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103: Building a Movement to Fight a System with Jerome Foster II

On the back of the IEA report last week that shook the oil and gas industry, the G7 this week pledged not only to limit global warming to 1.5C, but to stop all new financing for overseas coal projects by the end of this year!

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About this episode

On the back of the IEA report last week that shook the oil and gas industry, the G7 this week pledged not only to limit global warming to 1.5C, but to stop all new financing for overseas coal projects by the end of this year! An absolute breakthrough for the climate. We get into the geopolitics behind the G7 announcement and what it’s going to take to close the remaining 20+ GtCO2 gap left even after China and the US NDCs.

And our guest this week is championing and informing the policy behind climate and racial justice in the United States and beyond. After striking every Friday for 58 weeks in a row outside of the White House as part of the ‘School Strike for Climate’ movement, On March 29th 2021, Jerome Foster II was appointed the youngest ever member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. We talk with him about how young people are experiencing and meeting the massive social and political changes happening, and hear more about his vision for bringing about justice through US climate policy.

Stick around to the end of the episode for a live performance of “Justice” from Alfred Nomad!


Full Transcript

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:21] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism, I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.

Christiana Figueres: I'm Christiana Figueres. 

Paul Dickinson: I'm Paul Dickinson. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:27] This week, we speak about the G7 commitment to stop financing coal. We speak to Jerome Foster, the youngest serving member of the Environmental Justice Advisory Council at the White House. And we have music from Alfred Nomad. Thanks for being here.

So it seems that every week we do this podcast, we have this amazing climate news that is happening, I mean, the pace and scale of these things, that are transformative means sometimes it's possible to kind of question is the world really changing at the speed we want it to? And, of course, like everything in climate, it's sort of fast and transformative, but not fast enough in order for us to get there. But this week, we had a great push. I saw and I'm sure that all the listeners saw as well that the G7 has agreed to stop overseas funding of coal to limit climate change. The member states issued pledges to keep temperature rise to one point five degrees, which, of course, is the stretch target in the Paris agreement. And they all came forward with a shared commitment a month ahead of the meeting in Cornwall to say that international investment in unabated coal must stop now, completely unambiguous. They will not build any more coal and they will not finance any more coal overseas. What we're seeing here is a transformative shift and it's very exciting. What do you think, guys? Girls, sorry.

Paul Dickinson: Thank you. Girls.

Christiana Figueres: So let's unpack that a little bit. Tom, first of all, who are the G7 members? It is seven industrialized countries, top industrialized countries. United States, U.K., France, Japan, Germany, Italy and Canada. Why is that announcement so important? It is important in several respects. First, I want to point out the fact that it is one point five degrees centigrade is the temperature that they use as a reference is absolutely groundbreaking, because let's remember that just a few years ago, everybody was heading for two degrees or in the best of all circumstances, well below two degrees, which is what the Paris agreement says. But if you had told me even just last year that there would be an official statement from the G7 that points at one point five as maximum temperature rise, I would not have believed it entirely. So one point five cemented into G7 statement is amazing. The second amazing thing is what has been done here with coal, as Tom has, has already told us. The fact is that most of those G7 countries had already, prior to the G7 meeting, they had already said that they were not going to finance coal. But the big holdout here was Japan. We have said on this podcast that there were just a few months ago three major governments that are still financing coal overseas Korea, Japan and China. We heard from Korea back in April at the Biden climate summit that they were going to stop financing coal that left Japan and China. 

Christiana Figueres: [00:06:48] Now Japan together with the other G7 countries also agrees to stop overseas coal financing by the end of this year, that is immediate in terms of financing terms. So the only holdout now is China. One country left that is still financing coal overseas. And let's see how long they will stay there. But a huge shift, I must say, certainly for Japan, the fact that this comes as a group of countries, G7 very, very exciting. I was just talking to Marina on the Global Optimism team this morning about the letter that we have been drafting now for a couple of weeks, and every time we're almost ready to send this rather important letter. We have to pull it back and say, no, we have to update it, we just updated it with the IEA report. This morning we said, no, don't send it now. We have to update it with the G7. And that goes to Tom's statement about how fast things are moving. It really is quite exciting that every time we want to send an important letter, but we have to stop it because there is one more big political announcement on climate.

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Paul Dickinson: I don’t know who that is to, but I hope it is never sent because as long as the good news keeps coming, it’ll never leave. But just look what a beautiful thing joined up government. You know how crazy it was to say you’re going to decarbonise within your national borders and then fund a whole bunch of coal overseas. Absolutely brilliant to see government becoming really coherent across ministries, through the G7. It’s a great cause for celebration.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: And I mean, just to break down the geopolitics, I was talking to some folks who work in foreign affairs today and they were saying, of course, the issue with Japan and China here is not really so much to do with coal, is to do with exerting influence in their region.  China and Japan have been engaged in this race to try to exert influence across Southeast Asia. One of the ways that they’ve done that is they finance big infrastructure projects, which then build some kind of allegiance to their country. And that’s been a real back and forth. And what the analysis was that I heard is that Japan would not have done this if they hadn’t actually been speaking to China. And we’re expecting movement from China on this issue at some point this year. So I can’t corroborate that but that does seem to make sense that actually there’s more moving in the background that could suggest that by the end of this year, we might see the idea of overseas financing of coal basically consigned to the history books with China being the last holdout.

