#211 Braced for Impact:
Cutting through the Greenwash & Lies
with Rachel Donald of Planet: Critical podcast
If our leaders are engaging in ever more pointless greenwashing, what do we need to know to affect change? And how best do we make it happen?
Our guest this week is host of one of my must-listen podcasts – one I’ve been following since the spring, when Dr Simon Michaux mailed me and said, you need to listen to Rachel – and he was right.
Rachel Donald is host of Planet: Critical one of the world’s top-rated podcasts on the poly-crisis and systems change. She interviews some really big players on the world stage with integrity and panache – her conversation with Alastair Campbell where she never lets him off the hook is an absolute exemplar of how to hold power to account and I think we’re seeing the change in real time on his podcast with Rory Stewart.
When she’s not podcasting, Rachel is a climate corruption journalist who investigates why the world is in crisis—and what to do about it. With world exclusives in major papers, Rachel investigates the gaslighting which props up our broken systems. She travels the world talking on – and off – the record to heads of government and oil industry executives, to the people who make our current system tick and who are often just as afraid as we are about the direction and speed of travel towards the edge of the extinction cliff.
Rachel has an almost unique insight into the nature of the systemic catastrophe we’ve built for ourselves and therefore of the ways we might address it. This was a bracing conversation. There are no easy answers and I had some of my rosier tinted lenses broken along the way. But in the end we came to the place we often get to with this podcast – that building communities of place, purpose and passion where we value each other, and our capacity to love bravely is what might – perhaps – bring us to the emergent edge of inter-becoming that Indy Johar spoke of a few weeks ago.
So brace yourselves, this is not an easy podcast, but we need to know where we’re at so we can let go – again – ever more completely – of our assumptions about business as usual and do whatever we can, wherever we are, to be that emergent edge.
Could you help us out with ideas for future online Gatherings? Who would you like to meet and/or ask questions of? What kind of Gatherings would you like us to hold?
If you can spare a couple of minutes to answer two questions we would be very grateful.
Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to create a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your guide and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility. And our guest this week is host of one of my must listen podcasts. One I’ve been following since the spring of this year, 2023, when Dr. Simon Michaux emailed me and said, you need to listen to Rachel. And he was right. Rachel Donald is host of Planet Critical, one of the world’s top rated podcasts on the poly crisis and systems change. She interviews some really big players in the world stage with integrity and a panache of which I am ever in awe. Her conversation with Alastair Campbell, where she never lets him off the hook and yet is unfailingly polite, is an absolute exemplar of how to hold power to account. And I think it’s had an impact; I think we’re seeing real change in his podcast with Rory Stewart. When she’s not podcasting, Rachel is a climate corruption journalist who investigates why the world is in crisis and what to do about it. With world exclusives and major papers, Rachel investigates the gaslighting which props up our broken systems. She travels the world, talking on and off the record to heads of government and oil industry executives, to the people who make our current system tick, and who are often just as afraid as we are about the direction and speed of travel towards the edge of the extinction cliff that we are currently undertaking.
Rachel has an almost unique insight into the nature of the systemic catastrophe we built for ourselves, and therefore, of the ways that we might address it. This was a bracing conversation. There are no easy answers, and we do know this. But I did have some of my rosier tinted lenses broken along the way. In the end, though, we came to a place we often get to on this podcast, where we understand that building communities of place and of purpose and of passion, where we value each other, where, in Rachel’s words, our capacity to love each other bravely is what might possibly bring us to the edge of inter-becoming that Indy Johar spoke of so coherently a few weeks ago. So brace yourselves. This is not an easy podcast, but we do need to know where we’re at, so we can let go again, ever more completely, of our assumptions that business as usual might even slightly perpetuate. So that we can do whatever we can, wherever we are, to be at the emergent edge. So people of the podcast, please welcome Rachel Donald of Planet Critical.
Rachel, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast, and thank you for turning out on whatever time of the day it is, wherever you are. Tell me, how are you and where are you this morning?
Rachel: Manda first of all, thank you so much for having me. It’s a pleasure to join you today and to join you from a wonderfully grey Paris.
Manda: Wow. You’re in France. You see, Scotland and France, were always allies. Yeah, we get to wear the t shirt that says I support Scotland and whoever’s playing England. Only you could substitute France for Scotland. How long since you were in Scotland then? Because you sound to me like a fellow Scot and yet not currently.
Rachel: Well I am a fellow Scot. I’m half Scottish, half American, so I wield both passports. But I don’t wield very much of either culture inherently. I left Scotland when I was 21 and haven’t really been back, apart from the odd, you know, stopover in between my European love affairs.
Manda: Okay. I always feel I will go home eventually. But you know, I’ve got a long way into life and eventually it hasn’t happened, but I’ve always thought if I go home, that’ll be it, and I won’t go. Does it still feel like home to you, or did it never really feel like home?
Rachel: It never did. But nowhere particularly does. I very much ascribe to home is where the heart is, and the people I love most feel like home. And I also really enjoy the feeling of being a foreigner, which I know is a wildly privileged thing to say, right? But I so enjoy learning a new language and looking at a culture, first of all on a surface level and then quite rapidly descending into its depths and understandings of complexity. And that rapid descension, it’s such an alien thing, right? Because that’s not how you learn your own culture, first of all. And I find that it gives you quite like an analytical prism through which to understand a thing. I enjoy being at a table and being slightly outside and invited in to give that perspective. I find that it makes it easier to see the bad, that you just don’t have these kind of like emotional attachments to cultures. You can kind of pick and mix what’s good for you. So yes, it’s deeply connected, obviously, to my skin tone and the language that I speak and everything like that, but I very much enjoy being a foreigner.
Manda: And from the sound of things, you speak multiple languages by now. Are they all what we would call loosely global North languages? Have you moved into the Global South and begun to speak the not Western educated, industrial, rich, democratic, WEIRD global North concepts? Is that a way you’re going?
Rachel: I love that WEIRD as an acronym in this context. No. So I speak English and French, I’ve got a tiny bit of Dutch and I am now vaguely trying to learn Arabic because my partner is Moroccan, so that seems fair to do.
Manda: Yeah, absolutely. Although you have French as a common language.
Rachel: Oh, God. I mean, he speaks about 5 or 6 languages, so we’ve got English and French.
Manda: Wow. Okay. There’s so many avenues we could already go, but I want to ask you the question that I’ve so far only managed to ask two people, Indy Johar and Sofia Parker, because they were broad enough. And I would like to ask you, because I think you’re this broad, which is: how long do you think we’ve got? And what is your theory of change? So let’s kick off with that.
Rachel: In order to answer I think we need to zoom out. So I assume what we’re talking about here is the poly crisis and the fact that the world is in crisis and things seem to be getting worse and worse and worse. I would like to challenge the kind of the the global north nature of the question in a sense, by saying the world has been in crisis everywhere else for a very, very, very long time. So in terms of how long have we got? A lot of other communities have been living through this and living through destruction, living through mass inequality, living through disease since the coloniser arrived on their shores. And that was just this time around in history. These reigns of men have been colonising one another for a very, very, very long time. So in terms of how long have we got? It’s like, how long does the global North have and should it have? Because really, I think that we are heading for sort of a mass systems collapse and that the collapse of the financial sector in the global north will also sort of wreak havoc momentarily around the world.
Rachel: Although I do believe that global South communities are in a better position to kind of recover after that, given that vast majority of them still live in what we describe as poverty. And in many respects it is poverty: food poverty, financial poverty and all this kind of stuff. But they do still have these kinds of wisdoms that are passed down amongst communities, like, here’s how you grow your own food, here’s how you find food in the forest. Here’s how you build your house. Et cetera. Et cetera. So I think we are headed for a kind of collapse that will hit the global north communities far worse in the long term, in that kind of respect, because we have not been living through crisis for quite some time. We’re coming up to a hundred years of what history books will describe as peace, even though obviously that’s not the case.
Manda: No we just exported our violence elsewhere.
