#197 Inspiring the climate majority with Prof. Rupert Read
What can we do to unite the overwhelming majority of people who understand that we’re on the edge of the cliff and want to *do something* but don’t know what or how? Rupert Read has a project to give them all a voice…
We’re on the edge of so many tipping points it’s hard to know where to start. But paralysis isn’t useful and so we need to talk to the people who are still moving forward – and who have ideas of how we can carry more and more people with us.
With that in mind, this week’s guest is a many-time friend of the podcast: someone completely aligned with our aims and ideals and whose energy, activism – and capacity to write and publish books that are right on the nail – leave me awestruck.
Professor Rupert Read is an associate professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia. With a first degree from Oxford and a doctorate from Rutger’s, he has a polished academic pedigree and he’s certainly written a lot of philosophical texts and papers. But it’s as an activist, thought-leader and fearless advocate for truth that he really stands out. Rupert’s books ‘This Civilisation is Finished’, ‘Parents For a Future’ and, most recently ‘Do you want to know the Truth’ are all hard-hitting examinations of exactly where we are and how we could move forward in ways that will at least begin to acknowledge the truths of the meta crisis.
It’s not all writing, though, Rupert, was one of the core founders of Extinction Rebellion and has been arrested for his actions on behalf of our future. He went on to co-found the Moderate Flank and is now one of the key thinkers and figureheads of the Climate Majority Project. He appears almost daily on television and radio in the UK and around the world and I am really grateful that he’s made the time to join us here at Accidental Gods
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 the future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your host in this journey into possibility. And this week’s guest is a many time friend of the podcast, someone completely aligned with our aims and ideals and whose energy, activism and capacity to write and publish five books in the time it takes me to write one leave me awestruck. Professor Rupert Read is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of East Anglia, with a first degree from Oxford and a doctorate from Rutgers. He has a polished academic pedigree, and he’s certainly written a lot of philosophical texts and papers. But it’s as an activist, a thought leader, a fearless advocate for truth, that he really stands out. Rupert’s books This Civilisation is Finished, Parents for a Future and most recently, Do You Want To Know The Truth? Are all hard hitting examinations of exactly where we are and ideas of how we could move forward in ways that will at least begin to acknowledge the truths of the meta crisis.
And even with all that, it’s not all about writing. Rupert was one of the co-founders of Extinction Rebellion and has been arrested for his actions on behalf of our future. He went on to co-found The Moderate Flank, and now he’s one of the key thinkers and figureheads of the Climate Majority Project, which is what he’s come to talk to us about today. He appears almost daily, it seems to me, on television and radio in the UK and around the world. And I am really grateful that he’s made time to join us here at Accidental Gods this afternoon. So people of the podcast, please welcome Professor Rupert Read of the Climate Majority Project.
Rupert, welcome back to the Accidental Gods podcast. It is an absolute delight to be talking to you again and to be watching how the project of your life is unfolding and how you’re bringing everything to bear on the meta crisis. So tell us about the latest incarnation of what you’re doing, how it evolved and where it’s going.
Rupert: Well, thanks Manda. Thanks so much. It is great to be back here. And I know you have lots of regular, loyal listeners because I hear from them quite often. And yeah, you can trace the last few years of my life through these episodes of Accidental Gods that we’ve done together. And it’s quite a delight really to be once again part of something which seems to be working. I say once again because when I helped to launch Extinction Rebellion and then spent two years in that, it was, you know, miraculous and fantastic to be in something where we had a kind of a plan. And for a while at least, the plan just worked. We made this huge dent in the nation’s consciousness. And, you know, it’s really, really encouraging to be able to do that, albeit that it didn’t obviously translate into Extinction Rebellion’s demands actually being fulfilled. So that was partly why my thinking turned to the need for a new moderate flank, which we discussed in a previous episode, to exploit the space that the radical flank successfully opened up in 2019. And well, now that new moderate flank has sort of become a reality, at least an emerging incipient reality.
Rupert: We have launched the Climate Majority Project, and I must say so far it is going quite well. Certainly it’s going very well from the perspective of getting a lot of interest and a fair bit of growth. And the interest from the public and from the media has been incredibly encouraging, especially around the time of and since our relatively recent launch. So yeah, that’s kind of where I’m at, is being excited that we may be doing something here which is once again working and our hope obviously is that it will grow and spread more or less exponentially. We shall see. It probably won’t be as fast as extinction rebellion. By the nature of the beast, what we are doing is not so sort of mediagenic and in-your-face. But it is resonating and lots of members of the public, lots of people who are getting involved already in moderate flank type activities and lots of the media are really quite intrigued. So there’s lots to talk about.
Manda: Brilliant. Thank you. So can you unpick for us a little bit about how the moderate flank became the Climate Majority Project? If I’ve understood that correctly, and what the distinction between them is, if there is one.
Rupert: Yeah. The answer to that question is fairly straightforward. The term moderate flank or new moderate flank was always deliberately a kind of placeholder, really. That’s absolutely explicit in my big Perspektiver essay, which sort of set the stall out for the whole thing. So we then embarked on a kind of pretty long and occasionally painful process of trying to come up with a way of framing and, if you will, branding what we were seeking to do that really worked. And we talked to I can’t tell you how many people, including brand consultants and all sorts. And finally we came up with this conception of the Climate Majority Project and the Climate Majority. Important distinction there. What we’re seeking to do in the Climate Majority Project is to help elicit something which is already happening out there among the emerging climate majority. So the climate majority, if you will, is a far larger phenomenon than our project. But yeah, that’s really the the essence of it. We also road tested the idea of the climate majority and the Climate Majority Project with a series of professional qualitative focus groups, and it went down really very well with them. So that helped to crystallise the decision.
