of stay in the fight. What then, is the fight we’re in?
It’s the fight to be our best truest selves. To help see this, let’s go back to those Washington Nationals. Ask them, give them a chance to reflect, and they’d say the Houston Astros and the remaining 28 teams in major league baseball were not the enemy. They were the community – the family, the tribe, the Enterprise (whatever label you might choose). They might be the competitors on a given afternoon or evening, but without them there wouldn’t be a game, or an industry. No, the enemy was back pain, and sore arms, and muscle spasms, and general weariness accumulating over a 162-game, seven-month season. The enemy was flagging enthusiasm, and the temptation to lose focus – to go through the motions versus give the work its due, and to lose a daily sense of gratitude for the physical and mental gifts that allow them to compete on such a high level. The enemy was self-doubt, and feelings of personal inadequacy and comparative failure. The enemy was the predisposition to shortchange teambuilding and communication in the home locker room.
Now let’s bring this closer to home, to LOTRW readership. We’re in the business of sustainable natural resource development and use (think food, energy, water). We’re in the business of building community resilience in the face of natural extremes. We’re working to protect ecosystem services and prevent environmental degradation. But the enemy is not the climate-change denier. The enemy is not the Senator or Congressional Representative from the coal-mining state. The enemy is not the big-oil corporate executive, or the neighbor who owns the gas-guzzling SUV. The enemy is not the real-estate developer building in the floodplain. The enemy is not the Indonesian or the Brazilian farmer burning the rainforest; or the fisherman dynamiting the coral reef. The enemy is not the person of a different background or income level or sexual preference. No, these are just folks we haven’t gotten to know, and come to respect and befriend, just yet.
No, for us, the enemy is something else entirely. It’s our tendency to see environmental problems as the disease we must treat (requiring that we temporarily toss our relationships with each other aside) when instead we should see environmental problems as a symptom of dysfunction in our relationships. It’s that relational dysfunction we should fight.
Here’s a prediction: If we focus only on the symptoms (if we, say, attempt to reduce CO2 emissions by imposing draconian, clearly partisan policies) we’ll fail in that effort, while the bickering lives on. But if we focus instead on reducing that portion of society we call “enemies;” if we concentrate efforts on building relationships and trust across the whole of society, not just our tiny home turf; if we embrace diversity of every kind, and insist on equity and inclusion at every step, we’ll succeed as a species. We’ll not only solve the climate change problem, but a wide range of other societal challenges as well.
So today, let’s stay in the fight – the fight to be our
best, most equitable, most inclusive selves.
 With the win, the Nationals joined elite company – the NHL Capitals and the WNBA Mystics – making D.C. the District of Champions.