186: “The Breakthrough Effect”
About this episode
Welcome to another episode of Outrage + Optimism, where we examine issues at the forefront of the climate crisis, interview change-makers, and transform our anger into productive dialogue about building a sustainable future.
In this episode, co-hosts Christiana Figueres, Tom Rivett-Carnac, and Paul Dickinson discuss US President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, a possible green race to the top across the G7 nations, and how to identify positive economic tipping points with Kelly Levin, Co-Director of the Systems Change Lab and Chief of Science, Data and Systems Change for the Bezos Earth Fund, which provides grants to support the climate and nature.
The team agrees that United States politics, as witnessed through the lens of the annual State of the Union speech, seems like a slugfest, with jabs from both sides but no winner. Still, they admire Biden’s multiple references to climate change as a global security issue affecting vulnerable people一rather than more political drama. Also worth discussing: Could Biden have a chance at winning reelection in 2024? The trio weighs in.
Next, Kelly Levin discusses the Breakthrough Effect, a groundbreaking report on how to trigger a cascade of tipping points to accelerate the net zero transition. She outlines the three super leverage points that could prompt the “tipping of the tipping points” to bring about planet-saving climate action. Electric vehicles (EVs), green ammonia, and alternative proteins play a role.
The co-hosts contend this is a welcome concept一that if we can trigger the right leverage points, we can cause a global cascade of positive climate change. From there, we can go from a linear to exponential transformation. It’s almost a relief to think it’s possible, especially in the face of grinding, slow change that seemingly won’t be fast enough to save the planet. You won’t want to miss this fascinating conversation!
Finally, alt-pop singer-songwriter Panteon closes the episode with the beautifully produced acoustic track “Archipelago.”
See you next week!
NOTES AND RESOURCES
To learn more about our planet’s climate emergency and how you can transform outrage into optimistic action subscribe to the podcast here.
Kelly Levin, Co-Director Systems Change Lab
Find out more about The Breakthrough Effect report
Explore more about the Systems Change Lab
To find out more about the Climate Party, visit their website.
Or contact them on: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Tom: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage and Optimism. I'm Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana: [00:00:15] I'm Christiana Figueres.
Paul: [00:00:16] And I'm Paul Dickinson.
Tom: [00:00:18] This week we discuss President Biden's State of the Union Address. We talk about system change and how tipping points can precipitate a better future. We talk to Kelly Levin, Co-Director of the Systems Change Lab, and we have music from Panteon. Thanks for being here. So we've got a lot to get into this week, it's been a fascinating week and a big speech last night by President Biden. But I think we probably, before we start, we just probably need to acknowledge this terrible tragedy that's been unfolding in Turkey and northern Syria with the earthquake that hit there on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Now, we need to be entirely clear about this, and science is very clear. Earthquakes are not caused by the climate crisis. This is a natural phenomenon occurred, occurring, of course, and always has done. However, the impact.
Christiana: [00:01:11] They are neither caused, nor amplified, Tom.
Tom: [00:01:15] Neither caused nor amplified. Absolutely, thank you.
Christiana: [00:01:17] Yeah, because there are many extreme weather events that are not caused by climate change, but they're amplified. But that is not the case for Earthquakes.
Tom: [00:01:24] Thank you. Absolutely. Absolutely. However, as a natural phenomenon, it has been terrible. 11,000 people up to right now are known to have been killed and that number may well rise. And while, as we said, they are not caused nor increased in severity by climate change, what we do know is that when countries are hit by natural disasters, then it can have a precipitating long term effect by changing the cost of capital in that country, changing, having massive hits to GDP. We've seen this with the climate crisis as well, and this needs to be a wake up call that actually, we need to do better in helping countries recover from disasters, because if we don't, it can precipitate a debt spiral that can quickly get out of control. Anything that either of you would like to comment on that.
Christiana: [00:02:13] No, I mean, as you pointed out, the first thing is the tragedy of the deaths for sure and the unbelievable pain that those families must be going through now is in addition to not even knowing who else could be under the rubble. So it's just horrible. But, but yeah, beyond, one step beyond the tragic death of human beings, the cost of reconstruction. Oh, my God. For countries, especially developing countries that have barely gotten their infrastructure up and, and sort of running to speak from my own little country, and then to be faced with this absolutely mammoth, mammoth job of reconstructing everything that was there. It's just, it's so devastating. And as you say, it's a very good example of where nature really hits very deeply.
Paul: [00:03:18] Hmm. And only thing to add really is that at a moment when the world's geopolitics seems extremely strange and fraught and war in Europe and all the rest of it, and that, you know, the USA is shooting down a Chinese balloon and all the rest of it. I was listening to Helen Clark, the Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and she said, look at what needs our joint attention and pack in behind that. And I thought that was such a positive way of looking at how an issue like climate change or other natural disasters can actually help us focus on, on our shared responsibility to the most vulnerable rather than, you know, criticizing each other and having little fights about this, that and the other.
Christiana: [00:04:01] Hmm.
Tom: [00:04:02] And that solidarity has to be how we approach these things, right. I mean, in the last few years, there have been a significant number of events that hit emerging economies, developing countries, that on their own cost more than 10% of GDP. Serious storms, the worst example being a storm that hit the Caribbean country of Dominica that cost 260% of its GDP. A hurricane that hit a few years ago. Now, of course, what happens, when, beside the loss of life, is that those countries are less able to service their debt, their cost of capital goes up. Sovereign risk is the biggest factor in lending money, even to corporations. So everyone in the country is suddenly spending 20-25% on borrowing money, which accentuates and magnifies the damage and the suffering. So, we need to make sure that we help countries recover by not penalizing them when they are hit by disasters, whether it is earthquakes or other things that are made worse by climate change.
