110. Building Leaderful Movements with Katie Eder & Guest Co-host Alice Garton
In a week that has seen record temperatures occurring throughout the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada, a major hurricane that hit Barbados – the first in 60 years – and one of the warmest winters on record down south in New Zealand, this episode looks at the urgent call to action coming from the younger generation. Their call for transformational change applies not only to climate action, but in delivering meaningful social justice action and revaluating and redefining the very notion of leadership itself.
Our special guest this week is Katie Eder, Climate Organizer at Future Coalition. She eloquently describes for us the foundational goal of equity that is at the heart of the youth movement. and how she believes transformational change begins with ‘a leaderful movement’, and is the way to securing climate and social justice goals. Spoiler Alert: This is the secret to the success of the Paris Agreement.
Paul is joined this week by guest co-host, Alice Garton, Legal Director for the Foundation for International Law for the Environment. Alice talks through some climate optimism in regards to recent Australian judicial rulings, as well as an optimistic take on the recent Royal Dutch Shell ruling in the Netherlands.
And later on in the episode, join us for a great acoustic performance of “The Woman Who Planted Trees” by Emily Barker.
Thanks for joining us!
Christiana + Tom’s book ‘The Future We Choose’ is available now!
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Click here to listen to our previous episode with Wanjira Mathai.
Paul Dickinson: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage and Optimism. I’m Paul Dickinson, flying solo whilst Tom and Christiana are both away. And joining me today is a very special guest, Alice Garton, legal director for the Foundation for International Law for the Environment. Alice, say hello.
Alice Garton: [00:00:28] Hello, Paul. It’s lovely to be here. Thank you for the invitation.
Paul Dickinson: [00:00:31] This week’s in-depth interview was recorded with Katie Eder, who’s climate organizer for the Future Coalition. And she’ll talk us through the foundational goal of equity that’s at the heart of the youth movement. And we’ll be taking advantage of Alice’s expertise to help us unpick some of the wider implications for environmental and social justice following recent developments in the courts. And we have music from Emily Barker, who is incredibly famous for writing music for films. Thanks for being here.
Paul Dickinson: [00:01:06] OK, Alice can you tell us a little bit more, really, about what the FILE foundation does? What is your work?
Alice Garton: [00:01:13] So we’re a foundation. We specialize in supporting public interest lawyers who act for affected communities to try and achieve racial, social, and environmental justice through the courts. Prior to file, I was at ClientEarth for a number of years heading the climate program.
Paul Dickinson: [00:01:31] We love ClientEarth. We had um.
Alice Garton: [00:01:33] James Thornton.
Paul Dickinson: [00:01:34] We had James Thornton on the show.
Alice Garton: [00:01:37] I listened to that one.
Paul Dickinson: [00:01:38] ClientEarth is super cool. Oh, well, that’s great. And you’re a lawyer by like, you grew up sort of like saying, interrupting the judge and saying your honor and cross-examining an objection and all that kind of thing.
Alice Garton: [00:01:49] Sort of. We don’t all do that. But I did work in commercial litigation, so I actually worked as a private practice lawyer looking at company law and fiduciary law. And so what I’m doing now is thinking about the intersection of those laws with climate change.
Paul Dickinson: [00:02:04] Well, I mean, that is super interesting. And I sort of cast my mind back to when I was at school years ago. In biology, we would dissect frogs. And a friend told me that they still do that in schools, which is a bit horrific, poor frog. But the point is, when you dissect a frog, you look inside and try and see how it works. So can we look inside the corporation a little bit today and try and see how it works?
Alice Garton: [00:02:26] Sounds excellent.
[00:02:28] OK, we’re going to come on to some of the announcements or headlines in the law that have been going on this week. But let me just begin, if I can, Alice, seeing as you’re here to ask you really about the power of corporations. That’s my fascination. But how do we change things? And I mean, at the highest level, what would you say is the role of the courts in global geopolitics with regard to climate change?
Alice Garton: [00:02:53] Ok, it’s a very good question and I’m going to start with the basics, which is separation of powers.
Paul Dickinson: [00:02:59] It’s always a good way to start.
Alice Garton: [00:03:01] We have the executive, legislative, and the judiciary. And the fundamental principle is that they impose checks and balances on each other. And so the role of the courts is to protect overreach of power or where the executive and legislative are not taking steps to protect citizens to step in and set the parameters as to how they should do that.
Paul Dickinson: [00:03:25] That makes sense. The executive being kind of like the government, the prime minister, the ministers who’ve won the election, the legislature being the body that endorses their opinions, and the law kind of keeping everything, avoiding kind of corruption, I guess.
Alice Garton: [00:03:41] Yes, exactly. And harm to people. I mean, the reason why we are now seeing the mandate of the judiciary being triggered in the climate crisis is because we have had 30 years of inaction at that executive and legislative level. So we know that we are still not meeting the necessary carbon reduction commitments that are needed to achieve one point five. And therefore, citizens in their thousands are now going to the courts and asking for the court to set down their parameters for how they can protect their human rights. And those human rights and constitutional law judgments are actually having some really significant implications for fiduciary duty and companies.
Paul Dickinson: [00:04:27] And we’ll have to come on to fiduciary duty because not everyone is as familiar as it whether it is you are and I try to be. But no, I mean, that’s super interesting, actually. The idea that the law can step in if there’s been a kind of a failure in the executive and the legislative branch, that’s amazingly interesting. OK, so can you give me a snapshot of sort of climate litigation facts and figures and how it’s filling the gaps in the multilateral process and with regard to, for example, the Paris Agreement?
