Oso Strategics’ motto is “Conservation through Strategy.” In our mission statement, we say we help “people and organizations make decisions that align with their goals.” In other words, we don’t tell people what they “should” do.
The words “should” and “should not” get used a lot when people talk about environmental conservation. We should eat less meat, or even be completely vegetarian or vegan. We should drive less, fly less, buy electric vehicles, or not even own a private vehicle. We should electrify our home and appliances, and shouldn’t have gas stoves or water heaters. We should live in dense population centers, and in multi-family homes. We should have smaller families, or shouldn’t have more than a certain number of children. “Should” is a problematic word.
“Should” is inherently judgmental. Its very definition is to “indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.” Telling someone they should or shouldn’t do something, either morally or legally, places a responsibility on them, and a judgment if they fail. Most of us want to do as we should. We want to follow the rules, and do the right thing. We become stressed, anxious, or angry when the right thing to do isn’t clear, or when authority figures make rules we feel don’t meet our needs.
The Stress of Doing What We Should
In conservation, many of the issues are mind-boggling complex. For example, a few years ago, I went to the grocery store, and milk was on my shopping list. Besides the different types, brands, and quantities of milk, there was also a choice of containers: plastic jugs, paper-based cartons, and glass bottles. As a conservationist, I believe I should limit my environmental footprint, and I look for ways to reduce my waste and carbon emissions in my daily life. Figuring out which container to buy was complex!
Recycling plastic is difficult, costly, and mostly greenwashing by Big Oil. In theory, milk jugs can be recycled because they’re a single type of plastic. They cannot, however, be reused or recycled back into new milk jugs or other food packaging due to sterilization issues. Plastic jugs are the lightest of the container options, however, which results in lower carbon emissions during transportation.
Paper cartons also can’t be reused as milk cartons, but they are recyclable. It’s not as easy as recycling paper, because the cartons have a layer of aluminum or plastic that has to be separated during the recycling process. Even though paper cartons are easier to recycle, however, the cartons weigh more than plastic jugs, which results in higher carbon emissions during transportation.
Glass bottles aren’t just recyclable; they’re reusable. Glass is non-porous, so the glass bottles can be sent back to the producer, sterilized, and reused. Producing glass, however, is energy intensive. It’s also the heaviest of the containers and travels the furthest due to it being sent back to the producer for reuse, so glass bottles result in the highest carbon emissions during transportation.
In this case, a quick internet search was able to tell me what I should do. Buy milk in a glass jar. That’s just one situation, though. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other decisions we make that have an impact on the environment. Some of these decisions have definitive answers, others are more ambiguous, but finding the answers takes time. It can be exhausting and overwhelming, and we can feel guilty or ashamed if we make the wrong choice. It can make us angry if we feel that choice was imposed on us.
When Should Doesn’t Meet Our Needs
When policymakers pass laws and regulations, they are implicitly telling people what they “should” do. Many people will bristle under rules they feel don’t meet their needs.
For example, in 2021, California’s legislature passed AB-1346, which was then signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, and handed off to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to implement. AB-1346 and CARB’s regulations ban the sale of small-off road engines (SORE) by 2028, including portable generators, unless they are zero emission. In principle, this regulation is good news for the fight against climate change. According to a 2011 study by the US Environmental Protection Agency, small, two-stroke engines are a “major portion of US non-road gasoline emissions.” They accounted for 24-45% of all non-road emissions, and emitted over 20 million tons of carbon dioxide. Gasoline engines don’t have a place in a cleaner future.
In practice, however, portable, gas-powered generators are a vital, lifesaving piece of equipment for many people in California. Power lines are often damaged during wildfires and storms, and public utility companies are able to perform “public safety power shutoffs” (PSPS) any time they believe their lines are at risk. During outages, many people rely on gas-powered generators to power medical devices, well pumps needed for drinking water and sanitation, heating and cooling, and to receive safety announcements and alerts.
From a certain perspective, California’s leadership seems to be putting the cart before the horse by banning gas-powered generators before improving the resilience of the power grid.
At Oso Strategics, we don’t think anxiety, guilt, and coercion are healthy or effective ways to convince people to do things differently, but we don’t need to re-invent the wheel either.
The world-renowned conservationist Sir David Attenborough is quoted as saying, “Live the way you want to live, but just don’t waste.” That’s a powerful statement. It’s simple and easy to understand. Most importantly, it’s free of judgement.
It’s fine if you want to grill beef hamburgers for your family and friends every summer, but maybe the fast food cheeseburger with a frozen beef patty doesn’t bring the same value to your life. It’s fine if you want to travel and see the world, but maybe some of those business trips could be a Zoom meeting. It’s fine if you want a pick-up truck or large SUV, but maybe a sedan would be a better fit for your daily life and you could rent a truck when you need it. It’s fine if you want a large family. It’s fine if you enjoy a wood burning stove. However you want to live your life is fine.
The crux is identifying how you want to live, and the relationships, activities, and things that bring value and happiness to your life. The crux is avoiding mindless consumption that doesn’t make you happy. The crux is minimizing wasteful backtracking and course corrections.
In order to live the life you want, you need to see and articulate a vision of your life for yourself, your family, your community, and your organizations. You need to set goals that define your vision, and identify the steps you need to take to reach those goals. You need to measure your progress, identify the things that are and aren’t working or making you happy, and change what you can. None of this is easy. People aren’t stupid; life is hard and complex. People aren’t lazy, they’re tired and overworked. People aren’t greedy; they’re afraid. We all stumble, we all make mistakes. And Oso Strategics is here to help.
Oso Strategics’s services, products, and projects have all been carefully selected to support our clients and casual readers. Though we appreciate donations, our reading recommendations and independent writings are free resources to guide and teach readers on their own paths. Our consulting, coaching, and data services are for clients who need one-on-one, personalized services in order to reach their goals. And our wildlife photography inspires and encourages us, and reminds us of the value of conservation.
Living strategically and deliberately is a lifelong journey. In doing so, you will conserve not only your own resources (your time, money, and energy), but also the world’s resources. You will achieve Conservation through Strategy.