Christiana: [00:04:59] And just to underline that, Tom, how, how injustice just piles on injustice, because these, these developing countries who have not been responsible for climate change, if we go to that, rather than earthquakes, but every time they're hit by these natural disasters, then the risk of not just the cost of capital, but their political risk, their investment risk goes up and hence, they are less likely to attract investment, which is what they desperately need. And so it's such a vicious circle. Such a vicious circle. That is is interesting because we should talk about also what Mia Mottley is trying to push through, which is very related with this. Mia Mottley being the Prime Minister of Barbados, trying to push through a reform of the international development banking system to not punish developing countries upon punishment, upon punishment.
Tom: [00:06:07] It's, it's a great point. And in fact, the person who is driving that under Mia's, Mia Mottley's significant political leadership is, you know, Avinash Prasad, who has been remarkable, and he's coming on the podcast in the next few weeks so we'll go deep on that and the, the possible solutions that that very exciting Bridgetown Agenda can present. So, so I'm in Washington D.C. at the moment, I've been here for a few days for a strategy retreat. I was walking along the mall yesterday and I'd completely forgotten it was the State of the Union, and so when 45 cars and 300 outriders and four low flying helicopters came past, as I was walking along, it was quite a surprise.
Christiana: [00:06:42] Hey Tom, did you think they were coming for you? Welcoming committee.
Tom: [00:06:45] Well, I was like, what the hell is going on?
Paul: [00:06:48] I crossed the line, I'm going to disappear. They won't come like that when they come for you, Tom. No one will know. You'll just disappear down the fire exit. I've watched those movies.
Tom: [00:06:58] Thank you Paul. But it was an interesting speech. I mean, I'm really curious to know both of your reactions, so maybe I'll let you jump in first. But I thought it was balanced and impressive. So maybe, which of you wants to start on this one?
Paul: [00:07:10] Well, I'll chip in. You know, I think that, I could only bear to watch a little bit of it, because, oddly enough, I can't handle the way modern politics is turned into a kind of boxing match, crazy, wild political theatre. There was a fascinating moment where, where Biden kind of managed to draw together a kind of consensus on the hoof in front of the chamber. But but but some of it, you know, was was very, very tough. But I was very moved by his considerable comments about climate change, I mean, contrast with his predecessor who, you know, was doing absolutely crazy things like having the US leave the Paris Agreement. Now you've got a real President with real policies. The Inflation Reduction Act has set the world on, on, on, on edge and excitement and we'll talk more about that. But yeah, the phrase I picked up on is he says, the climate crisis doesn't care if your state is red or blue, it's an existential threat. And I think that that's absolutely key. And it's great to see arguably the world's most significant politician driving through the fact that this is not a party political issue. This is national and global security issue about vulnerable people and doing everything we can to help them and fix a broader malaise. So I was impressed. And I, and I think that it's only really, I'm only beginning now to grasp how enormous the Inflation Reduction Act is in its impact. And so good on President Biden for showing leadership from a country that's been, unfortunately very lacking under the tragic Trump years.
Christiana: [00:08:40] Tragic Trump years. I like that turn of phrase. So, you know, this, I mean, The State of the Union Addresses in the United States are always important. It's sort of a review of what have we done and what are we going to do. But this one was particularly tantalizing because President Biden could be with, through this speech, putting one step into, having himself re-nominated. And it's actually quite interesting. Honestly, I don't think any of us thought that when he was elected, maybe we should start saying first elected, that he would ever even aspire to a second one. Against all odds is, you know, I think my title for that speech is that - Against all odds. Against all odds. Here we have a country where the pandemic is coming to an end, where an astonishing 500,000 jobs last month added to the economy. Unemployment rate, 3.4%, lowest levels since, I don't know, 1970 or something like that. Inflation may be creeping down. It seems that his ratings are going up precisely because of the Inflation Reduction Act. Honestly, I'm like, one after the other, after the other of surprises. I mean, you know, we're talking to Kelly about cascade of tipping points in a little while. Well, this is a cascade of surprises.
Christiana: [00:10:32] And does this actually mean that this will cascade into the mega surprise that he then decides to run again? It's a, it's a huge, huge, I think, for him, very risky decision because if he announces his party will support him immediately, obviously there is no other contender in sight, etc., etc.. Whereas, on the other side of the aisle, we know that Trump has already announced his aspiration, but the party is not behind him. And so the Republicans can easily wait to hear who is going to, whether Biden is putting himself up again and then decide who they want to put up against Biden. Biden doesn't really have that, that luxury, right. He is going to have to make the decision without knowing who the final candidate for the Republicans is going to be. So I just think from a political standpoint, oh my gosh, oh my gosh, what what a speech. That speech must have gone through 100,000 revisions. Every comma, every dot, every verb, really, really very well placed and very edited in order to be, I would say, Biden's, up until now, strongest calling card for, running again for President. I mean, against all odds, I have to say it again, I am astonished and pleased.
Tom: [00:12:11] At the age of, what, 78, 79?
Christiana: [00:12:14] Astonished and pleased. He's 80. He is already 80. It's just, it's just against all odds. So, you know, quite, yeah, I mean, I am pleased if he is able to maintain this and and maintain this momentum. And we should talk about how the Europeans are reacting to the US momentum on climate change in a bit. But if he's able to maintain this momentum for the economy, for for climate, it's actually one of the best things that has happened to the United States in a long time. Who knew that we would be saying that?
Paul: [00:12:52] Perhaps we should go to DC Tom.
Tom: [00:12:53] Yeah, no and, you're right. Well, I mean, I don't know that it's filtered through to me other than accidentally running into the motorcade, but I mean, I think that I did I did watch at least that part of the speech, you're right, it's almost, it is very difficult political theatre. But I thought it was fascinating how he structured it, because it was quite a chunk of the State of the Union. And and we should first pause and reflect on the fact that, as as you alluded to there, Paul, when the President decides that he wants to form the basis of his re-election campaign, he decides to make a cornerstone of that about climate. That is a long way from where we've been in the past. That's an amazing breakthrough politically because that's been carefully calibrated. And the way he did it was really interesting. He started off by talking about fires and devastating impacts, and then he used that as a way of almost poking fun, I really, he had this turn of phrase, he goes, and we don't have global warming, to, to try and like, you know, almost like just tease the fact that there's still this absurd rejection of science on one side of the aisle. But after having done that, he then went big into rebuilding and investing in infrastructure and creating jobs.
