Writing the Carbon Almanac, Working Within the Structure of The Almanac Community and Believing in a Better Future
Featuring Carbon Almanac Contributors Barrett Brooks and David Meerman Scott
Hailing from opposite sides of the US, Barrett from Portland and David from Boston, these two writers talk about their experiences in The Carbon Almanac. Both joined the community very early in the process and were instrumental in the development of the book.
Listen as Barrett and David talk about why they joined The Carbon Almanac and what it is to create and deliver on deadlines within a community that doesn’t follow a traditional structure. Not only that, the community is supported entirely by volunteers. They share how this experience has helped them personally and what they will take away from being a part of it. Finally, we learn the impact they hope this book and movement will have on our global community.
This podcast is a part of the Carbon Almanac Podcast Network.
Production Team: Jennifer Myers Chua, Sam Schuffenecker, Leekei Tang, Tania Marien, Barbara Orsi
Cover Art: Ray Ong
Copyright © 2022 The Carbon Almanac Network
About the Carbon Almanac Collective: What happens when regular people work together to create massive, meaningful change on a global scale? Welcome to the carbon Almanac collective. A podcast where the volunteers who created the Carbon Almanac share the insights and aha moments they had while collaborating on this landmark project to help fight the climate crisis.
Hosted by Jennifer Myers Chua, and featuring the voices of Carbon Almanac Contributors. Reminding you that it's not too late to join in on the conversation.
[00:00:50] David: I'm David Meerman Scott I'm from Boston, Massachusetts. I wrote some of the original articles that were heavily edited by Barrett into the, um, into the, for the Carbon Almanac. And I've been focused on marketing since then.[:
[00:01:08] David: Seth invited me to join the Carbon Almanac. He was at the very beginning and I think he, asked a couple of folks if they might be interested. Um, it was before he put out a a request on his blog publicly. So I was fortunate to have been able to join super fast. And I have the distinction of being the first person to actually write a piece for the Carbon Almanac, because one of the things that our fearless leader Seth always says is ship, just ship, just do it. I don't know that it was used, but there we go. It was, it was actually written.[:
[00:01:48] David: Yes, I do. I remember it really well. I wrote an article about your carbon footprint and then we learned once we dug into the researcher on the Carbon Almanac, that the carbon idea of the carbon footprint was invented by an advertising agency for British petroleum to shift the blame of carbon to consumers to make consumers feel guilty about their carbon use. My original post about, oh, how exciting. Here's what you can learn about your own personal carbon footprint didn't make a whole lot of sense. When we dug in deeper about what that actually meant.[:
[00:02:25] Barrett: Very similar story. Uh, I first worked with Seth on a project back in 2013 and we've just stayed in touch ever since. And so late in 2021, after I had retired from my role at a tech company, Seth reached out and it was the perfect thing to jump into as a volunteer project and not have to, uh, make any long-term career decisions yet.
So he reached out early. I jumped in early. We were off to the races, David, David and I were there about the same time, I think.[:
[00:03:03] Barrett: One of my major motivations and retiring from the role I was in previously and kind of taking a career hiatus was to reposition myself, to work on climate full-time. Work on combating climate change, I should say full-time. And so a lot of my interests were directed towards how can we use tech to help fuel solutions to the crisis.
And so it was this really fortunate opportunity when Seth came knocking, because here was a chance for me to build a little bit of my chops, get a little bit more knowledgeable, really test what I thought I knew and do something productive in the process. So it was the perfect kind of segue from what I was doing to where I wanted to go.[:
[00:03:46] David: So for the last 10 years, I've been a major donor and volunteer at the Mamoni Valley Preserve in Panama. This is a project that's been very important to me. I've been down pretty much every year since I started to get involved a decade ago. We own, a 12,000 acre nature preserve. It's done as a non-profit.
And it's an, a super important part of the world because it's the narrowest point between north and south America, the narrowest point between the Atlantic and Pacific and some very important for animal life, bird, life plants and also interestingly, the indigenous people of Panama, the Guna people who live and and work partly in our preserve.
And we're, it's a really interesting place because we found 12 Jaguars that live on our property and through photo through photography that we did using trip cameras, it doesn't hurt the animal at all. We've, uh, identified 12 different unique individuals based on their spots, which is super cool.