Manda: Right. Brilliant. It has resonances for me and this is almost certainly giving my age away with the moral majority in the US who never struck me as actually being in the majority. They were a group of people who wanted everyone to feel that there was a silent majority that wasn’t being given its voice. And yet from what I’ve seen of the focus groups that you’ve got, there’s definitely a plurality, if not a majority, who really get that there’s something here. I don’t know if you’re happy with me doing this, but on the focus group page of the website, they posited a number of statements and then asked people presumably to vote on them. And presumably it was ranked score voting of some sort. And the one that won is really striking for me, so I’m going to read it ou. There’s a growing realisation at the moment that when it comes to climate change, things are worse, much worse than we thought. Last summer’s 40c heat wave was a wake up call for a lot of us. Protesters are raising the alarm, but blocking streets is not going to work. Politicians are pretending it isn’t happening while the oil giants are making record profits. We’re all trying to do our bit in our lives, but we’re missing a real leadership and a collective voice. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that we desperately need a grown up response from people across all walks of life, that’s not full of either false hope or only despair, but is brave enough to tell the truth and accelerate action in our communities, workplaces and on the global stage. And I don’t know what else was up against that, but that struck me. There’s so many moving parts in there. Crafting it must have taken quite a while and then definitely most people in the focus groups resonated with that. Is that right?
Rupert: Absolutely. That is right. And we were hugely encouraged by that, because it was not necessarily what we were expecting. We weren’t sure, for example, whether a lot of people would be willing to go with the early part of that statement, which is quite tough, saying things are worse, much worse than we’ve been told. As the statement goes on, of course, that proposition develops a sort of, if you will, thrutopian sense of balance, making sure that we don’t drown in despair any more than we get sucked in by false hope. But yeah, the statement, it doesn’t pull its punches. And it was very encouraging that it was preferred to various other statements, some of which were, if you will, more full on, some of which were more optimistic, some of which were a bit more euphemistic. We crafted a series of six propositions and this was the clear winner. And just to elaborate on that in terms of this idea of mobilising the majority. So what’s pretty clear from opinion polls at large is that there is a majority now who are clear that climate and nature are in real trouble and want to do something about it. So what we’re seeking to do is to appeal to that existing majority, which is real, but to deepen it and of course to activate it. And what that means is getting greater resonance with the the truth of the situation and processing the difficult reality that we are facing.
Rupert: So that .means shared inner work. It means building a culture of resilience which is built into our theory of change, and which I’m sure that listeners to this podcast will resonate with very much. But we think that that kind of shared inner work has been neglected in too much activism and action more generally to date. And then the activation on the back of that is seeking to get people, and we’ll talk more about this I’m sure as this podcast continues, to do stuff if they’re not already doing it in their communities, in their workplaces, in their churches. Wherever with other people, they potentially have power and voice. And you put all that together, so like I say, it’s about deepening and activating the existing climate majority to make it real and to make it understand its own kind of power and importance. And that’s the crucial final element of our theory of change, the sense making. The generation of a much deeper sense that this is happening already, which it is, and that it’s inevitable that it’s going to grow and that it’s far bigger than just the ghetto known as activism. And that the real live open questions are questions like, is it going to grow enough? Is it going to become enough aware of itself? Is it going to be wise enough? And these are the questions obviously, that we’re hoping to actively contribute to.
Manda: Gosh, that’s huge.
Manda: And there are again, so many moving parts in there. So can we narrow in to begin with on the sense making? Because even since the Climate Majority project began to arise, we’ve become increasingly aware of the impact of large language model AI on our general capacity to know what’s true and what isn’t. And sense making wasn’t that easy a year ago, and a year from now it’s going to be a lot harder. How do you, in whatever is the Climate Majority Project kind of core structure, how do you see sense making unfolding? So these are two questions. One is where do you see it going? Second, I’m very aware that there’s a lot of the mainstream media who at best seem to give little thought to the impact of what they’re saying. So there are the ones who are absolute climate deniers, who actually probably have thought about it quite deeply and decided that denial is the best option. There are the ones who go, Oh, climate change, very bad and then segway without pausing for breath, to the latest giant cruise ship that’s just been launched as if it was a good thing. And castigating ministers because the inflation rate isn’t coming down fast enough, like we’re still in a 1960s economic model. And there doesn’t seem to be a lot of computation happening behind the eyelids. Are you able to get people to think better?
Rupert: Yeah, well, that’s obviously a big ask. It is an ask we’re hoping to contribute to. You know, I wonder if as a way into this huge crucial question that you’ve asked Manda I might step back and say something about the the nature of the beast, if you will, vis a vis the Climate Majority Project. What kind of thing are we? What are we actually trying to do? So I would say we’re a combination of about three things which are not usually joined together. One is thought leadership; trying to be organic intellectuals, making something, enabling something to happen and to understand itself in the way we’ve started talking about. Another is a kind of umbrella type organisation; an umbrella for a vast range of things, many of which are already happening. Many of those things happening completely independent, at least so far, of ourselves. We’re hoping to enable people to see themselves as being under this umbrella, potentially. And thirdly, and quite specifically, we’re having a role which we think is potentially very important and this is where quite a lot of our money so far goes; as a kind of incubator. I’m talking about something a bit like a business incubator, where what we’re doing is helping nascent, embryonic, potentially very promising organisations in the sort of new moderate flank space to become successful. So so far we’ve been incubating roughly five initiatives and most of them we were their first funder and all of them have now gained further funding, which is one indication that the incubation is working. They’re quite diverse across different spaces of work and community and campaigning. We could talk about some of them, obviously.
