We are excited to announce that Outrage + Optimism is now part of the TED Audio Collective. This news represents an exciting continuation of the collaboration between our organizations, which began with our strategic partnership with TED Countdown.

The TED Audio Collective is a curated collection of podcasts sharing ideas on a range of subjects, including psychology, business, and design. On TED Climate you’ll hear talks from some of the leading minds in the field on crisis solutions, challenges, and insights that give listeners the information and hope we need to keep fighting.

You can view the full list of TED Audio Collective podcasts here, and listen to them wherever you get your podcasts.
Outrage + Optimism logo

Behind the scenes on the politics, investments and actions meeting the climate crisis head on

Global Optimism logo

Stubborn optimism is a choice. Join us in tackling the climate crisis with conviction, scale and speed


205: How to talk about climate change so people will listen

Watermark of logo

About this episode

Welcome to another episode of Outrage + Optimism, where we examine issues at the forefront of the climate crisis, interview change-makers, and transform our anger into productive dialogue about building a sustainable future.

This week, our hosts discuss the slow progress made at the negotiations in Bonn which concluded last week and how the perceived lack of direction has led many in the climate community to feel anxious about how successful talks will be in Dubai later in the year. 

Christiana also touches on the new World Bank report, Detox Development: Repurposing Environmentally Harmful Subsidies, highlighting the trillions of dollars wasted on subsidies for agriculture, fishing and fossil fuels that could be used to help address climate change instead of harming people and the planet.

With Tom off to the Global Citizen Power Our Planet Live event on Thursday, the hosts discuss their hopes for a more positive outcome from The Summit for a New Global Financing Pact also happening in Paris this week. Look out for the anticipated momentum to gather pace on Mia Mottley’s Bridgetown Agenda for the much needed reform of international finance.

Our special interview this week is with the brilliant communications expert John Marshall, CEO of Potential Energy Coalition, to discuss climate change’s marketing problem and how we can solve it. Essential listening and the team here all agree we could learn a lot from John’s insights! For anyone wanting to learn more about the important work of Potential Energy, click here.

Our fabulous music this week comes from Hazel Mei and her song Golden Chains, another finalist from this year's Environmental Music Prize. Check out her links below.

With Clay away, huge thanks to Airaphon who mixed and sound edited the podcast this week.

Please don’t forget to let us know what you think here, and / or by contacting us on our social media channels or via the website.


John Marshall, Chairman and CEO of Potential Energy Coalition
LinkedIn | TED Bio

Potential Energy Coalition
Website | LinkedIn | Instagram

Hazel Mei, Environmental Music Prize Finalist 
Instagram | Facebook | YouTube 

For anyone wanting to watch the absurd Fox news interview with Power the Future founder, Daniel Turner, here is the link

Learn more about the Paris Agreement.

It’s official, we’re a TED Audio Collective Podcast - Proof!
Check out more podcasts from The TED Audio Collective

Please follow us on social media!
Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn

Full Transcript

Tom: [00:00:11] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana: [00:00:13] I'm Christiana Figueres.

Paul: [00:00:15] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:16] This week, we talk about what happened in Bonn at the negotiations. We look forward to the finance summit in Paris. We speak to John Marshall, CEO of Potential Energy, and we have music from Hazel Mei. Thanks for being here. So it's good to see you both. And I'm going to see you in person next week Christiana, which is very exciting. I am on my way to London, I know Paul, I'm sad you're not going to be there, unless you are.

Paul: [00:00:41] Why am I not going to be there?

Tom: [00:00:42] Plum Village in France next week.

Paul: [00:00:44] I'm not going to be there, no. I wish I was.

Tom: [00:00:45] Okay. Well, well, hopefully we'll catch you anyway. Yeah, we wish you were too. I'm on my way at the moment to Global Citizen Festival in Paris on Thursday. I know you're on your way to London, Christiana. We've got various meetings lined up and then Plum Village next week, so looking forward to seeing you all. But for now, I wonder if we should start by just diving in to the negotiations that just finished in Bonn. These are the intersessional negotiations that happen between the COPs, but they do very much set the agenda for what's to come. And we're now halfway towards the much anticipated COP28 in the UAE, Dr Sultan Al Jaber, the incoming president, beleaguered incoming president, we might say, was there. And I think there were lots of signs all over Bonn. Christiana, you sent me some that you received, you know, continuing to repeat the phrase that we need to get oil out of the negotiations. This is the narrative that is really building. But I think that the SB's themselves, the negotiations were regarded as a mixed success, to say the least. Christiana, do you want to kick off? What's your impression of what just happened in Bonn?

Christiana: [00:01:46] Well, I'm thrilled to hear you say that it's a mixed report.

Tom: [00:01:54] At best I said. 

Paul: [00:01:55] The famous curate's egg. Have you ever heard that story, the curate's egg, like the, this junior person goes to the to the kind of boss's house. It's a religious thing. Gets served a bad egg, which is inedible, basically. And the host says, how is it? And he said, good in parts.

Christiana: [00:02:15] Exactly.

Tom: [00:02:16] Good in parts. 

Christiana: [00:02:17] Good in parts. So, you know, Tom, I don't know if you had joined us by this time or not, but I do remember one of these subsidiary meetings in which it took parties two days to agree to an agenda. And I remember how the press was.