Alice Garton: [00:04:55] Professor Lavanya Rajamani, professor of law at Oxford University, who was one of the key architects of the Paris Agreement, has set out where she thinks climate litigation fills gaps in the multilateral regime. And there are three areas. There’s the ambition gap. We know that the Paris agreement primarily has a binding procedural obligation on the states to submit national determined contributions, which is how much they will reduce their emissions. But there’s no obligation of result that those NDCs should actually meet the one point five. The second is an accountability gap. There’s no enforcement mechanism necessarily. There’s is some compliance regime, but it’s not sufficient to ensure that these indices are adequate to mitigate harm against people. And then the third one is the fairness and equity gap. And this, in particular, is really lacking in the Paris agreement. And again, that’s because that issue was so contentious through the negotiations. And that’s why we’re now seeing a huge swathe of human rights torts and constitutional cases that are coming in to step in and fill that gap. In terms of facts and figures, there have been a thousand new cases since the Paris agreement. Two hundred new cases in the last year alone, 70 percent are against governments, 30 percent against corporates. That’s probably set to rise following the Shell decision. There are 40 ambition cases underway, so looking at ratcheting up the nationally determined contribution commitments of countries. And it’s a trend that’s here to stay until governments and corporates begin acting with the urgency required.
Paul Dickinson: [00:06:36] This is incredibly interesting and fairly complex. Can I also just ask a very difficult question to answer this. But just off the top of your head, we’ve got tens of thousands of listeners who were all involved in climate change in different ways, a little bit or a lot. How might they be useful or contribute? What can actually our listeners do to be part of this movement?
Alice Garton: [00:06:58] Well, if you’re a lawyer or a law student, come and join our growing field of public interest lawyers. There’s so much still to do, we could really use your help. Law students have huge power, it’s the pipeline of new talent for law firms, it’s a really critical part of their model. So tell your recruiters that you want to work for firms that have a positive impact on society, not those that represent fossil fuel in clients. If you’re a lawyer and you’re working in commercial private practice, which is the vast majority of those who are legally trained, you actually have tremendous power to participate in the system change that we need to achieve the Paris goals. And what I mean by that is if you’re an insurance lawyer, a contract lawyer, pensions lawyer, the climate crisis is so profound that it intersects with all these different disciplines. So you can take this in your practice and apply it. And there are a couple of organizations which are now set up to allow that. The Chancery Lane Project and also Net Zero Lawyers Initiative. And again, there are a number of pro bono initiatives where you can support public interest lawyers in the cases that they’re bringing before courts. If you’re not a lawyer and you’re a citizen, we’re now actually seeing thousands of citizens sign up for these cases. So in Belgium, the constitutional case there, there were fifty two thousand citizens.
Paul Dickinson: [00:08:27] How do I sign up? Do I have to become a Belgian citizen?
Alice Garton: [00:08:30] Yes, you would.
Paul Dickinson: [00:08:32] Oh, OK.
Alice Garton: [00:08:32] The Netherlands case against Shell had seventeen thousand. So, one interesting development is whether because of Covid and the lockdown, in a way, citizens have turned to the court and they’ve expressed their outrage by joining these court cases.
Paul Dickinson: [00:08:48] So, I mean, if somebody’s listening in Austria or someone’s listening in Wales, they’re not necessarily a citizen thing that they can join but maybe you can start one yourself.
Alice Garton: [00:08:57] You certainly can. I’m sure there are public interest lawyers in those countries who would be looking at these sorts of cases.
Paul Dickinson: [00:09:05] Ok, so I think we’re going to actually have to prevail upon you for quite a few notes in the show notes with links to these legal networks and also citizens’ actions. But that makes perfect sense. And then last of my questions, kind of just on this is what’s FILE’s role? What’s your organization’s role?
Alice Garton: [00:09:23] Well, as I said, we provide funding for those groups and we connect lawyers where they need to learn from each other from similar cases that have been brought around the world. There’s obviously a huge imbalance in the funding that we can provide to affected communities compared to the multinationals and the status quo. But we do what we can. It’s a fundamental right, as important as the vote that citizens are able to access the court where they are currently feeling the impacts of climate or expect to in the future.
Paul Dickinson: [00:10:03] You make a very convincing case. All right. Now, let’s go to this week’s news, but let’s try and look at it through the lens of law, if we may Alice. Has there not been something in the Australian federal court where essentially, the Australian federal government are trying to work out whether they want to look after their children or not? Is that about right? What’s the case?
Alice Garton: [00:10:24] It’s that ridiculous, actually, in some ways Paul. So what’s happened is it’s eight teenagers and an 80-year-old nun who have taken the Minister for Environment to the court in Australia and found that that minister has a duty of care to protect harm to the children of Australia when deciding whether to approve an extension to a coal mine. Now, one would think that that duty to protect and not cause harm to children would. Did we need that expressly provided in law? Well, unfortunately, in Australia, we have and this incredible judgment has achieved it and pushed the understanding of the law of negligence in Australia. But in saying that, it’s really important to understand that these laws, they’re meant to evolve. They respond to changing societal norms. The courts are impartial. They’re not political beings. They only look at the expert evidence, the science, and the way society is reacting to climate change. Now what happened just yesterday is the Minister has announced that they’re going to appeal the judgement because, well, they don’t think they do have a duty of care not to harm the children of Australia. So it’s really, it’s quite staggering. I’m still trying to get my head around it. But of course, the lawyers and the children will be fighting this case. It has huge implications for other fossil fuel companies and other fossil fuel projects in Australia. So that is most likely why they’re appealing the decision.