Paul Dickinson: [00:09:26] And if anyone’s wondering what is the foreign affairs, it’s to do with the foreign minister of the United Kingdom, which is international relations in every other country.  I think it’s very odd name.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: So the question now, and I think we have to turn our sights to this is what’s interesting. So, again, looking through this year and how does this all ladder up to where we’re trying to get to? I think I’ve mentioned this on the podcast before. We are 28 gigatons short of being on a one point five degree trajectory by 2030. That’s a massive difference between where our emissions are heading and where they need to be for one point five twenty eight gigatons. The Chinese NDC, such as it is, maybe it will be strengthened or not, gives us five. The US commitment gives us two. We’ve got about one from the EU. So we’re 20 gigatons short of that commitment. That’s just a reality. The only way we get there is with something big on land use, complete end to methane leaks and the end of coal, certainly across the OECD and beyond that. So this is a big step. But the question now is whether we can pivot this into a G20 commitment. Christiana, what’s your political assessment of whether the G20 is ready to get rid of coal as well?

Christiana Figueres: [00:10:36] Well, definitely the harder part of the story here, because the G20 includes some very large developing countries that will be looking over their shoulders towards the other developing countries that depend on coal, either for export or through import for their industrial activities. So very understandable that this is going to be a heavier lift. I think it’s going to come down to a domestic, every country on its own, decision of which is the less risky for them. Where do they get more benefit by sticking to either a product that they have been exporting or importing that keeps their wheels turning, although they all know what the damages are from that product or whether they feel that they can actually diversify or leapfrog into the technologies that we know, and I think it’s going to be very much of an individual decision of every country. Which of those two sides represents their interests best? And I say interests. And of course, there is there you have to unpack between short term and longer term. Probably they would all agree that long term they should all transition. The big challenge for them is short term. And there I want to come back to the G-7 because once we get over the excitement and the jubilation of the positive things that were announced, one thing that was not agreed was financial support for developing countries’ transition. And so that’s the other part of the equation, right? As long as there is not enough support financially from governments of the industrialized world, from multilateral, from private sector, to help these developing countries make the transition, it is going to be exceedingly difficult for them to be able to see a clear path toward clean technologies.

Paul Dickinson: Well, we should move on to talk about youth climate activism, but if I may, I’m going to just mention one thing that’s followed on for this IEA report, and I kind of mentioned it briefly last week, but I just want to emphasize it. The IEA report that is still reverberating around the world was saying that new oil and gas production should cease now to keep us between one and a half degrees. And, Tom, to your point about the missing gigatons, you know, the oil and gas industry, I actually have confidence that it can sequestrate those gigatons or some of them. You know, biomass, carbon capture and storage or direct air capture has incredible potential. Now, I know that the economics of it is very hard to fix, but I believe an industry that can go and send unbelievably complicated big machines into any country in the world and dig miles down into the earth’s crust sideways, can also get some laws changed and get some financial incentives to be able to pump down from the atmosphere. So that’s my gauntlet down to the oil and gas exploration production industry. You’re not out of a job. You’re at a moment where if you reinvent yourself, you can save the world. However, this segues well. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:14:07] I want to see an image of you actually throwing a gauntlet down, maybe that will be your fourth tweet. You should make a little name, throw a gauntlet down to the oil and gas industry. Who knows?

Paul Dickinson: This is what I’m doing now. And here’s the noise. Can we have a gauntlet being thrown? I put it to you oil and gas industry, you must change and save us or slip into irrelevance. And on the point of the second, not so attractive option. Please, may I thank very much indeed a listener from Australia. One of our listeners who wrote: I decided to leave an oil and gas career due to climate change concerns and I’m studying climate change policy and renewables as part of this transition. This podcast was recommended by our lecturer, and I found it to be a fantastic way to keep up with the rapidly changing climate news, as well as learn more about specific topics in depth. So thank you and thank you to your lecturer both.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: That’s wonderful.

Christiana Figueres: [00:16:15] That is pretty good. Can I follow with one more listener that sent us in a very long, beautiful message that I am sadly going to have to shorten. But this comes from Ali in Peru. And Ali says, I just love listening to your interviews are so enlightening, challenging, funny. That’s for you Paul and interesting for you, Tom. They made me think and feel so much. 

Christiana Figueres: So Ali says, I live in Peru and I’m trying to transform a 70 plus year industrial textile family business into a sustainable enterprise. It’s so challenging and exhausting at times. But listening to you makes me realize there are so many others out there fighting the same struggle. So thank you very much for that message. Yes, there are many fighting the same struggle.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: That’s so nice. And I think, one of the things that it’s so easy to feel in climate change. Which is that you’re all on your own. You’re sort of doing your bit. And it feels like this big global challenge. And I think if this podcast can play some kind of role in helping people to feel the sense of community of those who are struggling with this issue, I mean, the truth is that I think we’ve never really worked out as humanity how to think about climate change in a manner that takes in the scale of the transformation and the scale of the possibility of humanity coming together around those issues. So if this podcast can play a role in helping people feel part of that global endeavor, that makes me really happy.

Paul Dickinson: [00:17:53] Oh, indeed, and I’m incredibly excited that we’re going to be interviewing Jerome Foster II, and he is a young person and there’s an old saying in activism, actually, that the best people to break the chains to those who wear them. And it is the young who are wearing those chains most acutely with regard to climate change andI think it was a David Attenborough who said to us, to you that younger people have clear sight. And I just think it’s incredibly exciting to sort of think about that global possibility you describe, Tom, but also how it goes to the root of what we call justice. And, you know, I happen to be looking at the outside of our biggest court in London, the Old Bailey, the high court, where we’ve got a pretty serious court. And on the outside it says in big letters, defend the children of the poor. So there you have it. That’s our challenge, to bring us all together.

Christiana Figueres: Well put.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:18:56] Ok, so as you say, Paul, we have an amazing young individual on the podcast this week. This was a fantastic interview that we conducted just a couple of days ago. At the age of 18, on March 29th this year, Jerome Foster was appointed as the youngest ever member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Now, before becoming a political adviser, he had already served as a congressional intern for U.S. Representative John Lewis, who, of course, passed away recently. And we spoke about that on this podcast. He’s also the founder of One Million of Us, an organization devoted to youth voting and advocacy. And at 14, he had found an immersive technology company called Tao VR that built virtual reality environments around climate change, Latin American immigration to the United States and more. In 2017, he founded the Climate Reporter, an international youth led news outlet, and he was inspired to action by a deep, early connection with nature, as well as a sense of desperation following years of educating himself about the climate crisis and witnessing inaction on the part of adults. He has been striking in front of the White House, often on his own now for fifty eight weeks. He was the first consecutive striker in Washington, D.C. 

