Stress homeostasis

Overall, we are each about as stressed out as we were ten years ago.
I call this stress homeostasis. Our general stress levels, and inversely our satisfaction levels, vary about a baseline that stays more or less consistent (without deep work on the self).
If you think about it (or are foresighted enough to keep a personal journal), the individual stressors of people, places, and instances come and go, but at the core we hover around a baseline level of stress. In school it may have been the big test coming up and at work it could be the big project our boss reminds us is super important, but these are just the superficial. Once that particular thing is over the next stressor swoops in to occupy our worriment.
We will tend to justify why THIS time our stress is REALLY rational. After all, we are older and have more serious responsibilities. “I may have been stressed and depressed and anxious in high school but now I’m an adult so this version of despair is deserved. This time it is justified.”
But it’s actually stress homeostasis. We graduated from high school stress into adult stress. The things we point to to explain ourstress have changed but underneath it is the essentially the same anxieties.
With consistent awareness, practicing gratitude, and working to expand our perspectives, I think we can shift our baselines towards a less-stressful place. Gradually.
Be happy today because tomorrow you’ll justify your new stress as legitimate and today’s worries as foolish.

On death and taxes

The old adage goes, “Nothing is sure in life except death and taxes.”

But these words are titles or umbrella terms for a host of definitives.

Death means loss, pain, aversion, sorrow, despair, insincerity. Even new beginnings have an implicit root in death.

And taxes span the constructions of human orderliness. We need systems and procedures to operate so we invented government. We need taxes to sustain this orderliness. However, with each iteration that government swells and eventually collapses under the weight of its infrastructure. Then the process begins again with a new birth of orderliness. Humans pick up the pieces and start over, as we are wont to do.

So really what death and taxes both are are a form of entropy. A decent into disorder, chaos.

Nothing is sure in life except entropy. Nothing is sure except disorder and chaos.

Happy new year.

Going negative.

In my job in the company I work for I received “business development” training. Basically it is sales techniques.

If you had not noticed, the United States just elected Donald Trump as its next President. I can legitimately say that a good many people are REVOLTED. Truly upset and scared for their freedoms, their friends, and even their lives.

I do think a lot of this is overblown and it is easy to become panicked. It is always important to note that it really is never as bad as we make it out to be in the beginning.

And then a principle from my business development training hit me. It teaches that when a prospect gets negative on you, instead of trying to swing them back to cheerful by being extra positive, you go even more negative than them. You’re not extinguishing the fire, you’re helping them build it. Taken by surprise, the prospect wants to achieve equilibrium and will take the conversation to positive for you. They will extinguish the fire that you helped create.

Maybe this is what Donald Trump will do.

He’s taking us negative as negative can get. In our horror, we will then strive to achieve the balance. We will go positive instead, maybe bringing some more mindful kindness to our day-to-day. Maybe accepting the office of the president is bereft of a role model for our communities and forcing us to be that character example instead.

This is the crux of it; with lack of leadership at the top, it falls on individuals to lead by example. Maybe progressives got lazy when the nation elected its first black President who fought for equity, healthcare, and climate action. Now with the last eight years’ progress threatened, the progressives are forced to self-organize, build stronger alliances, and work hard together.

This is a real coming of age moment for people who feel as if the nation is about to take a few big steps backwards. Quit chanting in the streets and double down on your efforts to bring as much personal change to the world as you can.

Donald Trump is taking us negative. But to swing the pendulum back the American people will have to go positive.

Let’s Make America Lemonade Again

“I’m absolutely stunned right now”

I woke up to those words in a text message from my social media defunct friend. He had woken up to what many thought was a real impossibility.

Having stood at the White House at 2AM that morning I already had the news. The scene was a congregation of strictly Millennials. A select few smirked with their “Make America Great Again” red snapbacks. One guy in his hat climbs a small tree and waves with mock humility. He assumes a Jesus on the cross pose.

A “Fuck Donald Trump” chant erupts and a group of Hillary supports hold vigil with their signs. There is overt sadness.

The majority were despondent. I can’t remember a time I’d seen faces so blank. People could just not compute.

The morning was damp and cloudy. My own response to my friend’s text set the tone:

“I feel hollow”

Grabbing a coffee at Panera I turn my head to the stranger next to me and remark “We live in a new world.”

With just the kind of “hey, shit happens” optimism I needed this morning, he’s quick to reply. We need to keep the faith, he reminds me.

“This doesn’t lessen my diligence and it doesn’t lessen my vigilance.”

He points to his tea, “See these lemons? Take ’em and make lemonade, ya know?”

Yeah, man. I do. Thanks.

We need bigger charts

*This article was written as a Letter to the Editor at The Washington Post in reference to the online article “This is how an ‘off-the-charts’ flood ravaged Ellicott City.”


Climate change is here with us today. It is not the epic worldwide catastrophe that global warming can sometimes be described as. Rather, it often takes its form in quick snapshots of chaos such as the biblical flooding Saturday night in Ellicott City.

Scientists warn us that as concentrations of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere continue to rise, so will the occurrence of natural disasters such as flash-flooding. Essentially, this thousand-year rainfall event covered in the August 1st article, “This is how an ‘off-the-charts’ flood ravaged Ellicott City”, is becoming way more normal.

In the 21st Century, our beloved townships with their historic districts and quaint Americana are vulnerable to a stranger and more temperamental climate. We already know that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to mitigate further climate change. Simultaneously, however, our cities and infrastructure also must adapt to climate impacts. We are responsible for making them more resilient to once uncommon weather events that are becoming far likelier.

