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238: Impatient for Change

with Hannah Ritchie

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About this episode

This week, the hosts welcome Hannah Ritchie, Deputy Editor at Our World in Data and a Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford as our guest and discuss her book ‘Not the End of the World, How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet’. 

In this compelling episode, join the hosts and special guest Hannah as they delve into the intricate dynamics of data, cautious optimism, and doom narratives within the climate community. Don't miss out as we explore the crucial role these elements play in shaping perspectives and driving action. Plus, Hannah treats us to an insightful reading from her remarkable work, offering a poignant addition to our discussion. Tune in for a thought-provoking dialogue you won't want to miss!

Music comes from Fran Lusty with her pop-folk ballad ‘I Hate My Job’. Fran is an Indie-folk singer-songwriter born in Cambridge with Norwegian roots, see her pages below to listen to more of her soul-stirring nature inspired songs.


Hannah Ritchie, Deputy Editor at Our World in Data and a Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford
Sustainability by numbers | Our World in Data | Twitter (X)
You can buy her book here: Not the End of the World, How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet
Hannah's TED Talk: Are we the last generation — or the first sustainable one?

Fran Lusty
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People of the State of California v. Big Oil / The text of the lawsuit is here

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Full Transcript

Christiana: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism. I'm Christiana Figueres.

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

Christiana: [00:00:18] And Tom will be with us throughout this episode. But he's not here right now. He will pop in as soon as we get to the interview that we're bringing you with Hannah Ritchie, Deputy Editor and Lead Researcher at Our World in Data. And Paul, do we have music?

Paul: [00:00:39] We do, this week we have an amazing track from Fran Lusty and it's called I Hate My Job.

Christiana: [00:00:44] Thanks for being here. Yeah Paul, so we're going to do things just a little bit differently today correct. We're going to share with listeners our interview with Dr Hannah Ritchie. And then we will have a little conversation about it. Is that right?

Paul: [00:01:09] In reverse exactly. We're doing the same thing that we normally do, but in reverse. And I didn't think that there was anything particularly that was drawing us in the news. So for now, let's start off with just an amazing interview. So who Christiana is Hannah Ritchie, Dr Hannah Ritchie?

Christiana: [00:01:23] Dr Hannah Ritchie is Deputy Editor and Lead Researcher at Our World in Data. She's a Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Martin Programme in Global Development at the University of Oxford, and she has recently published the book entitled 'Not the End of the World, How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet'. So quite a quite a challenging title there for, putting out a message that is, I would say, pretty different from the predominant message that we're hearing these days. But, Paul, here's the thing. Do you know that Dr Hannah Ritchie is 31 years old, this woman has written this book, that is just a plethora of data and analysis of that data. I have no idea when she sleeps or eats, but how much had you done by the time you were 31 Paul, I don't think that I could possibly stand it. Load More
Paul: [00:02:32] I'd done a few years, you know, in custody. I'd done my time, as they say. I'd been let out and I was being re-habituated into society, but look, is it challenging what Hannah's saying or is it empowering? That's really the question. But I mean, listeners, this is a brilliant interview with a brilliant person.

Christiana: [00:02:53] So I would say it's both, but let's see what listeners think. I think it is challenging the predominant doom and gloom, we have no future narrative. And it's incredibly empowering because she is proving that we humans are actually pretty capable of doing amazing things. So to your question, I would say both, but let's see what our listeners say.

Paul: [00:03:16] Let's see what our listeners think.

Christiana: [00:03:23] Hannah, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. And there is so much we want to talk to you about, in particular about your amazing book that I public confession stole from Tom.

Tom: [00:03:39] And never gave back, I still haven't finished it.

Christiana: [00:03:40] And never gave back.

Tom: [00:03:41] Yeah, exactly. I had a lovely advance copy, but anyway. Carry on.

Christiana: [00:03:44] Yeah, well, now it's in my possession. Very far away from you Tom. So sorry, you're going to have to order yourself another copy. But before we get to the book, Hannah, we will put in the show notes a link to your amazing TED Talk. So I just thought it would be really wonderful for you to give us a snapshot of the message that you convey in that TED Talk, because it seems to me it is such a good umbrella concept to understand. And then we can go into your book. I just totally love the way you dissect sustainability, especially that you do it over time and you say, you know, what is sustainability? What were we doing before? What are we doing now and what is the challenge for the future? So over to you to tell us what sustainability is.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:04:41] Of course and thanks very much for having me. So the TED Talk and the kind of concept of the TED Talk is, are we the last generation, which many people kind of think we are or could we be the first sustainable generation? And the way I frame sustainability in the talk is quite similar to the way that sustainable development is framed, or the concept of sustainable development, which is that sustainability really has two halves. As an environmentalist, what I think of as sustainability, as having a low environmental impact to protect future generations and other species. And that's half of the equation and a crucial half. But I think what we often miss out is that there's another half.

