90. Ferocious Love with Katharine Wilkinson
With a deep freeze in Texas leaving a wake of devastation, a UN Security Council Meeting weakly addressing climate change as the planet’s “gravest threat”, and massive investment for offshore wind in Denmark to produce green ammonia, there’s no shortage of things to be outraged by or optimistic about this week!
We are at a new political moment where we are seeing the ambition for a cleaner world, and we are seeing the economics weigh more and more towards phasing out fossil fuels. We’re even seeing the political winds shift toward championing racial, social, and economic justice! And at the heart of the climate movement that is deeply committed to making all of this possible is a ferocious love for our planet, nurtured and activated by a ‘feminist climate renaissance’ as our guest, Katharine Wilkinson, phrases it.
This week we talk to Katharine Wilkinson, author, teacher and former Editor-in-Chief at Project Drawdown, about her latest book co-edited with Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, ‘All We Can Save’, an anthology of women’s voices in the climate movement, and what is giving her a “fire in the belly and the heart” in tackling the climate crisis.
Our interview with Katharine gets into why she believes the climate crisis is ultimately a leadership crisis, and explores the idea of transformative leadership and emerging voices at the core of the climate movement which she describes as, “characteristically feminine, but also more committedly feminist in its commitment to equality and justice.”
And stick around later in the show for a musical performance from Desirée Dawson!
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage + Optimism, I’m Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana Figueres: [00:00:16] I’m Christiana Figueres.
Paul Dickinson: [00:00:17] And I’m Paul Dickinson.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:19] This week we discuss climate as a security issue, the prices oil companies will pay for wind permits, the big freeze in Texas. And we speak to author and fellow podcaster Katharine Wilkinson. Plus, we have music from Desirée Dawson. Thanks for being here.
[00:00:46] So I don’t know about you guys in terms of how 2021 is shaping up. There’s good stuff. There’s bad stuff. At the beginning of the year, I remember Paul Dickinson you wouldn’t even say Happy New Year. You just said welcome to the New Year, which I thought was a unique way to begin the year looking at how it was going. But one thing I’ve noticed is that there’s so much going on with climate that it is a struggle to include it all in these podcasts. How do you think we’re doing?
Paul Dickinson: [00:01:09] Absolutely brilliant. Almost impossibly well, I think of all the different ways to go and it’s just knocking it out the park completely. What do you think, Christiana?
Christiana Figueres: [00:01:22] So we have someone who does the wonderful job of collecting once a week news on climate progress, and what I have noticed is that the list continues to get longer. It’s a big list and it’s moving into more and more different spaces, which is quite exciting.
[00:01:51] So a little bit difficult to pick and choose which ones we want to focus on. But I think we have actually chosen for today.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:01:59] We have indeed. So this is a slightly roundabout way of informing the listener. We’re going to be doing this slightly differently from now on. Each week, the three hosts, Christiana, Paul and myself, will pick one key thing, one key data point, one key story, something that is unfolding in the world at the moment in the area of climate that could be outrageous. It could be something that’s giving us a cause for optimism. And we’re going to bring it to the group and we’re going to discuss it. And if there are key issues that you, the listener, would like us to bring up, you can let us know. But this week, we have come ready with our facts from the last seven days that we want to share with each other. So who wants to go first?
Paul Dickinson: [00:02:34] You are going to go first Tom because you’re going to talk about the most serious thing in the world, which is security.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:02:38] All right. I did something very unusual today. I sat down and I watched 90 minutes of a Security Council meeting. And I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. People who have watched my TED talk, will know that I famously found UN meetings extremely boring when I worked there. So I didn’t do that much. But I found this one extremely interesting. The issue of climate change was raised today by Boris Johnson at the Security Council. And it was launched initially by an address from David Attenborough that was extremely moving. He said that the threats that we now face in the world are not threats that divide us. They’re actually threats for the first time that should unite us. If we recognise climate as the security threat that it is, then we may yet act in time and act proportionately. The Prime Minister then launched into a debate with the various members who were there at the time, including the US and France, Niger and both the permanent representatives and the non-permanent representatives who were there. That’s usually 10 or 12 members of the Security Council. António Guterres gave a very stirring speech on climate. Johnson himself absolutely came out guns blazing. I mean, I know on this podcast we’ve been slightly eviscerating at times at the flip flopping nature of our current Prime Minister. But on climate, he seems to be really going the distance and digging in. And I think he really has to have credit for this. I mean, he said today that the UN Security Council is tasked with confronting the gravest threat to global peace and security. And that’s exactly what climate change represents from the communities uprooted by extreme weather and hunger to warlords capitalizing on the scramble for resources.