Tom: [00:02:41] I do remember that. 

Christiana: [00:02:41] Oh, you were there. Okay, good. So I remember how the press was just in total, total disbelief. How can it take two days to agree to an agenda. Well, an agenda is actually pretty important to agree on in these multilateral negotiations because it determines what, you know, how much time is going to be spent on each topic. And and so I was actually, what should I say, wounded. And I carry still a scar from those SB's where we it took us two days to agree an agenda but at this SB they agreed the agenda one day before closing.

Tom: [00:03:23] An SB, just for people, subsidiary body right which is the meeting that is the title of this two week meeting. Yeah.

Christiana: [00:03:28] Yes, thank you. These are the sort of the the intersessional meetings between COPs and the the one in Bonn just finished. It was.

Tom: [00:03:39] And they agreed the agenda the day before they left?

Christiana: [00:03:41] The day before they left.

Paul: [00:03:44] On a how many day meeting?

Christiana: [00:03:46] Two weeks.

Paul: [00:03:47] So they spent essentially 13 or 14 days deciding the agenda?

Christiana: [00:03:52] No, they actually went into topics without an agreed agenda. But had they not agreed an agenda, then nothing that they had discussed would have had any any legal value. The fact is that very little of what came out has any legal value or any legal value add, I should say, because most of the items were simply procedural decisions that that you, Paul, and you, Tom, will remember, which is the kind of language that you throw into a document when there's absolutely no no way forward. And basically the procedural decision says, and parties shall continue to discuss, X, Y, Z.

Tom: [00:04:37] Agreement to agree in the future.

Christiana: [00:04:38] Yeah so I'm actually. I'm quite despondent about about these last two weeks. But Tom, you said, well, how did you paint it?

Tom: [00:04:52] Good in parts. Mixed success.

Christiana: [00:04:54] Okay, well, where's the good part?

Paul: [00:04:57] Yeah, what's the good part? You know which part of the egg are you going to eat, Tom?

Tom: [00:05:00] I actually don't have an answer to that. Um, and the reports I received were quite concerning for the reasons you've described, as well as other things. So one thing that stuck out to me was that the secretariat, the UNFCCC, has taken on very much its responsibility to try to track and police net zero targets. We've talked a lot on this podcast about this sort of, you know, concern about is there greenwashing. And there was the UN Secretary General's high level expert group on what does a good disclosure look like and who should be tracking. Load More
Paul: [00:05:30] Chaired by the brilliant Catherine McKenna.

Tom: [00:05:31] Led by the brilliant Catherine McKenna, who came on the podcast and talked about it, and the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell ran a session where he talked about the role that the UNFCCC was now going to play and multiple people who were in the room were messaging me, saying the parties are not accepting this. Everybody is saying, you've blindsided us. This is overreach of your role. We don't want you doing this in different kind of language. 

Paul: [00:05:57] Doing what roughly?

Tom: [00:05:57] Well, they're setting themselves up as the place that sets the standards and that manages the disclosure process potentially of all of the non-state actors out in the world.

Paul: [00:06:09] Manages the disclosure process of the non-state actors. Yeah. Interesting, I know a thing or two about that myself actually.

Tom: [00:06:15] I think you do so so I think it's just the UNFCCC is such an important institution. It needs to be able to like bring parties with it to do big, important things. And I think that the readout I received and we should maybe get Simon back to talk about it is that it was, you know, at best good in parts. But there was a lot of pushback and a lot of we don't want we don't think this is the role for you. So that confuses the role of the secretariat, the UN Climate Secretariat, at a really critical moment in terms of what is their role around all these issues now that many issues that were under negotiation before have been resolved and we're moving to implementation? 

Paul: [00:06:54] Well, just a thought. I think the United Nations is an invitation. And like every other right thinking person I know, I accept the invitation and I think it's absolutely right and proper that we all do all we can to support Simon Stiell and the Secretariat. 

Tom: [00:07:10] 100%. 

Paul: [00:07:10] To achieve their goals. And I'm I'm very upset to hear about this hiccup. Let's hope it is a hiccup, although it sounds like a pretty big hiccup. 

Tom: [00:07:19] Yes well, watch this space. There'll be more to come, I do think, on a brighter note, I think news circulated Christiana, Dr Sultan's speech, which which seemed a lot better than the ones he's given before.

Christiana: [00:07:28] Yes. Yes. The the speech that he held in Bonn was clearly the result of of deeper listening and of, I think, shows a very steep learning curve in what the role of the COP president is. So I was actually quite, quite, quite delighted to to read that and to see definite improvement there.

Paul: [00:07:59] Can I ask a question? I mean, I think that the the role of the UNFCCC in terms of supporting the Global Stocktake and the role of non-state actors is absolutely critical and we should be very supportive of that. The COPs are themselves very important because the world's attention is really focused. But is it possibly the case that climate change is really moving towards more now of a kind of national issue and it's about how nations and national governments are responding and that there's less of necessarily an international character to it. That is to say, that would we not think that maybe this is the time when the rubber hits the road and how nations individually are responding or in groups like the EU, because that's become increasingly important?

