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139: 2% For 1.5 with Yuval Noah Harari

It took 40-50% of GDP to win WWII, 15% to manage COVID in 2020, so what can 2% do?

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About this episode

Historian, philosopher, bestselling author (and newly welcomed activist!), Yuval Noah Harari joins us to highlight how investing just 2% of global GDP into developing eco-friendly technologies and infrastructure every year could avert “the apocalypse” as he puts it.

His clear, down-to-the-essence thinking shines a bright light on a dark moment. Hit play to listen!

And at the top of the episode, our hosts Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac, and Paul Dickinson discuss the latest UK fringe conservative rumblings of the “Net Zero Scrutiny Group” and how recent populism movements are a wolf in sheep's clothing for communities who feel disenfranchised by politicians and global energy market fluctuations alike.

Plus! This week we have a special musical guest, “Ny Oh” with her song “Australia”. Stick around for that.

Mentioned links from the episode:



Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage+Optimism! I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:15] I'm Christiana Figueres

Paul: [00:00:17] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:18] This week we ask whether net zero is really under threat in the UK. We speak to the brilliant author, and now activist, Yuval Noah Harari. And we have music from Ny Oh. Thanks for being here. So again, so much going on in the world, and we have to kind of cut through it and identify the things that we want to talk to you about. And one thing we've picked up on this week is the interesting story that's coming out of the U.K. The group of MPs called the Net Zero Scrutiny Group. 19 conservatives, is attempting to derail the government's green agenda, basically by linking the cost of living crisis to the idea that that is created by the net zero target, it's driving up energy prices. And they are doing what they can to get the government to water down their net zero target. This is causing concern. People, friends like Laurence Tubiana, Fatih Birol, Jennifer Morgan have come out and encourage the UK just three months after COP26 not to water down its targets. So there's different ways of looking at this, but I think it's an interesting doorway into some of the ways in which economics and politics are intersecting right now on climate. So let's just kick off there. What are both of you heard about this? What are your impressions of what's going on here and are you worried?

Christiana: [00:01:45] Well, as the only non-Brit on this, yes, I have the luxury today of actually asking you some questions to the two Brits.

Tom: [00:01:54] As long as you didn't expect us to know everything is going on, but yes, go ahead.

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Christiana: [00:01:57] So first, just just so that we can have clarity about what we're talking about, this conversation that you're alluding to, Tom, does not have to do with the other conversation of what net zero is or is not. Is it a real zero? Is it net zero? Is it using offsets? Does it have a roof to the offsets? Is it 10 percent? It has nothing to do with that, or does it?

Tom: [00:02:22] Now you are absolutely correct and what you're referring to you, there is the fact that there is quite a bit of hand-wringing going on in the corporate space about what does net zero mean? Who's doing what and how can it be relied upon? This is different. This is about the UK as a national target and what that is doing to energy prices or not doing to energy prices.

Christiana: [00:02:43] Ok, good. So just so that we can establish because, to the first issue, we still have an episode pending that we would like to tee up. Ok, so let's just establish that. So given that that is the case, then as a non-Brit who doesn't even live there anymore. Could somebody please explain to me, why the cost of living that in all other spaces has to do with difficulties in transportation, in container shipping and especially into rising prices of fossil fuels. Why is that cost of living now being put on renewables or decarbonisation? Could you just give me the logic of that?

Paul: [00:03:36] What is the logic, Tom? What is the logic we need to know? There are lots of listeners outside the UK and obviously very UK thing. Christiana has asked a direct question. You're in the line of sight. The rabbit in the headlights. You're on the spot. Go, Tom.

Tom: [00:03:48] I don't think it's a UK thing, actually, because I think this argument can increasingly be used around the world. So the point here is that we are seeing a very precipitous rise in the cost of fossil fuels. Gas is six times, nearly six times, more expensive now than it was 12 months ago. We are seeing a very significant rise in the price of oil. And in the UK, these Conservative MPs are looking at that and saying the solution to this is obviously to allow fracking in the Midlands, in the UK to drill more oil wells in the North Sea. And that's how we bring down these costs that are hurting people. That's the oil.

Christiana: [00:04:23] Ok, so so so the logic is here we have an acid, a good fossil fuels, and we know from history that the price is completely volatile and that goes up and down quicker than anything we have ever seen. It can go to negative 10 all the way up to one hundred and forty one hundred and fifty, and we know that that volatility will continue. And so the argument is, in order to protect ourselves and buff ourselves from that volatility, we should invest more into them.

Tom: [00:04:57] That's correct. That's the argument.

Christiana: [00:04:59] Well, can somebody explain that argument to me?

Tom: [00:05:03] Well, it's a completely spurious argument that has been constructed on the basis of an ideological position. Obviously, these people are trying to look for ways in which they can shoot net zero down because of course, you don't have to think about this for very long to think. It might be that if you put a massive investment into drilling, you could increase supply in the UK and drive down prices in the short term, although of course, energy is a global market. So the truth is you probably couldn't do that even in the UK, you would just allow profit gouging by those companies. The only way you protect consumers is by insulating homes, investing in renewable energy, both domestic as well as large scale offshore wind and electrifying the economy. But there is this group that are now trying to use this populist argument of support for lower income people and tie that, as has been done successfully over decades so it's a real threat. People have often said the green transition is too expensive, so therefore people on low incomes need us to invest in fossil fuels, and it's dangerous. I think politically well, is it dangerous? That's the question. Paul, you haven't come in yet. What do you think?

