On Not Giving In to Green Burnout, Part II

Do Something About It

We have to do things. We don’t have any more time for endless equivocation, analysis, or critique. It’s mind-bogglingly important to do things that matter and that don’t just perpetuate the system, but we need to realize that we’re not going to do everything right every time. We’re going to mess up, but we need to understand that failure is inevitable and good in a sense because A) It means we’re at least doing something and B) Failure is how we learn. We need to be failing a lot, quickly, smartly.

This to me implies a different attitude to failure than the dominant one.

Success is an Iterative Process

I sometimes hear people say “We know what we need to do, it’s just hard getting everyone on board.” This is wrong.

We don’t know what we need to do.

We do know that we need to do something, and we have some ideas for things we need to try. But all we’ve got is the first steps of an idea of a civilization that won’t destroy itself. We might be totally wrong — what ends up actually working might end up looking totally different from anything anyone is currently imagining. But we won’t know for sure until we actually start doing those things and observing those failures.

This article (thanks Neil!) doesn’t depress me. Why? Because you can’t fail at something unless you are DOING something. Germany is clearly doing something. They are discovering all the ways in which their well-intentioned projects are sucking, failing at their original intent, and otherwise not working.

We can’t look at this and say “Oh my god, we’re failing, we’re wrong, our task is impossible and we’re totally doomed.” Failure is learning. Failure is adaptation and iteration. It’s part of the process of tuning complex systems towards smooth operation.

Successful failure requires open mindedness and the humility to recognize that we aren’t as smart as we think we are, that reality is vastly more complex than we’ll ever be able to model, and that unexpected things will happen.

Attitudes that are intolerant and harshly critical of failure contribute to burnout and hopelessness. A lot of us have this idea that we need to be perfect. We need to work on perfectly green or socially just projects, that all our innovative ideas need to pan out.

Things don’t work that way though. We need to embrace the complexity of reality, be honest about how things are working, and move on.

The caveat to is that we can’t be okay with compromise. We need to aim for purely ecological, regenerative, non-destructive, socially just infrastructures, systems, and relationships, and not be okay with working on bullshit greenwash projects. What we do need to be okay with is honest failure and then have the courage to be open about our failures, discuss them, critique them, learn from them, teach from them, and then implement the lessons we learn in the next project.

Think. Do. Reflect. Repeat. Don’t get stuck in any one part of that.

4 Responses to On Not Giving In to Green Burnout, Part II

  1. Excellent !!!

    And on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking, the words of James Cameron are to be heeded:


    If you are okay with it I would like to point readers of our website to your two burnout articles …

  2. Neil says:

    Love the post! failure is how we learn the most in a situation.

  3. Mark Walpole says:

    “reality is vastly more complex than we’ll ever be able to model”

    Intense personal experience verifies this for me in a way that nothing scientific EVER will. The idea of a truly scientific socialism seems absurd to me for that reason alone. I didn’t check if you were a socialist of whatever stripe, just kind of “grokked” it from perceived intellect. Anyway that’s not what I need to say here–the essence of what you’re saying seems to me to be the feeling out of a situation coupled with a rational response. Oh….that and NEVER GIVING UP–having faith, if you will. Basically, you’re a wonderfully hopeful person and keep doing what you’re doing and being you. It makes the world better.

    • tylerjd says:

      Thank you for the kind words Mark.

      And yes, my experience as an engineer has done nothing if not clearly shown that the idea of “purely rational” or “scientific” approaches to solving complex issues is a very problematic way to go about things. Intuition, emotions, hope, fear, love, faith, grit, perseverance, irreducible complexity – any problem solver dismisses these aspects of human existence (of reality) to the great detriment of their work and their impact on the world.

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