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

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

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

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

Global Optimism logo

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


222: Moments of Truth

Watermark of logo

About this episode

This week on Outrage + Optimism our hosts discuss the leaked documents revealing how ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Dr Sultan Al Jaber were planning to use COP 28 meetings with other countries to promote deals for its national oil and gas companies. With Dr Jaber set to give his speech on Thursday, our hosts ask what needs to happen to restore the faltering trust in his presidency and avoid derailing the COP agenda at such a vital time. 

Our guest this week is Nathaniel Stinnett who founded the Environmental Voter Project, which targets inactive environmentalists, transforming them into consistent voters to build the power of the environmental movement, something which may prove critical given the news that Trump would scrap the landmark IRA and BIL legislations if elected.

To close this week's episode, we have Chris Redmond, Co- Artistic Director of Hot Poets with his poem ‘Blink’, with a beautiful musical accompaniment by The Tongue Fu Band (music written by Riaan Vosloo). The poem was commissioned by 3M as part of a series of poems in collaboration with UNFCCC's Resilience Frontiers. 


Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder & Executive Director of the Environmental Voter Project
Twitter | LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Chris Redmond, Artistic Director - Hot Poets (the film of ‘Blink’ will be released on Thursday 30 November on YouTube and across Hot Poets channels)
Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube | TikTok
The Tongue Fu Band
Twitter | Instagram

Learn more about the Paris Agreement.

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

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

Full Transcript

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

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

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

Tom: [00:00:18] This week we speak about the upcoming COP 28. Paul Dickinson and I are already in Dubai, just a few days to go. We speak to Nathaniel Stinnett from the Environmental Voter Project, and we have a poem from Hot Poets. Thanks for being here. Paul, we are barely two miles apart. You just helpfully told me you're at this end of Dubai. I'm at the other end. So that's why we're not together. But I hope that I will see you over the next couple of days. I was in the blue zone yesterday. And just a warning to anyone who is coming to COP28. I went in one end, the wrong end as it turned out. I simply walked across the site, got my badge, and then retraced my steps. And I looked at my phone afterwards and I'd walked 17,000 steps. It is big. You're going to be doing a lot of walking and you're going to be getting your steps in. But it's a beautiful location, so it will all be kicking off later this week.

Christiana: [00:01:18] Paul, you will be so thrilled. You are such a walker.

Tom: [00:01:21] Yeah, you'll be fine Paul. 

Paul: [00:01:22] That's true.

Christiana: [00:01:22] That's probably why you went to the COP, because you're going to get your steps in.

Tom: [00:01:25] This is your moment.

Paul: [00:01:26] Yeah, I'm going to get my steps in but I'm going to get them in in like 33 degrees wearing a suit. So that's not an ideal circumstance. But it is what it is. But no I'm looking forward to being able to.

Christiana: [00:01:36] Paul it's all incredibly air conditioned. I am sure I'm not there, but I can swear.

Tom: [00:01:41] There's a lot of outside bits actually. There is obviously inside bits in the blue zone, but a lot of it's outside.

Christiana: [00:01:46] Oh Paul, you're in big trouble then.

Tom: [00:01:47] Yeah.

Paul: [00:01:48] Yeah, yeah. Tom, serious business. What's happening at the COP?

Tom: [00:01:50] Serious business, as you say. Well, nothing yet because it hasn't started. But that doesn't mean that there's not already in the news. We are recording this on Monday the 27th of November. And a big report came out this morning from the BBC, who launched it this morning, who conducted an investigation in partnership with the Centre for Climate Reporting. And they got their hands on a whole bunch of meeting notes and internal briefings that were being exchanged between the COP 28 team, ADNOC, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Dr. Sultan. And the long and short of it is and we will get into this, that there is clear evidence that Dr. Sultan was being encouraged by ADNOC and by his team to pursue interests of fossil fuel exploration and development in meetings that were being set up to deliver COP business and COP outcomes. So, for example, there is one point where we know that the documents suggested telling a Colombian minister in a climate bilateral that ADNOC stands ready to support Colombia to develop fossil fuel reserves. There are talking points for 13 other countries, including Germany and Egypt, and a whole range of others. Now, this broke about eight hours ago as we're recording this now, I've already done a whole bunch of media. I was on the BBC Today Programme and a range of other things, but this gives us a chance to kind of really pick this up and look at it. Christiana, how would you have responded if you had heard while you'd been the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, that the COP president of a COP that you were hosting with that person was behaving in this way? Load More
Christiana: [00:03:25] Well, first I would want to know who wrote those briefings because and under whose mandate. And I think that would be very important to understand. Were those briefings written because the COP president requested them. That puts us in a very concerning scenario. Were those briefings written by some, you know, whatever briefer down the ranks who somehow has not figured out that the COP is not Gastech, the COP is not ADIPEC. I mean, the Emirates just hosted one of the largest oil and gas conferences just a few weeks ago. And, those conferences, Gastech, ADIPEC, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, are conferences where the oil and gas industry comes together to further their interests. That is not what the COP is. So someone does not understand the difference between a conference to further the interests of the gas industry and a gathering of all national, many subnational governments, many, many more than ever, many stakeholders with a single purpose of protecting the planet and the humans on this planet from the negative consequences of the operation of substantially the oil and gas industry. Those are two very different agendas, and it is very dangerous to confuse those two agendas. So if I were in the COP Presidency, I would now be digging in to where did those come from? Who asked for them? What is going to be going on? But you know what Tom, here is my gut reaction to that. How interesting that this has come to a head just as people are beginning to register for the COP and what comes to mind is, do you all remember when Volkswagen got caught red handed for emissions reporting? Do you remember?

