I love Leonardo DiCaprio. There — mancrush — I said it. What I want to know is why, in 2016, is one of my favorite actors so worried about communicating the reality of climate change that he is taking up his well-earned and all-too-brief acceptance speech time trying to convince us that climate change is real?

Shouldn’t Leonardo be spending his three minutes before the music chimes thanking all the significants in his life profusely and by name, then strutting off in glory to make another blockbuster? Whose job is it to help us become a world beyond climate change?

As the proud president of America’s Environmental College, Unity College, I take this question seriously. But today I’m writing as a fan of Hollywood film who would like see our nation’s best actors have time to properly thank their mothers.

Climate Change. It’s confusing, but it’s not all that confusing.

As the President of Unity College, I have been around the climate change/global warming debate for some time now. When I joined the Unity College community several years ago, I was not entirely current on the scientific arguments demonstrating the reality of climate change. I came from a higher education business and organizational development background, so I had some catching up to do.

I will admit that it took several weeks of open-minded attention for me to understand the overwhelming evidence in favor of human-caused climate change: the hockey-stick-shaped graph of global temperatures, the fact that 99.99% of world’s credible scientists agree, the fact that 10 of the hottest years on record were within the last 12 years.

It took me another few days to understand why we are shifting from the conversation about ‘global warming’ to ‘climate change’ (because it’s about more than just warming). Another couple of hours and I understood that weather is not the same as climate, and no particular weather event — including Sandy, Katrina, and Hurricane Leo — can be said to have been caused by climate change. And yes, there was a Hurricane Leo.

I will also admit that I do not now, nor likely ever will, understand every nuance of the climate change debate. But I do know enough. And at some point enough is enough.

Climate change (or whatever you want to call it) is real. It is substantially caused by human behavior since the Industrial Revolution. Climate change makes extreme weather events more intense and more frequent. Got it. Can we move on now and please allow the good people of the film industry to get back to doing what they do best? Apparently not…

My friends in politics explain to me that climate change is a politically-charged issue. They tell me that environmental issues have been so tossed around as political footballs that there is simply no neutral language left; the language has been highly politicized.

So how about this; let’s forget about climate change for one minute. Our obsession with climate change is an obsession with the symptom of a far more pernicious disease. Climate change is a symptom of our inability to think systematically with an eye toward the future. About anything. In education, in resource management, in politics, in our nation’s health, in economics. Let’s do better.

Lenses and Leonardos

At Unity College we are committed to preparing our graduates to deal with the realities present during their lifetimes. Yes, that’s a whopper of a mission but that’s what is needed. We need complex solutions and super smart people to find them. Our way to prepare graduates for whatever comes, is ‘Sustainability Science.’

Sustainability Science is a way to see problems through the multiple lenses of economics, society, and the environment in order to maintain a complete view as the problem changes in real time. It’s kind of like 3-D glasses in a movie theater: the world is the screen with jumbled images of Leonardo that make your head hurt when you look at them straight. The disciplines are like the lenses of your 3-D glasses: when you look through one lens you see one flat Leonardo clearly. The other lens, another flat Leonardo. But when you look through all lenses together? Leonardo’s coming right at you! Also, don’t forget to recycle your glasses on the way out.

My free-market capitalist friends tell me that market forces will solve climate change. My socialist friends tell me that government needs to play a larger role. Conservationists want to conserve; preservationists want to protect. Looking through one lens at a time is a recipe for disaster — a disciplinary approach. If we are to effect real change we must view these problems simultaneously through the transdisciplinary lens of Sustainability Science.

Sustainability Science solves problems by applying the various levers available to engineering, technology, politics, economics, literature, social science, cultural studies and other applied sciences in order to move enough levers with enough success to achieve your desired outcome by increments. I don’t have a clever film metaphor for this one yet. (Maybe Inception?)

What’s next.

The planet is small and getting smaller. For all of us. Climate change may be the world’s most pressing environmental problem. But when the water shortage really hits, all attention will focus there. Then the food runs out. Then energy can’t be generated fast enough. Then policy fails to protect. Then the biodiversity is lost. Then to The Next Worst Thing. Every resource dwindles with bad management. The earth is flat and getting flattened. By all of us. What now? What next? I’m glad you asked, Mr. DiCaprio.

Unity College is what is next. Are we at Unity College worried about climate change? You bet your divestment dollars we are. But we’re also worried about the Next Worst Thing. And The Next. And The One After That.

We’re also excited about finding creative solutions for flourishing and the Next Best Thing. We’re excited about working together on how to live joyously in a world with a changing climate, how to live with resilience and how to adapt with grace.

How do we prepare, predict, and find the next amazing thing? We don’t. Our students do. Our children do. The Next Best Generation does.

So, Mr. DiCaprio, capitalist and socialist friends, conservationist and preservationist friends, post-modern and modern friends, please learn, invest, work, and play at Unity College as we prepare the next generation for what’s coming their way, so that the next generation of actors can take the time to thank their mothers properly.

In Unity!

Dr. Melik Peter Khoury
Unity College

Wednesday, March 02, 2016