Rachel: Exactly, exactly. And so I think that this will happen. I think we’re already seeing it. I think that’s why things are getting worse. We are in these stages of decay. And I think in a sense that has to be okay. If we are past the point of being able to repair, if we are past the point of being able to change direction, then we must decay. We must turn into the compost which will fertilise and grow the newthe new thing. I suppose my fear is that we will descend into eco fascism and nations affecting borders and being quite nationalistic around their supplies and food and knowledge, data, all of these kinds of things, rather than really collaborating as a global world order to figure out how to how to navigate this together. So in one sense it’s quite sad because a true collapse would really destroy those centres of power. I like to think of power in the physics sense, which is the capacity to transform energy, and energy is neither created nor destroyed, it’s only ever transformed. And so I like to think of wealth as being natural abundance that has been transformed through power into sovereign wealth. And so essentially totally crippling those centres of power might be the one way to redistribute that power again. And in order to make it more equitable in a way that we haven’t seen for thousands of years, ever since there was the first blood of empire in the world. But that is also not what I would like to see, because billions of people will be dispossessed and many, many people will die, and we will lose a lot of the goodness that has come out of modernity, such as a better sense of rights and certain diversities like social diversities, cultural diversities, all of these kinds of things. So I don’t know, is the short answer.
Manda: All righty. No. But you’ve already given a lot of avenues we could go down. Let’s take a moment just to have a look at that. We’re both talking about the same meta crisis, poly crisis. So for me, there’s the climate apocalypse. You know, already we hit two degrees of above norm this month. And that’s not the global average, 1.5 is the global average, but I think that’s long gone. At the point when we hit two degrees as a global average, we’re already looking at the Gulf Stream beginning to shut down around the UK. And you know, Glasgow, I thought you lived in Glasgow. But anyway, Glasgow is on a level with Moscow and London’s on a level with Kiev. Our winters become Russian winters. And the guys I’ve seen online talking about this, they reckon it’s probably a decade away. It’ll take a decade to completely switch off, so that will have an impact. The GOES report, the Global Oceanic Environmental Survey, says if we carry on as we’re doing, then the oceans are dead by 2045. And it’s not just the acidification, it’s microplastics and nitrate runoff from industrial agriculture. So we don’t know what happens with a dead ocean, but it’s not going to be good. We’ve got potentially a lot less oxygen in the air as a starter.
Manda: So climate apocalypse is ecological breakdown, acceleration of the sixth mass extinction. We don’t really know what’s going to happen there. At the same time, we have whatever’s happening with the AI, and it seems to me that whoever’s in power when the music stops on that one, if they can engage with it, if they can control it, they have control for as long as we have tech. And the music is probably going to stop quite soon, I think seems to be one of the reasons why the Tories are clinging on to power, is that they are aware that train is coming down the track. We have possibility of nuclear war turning up quite soon, and we have the equity that you’ve already spoken about. We have social inequality accelerating across the globe. Given all of those, I’m really interested that you think that the Global South; I would really be happy if it was the case that people in cultures that have not yet completely technologized themselves are able to grow their own food potentially. But can they grow their own food in a world that has warmed to the extent that land becomes desert anyway? Or if the entirety of the world’s water becomes effectively dead? Are those things that you see, or am I just being apocalyptic? Let’s start with that as a question. How do you see that panning out?
Rachel: Yeah, it’s a really good question. I mean, we are looking at billions of people being dispossessed and having to move north.
Manda: If they can still move.
Rachel: If they can still move. And therefore you’re looking at less land, you’re looking at increases in sort of like racism. You’re looking at people maybe having to cultivate on lands that are unknown to them, different kinds of soil, that kind of thing. I’m not an expert in any of this. I don’t know. When I was in Papua New Guinea this summer, what kind of warmed my heart in a sense, despite the abject poverty, was seeing that nobody in that country starves. Because outside of the parliament, right, there’s this long, grand road leading up to the parliament and right outside it on the pavement, the sidewalk, there’s a strip of grass, you know, a strip of land next to the sidewalk between the sidewalk and the road. And people are growing food on it. Like every inch of land in Papua New Guinea, people are growing vegetables and legumes and beans and everything. And I was looking at those people and I was like, yeah, they will survive. And it may be that actually life doesn’t look all that different for some of those communities. But that’s quite particular. That’s a huge island. There’s still a huge amount of land, you know, sort of available.
Manda: They still have indigenous tribes that are almost still living.
Rachel: They’ve got 900, not just almost; a lot of them are very much living. They’ve got 900 tribes, 900 languages, in Papua New Guinea. So that doesn’t include West Papua as well.
Manda: And are they under threat in the way that the indigenous tribes of the Amazon are under threat, or are they being left alone?
Rachel: Of course they’re under threat. They’re under threat by logging, they’re under threat by mining. But it is a really, really big island. It’s the third largest island in the world. It’s insanely large. So they’re not under threat in the way that the Tribes of Borneo are because there’s just slightly more land to go around.
Manda: So hang on. When does an island become a continent? I mean, how many times could you fit the UK or the island of Britain, let’s say into Papua New Guinea? Any idea? Are we talking many times over?
Rachel: Well, yeah. If it’s the third biggest island, many, many times over. It’s below Australia but it’s not the same size as Australia, but it doesn’t look tiny in comparison either.
Manda: Wow. Okay. So tell us a little bit more about that because you’ve mentioned it several times on Planet Critical, your podcast, and it sounds like you were meeting oil executives there, which is an interesting experience in itself. So tell us a bit about that trip and how it came about, and what did you learn? What was useful there?
Rachel: So when I was at Cop26 in Glasgow, I met the Papua New Guinean delegation and they stayed in touch with one of the politicians, and he would sort of tip me off about stories that were going on there that I would then report for Mongabay. And he had said, you know, you’ve got to come out and you’ve got to see what’s going on. And I was working on a book about carbon credits. Carbon credits are kind of like the back stone of most environmental policies around the world for getting to net zero and they don’t work. They’ve been proven to not work. They’ve been proven to be a fallacy, and they’ve been proven to be harmful as well. The vast majority of cases where carbon credits are rolled out on the voluntary market, indigenous peoples are dispossessed and biodiversity loss occurs. It’s mad.
Manda: So this is another way of monetising the apocalypse.
Rachel: It’s financially financializing the crisis. Totally. And it’s also a way of buying time because I mean, God, net zero. I mean, what a joke. What a joke. You think that you can account your way out of this problem? If you are still emitting into the atmosphere, then carbon is still going up and we’re going to have warming. Doesn’t matter that there trees already standing quite frankly.
Manda: Okay, I have a question about that. Because okay, let’s drill into this. We’ll come back to Papua New Guinea in a moment because this is what you do; you’re a climate corruption journalist, and it strikes me that carbon credits are right there at the top of climate corruption. Can you just give us the edited highlight for those of us who stand outside of this world, of what they’re trying to do? Why does anyone with a brain think it works? That’s actually my real question, but let’s look at what they are first, and then look at why they think this is a good idea.
Rachel: So carbon credits essentially are financial tokens that you can buy that ‘offset your current emissions’. So if you are a nation or if you are a business and you are emitting a certain amount of carbon into the atmosphere, you can say, well, I’ve bought enough carbon credits to offset 20% of my emissions, which means that my net emissions are actually only 80%. Now, these financial tokens that are allegedly offsetting come from, essentially you buy the right to ‘protect a forest from logging’. And you say that without my money, that forest might not still be standing, so whatever carbon is sequestered in that forest or that peatland or whatever, I can now claim is still within the world’s biosphere, and thus can be used to offset my emissions, which brings that 100 down to 80. I mean, it’s hard to explain because it’s so ridiculous.
Manda: That is insane. How many people get to buy one forest, then, for instance? You know, you and I could both go, hey, we decided to stop that forest from being logged. And there’s another forest over there that we could also log, and we decide not to buy. I mean, that means basically every tree on the planet now has a monetary value for not being cut down.
