Episode #154 Telling the Truth and Moving Forward: Building the Moderate Flank with Rupert Read
We know now that 1.5 is not alive. We are heading for at least 2 degrees of global heating and this is going to change everything that we do. Rupert Read is part of the Moderate Flank, a movement of people who care deeply and want to be part of crafting a flourishing, equitable future, but who need help in working out what to do.
Rupert Read is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia, but he is also a Green party activist, and a prolific speaker, media spokesperson and author advocating for a wholehearted, whole-culture response to the Climate and Ecological Emergency.
A long-term friend of the podcast, Rupert joins us today to talk about his new book: Do You Want to Know the Truth: The Surprising Rewards of Climate Honesty and to announce the launch of a new movement, the Moderate Flank, which aims to bring together a moderate majority of people who care deeply about anthropogenic climate change, but don’t want to engage in polarising actions. In this deeply honest, raw episode, Rupert makes a passionate case for an anti-polarising movement which can engage people from all walks of life and furnish them with the tools for change that will help us to adapt to the coming changes – and to ensure that politically, economically, culturally, we create a more just, equitable – and regenerative – society that we can leave to the generations that come after us.
Manda: Hey people. Welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that together we can make it happen. I’m Manda Scott, your host at this place on the web where art meets activism, politics meets philosophy and science meets spirituality; all in the service of conscious evolution and increasingly, day by day, week by week in the service of finding and mapping a way through to a flourishing future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. Dr. Rupert Reid is associate professor in the School of Politics, Philosophy, Language and Communication Studies at the University of East Anglia. He’s also one of the founder members of Extinction Rebellion, a political activist in the Green Party and a prolific writer. His books span everything from the philosophy of Wittgenstein to the impact of and our responses to the climate emergency. And he’s been a guest on the podcast a number of times. Once with his book This Civilisation is Finished and then again with another one called Parents for Future How Loving Our Children Can Prevent Climate Collapse.
Now he’s become one of the leading speakers for the Moderate Flank, which is going to launch shortly after this podcast airs. He’s also written a new book. Do You Want to Know the Truth? The Surprising Rewards of Climate Honesty, which will launch shortly before this podcast comes to air. There is so much in what Rupert is doing that feels as if it is solid and grounded and possible and will bring people together. So for one of the most inspiring podcasts of 2022, people of the podcast please do welcome Dr. Rupert Reid.
So Rupert, Welcome back to the Accidental Gods podcast. It’s always a pleasure to have you here. And you have a new book coming out. I am completely in awe of your productivity. You seem to have a new book about once every six months and it takes me a year to even think of the ideas, never mind get them written down! So tell us what it’s called and when it’s out and a bit about what it does, enough to whet people’s appetites. But so they still want to read it.
Rupert: Yes. So the new book is called Do You Want to Know the Truth? And the subtitle is The Surprising Rewards of Climate Honesty. And it’s a bit different from the books I’ve been doing recently in that this one is going to be made available on a gift economy basis, as I’ve sometimes done in the past. So it’s going to be launching on the 14th of November and from that day onwards it will be available for people who want to get it as a paperback. It’s being published for simplicity press. But if people want to download it and have it as an e-book, it will be available for free, or whatever people wish to pay. Which I think is nice for something where what I’m trying to do with this really, is to make a quick impact on a topic which is of such contemporary relevance. And one of the key themes of the book is what I call the 1.5 delusion. The delusion that we can stay below 1.5 degrees of global overheat, which is which is starting to be exposed as a delusion. And I think that a lot of movement is going to occur on that during COP 27. I think by the end of 27, a lot more people will realise that tragically we are not going to stay below 1.5 degrees.
And that’s one of my main targets in the book. Trying to get people aligned with the bitter truth on climate. Because as you know, Manda, my view very strongly is that there are incredible things that are possible for us, which we don’t even understand fully yet. But that some of those things are only going to be accessible if we first get clear on the things which are no longer possible. If we allow some things to move into the rear-view mirror, then other things become possible. This is what Jonathan Lear, for example, famously argued in his amazing book, Radical Hope; that some new hopes only become possible, only become available, only become visible if we give up some things which it just doesn’t make sense to continue to hope for. So that’s really central to my book. Trying to see and understand and make visible the upside of the down of some of the things which are tragically no longer possible. And some of the the bitter fruits of that which we’re going to experience; seeing how we can harness those into a far greater energy and realism and ultimately positivity.
Manda: Yay, yay. This is music to my ears. Let’s go back and unpick this a little bit. So when the people who are, let’s say, climate delayers rather than climate deniers, begin to ask questions about 1.5, they start to unpick why is it 1.5? Why is it not 1.7 or 1.4? And what does it mean and why is it a tipping point? So can you unpick for us why it matters and what the climate scientists that you’re talking to have said about it. Because I’m remembering a conference where a number of climate scientists were in the room and you had explained to them about the need for telling the truth.And then asked them about 1.5. I don’t remember the details. So please unpick 1.5 for us and tell us about your experience of what the people who actually know what’s happening really think.