Christiana: [00:05:20] But only half, that's the important thing what you're doing, what you're saying, that's only half, because usually Hannah that's the only thing that we focus on. So to me, the big Aha of your TED Talk is that you're saying, yes, that's true. I'm not questioning that. And it's only half of the equation.

Tom: [00:05:35] Christiana, are you asking Hannah a question then answering it for her. That's not very fair to invite her on.

Christiana: [00:05:38] No, I'm just so enthused with her TED Talk.

Tom: [00:05:41] All right. Okay.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:05:43] Yeah and you know, you're exactly right it's only half. And then the other half is that what we also want to do is make sure that everyone alive today lives a good life. And you can debate what a good life is. But high standards of living, good health, comfortable, has access to the basic resources and stuff that they need. Now again, that brings us to an equation that has two halves. You have not achieved sustainability unless you've achieved both of those halves at the same time. Now, what we've seen is that if we look at our ancestors, for example, they might have had a very low environmental impact. So they ticked one half of the equation, but they would often have poor human wellbeing outcomes. And the example I give there is that you look over human history. For most of that period, nearly half of kids died before reaching puberty, right. So the survival of children was like a coin toss. What we've seen over the last few centuries is basically that balance tipping in the other direction. We've made really monumental progress on these human wellbeing metrics. Now we're not where we want to be. We still have massive gaps, massive inequalities, but we've made amazing progress there. The downside to that is that that's really come at the cost of the environment, right. We burn fossil fuels for energy. We've expanded farmland at the cost of forests and deforestation. And where we stand today, and the way I frame it in the talk is I think we have the opportunity to be the first generation that achieves both of these things at the same time. I think we're at this really unique spot where improving human well-being and driving human progress does not have to come at the cost of the environment anymore. And if we can achieve that, it's not inevitable that we do. But if we can achieve that, then I would frame it as we're the first generation that actually moves towards a sustainable future.

Christiana: [00:07:33] Yeah. So good. I really totally love that, half, identifying the two halves of sustainability and seeing the difference between what we used to do and what we must do in the nearest future possible. And that is the subtitle of your book, Hannah. So if we can move now to your book, because how we can be the first Generation to build a sustainable planet is the subtitle. The title is Not the End of the World. Very, very enticing title because, as you say, how sad is it that we have a growing number, sadly, a growing number of young people who think that we are facing up to the end of the world and that they are the last generation.

Paul: [00:08:23] A lot of people telling them that it's the end of the world.

Christiana: [00:08:25] Yes. Thank you. Telling them that it's the end of the world. And so we're going to delve into your book, Hannah. But first of all, can I just say how, I would so love to be a fly inside your brain. The amount of data that you have gone through that you keep in your brain that you come to put together, joining the dots is just absolutely breath-taking. And that you then take that incredible capacity that you have to weave data together to put forward a very positive story that says, actually, we are much further along than we thought, and you build that up with a lot of data, and so I wanted to first, before we get into the the details of the book, have you tell us why did you choose that approach? Why did you choose the data rich data deep approach to put yourself out there as a stubborn optimist as you have been called? Thank you, thank you. Welcome to the club. We are the club of stubborn optimists, so we're delighted.

Tom: [00:09:45] It's a mark of great pride on this podcast, yeah. 

Paul: [00:09:46] Cautious optimist was your perfect phrase. 

Christiana: [00:09:49] Yes, yes, Hannah said cautious optimist, which I think is a much more, a much more prudent title. We being, you know, the die hards that we are we call ourselves stubborn optimists. But in any event, why did you choose the path of data Hannah, to buttress your argument that we are actually further along on all the topics that you deal with in the book than we think?

Hannah Ritchie: [00:10:15] I mean, I think a basic principle of how I view these issues and view the world is you cannot actually understand the world, whether it's about climate or any other problem, without using data right. We live in a world of 8 billion people. If you do not step back and look at the data on what's happening to the lives or the environment of those 8 billion people, you cannot understand it, right. You cannot look at a news headline in the newspaper and which is focusing on one city or smaller, or a single family, or a single person or smaller, and think that that somehow tells you about what's happening to 8 billion people. So I think a really clear principle for me is that we need to step back and look at the data if we want to understand any of these problems. But I think what's really core, and I paint this journey in the book, is that my journey has been one from very bleak pessimism to one of what I frame as cautious optimism. And actually what's got me there has been data. It's actually by looking at the data is what has driven me through that transformation.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:11:20] So just to take you back to a decade or so ago, I was in a really bleak place, like I studied climate change. I did my degrees in environmental science, and despite this being my absolute passion, I was kind of ready to step back and move away from the field because I felt like the position we were in was so absolutely helpless, and the world was just going in the wrong direction on every possible measure. And what's actually changed and transformed me into what I frame as a cautious optimist is actually studying the data and seeing, although we're nowhere near where we want to be. And I would never, ever say that we're on track. We're not on track. We are actually making progress. You can only really see that by stepping back to look at the data and often the very long term data, not just data from year to year or day to day. Actually looking at the data over decades gives you a very different picture than what you would see on the news.