Paul: [00:06:12] Well, I was waiting for the moment, Tom, when you would kind of have yourself, you know, skewered on a pin like a butterfly ready for me to kind of pounce with the same argument I always use about everything. And actually, I want to draw attention to

Tom: [00:06:27] Am I in that state now, by the way,

Paul: [00:06:29] You are this beautiful, I wish I could pronounce the name for butterfly collectors. It's a fantastic word. It's like leopard-

Tom: [00:06:36] Lepidopterologist

Paul: [00:06:37] Thank you. There you go. Fantastic word. Last week, for those who are interested or remember, I criticized an ESG or a sustainable investment whistleblower called Tariq Fancy because he had said that all that everything that the investors were doing was kind of greenwashing and it was all about the government. But I want to draw attention of the listeners to the fact that he completely redeemed himself, and this is related to the point you just made, Tom. You said they're doing this something ideological, and I want to focus on the word motive here. Why are they doing this? You said it was ideological. I don't think it is. I think it's greed. I actually think they're doing it because they're being paid to do it. This is what Tariq Fancy said. And I think it's a wonderful article. On the 10th of February, he said in the wake of the US Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010. Unknown amounts of untraceable corporate spending intended to influence elections and legislation have been sloshing around the system. It's no wonder the majority of Americans feel that the economy is rigged in favour of the wealthiest and the most powerful. And he makes a particular point saying that government's got a role as a referee, that government needs to make the rules. It uses a wonderful phrase, he says. There's a difference between government as provider and government as regulator. Governments should no more build electric vehicles than a referee should take free throws. But if the referees don't call fouls and enforce the boundaries, who will? So what we've done as a society, a global society, a national society in the UK, for example, is we've recognised we've got to stay below one five, we've got to reach net zero by 2050. Those are the rules and I think money is infecting those rules and breaking them.

Christiana: [00:08:23] Can I follow up? 

Tom: [00:08:23] Yeah, no. I just want to make a quick point, which is, as Paul now directly accused 19 MPs of corruption, I'd just like to point out that it was Paul and not Tom that did that for when the lawsuit comes.

Paul: [00:08:30] I mean, you know, when you say accused, I think that's a very strong word.

Christiana: [00:08:38] Just following on my line of questions here to both of you Brits, so you use the word populist, and I believe that was you, Tom said. You know, there's a populist argument.

Paul: [00:08:50] Well, it's Tom. T-O-M, Tom.

Christiana: [00:08:54] Ok. And I just wonder how popular, is this populist argument? Is this, you know, 50 percent, 60 percent, 70, 80 percent of the UK public? What are the numbers on this? What does the majority or the minority of UK citizens, what is their opinion about this?

Tom: [00:09:16] It's a great question, Christiana. And I think actually this points to something else peculiar that's going on in our politics, which is support for net zero and for dealing with the climate crisis in the UK is at an all time high. Something like in the 80s, 80 percent plus of people very strongly support strong action on climate. So it's not really populism, it's kind of pseudo populism. It's presented in the context of a populist argument, but bizarrely is actually

Christiana: [00:09:41] But it’s not popular

Tom: [00:09:42] But it's actually not popular, right? It's actually against the wishes of the majority of people. It's a great point.

Paul: [00:09:48] But actually, Oscar Wilde said it's not public opinion that needs changing, It is the mind of public officials. I'm not sure what their motivations were back in the days when Oscar Wilde was having his problems with the authorities. But you if you ask the public, do you want your children to be safe? What are they going to say? It's not a very complicated question, is it?

Tom: [00:10:06] Well, and I mean, we've had this not completely the same situation, but the the holding to ransom of the Build Back Better agenda in the US by senators, Sinema and Manchin on the basis of a populist argument for a minority of people in their states holding back progress for everybody. It's very interesting and you've drawn a sharp distinction there, Christiana, and I think is well worth remembering that even in the U.S., the Union of Coal Miners came out and asked Manchin to change his position. Actually, we have a situation where the vast majority of people, as you just said Paul, understand the risk, don't want to be in a position where our lawmakers put us in greater risk and don't deal with it and want to be responsible. But we have a small minority of lawmakers who are not going along with that and are using populist arguments against it. And this is actually where I think we need to come back and friends in government that I've spoken to about this issue have made this point. And in fact, Ed Miliband also made this point. We should probably just ignore this group of MPs in the UK. There's 19 of them. They're sort of more the lunatic fringe. Some of them are real climate skeptics.

Christiana: [00:11:19] Climate 19 out of how many?

Tom: [00:11:21] The majority is over 350. The conservative majority. There's 600 MPs in Parliament. So why are we paying attention to this issue? When the UK government is legally required to reduce its emissions to net zero, it has to break from that which would require an act of parliament. But what we see right now is the media giving a huge amount of attention to this small group of lawmakers. And maybe we just made it worse by bringing it up on this podcast. But the conclusion that I would come to, and Clay is just saying we've dedicated 12 minutes to it here, but the conclusion that I would have,

Paul: [00:11:56] Well done team, we actually managed to solve this problem by presenting it.

Tom: [00:12:00] Exactly, we've made it worse, but our suggestion at the end of this is unless there is some indication that ministers or No. 10 or others are picking this up, we shouldn't allow this to divert from the fact that the UK and other countries that have laws are now on an irreversible path to net zero. Do you both think that's right? Or do you think both think the risk of this is sufficiently great that we should pay attention to it when it comes up?