Rupert: Yeah, so obviously 1.5 is not very different from 1.51 or 1.49, right. But anyone who says, well, it doesn’t really matter that much, whether it’s 1.5 or 1.67 or something like that, actually is not understanding the sense in which, as the great Johan Rockström puts it, 1.5 is a planetary boundary. And what he means by that is that roughly around 1.5, a lot of things start to destabilise and that the difference between 1.5 and two degrees of global average overheat is very substantial. And that is now clear from a lot of science of various kinds. So it’s absolutely imperative that if we possibly can, and I think it’s going to be very difficult, we stay below two degrees of global overheat. But in order to have any chance of doing that, we have to be clear about the catastrophic fact that we are going to pass through 1.5 and that planetary boundary is going to start to be breached. And my passionate belief, and it’s shared with others with whom I’m launching the moderate flank, the New Moderate Flank initiative, which is going to be launching in late November; is that unless and until we are able to shift the story from come on, everyone, we’ve got to try harder. If we try really hard, we can do it and everything will be more or less okay. Until we shift from that to. Guess what? We’ve actually failed. We’re we are passing this important set of tipping points which are going to occur around 1.5, and things therefore are going to get in a number of respects quite grim. Including in relation to coral and various other specific things that we could talk about.
Until that happens, we don’t stand a chance of actually getting the much larger action at scale and the much wider consciousness shift, that has been begun by Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg, but needs to go so much further, wider and deeper. And it’s that greater depth and width that we’re going to try to leverage through the New Moderate Flank initiative. So 1.5 does matter. Obviously, it would be silly to say that past 1.5, you know, there is some kind of sudden shift. It’s not like that, it’s gradual. But the difference between 1.5 and two is very substantial. Now, in terms of the conference you’re referring to, that was at my university at the University of East Anglia, which is one of the world leading centres for climate science and climate studies more generally. We take quite an interdisciplinary approach at the UEA. So, you know, I’m in philosophy and there are people in development studies and in literature and so forth, who are working with UEA’s internally diverse bunch of climate scientists. So this was an event where about 60 experts of various kinds around climate at UEA were gathered, giving talks, reflecting on the latest IPCC reports.
Rupert: And I gave a little talk in which I said, look… Which I basically made the case I’ve just made; it’s imperative that we face these realities, and only in doing so can unlock the possibility of a transformative thrutopian, if I may use the word, future starting to emerge. So I gave this talk and at the end of my talk, the chair did something very interesting. He said to the room, ok well, let’s take a quick poll. Who here believes that 1.5 is still alive? That we can still say below 1.5 degrees of global overheat. And I was very interested to see what happened next. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I was surprised by the absolute clarity of what did happen, which is that not one single person in the room raised their hand and said they believe it’s still alive. So this is the truth that climate scientists and those in the whole kind of broader academic community have been, to put it bluntly, keeping somewhat to themselves. Not sharing, not disclosing fully with the public, that we don’t believe that 1.5 is alive. And what I’m saying is it is unethical to keep this from the general public, because it encourages a certain kind of complacency if people think, Oh, well, we can still make it. Now, it might sound strange to talk about complacency in this context, but what I’m suggesting is that the impact, the very difficult realisation that this proxy for safety – because this is what we’ve been told, right, that if we stay below 1.5 we’ll be basically safe. But this proxy for safety is gone.
The target that countries the world around have been saying we needed to aim at, and we needed to stay below, that there is no credible pathway to it. Increasingly, more and more scientists and academics are clear in private that there is no credible pathway to it. They haven’t been disclosing that fully to the public, because they’re worried about being attacked and they’re worried about demoralising people. And what I’m saying is the time for that kind of secrecy is past. You know, we need to disclose now. We need to let people know loud and clear. We need to let the alarm bells ring in the kind of way that Greta has been asking us to for some considerable time. And for us to first to experience the catharsis of anger and grief and fear that is going to come, when people realise that we are out of the safe zone and that there is no staying below 1.5. And then, and this is what my book is essentially about, a lot of new things I think become possible.
Manda: And that opens up a number of questions. Let’s look first at COP 27 because we’re recording just at the start. We’re recording the day after the Prime Minister for this week has decided that he’s going to go. Rishi Sunak is going to go to COP. But we seem to have got Schrodinger’s COP; which is simultaneously an exercise in corporate greenwashing so bland that there’s no point in Greta Thunberg going and yet sufficiently important that actually I was deeply upset that Rishi Sunak had planned not to go, and slightly relieved that he now is. And I hold that dichotomy without effort, actually. I think it is an exercise in corporate greenwashing, but nevertheless, our prime Minister needs to at least appear to take climate change seriously, even while doing everything that he’s doing to promote fossil fuels. What are you hoping for from this cop, if anything. And what do you think is likely? And I am assuming those are going to be different things.