Paul Dickinson: [00:12:03] Why would the government of Australia say that it doesn’t want to have to look after children? Are they under the, kind of, is the government of Australia controlled by the fossil fuel companies?
Alice Garton: [00:12:12] Yes. Well, there is a lot of evidence that the fossil fuel lobby in Australia has had a very damaging impact on Australian politics over a number of years. They’ve struggled to get carbon pricing and governments have lost elections because of it. So it’s an economy heavily dependent on fossil fuels and we see that in the politics. But this is why the courts are such an important forum for children to resort to. Unfortunately, again, I should say, courts should always be the last resort. But that’s where we are. We are at the absolute last resort. We’re pushing against all the natural limits this world can take. Could I read a quote from this judgement?
Paul Dickinson: [00:12:58] You absolutely can read a quote from this judgment. Please do. I beg you to read a quote from this judgement.
Alice Garton: [00:13:04] So as I read this out, just keep in your mind, this is a judge in the Federal Court of Australia, a completely independent and inherently conservative institution, like all courts, that only look to facts and law, informed, of course, by evolving norms of society. Justice Bromberg has just gone through about 100 hundred years of dry case law showing how the law permits this ruling and then at paragraph 293, we read this. It is difficult to characterize in a single phrase the devastation that the plausible evidence presented in this proceeding forecast for the children. As Australian adults know their country, Australia will be lost and the world as we know it gone as well. The physical environment will be harsher, far more extreme, and devastatingly brutal when angry. As for the human experience, quality of life, opportunities to partake in nature’s treasures, the capacity to grow and prosper, all will be greatly diminished. Lives will be cut short, trauma will be far more common and good health harder to hold and maintain. None of this will be the fault of nature itself. It will largely be inflicted by the inaction of this generation of adults in what might fairly be described as the greatest intergenerational injustice ever inflicted by one generation of humans upon the next. And this is the judgment that the Minister for Environment is appealing.
Paul Dickinson: [00:14:42] Wow, this just got into my, kind of, bone marrow. And it’s like, you know, sometimes historically important words present themselves as such. That’s all written in neon in my mind. I can’t switch off the brightness of that light. And it pierces the heart, if you’ll forgive all the metaphors. Alice, let’s finish because we ought to come onto the interview but I want to ask you a question about the, we had the chief executive of Shell on just a couple of weeks ago, and you had a kind of positive spin on that. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Alice Garton: [00:15:17] Yes, sure. So the positive spin is about this area of law known as fiduciary duty.
Clay Carnill: [00:15:29] And now a moment on fiduciary duty from Paul Dickinson. Let’s begin.
Paul Dickinson: [00:15:45] Let me speak to the heart of investing. A fiduciary investor might be the trustee of a pension fund, and such a person represents many people. My hero, Steve Lydenberg, link in the show notes, explained the difference between fiduciary’s behaving as rational investors and as reasonable investors. Rational in economic terms means just trying to make as much money as possible. Like The Terminator in those movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger, like a robot focused on just one thing. Steve quotes John Rules, who observed reasonable people take into account the consequences of their actions on others’ well-being. And Amartya Sen, who proposed that with accumulations of money such as those entrusted to fiduciaries, comes an unequal allocation of power. And with that responsibility, as Sen observes, the insistence on defining rationality simply as intelligent promotion of personal self-interest sells human reasoning extremely short. In January 2014 at the United Nations in New York, speaking to a conference of investors, Christiana said this: fiduciary responsibility needs to grasp the intergenerational reality, namely that unchecked climate change has the potential to impact and eventually devastate the lives, livelihoods, and savings of many now and well into the future. Maybe we can persuade governments to tell investors by law to be reasonable investing our money and not just rational like the Terminator. It’s a dream. Make it come true. So, Alice, what’s fiduciary duty?
Alice Garton: [00:17:28] It effectively means that company directors have to act in the best interests of their company and the way it’s been applied over many, many years has been really quite destructive. It’s been used to justify a myopic focus on financial returns without considering impacts on local communities or the environment. However, that duty, like the tort duty we discuss in the Australia case, is also evolving in response to the climate crisis. And there was an excellent primer published just last week by the Commonwealth and Climate Law Initiative, which looked at these laws in 20 countries and concluded that company law, existing law, now requires directors to be properly informed of and managing these risks from climate change. And I’ll put a link in the notes. So fiduciary duty itself has already evolved and at a minimum, directors should be transitioning their businesses. What we have not had to date, but which the Shell case now brings to the fore is how quickly and on what terms. So in that case, the answer was a 45 five percent reduction across the entire group’s emissions by 2030, the relevant temperature goal applied was one point five degrees. And even the most recent climate commitments published by Shell this year are not compliant with this ruling and I can send you links to reports that demonstrate that for the show notes. Shell’s CEO was pretty clear that he’s concerned that transitioning too quickly in line with the judgment could potentially send his business into a spiral of doom, with impacts on the share price. And obviously, we don’t want mass unemployment. The transition needs to happen rapidly and be a just one.