Tom: [00:08:40] Well, I mean, one thing that tees us up nicely, maybe for the next topic, which is one area where that is absolutely not the case, is around financing. So we actually do need a lot of international agreement to ensure that the appropriate financing can be put in place to support developing countries, emerging economies to make these kinds of transitions. This is an issue, as we've said many times, that many of them have done little to cause, and yet they're suffering the worst impacts. And as we know from previous conversations with people like Avinash Persaud, countries are paying very significantly more to borrow money to invest in infrastructure projects to try and transform their economies, and that makes it very unprofitable for them often to invest in renewable energy projects, to invest in adaptation projects. And that's something that this summit that's taking place this week in Paris, The Summit for a New Global Financing Pact is going to try to deal with, should we go there or anything else to say about the SB's.

Christiana: [00:09:33] Well, and the other thing that is related to that, Tom, is this new World Bank report that comes out and says, you know, we are we are wasting trillions of dollars subsidizing fossil fuels, subsidizing farming, subsidizing fishing, all of which are causing, quote unquote, environmental havoc. And many of these countries that are doing that are actually developing countries spending so much, so much money on harmful subsidies than they do on health, on education, on poverty reduction. And if these countries were to reform those subsidies, reduce those subsidies, there would be quite a bit of funding available to address climate change, to address biodiversity, to address the the pressing issues. So these are really toxic subsidies that are sort of a left over from last century where it was perhaps important to subsidize fossil fuels so that a majority of people could have access. But that is not so anymore. That report says that we are we collectively are subsidizing to the tune of $7 trillion a year. It's just it's so so let's let's rebrand that, not as subsidy, but as an investment into our own destruction.

Paul: [00:11:10] It's terrible. Unbelievably terrible. And it it does come a little bit to that issue of get oil out of the negotiations. Now, clearly, we know that the UAE is in a very sort of unique position because the economy is very much based on fossil fuels. Just parking the UAE presidency for a minute. And the extraordinary position of Dr Sultan, I think that there there is something very strange. I mentioned this before about about, in last week I think it was, about the tobacco industry convention, this this UN convention signed by 168 countries that says, in setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control. Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law. And Christiana, you pointed out in response to me that there there isn't really a sort of, you know, tobacco is meant to end. And we were talking a little bit about the notion of, you know, energy companies being welcomed, but but fossil fuel companies not being welcome. And I mention this specifically because what is the definition of a fossil fuel company. And I think the definition, if I might give it to you, is is from Shell, the new Shell. The new CEO just gave a speech in New York, I think just this week.

Paul: [00:12:30] The Chief Executive, Wael Sawan, said he sought to increase investor confidence with the promise of and this is a this is a, quote, ruthless focus on financial performance, spending 10 to 15 billion over the next three years on low carbon energy. Sounds good, doesn't it? But 40 billion over the same period to spend on oil and gas production. And here again, I'm quoting him, he says, ultimately what we need to do is to be able to generate long term value for our shareholders. The answer cannot be I am going to invest in clean energy projects and have poor returns, and that's going to vindicate my conscience. That's wrong, he said. So the question really is, is is he a kind of monster or is he doing what he's been set up to do, which is be put in there by shareholders who want higher returns. And isn't it really our responsibility to to change the laws so he doesn't get higher returns from putting more money in fossil fuels? Is he to blame for this or are we to blame because we're not good enough at changing our national laws so he doesn't make money by doing the wrong thing?

Christiana: [00:13:39] Sorry, Paul, but I am certainly not going to take responsibility for that speech or what it represents. I'm sorry. We're all adults. We all have climate information in front of us. I don't think that you can exempt the CEO of a major oil and gas company from any responsibility because our national regulation is not sharp enough yet. That does not excuse him.

Paul: [00:14:09] Good, clear answer.

Tom: [00:14:10] Yeah. And you can't just say my only responsibility is to make every decision to maximize return at this moment and I don't care about anything else. I mean, that is a that is a form of capitalism that we know has created innumerable problems. Of course, nobody's saying that Shell should run itself into the ground and lose all its money, and there needs to be a pathway to transition that is profitable and brings the shareholders with them. But to say, I have no responsibility for that, I'm just going to make money. And unless the laws are changed, I'm not doing anything is wildly irresponsible.

Paul: [00:14:38] But how many listeners to this podcast have got some sorts of investments where their investment managers selected him. Selected him as the next Chief Executive of Shell because he was willing to say these things and act in this way. I just, of course I agree with you, Christiana, but I think the culpability does lie with us to some degree. He was selected to close the gap between the valuations of the US oil and gas companies and the European ones, and he's talking about being what was his stupid word he used about being ruthless and not being about, you know, what was it, trying to sort of absolve the consciousness. I mean, it's a connected point. So there's more to say about this. But, you know, on financing.

Tom: [00:15:29] So Paul, Paul, we're going to have to move on, unfortunately, to our guest. I mean, it's it's an interesting point and it's one we should get into. It's one we're all very familiar with as well. But to claim I don't have responsibility, I'm just meeting the needs of my shareholders. Everything else can go hang. I don't care about anything else is wildly irresponsible. There's absolutely no other way to look at it like that, and history will judge that incredibly hard.

Paul: [00:15:48] I agree with that. But we've got to own this system because we're in it.

Tom: [00:15:52] I think everybody has to have responsibility for taking us to where we need to go. And if we say it's our responsibility or their responsibility or someone else, the buck just continues to be passed. Right? That's where we've been for a long time.