Paul: [00:12:23] Christiana is thinking.

Christiana: [00:12:25] Could I ask both of you to please define populist in the context that we're talking about?

Tom: [00:12:36] After you Paul.

Paul: [00:12:39] The term populism, I really came to be acquainted with through the election of Donald Trump, where there appeared to be some quite interesting and unusual dynamics going on. Someone who would appear in policy terms to be interested in promoting the interests of the richer people to some extent and reducing environmental standards became associated with being a champion of poorer people and ignored. And I think that sort of spirit of fury with existing political structures that you've seen you see in, for example, this sort of strange Canadian trucker demonstrations that's kind of anti-vax. There are many examples across the world where democracies seem to be so bad at looking after their people, to a certain extent, you get leaders who are kind of like a brick being thrown through a window. But actually, when you think of, for example, in the United States where there's over 40 million people below the poverty line, you can see why people would want to throw that brick. So that's my definition of populism.

Christiana: [00:13:53] Tom?

Tom: [00:13:54] I mean, populism is basically a political approach to appeal to ordinary people who feel like their needs have been ignored by the elites. But actually, I think what we're seeing is people coming out who claim that they are appealing to ordinary people who have been ignored by the elites, but actually proposing and presenting very elitist policies in the name of that. So maybe I don't know what to call it. Yeah. So we're going to go to our interview in just a sec. Christiana, anything else to add or further questions for us before we flip over?

Christiana: [00:14:25] No, my concluding thought is before we make statements that use words that are quite conveniently used or misused, it's probably better to think through the signage of words and think through that to figure out what is the motivation that is truly behind these statements. Forget about, you know what, the adjective that we might put on those, but what is the motivation? And I think if we get a clarity on the motivation, we might be able to understand the statements better. Anyway, to my two British friends, thank you very much for holding the torch and explaining quite well what is going on in wonderful UK.

Tom: [00:15:20] Wonderful is generous given what's been going on in the UK recently and the fact that it's February, but we appreciate it.

Paul: [00:15:25] God save little UK, we need some help. Thanks. Christiana, thank you.

Tom: [00:15:29] So this week we have a very exciting guest for you. Welcoming back to the podcast, Yuval Noah Harari, of course, one of the world's most famous public intellectuals, thinkers, historian, author of many books including Sapiens and Homo Deus. Yuval recently came out with a campaign to try to persuade public officials and everybody that two percent of GDP would be sufficient to deal with the climate and nature crises. And what's beautiful about this is the simplicity of it and the amount of background work that's gone into thinking how this would work. So we dug into this just a couple of days ago with Yuval. Here's the conversation, and we'll be back afterwards with more discussion.

Christiana: [00:16:15] Yuval, thank you so much for joining us once again on Outrage+ Optimism. It is quite a privilege to have you on again. Many wonderful greetings to you and to Itzik as we start this new year, that is actually going to be a very critical year and how wonderful to to know that you are launching a campaign. So now you're not just a historian, an intellectual, a writer. You're actually turned into a climate activist and someone who's going to be doing advocacy. So welcome. Welcome. Welcome to the club. It's fantastic. But Yuval, you really put things actually, quite simply and quite profoundly. And you're saying and I quote in your TIME article, the crucial news is that the price tag of preventing the apocalypse, and I love the way you use that word, the apocalypse is in the low single digits of annual global GDP. In fact, it is two percent. And obviously, the idea is not yours. As you point out, many economists have actually landed on that number. But how did you and Itzik, I'm assuming, land on the idea of making a campaign out of this.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:17:43] Well, first of all, thank you for inviting me again. It's a real pleasure to be here and to meet you again. And you know, I'm not a climate scientist. I don't have any particular kind of insights into the science behind the numbers. I'm a historian. I understand, I try to understand political movements, political structures, the long term course of human history. And when I look at the climate crisis, the question that I'm asking myself is what kind of political project do we need in order to prevent catastrophic climate change? And very often when you try to define the nature of a political project or the kind of political project you need, a good place to start is with the bottom line with the price tag. How much would it cost? There is a huge difference between political projects that cost, say, zero point one percent of GDP and political projects that cost, I don't know, 50 percent of GDP. The 50 percent kind of projects are almost impossible, except under very special circumstances. If we look at the history of the 20th century, so what kind of political projects managed to rely on 50 percent of the EU's 50 percent of GDP of a country? It's usually total war. The Second World War. I mean, the allies had to invest roughly, let's say, 40-50 percent of GDP in order to win it. And the axis powers spent. Almost the entire GDP on losing it.