Tom: [00:13:58] There was a beaming Jennifer Granholm that the cameras kept panning to in the crowd, former guest on this podcast. And then he talked about the bipartisan nature of this before going to talk about the fact that we still need oil for a bit. So I actually think that was a very clever move that he put that in, because it allowed him to then present climate as a centrist issue, as something where he's looking for practical solutions that move us forward, that create jobs, that lead to growth. He's not advancing an agenda that's based on ideology. And that was one of the most interesting moments of the speech because he got applause from the Republican side of the aisle, which was the only time that that happened in the speech. So I thought it was very carefully calibrated to push climate as a populist, not maybe not populist, but as a popular issue, and to very deliberately neuter the obvious political attacks that were going to come back to try to undermine him. So, you know, clearly great political theatre and great political strategy that went into it. And I agree with you, Christiana, it's against all odds.
Christiana: [00:15:00] It's against all odds. And and clearly putting climate and economic growth together. Right.
Tom: [00:15:11] Together.
Christiana: [00:15:11] And and I don't know how long we've been discussing this on the podcast that the the ridiculousness of pitting those two against each other. And he just did a masterful job in very clearly explaining how these two are two sides of the same piece of paper. And they cannot be, you know, you can't cut, you can cut a piece of paper across the surface, but you can't cut it in its width. I'm not quite sure how to explain that, but I think, I think you understand and and that is the same relationship between climate and economic growth is, you can't split them. They are part and parcel of each other, not climate change, but addressing climate change and economic growth. And I think he did a brilliant job at that because if he had gotten on a high horse about climate and environmental protection and left it at that, that just wouldn't. Well, that's not what the Inflation Reduction Act is all about anyway. But but it's, he really is, I think, currently the world's most compelling voice on how these two things are inseparable. And I shouldn't say these two things. I correct myself because by saying.
Tom: [00:16:29] How this thing is unified.
Christiana: [00:16:30] Yeah, yeah, yeah, I correct myself.
Paul: [00:16:33] There is no doubt in my mind that the world would, needs an enormous kind of economic project. And of course, decarbonization is this massive global opportunity. And you know, some people are talking about just five oil majors have made profits of 190 billion, profits notice of 190 billion in 2022. Well, what does that tell you? It tells you that people will pay a very, very large amount of money for energy. That sounds like it's a pretty good business to be in. But you want to be on the right side of the great turning, you don't want to be producing fossil fuels. You want to be producing the kind of good stuff that can last forever. And, you know, I had the opportunity to speak to a new politician in the UK, Ed Gemmell, the Head of the UK Climate Party, who was completely pleased and delighted to say that he's copying what the Teal candidates did in Australia and is going for 110, I think, marginal Conservative seats and looking to put a lot of pressure on the Conservative Party, particularly picking on the the net zero scrutiny group of backbench Conservative MPs, but a whole bunch of Conservative MPs to push forward this agenda that, as he says, the economy and climate are exactly the same thing. I asked him about his policies, he said essentially they're all in the Skidmore report, this fantastic report commissioned by our Business and Energy Minister in the UK, which is a very good report, and he actually was committed to the UK being Net Zero by 2030. And I said, that's incredibly bold.
Christiana: [00:18:05] Wait, wait, wait. Can you repeat that, Paul?
Paul: [00:18:08] He is fully committed to the UK being Net Zero by 2030. And I said, Ed, that's, that's strong stuff. I said, that's that strong stuff. And he said, it's a matter of integrity. And I was.
Tom: [00:18:22] So good.
Paul: [00:18:23] You know, I was thinking about this and I remember that, you know, the UK and probably everyone picks a year, 1939, we went from essentially doing absolutely nothing to a single unified, national mobilized economy in six months, it can be done. We've got to remember that. And I think this is the key point I really wanted to make. You know, we may not be a tipping point in the way energy is produced and consumed in the world, but we are at a tipping point in the way the debate is being conducted. And that's incredibly important. And you can sense now right across the world, business and policymakers are kind of like from kind of like, well, I'm not sure we could, but straight to, kind of I don't think we're going fast enough. And everyone wants to onshore these massive new industries into their country. And that's incredibly exciting.
Tom: [00:19:09] Yeah.
Christiana: [00:19:09] Which takes me to the European Commission and their draft, underline draft.
Tom: [00:19:15] Just very quickly before you go there, because I think I just wanted to make one final point, that was really interesting to hear that, Paul. And then just quickly before we go to the European Commission, I want to make a final point on the US. Did you also see and I thought, this is amazing, this came out the same day the State of the Union, that petrol consumption has, is now dropping consistently in the US. So this year it was 6% lower than record volumes sold before the pandemic, and it's now regarded by analysts that it is not coming back as a result of demand destruction of the shift to electric vehicles and changing in work patterns. So the trends are there. I mean, for petrol consumption to be dropping as much as 6% a year in the United States is remarkable. But Christiana, the European response to all of this is fascinating as well.
Paul: [00:19:56] But I just want to say something on changing work patterns. Let's hear it for video communication, which I've been going on about for 25 years. But COVID has delivered structural changes in the amount of driving we do. Sorry, Christiana. Load More
Clay: [00:20:15] Oh, okay. So you're not recording right now, ok.
Christiana: [00:20:20] Actually, hold on.
Clay: [00:20:20] Did your recording setup shut off?
Christiana: [00:20:22] Yeah. The little recorder went on blink, on the blink. Hold on.
Paul: [00:20:28] So we're good. Do you need to restart the recording or anything?
Christiana: [00:20:31] Yeah, I have to restart. Okay. I'm re-recording. Re-recording.
Paul: [00:20:38] Okay, good.
Clay: [00:20:42] What was that? Do you know what happened?
