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243: Microplastics, Transition Plans, and The Beginning of The End of The Climate Crisis?

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About this episode

This week, our hosts each arrive with one specific issue they feel freshly outraged or optimistic about. Tom talks about how Earth Day 2024 will come to be known as the beginning of the end of the climate crisis. Christiana is outraged (and a tiny bit optimistic) about the plastics pandemic. And Paul gets fired up about investor and corporate transition plans - can he convince his co-hosts to ‘light the blue touch paper’ and ignite their own optimism?

Music comes from Cosmo Sheldrake with his song, “Soil”. Cosmo is a UK-based multi-instrumentalist, producer, composer, live improviser, and field recordist. As part of the Museum for the United Nations – UN Live’s new initiative Sounds Right, Cosmo has shared this new track “Soil (feat. NATURE)”, a homage to the powerful transformative and generative capacities of subterranean ecosystems.  Money raised will go towards conservation projects around the world.

The Babies vs Plastics Report
Notpla - The Earthshot Prize Winner that shows the future is seaweed, not plastic 
23 - 29 April 2024 in Canada - The Fourth Session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution
More on Earth Day 2024
The IEA’s World Energy Outlook 2023 on how it expects CO2 emissions to peak “in the mid-2020s”
First Colour Photograph of the Earth from space
The danger of the very serious person By Pilita Clark in the Financial Times 

The Corporation that Changed the World by Nick Robins

Cosmo Sheldrake
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Spotify | Apple Music
Check out the feat. NATURE playlist on Spotify

Sounds Right
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Listen to Greg Cochrane speak with Brian Eno about EarthPercent + Sounds Right on Midnight Chats

Learn more about the Paris Agreement.

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Full Transcript

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

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

Paul: [00:00:16] And I'm Paul Dickinson.

Tom: [00:00:17] This week, coming to you from New York, we discuss things we're outraged and optimistic about. And we have music from Cosmo Sheldrake. Thanks for being here. So aside from being the most generalized introduction I've ever provided there, because I didn't quite know what to say, it's nice to see you both. Christiana, what a beautiful New York morning we're getting to experience. It's one of those lovely blue, crisp mornings in New York. We've been here for a couple of days. Paul, you and I were in DC last week. This is the beginning of a long trip that I've got across the United States, happily seeing both of you. How are you both doing? What's going on in your lives? Load More
Christiana: [00:01:08] Well, you know, Tom, I was trying to do the Tom Rivett-Carnac thing yesterday morning. And so I.

Tom: [00:01:15] What is the Tom Rivett-Carnac thing?

Christiana: [00:01:17] Well, the Tom Rivett-Carnac thing is, do not ever sit at your desk for a work call, put in your AirPods and take your phone and go for as long and as beautiful a walk as possible.

Tom: [00:01:31] I'll take that. 

Christiana: [00:01:31] So I was I was very inspired by that. And I put in my AirPods and my phone, and I tried to pretend that I was you, and I went for a long, absolutely spectacular walk in, in Central Park in New York, where everything is blooming. It is so gorgeous. The cherry trees, the lilacs, there are even some daffy's there still for me, which is quite a treat.

Tom: [00:01:56] Christiana's favourite flower, daffodils.

Christiana: [00:01:58] My favourite flower, daffodils. So it was really, really beautiful. However, I was exhausted last night because I did so much walking. So I don't know how you do it, but I did realize, Tom, that since you're so much taller than I, you take fewer steps to traverse the city.

Tom: [00:02:15] That doesn't count. No, that definitely doesn't count.

Christiana: [00:02:17] No, no, that does. So I have to take all these little miniature steps to keep up with the same distance. So that's why I exhausted.

Paul: [00:02:24] I'm not following the logic here. There's something funny going on. Someone told me once that smaller airplanes are safer than bigger airplanes because when they crash, less people are killed. There's something about the perspective you're looking at it from that is to do with this height, foot, length thing.

Christiana: [00:02:37] I'm just trying to justify why I was so exhausted.

Tom: [00:02:40] Well, I mean, I have to say, I think I did a Paul Dickinson level of walking yesterday at about 30,000 steps. You do that on a daily basis, don't you, Paul?

Paul: [00:02:46] I've never managed to do the step thing, but it is true that I do walk unfeasibly large distances. There are two reasons for this. One is I've recently discovered you can listen to books about climate policy whilst you're walking. So I've consumed every single audiobook about climate policy. But secondarily, I think the more you walk, the more sensible you become. Now it's true, you may have a job that stops you being able to walk so much, which is unfortunate. And my heart goes out to you. And probably I have a job like that and I'm going to lose it soon because I'm doing so much walking. But I think you can do things like phone calls. And so the power of a walk.

Tom: [00:03:17] Very nice. Now, just before we get to what we're going to talk about this week, last week, of course, was the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF. We'll probably get into this in a future podcast, but a few things. One is that, I think really good news that Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the IMF, was confirmed for another term. Friend, very much a friend of the podcast, Christiana, you've known her for a long time. I think she's a real leader on climate. And the other thing is that there was an agreement for new financial instruments designed to boost the lending capacity, to enable the bank to take on more risk, to address shared challenges, 11 countries came in for this.

Christiana: [00:03:54] Hallelujah.

Tom: [00:03:55] Portfolio guarantee platform, potentially generating $70 billion over ten years. Now we will see where that turns into. But actually that was a bit of a breakthrough that happened at the spring meeting. So that's good news. Now, we've decided to do something a little bit different this week because, you know, it's our podcast and we can and we're very keen to hear what you think of this, but we instead of going through the news as we've traditionally done and sometimes having a guest this week, we're going to try each of us bringing one thing that has either made us outraged or optimistic over the last week or so. It doesn't have to be like a news item. It can be something we just happen to come across over the last week and then discuss it. And I think this week we can maybe start with Paul.

Paul: [00:04:34] Really, I get to go first, how exciting. Okay, well, this isn't necessarily news related. Although actually if you searched for the word transition, you'd find it in more and more news stories increasing kind of exponentially. But I'm expecting you two, to to to pick this apart. I'm expecting you to give me a hard time. But I want you both to know I am extremely optimistic about the idea of investor and corporate transition plans, and.