Paul: [00:19:42] Luckily, luckily.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:19:43] Luckily, yeah, and but this is a kind of ballpark figure now almost no other project like a reform of health care systems, the building of an education system, anything like that. If it costs 50 percent of GDP, forget it. A country won't be able to do it because it won't be able to mobilize the political will, the political capital to do it. So when I look at trying to prevent the climate apocalypse, catastrophic climate change, a key question is how much will it cost in terms of global GDP? And when you read many of the articles and comments and blogs and then you get sometimes the impression that we all probably need to, I don't know, dismantle modern civilization and the modern economy and start from scratch or that we will have to complete, I don't know, go back to live in caves, if we want to stop it. And the impression you often get is like, this is something like a world war. We'll need 50 percent of global GDP to do it. And this is like terrible news because it means that the kind of political project we need is almost impossible. But then when you look at the numbers, and then one thing I realized is I try to look at the numbers, it's very difficult to find the numbers. That, you know, you have this one number, very important number that got a lot of attention. One point five degrees Celsius, we need to prevent global temperature from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius. But then when you look for the price tag, it's extremely difficult to find it. And not just me, but my entire team spent weeks going over all kinds of reports and panels and articles and so forth. And it turns out that there is a number, or there are numbers. And of course, you know, it's easy to play with numbers. It's a lot of speculation and guesswork. But almost all the numbers are in the single digits, low single digits of global GDP. Many of them are around two percent of global GDP, and this is like a wonderful piece of news because it means it's a feasible political project. Two percent of global GDP every year is, of course, a lot of money, but it's exactly the kind of project that modern political systems have been built to deal with. We don't need to invent a completely new kind of politics. Politicians, this is their typical job, but they wake up in the morning. They go to the office. What do they do? They move two percent of resources from here to there.

Christiana: [00:22:49] I love that description of the life of a politician.

Paul: [00:22:55] By the way. Just a little thing, I think on COVID. They went to the office and they moved about 15 percent of GDP for about a year. And you know, in the U.K., where I live, one in five hundred people died of COVID, and they move 15 percent of GDP. So, you know, it's interesting.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:23:10] Exactly. So again, this is kind of an inspiring number if you want that when we face a major crisis, not a world war, but a pandemic. Politicians can very quickly. You know, it didn't take decades. Within a couple of months, maybe even a couple of weeks, they managed to change priorities, shuffle things around and move 15 percent.

Paul: [00:23:37] The hospitals were kind of full and there was that urgency that you also have in wartime. So can I ask you, it's ending now and maybe that's your point, but they used to be this, you know, people would talk about the climate debate or whatever. It's not a debate anymore. It kind of is about, you know, we were talking last week about is gas a transition fuel? So there's always going to be debate, but how does a debate turn into a political project?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:24:02] It has to become concrete. Somebody needs to come up with concrete goals. And again, it's not just about money. Of course, we will need to change many other things. Our behaviors, even to some extent, our psychology. But a very good place to start is with money. Just where does it go? What sums are allocated to which purposes? So it means different taxation systems, but it also means different investments. And this is kind of the essence of politics. This is what politicians are. Again, they are quite good at doing it. It's just a question of what are the interests, that are being served by this kind of horse trading.

Tom: [00:24:56] If I can ask just to go back to before Paul's question, I think it's so interesting to put this number on it two percent of GDP, and it really makes it very tangible that actually this is achievable. And I want to ask you a couple more questions about despair, which you reference very interesting in time. But I bet you there's quite a number of listeners that are hearing this and thinking, this is really hopeful, but what does it really look like? What does that money get spent on? Who does it get spent by? Could you just make that a little bit concrete for us with some examples?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:25:23] Yeah. So like investing in researching new kinds of technologies that, for instance, would replace the internal combustion engine by better, safer and greener ways of transportation. It means building infrastructure, whether it's a new kind of electrical grid or whether it's planting trees. There are some, and it's in the end, it's tangible things in your house, in your neighborhood, in your country. And it's the kind of project that humanity has been doing for centuries. I mean, if you look at all the roads out there, I mean somebody had to pay in order to build them. If you look at the electric grid, this was a huge investment. So we need these kinds of investments again. In better infrastructure and better technology, and the goods. The important message here is that it's not about throwing the money away. It's not some kind of, I don't know, a big ritual that you take piles of banknotes and burn them as an offering to the spirits of the sky. And this will protect us from climate. No, I mean, you invest this, let's say, in building a new electric grid. Which means that the money is not thrown away. It actually creates jobs. It can create economic prosperity. So this kind of binary thinking that, OK, modern economics destroyed the climate. So in order to save the climate, we need to destroy the economy. It won't work. You won't get enough people, enough governments, enough businesses on board with this kind of thinking. So it should be a win-win situation. Yes, it won't be easy. Otherwise, it would have been done long ago. But in the long term, we are talking about actual investments that will also create economic prosperity and better lives and not just prevent catastrophic climate change.

Christiana: [00:27:40] Yuval, let me ask you about the timing of your campaign, because everything you've said and the campaign and everything that you're writing about this must be music to the ears of at least one economist, Nick Stern, who wrote The Stern Report in 2006 and said way back then, that it would cost approximately two percent and frankly, no decent economists has substantially disagreed with him in the years since, so this number has been pretty well established. Now you seem to have confidence, trust, hope, faith. I don't know which noun to use. All of them, that at this point there is a much better chance that this message of the two percent is actually going to be not just listened to but acted upon. Why do you think that this is a much more pregnant moment for that?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:28:47] Because we don't have much choice? You know, we've tried doing this.