Rupert: Yes. So what I’m hoping for? Well, not very much realistically. But what I do have some hope for is that there could be a greater clarity about to emerge, to some degree at least, that that we are facing up to the reality that we are not going to stay below 1.5. I think it is possible that within the next fortnight, that by the end of COP 27, that this sense will be growing in the UN, in the media and to some extent in the public, that academics, scientists, we don’t see 1.5 tragically as any more a credible objective. Put this in the terms that Extinction Rebellion have been talking about, for example. So Extinction Rebellion in 2018 when I helped to launch them, said we want to go net zero by 2025. Now that was a kind of extreme kind of eye watering goal. In 2022 it just doesn’t make any sense to say you want to go net zero by 2025. It’s just kind of silly, right? So there’s a difference between between saying in 2018, let’s try to go net zero by 2025 and saying that in 2022. So similarly, a few years ago in 2018, when we had the great 1.5 degree report from the IPCC, it still made some sense then to think, you know, if we really turn everything around on the head of a pin now; if we manage to create some incredible transformation in the next few years, then maybe we can aspire to stay below 1.5.
But four years have gone by. Yes, we’ve had an enormous upsurge in consciousness, initiated by XR and Greta and the weather. Most importantly, the weather! But we haven’t actually seen governments start to move at nearly the pace they should. And of course, some governments have been continuing to steam in the wrong direction, not least the UK government in terms of actual action on the ground. So the credibility of 1.5 tragically is gone. And I believe it is possible that by the end of COP27 that will be becoming apparent to the people of the world. And if that happens, that will be of some considerable importance, because then it starts to potentially liberate what I was talking about a few minutes ago. It starts to potentially liberate far more, for example, of a sense of the crucial ness of climate justice. And of the terrible climate injustice that is being done by us breaching the 1.5 barrier. And that could create a lot more anger. Similarly, we could have a lot more mobilisation towards taking adaptation seriously, on the back of a kind of realisation dawning that 1.5 is exiting. Because once you understand that we are not going to stay below this proxy for climate safety, then you understand that we have to adapt, we have to seek to build resilience, we have to prepare for the worse and worse stuff that is going to come, for a long time to come. Even if we do start now to get our act together, as we as we conceivably might, once this realisation really starts to dawn. So that’s my main hope for COP 27.
Rupert: In terms of what I think is likely, I think we could get some of that. I don’t think we’ll get enough of that, in terms of what will happen in terms of the actual agreements between governments, etc.. At COP 27, I think we’re going to get very little indeed. I think it’s going to be less successful even than COP 26 was. But ironically, again, that could be good, because even if during COP 27 we don’t get enough movement towards recognising climate reality, it’s possible that we could get that at the end of an on the back of COP 27. Because funnily enough, Manda, although the reality was that COP 26 was pretty unsuccessful, there was a pretty successful spin job by governments and corporates, such that many people in the general public got some kind of vague general perception that COP 26 had been quite successful. I think it’s going to be much more difficult to spin COP 27 and that tragic truth could in its turn have a wonderful silver lining. That could help us, at least on the back of COP 27. So the period of late November will be very important here, to help to bring about a much wider realisation that, oh my God, there is no cavalry. They’re not running to save us, they’re not flying to save us, we’re not going to get what we need. Therefore we must seek to adapt more from the ground up, etc.. And this is the kind of field in which community climate action and the New Moderate Flank find their fertile audience potentially.
Manda: Brilliant. Very good Segway. So just a couple of questions before we get there. Looking back first at COP 26, it seemed to me that the biggest thing that came out of that… Two big things, you’re right. There was a lot of spin saying COP 26 has been great, we’re all going to solve climate change. Which helped, I think, to create the narrative that there was a problem that needed to be solved. The most obvious to me and I’d be interested; you have a wider reach and a greater penetration into the world of people who make decisions than I do. Seemed to me to be that the fossil fuel companies allegedly sent more people to COP than everybody else combined. They’re all in the same place, in the same room. Within three weeks of the end of COP, the oil price had started to hike. And everybody blames that on the war in Ukraine, but Russia didn’t actually invade Ukraine until February. But the oil price had already hit a very, very steep upward angle by the end of November last year. And so it seems to me that the biggest outcome of COP 26 was the fossil fuel companies deciding that they didn’t like everybody calling them bad names. They didn’t like people disinvesting, they didn’t like the whole disinvestment movement. And they were going to show that investing in oil was an extremely good thing. And BP has just announced 200 billion quarterly increase in profits, which – it worked very well for them. So is it plausible that something similar is going to come out at COP 27? That all of the people who, one assumes don’t really care about anything in terms of a long term future, are going to get together and we’ll see another aggregated action by the fossil fuel companies? Or do you think they’ve done as much as they can?
Rupert: Well, I’m not sure, really. Just one minor correction, by the way. It’s not that the fossil fuel companies at COP26 had more people there than all the other countries combined, is that they had more people there than any one country had there.
Manda: Oh okay.
Rupert: But that’s still a lot of people. And there is a lot of concern about a kind of corporate domination of the of the COP system. I guess my response to this situation and this question, would be to deepen the questioning that I’ve been seeking to engender of the COP system itself. So I was at 26. I was very glad to to be there because it was a very good learning experience. But being inside COP 26 was actually mostly a very unpleasant experience. The atmosphere there and the kind of business that got done there, it wasn’t the place you wanted to be.
Manda: Because it was very corporate? Was it just a very accentuated corporate place?
