After more than 30 years working in sustainability and realizing that we haven’t made much progress, I’m compelled to look at climate change in a totally different way.
Last time I spoke on this topic, I was asked what I’d do to combat climate change, and I pointed out the significance of “respect.” Old colleagues in the sustainability space who I haven’t spoken with in quite a while appreciated the message, and reached out with kind comments. But, while crucial, respect alone is insufficient without its counterpart: humility.
Humility is equally crucial for sparking change in climate and sustainability. It also goes hand-in-hand with respect. Respect is only possible by practicing humility—and through respectful action, real change can be made.
Humility Breeds Respectful Action
At its core, driving progress on complex issues like climate change requires humility to truly listen, understand differing views, take responsibility for our roles, and change behaviors.
When we lead with humility, it creates space for open and respectful dialog. It’s this type of humble, unified action that the climate crisis desperately needs.
For too long, arrogance on all sides has bred polarization and inaction. As a result, many are left misinformed and often times, assume that earth’s resources are inexhaustible, ultimately downplaying rising ocean waters and damaged beaches, while normalizing tragic realities such as indigenous homelessness at the hands of climate change.
Yet, when we have the genuine humility to meet others in the middle, compromise— and change—become possible. This type of humility is contagious and can spread respect, spurring the cooperation needed for action on every level.
Humility in Addressing Different Perspectives
To make real headway on climate change, we must have the humility to hear and attempt to understand perspectives different from our own.
Being open and considerate builds bridges rather than walls, and is the clearest route to unified action. It’s through humility that we find common ground, after all.
The humility to admit our own knowledge gaps and listen to the recent science with an open mind is crucial too. When we lead with curiosity instead of defensiveness, truth emerges, making way for informed strategic opinions and decisions. In short, humility enables progress.
Humility Toward the Earth from Which We Came
Interestingly, the word “humility” stems from the Latin phrase “humus”, meaning “earth” or “soil.” This etymology speaks to the reality that we came from the ground, and will one day return to it.
Looking deeper, I believe “humus” implies that we must re-discover a humility towards and appreciation for the planet that not only gave us life, but continues to sustain us despite our harmful actions.
True humility requires respecting the earth by making sustainable choices each day – reducing waste, minimizing fossil fuel use, and protecting nature. When we understand our shared roots and interdependence with the natural systems around us, environmentally responsible behavior naturally follows.
Our fates are intertwined with the soil beneath our feet, the water we drink, and the air we breathe. In earth’s best interests, it’s time we respect our roles in building a sustainable future and develop the much-needed humility to change course.
Humility: A True Saving Grace of Solving for Climate Change
Humility enables us to understand, take responsibility for our own roles, and change behaviors with an eye toward the greater good. It pushes past polarization and the fragile egos that have stalled action for too long.
Paired with respect for science, nature, and each other, humility becomes a saving grace—and our best hope for the widespread cooperation that the climate crisis requires.
Humility is a big part of how we’re going to solve for climate change. The word itself comes from ‘humus,’ which means ‘soil’ or ‘from the earth’—essentially the planet. Humility basically means to ‘diminish’ or ‘lower’ yourself. So, if you lower yourself, what you’re doing is raising up everyone and everything around you.
By doing so, you’re also showing respect. We must understand that we have a responsibility—humility and respect are two virtues that can get us to a sustainable future by solving for climate change.
About Anthony Zolezzi
Dalrada Executive Vice Chairman
A leading voice on sustainability, Anthony Zolezzi has spent more than 30 years driving global health and environmental initiatives, from organic agriculture to large-scale recycling. His passion stems from forming partnerships with major retailers to expand eco-conscious offerings, serving on various nonprofit boards, and directly advising King Charles III on his climate works.