Paul: [00:28:51] I was afraid it would be complicated, but it's not.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:28:55] We've tried doing nothing and It didn't succeed. We are running out of time and the humans have this tendency to try every course of action before they try the

Christiana: [00:29:10] Right one,

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:29:11] The right one yeah. And we've tried other things and the thing and the situation is just getting worse and worse, and we don't have much time now. Honestly, I can't guarantee that it actually will happen. I mean, humans are known to also make terrible mistakes. Large, large scale, and we might do so again. I mean, so I don't have the kind of full confidence that, maybe when I say that we just need to invest two percent of global GDP. It doesn't mean that it will actually happen. It just means that it's feasible. Because what I saw again as a historian over the last five years or so is this shift in the public mood, from denial to despair. Yeah, that five years ago, nah this is just a hoax. So this is just overblown and it will happen in like 200 years. Why worry about it now? And then very quickly, it's all over. It's too late. The apocalypse is here. There is nothing we can do. Let's just have fun while we can. And we need to stop in the middle between denial and despair, in actual responsibility and taking action. And the time is now whether there is enough motivation, whether the political will is there. I'm not sure. I mean, we are talking at a time when there is a major crisis in Eastern Europe, which is extremely worrying on so many different levels. But I'm afraid that, you know, if Russia invades Ukraine, one of the casualties would be the ability to stop climate change. If you have a major war in Eastern Europe, the money that should have been spent on new Eco-Friendly technology will go to tanks and cyber weapons. And with all the need to immediately find energy resources, let's say that Russia cut off gas to Europe. Then maybe they turn back to coal.

Paul: [00:31:28] Because they have no choice, but it could go either way. I mean, once again, we can be positive then energy crisis. But I mean, Yuvala, I do think it's inspiring the way you're coming at this, and I wanted you to help settle this family argument I have with Tom. I spent the last 20 years working on climate change outside of government.

Tom: [00:31:47] I'm not aware we've been having an argument for 20 years but anyway

Paul: [00:31:49] Because I didn't think the government, I thought the government was basically controlled by business and therefore you couldn't go to the government. But would you agree? Well, I think you're telling me actually this. So I'm agreeing with you that the last five years are critical because now you think that there is a consensus and now it is all about government. I talk a lot about taxation and regulation, but you're talking more about subsidy and incentives. But the point is the governing instrument, right? Do you think now is the end game?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:32:22] Yeah, because governments still have a lot more power than most businesses. And if they want to do something big quickly, they can do it. Again, the basic kind of, I don't know, example to go to is a major war. When a major war erupts, governments can very quickly shift enormous amounts of resources to deal with it.

Paul: [00:32:53] It's because that's their job. Hobbs, when they talked about the Leviathan in 1650s, said, You know, the Leviathan, the state protects us, it's their primary job. So I guess now, you, the writer that you know you're super famous around the world, you have such a megaphone that you've earned through your clarity of thought. As you approach being an activist, how do you see we can maybe build a recognition that climate change is a security issue?

Christiana: [00:33:21] Hold on. Can I pile in on that question, Yuval, before your answer, because it seems to me the difference between a war and climate change is that a war or the pandemic is acute? Yes, there is no, you know, there's no doubt that the enemy is on our front doorstep. But with climate, the threat is not acute. It's chronic, it is existential. Hence, it is. It goes way beyond a war or a pandemic, but it is chronic. And so that to me is the difficulty here. How do you unleash war like, if you will, war like speed of policy decisions when the threat is much greater but is much slower in its upcoming?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:34:10] Yes. I mean, that's the big challenge in terms of again, making this political project come together. But we can gain inspiration, maybe from a very unlikely and unappetizing examples. If you think, for example, about the resistance to immigration. Think about the immigration crisis in Europe in 2015-16 or think about the resistance to immigration in the United States, and you hear people say that, they also describe it as a kind of chronic problem. I mean, it's obvious that it's not like in the next month, the immigrants will take over the country. It will take time. If you go to the UK. So one one date, they often, the anti-immigrant camp often wave around is 2066, which is a thousand years, of course, from the Battle of Hastings. So it's a nice number. And they say in 2066 immigrants will be the majority in the UK and this is a long time from now. And it's still enough to create enormous emotional engagement in order to kind of topple and raise governments. So it's not true that only immediate acute invasions of foreign armies are enough to create this kind of motivation. Well, I'll give another example. From the Middle East, you know, in Jerusalem, there is a certain wall and near the wall there is a certain building. And if anybody would say take one stone out of the wall or one stone out of the building or blow them up, all hell will break loose.

Christiana: [00:36:09] Indeed.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:36:10] Talking about millions and hundreds of millions of people all over the world that have never been to Jerusalem. A rising up in arms. And this is just about one wall, which they never even visited. And then you think about the Great Coral Reef. Which was built not by a bunch of people two thousand years ago, but by billions of organisms over millions of years. If you think about the Amazon rainforests and they're in danger and people say, Yeah, it's bad, but not going to do anything. Why is it? That this wall has so much more emotional power than the Great Coral Reef or the Amazon rainforest. It's not because one is acute and the other is chronic. It's because, some people at least, have been raised on stories about this wall and not about the great coral reef. But it's in the end, in the stories that we are told and that create this kind of emotional engagement. If we can create the same type of emotional engagement with the Great Coral Reef or with the Amazon rainforest, then you can mobilize a lot of people to take very strong action. Stories need to be kind of engaging and simple. One of the reasons to focus on the two percent number is that it's a simple number. It's easy to grasp it. So whenever we try to create powerful stories that will get translated into political projects, we need powerful symbols and we need to keep things as simple as possible. So that's part of how you go about doing it.

