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81: Climate Justice and Racial Justice with David Lammy

Around the world In 2020, we saw an unprecedented rise in activism surrounding Black Lives Matter and the call for racial and social justice.

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About this episode

Around the world In 2020, we saw an unprecedented rise in activism surrounding Black Lives Matter and the call for racial and social justice. But if there’s one enormous takeaway for those marching for the climate, it is that our fight for climate justice is inextricably linked to our fight for racial justice.

BIPOC have suffered, are suffering, and will continue to disproportionately suffer the harshest effects of climate change. Unacceptable. So what clear actions can organizations, individuals, and institutions take to rectify this massive injustice? Taking us to the heart of the matter this week is our guest, British MP David Lammy.

David Lammy was the first black Briton to study at Harvard Law School and practised as a barrister before entering politics. He has served as the MP for Tottenham since 2000 and as Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor in Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet since 2020. David is one of Parliament’s most prominent and successful campaigners for social justice. His recent TED Talk titled “Climate Justice Can’t Happen Without Racial Justice” has amassed millions of views and has become required viewing for anyone involved in climate action.

Stick around to the end for a special musical performance from Blackout Problems!

Full Transcript

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

Christiana Figueres: [00:00:16] I'm Christiana Figueres.

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

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:19] This week, we have big news out of Costa Rica and on the progress towards meeting the Paris agreement. We speak to David Lammy, a member of parliament for Tottenham and we have music from Blackout Problems. Thanks for being here.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:47] So we've got some big news for you this week in terms of the global progress towards meeting the Paris Agreement, which some of you may have heard, but we'll come to that in a minute. But first of all, there's also been a big milestone passed this week by the only country in the world to have abolished its national army and we may have mentioned this country before on the podcast, but I don't make any assumptions.

Christiana Figueres: [00:01:07] Which country might that be? I wonder which one that is.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:01:12] There was a bit of a low point on Costa Rica last week. So I think we've got a bit of reputation to build back. And it's been a big week for Costa Rica and for you, Christiana, and the legacy of your remarkable father. So just give us a sense of what your week's been like.

Christiana Figueres: [00:01:23] Actually, I find it quite amusing that in most countries what you have is military celebrations. You have tanks rolling down the streets and uniformed soldiers marching up and down, flag-waving, all of this demonstration of military power and that is apparently a matter of pride in most countries. Not so in wild and wonderful Costa Rica. We celebrate the abolition of the army, which happened on the 1st of December of 1948. And we celebrate the absence of a military, the absence of an army, the absence of a national budget that is stupidly wasted on military power. And it's just been a wonderful, wonderful week for us in Costa Rica, because I have to tell you, as the mother of two young Costa Rican citizens, it is a huge relief knowing for any mother and any father here that our children will never have to go to war against our own citizens or against the citizens of any other country. That is a luxury that we truly treasure. And we celebrate it every year and this is the first year in which the first of December has actually been a national holiday. So it was even more celebrated. Why? Because it takes kind of a while for Costa Ricans to get their act together. So it's been in the works for a long time, but it has.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:02] But from now on it will always be a national holiday.

Christiana Figueres: [00:03:05] Yes. From now on, it's always a national holiday, which is a good thing because there are many children being born who actually don't know the story of the abolition of the army. They just take it for granted that we don't have an army. So that is a very good thing that from now on we shall have that as a holiday. It was also a very moving week for us and the Figueres family because we decided to take advantage of the fact that the first of December was the first of our always now holidays in Costa Rica to inaugurate the museum to my father, where the abolition of the army is, of course, the central topic of the museum. And so many of us were there for the inauguration of the museum with the beautiful narrative that in 1948 the challenge was to abolish the army. And now in 2020, the challenge is to abolish fossil fuels. So to each generation, their challenge.

Paul Dickinson: [00:04:08] Well, congratulations. That's a wonderful, wonderful piece of news and such an extraordinary political act and great that it is being celebrated with a museum where people can actually go and learn about the whole story. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:04:19] Absolutely. No. Wonderful. Congratulations to you and to Costa Rica. And actually, it's amazing that it falls on the same week as another remarkable piece of news, which also looks to the future. Now, you will remember Christiana and listeners will remember that coming out of the Paris Agreement, the first round of nationally determined commitments took us to nearly three degrees of warming. And we've all been very concerned about this, obviously, because it is not the trajectory that we need to be on to get us to net zero by the middle of the century to limit global heating to one and a half degrees. But there's been some really interesting analysis that's come out this week from Climate Action Tracker, who are one of the most respected groups who aggregate what commitments come together. And actually, they looked at the net-zero pledges that have been announced as of November 2020. And what they concluded is that that curve had been bent and that now we're aiming actually towards no more than two-point-one degrees of warming by twenty-one-hundred. Now, I appreciate that listeners might say, well, hang on, two-point one is still above one point five. But look at the trajectory. When we were in Paris, the idea was that the first round of targets would stimulate investment, would stimulate technological development, and would provide a platform from which more commitments could actually bend that curve further down. If it's true, and I've got no reason to doubt it, that we've actually bent the curve in terms of commitments from two-point seven degrees to two-point one degrees, then all we can say is that actually, that is bending in the right direction and that with further investment, further technological development, further ambition now from the new US administration, we've got every chance to bring that even lower towards one point five. How do you guys respond to this news?