This climate challenge is a climate opportunity, however. Creating resilient cities puts Americans to work and fosters an inclusive sense of community. Yet still, we must be realistic about where we stand among the facts of a new and unruly climate.  As we experience more and more “off-the-charts” storms, let’s get real and draw up new charts. And new city plans while we are at it.

Changing Climate Change – How I Discovered My Importance

It’s 5am and I arrive at Warsaw Chopin Airport in Poland on zero hours sleep. My body is electrified yet tired from the previous week. I had won a scholarship to observe the annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Warsaw, Poland during my first semester of graduate school at American University. I had just bore witness to the ultimate decision making process: how much global warming will humanity allow?

An overpriced airport latte calls to me, but I refrain in order to sleep on my flight back to the US. I grab a sandwich instead and walking back to my over-packed and overweight camping backpack, I recognize the delegate from Singapore sitting at the gate next to mine. Singapore is part of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) at the UNFCCC. They have banded together with other small, low-lying nations to leverage their influence as a bloc rather than as individual countries without much gravitas. Essentially, these countries have contributed the least amount of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) that are driving our warming planet yet are experiencing a disproportionate share of the negative impacts.

I stall for a moment, but decide to go over and introduce myself. What have I got to lose?

He is kind, obviously tired, yet happy to speak with me. Delegates such as this man are running on almost no sleep at these conferences during the final few days. They are working on drafting an all-encompassing international agreement to limit the worst of climate change. The world was watching with great anticipation in 2009 when the first all-inclusive agreement was supposed to be struck, but the negotiations came to a standstill when none of the world’s largest economies, such as the USA or China, stepped up with truly ambitious GHG emission reduction goals. The conference ended with a fog of disappointment hanging heavy among the attendees. The UNFCCC regrouped in 2011, and set 2015 as the deadline for finalizing this new agreement.

All this was freshly acquired knowledge for me. That first semester I was blown away to learn that there is an international body with their hands on the global thermostat, that the decisions being made are not how to avoid climate change, but how much of it we are going to induce. See, at the highest level, no one is debating if anthropogenic global warming is happening. Countries know it is, but doing something about rustles the feathers of the big time fossil fuel companies that buy legislative influence. But that’s a story for another post.

The several months of preparation in class for the conference lead to a crystallization of a cynical thought once I experienced the real thing; these conferences are deciding the fate of the world. These people are negotiating how degraded we will allow life sustaining processes to become. It is simply a diabolical thought. All of these considerations are in my head, but I try to keep it polite and simple so I ask if Singapore got what it wanted at this meeting.

The big governments gave more than they wanted to, the small governments got less than they asked for, he explains. It is all about compromise, he says with a rock solid patience he must have developed from years of working in the field of climate negotiations.

Our conversation seems fairly on message, but then he said something that I will never forget. He looks at me and says, “It’s important for you to be here. You young people put the spotlight on us, hold us accountable. Without that we would have no one to answer to.”

My flight takes me back to Washington DC and my good friend Greg picks me up. I proceed where my life left off; homework, catching up with friends, more homework. It takes several weeks and months for me to process the time I spent in Poland and my encounter with the delegate from Singapore.

I recognize that I am an outlier. I decided to go the graduate school and study Global Environmental Politics because to me, climate change is the biggest and scariest challenge we face as a species. I have been warned not to use this alarming rhetoric, but it is the truth of how I feel. A student of the physical sciences, I understand we cannot escape cause and effect. By filling our air with GHGs for the last 300 years there is simple physics and chemistry we cannot escape. Bill McKibben said it best, “It’s not that the scientists are alarmists – it’s that the science is alarming”.

But I am a trained optimist. There is always a joke waiting inside defeat, always a space to express gratitude. So I have met the climate change problem and have come to see it instead as a challenge. Because a challenge can either be a problem or an opportunity. Al Gore has described climate change as the greatest opportunity ever afforded to mankind. Indeed, responding to climate change is qualitatively uncharted territory for humans. What climate change means to me is an opportunity for cooperation, innovation, and a consideration of equity on a global scale.

And here is where I hear the voice of the delegate from Singapore ringing in my head. Indeed, there is no one person, entity, or government that will be held accountable if these negotiations fail. There is comfort in acknowledging that some of the best on-the-ground work being done to combat climate change is at the local and regional scale. However, without the international rules of the road the UNFCCC is meant to set, we are setting the Earth up for a crash.

But the real power is in the citizens who hold our governing processes accountable. By being active participants in our governments, by voting, by staying up to date on new laws, by joining organizations like Citizens Climate Lobby and Sierra Club, by attending town hall meetings on environmental legislation, by sharing information in person and on social media, we each can effect change that makes a difference.

To me climate change means we must take the next step as individuals in modern society struggling with the burden of climate change. We are afforded a great opportunity to extend ourselves beyond our single lives to challenge the climate challenge. We are a global community and we have global responsibilities.

I haven’t seen my friend from Singapore since that November morning in 2013, but his words have not left me. And I hope you now can be equally enlivened by his message: everyone makes a difference. Bodies at a rally, names on a petition, and shares on social media all add up. Our actions are not lost to oblivion, but add to an inertia. So add your action, whatever it may be.

You don’t need to fly to Poland to take on climate change, but you can at least share this post.

Spencer Schecht: Navroz Dubash visits SIS

Global Environmental Politics

Written by Spencer Schecht (NRSD Class of ’15)

On the sunny morning of February 2nd, a group of SIS faculty and students met on the American University campus with Navroz Dubash, one of the world’s preeminent scholars of Global Environmental Politics, to discuss the state of play of environmental challenges in his home country of India.

Dubash suggested that India finds itself at a crossroads of energy, pollution, and poverty alleviation.

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