Christiana Figueres: Hold on, hold on. He no longer strikes in front of the White House. He’s now inside!

Tom Rivett-Carnac: Now inside. But he is an amazing person. I mean, what a CV. As you’re going to hear, just incredible poise and so thoughtful and so committed. This is a great conversation, hope you enjoy and we will be back afterwards with more discussion. 

Christiana Figueres: [00:20:39] Jerome, how delightful to have you on Outrage + Optimism. We will ask you at the end, this is just fair warning, whether you are more outraged or optimistic. But in the meantime, we want to go on on the little journey with you that would frankly start with who are you and where did you come from? How come you are only 18 and your bio already reads like you are 52? 

Paul Dickinson: Four careers! 

Christiana Figueres: Four careers! With you getting the vote out among youth, a virtual reality environment for climate change, a news outlet. Fifty eight weeks of standing in front of the White House. I mean, it is just amazing. And then, of course, your very, very recent appointment to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, it reads to me or it sounds to me like you’ve been pushing back your whole life. I recently saw a delightful interview that you had with Christiane Amanpour, who in my book is the best interviewer in the world, and she asked you at question the end. And you said, let me push back on that question. And she was delighted that you were pushing back. But it does seem like that’s a leitmotif in your life to push back. Is that so? Who is Jerome and what how did you press 58 years into 18?

Jerome Foster II: [00:22:09] Thank you for all of compliments, Christiana. I don’t know, my entire life had just been trying to figure out how to make an impact wherever I could. When I grew up, I had always had a deep connection with nature. I was always out and just traveling creeks and like taking hikes with my mom and dad. And I just understood and had a deep love for nature. I loved just being surrounded by it. And as I grew older, I just saw the devastation and read about it so much like my family is a big reading family, a big documentary family, and through our family get togethers of sitting down and watching documentaries, not just about astrophysics, which was my original passion of like learning about galaxies and distant stars. 

Christiana Figueres: Just that, just that.

Jerome Foster II: I was there on my own planet. And as I learned about it, I came to this moment where I understood that climate change is happening. And it’s not that it’s going to be solved inevitably, it’s not an inevitable solution because I was like five or six years old learning about this. And five years later, I was 10 thinking, why has no one done anything? Why have the adults not done anything? I’ve read books about this for five years and we’re still talking about the same things. I read a book about an endangered species. And then I would see, well, this is the same book I read a couple of years ago. And then and then naivety faded. It was kind of replaced with not outrage, a mixture of optimism, but kind of just a deep sense of urgency and just a feeling that if we don’t do something, what will happen? Naivety faded and it was replaced with the fact that we have to actually take action because my generation is the only one that’s going to actually do it, because for so long, 0adults just don’t have the same perspective as my generation. We are literally growing up in this crisis and we are actually going to be devastated by it. People say I was brave to go to the White House or it was courageous, but it was just a fire inside of me saying that if I don’t do this, what will happen? So many things that come from bravery just comes out of desperation. Kind of self-protection.

Christiana Figueres: Yeah, desperation. I like that. How did your family react when you became an activist as such a young age? Were they supportive, did they think you were wasting your time or what was the family reaction?

Jerome Foster II: [00:24:46] My family has definitely been a support network. My mom and dad are the people that originally got me interested in this. We would always sit down and have family get togethers. And I think when I first started I was a non-traditional activist, I’m a coder and a computer programmer at heart. I started out making virtuality environments in ninth grade about climate change and about how the environmental crisis is impacting immigration reform, racial inequality, gender inequality, and just talking about the intersectionality of it through the lens of virtual reality and having a three hundred and sixty degree experience in a digital world, we’re able to have empathy to another level. You’re able to step in someone else’s shoes. So I think they’ve supported me and but they never thought that I would be a traditional activist. I don’t think they would think I would be the person going on organizing marches for fifty eight weeks. 

Christiana Figueres: Stepping into the White House now.

Jerome Foster II: Yeah, yeah. I definitely think that is a huge surprise for me as well. I never expected that myself, but it’s been a long journey. It’s been years. Like I said, when we had our first meeting, how did the nomination process work? And they were saying, we went off your expertise and I was looking back and like what expertise do I have? And I was like, oh, I might not have done so much before, but I was just thinking I’m an 18 year old surrounded by people in their 50s and 60s who have done so much, have large bodies of work, and I’m looking back and saying I have large bodies of work as well. I’ve done research papers. I’ve done studying at Princeton University, at Harvard University and have that background. And it’s not really talked about that much, but a lot of people just think that I climate striked for fifty eight weeks and then they just took me to the White House. But no, it’s been a long journey of studying in Iceland and going to Miami-Dade County and going to Louisiana and the fires in California and talking about and studying them and seeing how it’s impacting our climate. So it’s a long journey but there’s finally, finally young people at the table. And we’re finally here.

Christiana Figueres: [00:26:50] But it’s also. Jerome, let me push back on you now. Since you are the master of pushing back, it is your exposure and your self education, right. You have self educated yourself on climate and on the disaster that we’re facing. But I would say it’s also about the recognition of your stamina, because the fact is this requires a heck of a lot of stamina. We are not going to solve this between tonight and tomorrow morning. This really does require people who are just at it over and over and over again and who understand this is an emergency and at the same time it is a long term battle. So I think, among other attributes that they recognize in you is your stamina. Would you agree with that or have they mentioned that?