Alice Garton: [00:19:10] But the really interesting thing about the judgment was the court actually said the reduction commitment it ordered for the company, I quote, could curb the potential growth of the Shell group, however, the interest served with the reduction obligation outweighs the Shell Group’s commercial interests. So that’s pretty striking. It obliges the company to take actions which may not be profitable, at least in the short term. On the other hand, it’s not that surprising because obviously companies are subject to the rule of law like anyone else and must comply with the court whether or not it costs money to the business. But what’s incredible about it for me is the scale of this. Like this is their entire business model of the company the court is referring to. Not one oil rig disaster in one country, as horrendous as that is, but the whole thing. And that’s what gives this tort decision far more significant impact on fiduciary duties than we’ve seen before. It means both tort and company law are now evolving at such a rapid rate that as a fossil fuel director, you have permission to be more ambitious. This excuse, I can’t move more quickly because of my shareholders it just doesn’t cut it anymore, particularly as those shareholders themselves are likely to be subjected to similar fiduciary duty and tort cases. So courts won’t second guess commercial decisions as long as they’re taken in good faith. It’s now up to the execs for us to see those good-faith decisions being made.
Paul Dickinson: [00:20:43] So wait a minute, if I understand correctly, Alice, this is a way out of the madness. Like I’ve been sitting with people for twenty years and everyone says, well, we’ve got to destroy the world because the shareholders by law have to require the companies to destroy the world. And you’re saying that Shell have got a get out of jail free card here with the shareholders. They can go to the shareholders and say we have to change the company, whatever the impact on profitability because we’ve been told to by the government.
Alice Garton: [00:21:13] Yes. Well, by the judiciary rather than the government. But yes, in short, if you genuinely want to align your business with the one point five-degree temperature goal there are now ways to do that within current fiduciary law, it’s not the barrier you think it is. It’s an enabler and remember, this doesn’t just apply to fossil fuel companies either. Both laws also apply to other sectors and other actors in the financial sector. So a group of NGOs in the Netherlands have just issued a warning to banks, pension funds, and insurers to become fully Paris aligned or will see similar lawsuits to the Shell case. So in short, this case just sends a mega signal through the noise that fiduciary duties are evolving in a much more rapid rate and they will start to include environmental, social, human rights issues, not just profit. And for those companies who are intent on wanting to achieve the Paris goals but think they can’t because their current shareholders might sue them or remove them. This is actually a way that you can turn to your shareholders and say this is what the court has asked me to do. It’s possible even to put in the articles of association particular terms which make it clear that the company is seeking to achieve the one-point five-degree temperature goal and the courts will not interfere in the discretion of company directors as long as they are doing their best, using due diligence and exercising prudence to manage that company.
Paul Dickinson: [00:22:52] Well, I genuinely believe I’ve seen a chink in the armor, a crack of light, a way out of the madness and I’m going to reflect on that very deeply. OK, well, this kind of brings us on to, I wouldn’t call them the stars of the show, but some of the most important people in climate change activism, which is youth activists. And our brilliant interview here with Katie Eder, who’s been involved in taking action since she was 10, she organized the 50 Miles More March where young people walk 50 miles to Paul Ryan’s house to try and oppose gun violence in the US. She’s now climate organizer at the Future Coalition, which is an organization focused on connecting separate youth action groups to maintain momentum of youth protest. She’s taking a gap year, moved to L.A., and is now just entered Stanford University. She was one of Forbes 30 under 30, should be 30 under 20. She’s an inspirational character and this is a fascinating interview that I know you’ll enjoy. So we’ll be back afterwards for some analysis.
Christiana Figueres: [00:23:56] Katie, thanks so much for taking some time to join us on Outrage and Optimism, just as you’re entering Stanford University. So quite an exciting moment for you in your life. But before we go there, Katie can you explain to me how is it that your generation is reaching a sense of maturity and agency, and engagement? Basically, three seconds after you’re born, when it took my generation several decades to get there, you have been an activist and organizing youth action since you were 10. Is that right?
Katie Eder: [00:24:42] Something like that, yeah.
Christiana Figueres: [00:24:44] Well, how does that happen? How does a 10-year-old have that awareness and the discipline to organize sit-ins and marches and workshops? How did that happen for you, Katie?
Katie Eder: [00:24:57] That’s a big first question to start so I’ll take my best try at it. I think that much of it, and I was thinking about this earlier today, that I think this sort of generation, especially of young Generation Z folks in the US that were born after 9/11, I think that that really has shifted how we were raised and sort of the world in which we grew up in. I think a lot of it has to do with how interconnected our generation is and that people were on social media when I was in middle school and that just made my teenage years so much different than even my older siblings that are five and seven years older than me. And so I think that with that sort of ability to connect, we’re so much closer to the stories and the experiences of folks all over the country, all over the world. And I think it just makes us a lot more aware. And that awareness comes with a certain responsibility of recognizing that our world and our planet, as we know it, is sort of being destroyed before our eyes. And we can’t sit around as a generation and wait for someone else to do something, because that’s not happening. That isn’t going to happen. And so we really need to take on that agency and speak up for ourselves and our generation and all the generations to come after us.
Christiana Figueres: [00:26:18] When you say you can’t sit around and wait for somebody else to do something, are you, and I won’t take any offense at the answer, please note, are you pointing at my generation because we have not done enough?
Katie Eder: [00:26:34] I think it’s tricky because to generalize a whole generation or any one generation is not fair because in every generation there are those that are willing to go along with the status quo and just want to do things the way they’ve been done because that’s how they’re done. And then there are those folks that are willing to be the ones that push against that grain and really say we need change, we need transformative change and we need it now. And like you three have been members of your generation that have been those folks and have been that voice. And so to suggest that everyone part of the generation that are older than us wasn’t doing something or isn’t doing something is not true and it’s not right. But I think what is clear is that young people are uniquely positioned to reach out to and put pressure on those individuals, part of generations, who aren’t waking up on their own, who aren’t realizing individually that they need to do something. Because of our youth, because of our moral authority, we have a unique ability to make those people become part of the change and actually act and make the change that we need to see.
