This is the first article in this blog discussing the third concept stated in the article detailing the blog´s concept. Basically this blog is about pursuing a climate friendly lifestyle, but this is not simply a question of figuring out what to do and then do it, or of a mere change of government. We all need to change our ways of living, because the consumption patterns resulting in an unsustainable economic system and global warming are much more deeply entrenched in our very cultures than the effects of specific government reforms. And many of us do know what it takes to make the change, but still we don´t change. Why?

The Mind of the Problem Solver

As I see it, we humans relate to those problems of the world, which we as individuals are largely unaffected by, in basically two ways: either we decide that such problems are irrelevant for us or simply not our responsibility, or, on the other hand, we decide that such problems must be dealt with. The latter mindset is what I will be advocating in this article, the approach of problem solvers who, because they advocate an approach not implemented yet, will also be first movers. No, one individual cannot deal with every one of the major problems facing the world, and yes, each individual has limited influence on humanity´s well-being as such. Nevertheless, it is possible for anyone to find a meaningful way of contributing in some small or not so small way to alleviating or solving the problems of the world.


But there is more to our choice between caring about “distant” problems such as war, poverty, sustainability and climate change on the one hand, or confining our mental world to the concerns and well-being of our selves and a few friends and family members. No matter what our individual inclination might be, something else may deter us from choosing to care about the problems of the world, even if we really desire to contribute actively.

That something is the psychological phenomenon of groups of people making irrational or dysfunctional decisions in order to satisfy the desire for harmony or conformity within the group. In psychology the phenomenon is termed groupthink, a construct of the field of social psychology. It occurs when critical viewpoints or alternative solutions are actively suppressed in order to ensure group cohesiveness, or to avoid conflict or other changes to the status quo considered frightening or undesirable to the group or dominant members within it. Basically, it is when we suppress our individual capacity to make proper judgements, but base our decision-making on what others do instead of what would be the rational decision. In such cases groups reach dysfunctional decisions that the groups members would not reach, if they were to make the decision based on their private viewpoints. But some people rebel against the norms or the conformity simply by insisting that we must reach sensible decisions and solve our common problems, rather than simply ensure the harmony of any small group.

The Galtian Mind

I think of such people in terms of problem solvers, individuals or groups who decide to go against the grain and forward towards an actual solution which addresses the root causes of the problem – the original meaning of the concept of radicalism – and prime movers, those individuals who are the first to do so. Originally, I had intended to conceptualize this mindset using the term the Galtian mind, referring to the fictional Ayn Rand characther John Galt from the book Atlas Shrugged as a prototype for these problem solvers and prime movers. It would definitely make a more catchy, intriguing title, but, despite some striking similarities between the mindset i will describe here and the philosophy of Ayn Rand, expressed by this fictional character, there also are significant differences that separates my philosophy from that of Ayn Rand. The main difference is that Rand´s philosophy is essentially capitalist, whereas mine is more broadly humanistic. The similarities are clear too: advocating the proper judgement of the thoughtful individual over that of dysfunctional, not-thought- through groupthink; the holding values of worth instead of discarding values in favor of a worldview that simply embraces hedonism or the desire to simply follow the constantly shifting mainstream cultural and media events, such as whatever TV series or other mainstream media event we feel the need to follow in order to be part of the average dinner conversation.   

Downplaying the term the Galtian mind somewhat, I will, however, refer to Ayn Rand´s philosophy here, because it is the philosophy I know that in my opinion best describes the mindset I am advocating. Though maybe sounding overly lofty and more intricate than neccesary, this phrase from Atlas Shrugged is a powerful and eloquent expression of the mindset of the true problem solver:

“It is not the being of value who fails the system. It is the system that has failed the man. For man should not stupe to fit the system, but the system should be made an remade to fit the man who holds value as worth. I will serve no bandit nor liar, for I know John Galt and understand. This life is too short to serve those who compromise value and it´s ethics. I am done compromising.” 

Problem Solvers and Heretics in the Media

Though within any conventionally minded groups of people, those who will actually communicate and apply their private superior reasoning, rather than just keep potentially controversial viewpoints to themselves, will be few, because these people stand out from the mainstream, they are much more likely to become well-known public figures, and highly interesting historical and contemporary examples are abundant. The case of a heretic soldier called Bowe Bergdahl, deployed in the US. war in Afghanistan, is a well-known media example of an individual influenced explicitly by the Galtian philosophy to take extraordinary action. What Bergdahl did, however, and whether his judgement was sound, is irrelevant for the purpose of this article.

In environmentalist terms, these problem solvers can be grouped into two: On the one hand, those who advocate a human society returning to a harmonic relation to nature that addresses either a more broadly defined perceived unnatural mode of operation of civilization or, more specifically, the destruction of nature and depletion of the resources and services nature provides us together with nature´s intrinsic value and thus the essential value of preserving it. On the other hand, those who take the entrepreneurial approach to our issues of sustainability and climate change. The latter type – which is equally important as the first – is most prominently exemplified by Elon Musk, the entrepreneur and business magnate founding the pioneering electric vehicle company Tesla, as well as SpaceX, and the Boring Company – an infrastructure and tunnel-construction company among others companies.

