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113: Time's Up! We Need Everyone to Fight for 1.5

You heard us! We can’t squabble and scapegoat ourselves into a better future. Let’s swallow the alarm clock and take action on climate!

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About this episode

Season 4 is here!

The past few months have been astonishing. It’s no news to anyone that climate change is here, right now. In fact, it’s reported by the Washington Post that in the US nearly 1 in 3 people live in a county hit by a weather disaster in the past three months, and even more terrifying, 2 out of 3 live in a place that experienced a multi-day heatwave.

Time is up. We can’t squabble and scapegoat ourselves into a better future. Let’s swallow the alarm clock and take action on climate!

Christiana + Tom’s book ‘The Future We Choose’ is available now!

Subscribe to our Climate Action Newsletter: Signals Amidst The Noise

Mentioned links from the episode:

Nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer - Washington Post

Don't forget to hit SUBSCRIBE so you don't miss another episode of Outrage + Optimism!


Full Transcript

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

Christiana: [00:00:16] I'm Christiana Figueres,

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

Tom: [00:00:18] So we are back. Season four. We're thrilled to be back. We've been off the air for a couple of months, but we're back with new energy, new excitement and new ideas that we can't wait to share with you. Today it is just the three of us. We don't have a guest. We are going to talk about what has happened over the course of this summer, where we are now and how the world is fundamentally changing in its response to the climate crisis and what needs to be done in the crucial few months through to COP26. Thanks for being here.

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Tom: [00:00:52] So friends, we are back season four. This is has been the longest break we've ever had in two years that we've been together.

Paul: [00:01:00] This is has been. 

Tom: [00:01:00] Good point. Good point. Yeah, it's a very good start to season four, isn't it? This has been the longest break that we have taken from being on air for the last two years. We've been off for about the last six weeks doing various different things. And in fact, what's been lovely is I've seen more of the two of you. I think during the time we haven't been podcasting than I had for the previous maybe eight months.

Paul: [00:01:21] We're such geeks that we stop working together and then went on holiday together. So there you go.

Tom: [00:01:26] It's been very nice.

Christiana: [00:01:27] Yeah. Well, it's been very nice, especially Paul training Tom's duck to dance. Did you see that?

Tom: [00:01:36] For those who have no idea what we're talking about, Paul and Christiana came and spent a couple of weeks at my house in Devon, and we have an Indian Runner Duck that was raised from an egg by my daughter, and it is very, very friendly and Paul taught it to dance hip hop. So look at Christina's Twitter feed. 

Paul: [00:01:52] It won't sleep with the other ducks, it considers it's a human. And so I thought if this duck thinks it's human, it can dance. And I mean, lots of animals can dance, but this duck can really dance.

Tom: [00:02:00] We've done something very serious with that duck. Psychologically, I don't know if it will ever recover, but you know we'll do our best. How are you, guys? You're now on the other side of the world, which I'm very sad about, but it's nice to see you and we are coming back now with season four with new energy and new ideas. Really, listeners may not be aware that Outrage + Optimism has been a sort of two-year argument between me and Christiana. And over the course of this summer, we've realized, as we probably knew all along,

Paul: [00:02:28] That opposition is futile.

Tom: [00:02:29] That opposition is futile. So, Christiana, now's your moment.

Paul: [00:02:33] Well, so what's the plan, Christiana?

Christiana: [00:02:35] Well, the plan is that our future episodes of the Outrage + Optimism podcast are actually going to be shortened. We're going to squeeze everything into about 30 minutes, which makes actually much more work for us because we are still intending to provide the insights and the fun. We don't want to sacrifice the fun, but we're going to try to squeeze it all into 30 minutes in response to the fact that the podcasting world has actually matured enormously since we started that there are many, many more podcasts out there, which is a very good idea,

Tom: [00:03:14] Including many more climate podcasts, which is a very good thing and we welcome all of them. It's fantastic.

Christiana: [00:03:18] That is so exciting, so exciting. So in order to allow people to fit more podcasts into their day and also to follow the trend that seems to be shorter podcasts, we are going to squeeze everything into 30 minutes or we shall attempt this. Stay tuned as to whether we can actually do it.