And we also have gotten very, very close to the people who live there. And their traditional way of living has been on islands in the Atlantic ocean, but because of climate change the ocean has been rising and they either can no longer live on the islands or soon will not be able to live on the traditional islands.
So they've ended up moving inland into partly in our area, near our area, the con, uh, on the con Gundy river. And they their whole environment is being and w their whole way of life is being threatened by climate change. So this became really important issue for me to think about and to I've donated a significant portion of my wealth to this project and my time, week, at least a week, a year in Panama.eetings that happened in late:
[00:06:31] Jennifer: Barrett, has your awareness expanded around these topics since joining the Carbon Almanac project and doing some of this research for the Almanac itself?[:
I feel like we did a great job of educating one another along the way, doing the research, collectively, understanding the, the kind of problem behind the problem of a lot of the surface level issues that tend to be what pops up in what is broadly lackluster news coverage, I think on the topic of climate change.
So I've learned a ton and I think one of the things I love most about the project is that the learning came from everywhere. It was like we were all in this investigative journey together. I'd say before the project, I was probably much more focused on individual carbon footprints. Like we pay every month to try and offset what we can't reduce in our life through a company called Ren Climate.
And I learned so much about even that through the project that now I realized that the measly $80 we pay every month is probably not even remotely sufficient to offset in a high quality way. The things that, the emissions that we produce through our lifestyle here as kind of like a middle upper class family in America.
And so it's things like that, that I feel like really raised my level of awareness and raised my level of commitment to understanding that systemic change is really where it has to come from. It has to come from corporations changing how they operate, has to come from policy mechanisms to force us to move in the direction that are gonna allow us to affect the problem at scale, not just in little bite sized chunks.
That even the most privileged people in the world have a hard time eliminating on their own. And so if that's true, we know that the problem can't possibly scale or the solution to the problem can't possibly scale by going through the individual route. And I think that was one of my biggest takeaways.[:
[00:09:02] Barrett: I want to hear David's thoughts because David's actually written books on his own.[:
[00:09:08] David: Yeah. I I've written 12 books. I've coached about 20 people on getting their books produced. And I've done some books several of my books with co-authors. But yes, when Seth approached me and said, this is an all volunteer effort I'd like you to consider volunteering. And, um, we're going to have a whole bunch of more people with varied skill sets, including editors and designers and proofreaders, and fact checkers.
And, and so on. I was like, I, I probably would have said no to almost anybody else, but because it came from Seth Godin who has a in my mind, a track record of doing audacious projects, a track record of pulling people together. I thought, ah, yeah, I think this is something that has a strong potential. And I knew I could always, just because of the nature of the way it was being run, I could just quietly back off. After I was hanging around for a week or two, if it didn't feel like it was coming together. I could claim that I'm busy doing other things and nobody would've minded, many, many people I interacted with on the project, I might've only interacted with once and then I never saw them again.
And I don't know whether they were doing anything else. So I think the fact that Seth was the ringleader meant for me that this thing had a high degree of certainty that it was going to be able to to do something that would be valuable. But that fact that we wrote, edited, proof-read, designed, created a website for, created podcasts for, got endorsements for a book that we started in February and it will be coming out in June is truly an unbelievably, a remarkable thing. I mean that, you know, books normally take way, way, way longer. So the fact that there were many of us working on it, I think allowed us to do that.[:
[00:11:24] Barrett: I probably had a certain amount of naivete about what was possible. Um, I've I've compiled books in past roles, but they were all self published by the companies that I worked for. And so I've never had to go through a publisher and I think if I had known everything that was going to be involved, I would have had much more doubt at the beginning, but I think I just kind of had this confidence in Seth. Definitely. He's his reputation precedes him. I've worked with them before, um, much like David. And so there's some amount of confidence that just comes from him being the ringleader. And then I think there's also just, I had a belief that this is should exist. This is a way to mobilize people who otherwise don't have an outlet for contributing.