Rachel: Absolutely. But every tree on the planet before had a monetary value for being cut down. And this is where like, this is why economics cannot solve this problem fundamentally. And it’s not just forest, it’s also peatlands and whatever. And there’s some schemes as well that are now like you pay for people to plant trees and then you’re saying, okay, I’m adding this carbon sequestering capacity to the Earth’s biosphere.
Manda: Happens all around here. Yes.
Rachel: And so even though I’m emitting, you know, because of me, there’s now x percent being sequestered, so please take that off my total of emissions.
Manda: But you cause more carbon ploughing to plant the trees than you ever absorb. That’s also data. Anyway. Sorry. Go on. That just makes me so cross. Sorry, I interrupted again.
Rachel: That’s all right, I think with regards to planting, trees are often planted in a monoculture for these sorts of projects. So they’re not really rich, biodiverse forests which will actually be able to help their plantations rather than forests. So they don’t help the local wildlife or biodiversity or anything like that. It’s just a scheme. It’s just a money making scheme that continues business as usual. And it has grown into this monstrous industry where now, ahead of Cop 28, we are seeing the United Arab Emirates just bought 1 million hectares of Kenyan land. Kenya has given 1 million hectares of land to the UAE so that the UAE can say, well, this piece of Kenyan land is now under our protection and it is offsetting the emissions of our nation, which is just mad neo-colonialism.
Manda: So we can displace all the people and plant serried rows of Sitka spruce or whatever the equivalent is that grows in Kenya, and pretend that this is useful.
Rachel: Yeah, pretend that it’s now lowering our overall emissions, even though that land was already there, existing in the first place.
Manda: And probably had quite biodiverse growth on it.
Rachel: Well, they haven’t necessarily said that they’re planting anything.
Manda: Okay. They’re just protecting it.
Rachel: Mad eh? It’s total bonkers.
Manda: I have a question. Let’s pretend for a moment that Kenya might not be completely stable. I don’t want to go into Kenyan geopolitics, but presumably the United Arab Emirates feels that they’ve bought this place in perpetuity. It is now effectively a nation state owned by the UAE. Are they going to defend it against all comers? If let’s say, I don’t know, someone drops in from outer space who looks a lot like the Russians or the Chinese and decides that they’re going to move in on this land. Do the United Arab Emirates now field a couple of f19’s and blow them off the planet?
Rachel: I have no idea. I imagine it will be done like a lease, as most of these carbon credit projects are. I don’t know, some of these projects are done for 100 year leases essentially. It could be that, I don’t have the details on who would defend it if aliens came from space, but it’s a good question.
Manda: I didn’t want to say the Russians or the Chinese or the Americans. I mean, anybody just decides they’re moving in and they’re having this land. And then what does the UAE do? Go, sorry, the carbon credits aren’t there anymore because someone else has decided to build an oil field there. Darn.
Rachel: And that just shows how illusory these things are. Exactly as you say, they’re not real. They don’t exist. Not only do they not exist, they are harmful. A Guardian investigation showed earlier this year that 90% of them are fake, that they literally don’t exist. As I said, they are having harmful impacts around the world, but people want them because they justify business as usual. They say, okay, we can reach net zero, and net zero has become conflated with absolute zero. So okay, we can continue emitting, but as long as we’re sequestering some carbon, then don’t worry about it. This world order that we depend on and we’re scared to see go, can continue. And also, I think the fact that the economy has become so dislocated from biophysical reality, that’s how this thinking has been allowed to perpetuate and exist, essentially.
Rachel: People seem to think that biophysical reality will bend to hegemony or will bend to ideology, which is what economics is. But physics doesn’t fall for accounting tricks. If you put carbon into the air is adding to our overall emissions budget. That’s it. And anything that isn’t absolute reduction is greenwashing.
Manda: Yeah. And I gather you’re on a panel in France discussing greenwashing. So let’s go down that in a second. But you seem to move amongst people who know. You were in Papua New Guinea talking to oil executives. These are not stupid people. And, you know, I have a master’s in economics, but I’m not really an economist, and I’m certainly not a physicist. And it’s stirringly obvious that this is not going to work. I mean, even if it weren’t the case that 90% of them are actually fake, it’s totally obvious. Why is it not obvious to the people making this happen? Or do they not care? Do they not get that we’re heading for an uninhabitable planet? Or are they just monetising the apocalypse as long as they can and hoping that, you know, the actual apocalypse will happen after their lifetime?
Rachel: I think there’s very many different reasons as to why people either aren’t acting or are doing the wrong thing. I think that some people really do believe that they help because they have been indoctrinated into a certain way of economic thinking. And so following economic theory, carbon credits do work, because economic theory has long been detached from biophysical reality, from the biome. Like things are just externalities and not my problem and profits and whatever. You know, they’ve been couched in a language that doesn’t reflect the reality of the situation. So some people do genuinely think that they do work. Some people think that they’re flawed, but it’s the best thing that we have, and we have to work through that to get to the next good idea.
Manda: Which will be what exactly?
Rachel: Biodiversity credits and water pollution credits and everything else credits, which are already being introduced in the European Parliament, which are also incredibly dangerous and very bad.
Manda: Can you tell us a little bit more about those?
Rachel: Just they are what they say on the tin. Like essentially you are buying the right to pollute. You are buying the right in the same way with carbon credits you’re buying the right to emit, with water pollution credits you’re buying the right to pollute, with biodiversity credits you’re buying the right to destroy biodiversity because you’re going to be protecting it elsewhere. Yeah, it’s creating a market for disaster, which is what capitalism is, really.
Rachel: Some people believe that because governments are national in their approach and they have different desires, like the only global force is the market, so you have to unleash the market on this problem. And that’s the thing that it’s come up with. Some people don’t care and are out to make a buck, but I genuinely believe that they’re not really the people in big, sort of powerful positions. Those are the people that are setting up carbon credit businesses and signing dodgy deals and getting a couple of million in the back pocket. They’re your cowboys. That’s what we call them; carbon cowboys. The oil executives I spoke with in Papua New Guinea, they’re terrified. They’re like, oh, no, things are really bad and we know that they’re really bad and we know that we might not have stopped in time. But they felt powerless.
Manda: They haven’t stopped at all, mate. Stopping in time isn’t happening. You’re accelerating towards the cliff, but they are the people with their foot on the gas. James Schneider said, you know, we’re tied up and bound basically in the boot of the car. And these are the people with their clammy hands on the wheel and their foot on the accelerator, and they’re terrified that they’re heading towards a cliff. Do they not see a bit of cognitive dissonance in this?
Rachel: See I disagree with that. I don’t think anybody is driving the car. I don’t think that they particularly have their hands on the wheel. I think that this is the nature of system dynamics. I think that if they were not doing that job or if they tried to change direction, they would be replaced by somebody who was willing to do that job. And for people who have accumulated quite a huge amount of power and could make an impact, say, somebody like Elon Musk, who has an inordinate amount of personal wealth, is very well networked and has a sort of fan base of a lot of men around the world who look up to him. Say Elon Musk turned around tomorrow and said, you know what? Electric vehicles are not the answer. Colonising space is not the answer. We need a green revolution that looks like public transport and universal basic services and reducing our consumption and yada yada, yada, yada yada, right? If Elon Musk turned around and said that tomorrow he would immediately be disempowered. Not completely, but a huge amount of his power would disappear.
Manda: He’d still have a lot of money.
Rachel: Well, yes he might have a lot of money, but would there would be huge forces that go up against him. He might be one of the richest men in the world, but his personal wealth is nothing of the combined wealth of all of the interests, right? So he would be disempowered in the sense that because he would suddenly be changing direction and going against the flow, he would have to put in more energy to make things happen, and there’d be forces working against him to stop those things happening. So that’s what I mean when I say that we’re in a driverless car. I think that there are people with wealth and with power that are not leaders, that are not brave, that could be sacrificing some of that wealth and power in order to try and shift the conversation, at least. Or try and do more and they should be doing more. And those people are sheep, quite frankly, as far as I’m concerned. Totally, they are the epitome of the driverless car, they just managed to make it look like they built the damn thing. But as far as I’m concerned, nobody is in control.