Paul: [00:16:03] The secret is good communications. Now, who knows about that?

Tom: [00:16:05] Now yes, very good point. So we're going to go to John Marshall in a minute. Just very quickly before we do. I mentioned earlier that there's a big summit this week in Paris. I'm sure many listeners know about it. The Summit for a New Global Financing Pact that's been pulled together by Emmanuel Macron and Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados and President of France. Um, and it's going to be an interesting moment. There has been this set of ideas called the Bridgetown Initiative, which is an attempt to to review and reform international finance. We don't have time to get into it now, but I think after the summit we will invite someone deeply involved to come back and report on what happened and have we really moved forward. Now, John Marshall, who we're going to let into the call in just one second, is a completely brilliant individual who I've known, we've all known for a number of years. He's the CEO and Founder of the Potential Energy Coalition, which is a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition that brings together the leading creative, analytic and media agencies in the US to shift the conversation on climate change. John Marshall knows more than pretty much anyone else about how do you develop new narratives that help people understand the issue and engage audience on a personal level and build demand for a better world. So, hey John.

John: [00:17:20] Nice to be with you.

Christiana: [00:17:21] John, so thank you so much for joining us here on Outrage + Optimism. We're so excited to have you. John, I actually can't believe that we hadn't had you before. This is really odd.

Tom: [00:17:34] I was appalled to realize we hadn't had him on before. 

Paul: [00:17:37] Enormous mistake.

Christiana: [00:17:37] This is very odd. Because here we are, here we are thinking that we're communicating on climate change and we haven't had the number one, top, top expert. So let this be a public sign of contrition, John. So we're we're repairing that damage today. John, do is it possible for you before we jump into the here and now, which is highly complex, is it possible for you to give us a little historical overview of you have been in this field of communicating on climate change for decades. Would you be able to give us a little general overview on how it has changed since you have been leading this field? Where where were we several decades ago as opposed to where we are now, and what have been the factors that have led for for that evolution?

John: [00:18:38] Yeah, great question. Well, actually, I've been thinking about it for decades. Potential Energy has has been in business for, I guess, our fourth anniversary is coming up in the next couple of weeks. Thanks to my 17 year old locking me in the house one weekend and telling me I needed to do something with my life. So my.

Paul: [00:18:56] Yay. Youth climate action, get dad.

Tom: [00:18:57] Good job, 17 year old. That's excellent. 

John: [00:19:01] My past life was selling credit cards and soap. And so he said, you've got to try and sell something that matters. So I think we still have a challenge in front of us, to be honest. I guess my observation would be we've had a lot of solutions. We've had great policies. We've undersold those in the last couple of decades. I think that seems to be changing. I think we've now the policy world is catching up to things that we've actually made some more progress on in the last few years. But I guess I would say we still have a long way to go with the general public. So I'm going to start with my outrage story. I'll get to my optimism story, but. 

Tom: [00:19:34] Okay.

Paul: [00:19:35] We have under communicated, you know, to your average to your average person. And so I think the reason that we we started Potential Energy was to find a way for us to be an accelerant. There's a there's been a gradual increase in salience of the issue. But in terms of urgency of the issue, the number of people globally who say this must be our top priority, we still need to gain ourselves another ten points really fast. We're somewhere between 30 and 40% globally in terms of this being a high priority issue, a very high priority issue, when it should be the highest priority issue. And so my perspective is a long way to go still. 

Christiana: [00:20:12] But John, 30 to 40, if that's where we are right now, that's actually an improvement from where we were 10 or 20 years ago. Are we not? Or in fact, 30 years ago when, or 40 when I started this. 

John: [00:20:26] Yeah. I did an interesting analysis on a whole bunch of different countries and where they are in terms of overall salience of the issue and tried to correlate that to strength of climate policy. And the higher correlation is actually to polarization. And so the gap between 1 and, 1 extreme and another extreme is more correlated than the overall level. So if you look at the UK, you've got a 14 point gap between Labour and Conservatives in terms of how important is the issue. And in the US you have a 59 point gap. And you see these big gaps in Australia, you see them in the US, you see them in South Africa and other countries. That tends to be a bigger driver, you know, of support for policy than even the absolute level. You see, the absolute levels in different countries are actually fairly, fairly similar, but the degree of difference in some is fairly high. So we've been trying to crack this tough puzzle of how do you get everybody to care rather than how do you get a smaller group of people to care. And a lot of that is about a rebrand in a way. And I'm not necessarily saying we don't use the term climate change. That's a big brand. It's a brand that exists. I'm sad that we called it climate change because it's not the best brand. It doesn't necessarily mean mean that much, but a brand is kind of the sum of imagery that you think about when you think about a problem. And so to move the climate change brand to the relevance today as opposed to a more abstract idea is a pretty big motivator.

Christiana: [00:21:51] Wow. So two things come up for me right away. So what is the brand, John Marshall? What is the new name? And the other that comes up from the data that you pointed out, the difference between the USA, Australia and EU is because of the politization, in addition to the polarization is because of the political parties, right? Because we have somehow aligned issues with a political party, a political agenda. And so my question to you is, is that where climate change ought to be aligned with a political agenda or how do we rescue climate change out of this political nightmare? Because as far as I can tell, climate affects all political parties equally in each country.