[00:04:08] Our warming planet is driving insecurity. And he pointed out that unlike most threats to security, we know what the solution to this one is. It’s driving emissions down to zero, net zero by 2050 and dealing with the impacts of climate. So there are reasons, I would say, for both optimism and outrage in this. The first reason for outrage, is that this has been raised again and again at the Security Council. And we kind of need to temper our enthusiasm for the fact that it’s coming up now with the fact that it also came up in 2007, 2011, 2018, 2019, 2020. So it’s been there a bunch of times. So while I’m feeling optimistic that there was a proper debate today about climate change as a national security threat, we have to find the determination to actually make that more of an issue now than it has been in the past. And the other reason for outrage, of course, is that the reason that this is now so high on the agenda is because it’s become so bad. Of the 20 countries ranked most vulnerable to rising global temperatures, 12 are already in conflict and 16 million people a year are displaced due to extreme weather. This has become a massive driver of global insecurity and conflict. And it’s great it’s being discussed, but we now have to make it count and turn it into real policy. So that’s the big thing that happened for me this week. What do you think?
Christiana Figueres: [00:05:35] Well, it’s interesting because when you speak about national security, the armies of several countries have been very, very aware of this. The U.S. Army has been aware, the UK has been very aware of the fact that this is a threat to national security or rather to international security because it’s threatening everyone.
[00:06:00] And so, as you say, Tom, it is quite frustrating that this topic has been brought up by member states to the Security Council quite a few times over the past 13 years. And it always stays at the level of a discussion. There has never been any resolution, any decision taken on the part of the Security Council about any of this. In the best of all cases, they take it under advisement or they take note. But that’s about it. It doesn’t go any farther than that because the Security Council doesn’t see it as their purview to wander into climate change issues.
Paul Dickinson: [00:06:52] Here’s the thing. What is the government? What is it? Somebody said a nation is a dialect with an army and a navy. So states are defined by their militaries in some regards, except for Costa Rica, which fantastically is defined by not having a military, but all the rest are defined by that kind of armed forces historically. And the central idea behind a state, the Leviathan, this giant creature, this sort of superhuman, is that it protects us, that we give up some of our personal individual freedom to the state. This is Hobbes notion of the Leviathan and then the state in turn protects us. But the duty of the citizens to the state lasts as long and only as long as the state is able to protect us. Now, climate change is essentially the principal danger to our states. And so it’s taking a long time. But of course, the armed forces are beginning to realise that their job is not to get more warplanes or aircraft carriers or submarines or tanks or something, that their job is to protect the people from climate change.
[00:08:01] And that means that they’ve got to radically review what are the risks to the nation and they’ve got to change it. I think propaganda undermining public confidence in climate change is a threat to national security. I think that’s sedition. You’ve also got, just huge amounts of money being spent on weapons. The Pentagon’s the extreme example, 721 billion dollars last year. 721 billion dollars being spent on military hardware. Essentially in a world where there’s a lot of military hardware and there’s nuclear weapons, surely it’s time for the militaries of the world to say, OK, friends, for however long it takes, the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, we are going to spend 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 percent of our annual budget on dealing with this problem. And we are going to cut to the root of the disinformation that’s causing our democracies to fail to respond to the problem.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:08:50] It’s a very good point. And Christiana, just go back to what you said about there not being a resolution. In your analysis, if the Security Council picks up an issue and debates but it doesn’t reach a resolution, does that have any meaning at all? Does that move us forward in any way?