Tom: [00:05:03] Just the idea of them as a concept, or is there something specific about them you think they're going to deliver?

Paul: [00:05:09] Well let's imagine, look at the, you know the idea of the.

Christiana: [00:05:12] Let's leave that for the discussion.

Tom: [00:05:14] Okay, okay. All right, all right, sorry.

Paul: [00:05:15] Let's leave that for the discussion. I'm putting that on the table now that.

Christiana: [00:05:18] That's your card.

Tom: [00:05:19] So you're optimistic about corporate transition plans, please tell us more.

Paul: [00:05:22] Investor and corporate. Well. 

Christiana: [00:05:23] No that's no no wait, wait. That's Paul's card on the table. Now each of us has to put their card on the table.

Tom: [00:05:28] Oh okay.

Paul: [00:05:29] Okay okay, we're doing it that way, good.

Tom: [00:05:31] Christiana.

Paul: [00:05:32] Yes, Christiana.

Christiana: [00:05:34] Okay. My card on the table is first a question. Tom and Paul, do you remember what plasticine used to be?

Paul: [00:05:43] Yeah. There's nothing else that goes further under a fingernail than plasticine.

Tom: [00:05:48] Or remains more stuck in a carpet is more the adult perspective.

Paul: [00:05:51] Oh yeah absolutely. I was looking at it from the child's point of view, from the adult point of view.

Christiana: [00:05:55] Good, very good. So what I would put like to put on the table today is that, as you remember years ago, plasticine was a modelling clay, right. That used to spur children's creativity, let's say, and and be the bane of people who wanted to clean the carpets. However, today the meaning of that word plasticine has dramatically changed because some scientists believe that we're in a plasticine era that is actually a significant threat to children's and babies health.

Paul: [00:06:31] Polocene, anthropocene, plasticine, I was, I'm slowly, you got me there, you got me there, oh my God, oh my God.

Christiana: [00:06:39] You got it. So there you are. Welcome to the plasticine. 

Paul: [00:06:42] Lego scene.

Christiana: [00:06:43] That is my my one sentence.

Tom: [00:06:45] These geological eras are getting very short, I have to say, yeah okay.

Paul: [00:06:48] And so is that a source of outrage or optimism for you, Christiana? I'm gonna try and guess.

Christiana: [00:06:56] Mostly, well, what do you think?

Paul: [00:06:57] I'm gonna say outrage.

Tom: [00:06:58] It's got to be outrage.

Paul: [00:06:59] Yeah, I don't think you were running around thinking we need more plastic.

Christiana: [00:07:01] Okay, but, but but there is a sliver of light at the end of the tunnel, but.

Paul: [00:07:06] Okay, good, good, good. Tom.

Christiana: [00:07:07] Tom, what are you going to put on the table?

Tom: [00:07:08] Okay. So I'm not going to provide you any context. Here is my statement. Earth Day 2024, which was this week on Monday, will come to be known as the beginning of the end of the climate crisis. And that makes me optimistic. 

Christiana: [00:07:20] Woo hoo, I'll say.

Paul: [00:07:20] Very good. All right. Well, there's there's three thrilling themes to dig into. One of them unbelievably strange, the plasticine. What sequence are we going to go in?

Tom: [00:07:31] Well, let's follow the same sequence. You go ahead.

Christiana: [00:07:34] Yeah, go for it.

Paul: [00:07:35] All right. So look a little bit more, about these transition plans and I'm going to lay out a context. And then I want you two, with your fine minds to dig in. Right you will both know that I'm a certain kind of geek. In fact, I was adding it up, and I think I've spent 36 years is that right, yeah, 36 years studying corporations. I think they're very, very interesting. And people think.

Christiana: [00:08:02] And wrote a book called Beautiful Corporations. 

Paul: [00:08:04] Beautiful Corporations. I did write a book called Beautiful Corporations. Thank you for for reminding listeners, still available, not not in sort of current print, as it were, but, you know, fine copies available second hand in English and Korean language. Published in 2000 by Financial Times Prentice Hall, both investors and corporations, you think of them as just like static, you know, they just do what they do. But what I want to put to you is that, particularly in the last 2 to 3 decades, I think corporations have been on a journey, beginning with, what I've worked on a lot, the disclosure, which Christiana called the x ray. And then they've been going to sort of a diagnosis, which is like science based targets and commitments to net zero. And now they're girding their loins to actually prepare for the change. And they're doing that with what are called transition plans. And it took me a year or two to realize how significant these transition plans could be. And my concluding opening statement is, I want us to think of them as a piece, a blank piece of paper, a new piece of real estate in the climate movement that we can share, we can write on, we can support, and we can be very creative with. Lots more I can say, but that's my that's my toast to transition plans.

Christiana: [00:09:14] Okay, so honestly Paul, it says nothing to me.

Tom: [00:09:17] Yeah, no detail, no idea what you're talking about.

Christiana: [00:09:20] So, you've, no no no no no no sorry, you've got to you know like, okay, bring, bring me into this topic because I still feel like.

Tom: [00:09:28] Yeah, what are they? What's in a transition plan? Like, if you were to sit down and read a company's transition plan, say it was, I don't know, HSBC or or Unilever, would it tell you exactly what that company is going to look like when it's fully transitioned to a net zero regenerative future? Can you get a vision of this incredible future by reading these transition plans? Do they plan, do they set out how they're going to get there? Is that why it's exciting?

Christiana: [00:09:52] I mean, I would agree with you, Paul, on your call to support companies in their transition plans. I totally agree with that. The problem is, I'm not quite sure from your explanation what I have just agreed to.

Paul: [00:10:06] All right, so you're asking me for real specifics and I'll give you the ultimate real specific, which I hope will put this firmly on the table. We know that at the heart of this, we've got to change the systems we work in right. And what role can investors and corporations play with that. They've learned that they've got a role to change the systems, and the logic of transition plans is driving them there. So for example, NatWest, this huge UK bank, say to achieve our ambition, in their transition plan, they say to achieve our ambitions we require timely and appropriate government policy and technological innovation to incentivise change and consumer behaviour. HSBC, huge global banks say the shape, speed and overall cost of the transition in a country or in the global economy will be heavily determined by government policy, which itself can help propel innovation and investment. So what I'm wanting to draw your attention to, what makes me so excited, is that we've got these huge actors now coming in and pushing politicians, nations, governments for more ambitious policy. And that's the genius of a transition plan. And I hope it brings you as much optimism as it brings me.