John: [00:22:45] Well, the good news is that it's doable. And, you know, we we see from our data, you really can move everybody. It's kind of simple in a way. It's about understanding who they are, what they care about and what they what what they want and what they might miss. Yeah. Um, and relating to folks. To your, to your first question about the brand of climate change, I think, I think it's the surrounding attributes that are the challenge. Maybe not so much the brand. Um. We. No one wakes up in the morning and says, what a great day for some decarbonization. And those of us in the in the climate elite are. This is smart crowd, right? The smart crowd of people listening to this podcast and they understand the concepts of net zero and 2040 and 1.5 degrees and decarbonization and methane and anthropogenic and all that stuff. But that's not how regular people think about the world. And so we've, we've got a bubble problem on our hands. We've had a big miss with our terms of our language with our goals. And I kind of wish that marketers were brought in earlier, I guess would be my thought. Like we you think about the framing of net zero.

John: [00:23:45] You know, people are starting to understand it, but we lost a lot of ground because it doesn't it's not necessarily an intuitive idea and no one wants to go to zero. It's not like it's somewhere I want to go to. Why do we even have a word net? So I think I think in terms of the attributes of the brand, we just we need to humanize the way we talk about this and we need to simplify it. We kind of have three tenants that we're using, which is simplicity, humanity and accountability. So in simplicity, we just need to scrap all those words and start talking regular speak. In humanity, and this I think this does get to a way to connect everybody. We have definitely found that the messages that work the best are have a person in it, have a person like me and talk about how that person is being affected. If you we did a little AB test where we had a message that you know, a lot of climate philanthropists really like, which is a conceptual message. Look at our opportunity for economic advantage and competitive advantage and job gains and all the conceptual stuff. And then you just have another message with a mom talking about her kid.

John: [00:24:46] The second message outperforms the first by a factor of 4 to 1. And so when we start to humanize the conversation and take it out of the conceptual terms where it's been for a long time, we get a lot of effectiveness. But the last thing is about the rebrand. I don't think the concept of fighting climate change means that much to people. I mean, people don't really understand it that well. I think the right rebrand is to fight the pollution that's causing climate change or fight the polluters who are causing climate change because we can fight a polluter or we can fight pollution. That's a that's a very identifiable thing in somebody's mind. But it's really hard to fight an abstract concept that most people think is caused by recycling and plastics and ozone holes, and it's just not a very specific idea. So the probably the biggest part of the rebrand to your question is to make this a pollution issue, and particularly in the global South as well, where air pollution is just such a scourge and really make that the rallying cry of ending of ending the pollution problem.

Tom: [00:25:42] John, I love the work you do and the humanizing point is really good and I'll, we'll put in the show notes, some links, some of the ads you've done, which have been fantastic and always employ humour and connection and sort of help people see the issue in a different way. I just want to ask also, I mean, you said there about a campaign that reframes it talks about polluters and how do we think about this differently. But I want to ask specifically about at this moment, actually the most effective campaign is being run against people who are trying to do something about climate change. We've talked a lot on this podcast about the anti ESG movement, about this attempt to slow down what financial institutions are doing, the insurers and others, and so quickly it seems they've been able to throw uncertainty and confusion in a manner that appears to be unraveling a significant amount of work by loads of people over decades to actually get momentum here. So the question is, from a communications perspective, how did that happen? How were they able to do that so quickly? And secondly, what what should we now do about it? Do we have a responsibility to reclaim the narrative? And if so, how do we do that?

John: [00:26:47] Well, it's a really good question. I think the first lesson I would get is that this is a narrative war more than anything else. And it does seem to work. And I will say that the brand, woke capitalism is an effective brand. It connotes an idea simply and quickly in that idea. You know, when people hear it will be, oh, politics is dominating my investment concerns, which people don't want. And so the brand has the brand achieves a goal fairly effectively. The good news is there are narratives that beat it hands down. We just have to start using those narratives. And I think that the temptation is to get is to get stuck in the complexity of it. Less than 30% of people have even heard of ESG. And so in the ESG defence campaign is is a proposition for elites. It's not a proposition for regular people. So what do people care about? People care about their the cost of extreme weather events. They care about their pension fund being put under arrest. They don't they don't want the government running their money. And so there is there is a counter narrative for that which is really effective. It turns out from our research, the thing that seems to work the best is equating climate change with materiality and saying we can't obscure the data that actually quantifies the risk around climate and we need the freedom to invest. And we have limitations on using the data that's associated with environmental risk. And those limitations actually cost everyone, they cost the taxpayer, they cost the pension holder.

Paul: [00:28:16] Totally agree with you that there's something insane about the ESG thing. It's like censorship. You know, I really didn't think the US was the land of censorship, although I did want to pick something up with you. I was watching a little bit of Fox News, as I often do, actually, just last night, and there was a little segment about the wildfires, you know, and the terrible smoke and the haze in New York. Well, you might have thought that was to do with climate change. Turns out it's not because they interviewed somebody called Daniel Turner from Power The Future, which would appear to be a pro fossil fuel lobbying group. And straight to the camera, both the interviewer and the person being interviewed who seemed to agree with each other in a spectacular amount. They said that when we use fossil fuels to the fullest, we manage our forests and fossil fuels are the solution and it will also help with world hunger. And we need less bad advice from the green crowd. Now I've sent the link to that to put in the show notes if anybody listening to this program would like to watch a particularly deranged segment of television. But you know, you can't say on TV that the Holocaust didn't happen. You can't say on TV that cigarettes are good for your health. Why can you say this on TV? 