Jerome Foster II: Yeah, I think a lot of them have been saying that because as soon as I joined the group, they were saying maybe we’ll will take two weeks to send in our first recommendation to the White House on retrofitting the executive order for 1994. And I was like, no, we can do this within a week. We can set this up, we can set the structure up. We need to get this done because people are counting on us. We have been elected to this seat and people are looking to us for change. And if we’re going to sit here and take weeks and weeks to actually send anything in, that’s a waste of our time. Like this is the most pressing crisis. So I think the stamina if you just like continuing to be consistent and continuing to press the envelope and continuing to say enough is never enough, we have to continue to work further. And that’s what I always, try to do, especially with this working group now that I’m actually in the White House and able to affect change.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:28:35] Can I just ask you a question about I think what’s so interesting about your story? As Christiana said at the beginning, you’ve compressed this amazing journey into this short period of time and also just sitting here talking to you now, you clearly have made this role for yourself as an activist. But activists come in different stripes with different forms of energy, et cetera, and yours is kind of joyful. And you’re into stuff and you want to have a go. I wonder if you can say anything, because one thing we sometimes see is that activism can define itself in opposition to other things. Right. In terms of what it wants. Now, you’ve been on this interesting journey that’s been accelerated where you’ve been demanding for something and then you’ve been given a seat to participate. How do you, as an activist, sort of like evolve from one thing where you’re pushing to then being inside and still being effective because it’s kind of a different role, but now’s the opportunity. So you need to meet that and figure out what’s required of you and kind of dive in and deliver. What can you say about that change?

Jerome Foster II: Absolutely. That’s a really good question. I’ve been trying to grapple with that over the last two weeks of our council as well. And it’s a difference because I’ve been climate striking from the White House to pass the Climate Change Education Act and to make sure that we passed specific provisions to make sure that communities have funding first. And now I’m actually in the seat at the table that’s making sure that legislation is impacted in specific agencies and making sure that timeline is specific and targeted, because in America, racism is very real and a lot of the front line communities that need the money aren’t getting it. They will figure out a loophole where they don’t get the funding and they’re continually exposed to the climate crisis and not given the infrastructure needed to be able to be resilient from it. And I think that is a change now that I’m no longer yelling. I’m now writing letters. I’m now making documents to send to the interagency council and the rest of the Biden administration. And I think that shift is now we’re going to be strategic and implementing and making provisions that center young people a center for online community, center people that are of low income and people of color.

Jerome Foster II: [00:30:38] Because for so long we have not been in the room for so long, we haven’t been considered, even though we are the stakeholders that are being impacted worst right now. So now it’s like we’ve been talking about it and let’s do it. Let’s actually figure out which communities need the help, let’s figure out how much funding they need. Like in Coney Island, they need about six feet of sea wall and they only have three. And the investment right now is not going directly to communities. If we look at the Lower Ninth Ward in Louisiana, that community got none of the funding or very little of it compared to the Upper Ninth Ward, which is predominantly people that aren’t of color. And that funding was specifically for them and they never got it. So now we’re going back and looking and saying that Bill was insufficient, that Bill was not targeted and was actually make some changes that will work. And we’re done with the speeches. We’re actually going to get some work done.

Christiana Figueres: Jerome, is there a danger that now that you are on the inside, as you’ve described and Tom has mentioned, that that you will be trapped by the establishment, by the system, and that you will lose the fire in your belly, is there any danger of you using losing the fire in your belly?

Jerome Foster II: Absolutely not. There is there’s a major fire in me because I’m not a person who is interested in political pondering or political punditry. I am there for the issues. And it is a fire saying that, like for me, this is a next step. This is taking the next five steps all at once and saying, I’ve been yelling for years and years for this to be changed. And now I have to be able to change it. Like the fire is kicking off because now I have more ability to make changes. And not having one person say, if you’re climate striking, you need to tailor your your demands to just one or two things. Now, I’m in the committee that can actually work on every council. Our White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council reports directly to every representative of the federal agencies and directly report to the president so we can target things from clean technologies to infrastructure and workforce development to education to urban housing and have a large purview to make changes. So it’s just broadening the scope of impact.

Paul Dickinson: [00:32:51] I think Christiana knew, but she just wanted to draw attention to that fantastic fire, which is which is a global fire. You know, none of us actually live in the United States. But we spent a lot of time talking about the US administration. And I want to extend to you an enormous thank you personally, because like millions of other people around the world, I was getting my brain fried by a very eccentric politician with a bit of a Twitter habit who for four years was doing just completely crazy things on climate and he’s gone. So thank you for getting the vote out. So, the youth vote so instrumental to the Biden victory. I’ve got a question for you, I don’t personally have any children and I’ve been always very aware of how concerned parents are about their children, like there’s all this provision. And I want to make sure you get the best education, the best opportunities in life. And people are at the most at the most extreme, in a sense, when they’re trying to protect their children. You know, the classical thing that any kind of creature will go at you if their children are threatened. And yet this is what I just don’t get at all is whole generations appear to be acting irresponsibly towards their children. How is that disconnect, in your view, happening? And how can we kind of realign that so people make the connection?

Jerome Foster II: Absolutely. I think that specifically within the US, all around the world, really, it’s not the individual parent. It is the system itself. I think you can ever blame just an individual parent because they’re living within the system and the system has norms and they’re just operating their lives within those norms. But I think that to your point, parents want to protect their children and prepare them for the future, but protecting them is actually making the changes and continuing to push forward, knowing now that they have the power, knowing that those norms are different and also preparing for the future. means that we have to invest in our schools differently, like the generation that came before, jobs were very different than now. Jobs are much more collaborative, they’re much more innovative and they’re much more team oriented. They demand different things from us. And I think that is fundamentally different because my generation, we knew that from the start. We knew technology is going to be the future from a very young age. But I think from now, when we talk about the climate crisis, people didn’t understand that, because I think the biggest thing that I talked about before is that the last generation saw the world as linear. And my generation was born in a system that was already exponential. And we could see the curve. We could look up. We’re trained to look up and see the future. The past generation is looking straight forward and not seeing the trajectory of the future. I think that’s the biggest shift in our mindset and perspective is that the future is operating on a much larger scale than people understand. And through technology and through the environment and through so many crises that have compounded on each other. Our generation understands what the future holds, and I think that’s what we want from adults to see now, too.