Tom: [00:11:09] So I have a question on that. 

Paul: [00:11:11] Go for it.

Tom: [00:11:12] Thank you, that's very helpful. Has anyone yet figured out how to sort of like, catch all that kind of latent potential and, like, turn it into something pointed by which I mean, if there are lots of these transition plans and they all contain stuff like we need to encourage governments to move further, this is exactly what we need. How do we gather all of those comments and then present them to governments and say, look, this is the collective whole of what you're being asked to do by the corporations that are driving economic growth in your country.

Paul: [00:11:38] Well, I put that out. I think that's a great challenge for our listeners. I'm I'm trying to light the blue touch paper here and say, there's so much we can do with this incredibly creative resource, and you're straight on it. Let's aggregate and drive to collectively with that particular power. And a listener will, will, will make it all so and we'll be dazzled and we'll get them on in in a month.

Tom: [00:11:58] In a month, that's quite an accelerated time frame, but I like your ambition, yeah.

Paul: [00:12:02] A year, a year, we'll get them in in a year. All right, enough on transition plans. I hope you're optimistic. We'll come back to it at the end. Who's next?

Tom: [00:12:08] Christiana, you want to go next?

Christiana: [00:12:10] Sure, right, so as I introduced, there are some scientists who are now asserting that we are living in yet another geological era called the plastocene, which has nothing to do with the modelling clay, okay.

Paul: [00:12:25] The Lego-cene, I'm convinced it's going to be the Lego.

Christiana: [00:12:28] Okay, so they are saying that this is an era in which plastics, specifically microplastics, have permeated every single aspect of our lives, and that it is like a pandemic because we can't even, it's international, it's everywhere. We can't really avoid microplastics. Now, what I think is so concerning about this is that we used to think of plastic as, visible pollution, right. Pollution in the rivers, in the beaches, on the beaches, in waste management sites, etc.. We used to think about it as the presence of plastic bottles, plastic containers, plastic tops, everything that was visible to us. However, Earthday.org published a scathing report on the human health effects of microplastics and microplastics are not visible, but there is evidence that those microplastics are actually what they call bioaccumulating in all our major organs, in our brain, in our liver, in our kidney. They say that microplastics have been found in the human placenta and in breast milk of breastfeeding mothers. And what I think is the most concerning is that there's evidence that babies are ingesting more microplastics, both through their mouth as well as breathing microfibers in, they're ingesting more than adults. Why, because babies crawl over rugs that have micro fibers of plastic. They when they teeth, they chew on all of these plastic toys. They chew on clothes, they handle furniture. They are, you know, constantly tasting and, and, and, and using their hands for everything. So can you believe that there's one study that says that babies ingest or inhale ten times the level of microplastics of adults.

Tom: [00:14:54] Really?

Christiana: [00:14:54] And ten times, and that there are some studies that are saying that this is leading to a 20% higher rate of childhood cancer overall. That is appalling, right. It is absolutely appalling. And, you know, kudos, kudos to, to Earthday.org for raising the awareness of the fact that it's not just about the visible plastic. It is perhaps even worse about the not visible, the invisible microplastics, that we should be worried about.

Tom: [00:15:38] So is that so, and I mean, I've known broadly about the issue of microplastics, but I don't know about the specifics. So that causal link between microplastics in, in air and in food as a, as a creator of cancers that's been made, has it? Because one of my questions was, what does that actually do to our bodies, do we just pass them through or do they create illness? So they cause cancer?

Christiana: [00:16:01] Well, among other things right.

Tom: [00:16:03] Among other things, yeah.

Christiana: [00:16:03] Among other things. Because, because they're, as I say, they're accumulating in our brain and our liver, in our kidney, and and you can see because we're also eating this, we are eating plastic, right, because we're eating fish that consume microplastic, all kinds of other creatures. When the fish, the crustaceans, birds, are consumed, they're micro, those microplastics, and we consume their that, then we're transferring it into our body. And they have a term for this, it's called trophic transfer. When the microplastics are in one part of the food chain and then transfer up to the other higher parts of the, of the food chain, and they're actually saying that unless we do something to curb this trend, this trend, current rates of plastic production, production could double by 2040. That is unbelievably concerning.

Tom: [00:17:09] Okay, so I have a couple of questions. Paul, do you want to go first?

Paul: [00:17:12] Well, I'm just it's more of like an observation. It feels to me like the sort of DDT moment, you know, when, it was actually I think James Lovelock invented the gas spectrometer, and you could start to see that DDT, this insecticide or whatever it was, was being found everywhere, you know, in the in the North Pole and in babies and all the rest of it. And it kind of led to the control of that particular product. I'm certainly just looking at a scientific paper here saying that the microplastics are affecting digestive systems digestive, respiratory, endocrine, reproductive and immune systems. So yeah, I mean, it's not a good thing to, to, to dig up, you know, old forests and put them in plastics machines and then make them into microplastics and then eat them. I would recommend people don't do that even though we are doing it. So I have some thoughts about what to do about it. But, Tom.

Tom: [00:18:01] Well, I mean, one one question I had is, presumably because you said they're a trophic accumulator, so they go up the food chain, right. So, I mean, you know, they get eaten by small creatures, then they get eaten by large creatures. So if you eat things really high up the food chain, then presumably, like, you know, tuna and things like that, that presumably has the most in it because they're eating other things that sit below the food chain. My, my main question, though, is what the hell do we do about this? I mean, there's plastic everywhere and the amount that is increased and it seems to be increasing. And many of the current difficult challenges we have, have plastic as a solution. I mean, things like 3D printing and, you know, all these other different elements and innovations that are arriving to present cutting down our forests. I think IKEA have said they'll no longer use wood. Now, that's a good thing in their furniture, potentially to protect the forest, but if they're going to shift over to plastics, I have no idea as to whether IKEA's plastics would create microplastics, but it's an example of how we're actually putting out plastics in a way, as one of the solutions to some of our other, more systemic challenges. So what the hell is the solution? Are there kinds of plastics that don't break down into microplastics, or do we just need a totally different way forward?

