Climate for Change: a shift in consciousness, a gift to our communities


Tim Falls

Tim Falls

Travel has typically been a big part of developer relations. Even before Covid, though, many in dev rel began to question the environmental impact the profession was having.

In this talk from DevRelCon Earth 2020, Tim Falls reviews current climate science and what it means for our future, while acknowledging our role and responsibility in the climate crisis as dev rel professionals and humans.


All right, everyone. It’s very nice to be here. I’ve done a couple of these virtual presentations so far. And going to try to, you know, build off of those experiences, and make this as enjoyable as possible for everyone.

And as Joe mentioned, thank you, Joe, for the kind introduction. And I’d love for this to be interactive and for the Q&A section to be a place for discussion. And even after this talk and after Q&A is over, I’d love to invite anyone to discuss the topics that we’ll cover today.

So with that, I am sharing my screen already. So I’m going to go jump over to my keynote and share that. So we can jump into the presentation. Joe, I’ll asked for you to interrupt me if anything goes wrong because I’m just seeing my slides here.

So this is a <i>Climate for Change</i>. And we’re going to talk about a shift in consciousness, about how we do our work and live our lives, and a gift to our communities that can come from that shift. As Joe introduced me, I am Tim Falls. My current working title is advocate of Earth.

As Joe mentioned, I’ve been in developer advocacy, developer relations for the last 10 years. And am currently in a transition. I would say from those 10 years, I might be somewhat of an expert in DevRel. But I can’t say that I’m an expert in climate science or climate change. I’m a learner.

I’m learning about this actively. And because I think it’s so important and so relevant, I want to share what I’m learning and invite other people to learn about it as well. So, with that, let’s jump into our agenda. Today we’re going to do a little bit of meditation together. I’ll guide us through it.

It’ll take just a couple minutes, one or two. And then we’re going to see some science. Once we’ve seen that, we’re going to make a choice out of three. And once we’ve worked through that choice and its implications, then we’ll jump into the Q&A. And tomorrow, because this talk, I think will be so inspiring to you all, we’re going to do something about this thing called climate change.

So starting with zero, let’s jump in to a meditation. So for this, just sit where you’re sitting in the comfort of your seat, or the couch, or stand if you like.

You can close your eyes. If you want to shut off your screen, you can do that too. But no need, nobody’s watching. And just be quiet in your own heart and mind, and I’ll talk you through a little experience. So with your eyes closed…I invite you to use your imagination and envision a place in nature in a natural world that brings you joy.

It might be a place that you’ve been in your life. It might be a place that you’ve never been and would like to go, might be a place that’s surrounding you currently, just outside your windows, or a place from a distant memory, or from a dream.

And as you picture that place, I want you to picture yourself in that place smiling and enjoying it. And as you enjoy it, I want you to take notice of the sensory experience of the smells.

Might be the air, might be the plants, might be the animals, of the sites, the colors, the movement. Take notice of the feelings, the physical sensations, perhaps it’s wind or water that you can feel against your skin.

And even take notice of any tastes that might be present in this experience. Maybe you’re enjoying a beverage while you enjoy nature. Maybe you can taste the odors in the air, the scents.

And with all those senses working and active, just take a couple more seconds in quiet by yourself to enjoy this happy place. Okay, now you can start slipping away from that happy place back to our talk, and start slowly opening your eyes, and take in the soothing gradient colors of this slide and that meditation emoji.

So our meditation is complete. Thank you for joining me in that if you did. This is the scene, something like the scene that I go to when I do that meditation. It’s where I grew up, not this exact picture but a scene reminiscent to this.

This looks like the driveway that I used to walk up and down from the bus before and after school. And I could remember the sound of the creek flowing, the smell of the honeysuckle, and the sight and the touch of the dogs running down the driveway to greet us and asking us to pet them.

And this memory, experience, and connection to the earth and to nature is why I’m here talking to you and talking with you about climate change. And we’ll revisit this a little bit more in our talk.

But first, on to Number 1 from our agenda. This brings us to science. Climate change is something that we just need to look to science to, we can look outside our doors and our windows and experience it for ourselves, but to make sense of it, we need science.