Paul: [00:12:12] So Hannah I think that before you came on, we were all talking about your work. And I think it's fair to say we're huge fans, because it seems that there's been a bit of a schism in the climate movement between a whole bunch of people who will say, you know, it's too late. We've got these terrible problems and a whole bunch of people who say, kind of like, well, you know, kind of we're on it and we need to back technology or something. And that schism is a bit of false schism, because I think pretty much everyone agrees we've got to do things like decarbonize the energy system, you know, reduce the emissions from food. This is not very complicated. It seems like the real tension is that how are we going to go about that. And how serious are the problems. And, you know, there are entrenched interests and all the rest of it. I'm speaking personally now, but I think the thing that's interesting and exciting and profound with what you're doing is you're sort of really saying, how can people be most empowered. Could you talk a little bit about I guess it's I guess it's a personal journey for you to some extent, but how our listeners can maybe feel empowered by the research with real data that you've done.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:13:20] Yeah. I mean, I think this is really crucial. And what I wanted to achieve with the book is not to say to everyone, hey, relax, this is not a problem like quite the opposite. I want to make it very clear to people these are really big and really urgent problems. But I wanted to do is change the conversation from this feeling of as a big problem and there's nothing we can do about it to empowering them to, to recognize, you know, there are actually solutions out there. They are improving year on year, and we are making progress. What can I do now to contribute to that. And that's a combination of things they can do in their personal life. So like going back to why I use data, what I actually see when speaking to people is that they're really well intentioned. They want to drive change, they want to make a difference. But often their intuitions or gut feeling about what makes a difference is actually wrong, right. When you ask people, what can I do about climate change, they say stuff like recycling or getting rid of plastic straws and you know, that's just not going to cut it, right. We need to use data to show people this is where the bulk of the stuff is coming from.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:14:24] That's therefore where we need to focus our efforts. So one, it's empowering people with data to understand what can I do in my personal life to address this, but also showing people that whole sectors, whole technologies, whole industries can completely transform. And the point is that they're not just transforming on their own, they're transforming because people are driving them. And that comes from government. That comes from public pressure, that comes from industry, finance, so many different areas. I mean, there's hardly an area of our economies or world now that climate change doesn't touch on. And that means, really that everyone can contribute to solutions in this area. And I think you only really see that opportunity when you pave the way through data and show that people having done this before actually have been successful in driving change so why can't you also be part of that.

Paul: [00:15:17] Empowerment through education. Got it, thank you.

Tom: [00:15:20] And I think I mean, one of the interesting things as well is what we're talking about partly here is how do you cultivate agency in the face of a great challenge. And I think the data, does show, and certainly, you know, Christiana and I talk about this a lot from the experience of the Paris negotiations that actually it's that sense of seeing the possibility, seeing what can be achieved that builds a wave of momentum that then carries you forward. If you feel like it's always impossible, then that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So but there's a fine line, isn't there. And the significant amount of your book that I read before Christiana stole it really evidenced me that you had cut that fine line.

Christiana: [00:15:56] Am I never going live this down?

Tom: [00:15:57] You're never going to live it down. Yeah, yeah.

Christiana: [00:15:59] Are you completely incapable of getting another copy of this book?

Paul: [00:16:02] Listeners should get their copies now, because Christiana is not alone in this book thieving. This is hot property, hot property this book. 

Christiana: [00:16:09] No Tom is now going to buy the whole publication out.

Tom: [00:16:14] So I think you do a really admirable job of something we've got some familiarity with, which is giving people the evidence of momentum and possibility and hope, while also not being Pollyanna ish. You never say we're on track. You never say we shouldn't be worried. You never say that this is not something we need to be really concerned about. You're very clear that actually we need to accelerate implementation. But of course, the media being what it is, things get dialled down to a lower level of common denominator right. And I've listened to some of your interviews where, you know, someone comes on and says, oh, thank you for telling us it's not as serious as we thought. And then you come on and you try and parry it and you sort of point out that's not what you said, but inevitably part of that gets pushed onto you for all sorts of complicated reasons in society. So I'd just love to hear you talk about how do we manage that and like, walk that quite subtle line to say, look, there is something here worth fighting for, but we've got to be concerned about the other impacts. I mean, what have you learned and what would you like to see change now in the way that the media deals with that?