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Christiana Figueres: [00:06:05] Well, I want to put it in just a little bit more of a historical context, because before the adoption of the Paris agreement, every single analysis of our emission trajectory placed us somewhere between four and six degrees of warming. That was the reality of projections with which we worked in the Paris agreement. Then the first success is that the first tranche of these commitments that were registered in 2015, as you have mentioned, were able to shave off that absolutely unacceptable temperature increase down to around three degrees, which was a huge improvement, but not enough. And that is why the Paris agreement is structured into five-yearly time periods, every five years, in which countries come together and recommit, review their ambition and increase their aspirations and their policies toward even deeper emission reductions. So what we have now is the result of the second round, which will officially be due next year at COP 26. But many countries have already announced, as we now China and we've spoken about this on the podcast, China, Korea, Japan, Colombia, very recently, the United States, although, officially they can't do it yet.

Christiana Figueres: [00:07:35] But we're already taking the numbers from the announcements of the incoming government. And all of these have actually committed to net-zero by 2050 or in the case of China, by 2060. However, New Zealand came in just 48 hours ago to say 2050 is way too late. New Zealand can do much better. And they have announced and taken on legislation for climate neutrality by 2025. Go New Zealand. So it is really very impressive, the fact that governments there is now so much political momentum fed, I think, by the corporate momentum that we have discussed in detail on this podcast, as well as the investment sector momentum. And so now we're seeing that virtuous cycle that we've been talking about where governments understand that they can have the confidence to be much more ambitious because of what is happening, the transformation in the real economy. So we are beginning to see the fruits of those efforts and we will continue to harvest those fruits all the way up until the end of next year at COP 26. Very exciting.

Paul Dickinson: [00:08:54] Now, you mentioned the USA, Japan, and China and actually the EU, including the little old UK. Together, just those four, 64 percent of the entire world economy. And another bit of great news, the very wonderful guest on this podcast, John Kerry, has become Special envoy for Climate in the Biden administration and that raises climate change into the sort of center of national security. And that's really the job of governments to protect people. So this is another incredibly exciting development. But, friends, I have a note of caution. I'm afraid so. We are prone to bouts of fantastic optimism and excitement. But let us not forget that there is some outrage here. And I'm going to share just a little tiny bit with you. NPR in the US have pointed out that, yes, President-elect Biden has 80 million votes, but Donald Trump got 74 million votes. And I've heard the phrase before on this podcast, intersectionality, the complex mix of economic, racial, social problems affecting minorities. Actually, you can even have economically marginalized majorities. And I just want to, you know, when President Trump came into office, I was shocked that we seem to be unprepared for that. So at the beginning of this time for hope, I want us to bear in mind some of the realities. And I'm going to pick on the United States, you know, they say that twelve and a half thousand dollars or, I think, it's two hundred and forty-five dollars a week is the poverty line. People are living on thirty-five dollars a day. They've got to pay for their homes, their food, their transport with that. 43 million people in the United States living at that level and throughout the world, we do have these enormous wealth inequalities and people struggling. So I just think to secure our optimism and to deliver on these promises for climate, we must have secure political processes and they must reflect the needs to radically improve the lives of what I'm going to call hundreds and hundreds of millions of people.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:11:03] I completely agree with that, Paul. I totally agree with that. I mean, the only thing I'd add is that if you look back at after Obama came in in 2008 and then subsequently lost the house and we're back on US politics here, but it's important, arguably, and people much smarter than me on US domestic policy have argued that was because he didn't persuade the US electorate that his health care bill was a recovery from the Great Recession bill. It looked like a sort of, you know, a partisan shot at a time of crisis. If you look at both the rhetoric from Biden as well as the people that he's appointing. Yes, John Kerry, also Bryan Deese, also Janet Yellen. These are really pragmatist politicians who are really understanding the scale of the emergency on climate change, but also the scale of the emergency when it comes to inequality. So I really have a great degree of hope and confidence that those individuals will successfully persuade the American people that what they're doing is not trying to introduce climate legislation to try and bend the arc of emissions and stop the future being quite as terrible. But they are introducing an infrastructure bill, a jobs bill, a way to actually bring everybody along on this great transition, which is something we've not really successfully done yet, at least in that country, it's been done better in Europe.