So let me share some of that with you, which I’ve been learning over the last several months as part of my climate change school and independent study beyond my coursework. To some, it’s bad. It’s really bad.

There’s a mass extinction event happening right now, the sixth one. And this is a biodiversity crisis. Deforestation is accelerating which is contributing to this. And I’m going to look at my notes for a moment, and just read a couple of the specific statistics around this extinction and what it means to our planet, and the animals, and the plants on it.

So 60% of vertebrates, 83% of mammals, and 50% of all plants have been wiped out, off of this earth, extinct, since beginning of humans. What we’ve done as humans to this earth so far will take 5 to 7 million years for the earth to naturally repair itself from the damage we’ve done.

Global wildlife population has decreased 60% in the last several decades. Of all the mammals on Earth, 96% of them are livestock and humans, and only 4% of them are wild animals.

Seventy percent of all birds on Earth are chickens, and only 30% are wild. And over 15,000 scientists have signed a letter saying we’re ruining our planet. So that’s extinction. Sea level rise is another big thing.

This is definitely happening, and it is happening in an increasing way. We’re expecting, based on scientific research right now, anywhere from 3 to 8 feet of sea level rise around the world by the end of the century. And this is already happening in cities where, that are by the top, by the ocean and at sea level when high tides come in, and full moons come in, their streets are flooding.

This is a big, big deal. And heat waves may be the biggest deal. An interesting fact about heat waves is when thinking about what we call wet bulb temperature, which takes into account both heat and humidity, there’s a threshold at 35 degrees Celsius wet bulb where even a very healthy human being can be depleted and die within 6 hours of experiencing that type of conditions.

And we’re already observing those types of conditions all over the world. So that’s dangerous and getting more dangerous. And finally, there’s nine tipping points. Each of these has to do with permafrost thawing, or ice shelves melting, or forests turning to deserts.

And these are each big events where if we cross a certain threshold, the implications are irreversible and very, very drastic. So like I said, it’s bad. It’s really bad.

And basically, what we’re trying to do here is keep the warming of our planet as compared to pre-industrial levels below 1.5 degrees Celsius. But since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve already reached 1.2 degrees Celsius warming. So 1.5 isn’t far off.

And current projections show us actually reaching 3 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. Dr. Chip Fletcher, a scientist, and academic, and researcher in Hawaii who is facing this, who provided a lot of information that I just shared with you, and is facing this head-on as a resident of an island state.

And he said this is an incredibly dangerous world, the 3 degrees Celsius. And also, if we could even keep it to 2 degrees Celsius, which we’re hoping to do, the difference between 1.5 and 2 is dramatic.

For instance, at 1.5, about 70% of the oceans’ coral reefs will die. At 2 degrees Celsius warming, all of the coral reefs will die. So what? Well, that’s what we often react to with this stuff.

That’s the little supervillain on our shoulders, saying, “This is too big.” And I definitely can relate to that. And I’ve been doing that for probably the last 10 years of my life, kind of saying, “Well, I’ll get to it when I can.”

Talking to one of my friends recently, who’s one of the most capable and ambitious entrepreneurs I know, this was his quote, “When it comes to climate action, I get discouraged quickly.” And I totally relate to that sentiment, that feeling because I’ve been there, and I still get there even though I’m attempting to do this work now.

However, we have to be superheroes and not the supervillains. Listen to the voice on the other shoulder. And that brings me to us and our communities. So what does this mean for us and our communities? Well, let’s first think about who us and our communities are?

Us, well, we’re human first, and we’re developer relations professionals, and we’re employees at a company, many of us, most of us. Our communities are oftentimes our coworkers, our customers. But most importantly, they are also human.

And in thinking about serving our communities as developer relations professionals, in light of the crisis, the climate crisis that I just described briefly, it’s really, really important that we remember that we are all human, and that we think about our communities, our coworkers, our customers, our partners, our fans and followers as human first, not just customers.

Because if we think about them as their human selves, and all that comes along with that, we can think about how to serve and support them in a much different way than just how they use our product or service, or how much money they give us or don’t give us.