Christiana Figueres: [00:09:06] Yes, but not enough. The Security Council does take up many issues.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:09:15] Moves it forward in narrative, but not in practice.
Christiana Figueres: [00:09:17] Yeah. And as we know, the Security Council is really ridden with paralysis on most issues. And it’s actually very sad that this issue that as David Attenborough has reminded everyone, this is a common thread, a collective threat to everyone that, the Security Council has a problem siding with one side or the other in military conflicts is, a little bit more understandable, if you will, because some or all of them are sometimes engaged in these military conflicts. But this is a threat to every single one of the member states of the United Nations. And so the fact that it is not recognized as a collective universal threat to the economy of the world, to peace in the world, to the living conditions on the world, it’s just very sad that it’s taken this long and that it just does not meet with the importance and the type of deep analysis that it could and should have.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:10:35] I know we need to move on to the next issue but the other thing I thought was really interesting, John Kerry spoke at length and he went to great lengths to say that the US was now on an irreversible path to net zero by 2050. He actually said irreversible by any future demagogue were his exact words. But of course it’s not. It’s still executive action. There’s no legislation. It’s entirely reversible by a future president. And it was, I thought, a real insight. I mean, it may be irreversible due to the underlying economic trends and the shift towards cheaper renewable energy. But from a policy perspective, that battle is not yet won. And I thought it was an interesting insight into what he’s having to emphasize when he speaks to world leaders. That irreversibility is going to be the thing that gives him credibility. And right now, it’s not there.
Paul Dickinson: [00:11:24] When he said that battle is not yet won, this is actually the kind of the point about the military and the security services. They probably insofar as they can make sure that the public get clear information so they can make decisions that could intervene. They should intervene. Let me give you an example. And it’s the next topic. The power cuts in Texas, an absolute disaster for the state of Texas. Our hearts go out to all the people. Some citizens died even in the terrible cold. It’s a terrible situation. I saw Tucker Carlson on Fox News blaming renewable energy. That’s not correct. And that kind of intervention is part of winning the battle.
[00:12:02] Should people really be allowed to go out and say that kind of thing without being challenged by the security services? If they’re misinforming the citizens? If somebody went on TV and said don’t worry about al Qaeda, we can relax, we can reduce all our security at airports, that would be disinformation that’s undermining society security. OK, just one thing I want to say about Texas in this tragedy. It’s not the windmills. And I’ll tell you why, because Denmark is the home of windmills. And I was just looking at the average global temperatures for Texas and Denmark. Texas goes from thirty seven to three degrees on average each year, and Copenhagen in Denmark goes from twenty one degrees to minus two on average each year. So it’s fully five degrees average colder in Denmark and all the windmills work. You can make them work in cold circumstances. What this is about is running everything. And it wasn’t just the wind, it was other parts of the energy grid running them.
[00:12:50] Extremely low investment, basically. And the shame of that is Texas has a GDP of 1.88 trillion dollars. It has a GDP per capita of 65000 dollars. So the reason why the energy grid isn’t working is because of something that Galbraith, an economist, called private affluence and public squalor, an inability for the state to really support the people with these essentials, like electricity that is reliable. And that’s because of underinvestment. It’s not wind energy. End of speech.
Christiana Figueres: [00:13:22] Well, it’s because of the lack of investment to be able to foresee that there might be those extreme temperatures, as well as the fact that Texas has its own grid that is not interconnected with anyone else. And so that, of course, makes you incredibly vulnerable when you have to rely on your own grid without any interconnectivity.
