Episode #156 Living Well within our Limits: Actions for systemic change with Prof Julia Steinberger
How do we live well, while staying well within the limits of the global biosphere, the extraordinary living planet that is our home? How can each of us bring the most effective actions to bear to ensure that the new system grows into something health-giving?
Professor Julia Steinberger, of the University of Lausanne, researches and teaches in the interdisciplinary areas of Ecological Economics and Industrial Ecology. She is the recipient of a Leverhulme Research Leadership Award for her research project ‘Living Well Within Limits’ investigating how universal human well-being might be achieved within planetary boundaries. She is Lead Author for the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report with Working Group 3.
She has held postdoctoral positions at the Universities of Lausanne and Zurich, and obtained her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has published over 40 internationally peer-reviewed articles since 2009 in journals including Nature Climate Change, Nature Sustainability, WIRES-Climate Change, Environmental Science & Technology, PLOS ONE and Environmental Research Letters.
As part of our drive towards finding the people at the leading edge of change, we wanted to connect with Prof Steinberger really to unpick the detail of personal and collective action. Each of us is only one person and the nature of the change can feel overwhelming even while it feels urgent. So we need to hear directly from the people whose entire lives are given to solving this problem and who have concrete ideas of what we can do and how, who can direct our priorities and show us where the best leverage points lie. Prof. Steinberger has clear ideas of how our culture can live within planetary boundaries and we unpick them in this podcast.
Manda: Our guest this week is Professor Julia Steinberger of the University of Lausanne. Julia researches and teaches in the interdisciplinary areas of ecological economics and industrial ecology. She specifically looks into the connections between how we use resources and human well-being. She looks at the historical links between resource use and the socio economic parameters that define our current culture. She’s been given a Leave Behind Research Leadership Award for her research project, Living Well Within Limits, which investigated how universal human well-being might be achieved within planetary boundaries. She is also one of the lead authors on the IPCC’s recent report. Although on this podcast, as elsewhere, she is speaking for herself and not for the IPCC. So people of the podcast to explore some of the ideas of someone who spends her entire life looking at how we can live within planetary limits. Please do welcome Professor Julia Steinberger.
Julia, Welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. Thank you so much for managing the time difference between here and Switzerland. So if the IPCC report is correct, we have very little time to shift the great big tanker of capitalism to something that is actually regenerative and not just sustainable. So something that’s healing the damage we’ve done, rather than simply doing less damage than we used to do, or at least greenwashing it so that we can tell ourselves that. And it seems to me that this is what you do, is look at how we, the people, can make the differences that will move us forward in a way that leaves us with a planet that we’d actually find inhabitable. In your view, what are the simplest and most straightforward (if there are any simple options) that individual people can do.
Julia: First, thanks for having me on the podcast, Manda. So I should really first just state since I’m an IPCC lead author, that I’m not speaking on behalf of the IPCC here, but it is also true that the IPCC itself is quite agnostic on capitalism or any other economic system. The main thing it’s saying is that we need systematic change in production and consumption across all sectors of the economy. So even if it is capitalism that succeeds in doing this, it’s going to look extremely different. And we’re looking for systemic change across the board. So in production, in everything that happens in the middle and in consumption. And what that means in terms of individuals who would want to participate in that systemic change; which ideally we all would, since it’s really in our own interest; it’s in the interests of every single living thing on earth and ours, because we’re also living things on earth. And so I think it’s really to have a radar out for all the ways in which one can participate in that transformation. So it’s not to say, I’m going to do this one thing through one aspect of my life, but really to sort of try to look at one’s life as a whole and say, okay, I am all these different things that I do and can do and am interested in and have contact with, and how do I sort of amplify all of those to become an agent of systemic change?
Julia: So I think it’s really having the systemic radar out. And one way to do that is to try to start doing a mapping of where you are as a member of your household, as a member of your family, your friend group. Any hobbies or outside interests you might have, where you are in terms of your workplace. And also as a political actor and activist within your community, your country and so on. So basically try to have a full spectrum picture of yourself, so you can think, okay, well what in each of those roles could I do to try to change things in a systemic way? And then if there’s one role where in particular you think that, hey, you know what? If I could shift this thing, if I could convince some other people to help me out and shift this thing, for instance, and in my workplace. If my workplace is a very carbon intensive place, for instance, or really needs to change our investment practices or whatever, then maybe that’s the place where you should be putting a lot of your effort. And if there are other areas where you think you could really make a bigger change, then you should be putting more of your effort there. But I think it’s really about seeing yourself as a whole person and as a participant in multiple aspects of the systems that surround us, which all need transformation. So, you know, pick one, pick your favourite.