Manda: Okay. All right. So this is how we get to the theory of change. I hear what you’re saying. The dynamic is what it is. Can you and I play a speculative game? We could make ourselves into more wealthy than Elon Musk or we could do whatever we need. Given, and I take what you’re saying that the car is driverless. And yet it is accelerating towards the edge of a cliff, from which it would be very hard to get back. I think right at the top you said, you know, waves and waves of colonisation have gone around the planet for the last 10, 12,000 years. However, they’ve never actually been capable of wiping out not just us, but, you know, creating the sixth mass extinction. This is not good. Do you have a theory of change? Because green revolution, public transport. Actually, I spoke to a really lovely man a couple of weeks ago who’s got an amazing business. At some point, I’ll talk to you about it, because his model of business is really interesting, and he’s creating hydrogen cell transport, which is extremely interesting. But all of that still seems to me predicated on a model of business as usual, when I would say we need a whole new model, how do we get the whole new model? But you might not think that.
Manda: Okay, so you’re a climate corruption journalist, you’re deep in this field. You completely get the nature of the crisis and I totally accept what you’re saying, that we’re in a driverless car. How would you help the global population to regain control of the car. I don’t think anybody wants to go over the edge of the cliff, once they understand the cliff exists. How do we gain control of the car and swerve it away?
Rachel: Oh, I don’t know at this stage. I feel like when you have such an inequitable distribution of power and as you said, people being so technologically kind of bound. Everything being so precarious, financially precarious, states deliberately refusing to supply people with aid, which keeps them trapped within employment, in ******** jobs which are typically perpetuating the system and da da da da da. It’s very hard for people to understand that we are going off a cliff when they feel like they’re already hanging on to the edges of it with their fingertips, and that if they were to let go of the system, there would be nothing to catch them. And I get that, because in a sense that is true. Unless you have the capital and the time to go and buy land and build your passive energy house and grow your own food and invite your community to come in and live with you, then there is no exit, really. So why should people be concerned about being tied up in the trunk when they’re already at the lip? So because of that I worry that we are past the point of political reform, I worry that we are past the point of economic theory, that we’re past the point of reform, and that we’re actually just at the stage of revolution now. I think that’s probably the case.
Rachel: I think that it is likely that we are going to see violence. And frankly, I’ve got no problem with sabotage. If people want to go around and blow up pipelines, I applaud them, frankly.
Manda: Andreas Malm.
Rachel: Yeah, totally. If people want to take it into their own hands to stop the infrastructure that is destroying their future, and which is also supporting the very system that is bleeding them of their own present, then I think that they are perfectly entitled to do that. I think it is much more likely that we will descend into chaos. And I think a part of that is just the centuries of bullying by different economic regimes. And what we are seeing now is that for a renewable world order, and there’s a huge amount of problems with the idea of a renewable world order as well. We would still need a massive reduction in our energy demands. But if we were to go fully renewable, that essentially guarantees China’s ascension, because China is the country that has the control over all of the material supply chains and is the industrial powerhouse of the world. And even though Biden has tried to tackle that with his Inflation Reduction Act and bring industry home, he still needs to get the materials through China, essentially. So if we were to go renewable, that would mean that the time of the Western empire is over. They would move into second place behind China.
Rachel: I don’t think the West will let that happen. I think that it’s more likely that we will see a nuclear war before we see that happen, because it is very difficult for the people who are in charge. And when I say in charge, I mean like the ultimate sheep of the narratives and the system, the narratives that we tell ourselves in the system that we are in. I think that they are so indoctrinated into this idea that democracy is, as we serve it, is the best possible option, and it is certainly the best possible option for themselves. And so they will fight to the hilt to defend it. And so I think we had time. We had time in the 50s, in the 60s and the 70s, when Limits to Growth was published and when scientists first started calling the alarm, when there was a push for social progress. We had time then. I don’t think we have time now. Not in the way that we need it to reform. And so I think that there will be revolutionary action around the world. And there is a history of revolutionary action targeting fossil fuel infrastructure when regimes are being autocratic and exploiting their peoples.
Manda: But it’s not just about the fossil fuels. It’s not just a carbon problem. If we if we focus in on the carbon, we don’t address all the rest. I hear you and yet I would still, personally, like to see a non-violent option. Let’s suppose, a small number of people as Just Stop Oil is doing. Just Stop Oil are being arrested for sitting in the streets, nobody’s done anything violent. If we start to be violent, the other side has the drones. Personally, I don’t think a violent revolution is survivable, unless we hit the edge where fossil fuels are stopped because everything falls apart. If we get to the point where three harvests don’t happen, it doesn’t matter how much fossil fuel you’ve got, you’ve still got no food and then everything falls apart. If we don’t get to that edge of the cliff, can you see a way…
Manda: Or let’s rephrase this. Partly because I’m locked in the novel where I’m trying to see the way of forking the government and creating a different political agreement. If I create a future where I have managed to create a different political agreement, where essentially the sheep are corralled off in their own little space in Westminster, doing whatever the heck they want, and we are successfully ignoring them on the grounds that we do just, I think, still have government by consent. And if we withdraw our consent and give it to somebody else, then perhaps we could create a new reality. Just give me that one. Give me that one miracle. And from there, because you started to say Green revolution. And I’m curious to know if we were to spec out something that would work. You’ve already said power consumption has to drop massively. And I know you’ve talked to Simon Michaux and he says, you know, around the world we have 19 rolling terawatts; we need to get to five. And if we get to five, we don’t need the fossil fuels. And he also says, and his numbers seem pretty compelling to me, that even absent China, we aren’t mining enough lithium to create the batteries to go fully renewable. It’s a material impossibility. So we need, if we’re going to survive, to hugely reduce our overall power consumption. And we’d have to do that voluntarily. You can’t impose reduced power consumption on people. Then you get revolution.
Rachel: Yes you can.
Manda: You can try.
Rachel: South Africa is doing it every day. There are rolling blackouts in South Africa.
Manda: Yes. That’s true. I play World of Warcraft with people who go, no, sorry, the load shedding is happening, we have to come out the battleground. Goodbye.
Rachel: You can impose a lot of things on a people. I mean, it’s hard for me to give you your vision because, you know, I don’t believe that we have a government of consent. And I don’t think it would be the case that if we decided to give our support to somebody else, that the government would follow. And I think that, frankly, the past few years of Tory rule have really, really proved that they are doing very little that is in line with public consensus, even on the green stuff. So 80% of members of the Conservative Party want more renewable energy. And yet the government, which has been hijacked by right wing extremists, is rolling back all of those sort of promises and pledges and plans and policies.
Manda: Well, my question is, let’s assume there’s going to be an election soon. Let’s assume the Tories are not going to win. I realise that’s an assumption that may not be binding, but do you think Labour would be any different? Because I’m looking at Starmer and thinking he makes Cameron look quite progressive.
Rachel: No, I think that the reality of the two party system has really been exposed as a tool for giving the illusion of choice, which keeps power concentrated within a small group of people. And I think that we are far more likely to see either government start to abuse the possibility of authoritarian rule in order to maintain power, and in order to enact policies rather than listen to their people. I think we are much more likely to descend into fascism than have a citizens assembly that is allowed out of the goodness of their hearts.
Manda: This is becoming increasingly distressing. I thought we might actually find a way through that didn’t involve large numbers of people being destroyed by our own governments, who are clinging on to power. I hear what you’re saying, and I think the right is very well organised, and the thing that gives me hope that they’re not going to get their 10,000 year Reich, is that their 10,000 year Reich will kick us into three degrees of warming, after which, you know, basically, extinction follows inexorably. And so it’s going to be quite a short Reich. But what I’m hearing from you is, you see no way through that isn’t totalitarianism, nationalism, tribalism and increasing destruction. Am I right?
Rachel: Um, well, I’ve said it’s more likely. I haven’t said that that’s the only way.
Manda: Okay, so how would we get to the other way?
Rachel: I think if more women were in leadership roles in government, then we would see much better politics coming through, as has already been evidenced by the female leaders making the most progressive decisions with regards to climate.