Rupert: Everyone was very much like, Oh, I’m so busy and I’m so important and I’m on the way to something terribly important. It was terribly left brain. There was very little space for anything like deep reflection, meditation, even emotion, really. Whereas there was quite a lot of that outside COP. Anyway, the point I’m driving at here is that I think that the COP system itself is quite deeply flawed. So what we actually need is for people to start to think beyond it, as people are trying to do for example through the the global peoples assemblies. The Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty is an encouraging development. It was very encouraging to see the European Parliament vote in favour of it recently, whereas a year ago they voted strongly against it. So that shows how some good things are happening. The times are changing in certain important aspects. And ultimately what I think we need is what I call a breakaway strategy. That those nations that are serious about seeking to do what they can to get climate under some kind of control, and taking adaptation seriously and acting on the basis of reality; that those nations should form a group who are willing to go beyond what COP is willing to do, which is so inadequate, and to form a system which would actually potentially work. Like the system you had in relation to the Montreal Protocol on ozone depleting gases in the eighties, which famously more or less did succeed. Which had things like trade sanctions built into it. So it had teeth. So people were much more inclined to to go along with what they’d promised. Whereas what we get through the COP system, the climate COP system, is just endless promises that don’t get delivered on in most cases. So I think we need a break away system which is going to make something like that happen. And basically you would try to encourage more and more countries to join it. And only something like that on an international scale is going to be something which is actually going to make the fossil fuel companies sit up and listen.
Manda: That’s really interesting. I want to come to the Moderate Flank in a minute, because that’s obviously really important. But this idea of a breakaway system: I think as far as I remember, Scotland, Iceland, Finland, New Zealand and one other that I can’t remember, have already formed a group of nations with a population of around 5 million that can do something significant.
Manda: Having said that, I listened this morning to Cory Doctorow on the Pitchfork Economics podcast, talking about the vast size of some of the multinationals: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google being the obvious ones. And that compared to when the Montreal agreement was made, our governance now is much more people whose strings are being pulled by companies that have more money than anyone has ever had in the history of the world before, and that there is becoming a transnational borderless governance by default. And I wonder, is it still possible? I would love Scotland, Iceland, I think maybe Ireland, Finland, New Zealand to be able to do something. But my logical head says they just don’t have the heft and that we would need China and Russia and India and the US and maybe the European Union as a whole, to give something like that sufficient bite and that possibly absent the EU, the rest of those are all pretty much wholly owned by large multinationals and or fossil fuel companies. Which are also large multinationals. So IT multinationals or fossil fuel multinationals. Do you think there are still enough independent governance units who could do something that had actual teeth, create something that actually would work?
Rupert: Yeah. Do I think that? I don’t think it’s likely. Do I think it’s worth giving a try? Yes, I do. And I think countries like New Zealand could be at the heart of it. And I think the minimum that it would achieve at least, is giving some kind of stronger sense of, again, reality to the situation and enabling people to see clearly what the stakes were and who was actually serious about doing something about the situation. At the moment, basically there’s this kind of illusion which people are still, in many cases trying to uphold; that the COP system, every country in the world is potentially some kind of way in which we could solve the climate crisis. And it just isn’t. So if we went down this route, the breakaway nations would be upholding something which could be something closer to a solution. And the word solution isn’t really right because the climate problem is far bigger than a problem. It’s not even a wicked problem. It’s a kind of tragedy. It’s a sort of civilizational question of basic paradigm. It has spiritual dimensions. Some of the stuff we talk about, obviously, on this podcast. But anyway, insofar as we can talk about anything even remotely resembling a solution to the climate crisis, the breakaway nations would be saying, this is what we need to go down that track and they would therefore throw a light. They would they would show that the COP system had no clothes, if you will. And that itself would be a huge service. So even though I think the chances of the breakaway strategy actually succeeding fully on the international scale are very low, I think even on that kind of realistic basis, it’s still something which is worth trying.
Rupert: It’s still something which would have a real benefit in terms of the the way it would distinguish those who were seeking to live in climate truth from those who were not.
Manda: Brilliant. Okay. That makes a lot of sense. So let’s move now to the Moderate Flank Strategy. I listened to you on Radio 4 Today programme and was really impressed in that they had somebody from Just Stop Oil, I believe, certainly Extinction Rebellion
Rupert: Just Stop Oil, Yeah.
Manda: Highly articulate young woman. Listened to her being mansplained at by Nick Robinson, which was just deeply annoying. This is you know as far as I can tell, the mainstream media is completely happy with people they term ‘motorists’ driving into groups of migrants and setting fire to things. And that’s, you know, then we get this ‘some people might say that was a perfectly rational response’. A young woman comes on saying there’s a climate emergency, we need to act. And Nick Robinson’s response is, there isn’t a government in the world that really believes we need to stop fossil fuel extraction. And you think that’s that’s not the argument, Nick, actually. There’s a reason there’s no government in the world wants to stop fossil fuel extraction. And that’s because they’re all wholly owned by the fossil fuel companies. Please! But then you come on…
Rupert: Well, yes, except that it wasn’t actually true, though, Manda. He went too far there. And I and others have been onto the BBC, and Robinson has done a partial sort of apology. There are governments like Barbados’government, for example, right and Costa Rica and so forth. There are governments which actually do not agree with what Nick Robertson claims is the sort of general consensus.