Manda: Pick your favourite. There was a wonderful graph on your blog; a kind of flowchart. And one part that really struck me was learn about Adrienne Marie Brown’s pleasure activism. And I couldn’t get that link to work, but I was kind of curious about what pleasure activism was. I would really like to explore that in a moment. Let’s do that now. Let’s explore pleasure activism, because then I want to go back to individual advocacy versus creating mass movements. What is pleasure activism? How does it work and how can people get involved? Because it sounds fun.
Julia: Well, I’m not a specialist here and the flowchart is not my own. It actually comes from another person whose name obviously escapes me right this second. But she’s a wonderful woman. I believe she’s based in California and the website is at grantgatherer.com I believe or dot org. But my understanding of this principle is basically, a lot of people say, oh, if you want to become active in society or active in a cause, you have to become an activist. And dear God, that sounds tedious, right? You have to stop showering and then you have to grow dreadlocks. You know, they have this sort of stereotypical idea of like and then you have to sort of wear a lot of used clothing and go around with homemade cardboard signs or pop up, possibly learn how to make puppets or glue yourself to different objects in the infrastructure. So people just have this very tedious and sort of drab idea of what it means to be an activist. When really activist means agent of change, it really means people who are taking an active role in their lives and in their societies.
They’re basically acting as responsible community members and citizens. And the idea here is that that should be part of life. It should not be this extra chore you put on yourself. It should be part of your normal interaction with people and it should become part of the parts of life you look forward to. It should become part of your friend group, your friends, your socialising. It should be basically just a part of the fabric of your life. And if you have any talents or any hobbies or any specific skills, activism can use all of those. So there are people who do musical activism or theatre or if you know about communication or layout. So any professional skills you have can definitely be used in activism. Database building, for instance, really important. So basically, trying to understand activism as something that you want to be part of your life and that you are going to be good at and unique at. I think is really important, basically for everybody to find their own sort of niche as an activist,
Manda: Brilliant.Thank you. So let’s get back to people need to find their own individual field. That’s clear. They need to find what they’re good at, find what makes their heart sing and move. Given the timescales of the IPCC report, which basically: by 2025 we need to be shifting the means of production and the means of consumption away from being carbon intensive. The IPCC is focussed on carbon, but you and anyone else in this field, we’re aware that there’s a biosphere that is also under threat. There’s an ecological crisis as well as a climate crisis, and there’s a social crisis of growing inequality and where what we might call the global north, or the imperial countries, or whatever phrase we like to use; are predicating quite a lot of this shift to what they call a green economy, on increasing desecration of the global South. It seems to me that if every car in the US was to become an electric vehicle, it would require 40 times as much lithium as is currently being produced. And the lithium that is currently being produced, seems to be completely destroying the countries that are producing it. How do we as consumers within the culture that we currently have… Do you have routes, effective routes, to shifting the nature of our consumption in a way that isn’t simply making us feel a bit better? You buy an electric car and then it’ll all be okay and you can still drive the same miles. Seems to me not actually to work. What you need to do is create a car club, minimise your transport, use a car that is shared with 30 other people and then that could be electric if you have good sources of electric power. But even that seems to me not enough and not fast enough. And this is your field and I wonder where you get to and what we can do, that is going to nudge us away from what feels like quite a big cliff.
Julia: So I really think that seeing oneself as a consumer is a dead end, Right?
Julia: Because the whole point of consumer society, I mean, literally consumption means to burn up, right? That’s the original root of the actual word. And being seen as consumers, it means we are the things that burn up our environment and that is our role. So we really have to start seeing ourselves as citizens, as community members. And I think that from that perspective, it’s much easier to take a stance that’s a more radical stance and a more fruitful stance. So a lot of things have to change in production, consumption and everything in between. And a lot of the change in production-consumption in the global north is going to have to be ramped down. That’s basically what you’re getting to. It’s like we’re talking about downscaling the magnitude of resource flows, energy demand and so on. But there’s also going to be some stuff that has to be ramped up. So one of the things that’s really interesting that we see in research is that it is now possible to be a human on planet Earth with a decent sort of, I would say, modern level living standard in terms of having comfort, thermal comfort, a house that’s heated and cooled to a comfortable temperature, that’s comfortable for our bodies. Having all the modern conveniences of refrigerators and freezers, which are really important to have a decent diet and preserve food. I mean, these are not luxuries. It’s also really necessary if you’re ill. There are certain types of antibiotics that need to be refrigerated and certain types of medicines, as well as for cooking and so on.