Manda: As long as it’s not Suella Braverman and Kemi Badenoch, or even Liz Truss.
Rachel: There are caveats, obviously. But historically, over the past few years, the people that are making better climate decisions, prime ministers and presidents, have been women. But exactly as you point out, that’s a pretty flimsy criteria. And it falls through under closer analysis. So, no, I do believe that we are going to go through a period of chaos. And I believe that we have only ever lived in a right wing world, with regards to who was in power, because the right wing is essentially power oriented and left wing ideology, if you follow it through to its logical conclusion, is anti power. So I can definitely envision a world in a couple of 100 years time where we have sovereign anarchy coupled with international collaboration and communities exist as networks. And our networked into one another with regards to sharing resources and information and knowledge and materials, all this kind of stuff. To really focus on maintaining a good world. Building and maintaining a good world, and ensuring that such an inequitable distribution of power never happens again. And I think in order to do that, you need to get rid of your institutions, and you need to get rid of your bureaucracies. Because the minute that you come between people being able to sort their **** out between them, then you are empowering the right wing. Because the right will always find a way to bury itself within institutions or get around those types of problems.
Rachel: Because quite frankly I’m beginning to believe that the only real deterrent is capital punishment. And I know that sounds really gruesome, but I don’t think it is. But I really don’t think it is, because this is something that you hear a lot when you speak to indigenous peoples. That the capacity for human darkness and psychopathy and badness, like bad apples are borne everywhere, right? It’s like part of the thing of human evolution. And in some tribes they are deliberately kept. So in Papua New Guinea, typically if a child is born and it’s a bit of a bad apple and they can tell, when it grows up that man, because it’s pretty regularly a man, will be sent off to live in the forest by himself. And they recognise that that is a psychopath.
Manda: Probably not going to survive very long?
Rachel: And he’s not allowed to live within the community except for when they go to war. Oh no, he survives. And when they go to war, they bring him back as the war chief, because he can make the bloodthirsty decisions without feeling bad about it, essentially. And when they win the war, they send him back into the forest. So they have found a utility for psychopaths in Papua New Guinea. In other indigenous cultures, it will be like, oh, yeah went out for a hunting trip and, you know…
Manda: Ok. He drowned, right?
Rachel: Or he went on a fishing trip and he drowned. You know, he was walking through the forest and he fell over and his head got smashed in. Like there’s this understanding that if an individual is going to cause harm to the group, then you have to deal with that individual. And if they try rehabilitation and they try a whole bunch of things and that doesn’t work well, at some point you got to go, either you’re going to be excommunicated or you’re going to be taken care of. And this is what I mean about this light and dark and understanding the full human capacity for good and for bad. I’m beginning to think of this kind of interpersonal violence, which we seem to really have a capacity for. And people really don’t understand it. Like, why is it that we can be violent to each other? Why is it that we have these urges? And I’m starting to wonder, maybe originally it sort of evolved as a tool of governance. The capacity to do harm as willed. It was perhaps originally a tool of governance, of keeping people in check essentially.
Manda: Yeah. Graeber and Wengrow talk about that. You’ll have read the Dawn of Everything, have you? Yeah they talk about that, I have to say quite a lot. And actually, I recently read Christopher Ryan’s Civilised to Death, which I would have liked to have read before Dawn of everything. And he talks about Papua New Guinea quite a lot. He talks particularly, there’s a really interesting story. This is an aside, but it’s fun. Of someone from the Beeb who’d been there and integrated in one of the tribes and got really well and made their documentary. And then there was the oh, we could bring someone from Papua New Guinea back to the UK, and then the oh God, no, but what happens? We bring them into modernity and then they might want it all and it might destroy their culture. But hey, we’ll make money out of bringing them back to the UK. So we’ll do it anyway. And they did bring them back. I think three people, who were utterly horrified by what they met here. And the only thing they took back was the idea of putting feathers on the arrows to make them fly more straight.
Manda: The rest is like, no, guys, we want nothing to do with what you’ve got. Which I thought was kind of cool. But yes, I remember Graebor and Wengrow saying that whenever anyone had been captured and/or rescued in North America, that Ben Franklin, I think, was writing letters to his friends saying, and they all want to go back to the tribes, and we’ve got God and guns and steel and why would they not? And everybody said, because when they went back to the tribes, there was no fear. And there was that sense of you’re swapping the chance of being hit by an arrow if you stay in white culture, with being amongst a culture where everybody cares where you’re at and they will keep you safe. And that if somebody transgressed it was a collective decision. It wasn’t a power based decision to do something about that. Listening to you, I can hear what you’re saying, but the people with the power now, they have the AI, they have the drones. How do we wrest power from them? I know you think violence is the answer. I think if we go with violence.
Rachel: No, I didn’t say that violence is the answer.
Manda: Okay, okay. Because if we go with violence and we’re unreconstructed, we’re going to recreate the paradigm that we’re fighting against. That’s every revolution that’s happened within the last 2000 years, which is basically since the Romans colonised the UK and then spread. What happened after was a mirror to what happened before. So we have to somehow, I would think, bring ourselves into that indigenous space where we’ve actually become adults before we can reasonably change the nature of our rulership structures. And how do we do that in a world of 8 billion people, where most people, well certainly most people in the global north, are behaving like children?
Rachel: But most people are behaving within community already. Like this is the thing, it’s not that alien like this. When we think about what the state provides, okay, public transport, education, sometimes housing, and it doesn’t do it very well. These institutions drag their heels, whilst people within a local community go off to make capitalist money in the city. Like what? Surely setting up a local committee of people to sort out the housing in their own area would be better, except that wouldn’t generate a lot of money for the global economy. So I really don’t think that people living in sovereign communities and figuring out how to do things together is actually that mad a belief. We already live in communities, right? Just not as much as we should or would like to. My vision is like a network of of sovereign communities living within community and networked together, sharing and collaborating essentially to keep whatever they need to be functioning. Not that there are people that still get to cling to power, except they don’t have power over anything, which wouldn’t fulfil them, right? Because then they wouldn’t be empowered.
Manda: So how do we get from where we are to where you want to be? That’s the key question.
Rachel: This is why I think sabotage probably will be necessary. Because we need to deconstruct essentially. You know, there’s that Audrey thingy quote, you can’t tear down the master’s house with the master’s tools. And I think there’s a huge amount of truth and legitimacy in that, that we need to think about. But I think the fact that previous revolutions, ‘didn’t work’ and ended up making the thing in its own image, is because they were trying to rebuild. Why are you trying to rebuild? Why do we want states? Why do we want borders? Why do we want a central bank? All of these institutions are inherently violent. They’re the real violence. We live in a fundamentally violent world, and I believe that we have the right to self-defence, quite frankly. All of these institutions were created in order to extract, exploit and divert wealth to a few. It was to create the rule of the minority. I do not think that there is a way to necessarily create them that is fully leftist quite frankly.
Rachel: I think that the only logical leftist progressive thinking ends in anarchy, where you stop the concentration of power because we have this capacity for greed and individualism and all of this kind of stuff, it’s within us all. So if we build institutions that facilitate that, it’s never going to work. So I think that sabotage will be a part of the future strategy because we have to stop the thing. We have to jam a screwdriver in the gears of the system to shut a bit of it down or slow a bit of it down, essentially. And if they are not going to listen, because it’s very difficult to change the system by us protesting and using our voices and educating one another and all this kind of stuff, then at some point a radical flank is going to choose that, route. And I think that will be a pivotal moment.
Manda: Okay. I’m hitting a big bunch of yes butts. So first of all, that radical flank will be wiped out, I would have said, very quickly. But also how, in your vision then, we seem to be heading to a space where people have degrowth and reduced power, and got communities where they’re coping within a world that’s got a very different value system. How are ordinary people making that jump? I’m envisaging a radical flank stopping the oil flow, at which point there is utter chaos. The hospitals stop functioning, nobody has transport. Nobody can grow food because actually we’re still basically turning oil into food. Billions of people die very nastily, quite quickly, and the ones that are left might have the nice vision, or they might reconstruct the old, because that’s what they knew. So in my world, we need to create the stories of the vision of the potential future such that a critical mass/50% plus one of the population sees where we’re going and wants to get there. And then you don’t need the blowing up the pipeline because you’re just going, okay guys you can produce as much oil as you like, we just don’t want it. Are these mutually incompatible? Or are we heading to the same basic horizon, just getting there in different ways?