Manda: Definitely, yes let’s.
Rupert: It’s those three things together. It’s the thought leadership, the umbrella and the incubation that we think offers some potential of getting somewhere in this enormously difficult but vital project. Now, turning to the challenges facing sense making right now, I’m glad you mentioned artificial intelligence, because it enables me to mention that while we called the Climate Majority Project, that is perhaps because most crucially climate is kind of the canary in the coal mine, right? Climate is the place where the breaching of planetary boundaries is most obvious and has been most understood so far. It is by no means the only breach in planetary boundaries. And I know you’ve had previous episodes on just this and we are seeking very much to integrate firstly climate mitigation with climate adaptation. Also climate with biodiversity, and then moving out into the general poly crisis and asking the question, well, is there a reason why we’re facing this poly crisis? I.e. all these apparently discrete, huge crises. And of course that takes us to the concept of the meta crisis, which again your listeners will be in many cases familiar with. That actually all of these crises have to some considerable extent common roots and common consequences. So in terms of artificial intelligence, it’s got obviously a lot to do with untrammelled growth ism. And in terms of the consequences of artificial intelligence, one consequence is likely to be greater difficulty distinguishing truth from falsity. Another consequence of a completely different order, but pointing, if you will, in the same general bad direction, is that these large language models take a hell of a lot of carbon to power them up. So there is, for that reason, among others, a risk that the artificial intelligence boom may just make the climate crisis worse rather than as some of its more naive Technophilic fans say, that it will help to, ‘solve’ that crisis.
Rupert: So the Climate Majority Project positions itself, if you will, on on the sort of leading edge of the meta crisis, which takes into account and encompasses all these different crises. Now, turning to the specific part of your question to do with, okay, so how are we going to deal with this? There’s a couple of things I’d like to just briefly mention there. One is that our first strand in our theory of change, as already touched on, is truthfulness. And this is absolutely essential. And obviously we share this completely in common with the radical flank, and it expresses itself very strongly, for example, in the activities of our incubatee MP Watch, who are all about watching their MPs and trying to hold them to account and telling the truth about what they are doing. One way, it’s not the only way, but one way in which we intend to seek to keep truthfulness at the top of the agenda and keep it possible in the face of challenges from the brave new world of AI etcetera that we’re moving into, is through making sure that not everything is online. So we have a very strong emphasis in our support for MP watch, in our support for community climate action and elsewhere on stuff happening on the ground in real communities between real people, residents, citizens. And that is one important part I think, of how we make sure that this moment doesn’t become a complete kind of spiral into uncertainty and confusion. We seek to buttress good old fashioned re localising connections between residents and citizens, in such a way that they’re more robust to lies.
Manda: Brilliant. Yeah. Okay. So connecting to real people will help us to establish levels of truth in actual physical reality and will also perhaps wean us a bit off our addiction to our screens. You said in a recent tweet: The real struggle over the next decade will not be for notoriety or power or wealth or pleasure, but for something much more precious; whether we will maintain the respect of our children. And I wholly agree with that. What I wonder is whether the people who currently have the wealth and the power see it that way and whether they care. I spoke recently to Maddie Harland, who’s the editor of Permaculture magazine, who says that Rishi Sunaks daughter completely gets the meta crisis and is really keen to persuade her father to do something and is clearly not succeeding. So there there seems to me, and I’d be interested what your experience is, because you move at these levels and I don’t. But also as a philosopher, which is probably a slightly different mindset, but how do we reach the people whose entire lives have been bent towards the accumulation of power and the money that facilitates that power? Cory Doctorow famously said it’s it’s all about power. The money is just a way of keeping score, but it’s not a bad way of keeping score. How do we reach people and/or how do we divest them of power? How do we give wisdom to those with power and power to those with wisdom?
Rupert: Yeah, beautiful question. So let’s start by briefly saying that I’m glad you picked up on that tweet. Some of your listeners will be aware that a key theme of my own work for some considerable time now has been intergenerational respect and justice and love, most of all. The book I wrote a couple of years ago called Parents for a Future is a sort of prototype case for the emerging moderate flank, for the climate majority. For saying that, look, our children, our youth have expressed themselves powerfully and called for help through the movement that Greta Thunberg started. It’s now up to adults at large to respond. And when I say at large, I’m talking about, well, the majority. I’m not just talking about the numbers who responded to the call of extinction Rebellion. We need something much wider and more powerful and encompassing if we’re actually going to, well, win. That is incredibly challenging, but it’s absolutely necessary. There is no way of dealing with a crisis like the climate crisis unless you have the majority of people at the very least positively acquiescing in some kind of fundamental change. This is not something which is capable of a kind of elite fix or tech fix, in the way that, for example, the ozone hole crisis in the 1980s was capable basically of an elite tech fix and a kind of managerialist geopolitical answer.