Christiana Figueres: [00:27:43] So let me turn the question around Katie because I think that’s a very interesting nuance that you say this is not about generalizing generations. This is about actually focusing on those humans in every generation that should be much more aware and much more active. Now, here’s my question to you all around that, I could actually also turn around and say, well, Katie, actually, you’re an exceptional human being. You are an exceptional person who I believe is still under 20. Correct?
Katie Eder: [00:27:43] I’m twenty one now. So not quite. I’m an old one now.
Christiana Figueres: [00:28:23] You’re an oldie now by your own standards. But even so, my point still stands. It’s not every ten-year-old in your case when you started, or any 21-year-old today, that is actually as aware, as conscious, as active, and really quite as brave and focused and disciplined to mobilize more people of the same generation. So, how do you do it?
Katie Eder: [00:28:55] I mean, I think it’s hard for me to sort of pull myself out of it because so many of the young people I work with are similar to me in the sense that they’ve experienced injustice in their own life. They’ve witnessed injustice in their community. And they said, I have to do something, we have to do something about this. And so I don’t in any way feel like I am unique within our generation because there are so many of us. There’s not just singular leaders that are sort of doing sort of speaking truth to power. It’s a leaderful movement. There are so many young people across countries and communities everywhere that have this passion, have this fire. For me, I’ve had the opportunity because of the communities that I grew up in and the school that I went to and the family that I was around, that I was able to be exposed to sort of outlets in which I could sort of own this agency and make this change. But there are so many young folks that aren’t given that opportunity, something that we talk a lot about at Future Coalition, the group that I work with, is that if we were to say that in every high school across the country there’s at least one young person that has the ability and the passion to make change in their communities, in their state, in their country, in the world. What would it look like if each of those young people had the resources and the support in the community they need to actually bring about that change? And once you sort of put that mindset of saying, you know, it’s not about these unique individuals, it’s just about giving many people the opportunity to be able to sort of be part of that change and part of that drive. And I think we’ll start to see even more and more young people and all people from generation starting to rise up and really sort of take on that challenge.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:30:36] Katie, this is so fascinating. Thank you for taking time to talk to us. I’d like to just dig in a bit more on what you just said, which is a really interesting segway. We have a lot of people who listen to this podcast who are activists, young people, other people, and want to be effective activists. And as I’ve kind of looked at your path and the things you’ve done. I was sort of struck by the fact that you’re not looking to sort of build yourself up on a platform. You’re very clearly interested in collective leadership in sort of connectivity of all different types, bringing issues together, bringing people together. And I sort of got a sense of someone who had a kind of clear theory of change that is kind of new. That’s about collective leadership. And can you just sort of unpick the intersection between collectivity or connectivity and effective activism? Because I think people of my generation and older have kind of seen that as not as effective as being, you know, a more old-style way of campaigning. But clearly, you are being very effective. I’d love to hear you just talk around those issues a bit.
Katie Eder: [00:31:37] Definitely, and that’s something that within my own organizing, I’ve learned and been able to better articulate sort of what does it look like to see effective change, to push for transformational change, and how to do it in a way that doesn’t center your own ego? And I think that that’s a challenge that the youth movement made me often face because the media so often wants to personify our movement into one person. And it’s happened not just with climate. We saw it with the gun violence prevention movement in 2018 in the US as well, is that the media so wants to celebritize our leadership and what happens that often leads to culture within our movement where we do view success as who has the most social media followers, who is speaking to the press, who’s speaking to the press more than others. And so part of what I have felt like I’ve tried to do with the movement and the other young people that I work closely with is really starting to shift that culture and shift that narrative internally to say, what does it look like to succeed? It’s not your own personal success, but is our collective movement toward our goals and toward the demands that we’re hoping to push through and achieve.
Katie Eder: [00:32:49] And I think for me and to go to the question of sort of that connectedness and like how is that, why does connectedness make us more effective? Is that the problems that we are trying to solve are so large in scale and in urgency that we do not have time to put our own ego or even our organizational ego first. We need to every time ask ourselves, is this what is moving us closer to our goals, to our demands, to the change that we’re trying to achieve? And if the answer is not yes, then you have to sort of take a step back and say, OK, why are we doing this? Why are we really doing this? And making sure that you have a real answer. I think prior to the 2019 climate strikes, in the US, there was this really toxic culture of competitiveness in the youth climate movement. It really felt like.
Paul Dickinson: [00:33:38] It’s not just in the youth climate movement.
Katie Eder: [00:33:41] Yes, I know, definitely. But we saw that trickle down. And that’s when we talk about that kind of like institutionalized bureaucratic kind of pitfall that the climate movement in the environmental spaces fallen into. It is so much because we’ve repeated these structures that have been built by the sort of outdated ways that we maintain that we achieve our goals. And for the youth movement, we’ve really had to sort of take our agencies to say, how are we not only redefining the change that we’re asking for and the demands that we’re making but how we’re actually making that change? Because if we’re seeking to make transformational change, if we’re seeking to see change at a systems level, it can’t just be what we’re asking for that’s transformational. It actually has to be the how and what we’re doing that actually has to transform and actually has to shift.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:34:35] So I agree with everything you just said, and I think it’s amazing.
Christiana Figueres: [00:34:38] We all do.
Paul Dickinson: [00:34:39] Hugely, excessively, ridiculously.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:34:42] I’d love to just hear you nail an answer to also. I bet you there’s people listening.
