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As an academic and economist, I’m a little uncomfortable admitting that I’m somewhat of a personal development junkie. I read books that provide advice on how to live a fuller life and I regularly listen to personal development podcasts from the likes of Tim Ferris, Hal Elrod, and Jonathan Fields with his Good Life Project podcast.

I must say that I have benefitted from filling my head with advice about setting goals and establishing good, healthy habits like a daily mindfulness practice and gratitude journaling. As an environmentalist, I’ve always been somewhat saddened by a lack of emphasis on environmental stewardship within the personal development space.

Time is Running Out

The warning signs are everywhere from unprecedented droughts and fires in California to hundred-year storms occurring every other year. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations organization dedicated to providing the best, objective data on the state of climate science, issued a dire warning in a 2018 report. Scientists now believe we have just 12 years to reverse course to limit a climate change catastrophe.

I’ve heard more than once from gurus in the personal development field that we should not be governed by fear, but rather by love. So rather than being fearful of climate change, we can be motivated to take action by our love of nature and the understanding that humans are an integral part of the web of life on this planet.

Hope for the Future

I have a quote pinned to a bullet board in my office that is attributed to the much-accomplished author and activist Helen Keller, who was also deaf and blind, that states:

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

Based on survey data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, 70% of Americans believe that global warming is happening. When asked what feelings they have when thinking about global warming, 45% state that they feel the emotion of hopelessness. One of the central themes in the personal development field is the idea that the future can be better and we have the capacity to change and rise up to address challenges big and small.

There is an opportunity to take the ideas of hope and personal agency promoted in the personal development sphere to shift the conversation about global warming toward optimism. I do believe that individuals want to take the necessary steps individually and support policies that will protect the climate. But first, we have to start talking about the issue. Again, to the Yale climate survey, which finds that that only 1 in 3 say that they discuss climate change with family and friends.

Big Money, Big Responsibility

The personal development business in big. Some estimates place the self-help industry at approximately $10 billion annually. These billions are spent on a variety of products and services including, self-help books & audiobooks, motivational speakers, public seminars, personal coaching, weight loss programs, and training courses.

Personal development authors and speakers with a substantial following and significant wealth have an opportunity to help address our environmental challenges. We know that those with wealth have a disproportionate impact on the environment. By integrating environmental stewardship within personal development teachings and serving as examples by seeking a low-impact lifestyle, leaders in the personal development field could indeed make a significant impact.


Many of us want to improve our lives achieving better health, creating stronger connections, and finding more meaningful work. There seems to be tension between our individual goals for personal development and the fact that our actions are contributing to a climate catastrophe that will have dire consequences for our collective future. Personal development should coexist with efforts to heal the planet.