Rupert: Climate is and biodiversity it’s about every single dimension pretty much of our lives. And it’s going to take a huge amount of popular will to tackle in any kind of realistic way. And it’s at absolute minimum going to take a very large degree of acquiescence from people, if it’s going to be tackled in a successful way. So that’s part of the logic of why we need to have something like the Climate Majority Project being successful, if we’re going to have a decent future. The odds obviously are very much stacked against us. But well, when the odds are stacked against you, you don’t just give up, you carry on trying and you’re trying the most effective way that you can. We think that a key part of what is going to be required, if there is going to be an avoidance of collapse or even an energy descent and so forth, which is tolerable through some kind of collapse, we think that an absolute essential aspect of that is to succeed in depolarising our society to some considerable extent. Now that again in itself is an enormous challenge, especially in the face of our current social media world et cetera. But again, there is actually no alternative. We don’t get to succeed on this by, for example, just mobilising the left or something like that. So that’s a reason why one feature of the Climate Majority Project, which is very important, is that, well, we mean it when we talk about Depolarising.
Rupert: So we are, for example, involving conservatives in what we’re seeking to do and some of what people have been struck by and thought there’s something a bit different here, there’s a kind of gathering of unusual suspects. We have current and former supporters of the radical flank behind us, and we have various people from Greens or Labour or no party behind us, but we also have conservatives behind us. So, for example, our founding statement, which you can find on our website, climatemajorityproject.earth, is signed by among others, the great Lord Deben, who is speaking out so splendidly now from the Conservative benches in the House of Lords about the need to get serious on climate and nature. And the conservative philanthropist and conservationist Ben Goldsmith and Lord Randall, who was Theresa May’s environment adviser. And there will be more conservative names that will be added to that roster, I can confidently assert, in the next few months. So that’s part of how we’re trying to be serious here in saying, look, if we’re actually going to get where we need to get on this, we do need to mean it when we talk about polarisation being a bad thing and we need to mean it in a way that Extinction Rebellion didn’t really quite succeed in meaning it, when we say that we are in some fundamental sense beyond party politics.
Manda: I’d love to unpick that, but I suspect it’s a rabbit hole we’d go down quite fast. I would still like to unpick a bit about the difference between the radical flank and the moderate flank, or XR and Climate Majority project. Because you said right at the top that this Climate Majority project was not going to grow as fast as XR because it wasn’t as mediagenic or as obviously in-your-face. And I remember the early days of XR, we held a meeting in the local, very small county town, and we’d booked a room that would take 20 people and kind of spread the word in no particularly effective way, I thought. And 178 people turned up. And we had to, as an emergency, find another room very quickly. And that was after the pink boat and the April rebellion and before the October rebellion, which was a very different beast. But there was huge enthusiasm and there was a sense most of the people who turned up were either young or retired, I suspect because the ones in the middle have kids and they can’t come to a meeting at 7:00 on a midweek evening, it just doesn’t happen.
Manda: And the relief that someone was doing something and that there was something that they could become involved in was palpable and huge. It was very similar to the kind of feeling that I got when we went to places where Jeremy Corbyn was speaking ahead of the 2017 election. Where, you know, they’d book a room for 500 and 5000 people would turn up and he’d end up, you know, basically standing in the rain talking to 5000 people. And there is no other political leader in this country who could begin to get those numbers. And yet we are where we are. As if the establishment has the capacity to dampen and or crush anything that looks like it’s becoming a majority. Anything that looks like it’s got popular support.
Manda: With your three layers, your thought leadership, your umbrella and the incubation of other movements underneath, are you hoping to do something that’s more insidious and less likely to be in your face? How are you going to combine that sense of empowerment of people with not poking the bear in the eye before you’re ready to just basically take it down?
Rupert: Yeah, that’s that’s a lovely question and a smart question. Because I think you’ve basically sussed out part of what we are trying to do. So let’s think about it for example, in relation to the demands of extinction rebellion. Very reasonable demands, nothing really at the end of the day, very radical about Extinction Rebellion’s demands. Except perhaps you could say there’s something radical about the upgrading of democracy in the citizens assembly idea. What was radical about Extinction Rebellion was the methods and the tactics that were used. So the demands of XR have now been more or less embodied in a bill as many listeners will be aware, the Climate and Ecological emergency bill. And there’s a campaign to try to make that bill law. And you know, I support that campaign and consider that part of the endeavour to activate and make real the climate majority. But, there is quite a big but, which is that I think that the chances of that bill in a full on unamended form that really instantiated the XR style demands becoming law at the present time in our political system, are approximately zero. So one has to think, okay, how can that situation get changed? How either does the system get changed or how do we change the contents, if you will, of the system such that that bill could become law? And that really is quite a good way of understanding what we are trying to do in the Climate Majority project. So you should you could think of it as being, yes, a little bit below the radar, mostly. Something where the idea is to to grow and grow and grow until it becomes unavoidable and unstoppable.
Rupert: It’s a kind of medium term ambition. It’s not a short term ambition in the way that a attention grabbing radical flank type activity can be. So we’re talking about a 5 to 10 year timescale, something like that. So getting to the point maybe around the end of the decade where you could actually start for it to be credible. That the society was so altered and the political culture was so altered by everything that had been happening in politics and workplaces and communities and so forth, through the kind of climate majority type emergence, that you it could actually be credible that a government would finally legislate something like that into law.