Manda: Yeah, no, absolutely. But then the interesting thing was, and this is this is the value of having somebody shifting the Overton window to the extreme flank is you can there as the moderate person saying, I totally agree with young woman, she’s absolutely right. You, Nick Robinson, are completely wrong. But what we also need, as well as people gluing themselves to banks and sitting in the road, is this Moderate Flank. So tell us how you see that unfolding and in an ideal world where you would lead it.
Rupert: Yeah. Thank you. So I’ll seek to do that succinctly. If people want more detail, it can be found, especially in the conclusion of the Truth book. The Truth book sort of leads up to the idea of the New Moderate Flank. So what is that idea? So the germ of it is already present in what you’ve said. In 2018, we started something with Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikes, which over the next 12 months or so played out in a way that had a dramatic effect on public opinion, around the world, really. And certainly in countries like the UK. Consciousness was raised on climate and to some extent nature and ecology to an extent that it never had been before. And power even made some symbolic responses to that. For example, the government’s declaration of a climate and environment emergency in the UK. Now the question of once something has being achieved by the radical flank, is what you should do next. This is not a common occurrence, right? It’s pretty rare for environmentalists, it’s pretty rare for radicals to really get somewhere in terms of what they’re trying to do. And what we did in 2018, 2019 did get somewhere very, very exciting. So what next? Do you carry on doing the same kind of thing? Do you go even further as Just Stop Oil has done? Or is there also, crucially, a place for saying actually what we need to do is to exploit the achievement of the radical flank? And this is one way I’d love to put it for your listeners. That the greatest compliment we can pay now to what we accomplished in Extinction Rebellion and the other parts of the radical flank in 2019, etc. The greatest compliment we can pay to that achievement is to exploit it fully, is to encourage and enable a far larger group of people to march through the widened Overton Window.
Rupert: And that, in essence, is what the New Moderate Flank is trying to do. And the way we’re going to hope to rocketfuel that, is by going if anything, even further down the path of truth telling that that was opened up by by Greta and XR. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean the kind of thing we’ve been talking about in this podcast here. I mean for example being very clear that net zero 2025 is obviously now impossible. Being very clear that tragically we are not going to stay below 1.5 degrees of global overheat. Being very clear that while mitigation, of course, remains as crucial as ever, we also have to shift more attention to building resilience, to creating disaster preparedness, to transformative adaptation, as we’ve discussed on a previous podcast in this series. And all of that is part of the kind of ongoing trajectory and thought leadership that we intend in the new moderate flank. And what we’re trying to do is to provide a home for, as you say, the many, many people who are not up for gluing themselves to the M25 or what have you, but who are increasingly concerned and who really want to do something. Who want to do something that is going to be meaningful, who know that giving some money every month to Friends of the Earth or whatever is just frankly insufficient in the crisis that we are in.
So what we’re encouraging people to do is to enter deeper into the truth. Is to find mutual support in that journey, because it’s not straightforward. It’s not easy to really confront how bad things are and how tough they’re going to be for our children and grandchildren. To start to move into a greater agency. And we think that the biggest potentials there are around community climate action in geographic communities, and especially in workplaces. Encouraging people to think what can we do on a multi dimensional level to transform the way that our workplaces, our business, whatever it is, our profession. So, for example, we are supporting fiduciaries who are trying to interrogate the assumptions which have dictated their behaviour for such a long time. We are working with teachers and academics who are looking to get serious about internalising the climate crisis into their teaching and research. We are in awe of the fascinatingly titled organisation Safe Landing. Safe Landing are airline pilots who want to try to see a transition in their industry. Isn’t that just incredibly bold? Present and former airline pilots. And there are many more examples we could talk about, talk of. And what I would say to listeners, if you’re at all sort of excited by this idea, is think about how this works in your industry.
Our advertisers; purpose disruptors; clean creatives. Trying to turn an industry which has been taking us down into a darker and darker place, trying to turn that in the opposite direction. And as I say, there are so many dimensions to this. There’s everything from what are your direct emissions? What about your supply chain? To what do you do with your profits? What about your lobbying power? What about your brand power? Are these pointing in the direction of more and more capitalist growth and more and more creation of artificial desires? Or are they pointing in the direction of actually creating a planet that will be habitable and wonderful, even possibly still, for our children and grandchildren? What is the place where you work doing in terms of actually encouraging and enabling, perhaps climate action and climate activism. Is there space for people to take something like a climate sabbatical? Which is, I think, a concept whose time may soon be coming; of enlightened employers saying, I’m going to give you some time off to actually go and do the right thing, perhaps in our industry, but perhaps also beyond it. So there’s a whole spectrum of things that are possible here. These are the kinds of things that we are trying to support and trying to engender greater awareness around in the New Moderate Flank. And we’re going to be launching our moderate flank incubator publicly later this month. If people are anxious to follow us, you can already follow us on Twitter @moderateflank. And also, there’s plenty that is already Google-able.