And climate change is affecting every single human on Earth in really real ways. So if we can take into consideration our customers who live all over the planet, right now, who are oftentimes working from home, or putting themselves at risk to go to work outside of the home.

Taking into consideration climate change, and how it impacts each one of those people in their homes, on their way to work, is going to allow us to think about how we serve them and support them in different ways, more meaningful ways, and more effective ways. So we’re all human.

And we’re all going through something, that’s absolutely true, especially today, pandemic happening. But it’s important to keep in mind, especially today, with social movements happening, that some of us, what we’re going through, is worse than for others.

And that’s a human fact, a fact of human nature in our society right now. And that’s a very glaring fact when it comes to climate change, in that people are disproportionately affected by climate change based on their socioeconomic status, their race, and their ability to basically purchase their way away from where climate change is having the most damage.

So, back to that happy place. And the question of, “So what?” Well, this is why. This is why I’ve chosen to take action. And I think if you think back to your happy place, and consider maybe because of climate change, or because of human behavior that’s leading to climate change, this might be what your happy place looks like in the future.

And in fact, this is what my happy place looks like now after the owners of my parents’ property tore down all the trees, tore out all the grass, and made it into a field for crops. It wasn’t quite this dramatic but you get the idea. So that brings us to Number 2 on our agenda.

We have a problem. We have three choices. We can leave the situation. We can change the situation, or we can accept it completely. That’s according to Eckhart Tolle in <i>The Power of Now</i>. And in our case, for today’s talk, and because we care about our communities, we’re going to change the situation.

And also because we have that gift to give. So that brings us to change. So we want to change the situation, how do we do it? I’ll give you three buckets of activity or three buckets of ideas on how we can change the situation.

First is learning. A couple resources to learn from, is a climate change school that I mentioned earlier in which I’m enrolled right now. Climatetwitter is a great resource to just listen to scientists. And, of course, you have to sift through a lot of garbage as well. But learning is the first step.

The more I’ve learned, the more unavoidable climate change has been and climate action. And the more necessary climate action has become. There’s this turning point, I think, a tipping point personally, where once you know enough, you can’t ignore this problem. The second thing is talk.

And by talk, I mean connect with people. Connect with your friends and family, and talk about this topic. Make it not a stigma, and not a thing that we avoid, but a thing that is always on our minds. Not necessarily in a stressful way, but in a productive way.

And find a community, because community is really important in this work, because it’s depressing, and it’s upsetting, and frustrating and angry, and sad. So having a community to support you and all those emotions is important. And through that talk and connection, eventually, we’ll create a cultural shift.

And finally, the third thing to do is act. Take action, be an activist, change your life habits, change your work habits, do something at your current job or do something at your new job, go get a new job, I should say. Some examples of this are just lifestyle changes.

You know, really shifting how you go through every day, and what you do and all the decisions you make, even how you take care of yourself because it’s important to remember that our bodies are part of the environment, and taking care of our bodies is taking care of the planet. So start there.

And in your current job, if you feel like, “Well, this isn’t working, I’m not working on climate change. And there’s nothing to do with climate change in my role,” I encourage you to take a step like doing a carbon audit for your company. So something that I did at my last employer. And I’ve provided an example at the end of this deck and a link to the output of it, and would love, and have open-sourced a tool to do it.

Or, you know, if you get to a point where you can’t do what you want to do in your current job, then maybe get a new job. Start a climate company, join a climate company, or start a climate division within your next employer, organization. And ultimately, this all amounts to a shift in consciousness where every decision is a climate decision.

And we’re mindful every day as we go through our lives about the implications of our decisions in terms of the planet. Thinking about less stuff is better than more stuff. Thinking about less growth and slower growth is better than hyper-growth or fast growth which is hard to say in this world of technology.

And just generally having greater self-awareness of our actions and the actions around us and questioning, like, what is normal, realizing that normal is killing us before, and realizing that we now have a chance to change. So this shift in consciousness, and these three things of learning, and talking, and acting are our gift to our communities.

And ultimately, what that gift will come across as if done authentically and effectively is love. Our communities will feel all your love because we’re treating them like humans, we’re thinking about them as full humans, and not just our customers or our coworkers.