Paul: [00:05:43] Oh, yeah.

Tom: [00:05:44] Of course, yeah.

Christiana: [00:05:44] Well, hello. Here we are again. Except it's not just one car company. It is the COP Presidency. And what did Volkswagen do? They actually were forced just because of public expectation, they were forced to make a huge about face in their production line and truly turn over to electric models because they had to prove that they were caught red handed. But this is not really where they want to go. Da da da da da da da. Well, hello. This has got to be the turnaround for the COP Presidency, whether he ordered them or not, whether he mandated those briefings or not. The issue is that the impression from outside is that the COP Presidency has been caught red handed, and therefore, the only possible reaction to this is actually to just not be, you know, wishy washy at the COP. They're going to have to make a huge about face because trust here is at -40, even just to get to zero, they're not even at zero with trust.

Tom: [00:07:03] And Christiana, just to follow up on that one point, I mean, in the BBC article, they claim to have seen an email exchange in which COP 28 team members were told that ADNOC and Masdar talking points always needed to be included in the briefing notes that went to Dr. Sultan. So that apparently was a mandate that ADNOC briefing points should be included in the COP President's briefing. So, anyway.

Christiana: [00:07:28] Well, to my point, right. That is a complete confusion of the agendas. And I don't know how, I've been saying this, I think since January, right, that you cannot confuse the role that you're in. One thing is to lead ADNOC. Masdar is a completely different issue. But one thing is to lead the oil, the national oil and gas company. And another thing is to exercise your responsibility as President of the COP, in which you have to be impartial to your own political position as a country, impartial to all other political positions, so that you can bring everybody together and not neutral to outcome. That is the piece that many COP Presidents forget. You have to be impartial to all positions, but not neutral to outcome. Every single COP has to further the world's efforts to accelerate decarbonization and to deepen resilience. They have to. There's no other way. So this is a total confusion of roles, and the price that they could pay is very high unless they do a Volkswagen move here.

Paul: [00:08:57] I'm going to pile in as much as I can, entirely behind every single word and sentiment that Christiana has just said, and especially that marvellous Volkswagen metaphor. The integrity of government is the notion of the sort of the spiritual duty of government, sacred duty, I should say, of government to protect the people and to be an independent arbiter of the public best interest. And so that's a point extremely well made. I do think the whole world is looking at what can be the unifying outcome or the landing point given our starting point. And this makes things so much tougher for us. But there is you know, there is a question about what now, what next. And certainly my analysis of this, and I'm not the world's greatest oil and gas expert, but to link it up, this is the COP that's being held in an oil and gas superpower, for want of a better word. And you will have seen that the FT and many other people reported that the IEA made very clear oil and gas producers should be spending about half their annual investment in clean energy projects by 2030, and so far they account for just 1% of global green energy investment.

Tom: [00:10:17] I saw that, that's crazy.

Paul: [00:10:17] By the way, when I was laughing earlier Christiana, it was nervous laughter because you talked about this, it's not Gastech, I mean, totally. Okay, so something's going to have to happen here for an outcome that we need. It's a moment of truth, to quote the IEA in COP 28 in Dubai for the oil and gas industry. It's facing a moment of truth. That's what Fatih Birol said. My feeling is that there's a carbon budget. We all know what it is. There are moves in the world, for example, against coal, and were there to be fantastic pressure against coal, that might be one of those Volkswagen moments or the other one is to simply commit to the goals set by the IEA, of 50% of investment by the oil and gas industry into renewables by 2030. But in a sense, you're so correct Christiana, to say their hands has now been forced. Something significant must happen.

Tom: [00:11:17] Okay. So I mean, I think this is and we don't want to spend all of our time on this because obviously this is, you know, to some degree a distraction from what really needs to happen. So thank you for drawing us back, Paul, to what kind of, you know is the objective here, which is the shift in investment patterns. But Christiana, what do you think needs to happen now to rebuild this just very quickly? Because obviously a few days before the COP, this is, you know, a very difficult thing to have happened just as everybody's arriving. What can he do to try to encourage people to feel that he is on their side as parties, rather than pursuing his own agenda at this late stage?

Christiana: [00:11:50] You know what I am going to be looking at with a microscope? His opening speech.

Tom: [00:11:56] Yes, yeah.

Christiana: [00:11:58] That is the moment in which he has to do a serious, serious exercise in humility and accountability and transparency. He has got to really do a mea culpa and say that was a mistake. We realized that that is a mistake. And here is what I am going to do during the next two weeks. And here's what I invite parties to do. His opening speech, I think, is going to be. 

Tom: [00:12:34] Definitional. 