Important as the entrepreneurial approach to solving our sustainability and climate change problems is, it is also being used as an excuse to rely on the illusion of a quick fix that allows us to continue consuming more and more and grow our econonomies beyond the boundaries of the natural system, of which the economy is a subsystem bound to confine itself within the finiteness of the totality of our planet´s natural resources, to put it in ecological economic terms, the economic school of thought developed by Herman E. Daly. There simply are limits to growth, and we need to adjust our collective economic patterns to these limits. The fundamental laws of thermodynamics are relevant, especially regarding our use of fossil fuels: since no new energy enters the isolated system of fossil fuel exchange, the energy will become wasted and useless. The same seems the case with biological material: whereas we can eat and utilize as nutrition the food nature grows, for instance, a world full of what the economists call man-made capital, such as buildings, infrastructure, tools, etc., can be very useful, but will be unlikely to be able to provide mankind with the full range of ecosystem services, such as food, clean drinking water, decomposition of wastes, natural pollination of crops and other plants, etc. Yes, I know we, by now, can make artificial lab-grown meat, but this is one exceptional, not yet commercially viable case, far from delivering the full range of sustainable services our ecosystems are still the sole provider of.

Into the Wild 

Critics of civilization espousing some sort of returning to a natural state or harmony with nature are many, and can be traced, at least, back to the enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his ideas of the noble savage.

Other examples are Leo Tolstoy and Henry David Thoreau. The book Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, describes a contemporary example, Chris McCandless, a young man, who decides to transfer his savings to the charity Oxfam, burn the money in his wallet and set off to live from the land in the cold Alaskan wilderness.

Besides Chris McCandless the book mentions other very interesting characters, such as a man called Gene Rosellini, who dedicated himself to a decade-long, ambitious anthropological experiment turning his back on the, in his view devolved state of the lifestyle of contemporary civilization and ending up creating a lifestyle for himself with elements of the Neolithic. Jon Krakauer met the guy in the so-called Hippie Cove in Alaska, carrying a big, sodden log over the shoulders, which he, after a conversation of “earnest banalities” with Jon carried into the place where such heavy logs are found most abundantly: the forest.

The famous no-nonsense environmentalist John Muir is another, more pragmatic and political, example of individuals determined to help us all turn away from our current path inevitably descent into climate catastrophes, food shortages and the resulting conflicts and increased likeliness of wars over resources. 

It is, of course, important not to take such idealism too far, that is, mixing it with (youthful) desires for excessive risk-taking or dedication to life-style changes way beyond the reach of more common mindsets. Pragmatism and the potential for alternative ideas to seep into the mainstream is important. We need to address the roots of our problems, yes, but we also need to come up with alternatives that will inspire vast numbers of people. Not taking into account the participation of the vast majority of our human population will lead to a failure for any alternative idea. Gene Rosellini had to conclude something along these line. According to himself, his anti-civilization experiment failed, and, after contemplating an ambitious walking trip around the world, he committed suicide instead. Chris McCandless also died, most likely, according to Krakauer, due to poisoning from a well-known edible food, potatoes, whose seeds are, apparently, not edible.

The Rationale of Irrational Human Interaction

The conclusion, of course, is, trust your own capacity to arrive at proper judgements about our need to broaden our individual horizons sufficiently to align our individual lifestyles with the collective human necessity for a sustainable civilization within the boundaries of the global pool of finite resources and the limited capacity for our atmosphere to absorb greenhouse gasses without warming up the planet to a dangerous level.

But there is a lot more to be said about that. The other part of the conclusion is, that we need, just as much, to take the irrational aspects of being human into consideration. What do I mean by that? What I mean is, that so far, we have failed to change the lifestyles of the major part of humanity into sustainable ones by means of what is considered an alarmist approach. Warning people of the threats of imminent disasters and pointing rationally to the logical alternatives is the rational approach to problem solving. However, this approach fails, when we act irrationally have of our lifetimes as humans. We, therefore, have to not repeat historical mistakes, such as the most prominent one of the failure of the Enlightenment movement to prevent its pool of philosophical advancements to be abused as a vehicle for descending into the violent and tyrannical chaos of the French Revolution and the following series of despotic French regimes, overthrown in rapid succession, one after another, in violent coups d´etats, showing clear similarities with what we today term failed states, the contemporary histories of countries such as Somalia and Afghanistan.

Bottom-line: the responsibility for sustainability and the prevention of catastrophical climate change is universal, meaning it applies to all governments, the entire business world, and to each individual human being as consumer, social being and communicator of personal viewpoints. Addressing the whole human being means addressing the irrational humanity as well as the irrational one. What do I mean by irrationality? The 19th century romantics, reacting to the failures of the Enlightenment movement would know what I mean. I mean turn to the arts, music, storytelling, the full range of desires, for sex, amazing food and the range of exciting range of refined or pleasant sensory experiences, thrills, adventure, the exotic, the escape from our humdrums, extraordinary experiences, novelty etc.

Specifically, this could mean the ride along, let´s say, California Highway 1 during sunset in an automaticly driven electric car; or the, to most people, unknown range of exotic wild food flavours, such as the wild carrots that virtually no-one here in Berlin – where I currently stay – knows is growing abundantly everywhere in the very center of the city and all throughout the countryside; it could mean appealing to people´s lust for wilderness adventure or nature experiences, such as digging up the beforementioned wild carrots, or simply picking the blackbeeries, that are both abundant, well-known and easy to pick; it could mean lure people with any sort of “sugar-coating” of the messages of climate friendliness and sustainability by means of story-telling in addition to the provision of the information needed to make sensible sustainable lifestyle changes. In one sentence, it means downplaying the alarmist communication and turn up the approach of ENCHANTMENT. If sustainability and climate conscious behavior is equal to experiencing enchantment, instead of sacrifice and austerity, then we can finally act both sustainably and climate friendly, on the one hand, and be whole human beings – both rational and irrational – on the other.