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How To Do Something

At the risk of turning the Switch site into Climate Book Club, I did recently have the chance to spend a couple weeks out of the office and on a much-needed vacation. Generally on these trips I'll take one fiction, one non-fiction, and supplement that with grabbing Monocle magazine from the first newsstand I come across with one (I can somehow only bring myself to read Monocle when I'm in Europe, though who that says more about I don't know).

The non-fiction selection this time was Jenny Odell's How To Do Nothing, a series of meditations on, in no particular order, the attention economy, gentrification, bird watching, our relationship with the natural world, indigenous wisdom, and how we relate to each other (I may be missing something). For a book as widely available as it is I still somehow managed to go in not knowing what to expect, and what gets revealed over 5 essays and 200-odd pages is not just a series of meditations on modern life, but something akin to a silver thread that offers some semblance of direction to anyone interested in following.

One idea Odell returns to throughout the book takes place in a rose garden in Oakland, near where she lives. She starts going there during the 2020 pandemic as a means of getting some time alone. She soon realizes though that she isn't alone, she's surrounded by birds and other wildlife. This starts her down the path of learning the sounds of different birds, learns to recognize them, and builds maybe not a friendship but certainly a mutual understanding that extends to two crows that hang out next to her home.

Inevitably, I began to wonder what these birds see when they look at me. I assume the just see a human who for some reason pays attention to them...And through them, I am able to inhabit that perspective, to see myself as the human animal that I am, and when they fly off, to some extent, I can inhabit that perspective too, noticing the shape of the hill that I live on, and where all of the tall trees and good landing spots are. I noticed that some ravens live half in and half out of the Rose Garden, until I realized that there is no "rose garden" to them.

I was thinking about this in the aftermath of NY Climate Week. It's a lousy use of time to lament the need for such a thing, so instead I got to musing on our pals at Ethic and the work they are doing to try and turn nature into an asset class. As gross an idea as it may seem initially, I think it's actually an ingenious way to get the attention of the people whose minds we need to sway. My friend Craig at Collaborative Fund has long said that while they invest for good, part of their criteria is that someone who was only motivated by making money would still want to invest due to the quality of the idea, team and execution.

When efforts like this succeed, they will have the same impact Odell talks about. As we protect more land and re-wild other parts of our planet, we will increasingly stop seeing the borders between the rose garden and the neighborhood, and get back to seeing it holistically for what it is: the natural world.

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