Christiana: [00:12:34] Yeah, the definition of the COP. That's the one moment, that is the one moment that he has to come clean. He's got to come clean. And you know what's difficult about that Tom, is that, it's not a binary thing, right. It's not, did he come clean or not. It's for some, let's say that his speech is being rewritten as we speak right now. It better be. And for some, it will be a pretty good speech. And for some it will be completely insufficient. So that's going to be the difficult, you know, area that he's going to have to manage. Because it's not, my point is it's not just about the speech. The speech needs to redirect this, but then he is going to have to be on his toes with respect to transparency, accountability and responsibility throughout the two weeks in everything that he does, everything that he does. I mean, I don't remember ever a COP President being subjected to such scrutiny as he will be. Ever. But by his own making.

Tom: [00:13:51] Yeah. And I mean, fascinating moment right. Because as you say, the opening speech, he will be on the stage, potentially with António Guterres and two people who are on completely opposite ends of this conversation, with António Guterres telling everyone it's insufficient, the world is burning, we've reached global boiling point, we need to go further. And Dr. Sultan, who is the, spare a thought for Simon Stiell, who will also be there, who has to thread the needle between the two. A slow nod from my co-hosts. And, I know we have a few minutes now to Nathaniel Stinnett arrives from the Environmental Voter Project. I wonder if we also, of course, need to cover, there's going to be a lot of substantive outcomes that we're going to have to drive at COP. It's worth bearing in mind of course, we've said this before, this is the Global Stocktake COP. This is the moment that we're looking in the mirror from the Paris Agreement to say, are we going as far as we need to? We know we're not doing enough. The recent report that came out, the GAP Report, pointed out that rather than the 43% reduction that we need by 2030, we're actually on course for a 9% rise. That is disastrous for people around the world. So we need a credible and meaningful response from the COP to that piece of information to demonstrate to the world that we're serious about closing that gap that's going to involve renewable energy. It's going to involve stuff around food and land and energy efficiency. All these technologies are deploying exponentially, and we are finding real solutions, but they need to be given a boost at the COP as well to keep that exponential transformation unfolding.

Paul: [00:15:19] So it's almost feels to me like, do things hold around the existing energy infrastructure of the world, finding a way to decarbonize itself at the rate required. Or are we going to see just massive national backlashes, whereby the demand for those products is simply prohibited by ever more policy and regulation in different countries. It seems like the moment when the energy industry is either going to kind of respond, or it's going to have its income cut off by law in every country. That's how it feels to me.

Tom: [00:15:51] Christiana, any responses on what you expect to see at the end of COP?

Christiana: [00:15:54] You know what I'm really concerned about is that how much serious work is now going to be able to be done at the COP as opposed to just, you know, rumour wars.

Tom: [00:16:06] Yeah.

Christiana: [00:16:07] How much human attention, time, effort is going to go into either creating rumours, dispelling rumours. You know, checking out rumours. It is just going to be very, very difficult because at this COP, feelings and emotions are going to run much higher than thinking and logic. And I'm really concerned about that. I'm really concerned about that. This is going to be rumour mill for two weeks.

Tom: [00:16:44] And I mean, that's difficult enough as a distraction, but it also is a perfect opportunity for anyone who wants to slow progress right. Because they can just.

Christiana: [00:16:52] Totally.

Tom: [00:16:52] Get involved in that. And, it's basically doing itself. But you can fan the flames and distract everybody.

Christiana: [00:16:59] Totally, I mean, you can start rumours, you know, about everything. You can start rumours about, okay, he just last night, I mean, here's the really weird thing, right? Those who do not want any progress can start a rumour that last night, you know, the COP President met secretly with da da da da da da da da da, you know, and signed da da da da da da. I mean, can you imagine? And he never did anything like that. But you just start the rumour. It's going to be such a rumour management nightmare.

Paul: [00:17:32] But maybe to pick up on the potential you identified. Maybe a whole bunch of people who were not going to stand up will realize that they have to, because things have got complicated in a way.

Christiana: [00:17:46] Meaning what Paul?

Paul: [00:17:48] Well, I'm thinking of the slower moving, somewhat backsliding, larger industries where executives feel that they're being held by an intergovernmental process, and maybe they realize they're not being held by it, and they have to show the leadership that they've been kind of hoping somebody else is going to. And make that phone call to their head of state or president or prime minister or whatever to say, you know, we do what we need to do.

Tom: [00:18:17] Well, we shall see. It's a few days now till it starts. We now know Joe Biden is not coming. Xi Jinping is not coming. But we are still expecting more than 150 heads of state. And so more to come. Now, I think we're going to need to turn to our guest in just a moment. And Christiana, I believe you have to immediately run off unfortunately to go and do something else. And we're going to miss you terribly. So very sad not to have you for the interview, but thanks for joining us for the chat.

Christiana: [00:18:39] Thank you guys. Oh my gosh, you guys, you're at the COP. You need to fix this. How's that for responsibility on your shoulders.

Paul: [00:18:47] No problem Christiana, we'll get it done.

Christiana: [00:18:49] Okay, good.

Tom: [00:18:50] Paul's got it. All right, bye.

Paul: [00:18:51] Thank you Christiana. Thank you.

Tom: [00:18:54] So Paul, we're going to bring in Nathaniel in a minute. And Nathaniel Stinnett is somebody I've wanted to have on the podcast for a very long time. He runs the Environmental Voter Project and he will explain what that is. But it's particularly relevant now because it will not have escaped your attention this week that Trump advisers came out and said if elected, he would immediately roll back the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, two of our favourite characters on the world stage, IRA and BIL, who have been the most ambitious climate laws in the US to help transform the economy, which would, of course, given the time frame that we have to deal with climate change, be completely disastrous. So we need to make sure that doesn't happen.