And I think we found that, like we all found that each the three of us and then many of the other contributors on the project found that too. And so for me, it also just felt like an opportunity to see if it was possible. And I love that kind of opportunity where you say, this sounds absolutely wild as an idea, but if we could do it, that would be pretty awesome too, to be able to say we were a part of it. And I think that from early on, the reason I quit, my first business that I ever started was that Seth reframed my thinking around it being a massive failure to being able to claim it was a success and move on.
And that has shaped my worldview for so many years now where it's like, it doesn't have to work every time and it can still be a huge success, even if it doesn't work. And I think that's just this very freeing idea that it's still worth trying, even if it doesn't end up working out. And it just happened that we brought the right group of people together and it worked out beautifully.
So, you know, we kind of won in every way on that end.[:
[00:13:31] Barrett: Well, managing volunteers is always a challenge because you're dealing with both generosity and goodwill of people, even being willing to show up and you're dealing with the need to get a job done. And those two things are often, it's hard to make them come together. Because goodwill is not enough to get a job done.
There has to be skill. There has to be vision. There has to be execution. And so there's this balance between setting clear deadlines and expectations for what needs to get done, but also not pressing any one individual beyond what they're able and willing to commit to the project because they're a volunteer.
And so I think there were certainly times where there were gaps between what people were able and willing to commit and what we needed to get done, where we had to go. Our solution was almost always just to go source more talent, you know, more people from the network to say, Hey, we have a gap here. And so rather than making anyone feel bad about what they couldn't do or trying to press them beyond what they were comfortable with, we just created more and more opportunities, more and more slots where people could fill in and help get the job done.
And so to go back to the question of, were there any hiccups, like. In one way as a solution, but it's also a hiccup in that. It's very hard. The more people that you have trying to execute on a thing to keep it organized and to make sure that you're staying on track towards deadlines. And I think the best thing we did was we had this wonderful, incredible human being named Linda Westenberg, who kept us all on track and just kept everything very organized.
So we always knew where everything was at every point in time. But I think we also just set very clear deadlines and tasks and what needed, what milestones needed to be hit at what time, so that everyone was clear, this is what we're working towards. And so whatever combination of people needs to come together to get that done, that's where we're going.
No matter what. And I think that really helped people make their own decisions on how much they could give at any given time. And so we were able to kind of avoid some of that. Awkwardness of, Hey, you're not doing enough by just being really clear about where we're going and inviting people to get on for the journey as we went.[:
[00:15:37] David: What I found interesting was in the very, very beginning when it was Barrett and me and Seth and maybe three or four other people and it soon grew, but in the very beginning, it's like, okay, we're all writing a book. But then very quickly it turned into we're doing a heck of a lot more.
And so I think that people who joined the project after the initial several people that Seth invited in weren't necessarily writing a book. They were illustrating a children's book. They were helping to shepherd the collection of facts onto the website in the form of footnotes, they were creating a podcast. Um, Jennifer, they were they were doing people could end up raising their hand and self-selecting to do many, many, many different roles. So that what I felt like was if you joined in the very beginning, it's like, oh my gosh, I have to help write a book. But if you joined anywhere from the sec, the first set of intake from the public Seth's public post onwards, it was like so many different places to raise your hand that if you weren't perhaps working out in one way, because maybe, maybe it's, you know, not all of us have the skill set to write a book. So maybe it's best that you work over here or that you edit someone else's work or that you would be really, really fabulous as somebody who could help us to get the data points we need for our talented designers to create some charts. And then people are like, oh Yeah I love doing that.
I'm happy. I'm not that's way, way, way, better than me trying to write part of a book. And I thought that was a fabulous way to bring it all together because it wasn't just a collection of writers writing a book. It was a collection of hundreds and hundreds of people with incredibly varied skill sets coming together to create something that's way, way more than just a book.[:
Now that we're in the marketing and promotion phase, because that's what they're great at. And so, and then there's other people like you, Jennifer, who have bridged from illustrating and designing the book now to promoting and using another of your skillsets here on the podcast and the different ways that we're promoting in that way.
And so just seeing like, it's, it's beautiful watching different individuals step in at the right time. And just use what they've learned over the years to, to bring it, to bear on the project and seeing, yeah, exactly what David said, how we've created different ways in different phases for people to step in and still contribute in major ways.[:
[00:19:08] David: Well, I think um having bu/ilt myself as well as seen various book websites and book promotional campaigns and plans, this is unbelievably much much, much more involved than what a typical book rollout looks like. A typical book roll eye rollout is a real simple website, one, maybe one or two or three pages maybe one YouTube video and some tweets.