[00:13:48] But if I may, I wanted to just get back to Prime Minister Johnson’s speech at the Security Council, because what continues to be very difficult to understand, is that on the one hand, we know, as Boris Johnson has said and everyone else there, John Kerry, David Attenborough, that climate change is the greatest threat to us. And at the same time holding a different reality in equal standing, addressing climate change is such a huge opportunity. So it is ironic that in this week in which Boris Johnson says climate is the greatest threat and it is the same week in which major oil companies have bid absolutely staggering prices to secure the rights to build offshore wind farms off the shore of England and Wales. Why? Because it is a growing opportunity. So you have, companies like BP and Total that have secured just incredible rights. And this is all happening within the same country, this is the British P.M. saying that at the Security Council, but it is Britain actually going forward with these auctions and traditional oil majors bidding way beyond any price that anyone has ever bid in full realization that that is the direction of travel. So you have these two competing realities. Two competing realities. Yes, climate is the greatest threat. And yes, addressing climate change through the technologies that we know are the solutions is the greatest opportunity. And so why are we still having those two realities? Why haven’t we moved forward much more courageously and with much more decision and determination into the solution space?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:16:01] Well Christiana, I hear what you’re saying. Do you not think that they are both components of a new reality that has a push and pull associated with it and both play different roles in that transition. That’s what you just described there.
Christiana Figueres: [00:16:20] Oh, definitely. And that’s the definition of a transition. In a transition, you have evidence of the old and evidence of the new, but you don’t have primacy of either one yet. My point is, why are we still stuck in the yet? That’s my point. Yes, of course we have evidence of the past and the present, but frankly, we are so running out of time. We are so running out of time. And I’m frankly you losing patience with this transition thing. Transition of energy generation, the energy transition, the energy transformation. Yes, yes. Yes. But let’s get on with it!
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:17:04] I hear you, Christiana. And I think the issue you brought, which I think really illustrates this, is the money that these oil and gas majors are now prepared to spend for these permits, they’re desperate to find ways to spend money in a manner that is productive, that generates a return, that is renewable as part of the future, that helps them transition their company.
Paul Dickinson: [00:17:22] It’s future proof. Do they know there’s not going to be a carbon tax? As Christiana always says, the wind doesn’t send you a bill.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:17:28] And they can see the consistent return going into the future, it’s going to be so valuable. We are just at the beginning of realizing how valuable those types of assets of being able to build wind turbines, harvest these natural renewable resources that don’t send you a bill.
Christiana Figueres: [00:17:44] And just to illustrate that point, another amazing piece of news this week is that there has been an investment in Denmark that goes way beyond any other investment that has been made into renewable energy. And it’s called Power-to-X facility.
[00:18:05] The amazing thing about this is all offshore wind turbines are being invested in not necessarily to produce electricity, but to use the electricity as the raw material to produce green ammonia. And why do they want green ammonia? Because they want to use it in the agriculture sector as CO2 free, green fertilizer and for the shipping industry to use that as green fuel. Now just think of the ramifications of that, because we’re used to thinking of renewable energy as simply the source of energy generation, clean electricity. But the fact is that clean electricity is not necessarily the desired result. It is an input. It is a raw material to so much more that can be done to get to other sectors that are more difficult. So it’s a virtuous chain reaction here. And I’m losing my patience with the chain reactions that go in the other direction.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:21] All right. Here on warning.
Paul Dickinson: [00:19:23] Be afraid in a good way.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:28] Alright. So anything else anyone wants to say in this part of the podcast?
Paul Dickinson: [00:19:32] Just one thing. This electricity, this renewable electricity. It’s not just about replacing our electricity grid. It’s about replacing fossil fuels. Peak heat in the United Kingdom is five times the total electricity output in terms of energy. So we’ve got so much renewable energy that we’re going to build way beyond the existing requirements of the existing electricity grid as we start to take out fossil fuels.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:56] What did you say about peak heat? I didn’t understand.
Paul Dickinson: [00:19:58] Peak heat, so the amount of energy used when everything in the UK is at peak, like when we’ve got all the heating on, that energy at the peak is five times the total capacity of the current electricity system of four times. So there’s a huge amount more electricity coming.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:20:17] Wow. Okay, that’s amazing.
Paul Dickinson: [00:20:18] Lots of lots of ammonia created by Danish windmills is probably what’s going to be keeping you warm on a chilly night in 2025.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:20:25] Maybe some hydrogen for getting us around.
Paul Dickinson: [00:20:27] Probably more hydrogen than ammonia. Thank you for correcting me. It’s always good to have someone who knows just a little bit more about the science.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:20:34] That’s the role I try to play in your life. Paul, I’m sure you enjoy it.