Paul: [00:19:32] I mean, you know, and Nathaniel is working in the USA, but I just want to put in that global perspective. Argentina's new President, Javier Milei is saying that climate change is a socialist lie. The new, the leader of the party for freedom in the Dutch parliament, who may well become prime minister is saying we must stop being afraid of climate change. You know, across the world people are taking sides in a very bizarre way. And I'm just wondering, you know, I don't think we're going to cover this, but we need to have some kind of Pearl Harbour moment where sides unite around a common enemy, and we're going to have to try and find that. Maybe Nathaniel knows how.

Tom: [00:20:10] Well, I mean, there's very little you and I can do about US elections, but Nathaniel can do something. So let's get him on and have a chat with him.

Paul: [00:20:16] Sounds good.

Paul: [00:22:10] Nathaniel, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism. And your work is about the most fascinating work I think I've come across for a very long time. You will get a chance to tell everyone about it. But I'm going to start with a question which I think goes to the heart of what we're doing. And it was really fascinating reading the notes before this interview. You described yourself as not a policy expert. You said that you're laser focused on building political demand for climate. So can you explain what is the difference between policy and political demand for climate?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:22:46] Yeah, that's a great question. That's a great question. And I kind of think about it as if it's a marketplace. We think of politics and policy making as a marketplace. And on the supply side, we have politicians making policy that hopefully will help us achieve certain goals. But these policy makers can't just do whatever the hell they want. They are political beings. And unless there is political demand in the marketplace for a certain kind of leadership, they're never going to supply it. Because the one thing that motivates politicians more than anything else is staying a politician, is winning and losing elections. So unless there isn't political demand for climate leadership, policymakers are never going to give it to us.

Paul: [00:23:36] Okay, so within that context, how has your organization kind of grown up to square that circle?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:23:45] Yeah. So there are if you think about it, there are two ways to increase demand in the political marketplace for climate leadership. You could either get more voters to care deeply about climate, what we like to call sort of persuasion or mind changing or opinion changing, or you could find people who already care deeply about it, yet they aren't voting, and you could change their behaviour and turn them into voters. Now, I would argue that both of those are very, very important, but we live in a moment in time where it's become increasingly hard to change people's minds about anything, especially science related stuff and things having to do with climate change. And so what we do at the Environmental Voter Project is we focus on the behaviour change aspect of it. We don't want to change people's minds and opinions. That's hard and messy and expensive. Instead, we find people who already care so deeply about climate and the environment that it's their number one priority over all other issues, yet they're not voting, and so then they're ripe for a purely behavioural intervention, and I won't claim that's easy. Of course it isn't. But it is easier, and it's often cheaper than trying to change people's opinions or their minds.

Tom: [00:25:04] And is that I mean, are there enough, I suppose the first question there, this is fascinating. Are there enough of them to make a political difference? Because we're often told, oh, not enough people see climate as a top priority or whatever else.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:25:15] Not only are there enough. There are a shockingly large, almost a depressingly large number of people who care deeply about climate, yet don't vote. Now, obviously it depends on the election, because some people vote in some elections, but not other elections. But at the Environmental Voter Project, we identified a little over 12 million already registered voters who care deeply about climate and the environment, yet skipped the most recent midterms. And we identified 8 million who skipped the last presidential election. Now they're already registered to vote. There are no logistical hurdles. They just didn't walk out their door and cast a ballot on Election day.

Paul: [00:26:00] The next question asks itself. Here we go. Why?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:26:04] Why! Yeah.

Tom: [00:26:07] For gods sake people.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:26:09] For gods sake is right. Well, Paul, you ask a good question. And unfortunately, this one is a little bit harder to answer because social scientists are really good at setting up experiments that tell you how to get people to do things right, like exercise, or eat healthy or vote. What's a lot harder is to figure out why they don't do things. Really, the only thing you can do when you're trying to figure out why say someone doesn't vote is ask them, is poll them. And there's a whole bunch of biases that ruin your polls when you try to figure out why people aren't doing something that society views as important. And so when you ask people why they don't vote, they lie their pants off. And usually what they do is they give you the most socially acceptable excuse for not voting. Okay, that's my enormous caveat, which is to say, it's really hard to measure this with precision. But here's what we do know. The first thing is when we look at this sort of idiosyncratic definition of environmentalists that we use at the Environmental Voter project, which is people who are likely to list climate or the environment as their number one priority. These people are disproportionately young. They're disproportionately people of colour, and they're disproportionately lower income. So the first reason why these people don't vote has to do with mere demographic correlations. Young people, lower income people, and people of colour just vote less often, especially in the United States, where there's so much voter suppression against those groups.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:27:46] The second reason that we're pretty confident in is, again, at least in the United States, the environmental movement has been oddly apolitical for over a generation. And here's what I mean by that. When I was growing up, if you would ask me, what does it mean to be a good environmentalist? I would have said, oh, you know, don't pollute, don't litter, recycle. Maybe more recently, I'd say, you know, ride my bike to work, change the electricity I consume. All of these things are important. But like, would you ever hear someone who cares about reproductive rights talk that way? Would you ever hear someone who cares about gun control talk that way? I mean, these are all completely apolitical approaches to a huge systemic societal problem. And that's by design, right. I mean, the two of you know better than I do that the fossil fuel industry has had a very sophisticated PR campaign going for decades, essentially trying to convince us, like, hey, don't pay attention to that coal fired power plant back there. It's all your fault Tom for drinking out of a plastic water bottle. Which is crazy, but we bought it. We bought it hook, line and sinker. And we don't think of this stuff as political. We think of it as a personal behavioural choice.