Christiana: [00:20:44] Yeah. Sorry, guys. I think we were warned that our power is going to be cut for some maintenance thing, and I think they cut it ahead of schedule. Anyway, I hope.
Tom: [00:20:57] Is that a, is that a downside to living in Costa Rica, Christiana? Just. Just wondering.
Christiana: [00:21:04] Well, I would like to remind you that all our power is clean and that I have a battery backup. And that battery is always filled with clean energy.
Paul: [00:21:19] You had us at all our power is clean. You had us at.
Tom: [00:21:21] Foiled again. Foiled, foiled again.
Paul: [00:21:24] Costa Rica wins again. Costa Rica, Costa Rica.....
Clay: [00:21:28] So yeah, speaking of reduction of petrol.
Christiana: [00:21:30] Anyway but yes, reduction of petrol use. So, you know, our friend Kingsmill Bond, our friend who now works at the Rocky Mountain Institute, has been educating us on this demand destruction for quite a few years. And he has, he's constantly putting out the data on how fossil fuel demand has now peaked and will very soon begin its decline.
This is not fossil fuel in the United States. This is overall, overall and certainly accelerated by Putin's invasion in Ukraine and the crazy prices, etc., etc.. So it is it's almost like this weird cognitive dissonance that precisely when fossil fuel companies, oil and gas companies are making the biggest profits they've made in almost 100 years, that, which means that people are buying this stuff. And yet at the same time, demand is beginning to, to be destroyed, i.e. willingness to consume fossil fuels is beginning to decline. So it's it's very odd that we're in that moment of history in which we see data points for two very, very different trends, one trend being demand going down, the other trend being prices up and oil and gas companies being more profitable than ever. Isn't that an interesting intersection that we're witnessing right now?
Tom: [00:23:13] It's fascinating. And it's sort of, it speaks to the fact that what we're experiencing is we are beginning to run into these remarkable tipping points that are changing the world. And we'll come back to that shortly because Kelly Levin will be here talking to us. But Christiana, did you want to just touch on the European Commission response to what's happening in the US? Because that's a really interesting.
Christiana: [00:23:31] Yes, I wanted, I wanted to to get to that because, you know, I think listeners may remember that when the Inflation Reduction Act was originally announced, that Macron's reaction was actually quite negative. And that's really interesting. The reason why he was negative is because he felt like, wait a second, the United States went from being completely missing in action to overtaking Europe on the fast lane. And now this is making Europe less competitive. And so what that did was set up a very helpful Race to the Top dynamic between the United States and Europe, with the result that the European Commission has now put out a draft, admittedly a draft, Green Deal Industrial Plan, that is putting billions of dollars into green investments across the entire continent. And and that is the answer to the IRA in the United States. So how, what a fantastic, talk about tipping points. Right. The IRA in the United States being a, an act that was put forward for the competitiveness of the United States, for climate change, for economic growth, for diminishing inequality, social inequalities, as we will remember from our conversation with the Secretary of Energy and all of that package, then triggering an equal or similar response in Europe. And let's see what Australia is going to do. And very interesting that it is causing this ripple effect across other G7 countries to get with the program.
Tom: [00:25:24] I mean, that's how this Race to the Top should happen. Right. And it was so fascinating, we talked about this before when Macron went to to the US last month and sort of slightly was kind of trying to encourage the, almost sort of slow them down because Europe was getting left behind, but kind of not really because he also believes in climate action. It was a really interesting posture and this is the response, which is great. And, you know, hopefully this will go further than we think it will, which will then trigger another US response and other responses from elsewhere. And that's how we do this more quickly than we ever thought we could. Paul
Paul: [00:25:53] And as we, as we as we move in this direction, I'm going to also just reference sobering words from Secretary General of the United Nations, Guterres talking about, you know, 2023, beginning with a confluence of problems, wars grind on, the climate crisis burns on, extreme wealth and extreme poverty rage on. And I want to pick up on that one, particularly because of some fascinating work by Thomas Piketty producing a report talking about the massive inequalities really in terms of greenhouse gas emissions between the rich and the poor. And, you know, we we've, we've obviously, in a very difficult situation in the world, I often sometimes ask myself if inequalities in wealth are actually at the heart of this to some extent. We hear, for example, governments have difficulty in many countries raising some funding that may be needed or changing the fiscal system to to to for the investment required and decarbonization. And, you know, maybe philosophers will talk for for 1000 years about how, whether it's okay to be a sort of billionaire and what that sort of wealth and equality means. But at the moment, it feels to me a little bit like billionaires are sort of blocking the fire exits. Their wealth is not being deployed in an emergency in a way it needs to be. And I think this is a critical issue. I just wanted to bring to to our attention to recognize that there's, there are underlying issues beneath the climate crisis related to the ability of of citizens and governments to respond. And never before have the responsibilities of wealth been more acutely felt. And I just wanted to kind of sound that bell against the dark backdrop. You know, now we're going to be judged. I always remember, you know, it's easy, it's easier to get the camel through the eye of a needle than a rich person into heaven. It's a sort of complicated religious phrase. But, but the meaning, the underlying meaning talks about the the necessity of essentially the duty that comes with power, I think. And that's the key point.
Tom: [00:28:03] Yeah, that was a shocking, that reports called 'Survival of the Richest'. Is that the one that Piketty wrote?
Paul: [00:28:09] That's correct, yes. And I mean, you know, it's extraordinary. It kind of stands to reason.
Tom: [00:28:14] It's really worth looking at.
Paul: [00:28:16] And, you know, such a big heart, Piketty has. And, a final thing I just wanted to to to mention, two tiny things, actually, from from my organization. One is a distinguished colleague of mine said that I see the climate issue as a symptom of an illness, not the illness itself. And he particularly was drawing our attention to the Biodiversity COP and says we should have made more of the fact that it's about the demands you make on the environment, but also that the protection of the environment itself, which were degrading, this supply and demand. But separately, on a slightly positive note for my organization, also, we looked at a total of 18,000 organizations, 18,500 organizations, and more than 4000 of them have actually developed 1.5 degree aligned climate transition plans. 22% of the largest organizations in the world have set 1.5 degree climate transition plans. That does mean that 78% haven't, but 22% have. And I think we need to have confidence that we can push these trends because they are starting to deliver big, big outcomes at a structural systemic level. And tumbleweed blew across the podcast. We've lost Tom.