Christiana Figueres: [00:12:21] Yeah, I want to jump in there because I agree that there is in the United States, more dramatically than in any other country right now, the opportunity to get over this myth that addressing climate change is a burden and to really show, you know, take away the tattoo on our forehead that says climate change, let us show that the policies and measures that lead us to a cleaner and higher technology, more efficient use of resources, more efficient use of energy, more efficient use of transport, more efficient use of land, that all of that is actually. Yes, it is, has the, I would say, the side benefit of reducing emissions and helping with the planetary emergency but fundamentally, what it is doing is improving the quality of life of citizens in the United States. And as long as we're able to walk away from waving the flag of climate change and actually understand that what is important here for everyone, especially those that Paul has just spoken about, who are so deeply in their misery without some of them not even knowing how they're going to feed their children. As long as we understand that doing the right thing by decarbonizing, but through all of the side sectors that will help with the decarbonization, that that is actually going to bring jobs back. The peace that I am most excited about in Biden's plan is the creation of ten million new jobs. That to me is a yes, emission reductions and all the rest of it but 10 million new jobs created in his administration is fundamentally the most important anchor to success and to our understanding of what addressing climate change is truly all about. It is not about gigatons. We continue to talk about gigaton, we continue to talk about degrees, two-point one degrees or one point five degrees, or three-point seven. But that's just a proxy. That is just a proxy for quality of life today. It's a future proxy for the quality of life today. And honestly, we have to focus on the quality of life today. And that's what excites me about the Biden plan.

Paul Dickinson: [00:14:48] And to achieve all those goals we've just got to put our nations to work. There are so many jobs to be done to decarbonize all the insulation, all the new energy infrastructure, all the new vehicles, the new everything. It's the greatest economic opportunity ever. And it must be designed to lift up people so we don't get distortions. But, anyway, this is a big theme, we'll come back to it.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:15:11] Well, I mean, we don't have to leave it actually because there could be no better segway to our conversation with David Lammy. So David Lammy, and this is a great discussion, and the reason why it's such a good pivot is because this conversation is all about how climate justice and racial justice, in this case, are the same thing. And there can be no racial justice without climate justice and vice versa. And so as a pivot from this conversation about how what we need to talk about is how people can be at the center of this discussion and improving their lives can be at the center of this discussion, there could be nobody better than David Lammy. Now, David is a British politician. He's a member of parliament. He's been a member of parliament in the UK since 2000, where he represents Tottenham. Currently, he's the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and the Shadow Lord Chancellor in Keir Starmer's Shadow Cabinet since 2020. He has a long record, been in parliament for 20 years. He's been a minister under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and actually, all of that has an impressive track record but the reason we were so excited to talk to him today is he just did a TED talk at TED Countdown a couple of months ago that was called "Why Climate Justice and Racial Justice are the Same Issue" and we'd really encourage you to watch that. We talk about it quite extensively in this interview and so we'll go to it now and you should watch that. Hope you enjoyed the conversation and we'll be back afterward with more analysis.

Christiana Figueres: [00:16:44] David, what a total delight and pleasure to have you on Outrage and Optimism. I am feeling, I have to say, a little bit left out on the cold because I've just realized I'm the only Brit here.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:16:58] I think the only non-Brit would be more accurate. But, yeah.

Christiana Figueres: [00:17:01] That's exactly what I say.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:17:02] But definitely aspiring to be a Brit by the sound of it.

Christiana Figueres: [00:17:04] Aspiring to be a Brit. I'm not sure that I'm aspiring to be a Brit. Actually, I'm very happy to be Costa Rican. But I feel a little bit out in the cold here because I am the non-Brit in the conversation. And that is just a tiny, tiny little bit of a feeling, I think, of what people feel when they realize that they're outside the conversation or that their positioning doesn't let them in or that they haven't walked into a conversation. So here is where I would really love to hear your wisdom, David. It seems to me that we have to build a bridge in two directions. In one direction, wake up the climate community to the fact that the climate injustice that many of us are arguing against and pressing against is actually coincidental with racial injustice, social injustice, economic injustice. It's not just about climate injustice. That's one side and the other side, in your case, to wake up the black community to the fact that, as you argue in the TED talk, it is the black community in all countries that is actually predominantly affected by climate change. So it seems to me we have to build the bridge on both sides until we find ourselves in the center. How do you see it?

David Lammy: [00:18:33] Well, look, can I just say I'm so grateful to have this conversation with you because, you know, the work that you and Tom and so many others have been doing is just outstanding and I'm very excited to be having this conversation. I want to start with opportunity. There's a huge opportunity and the opportunity is really the millennials, Generation Y and Z, and a powerful sense in this large generation, the children and grandchildren of the baby boomers, that they get this stuff and they want to do something. And by and large, they get racial justice as well as climate justice. It is because there are so many baby boomers and Gen Xers if you like, you haven't got with the program that we still have not combined these two movements. And so that presents an opportunity if we just get it. So the first step to getting it is recognition, and that is recognizing that there can be no climate justice without racial justice. That, on the one hand, if you are marching because of the injustice of the murder of George Floyd, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, so many. If you are marching because you're concerned about the way in which the police in Paris or the police in London or the police in Sydney treat Aboriginal people, then understand that you should be marching also for folk in Darfur, where there is a terrible crisis largely driven by the environment and the climate crisis.

