200 years ago today, Henry David Thoreau was born.

July is a big Thoreau month. On July 4, 1845 he moved to live by Walden Pond, pictured above, for 2 years. He spent a night in jail, July 24 or 25, 1846, to avoid supporting slavery, inspiring generations.

Most periodicals reporting on his birthday talk about nature, his love for it, and his legacy of protecting it. He inspired John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt, for example.

Many describe his legacy in inspiring Martin Luther King Junior, Mohandas Gandhi, and other great historical leaders.

Thoreau didn't just ponder. He acted.

We at Inc. are businesspeople. Entrepreneurs, many of us. We don't merely observe. We act.

Thoreau was a small businessman, a family businessman. He financed his first book, which failed. He was resilient, as we strive to be, and his next book, Walden, succeeded.

I propose we businesspeople, we satisfiers of unmet demand, we self-determined actors who prefer not relying on government to solve problems we can ourselves celebrate his memory in a different, more active, more self-reliant way, to meet unmet demand.

Well, that is, among those of us who honor Thoreau's memory and legacy. Not all of us do. If you don't, so be it. We all have different values.

But for those who do, speaking of acting and self-determination, I couldn't help but think of his question:

What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?

when I read this morning's headline:

Iceberg twice size of Luxembourg breaks off Antarctic ice shelf

The article equivocates on whether we can assign global warming to this particular phenomenon, but there is little doubt that our social systems, beliefs, mental models, and infrastructure is contributing to overall global warming.

Thoreau lived before anyone guessed at a global greenhouse effect, but not before he could see how we pollute and degrade our world.

There are many causes. The systems we operate in--the highways, the airplanes, the factory farming, the ubiquitous air conditioning in cities in deserts--are nearly impossible to avoid on a daily basis.

Those systems arose when almost no one could have believed that humans, so tiny compared to our planet, could measurably change its overall temperature. Data overwhelmingly implies we can, have, and continue to.

I don't see how we can blame anyone for the problem, but leadership looks beyond blame to solutions. Global warming looks like it will hurt people, society, culture, and more. I believe a leader asks,

Can we change these systems?

As much as we may want to change them, as individuals we can't do much to change a system in a day.

Still, I propose to you that change on the individual level, however small, is still meaningful, if it leads us to act consistently with our values. If enough people change, it becomes systemic. If we behave consistently with our values, we act with integrity.

You--We--can make a difference

One person driving less, eating less factory-farmed meat, flying less, polluting less, using less air conditioning--you know things you could do--may affect little on a global CO2 scale, but maybe today, if everyone who reads this article who cares about Thoreau's legacy, who believes in self-determination, who calls him- or herself a leader, or just wants to be one, acts by his or her values...

... it might make a difference.

It may be that no one will measure that difference. But it will still be a difference, even if no one measures it.

And we will change ourselves.

Personal leadership

As important as the difference to the world, that difference--if you act according to your values, as Thoreau did by living nearly alone for two years, for going to jail to oppose slavery, for self-financing his risky book venture, for resiliently taking on his next book--makes a difference to you, yourself.

Living by your values is how you learn to live by your values more, when it's harder. It's how you develop the skill of integrity--how you act when no one is looking.

It's what gets you funded, hired, promoted, granted responsibility. That stuff doesn't happen by magic. Performers and competitors find and reach their potentials because they train, not just for playing in a game.

A call to action

I propose to you who want to honor Thoreau's legacy, to develop your integrity, even if no one else knows, and to make our planet more tolerable, and to make yourself a leader of yourself, to reach your potential, to choose one thing you can do today that will challenge yourself to reduce your greenhouse gas emissions, at least just for today.

Do it for yourself, for your personal growth, for your personal challenge to become more of a leader, to increase your chances of funding, promotion, hiring, gaining responsibility, handling challenges.

Do it if it's consistent with your values. If not, it won't be meaningful.

Maybe you'll carpool or take public transportation instead of driving. Or eating plants instead of factory-farmed meat. Or using a fan instead of an air conditioner. Or not buying something unnecessary.

I propose doing it to learn and grow from the experience, to see if you can keep doing it for the long run by finding you can live more consistently with your values even if others don't also.

You probably have something you've meant to try doing for a while. If you don't you can research.

Now's your chance. Post what you do as a response to this article if you want, if recognition or accountability helps motivate you, or if you want to inspire others.

Challenge yourself. Grow and learn.

Published on: Jul 12, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.