Hannah Ritchie: [00:17:18] No, it's really difficult. And it's like I found this difficult when writing the book and I was very conscious, am I tapping people in the wrong direction here all right, I want to drive action. Am I at risk of tipping people in the complacent direction, which is, you know, the very opposite of what I wanted to do. And you're right. And the media, like, I really struggled with the media around the book because they want like a big part of the book is that these issues are complex and they're nuanced, and that just doesn't mix well with the media. They want a simple headline. They want to paint you as a caricature. So then I become the caricature of the really optimistic, everything's going to be fine girl. That's just like, really not the message I was going for.

Tom: [00:17:59] Which is not in the book actually? Yeah.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:18:02] No, it's not in the book. So I've struggled with that and actually doesn't tally that, I mean, I think in the book I've like been quite critical of the media. So I think putting that on top of it is kind of confirmed my fears that often the media oversimplifies the nuance and complexity around these topics. I mean, I think what I would want to see from the media and kind of what I'm a little bit critical of in the, in the book about the media, is that the only ever tell you the bad stuff, right. They only ever tell you, and this is I guess, part of the nature of news is that bad stuff happens quickly. It's usually a single event, like a disaster, and then good stuff takes a longer time and is more gradual right. It's going on in the background, but there's often not a sudden event that will somehow make it into a headline. An example I like to use here is that, the newspapers could have ran the headline, 130,000 people have escaped extreme poverty since yesterday. They could have ran that headline every single day for 20 years or something like that.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:19:10] Every single day for 20 years, 130,000 people have escaped extreme poverty. Now, that's a completely transformative change in our world. But will never make it into the media because it's not a single event. So I think there is this kind of immediacy, bad news, event bias that we naturally have. I think what I would want to see a bit more from the media is, I mean, the title of the podcast is Outrage + Optimism, and I think you do need a mix of both. I think the media is just skewed too much towards outrage without also balancing that with the optimism that there's something you can do about what you're outraged about. So I think there's too much focus on just telling people how bad stuff is going to be, and we should continue to do that. We should be very clear on the risks of this, but we also need to equip them with the sense that there's something that we can do about it. It's that balance that you need of problem and solution.

Tom: [00:20:01] Yeah, no, it's so interesting. And, the challenge has become that, you know, part of what they try and do with you is say the news is that the greenies have all been wrong right. And actually so that's this, that some media outlets can be sort of slightly cynical in that way and say, oh, now we've got evidence this isn't as bad. I have a connected question to your data, which is about, you know, we're now seeing around the world lots of people who benefit economically from climate legislation and regulation. So the US is a great example, Inflation Reduction Act, it's true in the UK people are richer because we're now actually putting in place these laws, but we don't see people voting in line with that right. I mean, the classic example is the US, where many of the states that are benefiting from the laws are Republican states, but that economic benefit is not yet feeding through into emotion and political change, which is it sort of speaks to the fact that some of those transformations that we're seeing aren't yet manifesting in people's real lives, which connects that story. I realise it's slightly ancillary. But I think it also connects to the role of data. I'd love to hear your thoughts on that.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:21:05] I think actually what that highlights there and I've, I'm always grappling with is actually what the most effective messaging is on climate for different audiences. And I think what this really gets the heart of and I think what's very, I actually wrote an article on this yesterday. And I think what's very clear and emerges from the data is that in every country in the world, the majority of people believe in climate change. And I say believe in inverted commas, think it's human driven, are worried about it and want their government to act. And there's a bunch of really large scale surveys all showing this exact same result. The issue is that people underestimate how widespread climate concern is, right. So they assume they think they're rational and they believe that climate change is a problem, but a really small percentage of the other people in their country don't. And I think this feeds into this, kind of damaging perception gap when actually most people want to see action, but we just don't believe it to be true. And I think, so I think for many people they are concerned about climate change and actually will vote for governments that want to take strong climate action. There are some segments of the population, and I actually think the partisan gap in the US is much, much wider than it is in other countries. In other countries it's much narrower. It is big in the US, when you ask them about belief in climate change or concern about climate change, that gap almost completely disappears when you just talk about clean energy, right. The majority of Democrats and Republicans just like clean energy, which actually means when you're trying to communicate, for example, to a more sceptical Republican, just talking about climate change is not going to work, but actually talking about the benefits of clean energy, which are about pollution, which are about economic benefits, which are about employment opportunities, will actually get them on side for supporting climate positive action. But you actually need to tweak your messaging strategy a little bit to reach that particular audience. 