And we’re thinking about how to support them in all aspects of their life, as it’s affected by all the things, crazy things that are happening in our lives. So that brings me to Number 3. I think I’m almost on time. Number 3 is just questions. And as I open the floor to questions, I want to say, I have a question, real quick.

For any of you who are viewing, I’d love to know if you have thoughts on this presentation in terms of its accessibility to people who have vision impairments because I’m trying to focus on making sure that my presentations are accessible and inclusive to as many people as possible. So, if you have feedback on that, I would love to hear it and appreciate it.

And finally, that brings me to questions. Going to escape.

  • [Joe] Wonderful, thank you so much, Tim. That was lovely, and perhaps intentionally, despite all in accordance with a grave topic, surprisingly soothing. Thank you for making what could have been a very stressful conversation grounded and nice.

So questions, currently, I can see question, MVP, Eric is typing in our Slack. So whilst we wait for Eric’s incoming question, I actually, love, would like to kind of go a little bit back from your talk itself and in terms of what we can do.

And actually one of the things that’s really interesting about you giving this talk is, you know, in your bio as we said at beginning that moving into this work has been a recent transition for you, and I guess, is your version of taking some action on this. Could you tell us a little bit about that transition, and how, I guess, how you’ve done that, and how anyone inspired by this could look to do similar things?

  • Yeah, yeah. I kind of started to allude to it when I mentioned that carbon audit that I did at my last employer. And that really was, I think, the turning point in the beginning of the path to where I am right now and to wherever I’m going from here, which was, you know, I had, through my own spiritual practice really reconnected with this nature that I had left behind when I grew up in the country in the Midwest.

And, you know, for the last 6 years of my life, I’ve been living in cities and doing DevRel for the last 10 years, just like flying around the world, doing so much damage to that, like, mindlessly and thoughtlessly, and always being in cities, mostly, you know, because that’s where our work happens.

And through my spiritual practice, and through just, like, kind of listening to the signal, and amongst the noise about climate change, and seeing some documentaries here and there, and seeing movements start, it just all kind of came together with…in the last year or two, where I was just like, I can’t stop, I can’t not do anything about this anymore.

Like, I have to do something. And I didn’t want to leave my job at the time because it didn’t feel safe to do so financially speaking. So I just thought, “What can I do at this company?” And then I took advantage of an internal hackathon where we could do whatever we want. That means something outside of your responsibility.

And that was my 24 hours of work to get 6 coworkers together, and say, “Let’s do a carbon audit. Let’s get our self-awareness together on what is our impact as a company.”

  • That’s awesome.
  • And once I did that, that like, brought together this group of employees that grew to, like, 20, 25 people who cared and had this discussion. And then, you know, that kind of snowballed to more and more activity within the organization. And in February, I left that company. And that gave me an opportunity to say, like, recenter myself and say, like, what’s next?

And, you know, still TBD. And I think, you know, I’m still engaged in the DevRel community, because I don’t feel comfortable or safe abandoning it right now…

  • Right, timing.
  • …because it’s what’s helped me pay the bills for the last 10 years of my life.
  • Yeah, absolutely.
  • So…
  • That’s why I think there is, like, as you kind of said, talking about the flying and the way, I guess, our industry operates there’s…it’s not as clear cut as just, like, kind of abandoning the thing you did do and going off to climate advocacy. Because there’s still work that you can do with your existing network in this space with these people like this talk, for example.
  • Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I just reframed it as like… And why this talk, the essence of this talk is like, every decision is a climate decision. Every role can be a climate role, everything that we do in our lives can have some impact on the climate. And if we reframe it from, “Oh, I got to go dedicate my whole life to this,” to, “I have to change my lifestyle, and my mindset, and shift my consciousness,” then we can feel like we’re acting on a daily, day-to-day basis even if we don’t change our jobs.
  • Right. Right. That makes sense. Okay, cool. So I will stop hogging time and pass over to our audience’s questions. So Eric says, “Unfortunately, in the U.S., climate change is a charged topic. Does introducing it into advocacy risk distracting from your business-related message?”
  • I would say, yes, I think there’s always a risk. It’s very true observation that it is still, unfortunately, in my opinion, it’s a political conversation still, which I think it is, my opinion is that it is not a political conversation.