David Lammy: [00:20:17] And actually, you should care as much about the burning Amazon rain forests and people losing their homes and communities from indigenous communities. Those two things go hand in hand. And by the way, because central to those debates, particularly here in Europe, is a debate about colonialism, then also educate yourself and understand that colonialism is absolutely the story of extraction, the story of using black and brown people to extract, often fossil fuels from the ground. It's a story of exploitation and it's at the heart of why we now have this climate emergency. So the first step, I think, is recognition. And that story, that is educate yourself and understand how these two things are are intertwined. This is a story of justice. It is not simply a story of changing the way that we produce and give off carbon emissions. And then I think it's really important. The global organizations, I'm not going to name check them, but you know who they are. Fantastic environmental organizations campaigning across the world.

David Lammy: [00:21:36] Look guys you've got to center yourselves. Why aren't your headquarters not in our major urban cities and environments, like the constituency I have in London, Tottenham, where actually it's black and brown people who are suffering the effects of pollution? It's black and brown people who have the asthma. It's black and brown people doing the polluting jobs. How can you not center yourself where pollution is at its worst if you are in the city? And then also, of course, make the powerful connection to those in the global south, often the, sometimes in Europe, the relatives, frankly, of those who are now in Paris or now in London but absolutely are suffering the famine, the drought, and the floods. What provoked me to give this TED talk was obviously being the descendant of enslaved people, but my family hawking from Guyana, that wonderful country on the northeast corner of South America, and really seeing in real-time the way in which floods are ravaging that country and indeed, the fear that the discovery of oil in that country will mean that we will lose our rainforests. And that's not just a loss to that country. It's a massive loss to the Amazon, and to the world.

Christiana Figueres: [00:23:07] Yeah, we will definitely get to Guyana in a minute. I just wanted to stay with this other piece, if you will, David.

David Lammy: [00:23:20] Happy to. 

Christiana Figueres: [00:23:23] Because here's my sense of this. I think most, if not all of our listeners get it, what you have just said. We get it in our head but David, getting it in our head is not enough. Right? We need to press the dissent button and go from the head to the heart and align head and heart on this issue because this is not an academic reality. This is not theory. This is a very deeply rooted reality that has huge ramifications and that we have been trained against. And what I mean by that is we have been trained to think, act in silos, take one issue and address it over here, take another issue and address it over there. We have not been trained to feel, to react, to plan, and to act in an integrated fashion. And that is part of our education and one of the weaknesses that we're seeing now of formal education, this lack of a capacity to integrate all of these issues. So, help me out, David. Help me out. How do we move from the head to the heart? How do we move beyond the silos, the analytical silos, that are very helpful to have analytical silos, but how do we move beyond them to a promising integration of these issues?

David Lammy: [00:25:04] Well, it seems to me once that you've recognized the issue, once you sought to educate yourself on the issue, then the next step is absolutely to, not just being an ally, but recognizing that being an ally is active. It's doing. And therefore, in your organization, please set some targets, set some targets on diversity. Those are targets that have to be about the boardroom. They have to be at CEO and chairman level. They have to absolutely involve middle managers because that's where most of the decisions get made. When you're hiring, you've got to turn back the list if it does not include people of color on it, you have to take this deadly, deadly seriously. You have to appraise staff against these criteria. What have your staff done not just on climate, but what have they done on questions of diversity and equity in the organization? And please don't tell me that there is a pipeline that people aren't coming through because you can do a lot there as well. If you are in the business of philanthropy, please think about what you can do to offer scholarships or bursaries at university for communities like, say, mine in London, or the tough or rough side of a city like Detroit or Chicago or New York. I would love to see young people coming out of southern states in America where life is still so tough actually, when you're young and black. We need those kids taking the kind of subjects that mean that they can be fully engaged in the environmental movement and the fight to deal with this climate emergency.

David Lammy: [00:27:06] And then I think you've got to be on the money of big, big policy at this moment that actually really does shift the dial on issues of equity and global climate justice alongside racial justice. And one of them for example is Ecocide, it's a growing movement of people across the world recognizing that we need to really strike out globally and say if you are burning down rainforests, if you are causing huge pain and suffering in terms of environmental degradation, then actually that is something that the global community takes seriously and we're going to call it ecocide and we are going to take action against individuals. And if you care about development, that's another area where please make the synergies as to why. For example, we see the terrible damage done to countries like Haiti, parts of the Caribbean, huge tracts of South Africa. It's often, often because of environmental degradation. And that goes hand in hand, as I say, with that story of extraction and colonialism. So I think you can take a lot of action if you say that this is important. And of course, there are actually a growing number of organizations in the climate justice place that really get this. The Solutions Project in the US run by Mark Ruffalo is one of those organizations. Wretched of the Earth out of the UK is another one of those organizations. Form an alliance with them, ask them to support you and help you as you make this transition.

Paul Dickinson: [00:28:59] David, those are very inspiring words. And thank you for mentioning Ecocide and the late Polly Higgins and this idea of people being held really responsible. But in terms of alliances, if I can ask you a little bit about that. I mean, it's a global podcast, but if I can take advantage of the fact that you're a member of our parliament and talk about the UK. In terms of building alliances, I know you've seen the film Pride, which is a fantastic story about two very different communities of striking trades unionists and lesbian and gay people coming together in an improbable way, but it would seem with quite an effective outcome. In terms of coalitions, can I ask you about really the particular British situation? We have a million and a half people who can identify as Indian and a million people who can identify as Pakistani, half a million people who can identify as Bangladeshi and we know how vulnerable that country is. Two million black British from multiple countries, particularly across Africa. To what degree do you think communities can kind of link out of the UK to show that we and our families are in the global frontline of this. We're not just some kind of isolated, industrialized northern European country.