Christiana: [00:19:03] Well, that is exactly the problem, Tom, that, you know, we are presenting plastic as a solution for many other issues, that's one part. And the other part is that the oil and gas industry, of course, is investing more and more into petrochemicals, because they realize that they won't be able to forever sell oil and gas as oil and gas. And so they want to transform it into something else that they can sell. And, and it's being sold as a basically, you know, universal solution to every problem you've ever had. So, so to, to pick up Paul's point about DDT, it really, DDT was outlawed, and what I find fascinating is that there is an attempt now to outlaw plastic pollution. And here's how. In what would, two years ago, yeah, March 2022, the UN Environment Programme that is the body, the highest authoritative body on many environmental issues under the UN. At their assembly, they actually took what was termed then and continues to be a historic resolution to adopt an international, legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. And that resolution is now going through the typical UN steps. And I'm I'm really thrilled to see this, because I remember I'm old enough to remember how the climate convention was first, there was an agreement at the UN that we would develop a legally binding agreement, a legally binding convention on climate change, and we form something called the INC, which is the international negotiating committee that was formed in 1991.

Christiana: [00:21:08] And then we and that worked through what the convention would say. And then we adopted the convention in 1992. So in parallel was following exactly the same steps. There is now a resolution to negotiate a convention to outlaw plastic pollution in everywhere, on land and on sea. And it's been going through the UN process, which is even more exciting to me, because you can imagine that there are many countries who wouldn't want that. And hopefully that options paper that is already there, sorry to be such a UN geeky nerd here. But it is bringing in all of the submissions from member states, and it does feature possible obligations for both legally binding and voluntary measures that address the full life cycle of plastics. So who you know, who knew that the UN actually has taken this as a serious issue. And to me it's like, okay, what that actually means is that there is broad international awareness of the seriousness of the issue and a concerted effort to deal with it internationally, because, as you pointed out, it cannot be dealt with just nationally. This is by now an international issue. So outrage with a slight tinge of optimism.

Paul: [00:22:43] I've got a comment on that. But Tom said something a minute ago, but he was on mute and I don't think he realized he was on mute.

Tom: [00:22:47] Oh, sorry, thank you Paul. No, I was just that's the same as what's happening this week in Ottawa, right? Because there's a big negotiation that opened today in Ottawa to try to reach this global plastics treaty. There's a lot of pushback there, yeah okay perfect. So that's all part of the same thing. Thank you. And listeners will see that in the news at the moment. It's worth following those negotiations. It's very interesting. Paul.

Paul: [00:23:05] Just a thought with our slavish support for the UN here at CDP, we've been in more than our second year of asking corporations about plastics. So it's a big issue for corporations. Microplastics come from synthetic textiles, city dust, tires, road markings, marine coatings, personal care products, engineered plastic pellets, and many other things. But I think what I would notice is that, for example, particularly with fabrics, I have a cardigan and when it comes out of the washing machine, it's dry, which is really weird because all the other clothes are wet, so clearly it's made 100% of plastic. I think we may have to stop having those kinds of clothes. That's a possibility until we find some kind of substitute. So just to be aware of that. But the world is not short of clothes. You know, I've been told that when you enter sometimes a big refugee camp, the first things there are the clothes the refugees are donating to the other refugees. So, you know, whilst there may be people starving, the shortage of clothes is not commonly thought of as a problem. And to some degree, I think the other thing that I just wanted to to recognize is, you know, there are bottles and are they recycled plastics and all the rest of it. But one of the sort of killer applications of plastic is, is sort of keeping food fresh. And, you know, we certainly we had a supermarket lettuce famously lasted longer than our previous prime minister. So that's all to do with plastic packaging, to some degree. But I don't think it's beyond.

Tom: [00:24:24] And brevity of tenure of the Prime Minister of course.

Paul: [00:24:25] But I don't think it's beyond us to consider some kind of, plant based product that would achieve many of the same objectives, but then be biodegradable. So, you know, it looks to me like.

Christiana: [00:24:38] Well how did you know, how did you know Paul. So one of the Earth Prize winners is actually developing seaweed packaging, and is being, yeah, and is being quite.

Paul: [00:24:51] Earthshot prize.

Christiana: [00:24:52] Quite successful there already with different forms, both solid as well as malleable packaging made out of seaweed. Precisely, precisely to be, a much healthier and, of course, biodegradable option to plastic.

Paul: [00:25:10] We can do it not because it's easy, but because it's hard. Okay.

Tom: [00:25:14] Do we need to move on?

Paul: [00:25:15] We must, we need to move on. Thank you Christiana.

Tom: [00:25:18] Thank you, yeah. Definitely outrage. Honestly, I find that quite chilling because I like the fact that there are these UN treaties obviously these other solutions. But just this is one of those challenges that I haven't fully internalized and sort of thought about the scale of it.

Paul: [00:25:30] Well you have actually internalized it, but you didn't realize it.

Tom: [00:25:33] Well, that's a good point. Yeah, exactly.

Christiana: [00:25:35] Yeah, we've all internalized it. 

Tom: [00:25:36] Very well internalized it, I'm sure yeah. In my liver and, you know, but, but actually, just the scale of how we get to the solution is a bit overwhelming, actually. So thank you to all those people in Ottawa who are negotiating hard away. Gonzalo Muñoz, friend of the show, is very much part of this so we should maybe get him on at some point in the future. Right okay, so here we go. Here is my opening statement, which I raised at the beginning. Earth Day 2024, yesterday, in the terms of us listening, Monday the 22nd, we are recording this on Tuesday the 23rd will come to be known as the beginning of the end of the climate crisis. And it.

Christiana: [00:26:09] Alright, we are ready for this.

Tom: [00:26:10] May surprise you to learn.

Paul: [00:26:11] What does that mean?

Tom: [00:26:13] That this is a source of optimism. 