So we’re talking about a world where you have access to all the sort of gadgets, things, well, not gadgets, but things we use in our daily life, at a low level of energy use. It is possible to have a decent living standard at low level of energy use. But this is a high tech world. This is not a low tech world. This is a world that involves the most efficient technologies we have. And so I think one of the real strengths that we all need to be aiming for, is this idea of sufficiency and efficiency. So sufficiency means that in your living standards you don’t live in a McMansion, you live in a modest sized flat that you’re comfortable in and you know, we’re not talking about overcrowding, but we’re also not talking about having these huge barns. That’s one thing. That’s what sufficiency would look like. But then those flats can be really well insulated, heated with heat pumps, and and it takes very little energy to do that. So that’s sort of the magical time we live in, is that it’s possible to live well with less stuff, but only if we’re using the most efficient technologies. And as far as transportation goes, the most efficient technologies are walking, electric bicycles are amazing. So we have this electric micro-mobility, which is just super efficient. My belief is that if the electric bicycle had been discovered, nobody would have ever bothered with cars because they’re just such an amazing thing.
I mean, you just get so far, frighteningly fast, honestly, at very, very low energy consumption. So we have these options, but we’re really talking about not replacing electric cars with current automobile levels. And that’s very bad news for the automotive industry, but it’s excellent news for the rest of the world and for the living world in its totality. So I think that this is one of the things that we have to really be strategic about, is this idea of sufficiency first, efficiency second. And then, of course, we’re powering everything with renewable energy. Which as the IPCC has shown, has now become globally cost effective. It now cost less on average per kilowatt hour to produce it with renewable power than to produce it with fossil fuelled power. Let alone nuclear power, which is generally very, very expensive; I mean, it just has quite a lot of costs associated with it. But it’s going to be much easier to power everything with renewable energy if we’re not saying we need to use as much energy as we use now, if we sort of organise ourselves differently. And what that means is certain industrial sectors have to be ramped down, certain industrial sectors and certain technologies have to be ramped down pretty much to nothing as part of this production transformation. And some of them have to be ramped up and that includes lithium extraction. And sadly, because lithium is not a nice material to mine or to process, it should also mean that we recycle the lithium we already have, so that we go towards a closed loop economy. There was no reason for lithium ever to end up in a waste stream where it is not recovered.
But right now our countries are not sadly investing sufficiently in lithium recovery. You need an industrial setup that is probably publicly funded. It is not going to be privately profitable for a while, I would guess. So that’s something where some things you need public investment in, and that’s a clear case for that. And in terms of the locations of extraction, that’s something where you really have to make sure that the companies that are doing it have a huge amount of public scrutiny, and are in contact and communication and answerable to the people who live in those areas, right. So that they’re not destroying the water and the land and so on. Because mining is a horrible activity. It’s not nice. However, we all depend on industrial production. We can’t go back, because going back would only be possible at hunter gatherer levels or early agrarian levels, would only be possible at much, much lower populations than we have now in terms of land usage, for one thing. So we can’t go back. But what we can do is we can try to be responsible about things. And the impacts of responsible mining are a tiny fraction of the impacts of irresponsible mining, and that’s something that we as participants in this, really need to pay attention to for sure.
Manda: Do you know what the leverage points are for that? I’ve been reading quite a lot, listening quite a lot to people talking about extraction and the mining. And it sounds like the existing companies depend on very poor labour laws and and very little regulation. How do we as human beings, particularly in the global north, how do we exert pressure to make sure that this is happening?