Christiana: [00:23:08] Yeah, and to that list I would add energy security, right, which has become such a, so contextual communication. So, so key. Hannah, you may have covered this, but I just wanted you to go in a little bit deeper because I honestly think it's so important that you call yourself, I was making light of it before, but now, a little bit more seriously that you call yourself a cautious optimist, because I think the message that you're saying that you're giving in the book is, look, we are farther than we think. And this is entirely possible, not guaranteed right, it is not guaranteed because you go through and you prove, of course, that the technologies that are solution technologies are economically competitive and superior in performance, but you don't deny the fact that in order to go to speed and scale with those technologies, of course, we need better policy, better regulations, better politics in fact, course we need more investment. Et cetera. Et cetera. But and we need public opinion, by the way, to understand that this is, yes, critical, yes threatening to our current sense of society, but entirely within our hands to be able to address.

Christiana: [00:24:41] So I was just interested in your thinking of why you are so confident that data is going to make that difference, because here's what sits very deeply and very painfully me with me, Hannah. And that is so many of our friends who are climate scientists and who have been screaming from the rooftops with data. They tell us they have come to the conclusion that data does not change opinions, and that data does not lead to policy change, and that data does not lead to different financial investment. Now, of course, the data that they're putting out is the long term projections of what could happen if we don't do things differently now. And so the data that you're looking at has a different time perspective. You're not looking into the future, you're looking into the past and present. But I'm interested to know why do you think that that shift in time perspective, but yet still squarely standing on data, is something that can motivate better policy, better regulations, better politics, more investment, etc. all of which you do not deny that is necessary, but is not the core of your book.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:26:09] Yeah, it's a great question. I get this question a lot. Does data actually change anyone's mind. And I guess I would ruin my whole career if I said no, so I'm going to say yes it does. I mean, I think what's, what's completely correct is that I think that I think if you picture a spectrum and there are people at two extremes. I think there are certain segments of society on different issues where there's no data that I could possibly throw at them that will change their mind. They're so staunch on that particular framing or hung up on a particular, issue that I cannot change their mind with data. I think there's a massive segment of the population in the middle that do not hold an opinion about solar energy or electric cars very tightly, and actually they just are curious and want to know what's the impact of this, what's the cost. And I actually think data there can change their minds. I mean, I think climate scientists there are being a bit harsh on themselves. I mean, as I just quoted, if you ask people across every country in the world, the majority thinks that climate change is a massive problem and humans are causing it right. That is a victory for climate scientists.

Christiana: [00:27:16] Good point, good point. 

Hannah Ritchie: [00:27:16] And they have used data to make to put that across and convey to people. So I actually don't I think they're being too harsh on themselves. Actually I'm going to quote Rebecca Solnit here, which I think she's made a really good point in the past, is that this issue is so urgent. But I think we need to balance that urgency with the frustration of being patient. I think we assume that we just throw something out into the world and immediately stuff changes. And actually some of these battles are hard fought and they're hard fought over a long period of time. But because you don't see the impact immediately doesn't mean that it's not working. It just takes some time to come out. And I think that's probably the case with climate science. But to get back to why I think data is so important and why I think some of this, this shift is important. I think when you try to tell people about what the climate will look like in 50 years, there's such a large disconnect there right. It's very hard for someone today to say, to think or to build that connection of how is me reducing my emissions today actually going to shift what the climate is doing in 50 years from now. I think it's really hard to make that connection for people. Of course, climate change is not in 50 years it's now, but people don't quite get that. I think what's different about some of the data that I'm trying to show is that we're trying to connect the solutions to what people care about today, as we just rhymed off, there are a bunch of positive co-benefits to climate action, which will impact people positively today. Local air pollution, which kills 7 million people every year, energy security, energy costs, employment opportunities. There's a long list of co-benefits that people can see very, very quickly and actually trying to show people data to get them to understand that, I think is really, really important. And I think it's slightly different from the framing of trying to show people data of what the world might look like in 50 years, because that disconnect is too large for them.

Paul: [00:29:21] And a tiny thing on managing that disconnect, so amazed and inspired by your I heard you on another podcast talking about the three awarenesses, the awareness that the world is awful, the awareness that the world is better than it was, and the awareness that it can be much better. And holding all three of those at the same time is really inspiring.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:29:42] Yeah, and I think it connects back to this, we're talking about the media and the simple messages, and I think the media tries to only, you know, put one of those perspectives at one time. But the key point that I try to frame is that all three of these statements are true on almost every issue in the world at the same time, and you actually need to be able to hold that complexity to understand it fully.