[00:20:38] So this week we have a great conversation with Katharine Wilkinson. Now, Katharine is a good friend, known her for many years. She’s a climate author, a teacher, strategist, a feminist, committed to nurturing what she terms a feminist climate renaissance. Her books on climate include the bestseller All We Can Save, that came out just at the end of last year that she co edited with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, The Drawdown Review from 2020, the New York Times bestseller Drawdown from 2017. I’m sure everyone has heard of it. And between God and Green from 2012, she was the principal writer and editor in chief of Project Drawdown, where she led the organization’s work to share climate solutions with audiences around the world and All We Can Save, the most recent book is an anthology of 60 essays, poems and original artwork from women in the climate movement that we’re going to talk about. She gave a brilliant TED talk that I would really recommend, and this is a great conversation. I’m sure you’re going to enjoy it. Here’s Katharine and we will be back afterwards for some more discussion.
Christiana Figueres: [00:21:43] Katharine, thank you so much for joining us on Outrage + Optimism to celebrate your book, All We Can Save.
[00:21:51] First of all, I love the title and there are many things that are unusual about this book. The first is that it’s a collection of writings of all women that is interspersed with poetry, and all of that deserves going into more depth. But I actually have been chomping at the bit to ask you what I think is the crux that I really want to hear from you. What did the two of you, you and Ayana, your co-author or co-editor, what did you learn from writing this book, from speaking to all of the authors that you didn’t know before?
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:22:34] Well, thank you all for having me. I learned so much in the process of doing this book. I’m thinking about sort of how to boil it down. One of the insights for me has been actually about the movement. We originally set out in this book together about 20 essays, do a book of about sixty or seventy thousand words. We ended up with 41 essays, 17 poems, original art. And at that point, our editor said, you’re done. You cannot add anything else.
[00:23:16] But even at a book of almost a hundred and forty thousand words. There’s so much that’s left out. There are so many perspectives that are not present, even with 60 voices included. And so I’ve been thinking a lot about the abundance that Ayana and I imagine for the movement and especially for women who are leading in this movement and the realities of scarcity at the moment. And I think that just hit me in a more experiential and visceral way. And that that is a really challenging place to be. Where folks are underpaid, under supported, overburdened, trying to make magic happen, you know, oftentimes as a side hustle on nights and weekends. And so I think the process just really deepened my determination to try to forge a different future for the experience of being in this movement. And I think it also made more visceral for me as well the ferocious love that is the through line of so much of the work that people are doing that, over here may look like research science over there may look like policy advocacy. But at the end of the day, it is about this incredible conviction and love for a just and livable future.
Christiana Figueres: [00:24:56] And a commitment to forging it.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:24:58] Exactly. This capacity to have radical imagination come together with the day to day heavy lifting and strategic work that has to be done. And that’s an incredible art form. To be able to be effective in the now that is so very out of step with the future that we are imagining and to keep nurturing that vision even when the news is bad. Even when it feels like the boulder is rolling back down the mountain.
Christiana Figueres: [00:25:31] Well, you use the word heavy lifting, the daily heavy lifting that we all have to do. And it brings me to suggest that I think one of the things that came forward to me is both for the two of you, but also for all of the authors of the essays. Writing it, but also their real lives and their commitment to what they’re doing is such a challenge and yet also such a celebration of a new emotional muscle that we’re all being called to exercise. That is actually quite new for us. Quite new, this emotional muscle. How would you describe that emotional muscle?
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:26:20] It is sort of hilarious, actually, when you think that we ever thought we could address this challenge with only the powers of the prefrontal cortex. Why would we leave the whole of the human superpowers to the side? But in the first essay in the book, Ayana and I frame up how we think about transformational climate leadership in this moment, which we think is both more stereotypically or characteristically feminine, but also more committedly feminist in its commitment to equality and justice. But one of those critical characteristics is the integration of head and heart. Showing up to this work in our human wholeness with all of the things that stir up when you have eyes wide open on this planet in this moment. You can’t sort of watch all of this and not have grief and not have fear or rage, but also courage and determination. To me, so much of it is about integration. So I get really excited. And Christiana, I think you have been such an amazing leader about bringing more of a human wholeness and openness to this work. And I’m grateful for leaders like you. I think about Mary Robinson also, that have showed us that we can lead in this movement in this way. And it’s more effective.