Rachel: I just don’t think that that is a historically viable option. So if you look at Gaza, none of those people want to live under occupied rule, and yet they do.
Manda: No, and never have.
Rachel: Yeah. And they have been illegally occupied for 75 years. I mean, they don’t want it. So how is it that Israel has the right to do that? Well, because Israel has the right because it has a huge amount of power behind itself because it supports its own hegemony. People wanting something different is not enough. Because this is the thing, in the history of like feudalism and peasantry, did people want to live like peasants whilst other people lived like kings? And is that the case today? No, we don’t live in a world that people want to live in, and yet we do, because a huge amount of power and wealth is sequestered by a minority that use it to leverage a certain system in order to benefit themselves. I do not think that this is a matter of education, and I do not think that this is a matter of communication. I agree with you that we definitely need a better story. We need a thing that says to people, let go of the cliff. Just trust me. Let go of the cliff
Manda: And only some of you will die.
Rachel: We’re just below you. We’re right here. Because this is the thing. How do I put this? There is no way in which every single human being who is alive today gets to continue living. Because exactly as you said, say we switched off the oil tomorrow, then the Global North would crash, right? Because we import. That’s how we produce a huge amount of our food. That’s how we import things, yada yada yada. We don’t have the engineering and the technical and the industry and the manufacturing know how to function without oil and without that exploitation. But every day that we extract oil and gas and we import and export it around the world and we refine it, then people are dying because of that. So it’s essentially about like, what do we do that minimises harm and minimises suffering, but that also is brave enough to face the reality of the very, very, very violent world that we live in today and say to people, you have you do have the right to defend yourself from this violence. And I do believe that we do have the right to defend ourselves from this violence.
Rachel: I believe that JSO out in the streets, they are defending us. I believe that me doing my climate and corruption, that’s a form of defence. People that are trying to figure out how to grow their own food, it’s a form of defence. There are so many people trying to defend themselves. And I do believe that when a radical flank comes along, that will also be part of that defence strategy. Now I hear you around like, surely they would just be annihilated. Well, this is the thing, right? And this is why stories are important. Historically, it’s been a very effective tactic even up until very, very recently. There were two women that repeatedly sabotaged a pipeline, I believe, in North Dakota over the course of months and never got caught. And then they handed themselves over to the police because they were like ‘it was us!’. The FBI, the CIA, none of them could find them because these huge amounts of these infrastructure are over huge amounts of land that is, you know, pretty much unguarded.
Manda: Hang on a second. Are they now doing life terms in US prisons because the US prisons are not good places to be?
Rachel: Yeah. I think they’re doing 15 years. Yeah. The bravery of these women.
Manda: Right. Yeah, absolutely. The courage. But I don’t expect that the parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere is actually any less as a result of what they did.
Rachel: No, totally.
Manda: You’d have to shut down an awful lot of pipelines to make a difference. And the problem is not just the carbon. And I can’t see that that topples the people in power. It just gives them an excuse to apply a police state. Where does it take us that’s useful?
Rachel: Yeah. I get all of that, right. First of all, I’m very happy that you don’t agree with me. Okay? I think that a diversity of response is really, really important. And I think it’s very important that there’s only a minority of people that believe that sabotage could be a useful tactic. That’s critical. I’m happy to stand on the outside with this opinion. I’m in agreement that you don’t agree with me, essentially. I do not want the world to suddenly go, oh, you know what? Yeah, let’s all get armed and like resist! Like, no, no, no, no, no. It has to be really tactical and strategic and being small and knowing that your own community is going to bar you essentially adds to the desire to be strategic and tactical and effective, I think. Yes, possibly there would be authoritarian crackdowns and all this kind of stuff. I mean, it would have to be, I mean this is mad now. FYI, just for everybody listening, I do not participate in sabotage.
Manda: Okay! And never would?
Rachel: No, because I’m too public. I’m too visible. But if I were to think about a sabotage strategy, which I have, I have thought about financial sabotage. So I have thought about and gone around and asked a bunch of people with a bunch of money, hey, would you be interested in donating tens of millions to a fund in order to buy up strategic assets in an industry and shut them down, in order to take them offline? Those conversations went well. There are quite a few rich people that are very, very worried about the state of the world and are aware that their riches are going to disappear overnight.
Rachel: And I went and spoke to some oil executives and they were like, this is a good plan, yada yada yada, one small proble: the states would get in the way and stop those deals.
Manda: Right. As in nation states, not the United States, but both of those.
Rachel: Nation states, nation states would get in the way and stop those deals. And then even if a nation state didn’t because you had a solid progressive government, then the investor state.
Manda: Dispute settlement ISDs. Yes.
Rachel: Thank you very much. Investor state dispute settlement. They would get in the way and sue essentially the state for allowing that to happen.
Manda: All right. I have a question. Because this is so ISDs. But what we’re dealing with here, this is where we get to Ursula Le Guin saying capitalism seems, you know, we can’t assault it at all. And yet so did the divine right of kings, and any human power can be undone by the people that made it. Isds is a legal concept for those listening, investor state dispute settlement is basically where nation states around the world agree that a couple of guys in a room in Washington, as far as I can tell, without any oversight, can decide to give a company huge amounts of money because a government has ruled that it can no longer make huge amounts of money. So there are fossil fuel companies at the moment suing Uruguay, I think, for reducing the capacity to drill in the Amazon, and they’re going for billions. But this is a law. And there I think you’re right. Revolutions overturn laws. The divine right of kings in France ended overnight with the French Revolution. These laws require that everybody who signs up to them goes, yes, you have the right to ask me for billions of dollars. And yes, I am going to give them to you. And one thing that the Johnson government demonstrated was that if a government decides the law doesn’t apply, they just ignore it. So governments across the world could go you know what? No, we just decided not to sign that anymore. I’m sorry we’re just coming out of it. And the fact that it’s got a ten year overhang on it, we’re just not going to bother.
Rachel: But that depends who you are. So this investor state dispute settlement operates out of the world Bank. And so if a country goes, do you know what, we signed that treaty. But that was a different government that signed that treaty and we don’t uphold your rule and so we’re not going to do it. Then the aid that they depend on, because it’s typically third world countries that are getting sued, right? They aid that they depend on can be cut. Other forms of economic ‘help’, which we all know are just other forms of bondage, can be cut, and it can put these countries in really, really precarious positions. And so this is the thing with power. It is held by a few for a few. And those few typically exist in the global North, in the West. And so if people just say we’re not going to do X, Y and Z anymore, but we live in a world where they will be forced to. And that is historically what we have seen. That’s why the real change needs to happen in these centres of power and in the global north. And I cannot envision governments doing it off their own back.
Manda: Because governments are wholly owned by the the c-suites of the people who are monetising the apocalypse.
Rachel: Kind of. I think it’s slightly more complicated than that. Like, yes, I think there’s been a sort of corporate takeover of our governments, but then corporations will say that they are beholden to their shareholders, and shareholders will say that they just need enough money to survive and stuff.
Manda: So we’re back to the driverless car and the system.
Rachel: Exactly. I do have one vision for you, actually. I’ve got one nice vision for you. I would like to see a transnational green party, like the Democracy in Europe movement 25. Transnational Green Party that goes we are one bloc. And there’s like national chapters. So whilst our values are the same, sometimes our policies are slightly different depending on if we’ve got more wind over here and we’ve got more solar over here and yada yada yada yada yada. But we know that when we go to the European Parliament or when we go to the United Nations, wherever we go, we are voting as a bloc, right? Okay. And I would like to see that only because I think that would get people excited about politics again, because people are so bloody bored. And they should be bored and it’s outrageous and we will never be able to do anything whilst governments are national and whilst corporations are transnational. And whilst there are these institutions that are totally undemocratic that we did not vote for, like the United Nations and like the world Bank making cross-border decisions as well. So I think we need to like be building power as well. Like, yes, sabotage is one option. We also need to be building a kind of power that bursts open the Overton window and improves people’s imagination of possibility. Yes, I believe that. But this is the thing. I think whatever comes next has to really light a fire in people’s soul, because it’ll be like, I’ve never seen that before and I’m interested in where it goes.