Paul: [00:03:43] What we have to avoid doing is simply beginning to speak without really knowing how we're going to end a sentence and then using quite a long period of time to sort of improvise and not knowing how you're going to end it, keeping the sentence.

Tom: [00:04:00] Clay, you're going to have a lot of work to do at the top end of this podcast.

Clay: [00:04:03] I know.

Tom: [00:04:04] We did actually discuss that there's going to be some more, Clay is going to have to use his scissors a bit more and cut this down.

Paul: [00:04:09] It's going to be the cutting room floor is going to be covered. It's all electronic now, isn't it? But you know what I mean? The metaphor of tape?

Clay: [00:04:14] Yeah, no, I know. I know what a cutting room floor is, by the way. But if you go on too long, I'm just going to [scissors sound]. 

Tom: [00:04:22] There you go.

Paul: [00:04:23] There you go. Ok, fine. I can take it. 

Christiana: [00:04:28] Cut cut!

Tom: [00:04:28] Christiana is being very generous because the point she's made that the podcasting world has changed in the two years that we've been on the air is the argument that I have made for why I am now acquiescing to what she has said from the very beginning, which is from the more than half an hour, is too much. Now we know because we can track these things, although we can't track anything that those of you who listen and we love you for listening actually do tend to listen all the way to the end of the podcast. But we are very mindful of time. People are feeling more compressed in their time. People want things that are focused and snappy, and so we are going to put that challenge to ourselves to limit Outrage + Optimism to 30 minutes. We will have as previous.

Christiana: [00:05:06] No, no, wait, wait, wait. We're not limiting either outrage or optimism.

Tom: [00:05:11] That's a good point. 

Christiana: [00:05:06] We're just limiting the episode.

Tom: [00:05:14] The episode. Outrage + Optimism continues to be infinite, of course, and are called for at 100 percent at all times. But the podcast itself will be limited to 30 minutes. So as ever, we will have a quick chat at the front end talking about the news, what's happening, climate impacts, solutions, what's going on from a policy perspective, technology, weather related, etc. We will then in general, have an interview with you, as you're very familiar with. We're going to keep it tight. Those of you who've been paying attention will have noticed in our interviews we tend to have multiple different topics that we roam across. We're not going to do that anymore. We're going to say, here is the one topic that is most important to speak to this person about. We're going to hammer on it for ten minutes and then we're going to come back for a few minutes at the end. So 30 minutes every week as usual in your inbox or podcast box or whatever it is. We're back. We're excited for season four. The next few months are going to be pivotal.

Paul: [00:06:05] Right. And we're calling it the Pompidou Center strategy, the Center George Pompidou in Paris, designed by a team including Richard Rodgers. He said the happiest day of his life was when the Paris authorities allowed him to put half the space and allow it to be completely open without a building. It's a beautiful part of Paris, which is half building and half big empty space, so will be our new podcast. 

Tom: [00:06:30] That's a great example of the type of intervention I'm not sure we're going to have time for in the new format, so I hope you all enjoy that from Paul Dickinson. Save it, put to one side. Listen to it as often as you like. You're not going to get many more of those now that we're limited to 30 minutes.

Paul: [00:06:47] Unless you go to my personal private channel, which I'm still negotiating with Spotify as soon as they return my call,

Tom: [00:06:52] The Paul Dickinson Pompidou tapes, I'm sure they'll be very popular. Now then, the last few months that we've been off air have just been astonishing in all sorts of ways. And people who listen to this podcast that generally pay attention to climate change and and kind of what it means will not be surprised by that statement. I mean, the natural disasters that we've experienced over this summer from the flooding in China and Turkey and Europe and India, to the wildfires and droughts in Greece and Turkey again, and Italy and Paraguay and all over the place. We've had data now that suggests that in the U.S. and this is not only a U.S. issue, but that's where the data relates to one in three citizens live in a county that has been hit by a weather disaster fueled by climate change in the last three months, more than 32 percent of citizens in the U.S. now live in an area that has been declared a disaster area by FEMA this summer. Now this is creating enormous amounts of anxiety, as it should amongst the citizenry around the world.