Paul: [00:26:13] What evidence have you got for that? Why do you support that? What's all this about? Why do you say that? What does it mean? Give me an example. Be specific. Why is it the end?

Tom: [00:26:20] All right, all right, all right, we'll get there, we'll get there, relax. Okay, so first some history. I think it's important. Earth Day is important. Okay. This is the 54th, it actually came out of a 1969 UNESCO conference in San Francisco, that decided to honour the environment and peace on the first day of spring and was then picked up by a US senator, in in response to the Santa Barbara oil spill in California and turned it into an event that initially took place on college campuses across the US. Now the first one.

Paul: [00:26:48] Ah, it's a great place to grow things a college campus, but carry on.

Tom: [00:26:51] Great place to grow things. The first one in 1970, 10,000 events, 2 million people were engaged. This is just US at this point, 10% of the national population. Interestingly, a lot, there was a lot of publicization, the Auto Workers of America were really central to it, interesting historical fact. But they didn't tell people what to do. They just said, honour the earth, honour the environment. But they didn't say there's a specific set of outcomes or policy ask, just do it in your own way. Interesting strategy.

Paul: [00:27:17] Should get some of those same people honouring transition plans. Sorry, Tom.

Tom: [00:27:20] Interestingly, also, this came only a year after the first ever image of the Earth was taken from a satellite. And it's hard for us now to really express just what a moment that was. I remember talking to my gran about this growing up, and she said that when she first saw it in 1968, she spent a few moments squinting at it to see if she could see herself, which is an interesting, sweet thing for us to think about now. But it speaks to the fact that sort of when you first saw that image of the earth hanging in space like that, you saw yourself in it and you were like, wow, that's our home for the first time. And there's no direct you know causation, but the correlation between that and the kind of birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970 is really interesting. I mean, I, for one think that there's a lot of evidence linking the two. Now, a lot can be said about the Earth Day over the years, including ratification of the Paris Agreement in 2016. This year, Joe Biden celebrated Earth Day by announcing 7 billion in grants for residential solar. But there's a few other things that happened over the years just to touch on these briefly. Elevation of environmental issues led to the eradication of DDT. This had been prominently used. We talked about it earlier. It was banned in 1972 after real pressure from the early Earth Days. And actually, what they realized in the early days is that DDT thinned eggshells and led to the bald eagle moving to the brink of collapse. It's now made such a comeback, it was removed from the endangered species list ten years ago. We all know the story about ozone and the early 1980s. We saw the whole Montreal Protocol. There's interesting correlation between that and environmental awareness. But the big reason why I'm claiming today that this year's Earth Day will be seen as the beginning of the end of the climate crisis.

Christiana: [00:29:03] Drum roll, wait wait wait wait, drum roll. 

Tom: [00:29:07] Drum roll. Is something we talked about last year that the International Energy Agency assessments had been made. And a couple of things here. First, the underlying economics and policy change have led to real changes in our chances of addressing the climate crisis. Unsubsidized wind power has dropped 66% since 2010. Solar has fallen 84%. Partly as a result of this, we now saw over 80% of all new electricity last year generated wind and solar. 20% of all new vehicles sold were electric. If you'd heard that even ten years ago, let alone in 1970, you would have been blown away. And as a result of all of this and the underlying policy, the IEA have concluded that global emissions will peak either this year or next year and begin their descent. Now, of course, that doesn't make up for all the emissions emitted since 1700s, and we're now in a serious race to decarbonize quickly. But it is a totally different game when we're chasing emissions down rather than trying to stop them rising. We get momentum, we get experience, we move in a positive direction. And I'm going to invite you to come in. But there's just a couple of other analogies I would like to make before I let you do that. We always think that the environmental movement has taken ages, and it has, and it's depressingly slow. And we have all of these challenges. But just a couple of historical analogies.

Tom: [00:30:25] The Women's Suffrage Committee was formed in 1865, in the UK, and within a week received 1500 signatures, there was already momentum. But the second, and they and they were trying to get this passed into the second reform bill in the 1800s. It was passed into law in 1918. That was 53 years after the first movement. In the US, similar, it took 72 years between the beginning of that campaign and the ratification of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. End of slavery, James Oglethorpe seriously proposed a ban in 1730, supported by William Wilberforce, that passed the act for the abolition of the Slave Trade was 77 years later in the UK. Even gay rights and this is the US, 1924, the society for Human Rights was the first documented gay rights organization. It took 50 years for homosexuality to be removed from the list of mental disorders and until 2015, 91 years later, for same sex marriage to be legalized. Change takes time. And if you take 1970, the beginning of Earth Day, to today, 54 years, and you imagine, we say, go forward another six years, by the time Earth Day gets its bus pass when it's 60, I think we'll be able to look at it and say, that window of time has been the fastest and most profound era of transformation in human history.

Christiana: [00:31:47] Okay, well argued. However, however, where I where I'm enthusiastically with you, Tom is in as as listeners know, in the what we call the exponential progress of renewables and of EVs that we have seen lately really quite astonishing. And and it will continue. So I am and the fact that we are definitely taking over, let's say, electric generation across the world so I'm with you. However, my question to you, Tom, is why do you count the period during which we humanity have been trying to address climate change, why do you count it as of the first Earth Day? Because the fact is that the first seminal paper, that talked about atmospheric carbon dioxide levels going up, altering surface temperature, greenhouse effect, etc., etc., was in 1896, so.

Tom: [00:33:00] Yeah. No, no, no, that's a great point. That's a great point. And, and I would say even going back before that, you know, you read Walden by Thoreau, there he's actually talking about environmental destruction, the fact that a day of reckoning will come. So you're absolutely right. All of these start dates are spurious, and you can totally argue that it should have been before then. But that's also true of the other things I talked about right. So there were plenty of people saying slavery is a, as a real illness and a real sickness and shouldn't be happening before James Oglethorpe, an MP, seriously proposed a ban decades before. But this is the first time that there was a serious organization and a coming together of society to address it. So you're right, you can pick start dates according to lots of different criteria, and there's lots of good arguments as to why 1970 is not right for environmentalism and climate. But you can also argue that it kind of was because it was the first time we saw ourselves and we began organizing and response to it.