Christiana Figueres: [00:36:07] So Tom wants to jump in. But Jerome, I want to invite you to go one level deeper on that, because it is a marked difference between generations. You said your generation is trained to look into the future, to understand and to live exponentials. For you, there is no linear, there’s no gradual. All of that is so five minutes ago. So how does that happen? How does someone in your generation just grow up, pop out and there you are. Right. The living expression of exponential. How does that happen?

Jerome Foster II: Absolutely, when we think about how my generation grew up, we grew up in the aftermath of 9/11, we were in elementary school and middle school where the 2008 crisis and also with the election of President Obama, and it was a roller coaster. And at the same time, we’re going on to social media. And that was a fundamental shift. My generation, we were instantly able to connect with every other person and have a broader perspective on the world and have an Internet and just inherent empathy. As we’re growing up, we are able to understand other people’s perspectives which weren’t seen on TV and weren’t seen on radio.  Now we’re seeing a woman from Bangladesh telling her story about how she spends her money in a month. We’re seeing a story about a person from Xinjiang who is having to flee from from massive just inequalities and massive human rights abuses. And we’re seeing intersectionality around the world and we aren’t hyper localized. I think with the last generation, we just were stuck in our neighborhoods. We’re stuck in our own communities. And the news is only focused on us. It’s only focused on this little town of London, this little town of New York City. And we don’t look out the rest of the world. For my generation, we inherently knew that we are one people. We inherently knew that over the next ten years this will become mass adoption and that things are going to change.

Jerome Foster II: [00:38:11] We saw it before everyone else because we saw the grassroots. Social media is like the grounding of the entire world. We see what’s happening in real time. We also are able to develop trends because things go viral and no one expects it to. But for us, we know why it’s going viral. We know because everyone is able to have that shared experience even beyond the barrier of language. So when you think about something exponential it is that the ability to see what’s happening now and understand everyone’s experience while also seeing that the solutions are going to take an exponential investment. So if we want to actually solve this, we have to look to that solution. And if it’s not being met, then we’re confused. We’re like, why isn’t everyone else seeing what we’re seeing? Why is no one else looking to the exponential solutions and just looking at the slope of the curve and they aren’t looking at like the X squared of like what the future has to hold, because with Moore’s Law getting into, technical jargon, the technology that we’re experiencing is doubling every single year. And with that new technology advancing. So we knew to always change, we knew that change is the only constant in our lives and that’s what continue to keep us pushing forward.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: That is an amazing answer. And I have to say, as you talk about the fact that you sort of see things that go viral and you kind of know that they are going to because you understand the underlying principles, some sort of grip on almost overwhelming desire to ask you to take me by the hand and explain the world to me, because, you know to a certain degree, you have an instinct and intuition and others as well. Can I just ask about the intersection of what you just said, that which is an amazing visioning that we are one people everybody’s connected with this moment of kind of awakening to racial inequality that we’re at right now, because as what you just described is happening where there’s this sense of collective. We all win or we all lose in this climate issue. And actually that can bring us together. And there’s also this kind of waking up at the moment to realize in a much broader way than has really been acknowledged or seen before, the depth of the racial inequality, what’s happened throughout history, the fact that we need to face that in a different way. How are those two kind of coming together? And do you feel hopeful about where that’s leading at the moment?

Jerome Foster II: [00:40:26] Absolutely, I’m feeling hopeful when it comes to environmental justice internationally and nationally. But I think that when we talk about the awakening of what’s happening now, it’s the fight for coexistence. I see like a lot of the past four hundred five hundred years has been just a siege on coexistence and a siege on people being able to live their lives and being able to express their own cultures in the way that they want to, like people that that were in Africa were expressing their culture the way they wanted to. And then we’re enslaved. We’re burned. We were targeted. We were put in chains for four hundred years. And based off of that four hundred year time frame, all of our institutions were created. The United Nations, the United States, the justice system, everything was built around the idea of hierarchy. It’s even in the language that we talk about now. We talk about minorities and majorities. And really the world is made up of people of color like we are the majority around the world. We look there’s a large plethora of culture and we instinctually had just in hierarchy of whiteness and then everyone else. I think that’s now shifting to there’s no hierarchy is this people want to exist and want to coexist in their own areas.

Jerome Foster II: They want to be able to live their lives and not continually subjected to inferiority when they know that they aren’t inferior, they know that we’re all equal. And I think that’s the fight now is that people are waking up to the idea that this now is a shared planet. And if we want to actually go back to a world where everyone is just able to live their lives, then we have to actually stop the violence. The only weapon people are using now is violence against us. And now as we continue to get into positions of power, we’re going to continue to be able to project that idea of coexistence because people are just so adverse to that. I think that’s where we’re going over that curve now. We’re going on that hill of of morality and back to a kind of stability when it comes to racial injustice and racial equality. So I’m hopeful, but we have a long way to go. We have a lot longer to go if we want to get to the root issues of racial injustice.

Paul Dickinson: [00:42:40] Jerome, thank you for that, because, I also pick up on that phrase, your generation realizing we are one people, it’s a very powerful phrase. I got the hardest question for you that I can possibly ever think of. So here goes, if that’s OK.

Christiana Figueres: Oh, my gosh. Here we go.

Paul Dickinson: When people outside of the US particularly.

Christiana Figueres: Let me just give you some advice, Jerome. You can get back at Paul by asking him to sing at the end of the episode.

