- Joe -
Before believing anything that you read anywhere, it is important to first understand the source. Individuals and organizations will always have have their own motivations and lenses through which they perceive the world which will shape their baises and impact their authority and credibility. I encourage you to scrutinize everything you read and challenge anything that isn't consistent or fully transparent, as I do the same for everyone else.
I grew up in West Michigan, the son of 1st and 2nd generation Dutch immigrants in a pretty typical middle-class American suburb. As a kid I played with neighbors in the front yard during the summer, sledded and built snow-things in the winter, and had an enjoyable childhood with my three sisters. At home we ate breakfast cereals, sandwiches, casseroles, and canned vegetables, and sometimes wild game when my dad fished or hunted deer or fowl. On special occasions we would go out to eat and get simple entrees at a family restaurant, order a pizza to have with a video at home, or get fun groceries like lunchables with squeezits or ice-cream bars in the summer. We were taught to be smart, frugal, independent, and value hard work.
I was raised in a Christian-Reformed community and my parents valued Christian education tremendously. They changed their careers to put me through a private education system from kindergarten all the way to high school graduation. In those formative years I made friends, learned the hardships of love and acceptance, played video games, discovered music, and learned to understand my world. The the high caliber of the school system had a lifelong impact: the solid foundation in sciences, mathematics, language arts, and humanities provided me entrance to an engineering undergraduate degree at Michigan Technological University.
While life as an engineering student at MTU wasn't exactly a typical American experience, many aspects of it were: I paid for the education out of pocket, took on about $30k in student loans in total, and struggled through a rigorous 4 year program which for many friends became a 5-year program. I spent my first year in a dorm and the following three sharing apartments with friends. I ate hot pockets and Progresso soups, sometimes pop-tarts just because I was an adult and could do what I wanted, and occasionally treated myself to a subway sandwich or dominoes pizza when I accomplished major goals or needed a personal boost. Music remained central to my identity, and video games & cinema my primary entertainment.
My first break from this rather conventional path was the spring semester 2007, spent in Pau, France on a study abroad exchange. I had studied French in both high school and college, but the experience of living in a foreign country and integrating into its language and culture was nothing short of transformative. The subtle differences in daily life, new perspectives, and having an adult brain with a child's capacity to communicate is unlike anything in single-country life and it blew my perception of life and the world.
WORK & THE WORLD
In spring 2008 I graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering and started immediately as a software engineer for a machinery company in West Michigan. My first six months saw the peak of the global financial crisis which defined a new understanding of economics, employment, retirement, and the reality of money. The years that followed were spent working on test equipment for the automotive industry. It was a well paying position, but in an intense environment that was one of the hardest-hit sectors of the global market. I developed a steely work ethic in a high-stress climate while paying off my student loans as quickly as possible.
The work soon took me on the road to automotive assembly plants around the country and eventually around the world. The work was always intense, but I had the luxuries of hotel stays with premium status, rental cars or a driver when abroad, and unlimited restaurant dining. I ate hotel buffets for every breakfast, no lunch on work days, and a simple dinner at a chain restaurant or sandwich shop with dessert if I felt like living large. I averaged a new country a year for nearly a decade (Mexico, India, Venezuela, South Korea, Belgium, China, and Brazil), plus recurring extended-stay trips to France for a multi-year project that I was assigned to lead.
While there were many aspects of the lifestyle that I grew to enjoy over the years, I knew from the beginning that it was not how I wanted to spend my entire adult life. Without a clear notion of what to do instead, I set out on a full-scale re-assessment of values and priorities to determine how an adult human should live, and consequently what I would do with the rest of my life's activity.
At the core of this goal were these fundamental questions:
1. Why does the world suck so much
2. How must I live such that if every human were to live the same way we wouldn't have major problems
3. What activity best combines my skills, interests, and something that the world really needs.
The journey ended up lasting another several years and brought me though a number of diverse and enriching experiences. It is far, far more than I can reasonably summarize, but I can say that I moved out of state for a few years, quit and returned to the engineering world twice, and moved to France and back while constantly refining my answers to the essential questions.
Through all of this I gravitated to one overwhelmingly clear conclusion: Sustainability.
While the answers to all of the transitional questions took shape over the years, it became overwhelmingly clear each step of the way that this one needed to be addressed more than any other, and more urgently than any other. The more I leaned about the practices and consequences of modern human society the more absurd the whole concept became.
The galvanizing culmination of the entire process occurred one unassuming evening at the local library fall 2019 when I picked up a copy of Stephen Emmott's 10 Billion. An extremely concise non-fiction, it details the full scope of modern human impact on Earth which I read start to finish in an hour right then and there. In the deeply troubled days that followed, I turned to scientific reports published by IPBES and WWF to verify its content, and they were even more horrifying.
It became unquestioningly clear that I needed to start doing everything I could, as soon as I could, and so began the focus of the rest of my life's work, and the mission of 1SustainableJoe.