Julia: Yeah, absolutely. So there are a lot of cases where legislation can be used. So legal frameworks. Because these companies don’t respond to morals, they respond to threats, right? I mean, they’re basically I mean, mining industry is like the extractive frontier of our society. Literally the coal face of extractivism and exploitation. And they’ve sort of grown up, often with sort of exploitation and domination as their cultural history, and will take all the liberties they can. So you can sort of count on them to be as horrible as they can get away with. I would say that there’s there’s a long way to go before their corporate culture changes. However, they are vulnerable to the perception of their corporate culture and the global north. And so that’s one thing where judicial recourse in terms of human rights, so basically participating and supporting in efforts of groups that try to bring human rights responsibility to bear on these companies, is really important. So those campaigns can be quite effective. In Switzerland, we had a huge campaign to bring Glencore and other companies that have their headquarters here. For instance, did you know that I think it’s most of the copper that’s mined in Zambia goes through Switzerland financially? None of it makes it here physically. You know, because of Glencore, Right? So there’s just this massive extractive mess and their human rights record is appalling. Their social justice record is appalling. And so there was an initiative to say that all multinational corporations have to abide by human rights. Now, this is legislation that already exists in a bunch of countries, but it doesn’t exist in Switzerland. If you’re in a country where that legislation exists, you can support groups that are basically asking for scrutiny and financing lawsuits against those companies, to sort of force them to behave properly. That’s one thing that those companies are vulnerable to, is the judicial area. Well, the other route is just sort of communicating about their practices and amplifying what they’re doing. So again, supporting groups that are campaigning for justice in those most affected areas.
Manda: Okay, That sounds plausible, doable and and something that people could take on board. And it seems to me that in your idea of the radar, of really examining our own existences, we need to somehow go down the line. Not just from okay, it might be good. And a lot of people argue to swap the car for an electric car. It would be much better to swap the car for an electric bike. But even so, we need to somehow follow the repercussions of that more than we are used to. I think we’ve grown up in a fossil fuel economy, where unless there’s a really big oil spill and we watch the videos of the seabirds on the shore covered in oil, we don’t really get to see the impact of what we are using and and how it’s affecting the rest of the world. And perhaps we need to undo that. If we’re going to move to a low energy living, I loved your idea of sufficiency and efficiency together. When I last looked at the numbers, average in the global North was about 12,000 kilowatts per year per person, power usage. The lowest is in the global north is Gaza, which is 0.1 kilowatts per year. But that’s because they’re having their electricity supply completely cut. Yemen was 69. Obviously, if you look at people like the Sami, it’s tiny, tiny fractions even of the Gaza use. How do people in the global north assess – ordinary individuals – their energy use? When so much of it is is pushed away. I may look at what’s the electric vehicle using? But it’s very hard to look at what was used in its construction, what’s used in the tires, what’s used in the roads. How do we begin to assess that in a way that is impactful and useful?
Julia: So first of all, I’m used to thinking in terms of giga joules, and we also have to be thinking… So it’s just everybody has their favourite unit in energy.
Manda: Okay. Well, tell us what your units are then.
Julia: Yeah. Well, and also the other point is this isn’t just about electricity, it’s energy usage, full stop.
Julia: So including heat and including, as you said, all the embodied energy. So I think the main point is a strategy of sufficiency is very simple, because one of the things we’ve noticed in our in our data and our studies is that all over the world, when people have more disposable income, they tend to spend it on travel, which is an extremely energy and emissions intensive. So either bigger cars, driving for longer, taking more flights and that sort of thing. And so one of the main things is you need to think about taking doing your activities in a way that’s closer and in a way where you’re taking the train. So the train is by far the most efficient way of doing long distance public transportation.
Manda: It is in Switzerland, not in the UK. The trains are horrible, but yes, we could create public transport that actually works.
Julia: The UK has a fantastic train network. I mean, if you’re thinking if you’re comparing it to the US, the UK is absolutely gold plated. So I wouldn’t, I would not say that things are worse than they are in the UK. In the UK it is entirely possible to travel the country by train, with some extra buses or whatever. But it’s the same in Switzerland. We have a postal bus system for the last few miles. So it’s not necessarily going to be as convenient as driving a car, but that’s the kind of thing that you want to be thinking about; is getting to the places you want to get in a low carbon way, which is public transportation by land, basically.
And also taking holidays closer by. So I happen to have the unfortunate experience of having cancer once. I had chemotherapy, I couldn’t really travel, so we decided that summer to stay close to home and we went to have a week of holiday in between chemo treatments for a few days. I think it was a week and a half in the Lake District. And the UK is so chock full of amazing places and you might not even think of them. And of course the Lake district is stereotypical, but there are other places that we went since then, that have been absolutely astounding.