Manda: Is there a website that people can find and is that launching later in the month? Actually, this podcast, I believe, is going out on the 23rd of November. So if that goes out on the 23rd, when is that relative to your website opening up?
Rupert: Well, that would be great timing. We’re hoping to launch on the 24th of November and people will be able to find us from that date on moderateflank.org.
Manda: Okay. I will put a link in the show notes to moderateflank.org and people, if you are listening to this on the 23rd, hold your breath for 24 hours and then go to moderateflank.org. Because I have to say this does sound really exciting. This also.. I …moderate flank is obviously baked in, but it feels to me like this is the moderate majority.
Manda: This is the moral majority of our time that.
Manda: Almost everybody I know is aware. And the denialism or delayism that happens is because they don’t have a sense of what they can do.
Manda: And what you’re offering is is a toolkit, basically. It’s here’s here’s a list, work your way down it.
Manda: Are you going to offer a space on the website where people can begin to create buddy groups and whatever else it takes to find the personal and emotional support that this understanding is going to need? Because it seems to me that communities of place are great, but communities of purpose fostered by the Internet are also not a bad thing?
Rupert: Certainly something we are going to do is to provide signposts to support and mutual support, because that is a crucial part of this. And certainly something we strongly believe is that this is going to become easier for people as we and others make it easier for them. And as people get a sense that this is actually starting to happen. It seems to me that one of the big barriers to action is that a lot of people get discouraged sort of before they even start, because they feel somewhat alone. They’re not certain what to do and they don’t have a strong sense of this kind of stuff happening out there at scale. So a vital dimension to what we’re trying to do in the New Moderate Flank, is to help with this kind of sense making aspect of the situation. In other words, helping people to see and to feel that they are not alone, that they are part of something which is starting and which is growing and mushrooming. Literally mushrooming, right, The mycelium. And what we believe is that when people get into that kind of space of a kind of virtuous circle, when people start to see where they live or where they work, and also more generally, happening the same kind of way across professions, across workplaces, across places; that more and more of this is happening; that’s when we see this starting to really snowball and develop its own momentum. Become something absolutely huge, because that, of course, is what is needed.
Manda: Yeah, definitely. And it also feels to me and this may be me projecting my stuff onto it, so, so feel free to tell me if it is. That this could act as the umbrella that I feel we’ve needed for a long time, for a lot of multi systemic actions that are happening, bubbling under the surface. So we talked to Neil Lawson a few podcasts ago, who’s one of the directors of Compass, which is trying to create PR to try and create political change. We talked to regenerative agriculture, we talked to a whole bunch of other people, and everybody’s in their own little silos doing their own thing. And this isn’t just a climate and ecological emergency. It’s so much more complex than that and so much more multi systemic. And the climate and ecological emergency is one very obvious tangible aspect of entire systemic collapse and that perhaps under the ages of the moderate flank, which I am assuming will be agnostic politically. Although I’d be surprised if it ended up with many of the alt right in there. That we can perhaps begin to have the conversations that need to happen in a less politically charged environment. Does that sound like I’m projecting or does that sound possible to.
Rupert: No that sounds like exactly what we’re intending. Absolutely crucial to the possibility of the moderate flank really taking off. And as you say, Manda, really what this is hopefully going to become is a kind of moderate majority. A kind of majority of kind of common sensical people who actually want there to be a decent future. Essential to this vision is the overcoming of polarisation. Now, that is an incredibly big ask at this moment in history and with the trends we’ve been seeing for some time. But it is essential. There is no way that we get to get through this in any remotely adequate way without overcoming the deep set polarisation trends that are in our society. Because they turn anything and everything into a culture war and they make impossible the way in which what is required for the kind of transformation that the climate crisis requires, is for a general kind of coming together and more or less society wide transition and transformation. You know, if you have a substantial minority, let alone a majority, who are kicking their heels into the sand and trying to prevent any kind of movement, you cannot sort this. Unlike certain previous issues. Like you could imagine, for example, a purely elite sorting of the problem of nuclear weapons. You could imagine, in fact, it occurred, a mostly elite sorting of the problem of ozone depleting chemicals.
Rupert: Climate is not like that. It affects pretty much, it inflects everything that we do. And as you say, it is tied in with our more general social and political, etc. malaises. So we’ve got to overcome polarisation. So one of the things that means is, and this is one of the reasons I think this new moderate flank is so necessary, that the radical flank can only take us so far because it polarises and that what we need to do is to build in an openness to people who we don’t politically agree with. So yes, we’re not going to be welcoming the alt right. But I had, for example, a very interesting, very positive conversation with Lord Deben of the Climate Change Committee, who is, of course a conservative, recently. And he’s very supportive of what we’re trying to do here. He sees and understands that if we’re really going to get where we need to get on this, then we need, as XR to their credit, actually said, but they didn’t always follow through on this. We need to go beyond party politics. We need to go beyond ideology. We need to take our cue from the emergency, the more than emergency that we are inhabiting. And this is one of the aspects of this that I’m actually really excited about, because of course if you do start to overcome polarisation, it will be good in all sorts of other ways. Good for our lives in all sorts of ways.