Tom: [00:29:40] Right, now. I'd lost you for a sec there. It all went a bit. All went a bit. I couldn't quite hear what you were saying, but I've got you back now. So. So we do have a guest this week. I'm here in DC and I'm at this team retreat, and one of the other people here with me is Kelly Levin, who runs the Systems Change Lab, which is a remarkable organization that looks at how we can identify tipping points, positive tipping points in the economic system that we can push on to deliver a change that is sort of a different future, a systemic moment of transformation. And there's just been a report that's come out that looks at where some of these super leverage points are. So I think we should actually bring Kelly on for a few minutes and chat to her and get a deeper understanding of what this is. So if you're up for that, let's bring her into the call.
Christiana: [00:30:23] Let's do it. Let's do.
Paul: [00:30:24] Great. Let's do it.
Tom: [00:30:31] Kelly, thank you so much for joining us. It's a huge pleasure to have you on the podcast. We've long been huge admirers of your work, so great to talk to you now. I'd love to just dive in. There was this fascinating report that was released by a group of organizations a couple of weeks ago in Davos, but you were very much behind it. And it looks at, it's called The Breakthrough Effect, and I'd really recommend it to listeners. It's about how to trigger a cascade of tipping points to accelerate the Net Zero transition. And the introduction says that there are three super leverage points that could do this and could trigger this cascade of positive tipping points for zero carbon solutions in sectors covering 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Can you just talk about your framework? How do you think about these leverage points that could trigger this cascade? It's a very exciting way of looking at the problem.
Kelly: [00:31:18] Yeah, no, it's great to be on with you. Thanks so much for inviting me. I think the idea here is that we have seen time and again that not all change is linear, meaning that sometimes you can start to see a little bit of change and it seems pretty slow and then all of a sudden it takes off with momentum that is really unstoppable and irresistible. And we've seen this time and again, for example, with transitions like the iPhone or the use of the internal combustion engine. And the question for folks who want to address climate change is, can we identify this in sectors across the economy where such tipping points may exist, that after you reach them, you start to shift into a new system? Where could these lie? How do you actually reach them? And so this report gives some rigor to this notion that there are these tipping points that we need to reach, whether or not they're in renewables, which we've been seeing take off and now are the cleanest sources of new power, in countries representing 90% of electricity generation, or with electric vehicles that are scaling really rapidly. So where do these tipping points exist? And importantly, are they connected to each other? And the idea here with these super leverage points is that you can have links between sectors where if you cross one tipping point, you could actually increase the chances of triggering another. So this would produce this so called tipping cascade.
Tom: [00:33:03] It's, it's such an exciting way to think about change. It reminds me of that wonderful quote from John Muir when he said, when we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. And if you can understand the world in that way, then you can be so powerful in terms of your interventions. I should also just point out that Christiana Figueres looks like she's back from her morning walk on the beach in Costa Rica. Christiana, welcome.
Christiana: [00:33:24] Thank you. Good morning. Actually, I was not out on the beach, quite unusually. Interesting power things this morning here. It's so exciting, this report, because I have to tell you, my why I think it's so exciting, is because addressing climate change can very readily seem completely undoable. Overwhelming. Too, too many factors, too complex etc. etc.. And so this what I call this distillation that, that the report does to say, yes, we have to do everything, but here are the top priorities that have the most, as you call it, the cascading effect onto everything else is really honestly, it's a little bit a sigh of relief, I think, psychologically. And it's also such a forcing moment for focusing. Ok, let's focus then. So I'm very excited.
Kelly: [00:34:24] Yeah, exactly. And I think it changes the narrative a bit from that, change is going to be slow to looking that, you know what, actually in the past we have seen change take off incredibly rapidly in some places that are quite unexpected and beating analyst predictions over and over again. And the question is, how does the climate movement actually make that happen?
Christiana: [00:34:48] Yeah, how do you go from marginal to exponential or from linear to exponential?
Tom: [00:34:54] And it's interesting because talking of unexpected, could you just touch on what those three super leverage points are? Because I was fascinated, they weren't things I would intuitively have thought they would have been, important though they are, it isn't where my mind would have gone, which makes this all the more interesting.
Kelly: [00:35:09] Exactly. So the exam question here is where do you actually see high emitting sectors of the economy not really exist in isolation from each other, but they're highly interconnected, so if you pull on one lever in one place, you could actually influence transitions in multiple sectors simultaneously. So the first one is around EV's and renewables and storage. So you can think of if you were to create the conditions for an early electric vehicle tipping point. And we've started to see that. And certainly if you think about some jurisdictions like Norway and Iceland, we've had subsidies that have helped really have this tipping point almost being reached in some geographies. And you can think about if you had a tipping point in electric vehicles, would it actually also bring forward a tipping point for renewables coupled with battery storage in the power sector where you create additional, bring down the cost and the advances in battery storage and then you could reach this tipping point for renewables much more quickly. So the first story is around EV's, renewables, storage. The second one, which was a surprise for me, was around green ammonia use in fertilizers. And could that actually lead to a tipping point in hydrogen? So if you think about green ammonia and fertilizer production, let's say you had like a 25% blending mandate globally, could you actually drive the level of deployment in electrolyzers that would reduce green hydrogen prices so much that they would actually start to be competitive? So then you're unlocking tipping points in green ammonia use, and then you could think about green hydrogen use in steel production, for example.