And so I think that that’s also something, is that if you are in a place, love that place, figure it out. Experience it, go back to the places you love. And don’t see the consumption of space as something that is inherent to your human experience. Like, do not think that you need to spend a week in Thailand every so often to be a whole person. That is nonsense, that cannot be what it means to be human being. So that’s one point. Another point is in terms of consumption of space. So housing and heating is sort of another big chunk of people’s consumption and emissions. So keep the thermostat down. I mean, and obviously this is something that only applies to people with enough revenue in the UK, because a lot of people are in energy poverty and living in really unsanitary conditions where they can’t heat their places enough. That is obviously unhealthy, because you get damp, you get mould and you get really long term health consequences like I think rheumatism or arthritis, like sort of joint pains from living in cold, damp places is a real thing. As well as respiratory infections. Like, I’m not saying that. But if you keep the place that you’re occupying heated to a reasonable temperature, so it’s healthy and dry, you don’t have to be heating a huge space, right? That’s one thing.
So I’m in a room here. I’m heating that, I’m not heating the rest of the house. Everything else has it’s radiators turned off. And the third big one is diet. And so there it’s really a question of moving towards plant based diets. It doesn’t mean giving up meat or animal products altogether, but it sure as heck means cutting back on them. And this can seem hard at first. It’s the one that touches the heart the most, because food is love is culture, is family, is cultural heritage, all kinds of things. So I understand, I’ve been there too. But it is possible to cut out, you know, easily 90% of your meat eating. If you’re eating meat once a day, you can definitely cut that way down and still enjoy your cultural heritage. And you know also be healthier, right? This is a win win in terms of physical health and longevity. So these are things that one can learn to do if you want to. Some tricks as to how to switch diets; I mean, one can go there, I would just say like be kind to yourself. Don’t treat it as a moral absolute, don’t feel like a bad person if all of a sudden you need to have a cheese sandwich or anything like that. Just try to get there and experiment and see what works for yourself. I would say it’s much easier to do now, because basically everybody’s gone vegan, so it’s much easier to do now than it was, let’s say 20 years ago when there was nothing. It should be a lot easier.
And then the fourth realm is, after we’ve done transport, housing, food and the fourth one is consumption. In terms of just your expenditures. That one again: get stuff you need, get stuff that’s high quality, get stuff you’re going to use the heck out, get it used if you can. And don’t be a consumer, basically. Do what you need to do, but not necessarily more. The fifth domain, of course, of personal money, because we’re basically talking about how you’re spending dollars in the world and whether those dollars are energy intensive or not or emissions intensive or not, is, of course, finances. So definitely get your money out of fossil banks. And there’s I think there’s a website called fossil banks no thanks. So you can figure out which they are. And so switch accounts to a more ethical bank and there are quite a few of them in the UK, so that should be easy to do as well.
Manda: And I’ll find fossil banks No thanks and put that in the show notes. Brilliant. Okay, so those are all individual things that people can do. I’ve been reading your blog and there was a bit that really struck me. I’m going to read out a little bit from it, which says: ‘secondly, and this is crucially important, individual action on its own, unaccompanied by other measures, may be almost worse than nothing’. Partly because, as you say, ‘if we decide that we’ve done our bit and that we don’t need to do anything else, it’s not our problem anymore, whether anyone else has done theirs, then individual action becomes a way of disengaging from the larger problem. And planetary catastrophes are the larger problem. That’s why the goal of this story is not just to tell you what you can do, but how to ensure maximum social echo for you.’ And I love that. The idea of maximum social echo. And it seems to me that a hypothetical individual who works in any of the big industries in this country… I have a family member who works in basically military industrial production, and they could do all of what you just said, and if still they go to work every day in a company that is engaged in a really destructive part of our economy, there’s probably very little point in all that they’ve done. They undo during their daily work what they’ve done in their domestic work. How can we begin to shift the entire structure of our system to become something that’s not just sustainable, but actually regenerative? It’s not just doing less harm, it’s doing no harm and repairing the harm that’s done. Have you got ideas of where we can take that?