Paul Dickinson: You don’t want to do that. Although, you know,

Christiana Figueres: If you want if you want any revenge for a difficult question.

Paul Dickinson: [00:43:17] It can be very beautiful. OK, so here’s the question. I mean, you know this, but I’m just going to articulate it for our listeners and maybe I’m going to use slightly strong language. When people outside the USA look at Republican opposition to action on climate change, it can look like there’s actually a lot of money supporting that view and there’s a lot of money in US politics. And, you know, many Republican politicians actually need financial support from the fossil fuel industry, the emissions heavy industries to pay for the advertisements that they need to get re-elected. So, in some senses, Republicans can be a bit trapped, that they’re not able to respond to rational argument about this because they need funding for advertisements to get themselves re-elected. And what are we going to do about it?

Jerome Foster II: I think the premise of that is wrong, and I’ll tell you why. 

Christiana Figueres: The master of push back. I love it.

Jerome Foster II: [00:44:18] I’m going to push back on it. The U.S. government is structured as elected representatives. They are elected. They’re for the sole purpose of representing that community. And we look at the financial structure behind electing people to Congress or to any public position. You can just crowdsource from the people that put you there. If they’re powerful enough to vote you in their profit up to get dollars and to help support you. We’ve seen that on the progressive side. We’ve seen that on the Democratic side. You’ve seen five million dollars being raised in three days from a progressive candidate. And I think if they just improve their policy positions, they don’t have to do. When we look to corporations to decide who they’re going to fund, then we’re no longer having power as people. We’re giving that power to corporations. And if we elect someone that feels trapped in that, the only way they can win an election is to sell out plots of land to corporations. That is not the elected representative that we want. We don’t want you to represent us if you aren’t going to because you aren’t representing us. If you’re bought and sold by Coca-Cola and by Exxon Mobil and British Petroleum, we are here just to get laws passed.

Jerome Foster II: So I think that we think about, well, it’s reasonable that they’re trapped. Then leave, you leave the Congress, we will get someone else will elect someone else there that doesn’t feel trapped when they’re representing their community. The only duty they have when fundraising is to their community. So look to do fundraisers, look to have community organizations, look to schools, look to churches and say, hey, I’m struggling. I need some community support to make sure I get through this election cycle and actually be in touch with the community so that they know where their money is going. That isn’t going to fund just some ridiculous campaign. It just needs to be rooted in substance. Right now, the Republican Party is solely focused on ideology and selling the vision of a past America, while progressives and Democrats are saying this is the future, this is what the solutions are, and these are practical steps to get there. And that’s the biggest fight. They aren’t getting money because they don’t have good positions. They aren’t getting money because they are just spewing an ideology that has long gone and that isn’t coming back in America.

Paul Dickinson: [00:46:30] Wow. What I would observe Jerome, that I hadn’t thought of is, “Just go”, I can’t remember there’s some famous political speech where somebody says, just go, you’ve been here too long, you know, and actually that is actually exactly the right answer.

Jerome Foster II: And we did that, young people did that. We made up 17 percent of every vote cast in the 2020 election.

Christiana Figueres: Yes, we made Biden.

Jerome Foster II: We made so many progressive leaders. So it’s not out of the wheelhouse. We just have to get together and organize because as I said, we’re one people. And the only thing that fights a system is a movement. And as we continue to build movements, we’re seeing the power of us. We’re seeing the power of us going on social media, making a post and creating a community. That’s our power.

Paul Dickinson: [00:47:18] The only thing that fights the system is a movement. 

Christiana Figueres: Wow Jerome, that is such a beautiful, powerful and compelling vision of what political representation should really be right. It really is about democratizing political power and political voice and not having it be just a very select few that that influence voice, but rather being the broader collective voice that is then heard on Capitol Hill. Thank you. That’s a brilliant push back to Paul.

Christiana Figueres: Jerome. You have very clearly told us how you personally and your generation look into the future. So it is now 2030. Where is Jerome?

Jerome Foster II: [00:48:20] 2030, I would say in 2030, we would have at minimum, seventy five percent reduction in carbon emissions and at the most aggressive we have one hundred percent and we’ve achieved the green deal mobilization and communities are safe from the climate crisis and we’ve invested where the money is needed. And we’re able to talk about this by 2030. I don’t want to continue talking about this. I want this to be done, solved, and we’re well on our way to solutions and we’re well on our way to investing into the implementation and the training of people to transition to renewable energy in 2030. I just want to go back and I want to say we did a good job. Our movement achieved what we wanted. And the fight has been won on the timeline. On the timeline we have six to seven years before we start reaching irreversible feedback loops. So if we look at 2030, we’re three years past the target point. So we want to be done by then. We want to have already achieved the goal post.

Christiana Figueres: So, that’s what I see. I love that. And then what? What’s the next chapter for Jerome?

Jerome Foster II: I don’t know what the future looks like for me. I always try to be centered in what I’m passionate about in the moment. Like four years ago, I was solely focused on building virtual reality and creating emerging technologies to create empathy. And years from now or 10 years from now, I don’t even know there could be so many more things like four years ago. I would never have thought that I would be in the White House my freshman year in college.

Christiana Figueres: [00:49:55] I can’t imagine why that’s true. 

Jerome Foster II:  I don’t know what is next door, but I’m always planning for the near future.

Paul Dickinson: And by pushing back you get to avoid hearing me sing, which is often a good thing. So there is a tradition on this show that we have to ask all of our guests a question which is on a continuum between being outraged at one end all the way through, to being optimistic at the other. How do you position yourself in that challenging stretch?