David Lammy: [00:30:04] Clearly here in the UK, ethnic minorities make up 14 percent of the population. That context is repeated across Europe. There's no European country, whether it's France, Spain, Italy, Germany, where minorities are much more than than 15, 20 percent of the population. And often there are a lot less than that. So you have to have an alliance. You have to have an alliance with groups bigger than you. It's why, even though I as Shadow Justice Secretary here in the UK I'm known on issues like racial justice, one of the speeches I'm most proud of is the speech I gave campaigning for same sex marriage in the UK Parliament a few years ago. I care as much about gender and feminism and I ally myself, often with those issues. So alliance is really, really important. And I think recently I caused some waves here in the UK because I raised some issues about the way in which the charity Comic Relief raises its money and sends celebrities often to African countries. And when you see these videos the children have no agency, there's little description and there's something quite patronizing, actually, in the way that these people showed. And I was raising that in response to my constituents, my African constituents who were raising it with me. Why? Because they were sending so much money back through organizations like Western Union to their African villages and towns, that they were really frustrated at this sort of Victorian ideal of Africa. They wanted the country to be in better partnership, better equity with their African relatives. Comic Relief have changed. They have responded. They now want to use, for example, African filmmakers working on the ground to do their fundraising videos. It's fantastic. So this business of solidarity and of recognizing, of course, if you're in the U.K. and you're from Bangladesh, of course, you care passionately about the floods that that country experiences and the poverty that still present in that country. And it's why, by the way, forming an alliance on the climate emergency is absolutely essential. So I hope that answers your question. 

Paul Dickinson: [00:32:59] Perfectly David, thank you.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:33:01] So, David, I'd love to just jump in and take this in a different direction for the next few minutes. And you're very clear that you're Guyanese heritage is an important part of your identity and you have always been engaged there, but now you're re-engaging in a bigger way and at a critical time. You hinted at this earlier, but I was astonished to discover that Guyana is still 85 percent rainforest, but that it's actually now at this critical moment of its development and the discovery of oil could now put it on a sort of depressingly familiar development pathway that would actually lead to major changes to all of our cost. And against that, you have engaged and you've decided that the thing which you can contribute is the creation of this Sophia Point Rainforest Research Center, which I've heard described as the last outpost on the edge of the rainforest and the front line in the fight against climate change. It would be great, if you don't mind, to just sort of take us through why you're choosing to engage some of your political capital, some of your time on this project, and how you think it can help at this important moment.

David Lammy: [00:34:10] Well, I suppose I'm drawing on my 20 years of political experience and one thing that I would have thought all of your listeners understand is the huge curse that can follow wherever oil has been discovered. The oil finds in Guyana is very, very significant. It's one of the biggest in a generation. And clearly, it could cause tremendous challenges for Guyana in the years ahead if handled badly. Guyana is an overlooked haven of biodiversity. You know, you're right, 85 percent of its rainforest intact. There's no wonder why inspired Sir Walter Reileighs hunt for the El Dorado and Sir David Attenborough's first-ever book, Zoo Quest to Guyana. I had a fantastic conversation with Sir David a few weeks ago about the impact that going to Guyana made on him. And so the point is, I wanted my wife, who chairs the charity, working alongside Guyanese and the University of Guyana to create a center where we could link up young people, indigenous communities live all around the center, and academics with the outside world helping Guyana to conserve its rainforests, but conserving it by understanding what is in its rainforests and hopefully the global community engaging in a country like Guyana so that we can protect that rainforests for the world at a time when things could get very, very, very precarious.

David Lammy: [00:36:00] And so it's an exciting project. It's high impact, but low cost, because obviously, it's not about building lots of concrete in the rainforest, but it's a site on the Essequibo River, which is one of South America's largest rivers. It's a very, very beautiful spot. And it will allow researchers to research the species, the fauna to understand their rainforest. And there's a lot that's still not understood about Ghana's rainforest, because it's a country that, I mean, it's one of the last frontiers in the world, really. It's still a country that many people have not been to and hasn't even been completely mapped. And so it's a very, very exciting project that could help us understand things like zoonotic, help us with future pandemics, of course, help us conserve the world's rainforests, particularly understanding of what's going on in Brazil and what's going on in Venezuela next door. There's a lot to do. And hopefully, Guyana can be somewhere more like Costa Rica in the years ahead.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:37:09] That's going to be a popular comment on this podcast, although I suspect.

Christiana Figueres: [00:37:13] You're getting into very dangerous, very dangerous territory here.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:37:17] I would just say I love the vision that when oil is discovered, part of the solution is to facilitate the Guyanese people to kind of look closer at their country and realize what they have right now as a way of choosing their future. And I've been privileged to get to know you a bit and learn about this project. I think it's hugely impactful and listeners that want to know more, that might want to contribute to the project sophiapoint.com, you can you can go there and learn more and engage with the process, which we would really encourage you to do.