Tom: [00:38:14] You felt that it's such a beautiful explanation, and I'd never really drawn that distinction. I mean, the emotional connection in the story of these human created structures and then these natural environments. Thank you so much for setting that out like that. And also the clarity and the simplicity of the story. I want to just connect to that. You start your TIME article by saying that climate despair is as dangerous as denial. And I’m wondering if that connects to what you just said, that it's because it doesn't allow us to build a coherent story around the future that we're trying to create.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:38:49] Well, it's not just that perevents clarity, it saps the motivation to do anything, even if you're even you are extremely motivated. You care very deeply about the environment. You care very deeply about future generations, but you feel it's hopeless. It's too late to do anything. Then actually, the clearer the message of the threat we are facing, you just get more depressed and you go in the direction of escapism. Whether escapism means OK, I'll just watch TV all day as long as TV lasts, or I'll build a bunker in New Zealand or Alaska and hide there because the apocalypse is coming. Again, to get a political project going, you need fine tuning between making people realize the danger they are facing, but not frightening them too much to the degree that they feel that it's impossible to do anything. It's too late.

Paul: [00:39:59] Yeah, the apocalypse is unthinkable, so we have many, many thousands of listeners even more when you're on our podcast, one of the most popular guests we've ever had. When you speak to those people about what we can do, what are the practical steps that people can take to to kind of enact this two percent principle?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:40:21] The most important part is actually spreading the message and putting pressure on the politicians and on government officials and on businesses to come and vote. It's, of course, the actions you take yourself as an individual are important, but it's much more important to influence the centres of power. So whether it's, you know, writing emails or demonstrations or anything that will get the message to other people and especially to the politicians and to the business leaders. And I think that many of them are actually willing to respond to the demand if they feel that they have the public backing for it. That they will not face a backlash. They will not lose their office, whatever, because they have taken these kinds of steps.

Christiana: [00:41:19] Well, that's the critical part. That's the critical part that they have to feel that they're not going to have the public against them. Otherwise, actually, they won't even be able to get it passed because in democracies, the executive leader can make a decision, but he/she needs to pass it through the legislative and the legislative is going to be in fact, even more sensitive to public support, perhaps even than the executive will be.

Paul: [00:41:46] But you know, this is a beautiful thing. This two percent, it just occurred to me. I've, you know, I used to work in the kind of logo business or that, you know, the there are these powerful symbols like the cross or many, you know, agencies ban the bomb symbol. Maybe, you know, and I always laughed when U.S. politicians started wearing a US flag, like, I'm sure they know where they live, you know what I mean? But could we have? Could we have a two percent badge? In fact, can listeners start making two percent badges and we all start wearing a two percent badge and we will all be saying to each other. Come on. Yeah, two percent. Let's do it.

Tom: [00:42:16] We better do it soon, though, before it goes to three percent, which will happen at some point.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:42:21] Absolutely. Yes.

Christiana: [00:42:22] I can hear the new call of young people. You know, the activists out on the street. Yeah, two percent for one point five, two percent for one point five.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:42:33] And again, if you think about the next COP meeting in Egypt at the end of this year in November, I think, then that's a very, very clear message. Yeah, to the leaders assembled. Ok, don't make these promises about the future. If you're serious, then sign the check now,

Tom: [00:42:54] Do you think that's clearer than one hundred and ninety six nationally determined plans that converge on some future, unspecified date with different trajectories?

Paul: [00:43:01] When you said it Tom, you didn't have your heart in it, did I know? The energy dropped a bit.

Christiana: [00:43:11] So from that perspective, Yuval, from that perspective, and given that this campaign, that you're launching this campaign, we always like to ask the people that we invite on our podcast about the title of the podcast, Outrage+Optimism. And so from the perspective of two percent for one point five, what makes you still what makes you still very concerned and outraged other than the fact that we still haven't gotten to this. So timing is certainly one. But what else makes you outraged and what are you truly optimistic about?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:43:59] Yes. So the outrage is about the fact that, it's when you look at political debates around the world, they are still dominated by the wrong issues. And again, the Ukraine crisis is a perfect example. Without going into the details of who is right and who is wrong and all that. Whatever it is, it's clearly not an existential question like the threat of catastrophic climate change. But it does threaten to kind of monopolize not just the resources, but really the oxygen. The attention that you talk about this, you don't talk about other things. And unfortunately, it's, you know, to make peace, you need everybody on board to make war. One is enough.

Christiana: [00:45:04] Or two because you have to be at war against someone.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:45:06] Not really. I mean, there is a point when you are I don't know whether you are kind of invaded and overrun and you said, I'm not cooperating with this, I'm not agreeing to this, and it's not really workable. It's the kind of thing that you need two to tango, but just one to make war. Hmm. And so this is the outrage. And then the optimism is that with regard to climate change is that it's not too late and that we have all the resources we need. We just don't have the wisdom and maybe the motivation. If we can get the motivation, but everything else we need is already there. We have the economic resources, we have the basic knowledge we need, we have the science that we need. It's just that somebody needs to give the order to do it. That's it. Once the order is given by the right people, it's completely feasible.

Paul: [00:46:22] That's really what this podcast should be called is, who are these right people? But I think you and treat us to think about, you know, suffering, slowing down, conversational inclusivity, I read, and focusing on the main goal. And those are great reasons.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:46:35] Tom, maybe you raised the question of who are the right people? And I often wonder among like in my head, not just for the right people, but where are the really important conversations taking place? It's one of the questions that really bothers me deeply because, you know, once upon a time, there was a place called Parliament, which was established in order to have the really important conversations. And at least in theory, this was a place where the kind of not just some of the wisest people, but people who represent a lot of other people together. 