Christiana Figueres: [00:28:09] Probably that we can and we must.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:28:11] We can and we must. I don’t have a lot of regrets, but I do regret, I think particularly earlier in my career, the ways in which I I bought into the idea. I thought I sort of had to play by these rules that said, you’ve got to check some of that at the door. You can’t be taken seriously and recite poetry. When I did my TED women talk, one of the curators said, you need to take the emotion out of this.
Christiana Figueres: [00:28:46] Wow. Are you serious?
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:28:48] I’m serious.
Christiana Figueres: [00:28:49] I think they have also learned that that’s probably not added value
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:28:55] And that’s the thing. We had so much emotionless climate communication for so many years. And we know that hasn’t worked. But also I was like I can’t stand up and speak for 13 minutes about the core of something I care about and pretend that that’s just about facts or figures.
Christiana Figueres: [00:29:20] Absolutely. We’re with you. We’re totally with you on that one Katharine.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:29:27] Can I jump in and ask a question? It’s so wonderful, this platform you’ve built and you’ve talked so much about the construction of a platform, the responsibility to pass the mic, the emergence of these new leaders. And from what you just said then, it’s so impressive to see the quality of the emerging leadership and the commitment and the dedication of all these women who are coming forward. I’d love to hear you talk a bit about the climate movement and the health of the climate movement from a leadership perspective, because it seems that there’s lots of things going on there. There are real bright spots and there’s potentially things that are stuck that, for maybe understandable reasons that need to now be allowed to move forward. And space needs to be made for this new leadership to emerge while at the same time, providing the right scaffolding and support structures to allow it to emerge in a way that is sustained and sustaining. So I just love to have you reflect on what you’ve seen on the climate movement overall and how these young leaders sort of fit into that, what space there is and all that stuff.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:30:34] To me, it’s so exciting, the flowering of climate leadership that is happening and frankly, young folks who are kind of claiming their right to be part of this movement, part of shaping the future, part of saying what is wrong and what needs to be made right and how and that all leaves me feeling just fired up. And then when we look at things like where philanthropic funding in the climate movement goes and how little of that is going to organizations or campaigns or projects led by black leaders, indigenous leaders, other leaders of color. We see gender gaps as well. We see it in U.N. negotiations. We see it in media coverage of the crisis. We see it basically in every decision making space where climate decisions are being made. We are seeing a suppression or exclusion of certain leaders and an overrepresentation of others. And we need everyone.
[00:31:56] We need the biggest, strongest and possible. We have the biodiversity of leadership that we need, but we are inequitable in terms of how we support it, embrace it, listen to it, follow it, and I think a lot about the need for a practice of deep listening. But, Tom, I feel I feel excited about the shift right where we’re clearly not where we need to be yet. But I do think we’re headed in that direction.
Christiana Figueres: [00:32:37] And can I jump in? Paul I know you’re chomping at the bit too, but we would agree with you that we’re headed in the right direction. I would love to know from you, Katharine, can you put your finger on why, how, what? Because we were headed in such a bad direction for a while. Can you identify an inflection point and inflection thought and inflection insight and inflection moment that you will look back several years from now and go, aha, that was the moment?