Christiana Figueres: [00:34:46] But wait, Tom. Sorry, can I just totally interrupt. Katie, what you have just so eloquently expressed is the secret behind the Paris Agreement. I just want you to know that because it was exactly that collective leadership of thousands of people, some of which the three of us knew, but many of which we don’t and still won’t. But it was the eliciting of that collective leadership that led to a very strong treaty that today still stands tall and strong. But here’s my thing, I actually thought that you had to be at least 50 years old to figure that out. The fact that you’re not twenty one and you’ve already figured that out is absolutely brilliant.
Paul Dickinson: [00:35:33] I think you have to be under 20 to figure it out. That’s the point.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:35:33] And that segways very well, the thing I was going to ask in that is that what you’ve just said demonstrates a very deep level of emotional maturity around these issues and a real focus on outcomes rather than personal aggrandizement. And that is unusual for people to develop those qualities. It’s unusual at any age. Maybe it’s more common at a young age. And I just wonder there will be people who think that’s too hard for lots of people to achieve that. But it sounds like from what you just said, you’re seeing this happen in a lot of places. So how are you seeing those qualities? Are you seeing them as rare or are you seeing people are increasingly embodying that and being able to face these challenges in the way you described?
Katie Eder: [00:36:19] That’s a really good question. And I definitely hear and agree that I think it is very challenging because, again, we’re talking about this type of change that is against the status quo, that is against the grain of what is normal or what is expected. To say I’m going to set my ego aside and focus on the collective, focus on the collaboration. We don’t see that often. I think in the broader sense of social justice, progressive movements spaces we don’t see that, we see the same kind of toxic us against them culture. And I think that with the youth movement right now, we are actually seeing a really big shift in the culture of how we understand and relate to our movement. I think that pre covid we really were falling into that as a movement and we weren’t sure how we could represent our movement as leaderful and really sort of push back against that tendency to personify these movements into individuals. We didn’t know how to do that. We didn’t have the tools. But I think with covid and I think also with so many young people in the US participating in the Movement for Black Lives, organizing in the summer of 2020 last summer, that had such a profound impact on our movement in so many ways. But I think one of the things that made us understand is that to be a movement, to really be a movement, and to scale to the scale that we need, it has to be decentralized.
Katie Eder: [00:37:42] It has to be leaderful. And that means our movement, our team, our people has to come first. And I think that for those that struggle with that ego, with that sort of putting others, that selflessness, I think finding the people and the community that can really ground you is the trick because I think when it comes down to it, organizing and change-making is about relationships, it’s relational. And I think that the more that we lean into that and build up teams where we want to lift others up and we don’t want to just push ourselves ahead, but we want all of us to go together because they’re your friends, they’re the people that you spend, 10 hours on Zoom with every day. And so those are the folks that you want to see sort of together be moving down the line. And I think that that’s the shift that we’ve seen happen in the youth movement, is that we went from being single organizations, working on slightly different things with different leadership to now feeling like, OK, we are one team, we are one movement, we are one community. And so we can push toward change together without it being so competitive and sort of focus on tearing each other down.
Paul Dickinson: [00:38:47] This is brilliant. And I’m really excited about something that feels really evolutionary. 30 years ago I used to work in lesbian and gay rights. And the thing that, looking back, I thought was so exciting was that it was non-party political. You know, this idea now that there’s environmental issues and then there’s social justice issues somehow combined, I find incredibly exciting. How does that not lead towards a party political model? How can there be some kind of unity without this party label? That feels to me like something’s being born and I just want you to name it.
Katie Eder: [00:39:27] That is always the most difficult because as much as I spew that we have collaboration and connectedness, I must say that most of the connectedness we have in is with people that probably ideologically are fairly aligned on a lot of issues. And I think that is a real challenge for us and as a generation, as a movement, but also as a world. As we talk about how do we deal with this urgent existential issue that is climate change while also dealing with and acknowledging and starting to repair the damage that our system has been doing across the board when it comes to issues of race, issues of class, issues of immigration. And I think once we start to understand, as you said, that these issues are interconnected, that is when we’re able to really sort of put aside some of these kinds of political or ideological differences. And I think we do see that a lot in the youth movement. The youth movement doesn’t see climate change or the environment as such a singular issue. I think we’ve moved on from those times of just the melting ice caps, the polar bears, et cetera. And it’s really moved onto this is a people issue. This is a human issue. And we can’t talk about climate change without talking about white supremacy. We can’t talk about climate change without talking about gender equality. We can’t talk about climate change without talking about imperialism, all of these things that are so related. And I think that much of it is that the roots of the climate crisis are the same as the roots of so many other issues. And it comes down to the elite and the wealthy continuing to put power and money over people, time and time again that has happened.
Paul Dickinson: [00:41:07] Woah, slow down, one more time. The elite and the wealthy continuing to put power and money above people.
Katie Eder: [00:41:16] Yes. And that is when we talk about getting to the roots of climate change and there’s a group in the US called Zero Hour that does really amazing teachings on this topic, is they really focus on talking about how does racism feed into what’s caused climate change and sort of how all these injustices are so, so interconnected. And I think that the youth movement really sees that. They see that intersectionality in a way that is not just to check a box or to say, oh, yeah, because this is the cool thing we’re saying. It’s really because in our DNA of the movement, we understand that we will not be able to achieve our goals unless we look at it from a broad lens and really deal with it from the bottom up.