Paul: [00:47:15] Representatives, yeah.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:47:17] And not just talked but listened. The idea was that you can actually be convinced by something that somebody else said, and this is no longer the case. Unheard of to be convinced.

Christiana: [00:47:33] Such a good point.

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:47:34] And so it's clear that important conversations are not happening in parliament. They are also mostly not happening, I don't know on TV shows, how can people just come to give their their ideas, but it's almost unheard of for somebody to actually change their mind.

Tom: [00:47:55] Are you building up to saying it's on podcast that people are having?

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:48:00] On podcast also, the question is not just having a conversation, but the important conversation. But where are the conversations that the leaders of major parties, whether it's in democratic countries or whether it's the leaders of the CCP in China, do they have really open conversations when saying the right thing in the right way can actually change the mind of other people? And that's part of the problem today is that it's very difficult to know where these conversations take place. And of course, to get into them.

Christiana: [00:48:46] Yeah, saying the right thing in the right way, at the right time

Tom: [00:48:52] And said by the right person.

Christiana: [00:48:54] And said by the right person, Yeah, many, many rights there. Yuval, thank you so much. Really, really appreciate your time on this podcast. But more than anything, really appreciate that you continue to be such a thoughtful participant of all of these conversations and keep them all top of mind for us. So thank you very much. And here's to a fantastic campaign, two percent for one point five.

Paul: [00:49:25] Two percent for one point five. Thanks for joining us. 

Yuval Noah Harari: [00:49:28] Thank you.

Tom: [00:49:37] So what a privilege to have Yuval back on the podcast again, and particularly to talk about this campaign and how amazing that he's now turning his mind and his considerable skills to this activist attempt to try to change the world. What did you both leave that conversation with?

Paul: [00:49:52] I was dazzled by his ability to reduce down to the essence. You know, he didn't say anything in our conversation that people who have been working in climate change haven't heard before on many different occasions. But I think his ability to distill it, and the phrase I'm going to pick up on that he particularly used is, well, two things. First of all, the context that everyone was ignoring climate change and then everyone is becoming despairing that noticing that there's nothing in between, you know, it's a ridiculous flip because he called them, I think he called them both positions where you don't accept responsibility. You say it's not really happening. And then you say there's nothing we can do. That's fundamentally irresponsible either way. But then talking about just two percent of GDP being a political project, and I love that phrase, that is manageable, that it's doable, that we can come together as a society. And I think, you know, one of the things that I was reflecting on that phrase, all the different activists, of which perhaps many of us are, many of our listeners are, have we really looked on this as a political project with what that might entail? And contrast it to other political projects. And yeah, I left the interview with an enormous sense of sort of possibility and born of simplicity, I would say that that was what I took most of all.

Christiana: [00:51:25] Well, Paul, I would like to lovingly disagree with you on one thing and enthusiastically agree with you on something else. So my loving disagreement is I don't think to quote you, it is a ridiculous flip to go from denying climate to being in the depth of despair. First, I don't think it's the same people, but also I cannot step away from my own despair. And I don't think you can either Paul or Tom or any of us because there is a very profound pain in all of us that only grows every day at seeing the destruction that we are causing. So I wouldn't call it a ridiculous flip. I think especially the pangs of despair are very justified and are certainly present for all of us. But where I totally agree with you is on your comment about simplicity. I was really struck how someone who I deem to be top of the list with respect to his capacity to step into the complexity of humanity and of society as it has evolved, and to author books that are honestly, you know, each one of them is a Magna Carta. And then to turn almost on a dime the complexity of climate, which he says very humbly, he doesn't understand climate change. He does. He definitely understands the complexity that we're dealing with. But then to put it forward as two percent of global GDP, so simple and so profound. It's not simplistic. It's simple, profound and very powerful. And the fact that he himself admits that, frankly, it's not his idea, there's two percent of global GDP. It's been around for a while. And so he digs into the works of so many economists who have been working on this for decades and picks up that idea because he decides it's actually a gem of an idea and it shouldn't be only an idea. It should be turned into a political project, as you point out. And I just think that is nothing short of brilliant. Nothing short of brilliant, right? I just think that simple and profound is such an important, such a powerful combination, and that is what he has. So my admiration for him has only escalated.

Tom: [00:54:32] Yeah, no. I would agree on that simplicity point and it's something we've really struggled with. But you know, given you both talked about that, which I agree with as well, I just make one other point, which is the bit of the interview that most struck me was when he talked about the construction of stories and what that does to our motivation. And when he talked about the Wailing Wall in Israel and how if one thing went wrong there, it would precipitate millions and billions of people around the world to rise up in a particular way. But we don't do the same thing when we lose the Barrier Reef or the Amazon rainforest. And the reason for that in the way that he tells it, is the construction of stories that fits behind it. And this, of course, is his big thing, right? It's stories that precipitate cooperation that enable us.

Christiana: [00:55:10] And your big thing, Tom.

Tom: [00:55:15] I humbly would suggest that I've had somewhat less of an influence in my intellectual thinking than Yuval Harari has in the world.

Paul: [00:55:21] You're young, Tom.