And this is like, um, what do we have? Probably more than a thousand data points in the, um, you guys may know better than me in the, in the footnotes that are part of the website. We have an entire children's book. We have not one, not two, not three, but at last count, I think there's at least four podcasts that we're doing together.
There are so many different ways that this, these ideas, and I'm not even co don't even want to call it a book, but these ideas are getting out there. The ideas are getting out there in ways that are easily shareable. The ideas are getting out there in ways that are encouraging people to talk about it.
It's way different than I've experienced in a typical book launch. And, uh I can't wait to see the result. I mean, we're already seeing some of the results, but when the book does come out in mid June will be super exciting for all of us to see what our work is doing in the form of getting this books out there and sold and, and, and we see it out in the wild, but then also all of these other resources being used will be super interesting.[:
[00:20:55] David: Oh, yeah, totally. Yeah. When all of us are doing this, no one's being paid and no one's doing it because their boss told them to do it. We're all doing it because we just raised our own hands. It's totally glad to grassroots.[:
[00:21:10] Barrett: I'm also fascinated to see the result. I think books are these like ethereal beings and that you can do everything right. And you just never know. You never know how much it's going to like, hit at the right moment. You know, take off in the Zeit Geist and carry onto a path of its own. Like you can do everything right to engineer that kind of result and sometimes books just don't take off for whatever reason. And then the other, other side can be true too. A book can do nothing at launch sometimes, and then a year later it'll take off. And then for a decade, it'll sell millions of copies. And so I'm just fascinated to see of what we're doing as a group, what worked. I always think of marketing as just an experimentation framework. You're trying to figure out what works to enroll people, to get their attention, to get them to take action. And I don't think we know what are the things that we've been doing will work. But what I love about the network approach that we've taken is, we can take a lot of shots on goal to figure out which of these things might drive results. And that won't invalidate anyone's effort. It'll actually validate everyone's effort because it means everyone played an important part in running an experiment to see if we could reach the right people. And so we'll see what works the best and it's really exciting.[:
[00:22:38] David: That's an interesting question. I, um, I think that the idea of asking people for help early in the process is something that I've almost never have done with a book launch.
What I'll typically do is I'll work for two or three or four years writing a book. I will often interview people who might end up being a story in one of the books. But I don't get people involved in such a way that they're going to help me to be a part of the team that's going to create and, or launch the book.
I don't know whether a traditional book model can have some of that though, because you know, my name is on the cover as the author. And sure, you know, there's people who would be willing to help by maybe writing a blog post or having me on their podcast or sharing on LinkedIn or whatever it might be.
But is there something that I could do with a traditional book launch that uh, has people become a part of it in some way? I don't know the answer to that, but it gets me thinking about it and what that looks like. I don't know. But it's interesting to come to to think about,[:
[00:24:04] David: There you go. Write a book about writing a book.[:
[00:24:18] Barrett: I think one of the biggest, so I'll kind of compare it to the first time I worked with Seth versus this project. And so in 2013, I was relatively early in my career and Seth is always, I won't say always, but for years, he's run these kinds of summer internship group projects, whatever you want to call them. And he'll often just put out a call for, Hey, I'm going to work on a thing. If you'd be interested in working on it with me, you should apply. And things like the domino project came out of that. If you've ever heard of that project. What has now become the altMBA, had it seeds in a project that he started that way. And so when I worked with him, then it was very much like working with, you know, an idol or someone that I really looked up to a hero.
And, you know, they always say, don't meet your heroes. Seth has been pleasantly surprising and that he has not disappointed me in that way. So that was the first thing. But the other thing was, I felt like I was really in the kind of uh, in star wars terminology, like young padawan mode, really soaking up all of the learning and trying to get everything I could out of it in terms of what I could apply to my career going forward. This time, I felt much more like a peer level contributor on the project. And so I think one of the ways this project has changed me was just allowing me to reflect on my own growth over the past almost decade and seeing the ways in which I've learned to lead the ways in which I've learned to organize myself and while Seth definitely created the big umbrella, he's worked for multiple decades to create the kind of audience who shows up for a project like this. And by the hundreds. I think I was also able to contribute something unique in a way that I just didn't have the confidence or skill set to the last time that we worked together.