Paul: [00:29:04] No, you're absolutely right. That is the heart of it. And it's such, when you put it in the context of kind of birth control or, you know, dealing with the gun problem, it really makes sense. Nobody really sort of says, well, I'm going to buy less guns. You know, it's like you're not buying them anyway. Like get over it.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:29:23] Right. This is a systemic, inherently political problem. Yet many of us view climate activism and environmental activism in a purely personal behavioural way. And there's no doubt in my mind that that leads to a lot of these turnout problems.

Paul: [00:29:40] And just, you know, that's such a perfect analogy. Sorry. I'll defer to you in a second, Tom. But it's like, you know, the horror of a mass shooting, you know, with some kind of rifle or automatic weapon or all those terrible stories. And then the idea you would respond by saying, I'm going to tell my cousin to get rid of her revolver. It's like there's no connection, right. So why do we do it.

Tom: [00:30:03] So I mean, that's a fascinating analogy. I love that. And just so, as we get past the why so we identify these people. I mean that's a significant number of people enough to tip a presidential election potentially depending on where they live. I'd love to ask you about that as well. But so how do you then, if they're from communities that disproportionately don't vote already, you already have your work cut out, right. Trying to get them to show up even if you know who they are. How do you go about doing that and how expensive is it? I suppose would be the other question.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:30:31] Yeah. So let me answer the second question first. It is much cheaper to change people's behaviour than it is to change their minds, in part because, the really expensive modes of communication, you know, TV and things like that just really don't work that well when you're getting into pure behaviour change messaging, trying to get people to vote, TV and things like that are really good for changing opinions and changing minds. But what we're talking about here to get to the first part of your question is digital ads, direct mail, door knocking, sending postcards to people, calling them on the phone. At the Environmental Voter Project, we've got over 6000 volunteers who help us do all of these things using behavioural science informed messaging just to nudge these people into becoming better voters. And I think, crucially, we work year round because our ultimate goal, is to change people's habits. We want to build an unstoppable army of environmental voters who never miss an election. And so what that means is, you know, even if you're not a behavioural science, you can understand that if you're trying to change someone's habits, you can't just talk to them every two years when there's a big, sexy federal election going on, you've got to take advantage of every opportunity to talk to them. And then finally, I'll just say, because I went over sort of the logistics of how we do it. The messaging that we use, I think is really interesting and somewhat counterintuitive. We communicate with people as though they're social beings rather than rational beings. And here's what I mean by that. We do not try to rationally convince people of the importance of voting. Rational frameworks often sound nice, but they rarely work because deep down, we all know that our one vote is almost never going to determine the outcome of an election.

Paul: [00:32:29] Correct.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:32:29] And so instead, what we do and it isn't like we've invented this ourselves. We stand on the shoulders of sociologists and behavioural psychologists. What we do is we appeal to something much more powerful, which is that human beings are an almost pathologically social species, you know, like we're always looking to each other for social cues as to what's cool or what's respectable, or what's appropriate behaviour or what's inappropriate behaviour. And these social norms are much stronger drivers of human behaviour than any rational calculations might be. And so I'm happy to get into specific messages if you're interested. But at the theoretical level.

Tom: [00:33:12] I'd love to. Can you, just a couple of examples would be really helpful. 

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:33:16] Yeah, yeah. So one example is just pure juvenile peer pressure. We will text someone and say, hey, Tom, did you know last time there was an election, 137 people on your block of Main Street turned out to vote. I mean, it's like the kind of crap you would hear at, like, the fourth grade playground, right. But it works. Peer pressure works. Another thing that we use is loss aversion. Okay, so loss aversion is a pretty popular psychological sort of theory that says people worry more about losing $10 than they get excited about getting $10. So how do we apply that to the voting context. Well, let's say that, Paul, you're someone who votes in presidential elections, but you never vote in any other election. And we've got a midterm election coming up here. And I want to get you to vote in the midterm election for the very first time. Well, instead of messaging to you about doing something new for the first time, I'm going to flip the script and make it seem like you're losing something. I'm going to say, hey, Paul, congratulations on being a good voter in the presidential election. Don't ruin your new good voting history by missing the midterm. Don't lose this thing of value that you've now accrued. Don't screw it up. And that sends turnout through the roof.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:34:47] And then a final example, because I think this is something that maybe many of your listeners may have experienced themselves if they've ever volunteered for a campaign. Oftentimes we'll knock on a door. And of course, at the Environmental Voter Project, we're only talking to people who don't vote. We ask them if they intend to vote in the upcoming election, and most people will say yes because they want to be thought of as a good voter. And then it's like we've trapped them, because what we're then able to do is go right back to them right before the election and say, hey, Tom, I just want to remind you, a few months ago you said you were going to vote. And we know it's important to you to follow through on your promises. And Tuesday's your opportunity to keep your promise. Well now.

