Now, here’s the longer and more nuanced answer.
Years ago, in the early 1990s, I discovered that music was a great way to deal with the emotions that come up around overwhelmingly huge global problems. Key people in my life — most notably Donella Meadows, lead author of The Limits to Growth, and a dear friend as well as mentor — heard my first songs on sustainability issues, and immediately asked for more.
I should explain that this tendency to write songs did not come out of nowhere. I spent my 20s in New York, playing music professionally and doing other fun things, before going back to the kind of work for which I had been trained at university, and finding my home in the field we now call sustainable development. See my book Believing Cassandra for the whole story.
So, encouraged by the positive response I was getting, from Donella and many other people, I wrote more songs … and people kept asking for more. And suddenly I was no longer an “ex-musician” doing sustainability. I was a sustainability expert who also did music.
And I started making albums. Not all of the songs that I wrote had sustainability themes, but a lot of them did. I started mixing a few of those songs into my speeches and workshops. Apparently that worked, because people kept asking me to do more of that. They even paid me for it.
This went on for about 20 years.
Now, even back in the 1990s, I was already starting to play with the idea of a “musical” — a show about sustainability, Broadway style, with a mixture of songs that were funny and serious. I emphasize that I was just playing.
But after Donella Meadows died, in 2001, I decided to try to do that show for real, to honor her memory and her countless encouragements. But to be honest, writing a whole musical play was beyond me. And I was busy with other things, like settling into a new home country (Sweden), growing a business, and raising a family.
Still, I kept doing music, and people kept asking for more.
I have a habit of incubating ideas like this for a long time, but not letting go of them. Finally, in 2014 the thought occurred to me: why not make this a one-man show? Take the best bits from my introductory lectures on sustainability, combine personal stories about events and people who had inspired me, pick out the “greatest hits” from my collection of sustainability-related songs, weave it together into a quasi-theatrical narrative … and just do it.
Now, my hat goes off to Mike Quinn, director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at Mt. Royal University in Calgary, Canada. Mike had invited me to Calgary, to do their annual sustainability lecture in the spring of 2014. I proposed using that opportunity to debut my “one-man musical”, and linking it to the surprisingly popular little book I had recently published, Sustainability is for Everyone. Mike quickly agreed. (Frankly, without Mike’s bravery, this whole thing might never have happened.)
The debut performance went well — at least, according to the review in the student newspaper! So I did it again, at a conference in Hungary in the fall. Good reaction there, too!
So now, as I write this, it’s Spring 2015. I just turned 55. And I’ve decided that … well, performing this musical is really fun. I get to act, speak, play guitar, sing, get the audience involved … and they have fun, too.
I also believe, very strongly, that sustainability — this quest to help our world change course, avoid the worst ravages of environmental destruction and climate change, while assuring that everyone has as good a life as possible — needs the arts and culture just as much as it needs advances in science, technology, economics, and policy. We need to mobilize every gram or ounce of creativity at our disposal, if we are going to tackle and solve complex problems. If I can help shake loose a little more creativity from people, by taking a risk myself and being a little creative … well, I’ll try anything. Within reason.
Of course, I’m still consulting, writing books, and working with the UN and companies and leaders of all stripes, as a strategic advisor. That’s also fun! I’ll also continue giving straightforward lectures and keynotes, with or without music. I truly believe in helping to advance sustainability with every tool and capacity I have, and in encouraging others to do the same.
But hey, if you need an hour or so of someone standing up in front of your group, being provocative, informative, reflective, inspirational (hopefully!), and funny, while showing pictures, telling stories, singing a bunch of songs, and even getting the crowd singing … then I’m your man.
— Alan AtKisson
For information on booking Alan for a performance of “Sustainability: The Musical!”, please write to him using the Contact form on this website. If you missed the main page with the promotional video “trailer,” click on: The Musical!