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:33:17] So we did an episode in our first season of A Matter of Degrees called Are We at a Breakthrough Moment? Because we really wanted to grapple with this question and we focused that episode on the moment of the Sunrise movement sit in and Nancy Pelosi’s office as this kind of tipping point moment in terms of the trajectory of a social movement. So that’s when all of a sudden we started talking about the Green New Deal. But maybe more important than the words Green New Deal were the intersections of how we can be multi solving for our entangled crises. And that that is the way we should be approaching this challenge, seeing that the climate crisis and growing inequality and racial violence, these are all outgrowths of the same root system. And so we need to be addressing issues in the root system and solving concurrently for those things. But I think now I also look back on the migration of Joe Biden to becoming a climate candidate, which is not where things started in the primaries, but setting that stake in the ground for the U.S. of 100 percent clean electricity by 2035, that was sort of an unthinkable stake for him to put it in the ground, actually. And I think that happened because of some great research. And the evolution of solutions to the point that that was sort of a physically possible reality. And then you had this incredible grassroots momentum. Activists bird-dogging candidates everywhere they showed up on the campaign trail and then the peer pressure right from Ainslee, from Warren, from others. And the way that these sort of different intervention points, different pressure points, moved things forward. So I think that 100 percent by 2035 planting of that flag was quite a watershed moment.
Paul Dickinson: [00:35:54] I love your comments about how this movement is about being integrated and holistic. And for all our listeners, your podcast is completely brilliant. A Matter of Degrees. I’ve been raving to you before we started about your episode on cleaning up the carbon mess and the wee beasties and microorganisms and your ability to communicate huge complexity really simply is fantastic. But I am going to just go back a little bit to this theme, I loved what you said about this integrated crisis. And I think that that’s such a great phrase and an area where I’m more and more fascinated. But it actually took me back to my organization in 2003 to about 2005, we were communicating with the chair of the board of the 500 biggest companies in the world, and it was between 99.8 and 99.6 percent men. So it’s basically apartheid. It was like between 499 hundred and 498 men and one or two women over over a three year period. Now, it’s a tiny bit better now, but fundamentally, the power structures of our world are just male. That’s what they are. And I just wondered, to what degree do you think how can society just call that out? A kind of Me Too. My multinational is run by men also.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:37:18] I think we have to be honest about it. I think all of a sudden folks have gotten comfortable with diversity, equity and inclusion, which mostly we talk about as let’s bring some other folks in. But it also means that somebody has to step back. And actually I think Bill McKibben sort of role modelled this, not intentionally but really beautifully when he stepped back from his closer engagement with 350.org Because he recognized that so many people were saying, Bill’s work. Right. And he was saying, it’s not my work. Now they’re a team led by primarily some really incredible women. But I think he recognized that until he created that space, they still weren’t going to be getting the credit they deserved. They still weren’t going to be getting the credence that they deserved and people would be looking to him. So I think that was a beautiful example of what it can look like to do that really intentionally, but also to vocalize it.
[00:38:34] So it becomes a learning moment beyond just, OK, that’s great for 350.org. But he wrote a really beautiful kind of statement about that, that I think stands out for its uniqueness, frankly, but I think presents presents a really interesting question mark to sit with, which is you’ve got a boardroom table. There are only so many seats that can be pulled up. So who’s going to step back? Who’s going to say, actually, I don’t need that grant money and it should go somewhere else. These are I think the harder kinds of questions, but the ones that we need to be to be asking in terms of kind of going back to to what I was saying about imagining a movement of abundance, but grappling with the realities of scarcity now that there are a limited number of slots in an anthology. A limited number of dollars in climate philanthropy. Hopefully that changes radically. But so how we get to more equitable allocation kind of within the status quo.
Paul Dickinson: [00:39:49] It’s great to see this called out in big companies, big investors in government as well. And I think it’s just a shockingly male world still at the top of so many organizations.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:40:03] And I’m so surprised, actually, that we have as much research as we have that when women are leading when there is gender parity in leadership, climate policy outcomes are better.
Christiana Figueres: [00:40:23] All policy decisions are better, not only climate.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:40:28] Totally. But I’ve just been looking through the laundry list of studies about this. That this is a pretty nascent thing that we’re studying. And the evidence is so clear. And you’re absolutely right, Christiana. It is across the board we get to we get to better decisions.