Tom: [00:07:53] As we look at what's happening and all of a sudden we are finding people and you may have found this in your own life. People who have always been somewhat resistant to the climate argument are now suddenly finding that that certainty is beginning to shake a bit as they realize that what's happening is really disquieting. At the same time, we are on a  narrowing path towards a moment of great consequence in Glasgow, and the signs are there that are good and signs are there that are really troubling. So I would like to just begin this by Christiana, maybe starting with you addressing the listener. How should we approach this moment? There's a lot of energy, a lot of nervousness, a lot of anxiety going into this. That's great energy that we need in order to translate into the solutions and the momentum that is required. But it's also kind of hard sometimes for people to live with. So I'd love to hear your analysis of what's the most effective way to approach this moment in order to deliver the outcome that we need.

Christiana: [00:08:51] Well, before I go to that, Tom, I just wanted to put out the other piece that has really changed dramatically over the past few months, and that is the granularity of science. So yes, you have mentioned some of the extreme weather events that should include actually people drowning in New York City because of the very in New York City. Ok. This is not Bangladesh. This is not. This is New York City. So the extreme weather events that we've seen over the past few months are only small little windows into what science has been telling us, but has told us yet again over the past few months that actually we are now poised at the brink of the precipice poised. Now we have been talking about this on the podcast for a long time, but I have never felt the brittle nature of our position as intensely as I have this time. Maybe because I just got back from Greenland, where I was there when it was 70 degrees Fahrenheit, 21 degrees Celsius, completely crazy warmer than it was in London with all the melt and what that actually means for the rest of the weather systems around the world. So where are we on this? I would say that we are picking up from friends, family, community members, from newspaper articles, from all kinds of media channels we're picking up, I think more than ever before a sense of terror, a sense of terror. Because, oh em gee, what scientists have been telling us for a long time is now upon us and the fact that the science has become so evident, the reality has become so directly impacting us and that that is not just about what is happening, but about the timing of it.

Christiana: [00:11:05] The fact that we really now understand that we have the rest of this decade to dramatically change the course of greenhouse gas emissions. So both the breadth of and the variety and the intensity of weather events, as well as the everyday shorter timing, has definitely led so many people to feel a sense of terror expressed in different ways. It can be grief, it can be anxiety, it can be, you know, desperation to get to the streets and and demonstrate against someone, although we don't know against whom. Right. But there is a very, very understandable here tendency to in the forefront of all of this to blame someone and find some scapegoat. It's got to be either this company or that government or this civil society or that region or, you know, this moment in history, someone has got to take the blame for what we are confronting and as we have discussed so often on this podcast. Yes, let's honor that grief. Let's honor that terror that we're all feeling. But is it actually helpful to where we want to go to find blame and to focus our anger on something somewhere? You know, it's much more difficult to say, Oh wow, why also have responsibility on this? And I also can do something. It is much more difficult, but it gets us over the hump of feeling hopeless and helpless. It gets us to a certain degree of agency. And collectively, of course, we can do so much more if each of us assumes some responsibility. So you know, everything that we've been saying on this podcast only magnified to the nth degree.

Tom: [00:13:11] Yeah. And I mean, I agree with with that. Absolutely. And thanks, Christiana, for your insights on that. I think part of the interesting element of this moment is that as the impacts become clearer, as the urgency becomes greater, then what do we do? How do we respond to that increasing urgency and that increasing requirement to step up? The good element of that could be that we increase our own ambition. We broaden the community of people that are interested in this and we build more momentum towards systemic change. The bad element could be that it gets so serious that we start to criticize each other for not being good enough, not being ambitious enough, not being fast enough to do something and what ends up happening, and I think those of us who have been in this climate movement for a long time have seen that sometimes at moments of great pressure. The climate movement can and the environmental movement as well. People who care about these issues can slightly turn inward and say, You're not going fast enough, you should be doing more. You're giving the wrong message.