Jerome Foster II: [00:50:40] I would say that. I teeter between the two, but I’m most fueled by optimism because it’s generational change, we’re a generation rising and we’re finally having the optimism of rising to power. That’s what gives me optimism every day, just seeing my generation continue to push forward and continue to make tangible changes. The outrage just comes from the inaction, and that motivates me as well. That motivates me to continue on this moral fight, because the people that don’t have moral clarity continue to outrage me. It continues to outrage me that they aren’t taking actions. So I swing back to optimism and what are the solutions? What can be done to stop this? And that is what really pushes me forward. I’m not really powered by anger, I’m more powered by the opportunity for a conclusion of this crisis. I think that’s why I every single day get up out of bed and organize.

Christiana Figueres: Love that.

Paul Dickinson: There is there is a there is a beautiful kind of purity to not being fueled by anger, actually. And a lot of people in this movement haven’t done as much as they could do because they haven’t picked up on that vital lesson. Thank you.

Christiana Figueres: Thank you, Jerome. It’s been a true pleasure. Thank you so, so much for chatting with us, for opening up our eyes to what our future generations are already looking at.

Christiana Figueres: Fantastic. Maybe a different room in the White House. Thank you so much. Really quite, quite a quite delightful and a true pleasure. Thank you so much.

Jerome Foster II: Thank you. Pleasure’s all mine.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:52:07] So how wonderful to get the opportunity to sit down and speak to Jerome. What an incredible, thoughtful individual who’s achieved so much. And he clearly is going to go on to achieve even more. What did you girls leave that conversation with?

Christiana Figueres: Why don’t we have girl, Paul, go first.

Paul Dickinson: Well, he said one thing that I shall never, ever forget to change the system, we need a movement. And I love that because I also think, you know, observing there’s a system, there’s a beautiful thing where actually I’m not blaming older people. Essentially, I’ve heard him talk before about not blaming older people, but actually because they’re in a system, you know, they’re not parenting the young properly because they’re in a system. But there is a famous acronym I may have said it before the podcast but it says the purpose of our current system is to kill us. And  if you’re wondering what the purpose of your long term investments in your pension plans, to kill you, that’s what the system is currently doing. So we’ve got to change the system. So I just have endless admiration for him recognizing that it’s a system change, not climate change. That was very key. And then you need a movement to do this because, of course, it’s not a technological thing. It’s a social science thing. And one million of us is an absolutely brilliant political intervention, which appears to have led in no small measure to Biden’s victory, which appears to change the world. So thank you, Jerome.

Christiana Figueres: [00:53:37] Amen to that. Well, I would like to add. I was very taken by several things that he said that are definitive of his generation and I was very taken because I’ve really been asking myself, are they equally definitive of my generation? And my answer to myself is definitely no. So let me point out a couple of things. He identified in our interview that his generation recognizes exponential change and that they see the curve as being a natural thing, that is not what we were trained. I don’t know if both of you would agree, but certainly my generation, to which neither of the two of you belong. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: I totally agree with you. And in fact, to the point where we think it’s almost that humans are hard wired to think about the future as a linear progression from the past. I hear that a lot of people in an older generation.

Christiana Figueres: Yeah. And we think there’s no other option. Whereas they don’t even consider it an option for them is no way, of course, it’s exponential. That to me is such a marked difference between the generations. And it’s a sense of both concern because now we’re seeing the damage from climate change is exponentially growing. But it’s also a huge relief because we’ve seen solutions also growing exponentially. The other thing that he said that is related to that is how his generation that has grown up in the midst of social media because we didn’t have that when we were growing up, we’re all still learning it has made them so much more interconnected. I remember mailing paper letters to friends in another continent and waiting weeks for an answer. And the fact that we have the social media that we have now not just means that we have completely cut away time of response, but also the boundary of response so that you put out anything on social media and you have unlimited number of people from unlimited geographies reacting to that in one way or the other. So that immediate and very deep interconnection among peers and in fact, even across generations is something that we definitely didn’t grow up with. And so I just love that he is such an articulate voice for that reality that that generation brings with it.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:56:26] Yeah, and I think he also points that connected to that I was really struck by the same things you describe there, Christiana. And also he recognizes that given those changes, the older generation can’t really parent or support, in a way, the younger generation through this climate crisis. And that’s not a failure of individuals, but a failure of a system that we all kind of grew up and we’re used to. So it’s systemic reform that is needed from individuals who are living and who understand this kind of new world. And I thought that his maturity was expressed by both his understanding of how that exponential change happens. And also, you know, he indicated sometimes when he talked this just deep, long view. I mean, you talked about racial justice a lot as well. And he talks about how this should be viewed as a four to five hundred year old fight for coexistence and a right to express individual culture and points out that all the major institutions were created when black people were enslaved and perceived as inferior. And as a result, that’s created baked in hierarchies that are still entrenched. I thought it was very mature that he was able to see that sort of sense of exponential change, but also understand the long arc and the need to make reforms to the underlying structures to allow the exponential change to kind of be released and unlocked.

Paul Dickinson: And there was actually a brilliant lunch with the F.T. last week with Heather McGhee, who’s an economist, and she’s been observing how this absence of coexistence is actually diminishing the quality of life for everybody. Everybody loses from this stupid zero sum game between any particular group of people. All the benefits of the Internet you were just talking about for example, social media, come from our collaboration. But to your point, Christiana, I think it’s incredibly well made about him not seeing the future is linear and younger people not seeing it as linear. I was actually kind of thinking he was crazy when he said, I want to stop working on climate change in 10 years. And I kind of thought, oh is it going to be over 10 years? And then I realized I was wrong because all we’ve got to do is change the laws. If the constitutions of every country said we must protect the people from climate change, then it’s done. And I can go back to flower arranging, which I had like a sterling career in before I got pulled into this.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: That’s what your Twitter account is being saved for.

Paul Dickinson: [00:58:55] But I mean how could things change so quickly? Just think about technology. You know, it is in a very real sense the biggest political force in society. I mean, we don’t think of this political force is not controlled by anyone, but it changes our lives unbelievably. But if you told me when I was his age that I was going to walk around with a little device in my pocket that could access all the knowledge in human history in ten seconds, I would have thought that was out of science fiction. But it’s true.