Julia: Yeah, not only ideas, but also something that was considered promising enough for the European Union to give us a major grant to try to study it. Which is they awarded us an ERC synergy grant to look at post growth economies. It’s a project called a post growth deal. And so I think that one of the core directions here to think about is economic democracy. So right now our democracies are very limited, for lots of different reasons. But one of the ways in which they’re limited is because we sort of outsource a lot of the very important decision making that we need to do, to the market. And we’re told, listen, this market makes decisions that are good for all of us. It makes optimal and efficient decisions, it makes them fast. And, you know, basically capitalism will solve things for us, through the market. And so we shouldn’t mess with it. And we’re obviously seeing the limits of that. We really need to transform our economic system and our economic structures. So now I’m speaking as myself, I’m not speaking in terms of the IPCC, obviously. But I think we really need to move towards post capitalist economies, because the competition and profit drives really get in the way of sustainability in any sense. Because basically they sort of force firms, every individual firm is sort of forced to compete, which means looking for cheap labour, cheap resources, you know. Consequences be damned, and also to constantly be growing their market share and growing their profit share.
And that leads to inequality, wealth accumulation and planetary disaster. So we really need to shift away from that and, as you say, become regenerative. Now what’s a big problem there? A big problem is that we’ve been told to leave the market alone and to let market make decisions for us. And I think that this concept of economic democracy is really important, because it says actually we cannot let the most important decisions in our society be left to this market God or this growth God or whatever. Who effectively, if you look and say, okay, what kind of God are you? It’s more like Moloch, you know, taking children into the fire basically. So we really need to say: we as citizens need to be able to decide what our economy is doing. And I think that it’s really interesting to then say, okay, let’s look at what our economy is. Our economy is a whole bunch of things. It’s a monetary system. So we need to be thinking about what our money is doing. And so, for instance, in the U.K.. Organisations like Positive Money are doing a really good job of doing citizen science and trying to think about how to transform a monetary system. So if you’re interested in that, look at them.
We need to transform our financial system away from investing in fossil fuels and away from sort of dangerous, risky investment in general. So I think that another area to look at. Our economy is also made of sectors, right? The way we look at it in our research is provisioning systems. So they’re the systems that provision our needs. And we definitely don’t want systems to provision, you know, useless crap. So anything that’s a provisioning system of useless crap, let’s just make sure that that goes down to zero. But the systems that need to be transformed are the systems that provision our needs. So we have needs for food, so needs for nutrition, needs for mobility and access to services and to our relationships. How do we get to see our friends, spend time with them? We have needs for economic security; so employment, the welfare state and how that looks. We have needs for housing and so on. And so the question is how do we look into each of those sectors; like health, food, transport, housing, the building sector, real estate and so on, and say what does democratisation look like for each of you? And if somebody is interested in a specific sector, you know, you might be very interested in the food and the agriculture to food sector. What does citizen decision making look like for your sector? Who would you like to be the people who are the most involved and how could they be making decisions together differently to create this different economy? This different economy is not just going to emerge if we just wave a magic wand. It’s something that we’re going to have to build up together by making decisions together and sort of saying: ‘Hey, listen. Here we have a proposition for a different way of provisioning this particular product, but we’re going to need to pay attention to these actors along the supply chain, because they’re particularly vulnerable to low wages and exploitation’. Say migrant farm workers, you know?
And we’re going to have to pay attention to them and make sure that they get treated right. Or, this particular supply chain, let’s look into it and say, you know, who are the vulnerable people there? Who do we need to hear from? What do they want to happen differently? And so basically make these market arrangements ourselves in a very different way. And so I think this idea of economic democracy, which means strengthening the role of workers, strengthening the role of users, strengthening the role of community members, and saying we all have a right to be decision makers within these supply chains. We can’t just leave it up to these big companies. That idea would allow us to have regenerative economies almost more than anything else.
Manda: Brilliant. So final question, because you have to go very shortly. All of this seems to me to be predicated on political change. At the moment in the UK and the US, I don’t know enough about Switzerland, but our main political parties, the two that might be heading a government after the next election, are wholly owned by the capitalist system and are completely committed to keeping it running exactly as it is. Have you got thoughts of how we can re democratise democracy in a way that is peaceful and works in the timescales that matter?