David Lammy: [00:37:45] And you can email me. My email's, you know, very easy. You just put my name in Google Email and we are in the business of fundraising, we have to raise four million to do this properly but the impact will obviously be significant, very significant.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:38:06] I'd be huge. Well, we've never had a sort of internationally renowned politician actually release their email on the podcast before, so it's appreciated.

Paul Dickinson: [00:38:13] And actually, there are lots of philanthropists, we know for a fact listen to this, David so, yeah.

Christiana Figueres: [00:38:20] If it's four million, David, obviously donations from different sources will be helpful. But could I also suggest, I have no idea what the debt profile of Guyana is, but I do know that since you mentioned Costa Rica, that Costa Rica did a lot of its initial investments into biodiversity research centers, et cetera, through a debt for nature swap that we negotiated years ago. And there are several of us who are now working toward climate swaps so that some countries would be able to exchange their debt, their current debt for investments into climate, which is a version of the debt for nature swap. But the debt for nature swap was used by quite a few countries very successfully, maybe 10 or 20 years ago, and it is a very well understood financial instrument on behalf of the lending institutions. So just putting it on the table, because if it is, and you'd have to take a look and see if that's feasible, but if it is a situation that might help, we used it very, very successfully. And it's nothing new so institutions don't have to learn anything and was very effective in bringing very targeted, earmarked resources for the kinds of investments that we wanted, especially in biodiversity research centers. So there you are, it's one little idea.

David Lammy: [00:40:02] Well, thank you for that. Let me just say actually that the debt, the public debt in Guyana is one point seven billion. Guyana has historically been the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti. So it's a country that has struggled but obviously, that growth in Guyana is now the biggest in the world this year, even in a pandemic because of that oil find. The Norwegians did reach out to help Guyana about a decade ago with helping to get to that 85 percent. But you'll understand that one of the challenges for a country like Guyana is, yes, you can earmark the rainforest not to be cut down. But what my project is about is actually empowering locals, particularly indigenous communities and young people, to actually understand what's in their rainforest. And just to say, finally in Guyana, what you also have is a country of just above 700000 people in a country larger than the United Kingdom. And there are very few places in the world where you've got such a small population relative to the size of the rainforest that's there. So I look at that. I will look at that and I'll speak to the government about that. We have to empower people to help themselves, particularly, and it is where I'm a bit, being a politician myself I know that sometimes when there's an oil discovery, the politicians take their eye off the original price, which is the rainforest or whatever it is, and they start concentrating on something else. And that's where you do need civil society. The third sector, not for profits, have to be connected to the global community. And basically, most of the world, when you raise Guyana or you mention the country, they think you're talking about Ghana, or they might recall that Guyana's that the Jonestown massacre occurred.

Christiana Figueres: [00:42:14] Wrong continent.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:42:18] David, you've spent 20 years in parliament. You've got more political experience than practically anyone we've had before in the podcast or many. When thinking about how our listeners can influence their parliaments, their governments, their politicians. Do you have any particular advice for how to advance climate change? Is it blocking the streets like Extinction Rebellion? Is it through NGOs? Is it through business? How can we change the law?

David Lammy: [00:42:50] I'm quite keen on being quite robust with politicians. Here in the UK we had obviously a long debate about Brexit, went on for months and months and months. And actually, I recall the only big intervention other than Brexit was because young people decided to march on a Friday and gather outside the House of Commons and suddenly we had our then prime minister, Theresa May, responding to the climate emergency. Had that not happened, I'm not sure anything would have changed. And similarly, in this year in which we've been focused on the pandemic, the whole world, the only interruption at the end of May followed the murder of George Floyd and the protests that came about as a result. So I do think actually sometimes you've got to be quite robust. You've got to connect the dots these days. We talk a lot about intersectionality and you've got to be clear to politicians that they're not getting your vote unless they go with this. I think the other thing I'd say is, and I take this from the civil rights tradition, power is not given up lightly. It has to be taken. You have to muscle your way in and we've now seen great transformation, thank God, in the United States of America. So there's huge global opportunity to make this the age in which we dealt with the climate emergency and in which we got global racial justice. It's actually, despite all the terrible news around the world and a very, very exciting time to be alive.

Christiana Figueres: [00:44:43] Well, on that inspiring note. On that inspiring note, David, we usually conclude by asking our guests the question that is relevant to the name of our podcast, which is Outrage and Optimism, and would love to know from you as you look out onto the horizon of the very many different issues that you are involved in and an activist for, where do you place yourself in that continuum between outrage on one side of the continuum, one extreme and optimism on the other?

David Lammy: [00:45:28] I would say that if it was a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being optimism and 10 being outrage, I think I tend to veer towards eight or nine on the outrage scale.

Christiana Figueres: [00:45:46] I love it. I love it.