Tom: [00:14:20] And that's leading people down the wrong path. And what about this? We see this in all sorts of ways at the moment. I mean, one interesting example in the world at the moment is this concept of net zero. Right? I mean, some people say that the idea of net zero that we need to get to a point where emissions are equal to what the planet can absorb is a useful tool that is enabling business and other emitters to get on the road towards reducing their impact on climate change and doing something serious about it. Others say this is a smokescreen. It's greenwash. We can't trust it. That's leading to a whole bunch of uncertainty around the concept, and we're left in a more complicated world. So that's a really interesting challenge for all of us. As the urgency increases, how do we hold together where we're powerful, where we have a big tent while being realistic about what we're facing? That feels like the kernel of what we're facing here, and I think many people are grappling with that issue.

Christiana: [00:15:15] You know that that reminds me of an interesting incident that I had while I was in Greenland. I did a lot of press work while I was there, and there was one journalist who peppered me with question after question after question, and I got the sense that he was coming from inside of himself from a deep sense of cynicism and anger. And I answered his questions as best I could. But then after we finished the interview, I went over to him and I said, You know, this is the feeling that I get that you are just feeling such so hopeless and helpless and angry. And here's my question to you, is the question I asked the journalist, if your child is because he had told me he had two children. If your child is crossing the street and you see a bus coming at your child, do you start by figuring out who's driving the bus? Is she or he completely alert? Or are they falling asleep? What is the current condition of the brakes on the bus? Is there a zebra stripe before the bus gets to your child? Do you begin to do all of this and to blame the the manufacturers of the brakes or the driver? Or, you know, those who didn't do the right signaling in the right painting on the road? Or do you frankly just go at it and throw yourself into the street, catch your child and both of you get over to the other side before the bus runs over to your child? Which way do you go? Well, obviously that is the only thing that we can do, and here is the big, ugly truth.

Christiana: [00:17:05] There is a huge bus coming at our children. There is, and science has been lucidly clear about that. So frankly, we don't have another option. This is not about planning who is at fault, who is not doing their job. This is about picking ourselves up and moving to where we have to get into action. There is no other way we have absolutely run out of time to begin to do analysis and blaming and certainly a circular firing squad in our own community. So let's just get to the work that we actually have to do and do whatever is necessary to save our children from that huge bus that is coming at them.

Paul: [00:17:47] Yep. I'll go with that one. Thank you. We got a bad review from someone who said that we shouldn't be talking to executives of oil companies and even suggested that we were making money being associated with them. I can promise you, if I wanted to make money, I would make podcast money. That's right. I would simply, no. But if I really wanted to make money, I am sorry to say I wouldn't be going to the oil and gas industry to try and make money because I don't think that's where you're going to make money. You're going to make money in the decarbonisation industries. But I do feel that, you know, maybe we could. I could have been more challenging, but I wanted. I want senior executives of companies to use the power they've got in their role, and I don't think they're necessarily going to respond to me specifically trying to punch them in the eye. But you know, I feel everything you just said, Christiana is so true. We've got to ensure that we remember that our enemy's enemy is our friend and we are a broad coalition with this single goal, which is public safety, national security, global security. And as long as we stay focused on that, I think we'll know our navigational north star.

Tom: [00:18:59] No, it's a great point. And it's sort of it makes me think and including what Christiana said as well. I mean, you sort of demonstrated to me, Christiana, in the coalition that was built up towards Paris that the way that you get big change is with a big tent and that actually what you need is momentum and that momentum and that encouragement and that progress begets further momentum, which then begets further momentum. And if you need to tweak the strategy as you go, you can do that, but then you're on the road and actually, that's how you build progress towards it. And I believe that right? And I've experienced that. That's how you can create big change in a systemic context. And also, I can understand how when we're at this moment of crisis, people sort of look at individual commitments of types and they say not good enough needs to be better or whatever else. And you can see how both we're going to have to figure out how both of those can coexist in such a manner that it doesn't become so toxic that we say to companies, countries, whatever it is, you know, get it wrong and we'll burn you at the stake. But at the same time, we say it has to meet the requirement of being based in science, sufficiently ambitious, taking us to where we need to go in order to celebrate that progress. So we do need to bring those two things together. But I would still hold that. It's the momentum that is the magic key to actually getting things moving and changing things.