And so that was really powerful, just reflecting on it and seeing how I've grown and then how that my leadership skills and organization skills could apply to something completely outside the context of a traditional workplace. And then the other way is it just, it's challenged me in a lot of really good ways to say, really to set my own bar for the work. Like what is our bar for the work that we're trying to put out and how can I push on the group and have them push back on me to meet the standard and not be looking to someone else for the standard. I think that there was a period of my career, and I think there's a period of all of our careers, where we look to other people to say, how good does this need to be?
And I think I really got to play a part of that role on this project of what's our standard? What are we trying to create here? What's good enough look like? And then on the flip side, when can we call it done? Because we need to move on to the next thing. So I think those are a couple of the ways. It just gave me a space to step into leading, step into being more, seeing myself more as a peer not to Seth's volume or body of work, but in a project context, being more of a peer operator than a kind of young padawan operator.[:
[00:27:22] David: Well, it certainly the, the content, which I, I mean, I am sure Barrett has read the book because he's edit, helped edit the book. I haven't read the book yet. And I'm very much looking forward to it because it's an area that has been super important to me for a significant portion of my life.
And it's something that I care about. And it's something that I um, I want to make sure that I. I can do my part and leave my legacy. So I realize having been working on it so far that some of the things that I thought I knew, I didn't know. And I'm pretty eager to learn those things. So I'm looking forward to actually getting a copy in, in a very short period of time for when the book actually releases. I've also was very appreciative of the incredibly varied people that were part of the project. It was I don't know that exact numbers, but people from their teens, through their nineties, people from dozens and dozens of countries, I think Seth says 90 countries. It's people who come from incredible success or people who are just starting out in their careers or people who are simply who are just students hadn't even started their careers yet. And to me, that was super interesting and it wasn't just a typical kind of homogeneous sort of work group that gets together in a technology startup in the United States where people, you know, they may be men and women in different ages, but look and act pretty similar. We would get on sometimes on zoom calls and, and there were would be, I mean, English would be typically the language, but there would be many, many, many accents and people dialing in, in all sorts of weirdo times zones, because they had to wake up at, three in the morning to be able to be on the call and they happily did so, that was interesting to me.
I've worked in the international markets my whole life, lived in Asia for 10 years. So I have had quite a bit of an exposure to that, but this was more so than I'm used to, and I really liked it.[:
[00:29:50] David: Yeah, it has actually, I think I was on the scale of being a bit hopeless, although not hopeless, but you know, on, on the left side of the scale, if you will to now sort of moving over to the right side of the scale and what I learned and what makes me more hopeful is that the vast majority of people now recognize that we need to do something.
And I think the challenge that we faced, that I think the Carbon Almanac helps us to understand is that there are so many entrenched people, organizations. And so on companies that want you to believe something different and the whole greenwashing the whole idea of forcing people to accept that it's their fault when it's not.
One thing that just annoys me like crazy as I walked and it happened to me recently walked into a hotel with this enormous glass atrium lobby, huge, you know, like 20 stories, tall glass, roofed glass on three sides, which is where the lobby and the bar area of the hotel. On a hot day, I can't even imagine the amount of energy required to cool that enormous box of glass in, in the sunshine, it was outside of Washington, DC.
And then you get to your room. The sleeping room and, and there's a little, cardboard tent that says we care about the environment. Please reuse your towels and we're not going to clean your room unless you ask. And it's like, you know you're the one who's, who's got this ridiculous atrium burning, incredible amounts of fossil fuel to keep cool.
And then you tell me it's my fault and I'm not allowed to use a towels. And so I think that all of us have the job. And I've learned this through working on that Almanac that no, it's not your fault. Yes you can do things to help, but how can we get the politicians and the government agencies and the corporations and the nonprofits all figuring this out together and see the hypocrisy for what it is.