John: [00:29:28] I mean the good news is the truth beats the lies by by an order of magnitude. Most people are inclined to believe and do make the associations between climate change and these extreme weather events. And so a message spoken by our side will crush that ridiculous message that you just said. So part of the answer is we got to get in the game. We've got to get into the game. At the moment, things happen. We need to be ahead of the game when we know. I mean, this is the sad truth. The outrage part of the truth is we know that there are 15 or 20 things that get people's attention when it's associated with climate change. We know there are set of extreme weather events that are going to happen. We know what they are. We can be ready for those. We should have our messages ready at the right time because our messages beat their messages by an order of magnitude. But we just need to put more investment into getting the right people in the right places at the right times. I'm not as worried about disinformation as I am worried about underinvestment in educating people, because educating people is relatively cheap and very effective. We've got a 25% increase in suburban women who are who are growth, 25% growth in suburban women who care about climate change from communicating with them. And so it's not that they've got an effective message is that we have a message.

John: [00:30:37] We need to say more. We've got to awaken 8 billion people on the planet to this thing that's happening. If we don't if we don't invest in that, we've got a big sleepwalking problem. And right now, less than 20% of people think clean energy has gotten cheaper over the last decade. Okay. Solar has gone down by 90 percentage points. And so we don't have a message problem as much as a communications gap. How could that be that people don't realize and many people still think of clean energy as an expensive luxury when in fact, the truth is that it's plummeting in costs and it's one of the least the least expensive sources of energy we have. So we have a message dissemination opportunity in front of us that we really need to take advantage of. And we know, like one of the things that we've learned is there are a few moments in the in the course of a year where people are really going to care about climate change. There is a hurricane brewing off the Cape Verde right now in June, which looks like it has a 70% chance of turning into a real storm. We need to be prepared for when that happens to have all of our spokespeople lined up in order to get our message across. So we're not subject to the disinformation.

Tom: [00:31:37] What you've just said there is really fascinating, which is we spend a lot of time thinking about what's the right message and how do we persuade people. Actually, we've got the messages. But the reality is that fossil fuel companies are spending an enormous amount of money to protect their current investments, and we're not matching that in terms of our investment to get our message out. It's as simple as that.

John: [00:31:53] Now that's exactly right. And we've been running this data machine for the last few years, and we've now served and measured about 2.5 billion ads. So we're starting to learn, you know, what does it cost to actually turn someone into a climate supporter? And it's not that expensive. People want to do something about the issue.

Tom: [00:32:07] What does it cost out of interest?

John: [00:32:10] From 13 reads that we've done 13 large scale experiments. The average has been $12.70 per person. And but our last read was $6.80. So it seems to be getting cheaper. Maybe, maybe we've gotten to a point where people are starting to remember the message. We have some you have some decay on that message. But if you think about what the stakes are is a pretty high ROI to communicating and educating on climate change, it's a pretty high ROI. It's a it's reasonably ineffective, inexpensive, rather.

Christiana: [00:32:40] John, does that data come from US or is that global, those 12 or $6?

John: [00:32:45] It would be it that is US data, but it will be similar. I mean, it'll probably be a lot cheaper in parts of the global South where media is cheaper, but it'll be similar I think in other countries just based on how, we can correlate research tests and in-market tests to a high degree. So I think it would be a similar cost in other countries.

Christiana: [00:33:04] So we have the facts, we know what the messages are. It's cheap to educate. We're just not darn prepared.

Tom: [00:33:10] So $6 each, maybe 5 billion people. $30 billion. Come on, philanthropists. Whoever's listening.

Paul: [00:33:15] It's about the size of the video game market. 

John: [00:33:18] Yeah, and in the context of the benefit we gain, yeah.

Christiana: [00:33:22] We don't need to educate 8 billion, right? Let's remember that.

Tom: [00:33:25] That's why kind of went for five. Sort of half. Yeah. Yeah.

Paul: [00:33:28] Let's just do the US. That's 2 billion in you know and you know that's like what is that 2% of the cash Google or Apple have got on. 

John: [00:33:35] To your point about the last couple of decades, Christiana, at the beginning, I do think that we have taken we haven't necessarily taken a marketing mentality to the problem. And so what do marketers do? They start with a customer and then they design the product. And so, you know, if you're, if you want to create double stuffed Oreos or whatever you use, you go out and you figure out what is the people, what does someone care about? What's their identity, what are they? What are they? What motivates them? What do they love? What do they fear? And then you figure out how do you package what you have to say in order to engage them and add value to their lives? Communications has been at the tail end of of the climate movement for a long time and we get to a point in time was like, oh, that's hard to sell. So I have a big piece of research coming out in a month or so called, 'Nice Policy, can you sell it?' Which is a big, big study in the Globe and the G20 as to like what can you actually and I think we're learning this over time. It's been hard to sell a carbon tax. It's really hard to sell a carbon tax to conservatives because it's climate change tax and universal basic income potentially rolled into one. It's really important that we start with the audience and figure out how do we position our policy solutions in a way that they can accept and not get it positioned for us. There's a reason that 20 states in the US have bans on gas bans, right? Because if it gets positioned as a ban, that's a that's a tricky positioning. And so positioning things as upgrades over bans or advantageous versus costly, inexpensive versus expensive. We need to sort of think about that before we go so far down the policy path that we don't end up being able to sell the things that we need to do.