Rupert: Now, one more thing about that is that, of course, the downside of this plan is that it doesn’t have the quick answer and the potential kind of quick win that was imagined when XR was created. And that in a different way is now imagined by just stop oil in relation to stopping new oil. But our response to that is that again, we just don’t think that there are such shortcuts. We don’t think that there is a way that you can turn the whole system on the head of a pin. And that means that there’s going to be severe damage and suffering and so on, because things are not going to change as quickly as in some sense, obviously, they ought to change. And tragically, our response to that is, yeah, that’s just how it is. There is going to be a lot of suffering and damage. That’s an argument for why there needs to be a lot more of an emphasis, which is part of our picture, on transformative adaptation and the like. And we have to face and process the tragic truth that the chances of there being any kind of shortcut that can work, whether from technocracy or from the radical flank or whatever, are not much above zero. So we need to take this slower, harder route. But we think that this route does have the great virtue of being realistic. We think it is inevitable that the climate majority will increasingly assert itself. That the moderate silent majority will keep on growing, in response to us but much more importantly, in response to the the weather et cetera. And it’s that that actually provides the biggest hope at this time. And it’s that that means that it could be that in five, six, seven, eight years time we’re getting not 178 people, but 7000 people or 70,000 people or whatever, you know, turning out in local and not so local places to create fundamental change. But if we’re going to get to that point, we’re going to have to find ways of bringing those people with us and getting them started. And that’s mostly the stage that we’re at right now.
Manda: Okay. Thank you. So I find Joanna Macy’s three pillars model really useful in things like this. Her three pillars of the great turning; which were holding actions, systemic change and shifting consciousness. And we have just stop oil as a holding action, I would say, of whatever it takes in an attempt to stop more fossil fuels being dragged out of the ground because frankly, we’ve burned more than we ever should have. And then there’s the systemic change in the shifting consciousness. And it has always seemed to me that the distinction between those two is is slightly arbitrary and and quite hard to pin down. And it sounds to me as if what you’re doing with the Climate Majority Project is combining those two. You’ve got your theory of change. You’re providing your oversight and your thought leadership and giving people an umbrella. If by the end of this decade we are hoping that the climate majority has gained a sense of itself as an identity, that people identify as part of a climate majority. Are you seeing that the will emerge a new political structure? Because it strikes me at the moment we have a Tory government who are in on 23% of the total population’s vote, which should not be allowed to happen. That’s an abomination and should change but it’s not going to change under the current system. We could have a Labour majority or Labour government in on pretty much the same next time round and they would probably have just about the same policies. So if you have 40% or more growing to actually over 50%, who identify as being part of a climate majority, can you foresee splitting apart the two party model and the first past the post system and giving the climate majority a cohesive political entity within which to act? Or is the establishment just never going to allow that to happen?
Rupert: Well, I think the short answer is we don’t know. But implicit in we don’t know is I think it’s possible, yeah. I think that that’s the kind of thing that could be the way that this whole thing expresses itself. If it really works in the kind of way that along with others, we are starting to imagine and starting to vision. And talking of imagination and vision, of course, brings in here the connection with thrutopian type possibilities that you and I have discussed before. And we think that this is one really quite important dimension of the whole thing. This is not something separate from the endeavour to co-create a climate majority. So for that reason, for example, I’m very excited to be working with an embryonic group of actors who have the splendid name of Play Your Part, who are trying to mobilise the acting community and more generally the sort of creative arts around television and film and so forth in this kind of direction. And a reason why one of the things that the Climate Majority Project is going to be doing just in the next few months, so listeners will hear about this quite soon, is creating a couple of little films in which we’re doing a little bit of thrutopian style imagination, actually with a sort of comic twist in both cases of the two which are planned so far. Because we think that we’re not going to succeed in co-creating futures, which are sufficiently different and have sufficient system change built into them unless we succeed in imagining, with a majority of people ultimately, how this could actually start to look and to feel and how it could be different and how it could be better. So the broadly thrutopian visioning is internally related, it seems to me, to the prospects for a successful mobilisation of the climate majority. And I could imagine a future in which we managed to do all of this within the constraints of the current political system and electoral system. But I think it’s much easier to imagine it happening if you start to transform those constraints.
Manda: Right. And we transform them by showing people a different model. I’m so happy that you’ve got a group of actors together. I am just about to embark on draft five of the book at the time of recording. Hopefully by the time this goes out, I’ll be at least halfway through that. And yeah, that’s another set of visioning. Given all of that, one of the key things that we haven’t spoken about much is that you said we’re going to have to do inner work. And one of the things we’ve discovered with Accidental Gods is that a set of people, a subset of people like the idea of inner work. I suspect they’re already in a minority and a tiny subset of those is prepared to give it time. Whereas my experience is that that one thing the inner work absolutely requires is time. How do you envisage helping a majority of people to do the inner work that we need to do to get us where we need to go.
Rupert: Well, let me start with my teacher, Joanna macy, who you mentioned a few minutes ago. And one of the basic things that we think is inevitably built into the situation that we’re in, is that there is going to be a lot of eco pain and suffering in the coming years and decades. It’s going to grow rather than diminish for some time to come. That’s of the nature of the beast and of how long it’s going to take to turn things around in any kind of substantial way. So in that sense, there is going to be a rising level of pressure, if you will, towards a situation where this kind of inner work, shared inner work, will present as being required. And one of the things in that context that we want to do in the Climate Majority Project, is try to help the kind of change that has occurred over the last 10 or 15 years vis a vis mindfulness, to occur in this domain as well. So we’re talking about, if you will, eco mindfulness. We’re talking about kind of field building and sense making in relation to the useful collective processing of difficult emotions which are inevitably arising from the very difficult situation that humanity has got itself into.