Kelly: [00:37:14] So this is kind of rapid cost reductions in green hydrogen production that has this unleashing across a number of different industrial sectors. And the third one was around alternative proteins and land. So here you could have, if you were to have price parity and the attractiveness and the accessibility of alternative proteins, you could think how this would lead to a kind of revolution in terms of the way in which we manage land. You would have the reduction in livestock farming, for example, which would free up a tremendous amount of land. And by reducing this pressure for land conversion, you could also reduce the value of converting that land and deal with the problem of deforestation. So you can see how pulling one lever in one place could unleash this change in another sector.
Paul: [00:38:12] Hmm. And, and Kelly, I mean, it seems to offer up a vision that we've, the future isn't about kind of command and control where the government does everything. And the future isn't about, like voluntary action, where we wait for the private sector to solve the problem. But there's there's some kind of deep analysis of a dance where a little bit of government action kind of unblocks the future. And, you know, someone commenting on the report talked about governments and climate innovators needing to work together with creating well designed policy that sort of knocks us over to, you know, to this positive feedback. Is that is that is that a part of that? And is that what this innovation is about is that we're getting serious now about talking about small policy interventions with massive private sector impacts. Is that it?
Kelly: [00:38:56] So I think that's, I think that's the most desirable. Could you actually identify where seemingly small changes could unleash great change? But I think we need to make sure that we're not pollyannaish and moving along the so called S curve doesn't happen automatically. It really needs to be nurtured, as you said, by supportive policies, by government and by private sector and by citizen action. And it is that kind of ambition loop coming together to have that change take off much more quickly. I think the other thing that we have to be careful about and there's a tremendous effort that's being led by University of Exeter this year to bring together the latest science on tipping points, both the so called negative tipping points and the positive tipping points, is that it is unclear whether or not these reinforcing feedback loops are going to be strong enough everywhere. And it actually may not be the case that all change would necessarily be exponential. So you can think, for example, in the building sector where the installation of heat pumps versus gas boilers. If you need to see tremendous retrofits of buildings, it's hard to know whether or not you're going to see the kind of exponential change when you think about the coordination problems of mass market adoption and changing social norms. It's, it's we don't know yet whether or not tipping points exist in all sectors of the economy. And certainly the hope is that this agenda not only is part of a research agenda moving forward, but then also informs what different actors, whether it's a policymaker or investor or a corporate lead, actually focus on in the coming years to see whether or not we could make these tipping points closer to today.
Tom: [00:41:06] It's, I mean, it's it's, it's so, it really makes me think about the what now because I mean, once we've identified these three different things and it's so interesting to hear what they are, public procurement of alternative proteins is fascinating. But when you explain it, I really see the broad impact. I mean, thinking about where we've come to on climate, it would be a fascinating thing to try to bring together a consortium of governments and others to say, well, we're just going to focus on these three things and see whether driving these elements through in a coordinated collective way between the public and private sector could really trigger these kinds of outcomes. Do you see, do you see anyone picking up the report and saying, we're going to build a campaign off this, we're going to try and turn this into something that's going to really happen? What's happened since you put it out a couple of weeks ago?
Kelly: [00:41:57] Yeah, no, I love that idea. I mean, I think the great news is that there are coalitions of actors who are already working on a variety of different tipping points. And certainly the three that we lay out in the report and some of them are much more close to reaching a tipping point, if you take EV's, for example, than others, if you take alternative proteins, I think certainly, you know, much more concerted effort needs to go to alternative proteins and green ammonia in the future. And we're starting to see a variety of actors come together in those spaces. But hopefully the report serves as inspiration, not only for the three super leverage points that we identify, but for the whole community to think through. How do we make the attractiveness and the accessibility of zero emission solutions so great that we actually start to reach the tipping point across a variety of different sectors?
Tom: [00:42:59] Permeating.
Christiana: [00:43:00] Just one last question. Unfortunately, we have to let you go, I know. I'm just wondering if these super leverage points, I'm wondering about the intersection between the identification of these and the moment in which we are in the development of, let's say, technologies or capacities to produce technology. Would these have been the same super leverage points ten years ago, and would these still be the super leverage points ten years from now?
Kelly: [00:43:36] What a wonderful question. It's a great, it's a great thing to think about because some of these if you think back ten years ago, you could never have even imagined us thinking that there could be exponential change possible. And I think about alternative proteins, for example, where the innovations were so nascent that you couldn't even think about affordability being at your fingertips. You couldn't even think about new solutions being attractive enough or accessible enough. And even though at the moment they're nowhere near competing against meat products in many geographies, you do start to see them taking off in some geographies to think that it is possible. So I think you're absolutely right that some of these, you know, maybe you could have predicted EV's, for example, but some of them I would really, think that we're in a very, very different place that allow us to think that this is actually conceivable. And I guess in the future one could identify actually where we've reached tipping points. You can think probably I assume, around renewables, around EV's, and maybe we're going to be much closer to a tipping point in hydrogen, for example, and start to think about new technologies that we haven't that that really aren't even at our fingertips today, that we can then start to think about how could they take off? It's a great question.
Christiana: [00:45:15] So, so so what that tells me, Kelly, please correct me if I'm wrong, is that we should not think about these super leverage points as being static in time. They are the ones that make sense right now given all of the conditions that we have. And we should be focusing a heck of a lot of attention and focus on that. And we should see the concept of super leverage points as being one that we want to maintain and continue to use as our lens. But which super leverage points emerge over time is actually quite fluid. So that while these are the ones right now getting into them and unleashing the potential that they have will actually facilitate or will encourage the rise of other leverage points over time. Is that a fair, a fair theory?
Kelly: [00:46:12] That is, that's exactly right. That's exactly right. And I think the question is today and in the future, can we identify zero emission solutions that ideally also could increase the chances of triggering other zero emission solutions? How can we make them more affordable, more attractive, more accessible so that they take off very rapidly.
Christiana: [00:46:36] Hmm, super.
Tom: [00:46:38] Kelly, thank you so much. This has been really, really fascinating and inspiring. So and so great to have a report that demonstrates the momentum and how we can pile in behind it to really make a change. So thank you for that and thanks for coming on.