It is a humanitarian conversation. And, you know, I think this goes along with a bigger shift in consciousness that I was talking about in 2015 at DevRelCon which was just shifting business to be a more human-centric enterprise.

And shifting capitalism to be more human-centric, where the humans are what matters. And think about business in a much different way. And, like, you know, it’s important that we educate our customers on our product, and how to use our product, right?

But we also always talk about this aspiration of, as developer companies, as empowering developers to change the world, right? Well, how are they going to be empowered to change the world if their home’s on fire? Or if it’s flooded, or if, you know, they’re facing tragedy every single day and crisis every single day?

They’re not going to be able to buy your product. They’re not going to be able to use your product successfully. So I think there is a serious business case to thinking about your customers and how they are being affected by this crisis right now. Where they do their work, where they write their software from their homes, you know, or from their offices.

And that shift can add to the business conversation instead of distract from it. And, you know, when it gets down to economics, like, the economics are clear that this shit isn’t going to keep working unless we change.

Like, we cannot keep going in the direction we’re going. It is not sustainable absolutely, fundamentally. And, you know, the people that we work for, as dev advocates, and even like individual contributors, or even directors or VPs, they’re, for the most part right now, not very receptive to this stuff, you know?

I didn’t choose to leave my last job. But I was kind of happy when I was asked to leave. I was laid off because, you know, I was frustrated at the same time. I described a lot of momentum and progress with what I was doing. But I was also frustrated because I didn’t feel like the message was getting across to the sea levels, for example.

So I don’t know if that answered the question. But I acknowledge the challenge, for sure. And I think it’s worth overcoming.

  • Cool. Well, thank you for the answer. I’ll let you know if Eric responds to anything further. And I think we’ve got one final question from Addy, which is, “What are some ideas for startups with all of the intent but lack of resources in both time and budgets to contribute?”
  • Yeah. So I think this is a conversation that’s been going on for a long time as well in the startup world where with diversity and equity or equality and inclusion, where startups say, well, that’s the thing that we start to worry about once we’re established.

That’s the thing that we start to worry about when we have more resources. My counter-argument to that is no. It’s the thing that you have to start now both diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is completely intertwined with a climate consciousness as an organization. And it’s, I think, very, very unwise to say we’re going to worry about this later because the things that are going to impact the company are already happening.

And ultimately, I believe that the companies who really do make a meaningful shift away, like, as soon as possible, are going to get the attention of consumers. Consumers already see that this is a crisis, and are going to get the attention of people who might want to work for them as well.

So I think that my advice to startups is figure it out. Don’t ignore it. Don’t delay. Divert your ad money to do something. It doesn’t take a lot of money to develop your self-awareness as a company. It doesn’t take a lot of money.

It actually can save you a lot of money by thinking differently about developer relations, right? We’ve all been forced into doing developer relations differently right now. And I think that we’re all saving money because we’re not doing the most expensive thing of DevRel which is flying. And what’s happened so far, we’re anticipating global emissions to decrease by 7% this year, which is, like, the first time in forever, for emissions, have decreased like that, which is a point proven that we can do it.

We can do things drastically different, and we can still get our jobs done, and we can save money. And therefore, divert that money into the things that we weren’t doing before. So it wasn’t a super-specific answer, but I just think it’s…we’re entrepreneurs, startups or entrepreneurs, we’re proud of our ability to innovate and overcome challenges. This is the biggest challenge of our lifetimes…

  • Right. [crosstalk]
  • …and it’s not one to be ignored. …want more access to innovate on, right?
  • Yeah, exactly. And, you know, there’s so many solutions not being built yet out there that need to be built. So, not only can you take a different approach with your current business but you can take advantage of the multiple, multitude of problems that need to be solved around this issue, and build businesses there and, you know… – Cool.
  • Help change the world like we say we’re going to.
  • Well, I hope this inspires some of our viewers to do so. And we haven’t got any further questions. So thank you very much, Tim. That was great. Thank you for your wonderful talk, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. ♪ [music]

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