So we are hoping to reach beyond the progressive activist world. We are intending to seek to create, and it’s already starting to happen and we’re already starting to support this; community climate action, which is involving of really like almost the whole community and certainly including small C conservatives and so forth. And so, yeah, that’s the direction we’re heading in. And if people are excited by this vision, then I’d urge them to get on board with it. And that means a number of things. It could mean following us on Twitter, but much more important is in most cases it’s going to mean people actually doing this where they live, where they work, etc. This phenomenon is going to be quite thoroughly distributed. There are going to be certain kinds of ways of understanding it and certain kind of ways in which we seek to try to lead it and offer support for it. But if it’s going to be real, it’s going to be thoroughly distributed. It’s going to be a lot of kind of ground upwards activity from huge numbers of people around this country and ultimately around the world.
Manda: Brilliant. Yeah. It really does sound exciting and I can imagine this leading to a radical change in the way things are done. Because politicians are nothing if not followers of trends. And if this becomes big enough that their deliberate attempt to foster culture wars is rebuffed, then things can begin to shift.
Rupert: Yes. Yes. And this is one reason, by the way, this is one reason why Neil Lawson, who you mentioned has been on your podcast recently, is very supportive of the initiative. Because it’s trying to look beyond conventional political tribal boundaries.
Manda: Exactly. So in terms of those tribal boundaries and culture wars. The thing that I was doing before you and I started to record this was looking at Mastodon, which is part of the fundiverse, and it’s a decentralised social network and it’s an alternative to Twitter. And I wonder, just out of interest, Twitter has become the place where the news is made, where journalists go to find out what’s happening, where they go to talk to each other, where they go to talk to politicians. It’s also turned into a cesspit of culture wars and it seems likely, we’re recording this not long after Twitter has been bought out; that Musk is radically going to shift the way that Twitter functions. Have you considered moving to an alternative, either individually or as part of the moderate flank? And if so, have you got a sense of which ones might be leading the way as the next Twitter?
Rupert: Yeah, it’s a very interesting question. So we are discussing this with senior people in some of the green NGOs right now, and I’ve been thinking about it personally as well. I’ve been thinking about maybe giving Mastodon a go, although I can’t say I’m enthused about the idea of getting embroiled in yet another platform, even if it’s a much better one, you know? I’m certainly not going to be leaving Twitter and the Moderate Flank is going to have a presence on Twitter for the foreseeable future, because it has got a crucial role in the political and media system now, frankly, as we know it. And you’ve got to be in it to win it. But we are very interested in looking to undertake proactive moves beyond Twitter. Mastodon seems quite exciting. Ultimately, part of this endeavour to get serious about going beyond polarisation, to get serious about being anti polarising is going to require either transformative change in some of these social networks themselves or their gradual replacement by other social networks. I think that’s absolutely clear. And just to look a long way ahead, there is going to be a book about the New Moderate Flank coming out in 2023.
Manda: You’re writing another book?
Rupert: Yes, this one being an edited book. So not quite such a big drain on my own time. And one aspect of this book is going to be exactly this question. We’re going to be asking the question, in order for the success of the new moderate flank, what kind of transformation in the in the social media world is going to be required? So that’s something to look out for. And as I say, something that we are very much concerned about.
Manda: Brilliant. I just proposed to my agent a non-fiction book called Yes, but what Can I do? It sounds like we might be overlapping somewhat, so maybe I don’t need to write this. Or maybe I just write it checking over your shoulder to make sure we don’t overlap too much. But being becoming part of the moderate flank is going to obviously be a large part of what can we actually do. So we’re heading towards the end of our time. This is another question. This is something that’s puzzling me and it’s in the area, so I have no idea what you going to say to this, which is what makes these things so exciting. I’ve been listening quite a lot to Nate Hagan’s podcast and he’s very much focussed on the idea that we’ve had a pulse of fossil fuels of all this ancient sunlight and carbon. It’s allowed us to grow to the size we are. It’s allowed our culture to become as complex as it has, and it’s ending and it has to end, because otherwise climate Armageddon. And his shorthand for that is that we are currently a 19 terawatt global culture, that at any given time the power usage around the planet is 19 terawatts, and that the various people that he’s spoken to, particularly most recently Simon Michaud, have said we need to reduce that to five terawatts for the multipolar crisis to be less critical. And that involves radical change in all the things you’ve mentioned. What is the motive of business? Is it going to be profit driven or is it going to be functioning for the welfare of the planet? What kind of jobs do we have? Do we have jobs that leave people feeling as if they actually express themselves usefully? Or do we continue to have hundreds of millions of bullshit jobs that are just there in order to feed the man. All those kinds of things. Is the drawdown from 19 terawatts to five terawatts anywhere in the landscape of the Moderate Flank, or is that just too far down the road for you to contemplate just yet?