Tom Rivett-Carnac: Amazing how wonderful to get to speak to them and thank God he’s in that position. That’s absolutely great that he’s going to be supporting the government to do these things and make these changes and deal with the climate crisis, but also keep justice fundamentally embedded into all of the policies. I think it’s great. I think we can expect great things from Jerome Foster in the years to come.

Paul Dickinson: And all the other young people that he’s throwing that gauntlet. The gauntlet being thrown down by these leaders, these youth leaders to so many others to unleash their power in those networks, to change and intervene urgently in our very fast changing world, because I think Christiana has set it for herself. I’ll say it for myself, we don’t know how to make change happen that fast. And they do. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: [01:00:20] So this week we have an amazing piece of music for you from artist activist Alfred Nomad, and he will be performing his single Justice. You’ll hear from Alfred just before as he introduces it. But one thing that we should point out is that he is an amazing musician, an artist, but also an incredible activist. 

Tom Rivett-Carnac: You’ll hear from him now. But thank you so much for joining us. Hope you enjoy the music. Thanks for being with us this week. We’ll see you next week.

Christiana Figueres: Bye bye.

Alfred Nomad: [01:00:36] So the inspiration behind the song Justice was the sadness, frustration and anger of 2020, as well as the long history that we’ve seen of injustices against people of color, especially black people in the United States. And I actually had been feeling a lot of things as everything was unfolding throughout the year. And I hadn’t written any songs about it, per se. I just got inspired to just write how I was feeling at that time. And it all came out. And I ended up just saying, you know, it was so urgent that I should release it as soon as soon as possible. So I put it out. And yes, basically just speaking on all the injustices that we see and that we’re not going to settle, payouts aren’t enough. Black boxes aren’t enough. You know, we want justice at the end of the day, something that has me optimistic, even with everything going on, I say, is that you’re able to with the spread of information and how fast we get information. I feel like we’re becoming, as a populace, more educated on things that are going on. And also we have the ability to unify more and quicker to address these things and address certain issues. And I love seeing that. And we also are able to give information of how to handle things better or how to make a change and how you can specifically help in a specific way. And that definitely gives me optimism. And just also seeing the youth is way more accepting of each other. And just knows more than we used to when we were younger. And I think that they won’t want to tolerate certain injustices either. And that makes me very optimistic for the future.

Clay Carnill: [01:05:25] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. My name is Clay, I’m the producer of this podcast. Welcome to the end of the episode. So the live performance you just heard was Justice by Alfred Nomad. Go back and listen to the lyrics again. If you did not catch them the first time around, just powerful. So Alfred, while being a talented musician and artist, is also just as talented an activist and organizer. And recently he launched the Everything Will Be All Right initiative alongside his record that has the same title. And the thing I want to talk to you about for a minute is proceeds from purchasing that record are going directly to provide mental health tools and resources for black creatives. So this is an opportunity for every listener on this podcast to say Black Lives Matter and mean it. So let’s do it. You can purchase the record in the show notes to support and you can donate to Alfreds initiative directly as well. I’ve got a link to that. So thank you, Alfred. OK, you’ve heard me mention this before, but we’re getting closer and closer to it. Breaking Boundaries is a documentary coming out on Netflix June 4th. Christiana has told us all it’s the most important documentary ever made. And we’re going to be talking about it on the podcast very soon after it comes out. We are in the process right now of actually creating that episode. 

So links are in the show notes below to the documentary and the trailer. Click the bell icon on Netflix so that your phone alerts you that the greatest documentary ever made is ready to watch. So seriously, go check it out. Outrage + Optimism is a Global Optimism production. Our executive producer is Sharon Johnson and our producer is Clay Carnill. Global optimism is Sara Law. Katie Bradford, Lara Richardson, Marina Mansilla-Hermann, Sophie McDonald, Freya Newman, Sarah Thomas, Sue Reid and Jon Ward. And our hosts are Christiana Figueres, Paul Dickinson and Tom Rivett-Carnac, a special shout out this week to our very own Sophie McDonald, who is sadly leaving us. This is her last week with us at Global Optimism. Sophie joined us last summer as an intern initially and this January was promoted to Comms and Content Coordinator. So in this role, she’s been orchestrating the podcast interview scheduling and coordinating with all the music artists and their teams, along with the work that we’ve done with Together With Nature. And honestly, there’s not much she hasn’t done to make this garden grow. And she is truly a Stubborn Optimist. She’s off to the fundraising team at Water Aid. So keep your eyes open because you will be seeing a lot from her. So, Sophie, we’re going to miss you. I know you’re listening to this. Please tell that farm that you want to volunteer at that Christiana Figueres endorses you as a quote I’m reading here, a blessing for us all, end quote.

Read that straight from the email. You can print it off and hand it to them. Sophie McDonald, ladies and gentlemen. And thank you to our guests this week. Jerome Foster II. There are a lot of cool people here, a lot of cool people being talked about in this episode. So Jerome, among many things, is organizing through his foundation, One Million of Us. So be sure to give them a follow on social media, stay connected and active with them as they change the world. Links in the show notes. One thing I included that you can check out is he was featured on a short film for Initiative 29 on Hulu. I highly recommend that you check it out, especially if you want to feel good about today and tomorrow. As always, if you love this podcast, we love you too. But we also love your ratings and reviews on Apple podcasts, particularly the five star ones. But we read every single one and some we read on the podcast. So thank you for leaving us a review. And social media is where the young people are. @GlobalOptimism is our name and sharing the optimism in climate is our game. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. Give us a follow and shoot us a message. OK, that is the show notes. Next week, another episode in your feed, more outrage and you can count on more optimism. Hit subscribe and we’ll see you then.


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