Paul: [00:35:13] Yeah, I was just speaking the other day at at a seminar for an NGO with this, the former Environment Minister of Canada, Catherine McKenna. And I said, oh, you got a carbon tax in. And she, she kind of jumped through the screen and said it's not a carbon tax. The Supreme Court have made clear it's not a carbon tax, it's a price on pollution. And she also talked about how they went through the testing, just as you have done. And, you know, we can't we can't compliment you enough for doing that kind of research and acknowledging that, you know, people people have a big problem with the tax. But should you be allowed to pollute for free? No. Should there be a price on pollution? Yes. And then the idea that the tax is entirely neutral so it doesn't stay with the government, it gets paid straight out to people in a cheque. And each year, the amount of money going back to the public from the pollution, the price on pollution is increasing. The reason I ask this is I just wondered if you had a general bit of advice for the sort of aspiring policymakers who listen to this podcast all over the world, who may be in political parties or their advisors. How do you think what's the secret sauce for developing climate policy?

John: [00:36:26] Um, well, I think there's a explain it to your neighbour test that everyone should go through as, as one to as one thing to think about. We did a, we did a poll where we asked citizens across the globe, what's the UN target for an acceptable degree of warming? We talk about 1.5 degrees a lot. You know, the answer to that question is across eight countries, four degrees centigrade. Okay. And so I just think there's a lot of like a piece of advice. Number one is burst your bubble. Look at what you're saying. Think about how you're relating. Talk to your neighbor. 1.5 is a very small number. So is four. But no, it's not. It's catastrophe. And get human about it. And then, you know, I think the Secretary General has done a good job on this, by the way. I think that that language is human and real and it's about accountability and and things that are happening. But we got to get out of the 2040. By the way, the same number of people think we should get to net zero by 2040 as 2050. That's interesting. That doesn't mean anything to people. They don't think about it. So we got to get out of the 1.5 and the decarbonization and the 2040 and we've got to get into people like me are being affected. Okay. Who are who are those groups of people and what do they care about? Everybody's got a reason to care. And policymakers have got to connect to that more, which is tricky because it's a big conceptual challenge and it requires a lot of big brains to be able to tackle. But we need to make it way simpler.

Christiana: [00:37:48] John, this maybe an unfair question, but can you crystallize your wisdom and experience that you've been gathering into, I don't know, one sentence, two sentence, three words if I am trying to communicate on climate change, what is your top suggestion to me?

John: [00:38:09] Well, we've said simplicity, humanity and accountability. Keep it simple, make it about humans and make it being able to identify the source of the problem and communicate that right away. I think the other piece of advice that I often give is test yourself that whenever you say the phrase climate change, put a consequence of that within six words. The climate change that is causing extreme fires, the climate change that is raising people's food prices, the climate changes that are causing your air conditioning bills to be unacceptable. The climate change that caused extreme flooding in Pakistan. Like make it a consequence because the second part is relevant. The first part isn't. And so because we called it climate change instead of something much better, like the pollution blanket or something like that, because we did that, we got to live with that, but we got to surround it with an actual consequence that people are feeling so that they're fighting the consequences. They're not necessarily fighting this this bigger and more amorphous concept called climate change.

Christiana: [00:39:03] Well, I'm going to do a search on all of my writings and speeches and everything. That was very helpful.

Tom: [00:39:10] Yeah.

Paul: [00:39:10] Yeah. It's a negative of the, in advertising, people would say features, not benefits. So you say rather than saying this car has an air conditioner, you'd say keep cool in this new car. So the same thing replies in reverse rather than sort of saying, you know, there's climate change. You say there's climate change and it's you know. But John, did you say just last little prompt that I picked up from your TED talk that in Florida, if you say to people, do you want to reach net zero, they say no. And if you say to people in Florida, do you want to do something about the flooding, they say yes. Is that right? 

John: [00:39:38] Yeah. Quite specifically, we tested we tried to get people to sign petitions and it's five times more expensive. If you say let's get to net zero by 2040 than it is to simply say let's save Florida. Five times more expensive. So we'll get five times more people to act on climate change if I talk about saving Florida, than I talk about getting to net zero. So that's, I guess, Christiana that would be my one piece of advice is do that, like talk.

Tom: [00:40:03] Be practical. Yeah. Amazing. John, thank you so much. It's been so insightful as ever. I always love talking to you and learning about these things and thanks for coming on and speaking to our listeners. Before we let you go, we've got to ask you, you know, someone who sees the world and understands what's coming in a whole variety of ways that are sort of hidden to many of us. Can you please give us something you're outraged by and something you're optimistic about?

John: [00:40:24] Well, I'm outraged by the thing you brought up, which was this this attack on ESG. I think that caught the movement by surprise and had had a big impact and sort of reinforced the idea that narrative matters because it's it's a narrative that caught on fairly quickly. I'm optimistic that well, first of all, we made a ton of progress, but we can market that progress and and marketing works. So let's market let's market our wins. This is like there's a lot to say. So I'm optimistic that we've got some if the problem statement is we're trying to convince people we making progress on it. In marketing you have a thing called the RTB, reason to believe. And so in 2023 we have a lot more RTBs than we had in 2022 and every year goes by, so let's market the heck out of those and think we'll get there.