Rupert: Yeah, it’s a super question to finish with. So let me start out answering it on a kind of personal basis and then I’ll say something about the moderate flank. So personally, I basically agree with that vision. I think that’s in the kind of ballpark. I think that energy dissent is inevitable. This is central to my This Civilisation is Finished thesis that we’ve talked about in the past on this podcast. That it is inevitable that we’re going to transition away from this civilisation. The issue is whether we do so by way of collapse or by way of some kind of much better transformation; some kind of deliberate intentional process or something in between the two, which is in my view, quite likely. Now, turning to what the New Moderate Flank thinks about this, what I would say is this: that that is very likely to be the direction of travel ultimately. But that isn’t necessarily the immediate battle. I think the immediate battle is to start to get large institutions and smaller institutions as well, turning in the right direction. That’s what we need to do. We need to capitalise on the success, such as it was, of the radical flank in 2019. We need to deepen that. We need to go deeper into truth in the way we talked about half an hour or so ago. And as we do that, we’re bringing people on a journey. And that’s what the New Moderate Flank is all about. Whereas the radical flank says kind of ‘here’s where we need to be! And we want to sit with you now in front of Parliament or whatever it is, to insist that we get there’. What in the New Moderate Flank we’re trying to do, is to say to people, ‘You want to change, you want to start to move in a better direction? We can help you with that.
Rupert: Now, then you’re on a journey together. And frankly, no one knows exactly where that journey is going to end up. I’m very sceptical of kind of exact predictions about the future; which is why I said I think those are kind of rough ballpark figures. I’ve really no idea whether it’s five terawatts or ten terawatts or two terawatts. I’m just fairly confident it’s not going to be 19 terawatts. That isn’t going to be literally sustain-able. So I think where the New Moderate Flank stands on this is, the future is going to look unlike the present. Just how unlike the present it looks is uncertain and is going to partly depend upon how quickly we now start to transform or don’t. If we start to transform relatively quickly, then the future will be fairly unlike the present after a while, but not radically so. The most radical break is going to occur if we keep on trying to go roughly down the present path with some kind of green reformism. In which case what is almost certain to happen is a collapse. And that’s where you get a real radical break. And that’s what we’re hoping to avoid. And if we do go down the collapse path, then what we absolutely need to do is to prepare for that. And that’s deep adaptation, which is another story. But the new moderate flank, it’s really all about getting people started on the journey, which is more in the sort of ballpark of transformative adaptation. Of seeing how we can change this civilisation to one which is better, in a way which hopefully doesn’t need to involve any kind of hard landing and doesn’t even need to involve a revolution. I mean, wouldn’t that be great?
Manda: That would be amazing. Thank you. Yes, and that feels like a perfect place to end on, except I want to finish by letting people really know where they can find you. So moderateflank.org, provided this goes out on the 23rd will be available tomorrow, on the 24th. Where can they find your book?
Rupert: So the Truth book has its its own dedicated place on the web, but you will be able to find it very easily if, for example, you go to my Twitter greenrupertread, which is going to be pumping it out quite regularly at this time. Basically one of the things that that I strongly believe as we touched on earlier, is that after COP 27 especially, there is going to be a huge appetite, a growing appetite for real frankness about our predicament. As it lands with more and more people that the our so-called leaders are not going to to save us, until they’re given a very large push from behind. So, yeah, I would say it’s going to be pretty easy to find the book. But one place you can certainly find it is @greenrupertread.
Manda: Brilliant. I will put links in the show notes. Rupert, thank you so much for taking the time to come on to the Accidental Gods podcast, and I wish you well with the book and the Moderate Flank and all of the amazing interviews that you are doing on the mainstream media now, you’ve become a media superstar. I’m very impressed. Thank you very much for all that you are and do.
Rupert: Thanks, everyone, for listening.
Manda: And that’s it for another week. I will put links in the show notes for everything that Rupert mentioned. His book and particularly moderateflank.org. Genuinely, in a world where we have a lot of ideas and not really too much telling us how to move forward, this feels like a real step in the right direction. If everybody who listens to this can join up and begin to form the local groups, the work groups, the family groups, the local community groups, just to talk about this. To talk about the fact that one point five is no longer alive. We are heading for two degrees and we don’t know exactly what that looks like. We just know that it’s not a place humanity has ever been before. And therefore we’re going to need to change the way that we behave. We’re going to need to use less fossil fuels. We’re going to need to be more collaborative. We’re going to need to grow food that isn’t transported halfway across the planet. All of these things and more are going to need to happen. And if we can do this under the ages of the moderate flank, then it seems to me an incredibly useful focus and gathering point for everything that we care about.
Manda: So that’s your homework for this week, people: find the website, join up, do whatever it takes to create community in everything that you contact. In the meantime, we will be back next week with another conversation. Huge thanks to Caro C for all of the sound production. We’ve recorded four podcasts, more or less back to back. She’s done them all so that Faith and I can have a holiday. We are enormously grateful for that and for the music at the Head and foot. Thanks to Faith for organising the holiday, for the website and for the conversations that keep us moving forward. Thanks to Anne Thomas for the transcripts and thank you, for caring, for listening and for sharing the podcast. If you know of anybody else who wants ideas of what we can do, that will not continue the polarisation but that will bring us together, please do send them this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.
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