Tom: [00:35:30] Very nice.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:35:31] Instead of me trying to convince you of the value of your one vote over a denominator of millions, I'm equating the act of voting with whether you're an honest person who keeps his promises or not, which is a very strong societal norm, and little nudges like that that never even mention climate and the environment can really start to drive voter turnout and change these, these non voting environmentalists into super voters.

Paul: [00:35:58] Well bless your 6000 volunteers by the way, I just want to kind of you big heart out there. I'd be pressing the kind of heart button on the podcast if you could get it through your ears. Can I, can I, we must come back, I know Tom has a point, but can I ask you a question which is just troubling the world right now, and I know it's a little away from your core expertise, but you are such an expert in this. What's going on with the polarization about the, so to say, populists in many, many countries, extreme right wing, using climate change as a kind of an issue to divide people. Do you know where that's coming from and how does it play out?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:36:41] Yeah. So this like your previous question, is something that I think I have some, some informed opinions on, but it's very hard to measure with real scientific precision. But what I think is going on is not that political players are using climate to divide people, but rather people are already so politically divided that anything and everything becomes partisan.

Paul: [00:37:09] Right

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:37:09] You know, if you rewind the clock 20, 30, 40 years ago. Things like religion or race or class were often sort of the great societal sorting mechanisms. Now, at least in the United States. But I think it's the case almost everywhere. Political tribalism is upstream of almost everything else. And whether you are right wing or left wing, then pretty much determines how you will view anything. I mean, we saw it in Covid, right. Like it determines whether you'll wear a mask or not. It determines so many weird little things, even something that we think in a more rational world, like addressing the climate crisis, wouldn't be a partisan issue. And I think that's maybe the more precise way to view what's going on here.

Tom: [00:38:09] That's so interesting. I know we're running out of time in a minute. I just want to ask you very tangibly, we were all obviously reminded of the peril that we face when these interviews came out this week that indicated how clearly the Trump campaign was developing its intentions around repealing the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and these wins that we fought for decades to achieve and that have really sort of propelled the decarbonization of the US economy. And I mean, my god, we're playing with fire looking at the recent polls. What needs to happen in, I mean, obviously many things need to happen, but in terms of your field, in an ideal world, what would you now mobilize over the next year to try to actually empower and encourage these environmental voters in the US who don't want this to happen, to step up and stop it from happening? Is it resources you're short of? Is it data? Is it volunteers? What do you need to sort of play the ace that you've got in your hand to try and help stop this happening?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:39:11] Yeah. So first let me tell you what it isn't. It is not data. In the creepiest sense, like we literally know by name and street address who all of these non-voting environmentalists are. Moreover, we have now run at least at the Environmental Voter project, over 300 randomized controlled trials telling us which messages work best to turn these non-voters into more consistent voters. Now all we need is to reach them, and in order to reach them, what we need is funding, like any non-profit. We need funding and volunteers, and volunteers. So those are the two things that we need. And perhaps I think most importantly, we need them early. We need them early. Obviously, the last few weeks before an election are a crucial moment in time to talk to people, but that doesn't mean that the first nine months of the year are useless. They're not. Oftentimes, that's when there's less static and you can communicate with someone more clearly. And so we need early volunteers and early funding. And just to give you an idea of some of the numbers at play here.

Tom: [00:40:25] Just one question I want to dig in on that and then we'll come back is, obviously in the US not every state matters if swing states there are certain swing states that we have. I mean, are you also thinking about like, okay, Pennsylvania, we've got 70,000 voters. We know where they are. We know that would swing the election. Are you looking at it through that kind of very tactical lens?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:40:42] Yes. We have 410,000 already registered climate first voters in Pennsylvania who have never voted in a presidential election before.

Tom: [00:40:53] And that would be enough to tip the state under recent margins in the state?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:40:56] Oh my gosh yes.

Tom: [00:40:57] Yeah.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:40:58] Oh my gosh. Yes. In Arizona we've got over 300,000. Arizona was decided by I believe 10,500, 10,600 votes. I mean a lot of.

Tom: [00:41:09] So you don't have to be wildly successful in some of these states to make a world changing difference?

Paul: [00:41:13] I was about to, I was about to quote Donald Trump and say, all we need is 30,600 votes but I'm not going to.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:41:22] Exactly.

Paul: [00:41:24] My actual question is, can we can we volunteer from outside the USA, or can we provide funding from outside the USA?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:41:30] Absolutely, absolutely to both. Go to environmentalvoter.org.

Paul: [00:41:34] Link in the show notes, link in the show notes.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:41:36] Link in the show notes. We make it so easy to volunteer. We make it so easy to donate. And just to give you an idea of some of the numbers at play here. When Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in 2016, it was decided by 77,000 votes in three states. Four years later, when Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in 2020, it was decided by 43,000 votes in three states. For better or for worse, when it comes to all of our anxiety, we are living in a time of absurdly close elections where one butterfly flapping its wings over the North Atlantic can change the outcome of everything. So yeah, your volunteer time and your donation matters enormously.