Paul Dickinson: [00:42:03] Do you mind if I just pivot to one thing that you’ve said that I found fascinating, the concept of climate melancholy being experienced? You know, there’s a famous phrase I know that somebody said that depression is melancholy without the charm. So there is some kind of charm in this climate melancholy. But it’s a fascinating concept and about, I guess, have to be in relationship with some pretty heavy stuff, right?
Katie Eder: [00:42:34] Definitely, and that’s something, climate melancholy is a term that I first heard maybe like 2017 or 2018, and it’s something that has really stuck with me. And it’s helped me articulate to a lot of people that feeling of just absolute paralysis that happens when you’re dealing with such a big issue. And I think for folks who maybe are really deep into climate and sort of forget what that’s like, I think thinking back to the beginning of Covid is also a really great similar feeling, potentially even on a more heightened scale. That feeling of just absolute helplessness. Have no idea what’s going on. You’ve no idea what to do. And there’s just the way to sort of plan things past a certain mark. And with climate change, that is also very true, especially amongst our generation. There’s a lot of young people that says, well, we’re all going to die in 10 years anyway. So what’s the point? And that is sad to think about and that reality is really real. But I think that, now I’m going to forget the exact line, but one of my favorite lines is that the best antidote to fear is hope. And so once you’re able to give folks that hope, that something to believe in, something to be a part of, I think that’s when we’re able to really start to recover and really start to put those feelings of despair, those feelings of paralysis and channel them into something productive. And I think it’s finding something to believe in, finding people to believe in beyond just yourself or sort of what you can do.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:43:59] We love that. That’s absolutely, that gets very high marks on this podcast, those kinds of views. Katie, it’s been such a privilege and such a pleasure to talk to you about these issues. And really, it’s so inspiring to see the way you’re approaching them and how you’re being able to be so effective. We absolutely love it. We just have one final question for you. So we call this podcast Outrage and Optimism, and we do that because we see those two qualities as necessary and coming together, the outrage that actually drives us forward to do more and the optimism, the stubborn optimism we talk about that can kind of sustain us as an antidote to that depression, that melancholy that can settle in when you look at the reality of the situation we’re in. So we like to close by asking our guests to position themselves on the spectrum between outrage and optimism. Where do you fall and how do you see the next steps for the youth movement?
Katie Eder: [00:44:50] hat is a great, great question. I would say I feel much closer to the optimism side and I think it’s because I have the privilege every day of working with so many amazing young people that have so much grit and determination and belief in what is possible. And I know that as time passes and the issue becomes more urgent, that those young people will be listened to more and more and continue to be given opportunity to lead. And I think once our generation is given our truest responsibility and opportunity to lead that we’re going to go to a lot of really great places, because the vision that our generation has for the future, I think, is one where we really do center justice and equity for the people and for the planet and I’m really excited to see where that takes us.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:45:39] Awesome. Katie, thank you so much, we really appreciate it.
Christiana Figueres: [00:45:43] Lucky Stanford, lucky Standford. Superb. Katie, thank you so much, a real delight.
Paul Dickinson: [00:45:52] Wow, Alice, I mean, what an amazing person Katie is. I focused on her talking about creating leaderful structures. I love that word, leaderful, in the youth movement. So it’s not just a few charismatic personalities, but it’s like a fountain of all these brilliant people. And I also was really struck by her comments about intersectionality and the DNA of the movement sort of being built around different people supporting issues that aggregate up together. They don’t take from each other. They sort of build off each other and increase the strength. What was your impression of her?
Alice Garton: [00:46:44] Yeah, I couldn’t agree more Paul. She’s an incredible woman and I also really enjoy listening to those points. I think the sophistication of these young people in understanding how the system operates and that there are these route drivers which are causing so many of these injustices, including climate change. I think, there’s so much we should all be learning and listening to them.
Paul Dickinson: [00:47:12] When we interviewed Luisa Neubauer a while ago, German climate activist, she was kind of attacking Siemens for providing the switching infrastructure for the road leading to the Adani coal mine in Australia. And I just thought to get Siemens for providing the switching infrastructure for the train to the coal mine. Such brilliant systems thinking. But look, we’re coming towards the end of the show. But let me ask you a question Alice, which I think, again, will be very interesting for a lot of our listeners, which is to what degree do you think the youth climate activists have a role in the emerging legal strategies and kind of legal ecosystem that’s developing to support climate action? And how would you recommend to our younger listeners can kind of get involved?
Alice Garton: [00:48:03] Well, I would say they already really have a very powerful driving force in a lot of this litigation. We have partners in Korea who have an ongoing constitutional case at the moment that’s driven by a youth climate group. In Australia, we have a Queensland case against one of the Galilee coal mines, again, that their young people. International human rights cases, I mean, they’re leading the way already. So I would encourage them to get to continue to get involved. As I said right at the start, the court is one of the few remaining independent institutions who are there to react to the science rather than what is possible or politically palatable, I think is the way Greta Thunberg described it. And in saying that, of course, I don’t mean in all countries the courts are independent, but in many they are.
Paul Dickinson: [00:49:01] You know, I used this phrase before, those who wear the chains are best equipped to break them. And of course, you know, unfortunately, as we know this, our climate change does fall particularly on the young. Look, Alice, let me thank you very much indeed for coming along co-hosting today and really say on behalf of all of us, whoever we are, that a big thank you for your really inspirational work and your leadership over many years. And I do know that you most likely been behind all sorts of incredible legal strategies. And seeing as that seems to be one of the most productive and exciting areas in climate change. Just want to kind of salute you and your colleagues for the amazing work you have done and will do in the future. Thank you, Alice.