Tom: [00:30:04] Highest form of intelligence according to, I think it was Thomas Jefferson holding conflicting opinions and knowing both are true at the same time. Hannah, thank you so much. It has been a huge pleasure and a privilege to have you on the podcast. We are enormous admirers of your work and your book. Thank you for everything you're doing in the world. We ask you one closing question, which, you may have heard before on the podcast, which is whether you can tell us something that you feel optimistic about and something, no, it's the other way around, isn't it?

Paul: [00:30:30] It's the other way round.

Tom: [00:30:31] Whether you can tell us something that makes you feel outraged and something that makes you optimistic.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:30:35] So one thing that I'm outraged about, I mean, I think, the focus of this podcast is on climate and my background is environment and climate. But what's really core about the work that I do around data is that we look at what we frame as the world's largest problems. And that's not just about environment, right. That's about health, that's about poverty, inequality, conflict. I think just the statistic that always outrages me the most is that every year, 5 million children die mostly from preventable causes. Now, we've made amazing progress on that metric, and that's gone down dramatically over the last few decades, but it's still unimaginably high. And the fact that most of these deaths are preventable, we just don't have adequate funding or investment to save these kids. To me, it's just, you know, absolutely outrageous.

Tom: [00:31:27] Absolutely.

Paul: [00:31:28] True outrage, truly outrageous.

Tom: [00:31:29] And optimistic.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:31:32] I mean, just I think what's been just the massive shift for me over the last decade and has made me so much more optimistic on climate is the dramatic reduction in the costs of clean energy technologies. If we were still sitting in the position where solar, wind, batteries, etc. were, you know, multiple times more expensive than fossil fuels, you know, we just to me, we just wouldn't have a chance at this. And the fact that they're now undercutting the cost of fossil fuels so that our short term people, short term incentives are also lining up with these long term climate and sustainability incentives to me is just such a massive case for optimism.

Tom: [00:32:09] Absolutely. I'd be even more optimistic if people knew that. So thank you for the work you're doing to help people understand it, because people are stuck in a previous understanding of where that is and don't realize how far we've come. 

Paul: [00:32:19] You know when investment and renewables overtook investment in fossil fuel, we should have had ticker tape parades down the main street of every city in the world. You know what I mean.

Tom: [00:32:26] Hannah, thank you so much, really appreciate you coming on and everything you're doing. See you again.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:32:31] Thanks so much, bye.

Paul: [00:32:32] Bye.

Christiana: [00:32:33] Bye.

Christiana: [00:32:40] So, guys, that was a really, fascinating conversation with Hannah. But, you know, we also asked her to read straight from her book, and she was kind enough to give us the following excerpt from her book.

Paul: [00:32:56] Let's hear it.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:32:57] The world needs more urgent optimism. I used to think optimists were naïve and pessimists were smart. Pessimism seemed like an essential feature of a scientist. The basis of science is to challenge every result, to pick views apart, to see which ones stand up. I thought cynicism was one of its founding principles. Maybe there is some truth to that. But science is inherently optimistic too. How else would we describe the willingness to try experiments over and over, often with slim odds of success? Scientific progress can be frustratingly slow. The best minds can dedicate their entire lives to a single question and come away with nothing. They do so with the hope that a breakthrough might be around the corner. It's unlikely they will be the person to discover it, but there's a chance those odds drop to zero if they give up. Nevertheless, pessimism still sounds intelligent and optimism dumb. I often feel embarrassed to admit that I'm an optimist. I imagine it knocks me down a peg or two in people's estimations. But the world desperately needs more optimism. The problem is that people mistake optimism for blind optimism, their unfounded faith that things will just get better. Blind optimism really is dumb and dangerous. If you sit back and do nothing, things will not turn out fine. That's not the kind of optimism that I'm talking about. Optimism is seeing challenges as opportunities to make progress. It's having the confidence that there are things that we can do to make a difference. We can shape the future and we can build a great one if we want to. The economist Paul Romer makes a distinction nicely. He separates complacent optimism from conditional optimism. Complacent optimism is the feeling of a child waiting for presents. Conditional optimism is a feeling of a child who is thinking about building a tree house.