Tom: [00:55:22] Yeah, but I think that that really struck me and it was the for the first time, I really thought, Wow, we have really internalized the wrong stories. And that was just a mistake. And actually, all of the power of human creativity and our ability to defend our home and innovate our way out of this can be unlocked by having better stories about how we fit in the world and the role we can play and the cooperative nature of humanity. And then all of those things become true because they're the stories we then believe and they're the ones we act on. And I think Yuval has done more than anyone to help us understand that informed, we should remind listeners by his very deep, decades long practice of Vipassana Buddhist meditation, which he credits with many of the insights that has led to his understanding of the world.

Paul: [00:56:11] The Way Out Is In. Just one other thing that's sort of linked to the stories, you know, he concluded, raising this question about where the important conversations are taking place. And, you know, they don't appear to be taking place in parliaments, not taking place on TV. And his invitation for us to create spaces, new spaces perhaps or rediscover old spaces where people can have those conversations and be listened to.

Tom: [00:56:37] Ok. So unless we have any final thoughts, we will go to the music. Thank you as ever for joining us. This has been a great episode. What a privilege to have Yuval back on the podcast this week we have. Is that it? No, no other points. I know Paul's got about three hours worth of points.

Paul: [00:56:53] I logged about five hours of, yeah, that will be another day. It's just stored up for later. Think of it as a kind of treat for Christmas, but it's February.

Tom: [00:57:03] Maybe your fourth tweet.

Paul: [00:57:05] Could be the fourth tweet. No. get a very comfy chair because there's going to be a long, long podcast. There's a lot to say. It'll help you to say it's repetitive and be whispering and tapping the mic. So just think about this. Yeah, it's very important to understand, you know, that essentially money in business is kind of controlling the guy, it's up to us to - you got the idea.

Tom: [00:57:30] Look forward to that. This week we have a brilliant piece of music. It's called Australia. It's by Ny Oh. As I said at the beginning, I hope you enjoy it. Thank you as ever for joining us this week. We'll see you next week.

Paul: [00:57:41] Bye.

Christiana: [00:57:43] Bye.

Ny Oh: [00:57:46] Hello, this is Ny Oh, and you're listening to my new single Australia. It was written in the Pilliga forest, where there is still a lot of coal seam gas mining happening, and all across Australia, and the song was a reminder that the Aboriginal communities across this planet have the knowledge to look after this Earth and to keep it going and keep it growing. So I hope you enjoy the song, and I hope it brings meaning to the way that you treat the world around you. Thank you.

Clay: [01:02:42] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage+Optimism! You made it to the end. Welcome. My name is Clay. I'm the producer of Outrage+Optimism! This is the part of the podcast where I send you off into the rest of your day, night, whichever with further listening, reading, watching, doing with the hopes that it will help you just be. And from all of us at Outrage+Optimism!, we're so glad that you're here. So the song that you just heard was Australia by Ny Oh. And this week, as I was perusing through Ny Oh's press kit, I discovered a few things. Let's start with number one. Number one, Ny Oh has an EP called Without, that you can stream and buy now on Bandcamp or wherever you get your music, but you know, go buy it. Fantastic arrangements. She has amazing vocal stylings, and you know, her voice becomes more like an instrument at some points on this EP and it's, you know, hauntingly chilled, just like her performance of Australia. Number two. She also has a jazz psychedelic group called Neon Group. And if you're not sure what jazz psychedelic music is, go to the show notes to find out. Really fun, unique sound. She twists her voice through some effects, giving it that psych feel, and it's really fun. It's a really fun and engaging exploration of the potential of music, so go check that out. And number three, she backed up Harry Styles on his most recent tour, playing guitar and background vocals. Yeah, pretty awesome. Like stadiums and stuff. And you know, we know why. Because she's amazing. Ok, all that to say, go listen to her music. Go by it. There's your recommendation for me and our production team. Ny Oh, thank you for letting us play your music. Thank you to our guest this week, Yuval Noah Harari. I think I said this last time he was on, but his book Sapiens changed my life. You know my jaw on the floor, reading it multiple times and based on how many people listen to that episode, I don't think I'm the only one. So you can learn more about Yuval’s organization Sapienship, which is, you know, working to create a world that's responsive to our most important collective challenges: climate change. And 2% More, the campaign to invest just two percent of global GDP into developing eco friendly technologies and infrastructure every year. So, yeah, start small. Go read the first page of the site and then bring it up with a friend or colleague over lunch or coffee. Yeah, averting the apocalypse is possible. www.sapienship.co. Thank you, Yuval. Ok, and the last thing before you go on Friday of this week, which is the 18th our, sister podcast The Way Out Is In, available on all streaming platforms or wherever you get your podcasts, has Cristiana on as a guest. I just finished editing the episode last night and when I was done, I wrote it down here to make sure that I recommended it to all of you. In the episode, Christiana offers us her story as to how she discovered the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, how mindfulness and deep listening and intervening made the Paris Agreement possible, and she even offers a little glimpse into the next chapter of her life. So it's a really beautiful opportunity she gives us to get to know her a bit closer and to, yeah, go listen again. That episode is coming out on Friday, so if you're listening to this on Thursday, click the link and hit Subscribe. It'll show up in your feed, but if it's past Friday, the 18th, it’ll be there, directly linked to the episode. Ok. That's it. Thank you for listening, you can find us on social media @GlobalOptimism. And if you love this podcast, please leave us a five star review on Apple Podcasts. We read every single one. Have a fantastic rest of your week. We'll see you in the next. Bye.


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