“Only two more disks to go,” was how I met the disapproval of my father in a perky voice after he peaked into my bedroom at 2 AM. The year was 1993, and following a series of irrational decisions, I had formatted the hard drive and began reinstalling the operating system on my computer awaiting the next screen prompt to “Please insert disk 12 of 14.” It was a self-imposed problem between me and a high school paper I would finish. My late night lessons of computer literacy were employed by adolescent mischievousness on more than one occasion as I accompanied my mother on shopping errands, roaming the consumer aisles, inevitably gravitating towards the latest computers on sale where I would say to myself: “This one has a fast processor, nice video card for gaming... lots of RAM, lame mouse... let me try the keyboard: ‘format c:’,” and POOF
Two years ago, my typical morning was to commute together with strangers in fancy cars above blue shadows of morning light. I would exit highway 280 into Palo Alto and ease my foot off the accelerator, my gaze lingered on the grazing horses covered in blankets, outlined against a bright sky, steam rising from their breath. Taking a right turn, I peer sideways at the crooked wandering branches of coast live oak drenched in golden light, shrouded by moss and wisps of lichen probably older than Palo Alto herself. My front windows lowered, I invite the sweet summer scent of dew drenched golden grass as my thoughts traversed memories and images of unknown valleys and peaks I had traversed in the Sierra Nevada of my youth. These memories rooted and strengthened me to endure at a Silicon Valley tech job, where I commanded a powerful salary, received 5 figure bonuses, and corporate discounts. My father approved and each financial quarter of the year, together with thousands of other people with soft fingers and mute clothing, I got up and left the sterile workplace and gentle whirr of computer fans to attend an ‘all hands’ meeting at the gymnasium while still others attended remotely from across the globe. I was informed that we were revolutionizing information technology and yet I remain skeptical because that sweet morning dew was quietly fueling a revolution of its own.
Climate change is our self-imposed problem and if I were still a technologist of our Technopoly, I would reformat consumer culture and reinstall the operating system. But our climate change problem is not a technical problem, it is a social problem. I don’t believe there is anything human or sustainable about today’s pace of life, consumerism, or economic measures of progress. Today, I believe in the seasons and the sweet morning dew and I strive to be a "slow father" of three magical children. Neil Postman writes, in The Disappearance of Childhood, that "resistance [to our modern age] entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture," and I couldn’t agree more.
Two years ago and a few months after my third child was born, my wife Sharon returned to work and we hired a full time nanny while our income tax bracket rose above 30%. Each night, we would return home to tired crying children and perhaps bribe them through bathing, breaking bread, and bedtime. Each night, Sharon and I attempted to reconnect but often ended up at each other’s throats. When our nanny was found smoking on the porch, I drew the line and quit my job.
Climate change and the environment has long been a concern of mine, however, it wasn’t until I slowed down that I began to understand the urgency. Forget recycling, electric cars, and over-population: George Monbiot declares escalating consumption our most serious problem and I whole heartedly agree. So, lets be critically honest about what those terawatts of energy powering our planet are used for. How long does my cell phone last? Do I need another pair of shoes? Shall I bike there? Does my child need more toys? Is it important to ship carbonated soft drinks across the globe? We’re all in this together, so let us not be led astray into finger pointing at countries with rising emissions such as China or India and instead mindfully resolve to dissolve the carbon footprint of our imported goods. In the powerful video below, Dr. Saul Griffith, an inventor living in San Francisco, brings the urgency and scale of action into stark perspective as he audits our world’s energy demands and proposes to repurpose the incredible manufacturing achievements of our consumer culture into something a little more sensible.
I ponder the families at my daughter’s elementary school: Do they have the capacity to change the odds of our climate dilemma? Is there space beyond their loved ones, their vacation plans, their daily affairs, organized sports, fancy cars, and large American homes?
I will change the odds. This year, I begin leading handfuls of parents through a reading of Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne. The book is about the extraordinary power of less and how important it is for the health of children and families. Payne gives parents the strength and courage to say no to "too much stuff, too many choices, and too little time". He advocates simplicity in our schedules, our meals, and our home environment. The book is an embrace of humanity that is nothing short of an act of rebellion against consumer culture. I first read the book shortly after I quit my job and the incremental adjustments have been transformational. In shutting the door on consumer culture I have opened the door to healthy joyful relationships and family unity. I witness how compassion, connection, confidence, and intention now radiate outwards beyond family infecting my community and my world. This has everything to do with climate change because by slowing down, we return home to our senses and renew the rhythms of life and gather strength. It is from here that we may tap our innate courage and the foster a capacity for action, to mend our fuel-ish ways and ultimately alter the odds of our climate dilemma.
I am hopeful and grateful because each day I witness my children fill their goblets of life with new experiences. And each day, through rhythm and simplicity, I help them to empty their goblets and come to rest like stones in a field, so that the next day, they can return to the world with curiosity and wonder, presence and heart to refill their goblets and partake of sweet morning dew.