Kelly: [00:46:49] Well, thank you so much for inviting me.
Tom: [00:46:57] So that was so nice, wasn't it, to be able to get to talk to Kelly and hear her assessment of where these, it was so positive and optimistic, this sense of where these tipping points are and how we can push them to really change the future. What did you both think of that discussion?
Paul: [00:47:11] I'm really struck by what I would call this phase that we're now in. We were discussing it earlier, but I was thinking about, for example, back in the day, we had an Internet boom that peaked in in in 2020. And then there was a kind of collapse after that. And then, but then the Internet kind of came back in a massive way with things like the iPhone. I think that we've had we had a kind of crash with the Copenhagen COP in 2009, but so many things have been coming together, these S curves of renewable energy, energy efficiency with hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars being invested. And weirdly, I actually think the invasion of Ukraine and the the crazy spike in fossil fuel prices and the fundamental realization that fossil fuels are not a safe way, they're not a safe way for any economy to power themselves has pushed us into a position where anything is possible. And this report that Kelly describes so well just goes into real detail about how we can construct small changes in interventions by governments, by the private sector that will unleash this just phenomenal creative potential. And that is something we should all be extremely excited about.
Christiana: [00:48:27] Yeah. And in, in addition to that, I'm I'm really excited because this begins to, put some more reality for us on a concept that we've been kicking around for many years, but that is difficult to grasp and that is the concept of exponential change. I guess those who who have their feet very deeply into I.T. and communications really understand that because that's their, that that's the reality that they live. But for all the rest of us, little human beings, we think so deeply linearly and incrementally and marginally that exponential, just the concept, wait, how do you go from linear to exponential, what? It is, it is something that I don't think that we have yet wrapped our minds around. And this report begins to unpeel that and explain to us how that happens. And it is critically important because we are so far behind where we have to be with respect to 2030, that if we only go at it linear, marginal, we're just not going to make the, the necessary changes. So there is no other option but to unleash these exponential transformations. And what the report does, is begin to explain to us how this is actually possible.
Tom: [00:50:09] Yeah, it's, I think it's so it's so exciting because I think it also speaks to, you know, we've talked before about what is needed now to precipitate the future being very different from the past because the bottom up nature of the UN process and of corporate commitments of course is important and we should continue. But it also sort of misses some of the reality of the interconnected nature of the world to believe that you can just add up a whole bunch of national commitments and a whole bunch of corporate commitments and somehow solve the problem. It's much more nuanced and interconnected than that. And I think moving this forward intellectually to demonstrate that this is how you really precipitate outsized change through deep collaboration on a specific number of really well thought out tipping points to really create a different future, I mean, honestly, this is what the Global Stocktake that we've, the famous Global Stocktake we've talked about before, should also highlight. It should point out where we're falling short and which tipping points are needed to accelerate us further forward. I'm sure that will be a theme we come back to throughout the year, but I just thought it was really exciting and I, I hope that we as a movement and the world in general gets its mind around what these tipping points are and could be, because this could really be a remarkable element of the momentum that we now need.
Christiana: [00:51:20] Yeah, I want to go one step farther than that, Tom. Yes, we should get our heads around what they are and what they could be and do them. Achieve them.
Tom: [00:51:27] And do them.
Paul: [00:51:28] Good point.
Tom: [00:51:29] Yeah, you know, I didn't mean just to admire them. Definitely to do them right.
Christiana: [00:51:32] Yeah.
Paul: [00:51:34] But I love what you said about the stocktake job because it's like, you know, it's not a photograph, the Global Stocktake, it's a weird analogy, but it feels more like a recipe book. And I'm hungry. The world's hungry. Let's get cooking.
Christiana: [00:51:46] It's just it just, Paul, the piece of, let's get cooking from someone who cannot boil water and doesn't want to boil, I don't think you've ever boiled water in your life.
Paul: [00:51:58] I can boil water. I can boil water very, very well. My kettle sees a lot of attention. When I get hungry, I pop down the road to the fantastic Vietnamese restaurant and get some incredibly delicious food that somebody else has cooked with their recipe. But the point being, recipes work and they lead to food, extraordinary food. And that's what we need.
Christiana: [00:52:17] All right.
Tom: [00:52:17] I miss that Vietnamese restaurant. I'm going to come and join you there soon. Is it true that, when, in your previous flat I think it was, you lived you lived over a Vietnamese restaurant and and they made so much noise that you went downstairs and and and stuck a picture of yourself in bed above the double doors that they were going through, with the caption, whenever you go through these doors loudly, you, you wake this man up.
Paul: [00:52:38] Yeah, I had a photo of myself asleep in bed. But. But more scary, do you know what, I went to my local Vietnamese restaurant where I go a lot, and I walked in with Christiana, and your niece and her friend and the charming manager looked at me and, and just exclaimed out loud, Paul, you have friends? He'd never seen me anything but wandering there alone, sort of seven nights a week. Bless him.
Christiana: [00:53:05] This is a true story.
Paul: [00:53:06] It's a true story. True story.
Christiana: [00:53:08] True Story.
Paul: [00:53:09] It was kind of embarrassing, actually. It's kind of, well, of course I have friends. I mean, you know why wouldn't I.
Tom: [00:53:13] Well, I'm glad you've now shared it with tens of thousands of additional people so that's good.
Paul: [00:53:14] This sort of kind of embarrassment is why I sometimes, I meet somebody who realizes I'm on Outrage and Optimism and they blush because of all this sort of extraordinarily therapeutic kind of telling everyone my problems and anxiousness and then discovering that it's telescoped around the world. It's an extraordinary thing media.
Tom: [00:53:33] Okay. Right, so that wraps up this week.
Paul: [00:53:39] Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That's a phone call from my personal branding consultant saying that I mustn't talk like this anymore on the podcast. Right, there you go. Clay do with this what you will. Chop away. Chop away.
Clay: [00:53:51] It's staying, all of it.