Christiana: [00:33:54] And not just climate change. I think that argument you can make, you can make for the fact that the, the, the, the Blue Marble, as we call it, the Blue Planet, was really the first time that we not only saw ourselves but understood the fragility of this planet and how we are affecting not just our front yard or backyard, but rather the entirety of the planet. So that argument I definitely take.

Paul: [00:34:25] And I'm just, Jenny, our producer, pointed out in the chat, it was actually 1856 that Eunice Foote, she discovered actually the greenhouse effect and published a paper on it. She was the first scientist to do so. But, unfortunately don't want to don't want to rain on your parade, even though you did actually rain on my parade. And maybe I do want to rain your parade anyway, whether I want to or not, here's here's the fact, but, oh actually, it was, it was actually Clay that came up with that, not Jenny. Anyway, here's my point. It's it's great, and I don't doubt the long arc of of of of sort of, history bends towards justice. The problem, Tom, I don't really have to remind you is that we are facing tipping points. And, you know, yes, I hope and believe we will reach, you know, kind of, peak emissions and they'll begin to fall, but they have to fall so fast, you know, kind of 6% a year, like Covid, year after year after year. That requires system change at the government level. So I don't kind of doubt that mid to long term humanity would work this out. The reason why we're all at panic stations is we've got to work it out in in very short term, and we've got to, reduce those emissions at a stunning speed, you know, really faster even than they rose. And that's going to be a real challenge for us. So feeling good about the trend, feeling good about the Earth experience. Love your sentiment. But I'm not buying the we're out of the woods, far from it.

Tom: [00:35:55] Yeah, no, I actually think I really appreciate that comment. And in fact, as a as a reveal, I almost made this a fact that I was outraged about because of exactly what you just pointed out right. So I think we are transforming faster than these previous societal shifts have happened, but that can't ignore the fact that it's nowhere near enough. And I still remember joining CDP in 2007 and and the look on our communications director face when you went and talked to the FT and said, you can have child poverty for a thousand years, but we've got to stop climate change now. And she was like, really, that's the angle we're taking on this is it, but the point that you were making is not that there's anything good about child poverty, but that if you don't stop climate change, you meet these inflection points of rapid transformation where it matters less and less what you do after that.

Paul: [00:36:43] The late great Tessa Tennant asked me to say something that would get printed by the FT, and I actually used the phrase child labour, not child poverty.

Tom: [00:36:50] Child labour.

Paul: [00:36:51] The point being, yeah, we we are in this very unfortunate situation whereby, you know, whatever else we may work out over whatever time frame, we're denied that time frame here.

Tom: [00:37:01] Yeah, I totally agree. And and I didn't mention earlier that, okay, so this might be the year of emissions have peaked. And every year from now on for the rest of human history, they're dropping until they get to zero, but they've got to be 50% reduced by the end of the decade. You know, that's not the trajectory we're on at all. So that could easily mean that we do reduce at real speed, but nowhere near fast enough to still precipitate all these really alarming tipping points and feedback loops. So I'm fully with you.

Christiana: [00:37:27] Yeah, that's, that's that's what makes climate so unique right. The fact that, that that it there's an alarm clock embedded in, in climate that is not in any of the other social, environmental, economic injustices. You look across all of the other SDGs and we should reach all of them in a timely fashion by 2030. But if we don't, it doesn't have the consequential effect across the entire quality of life, of humanity and of other living species on this planet, that climate does. If we don't reach the, the, the climate goals, it just has this cascading effect. And as, as Paul has pointed out, we are just facing windows of possibility of being able to keep the option open. And those windows are closing, smacking us in the face because of the tipping points and because of the fact that the tipping points cascade one upon the other right. It's not like we reach this and reach this tipping point in isolation. No, each tipping point that we reach and breach has a cascading and accelerating effect on all of the other tipping points. So it's, it is it's it's very concerning.

Paul: [00:38:51] But a last thought for me is what kind of person should we be. There was a very funny article in the Financial Times, funny but serious from Pilita Clark, where she spoke about very serious people, and I was listening to a climate economist who will remain nameless, sort of saying it's going to be very hard to make the change. And, you know, you kind of got to be realistic. We've talked before about climate alarmists sort of saying, you know, I know that it's going to be worse than, you know. So finding that posture to adopt that is, that is, effective, I won't go into the details, that's the art that I think we're all searching for. And it might change on the situation. It might depend who you're talking to.

Tom: [00:39:28] Totally, definitely would do that. Right okay, so I think we've now presented all the things we're outraged or optimistic about, and we now have a few minutes to sort of set out how are we feeling overall about the state of the world based on our very limited and subjective series of things we chose to talk about. Who would like to kick off?

Christiana: [00:39:44] Yikes, very difficult. I think Paul wants to jump in. Go for it, Paul.

Paul: [00:39:49] Well, I think I really enjoyed your, optimism with with the Earth Day and to see to remind ourselves of that positivity term. I enjoyed and benefited greatly from your warning Christiana. I hope the world is listening and I hope we we come to act upon that. But I think in the end, ultimately it's about the transition plans. And I'm glad that you both recognize that in a sense, I have bought, we'll call it the trump card. And safety will come from heeding my words. What did you think, Christiana? You're not buying it.

Christiana: [00:40:23] Well, let's see, I think.

Tom: [00:40:24] I think that you should, that's a good epitaph, isn't it. Safety will come from heeding my words.

Paul: [00:40:28] Are you allowed to choose your own, is what Jenny is asking the group. There is a bit of a question about that. I'm sorry I don't need to choose my own. I will say nothing about transition plans. Christiana.

Christiana: [00:40:36] No, but wait, but wait, it's not about choosing one or the other. It's about putting all three.

Tom: [00:40:40] Overall feeling, looking at all three. 

Christiana: [00:40:41] All three.

Paul: [00:40:41] Ah, you've taken it all a level, you've taken me out of this competitive rubbish.

Christiana: [00:40:47] And so after this conversation, are we feeling more on the optimistic side or more on the outrage side? That's the question. So Paul, do you want to take another stab at that?