Manda: Okay. Lighting a fire in people’s soul. Can you give me five more minutes? Because this, I think. So democracy in Europe, Yanis Varoufakis movement. It has seemed to me since I read Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean, which is absolutely expletive deleted terrifying, that the right is transnationally organised. They have an idea, they do proof of concept like Brexit and then they go, okay, these bits work. Let’s do this in say the Netherlands or Sweden. And we all go, oh, the Dutch weren’t expecting that. And you’re just not reading the right WhatsApp groups, I’m sorry, because this was obviously coming because they are very, very organised. They know what they want. They want a white patriarchal Christian theocracy, and they know how they’re going to get it. And the fact that that would take us to three degrees of warming very fast is not on their radar. They don’t believe that. They think, you know, climate change is a Chinese mess, which is why we’re not going to get the 10,000 year Reich, because otherwise they are organised. But if we had a democracy in movement, a green, transnational, organised, testing proofs of concept, letting the 80% of Tory party members who actually want to something really decent, giving them something to vote for that was outside the terrifyingly narrow Democratic choice that we have just now.
Manda: If we could create that, I’m thinking we need the democratic change. We would probably need the dollar not to be the hegemonic currency, but it would also need not to be linked to China. We would need a new solar coin, whatever we call it, that is not fundamentally based in violence. And we could have the brief discussion about why I think all currency is based in violence, but I think it is possible to create a currency that isn’t predicated on violence. It would have a very different set of norms, different democracy, different currency, and then giving people a vision of how the world could be different, that people could see working. And this would have to happen really fast because I don’t think the window is very huge. Given the conversations that you’re obviously having with people that I could never imagine talking to. Could we get Elon Musk on board? Could we get Bill gates on board and away from precision fermentation?
Rachel: No. No.
Manda: Okay, but still people with money. Could we get anyone on board with making that happen? And if we could, how would you design it so that it worked?
Rachel: I mean, could we get anyone on board? What do you mean by anyone? People? Yes. Some people. Yes. General public maybe.
Manda: Well, you just said there were people with lots of money who were scared who get this. That the oil executives said Yeah, this would be a really cool idea. Could we get them on board? If we could give them a structure of something that we said, look, this could work.
Rachel: I’m sure sure that we could. And like I said, I think the idea of something being new that we’ve never, ever seen before. We like that you know, jangles our dopamine in our brains and gets people really excited. Some basic neurochemistry here. Yeah. I think it would be helpful. Again, I think the thing that we keep coming back to in this conversation is I always want to add, I’m always trying to reveal the background, essentially. The background of power and the background of inequality and the background of the reality of why the world is in in this way. That people are not just going to step aside and allow the future in, essentially. Because that is frightening and because it is new and because it would typically harm their interests, right? Because we live in a world that is like deeply tribal and these tribal divisions are deliberately engendered in order to stop us collaborating on what a good world would look like for everyone.
Rachel: So I am sure that it could be exciting, and I am sure that some people would get involved. And I know that there are people up in the upper echelons of wealth and power who are deeply, deeply, deeply worried, but also feel as disempowered as you know, your Joe Bloggs on the street. And I think that’s something that we really have to understand. I remember reading an Atlantic article years ago that was talking about these Silicon Valley executives buying up land in New Zealand, where they’re building their bunkers because they’re so terrified of what’s coming.
Rachel: And it’s like, hold on, guys! You were the people that are like really rushing it to come at us. What do you mean that you’re scared? What do you mean that you feel that you can do nothing? And I think this is why understanding system dynamics is so important. If we try to take a left turn, which we should, with all of our tools, we are going against the current. And it won’t always be the current. The current will eventually change, but we are going against it and a lot will be mobilised to try and stop that change from happening. And that’s what we’ve seen. And so I think a transnational Green Party would be really, really exciting, especially for young people who have not been alive at a moment when politics was for them. I think it would be the pinnacle of our political existence, or the peak, at least for now. Yeah. And I think some people would like to get involved and to help and all of that stuff. I think that the minute that you start trying to use that transnational Green Party to deconstruct power centres and move away from certain industries and degrow and all of this kind of stuff, there would be a huge, huge pushback.
Manda: Okay. But System Dynamics says that change happens at the emergent edge. So I’m thinking back to a conversation I had with Sophia Parker last week, and then Indy Johar of dark Matter Labs a few weeks ago, and each of them is is putting money in time and effort into that emergent edge. So this is a hypothesis, because I just don’t want to leave the conversation feeling really depressed. That change is happening at the emergent edges and that tipping points do happen. And I’m also remembering going to a three week long thing at Schumacher in Devon. And I turned up in the car park and there were more high end SUVs, like Porsche SUVs, I didn’t even know they existed. Jaguar SUVs in this car park. And I’m thinking, okay, I just came to the wrong place and I literally drove around for 20 minutes trying to find another car park, and in the end, it was the right place. And I was at a, I want to be quite careful because I’m about to say who was there; a three week long workshop involved in spiritual work. Really deep spiritual work. And most of the people there were oil industry executives. And each of them, I would say ‘how?’ And they’d go, well, I obviously haven’t told anyone at work. They all think I’m at my grandmother’s funeral and I think you must have a lot of grandmothers, because this is not the first of these you’ve done.
Manda: But leaving that aside, they were oil industry executives who’d flown to the UK and then hired their Jaguar SUV to drive to Devon to engage in something that at moments was quite profound. And I’m thinking, given the chance. And yes, I get if they at the moment swam against the flow, they would just be sacked and somebody else would come in. Ben van Beurden obviously tried to do a bit with shell, and he is no longer the CEO of shell. I’m not suggesting he got it right, but it looked like he was at least thinking of trying, because his daughters had come home from school and said, dad, you’re part of the problem. Anyway, the emergent edges exist and if we can get the emergent edges to a tipping point, the tipping point happens really fast. Is there any room in your worldview for a tipping point that can carry enough of us with it without there being global apocalypse? Or are we going to end the podcast on the concept of global apocalypse is inevitable, and we just need to get used to the idea.
Rachel: I think it depends how you define apocalypse. I think I would begin with what I said at the beginning, which is that the world has always been in crisis and the world has been in crisis for the global South for a very, very, very long time. And so I push back against this.
Manda: It’s probably been in crisis for the agricultural revolution onwards, which is 10 to 12,000 years, but it’s not been at the edge of global extinction for that length of time.
Rachel: But what does global extinction matter to a people that are going extinct? Like for the people stuck in Gaza right now, I’m sure it feels the exact same as the end of the world. For indigenous peoples that have been eradicated because of disease, I’m sure it felt the exact same as the end of the world.We have to be aware of the privilege of the world, of the words of caring about the global apocalypse, rather than like the community apocalypse, which is what a huge amount of people are suffering from around the world every single day. You said you don’t want to end this conversation feeling depressed. I would challenge you to feel depressed. It is a dangerous situation that we are in. I think that I have a slightly different worldview on this compared to a lot of people that are working in this space, because I’m a journalist; it is my job to investigate this. It is my job to investigate how indigenous people are being dispossessed and to write about it. It’s my job to investigate how resources are driving wars that are then framed as ideological and religious. It is my job to speak to people that are in positions of power and have them say to me, off the record, I’m terrified and I don’t know how we stop. It’s my job to go to scientists. This is my job. And so for me, it’s about being really realistic about what we’re up against.