Tom: [00:53:54] I'm now, I'm now going to say the artist for the fifth time of trying. Okay, so this week we have music from Panteon. The song is called Archipelago. Enjoy it. We'll see you next week.
Paul: [00:54:04] Bye.
Christiana: [00:54:05] Bye.
Panteon: [00:54:08] Hello to all the listeners at Outrage and Optimism. My name is Panteon and I'm a Brooklyn based Indie Artist. And the song that you're about to hear, Archipelago, was written in the summer of 2021. And I rented a small bakery cottage in the Swedish archipelago for a week, and I didn't do much except reading and playing guitar and taking ferries to all the nearby islands. And the song is basically a love song to nature. It took me a few days to stop moving and start listening to all the surrounding sounds, which are part of the song, like the birds that you hear or the water coming in on the bridge. And it really gave me peace of mind like nothing else. So this song is for you. Maybe you calm down and maybe you stop whatever it is that you're doing and take a break from all the daily chaos and enjoy, emerge into beautiful sounds of nature and some guitars and vocals. I hope you enjoy it. Thanks.
Clay: [00:57:44] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage and Optimism. Welcome to the end of the show. It's Clay again. I'm the Producer of this podcast. Basically here at the end to be a tour guide through the show notes, a few thank yous. But first, Panteon is the artist on our podcast this week. You just heard her and her song Archipelago. If you go to the show notes, Panteon has a brand new single titled, Anyone Someone, and it's this trippy, lo-fi, really cool music video. Fantastic production on the track, just like the one you just heard. And you can listen and watch right now. Like I said in the show notes, my favourite part of that song is at the two minute and 25 second mark when the bridge hits, there's this, the song kind of opens up a little bit and the ride cymbal comes in and you kind of feel like you're traveling through, like, if Galadriel from Lord of the Rings led you through a 1980s PBS documentary, regular listeners will know I am not a qualified music critic, I just say how I feel it and I stand by what I said. Go listen to it. It's a synth analog, indie pop experience. Thank you to Panteon. And fun fact, Yvonne from Panteon is Pepa Madrigal in the German audio version of Encanto.
Clay: [00:59:11] So we don't talk about Bruno, you know, flip on the German version. She's right there. Isn't that amazing? Anyway, link to hear more of Panteon and you can follow her on social media, links in the show notes. Thank you to our guest this week, Kelly Levin, you can connect with her, the Systems Change Lab and you can read the report, The Breakthrough Effect in our show notes. Keep your eyes open for that. Thank you, Kelly, for joining us, and of course, at just a moment's notice. So I've got my notes here and I need to play catch up a bit with all of you, because last week I said I knew I was forgetting something. And then as soon as I published the episode, I remembered what that thing was and I really want to tell you about. So one day over the break we took from the podcast, between December and January, I get this big envelope in the mail that is postmarked from Italy, and I opened it up and it's this really fancy and ready to frame award and it's all in Italian except it says Finalist in English. And then the name of our podcast and all of a sudden it hits me.
Clay: [01:00:26] Last year, Outrage and Optimism was nominated for an award from the International Association for Environmental Communication, which is a cultural project that aims to know, study and promote environmental communication actions. And I start putting together I think we were a finalist for these awards, and this is a fun way to find out, but I couldn't read the rest of it in Italian. So I WhatsApp'd our former colleague at Global Optimism, Fabio, who speaks fluent Italian. I asked him what it said and he said at the bottom it says that this is the this is from the only international event to prize climate communications, which I thought was very cool. And on top of that, I reached out and asked, could you help me say the name of the organization in Italian. So we're going to try to do that right now. I'm going to play what he sent me and then I'm going to try along with him. So, Fabio, if you're listening, ok, alright, I'm just going to try. So here's the first, here's the first message that he sent me, of how to say it, Associazione Internazionale Comunicazione Ambientale. Oh, no, I'm not going to be able to do it. But I'm not going to lie, that's very difficult. I'm going to do it again slowly.
Clay: [01:01:49] First word: Associazione. Second word: Internazionale. Third word: Comunicazione. I think I'm doing it wrong. Fourth word: Ambientale. Together: Associazione Internazionale Comunicazione Ambientale Wow. Okay. All right. All together: Associazione Internazionale Comunicazione Ambientale I think I did it, Fabio. I think I did it. The student has become the master, Comunicazione. Thank you, Fabio. Yeah, So you can hear it's real paper. I got it right here. And this is slowly turning into an ASMR podcast, but, yeah, I have it right here, so this is really cool. We are so grateful and honoured to have been nominated and been a finalist. You can check a link in our show notes to learn more about the work, and I'll say it in English this time the International Association for Environmental Communication, are doing. This is awesome. Thank you also to Ivana, who works for the AICA. Thank you for nominating us. Yeah, we're so proud to have been a finalist, been nominated and please keep up all the work that you're doing. Their website is ENVI.info. So. So we've got Encanto in Germany, Environmental Awards in Italy. Let's jump over to France while we're over here for a moment. On Friday, tomorrow, The Way Out Is In, our sister podcast is publishing an episode that you want to check out.
Clay: [01:03:48] It's about healthy boundaries. You know, how is it possible in this busy and complex world to stay open and vulnerable while making sure that we're safe and protected? That episode again comes out tomorrow, so link to the podcast, The Way Out Is In, in the show notes. All my Thursday listeners you're my favourite. I'm sorry that it's not out yet. You have to hit, subscribe or follow to get that podcast and it will arrive when it releases on Friday. Tomorrow. If you are into following podcasts, please hit follow to this one right here. And if you want more Outrage and Optimism, you can join our conversation online on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. We actually dropped Facebook. Our page is still there, but we aren't updating it anymore. We've we've moved. So if that's where you were seeing our posts, please find us at LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram @ OutrageOptimism. Ok, that wraps everything up for me. I actually got to go because I have scheduled today a sauna and ice bath experience here in Michigan, so I'm off to go do that. I've never done it before, so we'll see how it goes. But anyway, a podcast coming right back to your feed right here next week. See you then.