Hannah Ritchie: [00:34:56] If I get some wooden nails and persuade some other kids to help do the work, we can end up with something really cool. I've heard various other terms for this conditional or effective optimism. Urgent optimism. Pragmatic optimism. Realistic optimism. Impatient optimism. All these terms are grounded in inspiration and action. The reason pessimists often sound smart so that they can avoid being wrong by moving the goalposts. When a doomer predicts that the world will end in five years and it doesn't, they just move the date. The American biologist Paul R. Ehrlich, author of the 1968 book The Population Bomb, has been doing this for decades. In 1970, he said that sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come, and by the end, I mean an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity. Of course, that was woefully wrong. He had another goal. He said that England will not exist in the year 2000. Wrong again. Ehrlich will keep pushing back this deadline. A pessimistic stance is a safe one. Don't mistake criticism for pessimism. Criticism is essential for an effective optimist. We need to work through ideas to find the most promising ones. Most innovators that have changed the world have been optimists, even if they didn't identify as one. But they were also fiercely critical. No one picks apart the ideas of Thomas Edison, Alexander Fleming, Marie Curie or Norman Borlaug more than they did themselves. If we want to get serious about tackling the world's environmental problems, we need to be more optimistic. We need to believe that it is possible to tackle them. As we'll see in the chapters that follow, this is not a pipe dream. Things are changing and we should be impatient about changing them faster.

Christiana: [00:36:50] So, Paul, I think we got a very clear message here from Hannah. Both in the conversation as well as straight from her, from her book, the excerpt that she read. What does that make you think?

Paul: [00:37:05] She's going to really to very basic questions, it seems to me. And I think that what we don't realize when we're, you know, the climate doomism and we all have to have climate doomism to some extent because we're in a very serious situation. But Hannah is not saying that that means that the kind of human project has failed. She asks a foundational question, she makes foundational assessments, and she says, that we've done well in some regards, you know, particularly reducing the risk of infant mortality. So it's true that the failure to change makes the sort of terror or frustration and fear and loathing of, of our situation could seem like a grown up response. But it's not, she shows a way to deal with this. And I felt kind of more confident as a climate change worker after speaking with her than I did before. That was that was my gut. I mean, the question is, you know, if you can think of any situation in history or any scenario or whatever where people are in real danger, okay, one way you can you can talk about that to those people is you can say there's this incredible danger. It's so unbelievably terrible. You don't understand how terrible it is. You don't understand. It's much worse than you think. And I think that we are all, to some extent, are concerned that that can lead to a couple of spin offs either, like, well, it's not that bad or, well, there's nothing I can do. And what I really admire about the approach Hannah has is she kind of goes right between those two and says, these are the really practical things you can do and focus on those. I like that second narrative more.

Christiana: [00:38:50] Okay, well, obviously I like it too, so we're speaking.

Paul: [00:38:56] We're going to have real trouble disagreeing here, Christiana. 

Christiana: [00:38:58] Yeah yeah, yeah, we're speaking here to each other, but, I think the one thing that she does not do, but very deliberately, she doesn't go into, the regulatory changes that we would need, the policy changes that we would need, the shifts in the financial sector that we would need, she doesn't go into that. And she's been criticized for not going into that. But I think it's very critical that she's actually saying, look, the data shows that from a very hard nosed and I want to say hard nosed, again, from a very hard nosed perspective, the technology is and everything that we have would be able, would be able to address the issue. And therefore there is a compelling argument to make the effort to do the other part, to do the regulatory, the political, the economic, the financial, the public awareness, the public education. She's not covering the entire universe of what has to be done. But she's saying very clearly, look, there is fundamental data that proves that this is possible. Now get on with it is the message that I take from her. Get on with it. Because this is possible. She's not saying it's guaranteed as I said in the interview itself, she's not saying it's guaranteed. She's saying it is possible. So therefore get on with it.

Paul: [00:40:36] And in a way, how could she cover all of those bases, you know, that's not you know,  we've all got like a little role because it's such a big problem. None of us are going to have, like, a gigantic role, unless you happen to bring every single government in the world together in a climate change agreement. But not everybody gets to do that. So I a little bit of practical, I think, very practical advice that I would like to offer to listeners, particularly those who are in the spirit of Hannah, following her lead, people are concerned about the oil and gas industry. We've talked at length about, particularly a certain degree of arrogance at the moment in some statements from the chief executives of Saudi Aramco, and we've spoken about ExxonMobil. And, you know, the oil and gas industry, for example, can seem, you know, unsurmountable challenge that they're so powerful that no one can do anything about it. We'll put in the show notes, a link to an extraordinary lawsuit that's developed over time, I first became aware of it in 2019, but it's evolved now. And it's the lead actor here is the state of California. So the state of California has issued, a damages lawsuit against the major oil and gas companies.

Paul: [00:41:54] And the reason I'd like to put the links in the show notes is, it's an extraordinary good read. It's an extraordinary read. And it makes the case that damages should be paid by the oil and gas industry to cover climate change damages. And it makes the case in meticulous detail, very well argued, very well evidence based that, these companies have subverted the public debate and have subverted politics. I won't say more about the suit. You should read it yourself. But what I think is interesting is we could see, for example, activists all around the world who are very concerned about oil and gas, and then we can see enormously powerful entities like the state of California, the fifth largest economy in the world, who produced a massively detailed lawsuit full of extraordinary bits of evidence, our ability to bring together these different sorts of components, to make different kinds of campaigns, to raise different kinds of public awareness that inspires me and I, and I mention it in response to what Hannah said, it's because she's practical, and I think there's scope for us to be more practical in the way we organize ourselves to respond to the incredible challenge which we mustn't underestimate, but we must deal with as effectively as possible. And there's something about optimal behaviour in there.