David Lammy: [00:45:48] I'm pretty outraged by some of these characters who are around in the global community. I'm worried about things like populist nationalism and I'm nervous about the recession that we're in and about the calls that will be made within that recession, the tendency to blame immigrants and others, the tendency to double down on a super capitalist economy, and not really understand that green jobs, for example, is about equity for loads of people left out previously. So I think in this period I'm definitely towards outrage.

Christiana Figueres: [00:46:32] Hmm. Well, bless you for that.

Paul Dickinson: [00:46:34] There is much to be outraged about.

Christiana Figueres: [00:46:36] Yeah, I love that. I love that.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:46:38] There is indeed.

Christiana Figueres: [00:46:40] So refreshing. David, thank you so much. Thank you for giving us marching orders here. 

Paul Dickinson: [00:46:46] Yeah. We'll get take to the streets now. Really appreciate it. Thank you so much.

David Lammy: [00:46:50] Speak soon.

Christiana Figueres: [00:46:51] Thank you, David. Bye.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:47:02] So David Lammy has been such a prominent figure in the UK political scene for such a long time. I think it's just amazing that he's now piling in and talking about this essential interconnection between racial justice and climate justice. And of course, his TED talk was his beginning of his road into that and now he's gone deeper here with us. What do you guys leave that conversation with?

Paul Dickinson: [00:47:22] I love the fact that he's so interested in these kinds of coalitions and these alliances that I think are part of building global awareness. And we're probably going to be talking about that for as long as we do podcasts. I just wanted to pick up one thing that I thought was fascinating was his critique of Comic Relief listening, which is for those who don't know it in the UK, it's a wonderful thing that kind of raises money for vulnerable people in less industrialized countries, want a better word. But there was a particular issue about the way it was being presented. And David had listened to his constituents and had the courage to come forward and challenge it. And I think that ability to link climate justice with racial justice, to come forward and say, you know, have slightly awkward conversations is going to make us much stronger as a movement. That's what I really admire about him. I think that he has that ability of a leader to kind of see right through to where we need to go and to draw us there together and it's that union that makes the force, if I can quote the line from the film, that it appears David and I both love, Pride, which is a wonderful film for those who haven't seen it.

Christiana Figueres: [00:48:31] I'm left with a self-inflicted pain, or challenge maybe is a better word, and that is how do we really understand the issues, what he calls intersectionality? And I've seen that it's a word that is now very much in vogue. And see, that's the problem to me. It's that we understand it in our head. We understand that all of these issues are interconnected. And some of us actually even feel it in our hearts and in our gut. But here's my problem, and then what? Then when you go out there and try to do something on race or on gender or on nature protection, forest protection, as he was speaking, then you tend to go back into siloed action. And that's the piece that I just find so frustrating, because if we understand the relationship and the intricately networked impacts of all of these issues, if we understand them, but we don't act upon them in this interconnected way, we're just going back to last century siloed approaches, which we know don't take us anywhere. So I'm still sitting here with that big mess in my stomach, this big bulk of questioning and trying to figure out how do you do that, even if you understand it. And many people are still trying to understand it. OK, let's say we've all understood it, in theory, now what? How do we go at it? And I don't think that we're actually going to get very far or have the impact that we need to in a very short time scale that we need to have it unless we can actually figure out how to act out there, on the ground, in the physical world in this completely interconnected way. And I don't think we have that clear yet, but I hope I'm wrong.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:50:47] I think your frustration, Christiana, comes maybe from the fact that you see how amazing that interconnected world that brings those different elements together and enables us to put our arms around the whole of the problem and work collectively on it, what that could look like and the path from here to there is still fuzzy. One of the things I liked just on that point about the conversation with David was when you pressed him on that, he immediately went to actually some quite granular and practical things. He was immediately like, well, you need to have quotas, you need to insist on a pipeline of candidates, you need to ensure you're diverse, include different perspectives. And I liked that it went from sort of these principles of why this is important and he went straight to practical things, which we probably need as a way to build momentum. We definitely need. From which this more interconnected, integrated world where we can face these issues together can emerge but I quite liked that he did that. Did you agree that that was a good place to begin?

Christiana Figueres: [00:51:39] Yeah.

Paul Dickinson: [00:51:40] I mean, just another thought. I mean, Christiana, you expressed it very brilliantly then I thought. The fact that we're on the same side, we're trying to do the same thing, but we're not acting in an interconnected way. I was reading something just yesterday saying and our problems are becoming more and more complex. And in a certain sense, maybe they are becoming more and more complex. But in another sense, that maybe they're becoming more and more simple. And I think we have to feel the power of recognizing that the sort of underlying challenges we've got, this underlying challenge of climate change, I would venture to suggest we have underlying problems of inequality and unfortunate wealth distribution which is actually holding our societies back from the move forward they're entitled to do. So as we build that awareness, as we integrate it, I hope it'll make us stronger and it'll almost make things simpler.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:52:29] I think that's a good point, Paul. And I hope that you're right. One other thing I'll just point back to the conversation with David that struck me as really listening to him. I mean, these amazing statistics that come from his TED talk. One in particular that struck me was in the U.S., black people breathe 57 percent more pollution than they create and white people breathe 17 percent less than they create. I just wanted to drop that in because I think it's a particularly visceral.