And I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful because I think that will start to break through.[:
[00:32:26] Barrett: I'm generally an optimistic person. And I think in some ways it's a coping mechanism because without hope it's, it's very hard to keep taking action. So for me, I'm hopeful because the alternative is much less attractive. It leads to despair and inaction and all of these other things. And I think one of the things that some people would say. And I think I tend to agree with that. The climate movement has gotten wrong up to this point is trying to scare people into taking action. And I think mostly when people are scared and lose hope they just tend to shy away and clam up. And so while we need a great basis for the facts, which is exactly what we set out to do at this project, we also need reasons to hope.
We need bigger vision and better ideas for the future. And I think we married those two things perfectly on this project and that. It reflects my way of trying to operate in the world of embracing reality, understanding what's true, but not settling for that being the case in the future. And so I think I'm hopeful because this project is the perfect example of what people can do to step up and help and do something on their own. But I'm also hopeful because Seth has a massive audience. And it would be really safe and easy for him not to talk about climate change.
And what we need is we need more people with existing audiences, with existing influence, with existing power to start using their voices to say, look, this is real. It's a problem.
We don't have to blame everyone because it's not going to get us anywhere at this point, but we do need people to own what they've done and fix it basically. And I think when you get the right voices, talking about the issues and making it approachable for people without pointing fingers and without doomsdaying everything, while still being real, my hope, why I stay hopeful, is that people will engage. That they'll step up, that they'll do their part. And while as individuals, we may not be able to make the kind of impact that we need in order to reverse this whole crisis. Individuals also hold positions of power it's individuals who go into boardrooms. It's individuals who walk into places of government and place the votes, make the key decisions. And those are the ways that we need individuals to step in and step up. Yes, like do what you can in your personal life. If you have the means, be a first mover to encourage companies that are producing technology that are going to be solutions, but really go to work and make changes there. Wherever you work because that's where a lot more leverage exists, whatever your role is in the world.[:
[00:35:10] David: Well, I mean, I think this whole project has taught us that anybody can harness their skills whether they perceive they have power or not to be able to make change. You know, when, uh, when uh, an 18 year old high school student is able to contribute unbelievably important work to creating a book like this. That shows a lot. And so I do think that the power of the people is more important than the people in power I really do. And I think that we all have an opportunity to do something positive and, we're only 300 people.
Imagine if it was 300 million people how different it would be. And that that's part of the goal actually is how can we mobilize way, way, way more people than the 300 or so that, that helped on this project.[:
[00:36:17] Barrett: I mean, I think the question I'd have for David and that'd be happy to answer to is what do you, if everything goes, as we hope, what do you, what is the impact you hope this project has?[:
And that in that case, it will be way, way, way more than just us, that this, you know, the carbonalmanac.org website will end up having thousands of contributors, tens of thousands of contributors, and it will become the place that we all go. I think that would be super cool. And that's well beyond one edition of a book and a website companion to it.ne held in Glasgow and end of:
[00:38:09] Jennifer: Barrett. What would you like to add to that thought?[:
But the fact that we have to solve it for the good of humanity and just for our continued existence. Is unequivocal in my mind. And so what I'm most looking forward to is the day this comes out, I'm going to get a hundred copies on my doorstep that I ordered. And I'm looking forward to handing a copy to my mom and sending a copy to my great friends, some of whom are well-known authors or startup operators or whatever. Handing it to my friends here in Portland and saying, Hey, we made this, it's not for just liberal people. It's not for only climate change activists. This is for everyone. And I'd love for you to read it. I'd love for you to ask me questions.
I'd love to have a conversation and hopefully open up some dialogue so that talking about this becomes less of a taboo thing amongst people who aren't already convinced, you know, maybe there's some portion of the population, you know, if you do the normal distribution, maybe it's like that one side over here, that's never going to engage, but that middle 50, 60% of people that's really who I want to have conversations with. And there's a lot of people in my life and in all of our lives, I think who are there and they might be willing, but they might feel stupid related to the topic. They might feel admonished. They might feel scared.
And I'm really, really hoping that the book becomes a conversation starter in a way to engage people who would take action or would care if someone built a bridge for them to build deeper understanding, and if they were able to engage in a safe kind of way in the conversation. That's my kind of selfish and altruistic hope for it.