Paul: [00:42:20] But if I can just complete the circle on the Brad Raffensperger conversation that was tape recorded for anyone who wants to listen to it, we're not actually asking for any change in the determination of the votes cast. You're simply asking for people who care about climate change to get out and vote right.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:42:38] Yes, and here's why that's so important. The first thing is the thing that might be obvious to a lot of your listeners is you can impact who wins and loses elections. But the second thing that a lot of people, even people who consider themselves really politically involved in the United States, don't know, is this. Who you vote for is secret. But whether you vote or not is public record. And not only is it public record, it is literally the essential building block to how all campaigns and elections are run. Because if I'm trying to elect someone governor of Pennsylvania, and I have a public voter file where I can look up everybody who typically votes in gubernatorial elections and the people who don't. Well, who do you think I'm going to pay attention to? Who do you think I'm going to send, like, people to their doors? Who do you think I'm going to poll to figure out what issues they care about? So the reason it's important to vote is not just to help determine who wins and loses elections, but because it is the only way to be a first class citizen in the United States. For better or for worse, politicians simply do not care about the priorities of non voters and they know who doesn't vote by name and street address. It is so easy for them to ignore non voters.

Tom: [00:43:59] I'm loving the way, given the slightest provocation, you will turn it back to the individual and who it is. I can absolutely see why you're effective in this role and how this is happening. We're unfortunately to have to wrap in a minute. We have a closing question to ask you. But Paul, anything burning you want to ask before I get to that point?

Paul: [00:44:14] I'm actually more like, just a plain old compliment if I may, thank you for working out where the you know, Tom Carnac says I spend all my time on podcasts looking for quotes from Churchill, but I have one in my head. But it is appropriate. The odds are great; our margins small; the stakes infinite. Thank you for getting this to turn out right and doing what we got to do, because it must turn out right. Thank you.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:44:44] Well, it's my pleasure.

Tom: [00:44:46] That was very appropriate, Paul. Very nicely done. I will stop badgering you about Churchill quotes for a couple of weeks now that that one was so nicely placed. So, Nathaniel, we ask everyone the same question when we're ending up. And I think particularly relevant for you as you think about where we are with this huge opportunity that you have identified, that we have sort of leveraged but need to leverage more. Can you please give us something that you are feeling optimistic about and something that you feel outraged about?

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:45:14] All right.

Tom: [00:45:14] In fact do it the other way round. Outrage first and then optimism.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:45:16] Yeah, let me start with the outrage so we don't leave on a downer. How about that. So as the two of you, given your background, are no doubt aware at COP26 in Glasgow just two years ago, governments agreed to phase out fossil fuel subsidies. And I recently read that a new IMF report now calculates that just since the Glasgow summit, just since two years ago, fossil fuel subsidies have grown from 2 trillion a year to 7 trillion.

Tom: [00:45:50] My God.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:45:51] So we are giving more and more taxpayer money to huge corporations so they can profit off a product that kills people. And dear god, I mean, I can't imagine any ethical or religious framework that can justify that. It's unconscionable. So how's that?

Tom: [00:46:12] That's good, we'll take that.

Paul: [00:46:14] I'm outraged just listening to you. Yeah.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:46:17] Okay. But optimism. One thing that fills me with optimism is the legions of political volunteers who have sprung up in the United States since Trump was elected. These are people who don't just show up every two years for big elections, like they're calling voters right now in these dinky little special elections in Florida and Texas. And I'm optimistic not just because these volunteers are doing important, unheralded work, but because they're happy and proud and filled with purpose. And they're they're showing all of us that solidarity and building a community of activists is a simple way to begin dealing with all of the anxiety that I'm sure all of your listeners live with every day, as our democracies and our climate seems to be falling apart. And so that, gosh, does that seem like a light in the darkness to me. And I'm so proud of and grateful that I can work with all these volunteers.

Tom: [00:47:25] What a great answer, love that. Nathaniel, thank you so much.

Paul: [00:47:28] Solidarity diminishing anxiety is actually quite a powerful proposition. I'll take you up on that. Nathaniel, thank you so much. Honestly, what a breath of fresh air to understand your vision and how you've effectively enacted it. Thank you so much.

Tom: [00:47:43] Thanks a lot.

Nathaniel Stinnett: [00:47:44] Well thank you. And if I could give a message of solidarity, it's an honour to be in this movement with the two of you. Thank you for all the work that you do.

Tom: [00:47:53] Thanks so much. Cheers, bye. 

Paul: [00:47:55] Bye.

Paul: [00:48:02] So, Tom, what did you make of that?

Tom: [00:48:03] I mean, what a breath of fresh air. I thought that was fantastic. And I mean, you know, on one level, and I think, or many of the good ideas of the world sort of fall into this category. You know, it's incredibly obvious, right. People who care about climate and don't vote should be encouraged to vote. But actually, it's so powerful it could potentially change so much in the US. And I'm sure beyond. So I know he's been doing this since 2015 and working away and building resources and this enormous army of volunteers. I just thought after the conversation we had at the beginning, that was about all the problems in COP, this was so inspiring to talk to somebody who was really getting on with it and changing the world.

Paul: [00:48:40] Yeah. No, absolutely. And for me, the real art, the genius, if you will, of this particular intervention is to look at the system and to find the specific leverage point where a certain amount of effort and it's not small, but concentrated effort at one particular point changes some gigantic binary outcome. And so, you know, ten out of ten for system intervention analysis. Really, really great stuff.