Paul: [00:41:02] I'm optimistic that you've led me away from childish competition towards a more fruitful, balanced consideration of how we can build a more holistic and embracing vision of the universe. So, Christiana, you have made me positive by by taking me out of the competitive reductionism, Tom.

Tom: [00:41:23] I mean, I think that net net, I feel a bit outraged actually having even though I brought something I felt optimistic about. I think both of your very good points, you know, around, yes, speed of reduction, but nowhere near fast enough is very well made. The plastics thing kind of blows my mind a bit Christiana, I totally agree with that. And I've thought about it here and there, but just those microplastic elements. I'm glad again for the process to deal with them, but it just feels overwhelming to me at the moment, and I want to sort of delve into it and see a pathway. So I feel a little bit lost as to what the solution to that is. And, and I think we're going to have to revisit the transition plans because I see the potential, but I don't know exactly.

Paul: [00:41:58] That's what I really wanted, weekly, weekly discussions of transition plans. 

Tom: [00:42:01]  A weekly discussion on transition plans.

Paul: [00:42:02] Christiana, we haven't heard what you think. How are you feeling?

Christiana: [00:42:08] You know, I, I think I'm overall concerned, today I'm overall concerned. The, the good thing about our.

Tom: [00:42:19] That's not one of the options is it concerned, outrage, optimism and general concern.

Christiana: [00:42:22] Okay, outrage.

Tom: [00:42:23] Okay.

Paul: [00:42:24] That's when you merge them.

Christiana: [00:42:25] Alright, alright, I'll use the I'll use the word, yeah, but you know, the the the good thing about our commitment here is that we can stand in outrage and still see light at the end of the tunnel, right. That those two, that is not a binary, that we can see that, there is progress and we can be concerned about the rate of progress, but that does not deny progress. So is that a cop out to your question?

Tom: [00:43:00] Yes, but we'll take it.

Christiana: [00:43:03] Okay.

Paul: [00:43:03] Sometimes that's the best way. Best way to win the game is not to play.

Tom: [00:43:08] Amazing, all right. This has been fun. I've enjoyed this. So listeners let us know what you thought. I mean, we're sort of always experimenting with different things. If you thought this worked, it was great, if you said, please never do that again, then let us know. If you want to hear more about transition plans then you know, follow Paul Dickinson on Twitter, exactly.

Paul: [00:43:20] I'm available for yeah, you know, weddings, bar mitzvahs.

Christiana: [00:43:25] Your your second Twitter message could be about that, that's a good idea. Good suggestion Tom.

Paul: [00:43:30] The third, I've done two. I've done two.

Christiana: [00:43:30] Oh sorry sorry sorry, okay. Good suggestion Tom.

Paul: [00:43:32] I have 1,000 followers per tweet which I think is a quite good ratio.

Clay: [00:43:35] Okay, wait a second. Before we go, can you describe what you are seeing right now in front of you?

Tom: [00:43:46] You appear to have a sort of a oh, that's candles in what appears to be a small cake or a marshmallow. I can't quite.

Paul: [00:43:53] Oh, I know what that is, I know what that is.

Christiana: [00:43:54] A birthday cake, a birthday cake. 

Tom: [00:43:56] It's a birthday cake.

Paul: [00:43:56] That's our fifth birthday, that's our fifth birthday. We are five years old.

Tom: [00:44:00] Thank you Clay.

Clay: [00:44:03] Yeah, this thing is actually getting terrifyingly hot. So anyway, this so this Thursday is our fifth birthday as a podcast. And we had a little production meeting before this, and, we wanted to put the three of you on the spot on the podcast to answer a question, which is, oh, and by the way, these are sparkling so I don't know if you can see but.

Christiana: [00:44:31] Do they have any plastic in them Clay?

Clay: [00:44:33] Okay, so anyway, we wanted to ask you a question, which is what is your birthday wish for the podcast, what's a wish that you have for outrage and optimism going forward? Celebrating everything that we've done, everything that the podcast has accomplished, knowing all of that, what is your birthday wish moving forward?

Paul: [00:44:58] If we tell you, doesn't that invalidate the wish?

Clay: [00:45:01] Yes but if we all think of our wishes in our heads, then that would be terrible for a podcast because then no one would know what they are. So we have to we're going to break tradition and share them. And I'm actually going to blow these out because this is actually starting to.

Christiana: [00:45:15] But wait wait wait wait wait, you know, in Costa Rican law, you know, don't don't do that yet. Don't don't blow it out. In Costa Rican law, the only way that you get your birthday wish is you have to take off a ring and put it on a candle. So I am now taking off my ring and sending it to you virtually. And so put it on a candle so that we get our wish.

Paul: [00:45:36] I'm doing the same.

Clay: [00:45:37] While it's lit?

Tom: [00:45:37] I can't get my ring off so I'm showing it on the screen.

Christiana: [00:45:39] While it's lit, obviously.

Clay: [00:45:41] Okay, I've got my ring here.

Paul: [00:45:43] Now let's all blow those candles. Ready, three, two, one.

Christiana: [00:45:47] Put it on, put it on, put the ring on. Okay now, okay, good job, good job.

Tom: [00:45:51] All right very nice.

Clay: [00:45:53] You can see you can see the ring is on there.

Christiana: [00:45:55] Yes. Thank you.

Clay: [00:45:56] Okay. So what are your wishes?

Christiana: [00:45:59] So my wish is that the podcast continues to bring a balanced message to a growing universe of listeners who ought to be through the podcast, more informed about what is going on, but also more motivated to contribute to the solution.

Tom: [00:46:24] Go for it.

Paul: [00:46:25] My wish is that I know that our listeners are like an enormous lion, the the head of the jungle, or the head like an enormous lion, the great, the greatest of all the creatures. And I hope we can give our listeners that roar, the roar of the lion.

Tom: [00:46:45] Nice. And my wish, actually, is that for the next phase of the podcast, we are able to be much more conversational with our listeners. Those are the bits I've always enjoyed the most, where we get feedback and live shows and comments. We've never really quite prioritized doing that to the extent that I think could be really fun. And so my wish is that from now on, that's one of the innovations and changes we make, and we get to see more of you, our wonderful listeners, and interact more and take the podcast forward in that way.