Christiana: [00:20:27] Yeah, it's the momentum. And it is the the collaboration across so many dividing lines that we have invented for ourselves. By the way, they don't really exist. We just, you know, in our puny little brains, we have invented these, these divisions. And it's also, you know, in our book is so much about that. It's also about the attitude that we bring to this right? Do we bring? Now let's start by saying there is no guarantee that we're actually going to address climate in a timely fashion. That's, you know, let's just gulp that one down. A big, big pill of reality there. But going at it from a either from a blaming or from a perspective of it's, you know, too big and we're not going to make it doesn't help to move us further down the line. The attitude a humble attitude of commitment. Humble because there's no certainty, but commitment because we got to there is no other option. And so, you know, a humble commitment that actually brings both of those together encapsulated in the urgency that we have. I have never felt the urgency of climate action as much as I've had I have this summer. I don't know if that's the same for the two of you, but urgency has basically been what has really been accompanying me. I used to talk about our swallowing an alarm clock for all of us, and oh my god, have I swallowed the alarm clock?

Paul: [00:22:03] Well, I think I think the alarm clock has gone off Christiana. Tom?

Tom: [00:22:06] Yeah. I was just going to say, so Clay is sending us very helpful timestamp updates, and I could determine that the first episode after you've declared this is going to be 30 minutes will not end up being 45. So I'm going to keep us to time here. Now we only have a few minutes left. But the other context that we're stepping into, despite obviously all of these remarkable global weather events and the response, the human response we're seeing to it is the fact that we just have like what, eight weeks now until COP26 and everything that that entails. And listeners will know that this is a particularly important COP because it encompasses the first real step up of ambition since Paris. It needs to work for us to continue to have real faith in the Paris Agreement. I'd love to ask you both, and you both come from this from different perspectives. Paul, very much with deep experience in the kind of business sector and Christiana from government. Maybe starting with you, Paul, how are you feeling? I mean, do you think that we're on track to kind of, you know, if you look at it, net net the day after COP26, if it's been a success, the papers will all say 1.5 Is still alive. How are we doing on that road from here to that outcome coming in December? Because we've got to get there and it's a big lift to big lift substantively and it's a big lift on the optics for reasons we've talked about.

Paul: [00:23:19] Hmm. Well, let me try and give a political answer and dodge the question. I mean, I do think that without doubt that the the wonderful thing I'm going to say about the global business system is that giant investors and giant corporations just do not think nationally. So you may have all these different national divisions, but very large companies are recognizing that, you know, there's going to be some sort of political event in Glasgow at COP26. And then after that, they're going to have 10 years of capital expenditure. They've got to plan and 30 years of operational life, of all kinds of equipment and business processes. So they're deeply in a process of change. And I think that the key is the degree to which the political process will accelerate or decelerate that change. That's the best answer I can give.

Christiana: [00:24:04] And I would say that that's a two way street. I would say that that is a two-way street and that, yes, the political process needs to accelerate that change, but also that corporate engagement and corporate emission reductions, real reductions actually accelerates also policy development. So, you know, the two of them together and of course, spiced up by pressure from civil society. So it's a three-cornered, three-cornered effort. But Tom, I also wanted to get back to your title because I think it's very important to understand that in the best of all cases, the title of the newspapers or the front page would say 1.5 is still alive. Now here are two titles that cannot be on the newspaper. It is impossible for the first page of any newspaper to say 1.5 is guaranteed. That is,

Tom: [00:24:52] We should be aware of it. Absolutely.