Paul Dickinson: [00:52:57] He's called that race and class. But I mean, you can also call that race and financial equity. The coexistence of those two is very sinister.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:53:07] But the thing that really struck me was about the role of leadership in choosing the things you focus on. Because as you pointed out earlier, Paul, one of the reasons why he pushed back against Comic Relief was because his constituents were making the point that that's what was important to them. But, and we didn't ask him this, but I doubt there's that many people in Tottenham that are writing to him saying this is unjust. What about climate change? What about the future? But he's also playing a leadership role where he sees what's coming and he's prepared to be ahead of his constituents and help guide and lead them from where he sees and he can respond when needed and those two things can fit together.

Paul Dickinson: [00:53:46] But didn't you talk with such passion about his constituents that are from Bangladesh? They know all about climate change, all about their families. I mean, they're Londoners probably, or British people perhaps for generations. But their family connections to Bangladesh will mean that they viscerally feel in his constituency climate change today. So, yes, I do believe there is that role for leadership to forworn and to protect, which is the ultimate role of government. But yet also I think in any diverse community, the community feels the world.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:54:19] Yeah, no, that's a good point. And that's the strength of a diverse community.

Paul Dickinson: [00:54:23] It is.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:54:24] OK, so what a great conversation this week. What a privilege to have David Lammy and we are going to leave you, as ever with an amazing piece of music. Now this week.

Paul Dickinson: [00:54:32] To Clay.

Clay Carnill: [00:54:33] Yes. So this week we have a song from Blackout Problems, an emerging dark pop band from Munich, Germany. A little bit about the song from the band. Its working title was originally Penguins because the drummer Michael told everyone about penguins being so dedicated to their group or their partners that if they lose them, they would walk for miles and miles in one direction until they would die if they wouldn't find them. That made them think of humans and how we face our problems and how dedicated we are to one another and the band's take on this is that we aren't that dedicated, but we could be. And when it comes to the climate crisis and what artists should be doing in response, they say that they think it is rather easy what to do because there is no side or stand to take on this issue because it's based on facts. They believe their role is more uniting and supporting this movement with their platforms, social media, and music. And specifically, they say the more we know about the climate crisis, the better. So our message is to never stop educating yourself, go out and protest and let everybody know, raise awareness and force companies and politicians to listen and act accordingly. So here it is, Blackout Problems with their song Dark. Oh Wait, do you all want to say goodbye?

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:55:50] See ya! 

Paul Dickinson: [00:55:52] Bye.

Christiana Figueres: [00:55:52] Bye.

Clay Carnill: [00:55:53] Ok, here's the song. Enjoy.

Clay Carnill: [00:59:37] Yes, another episode of Outrage and Optimism in the books. That was Blackout Problems with their song Dark. They're releasing their brand new album titled Dark on January 15th. But you can go and stream a few of the singles right now on Apple Music and Spotify, as well as check out the documentary series they filmed this year following the writing of the album. And I've put a link in the show notes to Episode 3 of that series, which highlights some of the inspiration for the record coming from Friday's For Future, Black Lives Matter and more exploration of the power of young people organizing to bring awareness of the climate crisis. And one of my favorite musical artists, Charles Bradley, gets a shout-out, you've got to check it out. It's the perfect exit to action for this week's episode. Links in the show notes. And now my weekly discipline of public gratitude, Outrage and Optimism is a global optimism production executive produced by Marina Mansilla-Hermann and produced by Clay Carnill. Global Optimism is Sarah Lau, Katie Bradford, Lara Richardson, Sophie MacDonald, Freya Newman, Sara Thomas, Sharon Johnson, and John Ford. So, I'm currently trying to figure out our holiday end of the year party, if any of you listening, have any advice on how to plan a party across three different continents, four different continents. And it doesn't just end up being another Zoom nobody wants to go to. Please email me, clay@globaloptimism.com. I'm completely serious. And our hosts are Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac and the Paul Dickinson. Special thanks this week to Kelly Grayen and Anya Sizer and Oliver Doros for making this week's interview possible.

Clay Carnill: [01:01:32] And thank you to our guest, David Lammy. Now, I told you all to go watch David's TED talk last week as like homework, and Christiana and Tom both back me up on it this week. But if you are listening to this right now and you still have not watched it, there is a link in the show notes of this episode, and you need to stop everything and go watch it right now. On a side note, it was such a pleasure meeting David this week, before the interview we talked a bit about anti-racism activism in Detroit, climate strikes, sunrise movement, Detroit will breathe. David, thank you. It's great to have you on. @GlobalOptimism is the social handle for LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you need some optimism in your feed. I did not mean for that to rhyme, but it did. And if you're enjoying the podcast, we're so glad to hear it. Please rate us five stars on Apple podcasts and write us a review, it means the world. Thanks. OK, so that is a wrap on this week. Thanks for listening. Next week, it's a big one. In celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, we have Laurence Tubiana, CEO of the European Climate Foundation joining us and will be joined by six-time platinum recording artist AJR. So don't forget to bring your nationally determined contributions because it is going to be a party. We'll see you next week.


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