Tom: [00:41:08] Love that. Yeah, RTBs.

Paul: [00:41:09] Marketing works.

John: [00:41:11] It does.

Paul: [00:41:12] People spend $600 billion a year because they believe in that point and I think they're right.

Christiana: [00:41:16] John, thank you so much. Really. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for that. And thank you for continuing this. You've been working you you say you've only started your company four years ago, but actually that's just the format because you've been at this for such a long time. So so thank you for for staying over this for such a long time. And thank you for continuing to support all of us twits who think we're communicating and are actually not.

John: [00:41:48] It's great to be with you all. Love the love the podcast. Great, great, great time together. Thank you all so much.

Tom: [00:41:57] So I always feel I learn so much talking to John Marshall. He just understands, I think, in such a fascinatingly cold commercial way, how do you sell something to someone. And that's just not how we've thought about this issue. We've sort of said, you should believe because it's important or you should understand. And of course it's been a real struggle. And I think we can learn a lot from him. What did you both take from that?

Christiana: [00:42:18] I'm just astounded at the simplicity of his message. 

Tom: [00:42:21] Money.

Christiana: [00:42:22] This is not this is not rocket science. No, it's not even money. It's not rocket science. It's standing back from the belief that data and complicated words are going to make a difference. And just the simplicity and the impact of just cold marketing. We don't we almost you know, in the climate movement, I actually dare think that in the past, hopefully we're getting over it. We're stood back from marketing because it's sort of tainted. And, you know, maybe we.

Paul: [00:43:01] That's how we got here. It's icky.

Christiana: [00:43:03] Yeah, it's icky. We're we're too good for marketing. We're too righteous. 

Tom: [00:43:08] Too pure.

Christiana: [00:43:08] You know, we're on the right. Yeah, we're on the right side of history, you know, and and maybe it's, you know, maybe it's as simple as basic marketing.

Paul: [00:43:20] Yes. And Tom did mention money that, you know, a lot of the secret of good marketing is very expensive creative people coming up with very brilliant plans, increasingly digitally deployed now. Things have changed. And also to be able to to buy or have that media somehow. So I actually wonder if there's a role for the leading brands in the world to start being the agents of these messages. You know, why wouldn't major brands want to communicate some of the messages of the climate movement to show that they're part of the solution and not part of the problem? And actually, if we can tap into those major global budgets and that reach, then we might find ourselves very quickly changing the public mood. And that is, I guess, the crux of the whole war.

Tom: [00:44:01] You will both remember this. I won't say who, but about a year or more ago, we met a very famous person somewhere, and that person posted about our podcast and more than 100 million subscribers. And it made no difference to our download numbers. And that's when I really realized the intersection of money with communication in social media and elsewhere. These things only appear in people's feeds. They're only promoted in a manner that leads to an outcome if money is put behind them. And we've been thinking that we can go on Twitter with our thousands of followers and put stuff out and change the conversation, it's just not working. Actually, there are those entities who are putting real money into protecting their vested interests. And as you taught me many years ago, Paul, no one is investing to protect future revenue streams that they don't currently have. So there's a massive gap from those who are prepared to actually invest in changing people's minds to bring about the regulations and the industries of tomorrow. And and as you say, Christiana, it's incredibly simple. We just haven't done that work. And even today, philanthropies don't really understand that they need to do this. There's still a desire to focus on like crunchy nuts and bolts things. Comms is a bit woolly, actually what John showed us is it's not you can work out how many dollars you have to invest to persuade a person to do something different and to believe in something different and to find the narrative that works. We need to do this really urgently at a scale we've never done it before. If we're going to make the progress we need to.

Christiana: [00:45:24] Yeah, absolutely.

Paul: [00:45:25] And we can get people to believe something into existence. And John showing exactly how. Fascinating interview.

Tom: [00:45:32] Okay. Lovely to see you both.

Paul: [00:45:34] Yeah, lovely to see you, too, Tom.

Tom: [00:45:36] Hazel Mei with Golden Chains is this week's song. Thanks for joining us. And we will maybe be together in person or maybe some of us will be next week. But anyway, we look forward to engaging with you and talking to you listeners next week. Thanks for joining us.

Paul: [00:45:49] Bye. 

Christiana: [00:45:49] Bye.

Hazel Mei: [00:46:00] Hello. Outrage + optimism, my name is Hazel Mei and I'm a finalist in the Environmental Music Prize. I wrote my song Golden Chains, as a bit of an angsty climate anthem. It was originally a poem written on a day where I was feeling pretty low. I really was searching for hope at the time in a world where I noticed most people in power were choosing profit over conservation. Let's be real. It can still feel this way. And also there are so many people fighting back and coming together to advocate for change. And that's pretty amazing. When I think of outrage, I think of people who purposefully bring harm to others. Whether that be through their words or actions is just never cool. In saying that, I am truly optimistic about how much kindness and empathy I see every day, and I'm so excited to see what positive change people can continue to bring into this world.


Latest Insights