Christiana: [00:24:54] We have to be aware of that. 1.5 cannot be guaranteed in twenty twenty one. 1.5 can be very, very close to guaranteed by 2030, but not now. So let us get off this desire for COP26 to do the miracle of guaranteeing 1.5. Not possible. The second title of the front page that is possible but that we cannot accept is one point five is dead. So that's why I think that your title at 1.5 is still alive is exactly that middle way that we have to fight for. It's not going to be easy. We have to fight for, we have to work toward because that represents the best possible that we can get out of the current circumstances and keeps us on a prudent path that would allow us to improve our ambition and our commitment in the future. But we we will not get a guarantee of delivery of 1.5 as the top global temperature increase, and we cannot allow for 1.5 to be dead. So smack in the middle.

Tom: [00:26:14] And so I want to hear your analysis of where we are on that because there are some really troubling signs things like China announcing that they would no longer negotiate on climate as a separate issue compared to the overall dynamic and relationship with the U.S. and with the West. Which is really troubling because in the past, of course, China has been able to kind of hive that off and still agree on climate even when they can't agree on other things. So we should come back to that. But I would also completely agree with you on the other point you made, and I'd like to add to it. In this way, people should realize that the outcome from COP26 will be inherently ambiguous. It will not be clear the ultimate outcome of what comes from it. Part of that will be substantive, but it will be directional, right? It'll be. Here's the range of what we can achieve, and it will partly be down to how we interpret that outcome as to whether we think that's sufficient. So that's actually a complicated but important thing for people to understand that we have the power to shape to a large degree how the world sees the outcome from this COP because it will not be clear it will be a directional signal without absolute clarity as to where this is going to lead. Now, Christiana, we have two minutes left. Let's still try and do it. Where do you think the international politics are two months out from this crucially important COP?

Christiana: [00:27:35] Well, you know, we have such short memories that we always think that the geopolitics that we're facing now is way worse than anything that we faced in the past, and that's just because we have short memory. The fact is that geopolitics has always been and will always continue to be complicated, so we can't use that as a frankly a very sad excuse. Yes, China is has has put that out. That doesn't mean that we stop trying. That doesn't mean that we stop conversations with China. It actually, you know, means the opposite. Therefore, we double down on all our efforts India or Brazil, even, you know why give up on Brazil? There are many people in Brazil that know what needs to be done. So we can't give up on anyone, and we need everyone's contribution.

Paul: [00:28:23] And Christiana, thank you so much for pointing out that governments are influenced heavily influenced by, so to say, non-state actors. So here is to everyone in the city is listening. Everyone in the investors listening, everyone in the corporations listening. You can must and will use all your power now to push every button and pull every lever on every government to ensure that we keep that 1.5 alive.

Tom: [00:28:52] That's a great point, Paul. And just to add to that, I mean, the generalized commitment is important. But what we learnt in the run into Paris is the personal phone call makes a big difference.

Paul: [00:29:01] Yeah, yeah. Phone the minister, phone the prime minister, phone the president. Please, do it now or get your colleague to get your colleague to get, you know, that phone call made.

Tom: [00:29:12] Clay, how did I do?

Clay: [00:29:14] You did good. You've got about 30 seconds left. 

Tom: [00:29:14] 30 minutes?

Clay: [00:29:19] Yeah, 30 seconds to 30 minutes. And actually your mike cut out. So it's kind of serendipitous, but 30 seconds left. So chop chop.

Tom: [00:29:28] All right.

Paul: [00:29:28] And I'm doing the music this week, right?

Tom: [00:29:30] Oh God.

Paul: [00:29:31] Am I not? I understood that I was, okay.

Tom: [00:29:36] All right. All right. Paul, can you sing the theme tune?

Sharon: [00:29:39] We had promised Paul that he could do anything.

Paul: [00:29:41] It's all right. It's all right, Sharon. It doesn't matter. It's fine.

Christiana: [00:29:45] He's now pouting. I wish you could see him. He is pouting, pouting, pouting.

Tom: [00:29:50] This has been fun. Looking forward to it. This is going to be a big few months. It's going to be very busy, but it's going to be very consequential.

Paul: [00:29:55] Exciting times. Terrifying and thrilling.

Tom: [00:29:58] All right. Bye, everyone.

Paul: [00:30:00] Until next week.

Christiana: [00:30:01] Bye.



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