Alice Garton: [00:49:50] Thank you, Paul. A pleasure to be here.
Paul Dickinson: [00:49:54] Well, so it remains only for me to introduce now our amazing music. We have the brilliant artist Emily Barker performing The Woman Who Planted Trees. And Emily, originally I think Australian but hails now from the UK and is probably best known as the writer and performer of the award-winning theme music for the BBC crime drama Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh. Now she’ll introduce her track from her new album herself. But for now, it just remains for me and Alice to say bye-bye. See you next week.
Alice Garton: [00:50:27] Bye.
Emily Barker: [00:50:29] Hi there, my name’s Emily Barker. This is my song, The Woman Who Planted Trees, and it’s inspired by a remarkable woman called Wangari Maathai, who in 1977 started the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. She was a biologist and at that time, the government was selling off large tracts of land to their friends and the forest was being clear felled. And this had a devastating impact on her community. The topsoils began to erode and wash away into the rivers and silt up the rivers, and they were no longer able to grow food in the way they could before. So she rallied all the people in her community to protest and protect the forests as best they could. But she also empowered all the women in her community by teaching them how to plant trees. And the Green Belt Movement is still going today. They’ve planted over 50 million trees. And I saw this beautiful documentary which featured Wangari’s daughter, Wanjira who I had the pleasure of speaking to actually on Australian National Radio. She’d heard my song, The Woman Who Planted Trees, and was thrilled that there was a song for her mother. And for me, it was such an honor to speak to Wanjira because she has really continued her mother’s legacy of caring for communities and environment and fully understands the connection between the two in such a deep way. The documentary that I saw featured Wanjira walking through these beautiful forests, and it reminded me a little bit of an aspect of my childhood, which was that when I was a kid, I did lots of tree planting with my parents. We we grew up by a river, and now when I go back to this part of the river. I see these trees that have grown so high and it’s like this wonderful way to measure time. And this documentary shows Wanjira walking, weaving her way through these forests with these trees that have grown so high now. So that is the inspiration behind the song, The Woman Who Planted Trees.
Clay Carnill: [00:56:26] So there you go. Another episode. Sorry, dust on this microphone. OK, that’s better. So there you go. Another episode of Outrage and Optimism. I’m Clay, producer of the show. The track you just heard was The Woman Who Planted Trees by Emily Barker. Emily Barker’s latest EP is out. It’s titled Machine. I’ve got a link in the show notes to go check that out. And yeah, I’m just really excited, we have music again on the show. I’ve been missing it. It’s been, what, three, four weeks, something like that. And, you know, Paul would sing on Zoom in meetings, but, you know, it’s just not the same. OK, and real quick, Emily spoke about Wanjira Maathai. Slight flex here. She was on our podcast and it’s one of my favorite interviews we’ve ever done. There’s this moment where she tells us something and both Tom and Christiana audibly gasp out loud. So, yeah, link in the show notes to go check that out as well. Thank you so much. Emily Barker. Again, go check out her music in the show notes. Outrage and Optimism is a global optimism production. Our executive producer is Sharon Johnson and our producer is Clay Carnill. Global Optimism is Sara Lau, Katie Bradford, Lara Richardson, Marina Mansilla-Hermann, Freya Newman, Santiago Monge, Sara Thomas, Sophie Baggott, Sue Reed and John Ward, and our hosts are Christiana Figueres, Paul Dickinson, and Tom Rivett-Carnac. Shout out to Paul for holding it down this week. Nice work, Paul.
Clay Carnill: [00:58:11] Thank you to our guests Katie Eder. Katie Eder is climate organizer at Future Coalition, as you heard previously. And you can go get involved and support Future Coalition by going to futurecoalition.org. It all works together. Check out the show notes for that link and, side note, thank you, Katie, for the recommendation on a pair of skates. So I’ve been thinking about something, I want to make a suggestion because it’s worked for me. Sometimes when I’m listening to something like a podcast or I’m with a friend and I get a recommendation to check out something, I don’t always have a free moment right then to read through a website or really just spend the amount of time I know I want to spend on that recommendation or reference, but I don’t want to forget that I need to check it out. And instead of just making a list of things which I will never end up getting to, I started just going to their social media and just hitting follow and then closing my phone or walking away, continuing what I was doing. That way, in the future, when I’m scrolling on my phone on social media, I definitely have time to be checking things out and I’ll just be prompted again by a post that comes through. It’s been very helpful to me. It’s not just end up with these huge running lists of things I need to check out.
Clay Carnill: [00:59:28] And it helps me to stay up to date on things that are, you know, fluid, like they’re changing, they’re constantly moving, which is our entire world at this point. So anyway, just a recommendation. We always include the social media accounts of our guests if they have one. So go hit follow. If you don’t have the time now, they’ll keep updating. You’ll learn more and you’ll get to it when you can. That is my recommendation and encouragement for the day. OK, a thank you is an order to our guest co-host Alice Garton. You can connect with Alice and connect with FILE, her organization, by going to filefoundation.org. As always, link in the show notes to that, including social media. And @GlobalOptimism, is how you can stay up to date on optimism and the climate. So please give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Oh, that’s it. That’s the show notes. OK, that’s a wrap. Well, last week we weren’t sure how this was going to go, but I think it went really well. I mean, we’re here, aren’t we, at the end together. We made it OK. Next week we are back again and there are only a few episodes left in season three. So be sure to hit subscribe and we’ll see you then. And in the meantime, I am going to go ride my new skateboard I just bought. So hit subscribe. We’ll see you next week. Bye.