Rupert: And we think it is quite possible now that that could achieve a level of mainstream ness and of semi normality over the next decade, in, as I say, the kind of way that that has more or less occurred now in quite substantial parts of a society like even the British one in relation to mindfulness. So we’ve got quite a lot of active hope that shared inner work is going to be a coming thing. Now having said all that, I would say this is not something that you can dump straight on to people. It’s not going to be right now something that is for everyone. What we’re suggesting is that it is an important and emergent kind of dimension of those organisations and trends which are likely to be most successful and most promising in the environment that we are moving into. And we want to actively support that.
Manda: Oh, I so want to dig into this and it’s my podcast, so we’re going to. All righty. So a couple of things that arise for me in this. I spoke recently with Daniel Thorson, who’s a Buddhist monastic in the States, and he was one of the early founder members of Buddhist Geeks. He was really active in the early part of the Occupy movement and then to a lesser extent in XR in London and lives at a monastery in Vermont. He’s very techno literate. And one of the fears that seems to be reverberating within the more aware members of the tech community, particularly in the States, is of the dangers of an AI based religion arising. That if you have AI that can relate to you better than any human, that knows you better than any human, that understands how you learn and when it teaches you something, you cannot not learn it. And somebody somewhere manages to hitch that onto a belief system that unites people, we could we could have a global AI based religion almost overnight. Because we still do have our Palaeolithic minds, Medieval institutions and technologies of Gods and the Palaeolithic minds are quite easy to capture if you know what you’re doing. Balancing that, Daniel is setting up something called the Church of the Intimate Web based a lot, I think, on Zach Stein and others concepts that what we are at the core of our meta crisis is, is a global intimacy fracture. We don’t know how to be intimate with each other or with the web of life.
Manda: And that then hooks into, I would say, where my thinking has taken me. Which is quite clearly the problem is not that we power everything we do with fossil fuels. That’s a disaster, but it’s not the core of the problem. As you said, there’s a meta crisis. The problem is not, I listened to a Michael Dowd YouTube once, he is the doomers doomer, and one of the bright young things at the end said the problem is that we power everything that we do. I thought, well yes, that’s quite clever, but it’s also not the core of the problem. The core of the problem for me is that we don’t know what we’re here for. We know we were not born to pay bills and then die, but the system gives us that. And the system also tells us that whoever dies, having paid the biggest bills, wins. You know, that’s the nature of power and money. And we spread that across the globe as a meta concept in relative terms, very fast. In 300,000 years of human evolution, it spread in a couple of centuries, largely because the people who wanted to spread it had no qualms about killing the people who didn’t want to take it on.
Manda: Given that any new evolution of our thinking and evolution of our sense of purpose is not going to be murdering the people that don’t agree with it. As a philosopher, I want to take a slight step into your philosophical mind, can you envisage both a sense of meaning and a way of spreading that sense of meaning to people who don’t spend their entire lives thinking about this in the way that I certainly do and I think you probably do. How do we how do we create a sense of meaning that would carry us forward and is different? It has to be, I would say, a sense of meaning that what we’re here for is to connect to the web of life; to be able to ask the question, What do you want of me? And respond to it in real time. That’s a given for me. But I’ve been saying that for four years and it hasn’t spread around the world. So we need to find ways to frame it such that it works. Over to philosopher Rupert.
Rupert: Yeah, well, what a huge and beautiful question. I think I’ll just try to say two connected things in response to it. One is to go further down this track of thrutopian imagination and how that is necessarily linked to the Climate Majority Project type aspiration. I think that what at least some of these thrutopias that we develop in the coming years needs to consist in, is the kind of thing that you’re talking about, Manda. I’m sure it’s present in your current thrutopian novel writing, for example. It needs to be present in films and dramas and music and so much more as well. And I’m very much hoping that this trend can run right alongside the emergence of the deepened activated climate majority and be integrated with it. To help to give people together a sense of exploring that kind of dimension of life and of how the future could be much more about that. And the second thing, which is, as I say, directly connected to this first thing, is that I believe strongly that the actual endeavour to prevent collapse, if we can, to transformatively adapt to confront the climate crisis in an intelligent way, to find our variegated, but ultimately kind of joined up ways in our professions and our businesses and our institutions and ultimately our politics, of turning to a saner way of living and one that will enable us to to gain respect from our children, etcetera.
Rupert: I profoundly believe that this is going to give more and more people more and more meaning, in a time which is very bereft of meaning and shot through with various kinds of nihilism. Our younger generation are absolutely crying out for some kind of sense that their future isn’t just going to be a boot stamping on a global face forever. And are really desperately in many cases, hungry for some kind of sense of this. But it goes far beyond them. I think it afflicts virtually all of us in a society which has lost its way, civilizationally and spiritually. So I think that some people, as they start to co-create local resilience, or as they work together in their place of work to try to stop being part of the problem and become part of a better future. I think that more and more of these people, these people who are part of the emerging climate majority, are going to gain a sense of their life having purpose in the way certainly I’ve fully gained that sense, over the last decade.
Rupert: And I think that’s a wonderful thing and a necessary thing. And again, a cause for enormous hope and excitement really, in the face of this existential threat. The way I sometimes put this is that the existential threat hanging over us, well, so what if there’s no reason for our existence? So the existential crisis that we’re in, it has to be an existential crisis in the kind of sense that the existential philosophers talked about, Yeah? And not just in the sense of, oh, well, humanity might be about to destroy itself. You know, who cares if it hasn’t actually got a reason for living? So we will find the reason for living in the struggle to prevent our destruction. But what we will necessarily find if we actually do prevent our destruction, is that there’s more reason to live than simply to prolong your own existence. There has to be an actual reason every step of the way for why this matters, and why it’s better to do one thing than another.