Tom: [00:49:05] And what always blows my mind in the climate movement is when you find people like that who are working on these incredibly powerful leverage points, they're always under resourced. You sort of think, well, how does this person not have all the resources that they could possibly need, given the importance of what they're working on. But it's consistently the case.

Paul: [00:49:20] Well, they haven't always got the brands or whatever, but that's another topic for another day. Can you leave us with a last thought of where your heart is as you head into this series of meetings and we will have the privilege to comment again, I think, in a week, but I just wondered if there was something there, Tom.

Tom: [00:49:35] Well, look, I mean, I think this is going to be a difficult COP. I think we always knew that from the beginning. And I think what's been revealed this week has just made it more difficult. And, you know, got to do, we don't have a choice. It's not like we can say, oh, it's too difficult. So let's give up on this one and try again next week. We still have to deliver the substantive outcomes. The Global Stocktake is still telling us we're going in the wrong direction. I still think that actually there is a lot to be done on the exponential transformations that are unfolding in our economy that can be accelerated with commitments here on renewable energy, energy efficiency, food, land use, a whole range of different things. And I'm really, I remain hopeful that in two weeks time we will say, you know what, maybe everything wasn't perfect, but maybe all of this controversy at the beginning of the COP made us just pull together and make it happen. So let's see.

Paul: [00:50:24] We can, we must, we will. Thank you Tom. Lovely to spend time with you today. And I guess we'll be back in a week.

Tom: [00:50:33] We will. And we have a poet to introduce.

Paul: [00:50:35] Wow, fantastic.

Tom: [00:50:36] Yeah. So Hot Poets who will be at COP 28 working with the UNFCCC's resilience volunteers in the blue zone. I'm hoping we get to see a bit of them in person this week, but for now we have them on the podcast. So please enjoy these closing words from Hot Poets and we will see you all next week.

Paul: [00:50:52] Bye. 

Tom: [00:50:53] Bye.

Chris Redmond: [00:50:55] Hello, I'm Chris Redmond, I am Co-Director alongside Liv Torc of Hot Poets. We put poetry and science together to imagine better possible futures. We are all about supporting the science, about changing the narrative, because we think artists have a key role to play in the climate space, because we work with the imagination. And if we can imagine futures that are desirable, we can create them, right. So we are working with the UNFCCC's Resilience Frontiers, which is a project that imagines and maps pathways to a future that we all want. And so we're going to be at COP. If you're there, come find us. We're going to be performing with Resilience Frontiers. We're going to be also releasing eight new films exploring these pathways. If you're not at COP, then do find us at hotpoets.org or on our socials, hot_poets. This is a poem that I wrote in collaboration with 3M. I spoke to three scientists, Jay Shresth, Corey Sauer, and Jens Eichler, and I interviewed each of them and then I wrote this to explore the intersection between science, art, and the imagination. I am outraged by the continuing fossil fuel subsidies given out by our government, and I am optimistic about every single scientist that I meet because it gives me hope. Thank you. 

Clay: [00:56:06] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. I'm Clay, producer of this podcast. Hot Poets, the poem is Blink by Hot Poets Co-founder Chris Redmond, commissioned by 3M as a part of a series of poems in collaboration with UNFCCC's Resilience Frontiers and there's music by Chris and his other project Tongue Fu. Which is a great band name and I love it. Thank you Chris, and thank you Liv for letting us share some of your poetry and music on the podcast with our listeners. This poem, believe it or not, was actually a world premiere, but on November 30th, listeners, the film for Blink will go live on Hot Poet's YouTube channel, so be sure to watch and share that when it airs. And as Chris mentioned, Hot Poets will be at COP 28 performing with Resilience Frontiers. More info at hotpoets.org. All the socials are in the show notes below and this is very cool. This was fun. Poets and science coming together, changing the narrative. We love it. Also speaking of things we love, thank you to Nathaniel Stinnett from Environmental Voter Project for coming on the podcast. Just to reiterate, yes, even if you are outside the US, you can help get more registered US environmental voters to show up to vote environmentalvoter.org. Check the description below. I'm sure we'll be checking in with Nathaniel as Election Day 2024 comes closer into view and looking forward to that because that was awesome.

Clay: [00:57:46] Okay. Last week, as I was cooking up some food, I told you on the podcast here that Tom and Christiana and Paul are coming to dinner this week on the show, and I'm sure at this point you've figured out that dinner has been rescheduled and they're still coming to dinner. But that episode will go out on December 21st or someday around it, basically due to scheduling and holiday crunch. We actually recorded it today, and truthfully, I think it's one of our best episodes. You all sent in your most challenging holiday dinner climate questions that you get, and we did not hold back on getting into them. So I'm ready for the holiday dinner table after just being present and recording the podcast. I can't wait to share that with you. We are so excited to end the year with that episode, so look forward to that coming soon! Okay, best way to not miss the holiday episode and our analysis of what is going on at COP is to hit subscribe or follow. There's a follow button, some apps subscribe, some apps that follow, and also we will be publishing newsletters about what is going on at COP. So you can go to outrageandoptimism.com to hit subscribe to the newsletter. Our newsletter is great. Shout out to Zoe. All right. We'll see you right back here for our next episode which I actually don't know when that's coming, but I'll see you then. Okay. Bye.


Latest Insights