Paul: [00:47:09] It sounds good to me.

Tom: [00:47:10] Thank you Clay, thank you everybody. 

Clay: [00:47:12] Wonderful yeah, happy birthday. 

Paul: [00:47:12] Happy birthday.

Christiana: [00:47:12] Nice surprise, nice surprise to Clay and the production team, very nice. Thank you to everyone.

Paul: [00:47:19] Now, do we have some music?

Tom: [00:47:20] Is Cosmo Sheldrake going to play happy birthday?

Paul: [00:47:23] Yay! No, Cosmo Sheldrake is going to play something.

Tom: [00:47:27] I don't think so.

Clay: [00:47:28] No, but I'm gonna eat this cake here.

Tom: [00:47:29] All right, enjoy.

Christiana: [00:47:30] Okay, alright.

Tom: [00:47:30] Thanks, everyone. What a fun episode this week. And here's Cosmo Sheldrake to play you out. Bye.

Paul: [00:47:36] Bye, y'all.

Christiana: [00:47:37] Bye.

Cosmo Sheldrake: [00:47:39] Hi, my name is Cosmo Sheldrake and I'm a musician and I work a lot with recordings from the natural world of various kinds. And I've just released a song called Soil, which is released as part of a campaign with EarthPercent and Sounds Right and UN Live and Spotify. And the aim is to credit nature as an artist and to generate income which can then go back to various conservation organizations. And so, so lots of different artists have incorporated natural sounds into various pieces. And, and 50% of the master royalties are then being distributed among these conservation organizations. So the song I composed, Soil, features recordings of subterranean recordings that are made while I was on a field trip in Ecuador with the amazing mycologist Giuliana Furci, and she collected, for the second time ever this new species of magic mushroom or psychedelic mushroom. And, and I stuck my little adapted contact mic into the soil in the exact location where she made the collection. And so that sound features in the in the song, and there's a kind of burbling, gurgling undercurrent of various different subterranean recordings that I've made of the soil and it also features some bioelectrical recordings of mushrooms made by the amazing Michael Prime, and it features the sounds of a humpback whale and some of the drums are made by a bucktooth parrotfish on the kind of snare sound, and an oyster toadfish on the kick. And then it's also got some recordings of some endangered British birds, including a nightingale and a bittern and, yeah, a few other sounds also. Anyway, I hope you like it. It's called Soil.

Clay: [00:53:41] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. Clay here, producer of the show. Cosmo Sheldrake and NATURE returning to the podcast. Always great to have you both on. As Cosmo mentioned, Soil is one of the tracks off of the featuring NATURE playlist dropped this Earth Day on Spotify. I'm looking at it right now. Soil by Cosmo Sheldrake featuring NATURE. It's on my screen, you know, it's hitting me right now that this distinction of nature as an artist is so important. Because before the recording today, I told Tom that Cosmo Sheldrake was our music for this week, but what I should have told him was Cosmo Sheldrake and Nature are on the podcast this week, so that's on me. But I think that that really drives home the point, right. The genius behind the idea that nature deserves the credit and our language catching up to this will inevitably shift our minds and drive more action. Let my mistake be the example. Cosmo Sheldrake and Nature, thank you for this amazing tune. It's a privilege to have you on. You can listen to more of Cosmo's music in the show notes. His latest record is Eye To The Ear. It was released earlier this year and he has UK and EU tour dates on his site through October, including a show next Thursday, May 2nd in Bristol. So if you're in Bristol you gotta go. And of course, as always with Mr. Sheldrake, Nature will be there because, as we know, spring rains are here in the Northern hemisphere and when it rains, she tours.

Clay: [00:55:26] Thank you Cosmo. And speaking of nature, let's get into it. Massive news not only on Spotify but also on Apple Music. Yes, NATURE is an official verified artist. You know that little blue check and everything. So this is all the work of Sounds Right, a global initiative by Museum for the UN and UN Live with many different partners to recognize nature as an official artist. You know, the goat, the greatest of all time. To recognize them on all streaming platforms. Here's how it works. As you know, every time a song is streamed on a music platform, a royalty real money is paid out to the artist. And so for every track featuring nature, 50% of the royalties from these tracks will go to EarthPercent, which is a charity co-founded by Brian Eno that partners with experts and scientists to fund the most impactful organisations addressing the climate and biodiversity emergency, and to make things even more exciting, if the song featuring Nature the artist makes Nature's Ecosystem Sounds playlist the one I've been talking about, that 50% gets kicked up to 70%. So we know Cosmo Sheldrake and NATURE are on the playlist, but who else. You can check the show notes to listen to new exclusive tracks by Brian Eno and David Bowie, Ellie Goulding, Aurora, Mo, Bomba Estéreo, London Grammar and more, again all featuring nature. This past week I talked with friend of the pod Greg Cochrane, about Sounds Right, EarthPercent, Nature as an artist on the phone because he did an interview with Brian Eno for the podcast Midnight Chats that was released on Monday.

Clay: [00:57:16] And in the clearest explanation I've heard, Brian Eno said, let's not be pessimistic. Let's help. This campaign is unleashing the power of music in service of the planet. So again, this is why I'm so excited about it. Here we see an example that can translate across any industry or business sector. Many musicians and people who work in music are aware of climate change and want to do something, but they don't know what to do. This is it. It's only gonna grow from here. This is how artists, managers, promoters, lawyers, agents, fans and everyone else in between can actively do something. It's really inspiring. I'm going to link that interview in the show notes so that you can listen to Brian explain it himself better than I just did. But as a bonus to listening to that, he opens up about his song that he released with David Bowie and Nature, titled Get Real, and Brian does a Bowie impression that, you don't want to miss. Your weekend playlist awaits. Imagine this putting on a playlist in your house is now Climate action. Okay, thanks so much for listening in. Go check out Cosmo Sheldrake and Nature on the playlist. Go listen to Greg Cochrane and Brian Eno on Midnight Chats, hit subscribe if you haven't already, to our podcast Outrage + Optimism. And all week we have conversations online, you can join in @OutrageOptimism on Instagram X and LinkedIn wherever you are. Next week we will be back in your feed with another episode. We'll see you then.


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