Manda: Hmm. Yeah, because I speak to quite a lot of people, more offline than online, I have to say, but that if it was only the destruction of humanity, there’d be a lot more sanguine. It’s the fact that we seem to be taking everything else with us. That some life will survive; the last mass extinction it was something like 97% of all species wiped out and 3% is still quite a lot of bacteria and amoeba in the depths of the Marianas Trench and things that survive and eventually evolve into squirrels and giraffes and rose bushes. But it takes a long time. But yes, thank you. I think that sense of purpose and meaning in this moment and that it’s bigger than paying the mortgage and getting a new holiday in the sun, feels as if it’s something that could really take off. And yet we’re at a point at the time of recording, there were a bunch of byelections last week. Labour lost one by slightly under 500 votes and already they are ditching climate policies. Rather than saying, Oh look, more than 500 people voted for the Greens; if those people had all voted for Labour, we would have won this seat. But they didn’t because we didn’t give them a single reason to consider voting for us and we gave them lots of reasons not to.
Manda: Instead they’re going, Oh, we must make ourselves even more like the Tories. So let’s abandon huge swathes of policies that were not even vaguely green. I don’t know what an ungreen pseudo green policy colour is
Manda: But these people are locked wholly in growth ism. Yeah, grey. Growth ism is their religion and they are supported by media for whom that is the case. Are you getting traction in any parts of the media, because I think it was you or somebody I spoke to recently around the same time as speaking to you, who said that in the green room at the BBC and elsewhere, the producers come in and say, You mustn’t say anything that isn’t optimistic. And optimistic basically means business as usual can continue, we’ll just power it slightly differently, know we’re all going to have electric cars and that’ll be the only change you need to make. Everything else will be just the same. Are you getting that kind of message still? Or are you getting people inviting you on and saying, yes, tell us what’s actually happening and we’ll listen.
Rupert: Yeah. So, look, let me be very clear in case I haven’t been clear in all this talk about how I’m feeling, very optimistic about the Climate Majority Project and about how there are all these kind of signs of hope and so forth. Our situation is absolutely desperate. Part of why it’s so desperate is that people don’t mostly still even have a very clear idea at all of how desperate it is. And it’s desperate on multiple dimensions. We are in a meta crisis. Most of the attempted alleged solutions to the climate crisis have the risk of making the biodiversity crisis or other parts of our lives worse rather than better. We are at very grave risk of jumping out of frying pans straight into fires that we have created. And when I stop and think, as I sometimes do, about how desperate our situation is, it can be very overwhelming and it is very difficult to get that centred in media type discussions. It’s easier than it was five years ago, but it’s still very difficult and we’ve still got a long way to go. What I can say is that, well, firstly the Climate Majority Project is indeed getting noticed quite positively and with quite a lot of interest in quite a lot of the media. And there is some kind of openness there. And secondly, that my experience of the media is that there are again increasing numbers of people within the media, who are really deeply concerned and realise that there’s something deeply wrong with their jobs and their lives and their industry and their messages and so forth.
Rupert: And well, one of the things that we try to do in the Climate Majority Project is really look at what are the kind of key leverage points in society. So we believe, for example, that community climate action and transformative adaptation has huge potential as a leverage point because it’s a way of waking people up. When people realise that it’s not just about 2050 or 2100, it’s about building resilience now for shit that is coming at fans, you know, right now with our crazy weather. Then that wakes people up more generally and also therefore helps on the agendas of climate mitigation and biodiversity and so on and so forth. Other key leverage points we think include the law and insurance, maybe audit and then one obviously is the media itself. And I’m excited to be at the early stages but anyway of talking with a number of people in major broadcasting organisations and journalists and also some retired people in the media who are interested in trying to see if there’s something that can be done from within, as it were. Because that’s one of the key kind of things that we try to argue for in the Climate Majority project. It’s not enough to just expect politicians or politics to change everything from the top down. It just isn’t going to happen that way. We’re going to have to get a lot of kind of ground upwards groundswell kind of changing through the institutions before we get enough political leadership.
Rupert: So yeah, it’s early days, but I’m working with a few people in the media who are very much of this mindset. And what they say to me is that they think that there are more and more people like them in the media. And I suspect that this is the case actually in many key walks of life in society. And that’s what some of my experience talking with, for example, civil servants and politicians and various kinds of business people has been in the last several years. That there’s there’s still a kind of taboo around really facing up to collapse awareness and full understanding of how bad the climate situation is and so forth. But behind the taboo, there is an ever growing awareness and along with that, an ever growing sense of God, we’ve got to do something about this. And that’s what makes it possible to imagine that something like the Climate Majority Project is actually going to work.
Manda: Yay. Okay, we’ve almost run out of time and that would have been a really good place to stop. However, we haven’t really spoken about your incubator projects. There are five of them. Community Climate Action, Lawyers for Net Zero, MP Watch you’ve already talked about, Wild Card and People Get Real. Community Climate Action seems to me the one that most likely people could replicate around the country of those, but any one of the five would be interesting. Do you want to give us just a very brief couple of minutes on what kinds of initiatives you are supporting and why? And then a tiny bit about Community Climate Action.