Christiana: [00:43:04] Optimal.

Paul: [00:43:05] Oh, that's a look that I treasure.

Christiana: [00:43:08] Optimal behaviour just because it starts with optimism also, so I'm just.

Paul: [00:43:13] The root of all good words.

Christiana: [00:43:13] I'm just tickled, the root of that. Right well, thank you for that, Paul. Sorry to miss Tom here in this, in this short conversation, but we will be back the week after next. We are going to leave you with Krista Tippett, the one and only Krista Tippett.

Paul: [00:43:35] Next week Krista Tippett, what a treat, she's so cool.

Christiana: [00:43:38] And then we will be back. And, Paul, do you want to remind our listeners, what the music is?

Paul: [00:43:45] Indeed. This week we have an amazing track from Fran Lusty called I Hate My Job. Listen out for this great song, and we'll see you week after next. Bye for now.

Christiana: [00:43:57] Bye.

Fran Lusty: [00:43:59] Hello, I'm Fran Lusty and I'm a singer songwriter based in London. I'm really excited to be here on Global Optimism's podcast Outrage + Optimism, all about discussing and tackling climate change. One thing I'm optimistic about is the rise of renewable energy and the positive impact that is having, and one thing I'm outraged about is the impact climate change is having on wildlife. The song I have chosen is called I Hate My Job. It's pretty self-explanatory. It's about living in London and doing something you're not necessarily passionate about in order to live in such an expensive city. It came out last Friday and I've been made redundant, so that's great. I hope you enjoy it.

Clay: [00:47:31] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. It's me, Clay Carnill, here at the end of the podcast with I Hate My Job by Fran Lusty. It's such a good song because I'm so relaxed, right. It's a juxtaposition because I'm so relaxed. I'm vibing with the song. And yet Fran has flooded my mind with memories of hanging on at jobs where I was just dying on the inside. So, Fran, I think I picked this up from your voice memo, but I hope that your next job is something you're fulfilled by, brings you life, pays the bills all in one. I wish you well on your journey. Thank you for working that previous job to fund this amazing music that we get to listen to and experience, and to listeners links in the show notes go buy Fran's music, go listen to Fran's music, share it with friends, and be sure to check out her YouTube videos as well, because they're nostalgic and grainy and very easy to get lost in. Beautiful, beautiful music. Thank you Fran. Fran Lusty and thank you to our guest, Dr Hannah Ritchie, for coming on the show this week. You can check the show notes to purchase a copy of her book. It's titled Not the End of the World, How We Can Be the First Generation to Build a Sustainable Planet. And I was curious. I was going to ask everyone, where are my audiobook listeners at, I mean, I know you like podcasts, you're listening to this right now, but do you also listen to audiobooks like I do. Hannah narrates her own audiobook, so that's what I'm listening to. I highly recommend thank you, Hannah for the interview. Thank you for sharing a bit from your book, and we'd love to have you back on the show.

Clay: [00:49:21] Okay, okay, I need to take a sip of my tea here, delicious. Now, if you missed last week's episode, it was a really special one. We took questions from you all and really took some time on the show to wrestle with the questions that you are wrestling with when it comes to environmentalism, climate change, just how to live a good life. We've been seeing that the episode since it was released has been shared a lot online by listeners with great feedback. And yeah, people have loved it. So I was just going to recommend if you have not gone back and listened to last week's episode, I highly recommend you check that out. And looking ahead next week, we've got Krista Tippett on the show, the interview that Christiana and Isa did with her. We pulled very small clips from that interview for the Our Story of Nature series, but there's so much more in that interview. I mean, I think it runs like 40 to 50 minutes. So there's so much in there that it's a full episode and we can't wait to share it all with you. So be sure to tune in next week. The best way to make sure that you hear that, as I always say, just hit the subscribe button. You won't miss it, and then we'll be back the week after as normal. Thank you so much for joining us again. Just a reminder, we do have social media accounts, outrageandoptimism. You can also sign up for our newsletter. We've got this little community going and we'd love to see you there. So join us. Okay I'm going to go finish my tea. Thanks again for listening. Dr Hannah Ritchie thank you, Fran Lusty thank you. We'll be back next week for Krista Tippett. Bye.


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