Rachel: Because without the bravery to be realistic and understand that the emergence of the beauty, of the beautiful, of the potential for beauty is coming out of a very, very, very long night of the soul. And it’s like us in the global north are kind of waking up to it now, and we’re just lucky to have been born in communities that haven’t been suffering under the maw of this extraction and exploitation for as long as living memory, or perhaps even communal memory holds. And so I think it is very, very important to understand that this is not just like a problem of consciousness. This is not just a problem of spirituality. We are in a spiritual crisis. Totally. But this is manifesting as so many real crises, as you said, like the sixth mass extinction event. And if we don’t get a handle on what it is that we are up against, we will lose. Because if we don’t know what is going on, then how can we take effective action? And what’s going on is that we are going off the edge of a cliff. Nobody is driving the car. It is likely that we are going to crash. That might just have to be okay. What are the things that we can build in the meantime to catch one another? Because quite frankly, a world in which we have the resources and the capacity and the compassion and the love to catch one another when we fall, that is a sustainable world.
Manda: Okay. I feel we kind of looped around to the start; What’s your theory of change? And your theory of change is, if I’m hearing you right, is that we build the compassion to catch one another for as long as we can, and then in the understanding that we might be catching each other while hurtling down off the edge of the cliff. Is that fair?
Rachel: I think that has been the majority of human existence under power hierarchies, the exploited, somehow finding the strength to have the compassion to catch one another while they fall. So as long as we live in this desperately cruel and violent world, I think Love as a form of defence, Love as a form of care, Love as a form of imagining, Love as a form of resistance. These are all the things that we need to hold on to. And to love bravely we need to be able to turn and face that which we are daring to love against, bravely.
Manda: Okay. I think we’re going to have to leave it there. I have so many questions, but I think we would be looping around the endless circle of loving bravely then takes us to where? And I think we’ve been there. And then it does seem to me loving bravely is a spiritual act. So we do come back to, if we can connect with that which allows us to love bravely and embody that, and enough of us do that. Final question: if enough of us do that, if enough of us listen to the journalists like you who are saying, this is what’s happening, we are being lied to. We are being manipulated. The world is not as we see it. Here is our version of the truth. And what we require is that we abandon the desperation inside, or perhaps embrace the desperation in order to love bravely. Is that enough? If enough of us got there globally, can you see any way through that isn’t billions of people dead.
Rachel: Um, yeah. I haven’t said that I’m sure that billions of people will die. I am not sure what is going to happen. I think that we are in collapse, and I think it is quite likely that things will continue to collapse, because I think historically, if we look at the past 20 years of political movement, nothing is being done to ameliorate the situation, only worsen the situation. And because of what we know about the systems of power and how they are distributed, it is actually very difficult to hijack one of those centres in order to then do something positive. And I think that we can also see that we don’t live by the majority rule. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. And that there’s a driverless car. So, I know that you’re pushing me for a concrete thing. I can’t. I can’t. I think that for one, I don’t think any one person should have the vision or a vision for the future. It should be this emergent, dialogic, diverse process where people get to live how they want to in the future. I mean, that in and of itself would be a revolutionary thing, right? People being allowed to live how they want to. Wow. How amazing.
Rachel: And and I also can’t make predictions around what would work and what wouldn’t work. The thing that I can say is based on what we’ve seen so far: if we did X, it’s likely that power would do Y. That’s what I can offer. And of course, I hope that we mobilise globally with like I don’t know, maybe like a global general strike would kick it off, which I would genuinely love to see. Of course I hope that we can mobilise globally in a way that absolutely minimises suffering. And that, I think, is what any sane, rational, loving person would want. How do we minimise suffering and how do we unleash the human capacity for kindness? That’s all I want. And I know that it’s all most of us want. And there must be a pretty big reason if we don’t live in that world. So to everyone who is working on that, just keep at it. Keep at it and keep networking with others. Keep building communities. Keep being brave and keep loving. I don’t know what’s going to happen to all of us. But I’m frightened. And I think that’s okay.
Manda: Yeah. Not being frightened is probably to not understand the situation. And you’re right in the middle of it, talking to the people who are caught in the driverless car. Rachel, it’s been a delight, actually. It’s been scary, but then exactly; being frightened is where we’re at. Thank you hugely for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast.
Rachel: Thank you so much for having me, Manda. It’s a pleasure.
Manda: As is often the case, I stopped recording and then Rachel and I continued the conversation. And then there seemed to be a bit at the end that I wanted to bring to you. So there’s this bit, the extra bit, just to be clear about what we’re talking about. Here we go. All righty. So we had stopped recording. We started again because you were saying the thing you should have said was: over to Rachel.
Rachel: I think something that should give people hope is that this system that we live in has been building itself for thousands of years, right? Since the agricultural revolution, since we first got the sense of private property and ownership and separation of humankind from nature. So, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of work to do. But this particular aberration of right wing extremism is pretty new in the sense of like neoliberalism has only really been around as a mainstream for 40 years, really. So that should give people a lot of hope.
Rachel: You know, in the 70s, the highest tax rate was in, I think, in the United States was around like 90%. That should give people hope. During the war, World War two, in the United Kingdom, we essentially lived in a communist state in which people went to work to help the country and build the industry and yada, yada, yada, and, you know, accepted rations and all this kind of stuff. It is within recent history. Our capacity to collaborate is within recent history, essentially. And so the system seems totally grotesque and bloated and beyond repair. And to be honest, it is beyond repair in very many ways. And the deep, entrenched ideologies of it will take a long, long, long time to unpick. However, it’s not like we have to totally envision a brand new world that just seems to have walked straight out of our imaginations with no tie to reality. Reality 50 years ago was very, very different. Reality 70 years ago, 100 years ago, it was all very, very different. We can look to our very recent history, our very recent past, to show that we are capable of organising ourselves in very different ways.
Rachel: Whether or not that’s enough to, like, not go over the cliff, who knows? But essentially what I’m saying is shifting baseline syndrome, I mean, that stuff will kill you. Things are always different. Things are always different. They will always be different. So yeah, there’s room to dare.
Manda: Wondrous. Thank you. All righty. We’ll call that a wrap.
Manda: And there we go. That is it for another week. So much to think about. And yet we do end up looping back to the same place. We have to let go of our assumptions. We have to embrace a new reality in which caring for each other is our priority. But one of the things that was new for me was this concept that we could create an international green party. Take Yanis Varoufakis idea of diem25 and stretch it wide and deep, across and between nations, so that we who want the flourishing future, we who don’t want a future predicated on power hierarchies with the inevitable destruction of the people at the bottom, have a sense of moving together. One of the things that I see so often in what we might call the progressive space, is that we fight each other over tiny, tiny nuances that really do not matter. When we could be working together towards a future we all believe in. And that means building a vision of that future. It means having a sense of what the horizon could be, in the understanding that there are a million ways to get there. But at least we could establish our common values and work out how we bring those into a world that is increasingly fractured and fragmented.
Manda: So enormous thanks to Rachel for her part in this, for holding power to account, for talking to the people who are right at the heart of this, who are balanced on the levers of change, if there ever are to be levers of change. And in our own communities as part of the Accidental Gods we are hoping next year to hold more conversations with the people who really get it.
Manda: If you would like to help us to do that, to give us ideas of who we could talk to, please click the link in the show notes or go to the website: accidentalgods.life, to the podcast tab, to the drop down menu where it says please help us, and that takes you to a form that you can fill in, where you can tell us who you would actually like to talk to so that we can bring people together, where you can ask the questions that I never get round to asking. So if you have some ideas, please let us know.
Manda: And that apart, that’s it for this week. We’ll be back next week with another conversation. Huge thanks to Caro C for the music at the Head and foot. To Alan Lowells of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts. To Faith Tilleray for the website. For the endless hours of making everything work and for the conversations that keep us moving forward. And as ever, thanks to you for being there, for getting it, and for listening. Five stars in a review on Apple Podcasts really apparently does help us to move up the algorithms. That would be good. But as ever, I think word of mouth is where we get to where we need to be. So if you know of anybody else who wants to get really where we are in the driverless car heading towards the cliff, then please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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