Rupert: Yeah. So I’ll start with a bit more on Community Climate Action then. So basically the idea here is what if there were resilience building, food growing, perhaps community energy production happening in local communities, including crucially rural communities, including perhaps conservative voting or Brexit voting, rural communities. That really sought to involve the community at large, and that didn’t, as the wonderful but in full success limited Transition Network has done, tends to have more success in areas which were more sort of progressive activist type areas, etcetera. What if that were able to to happen and to be planned for and to be rolled out? And that’s the essence of the model. And the sort of flagships for it are here in East Anglia. But it is linking up with stuff going on elsewhere in the country and indeed the world. And also we’re hoping to synergize increasingly with transition and with the many other sort of ground upwards initiatives of this kind of general type, which keep on growing. So that’s community climate action.
Rupert: Something about Wild Card. Wild Card is a sort of innovative kind of campaigning organisation. They’ve got this very clever ask, which they are having some success with, which is they want to pressurise the Royals to rewild their lands. And they’ve had some success, for example, with Prince William, and they’ve had some success with the Crown Estate and they’re seeking to be quite kind of fluffy and positive in going in this important direction.
Rupert: And then let me mention Lawyers for Net Zero, which we haven’t talked about at all yet, which is very inspiring in the workplace area and could act as a kind of model in that area, a crucial area, the law. And there’s obviously various ways in which lawyers have key potential in relation to climate and so forth. One is obviously through litigation, which is which is crucial, but another is through the actual work that that lawyers do. For example, inside organisations, inside corporations. Lawyers, the general counsel especially are a key voice here who could move things more in the right direction rather than in the wrong direction, as they’ve sometimes done in the past. Some listeners will be viewers of Succession. It’s interesting to note the realistic way in which the character of the general counsel in Succession is probably the most striking character in the firm, except for anyone who’s in the family. The general counsel is a sort of consigliare and is somebody without whom a lot of things just can’t happen. Well, the idea in Lawyers for Net Zero is what if general counsel get together with each other, educate themselves a bit on climate and determine to get serious together on undertaking climate action? And so far it seems to be having some quite intriguing success, you know, among these completely unlikely unusual suspects.
Rupert: These are by no stretch of the imagination climate activists, but they are people who are potentially in a position to undertake real climate action. And one little straw in the wind is that the CEO of Lawyers for Net Zero has recently won the Lexus Legal Personality of the Year award, which is very striking because he’s not a lawyer. Whereas, you know, all year after year after year, it’s one lawyer or another who who wins this award. But the legal profession seems to be recognising that something is happening here. The reason this fellow Adam Woodhall launched Lawyers for Net Zero is because he thought, this is an area of potential high leverage. So it’s a classic, for instance, of the climate majority strategy. And that’s not surprising because Adam was the person who co originated the idea of the new moderate flank with me in the first place. So I’m working on it at the macro level, if you will, and he’s working on it at the meso or micro level of the legal profession. And yeah, it’s, it’s an encouraging precedent.
Manda: Wow. He would be a very interesting person to talk to on the podcast. I will put that down on my list of possible people. We’re definitely over time. Rupert, this has been fascinating and inspiring and encouraging and I am so glad that this movement has you at its head because you’re just so full of ideas and enthusiasm. Is there any last thing you wanted to say to general people listening other than head for the website and sign up everywhere that you possibly can?
Rupert: Well, thank you so much for those kind remarks, Manda. Apart from asking people to head to the website, I would say do bear in mind that given our structure, this umbrella aspect, the incubation aspect, etcetera, um, this is not the kind of thing where you head somewhere and we have all the answers. On the contrary, most of the answers are in you. You the listener I now mean, right? This is going to take a ground upwards rising of of energy and the development of a wave which is going to be far huger than anything that the Climate Majority project as such will have oversight of, let alone control of. So don’t just ask what the Climate Majority Project can do for you. Ask what you can do as part of the Climate Majority. How about that to finish with?
Manda: Perfect. That’s a very grand place to end. Rupert, Thank you for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast. It’s been a delight as ever.
Rupert: Thanks Manda.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Rupert for taking time out of what sounds like a truly crushing schedule to come and talk to us. And as he said, please do go and visit the Climate Majority Project website. I’ve put the link in the show notes, but if for some reason you don’t want to go there, it’s climatemajorityproject.com. So it’s really easy to find and there are genuinely so many ways that you could become involved. If you have the means, you could give them some money and they can put it into some of their other incubators. Or you could join or set up one of the groups mentioned under the incubating rubric. The Community Climate Action, Lawyers for Net zero, MP Watch, Wild card or People Get Real. If they don’t exist in your area, then you could set one up. And if setting things up doesn’t feel like you’re kind of thing, then just get on to the website and have a look at the different ways that you could take action. We’re always looking on this podcast for active things that people can do that will make a difference. And if the theory of change that Rupert has suggested is accurate, then what this takes is as many people as humanly possible all around the world to join up and spread the word.
Manda: We need a big movement to make the political and practical and cultural differences that can begin to change the existing system. So please, if you do nothing else in the next couple of days, go and have a look at the website, Pick one thing and do it. Yay! Okay. So as ever, we’ll be back next week with another conversation. In the meantime, enormous thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot. To Alan Lowles of Airtight Studios in Manchester for the production. To Faith Tilleray for the website and the YouTube channels and all of the work that’s going into different ways of getting this out into the world. Thanks to Anne Thomas and Gill Coombs for the transcripts. And as ever, thanks to you for listening. If you know of anybody else who gets it and who wants something that they can do that doesn’t involve gluing themselves to the front door of a bank or walking slowly in front of traffic, but still feels worthwhile. Please send them this link and get them to join the Climate Majority Project. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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