Julia: Well, the timescales that matter are always the difficult thing because we have no time. We have negative time. I mean, this idea that we need to reduce emissions by 2025 was widely misunderstood. We just need to reduce emissions right this second. The end. The time scale issue is always a crushing one, because we know we’re not going to make it in time. We haven’t made it in time. And so we’re sort of fighting a rearguard battle to sort of save what we can, as fast as we can. But we know we’re not, it’s not going to be like, Hey, we’ve made it. And in that sense, it’s always hard. It’s always a bit of a struggle to think about which actions, which interventions, which campaigns can I participate in that would have the most effect? To some extent nobody’s found the magic formula. To some extent it’s trial and error and sort of trying to learn. And I think that that’s one of the most important things to take forward as well; is this idea that we have to we have to be these agents of change, but we have to be willing to try to learn about our surroundings and what we can do. And then we have to be willing to learn fast from trial and error. We can’t be very dogmatic about any of this. Some people think, Oh, I have the solution. I’m going to criticise the Extinction Rebellion for this. I’m going to criticise, just stop oil for that. I’m going to criticise Greta Thunberg for this other thing.
It’s like, okay, that’s fun. But have you actually done anything in the meantime? You know, I think that Extinction Rebellion has plenty of good reasons to be criticised and also has done plenty of great stuff. So let’s all be a little humble here, but let’s at least get moving. To your question about what to do in terms of politics, I hate to quote Donald Rumsfeld, but in this kind of question, I think for those of you who are too young to remember, he was a US secretary of defence and a really horrible person who invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s bad, bad, bad men. But he said, you have to go to war with the army you have. Which was a stupid, super dumb thing for him to say as Secretary of Defence since he was actually responsible for the army he had. But as a pragmatic guidance for our political moment, I think it’s fair to say that we go into the climate and ecological crisis with the politicians we have. And you have a right to go see your politicians. You have a right to look them square in the eye. Bring some friends and say, listen, you know, we really need you to work on this more. We really expect a lot more and a lot better from you. We are watching your every action and every vote. And we are going to be constantly, you know, continually bringing this up and talking to you.
You have no idea how terrified politicians are of this kind of pressure and how much it allows them to move. You, as a constituent, are allowed to meet your politician, any time you want. Your MP. Just go do it. And so that’s something that you can really bring forward. So definitely become involved in party politics, try to change the platforms, try to change the positions and so on, but also shift your current politicians. A lot of the UK lives in conservative constituencies where they’re members of Parliament just don’t hear about these topics. You can make them pressured. Politicians are not leaders, they are followers. And that was one of the messages we got here in Switzerland from a lot of politicians was, well, you scientists look at scientific reality, but we see reality through the ballot box. And you tell us there’s a climate crisis, but the ballot box is not telling us there’s a climate crisis. You need to get your message into the minds of voters. So that’s also something else, is that I think that we just have to be, if you care about shifting the political reality, you need to be communicating about this to your politicians directly and you need to be making sure that it’s communicated as widely as you can in your community in general. Because otherwise, politicians don’t move.. They love to move. They like to follow. But you’ve got to show them where the leadership is.
Manda: Brilliant. Okay. That gives us angles of movement. It also leads me to think that what we need next is to take over the media, which is where we always get to, actually. We need to… If the media were on this, things would change overnight. If the headlines of the Daily Mail were ‘here’s how we solve the climate crisis’, every Tory MP would be behind it. So that’s another podcast. You have to go. Julia, thank you so much for coming on to Accidental Gods. That’s been a joy and a delight and really useful. Thank you.
Julia: Thanks Manda I hope it goes well.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. Enormous thanks to Julia. For the clarity of her thought. It really helps to listen to someone whose entire life is spent in working out how we can fit within the planetary boundaries, in ways that will actually work on a global and a cultural level. So please do go and shine the radar of our entire systemic change on your own lives, on every part of your own lives. Find what it is that makes your heart sing. Become as informed as you possibly can. And that means a lot of sense making. And later next year, we’re going to look deeply into what sense making is and how we can work out what we can trust, in a world where so much disinformation is thrown around. But in the meantime, a link to positive money, to fossil banks, No thanks. And to Julia on Media so that you can follow her. Because as she so clearly said, time has effectively run out. Whatever we do now, is mitigation. We’re not going to stop climate change, but we’re hoping that we can minimise it and that we can shift the entire trajectory of our culture, of the system that supports it, to a new way of being, to a different way of being.
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