Christiana Figueres: [00:40:51] Katharine the first time that really hit was actually Drawdown, which you have dedicated so much of your life to. Those solutions to climate that were listed there. And then the whack me in the face solution that really made me turn around was the conclusion that educating women and girls, bringing more women to the decision tables was actually the number one solution to climate change. Somehow I had it in my gut. But to see it out there so clearly in Drawdown, it was for me one of my big, big aha moments. So thank thank you for that also. But can I just take you back to a previous question, because when I asked you, a few years from now, in fact, even now when you look back, which moment would you recognize as the inflection point moment? And I draw your attention to the fact that you told me the sit in in Nancy Pelosi’s office and then you argued quite eloquently, you know, how that really accelerated awareness. But I would argue that’s in the United States. I would love to hear from you the equivalent, because I think this awakening and this change in mood and in commitment and ferociousness, as you as you call it, which I love, is also happening around the world. And so I would love to hear your quick diagnosis, the diagnosis of is is there a moment as clear as the Pelosi sit in? Is there a moment, a place that you would pinpoint as being the the birth of the transformation?
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:42:44] Yeah, I think it’s really important to note that. That was this incredible expression of the youth climate justice movement in the U.S. in the context of this incredible constellation of organizing work that is happening around the world. And the one that’s coming to my mind in this moment is Greta’s first Davos speech and the incredible boldness and just the incredible truth. And if I’m remembering correctly, I think you were in the room..
Christiana Figueres: [00:43:30] Yes, absolutely.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:43:32] But I think that is so emblematic of the moment that we are in of young people refusing not to be heard and saying to leaders, you have the power, you have the resources, you have the platforms, you have all of the capacity in the world to lead in this moment. So why aren’t you doing it? And that at the end of the day, I think, is where so much of my work has now become anchored, is recognizing that the climate crisis is a leadership crisis. There are so many people in positions of power who could be climate leaders today. Not that you have to have it all figured out, but that you are willing to set goals where they need to be in accordance with what science tells us needs to be done. You are willing to lay serious plans and resource them to get to those outcomes. And you’re committed to doing all of it in a way that heals systemic injustices rather than deepening them. And I think my greatest hope is that what we see this decade is not just young people stepping into climate leadership, but people stepping in to climate leadership from all directions right where they are in the context that they are in. And I think that’s so much of the work for us. Is welcoming people. In issuing the invitation, offering the collaboration, linking arms and building, as we like to say, building the ‘we’ in All We Can Save. Right from where you are. And we have a cat.
Christiana Figueres: [00:45:30] Yes. The name of the cat is?
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:45:33] The name of the cat is Munchkin. He adopted us this summer. He is our new COVID addition.
Paul Dickinson: [00:45:43] Post-COVID it’s not just the children I’m going to miss, but the cats. Really particularly the way they just want to get in front of a Zoom call.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:45:51] They have no sense of propriety, you know. Are you trying to do something here? Sorry not sorry.
Paul Dickinson: [00:45:57] Serious people talking about serious things as this tail just makes its way across the screen there.
Christiana Figueres: [00:46:04] Well Katharine, thank you so much. How delightful. What a thoughtful conversation. Thank you very much. What a thoughtful book. We usually end our podcast usually very sadly, because we would like to continue the conversation, but we must bring it to a close and we ask our guests to place themselves somewhere in the space between outrage and optimism. We chose that title for a podcast because we believe that we need both. But we wake up every morning somewhere in a different place between those two. And so we were quite conscious of that for ourselves and would love to know from you. Generally, in addition to right now and today where do you place yourself in that spectrum between outrage at where we are and how late we are at getting to the game, and optimism on how much we can actually get done soon? Very soon.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:47:13] I think I really do live in a confluence of those. I remember the first time I saw this name and I thought, that’s brilliant because I think it is the reality of our days. And it makes them fraught and it also makes them exciting. I think I am very far on the outrage end of the spectrum when I think about how rich the tool box is and how very much we have refused to use it.
Christiana Figueres: [00:47:53] How unused the toolbox is.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:47:53] Sometimes people would say Drawdown, it’s so hopeful. I’m like, or it’s just a Shakespearian tragedy. Time will tell. It’s hard after the very dark four years we had in the U.S. under the last administration, it’s hard not to find myself on the optimistic end of the spectrum because we’ve got so many incredible climate leaders in this administration who are incredibly diverse, bringing lots of different perspectives and backgrounds to the table. And I think now it is met by a movement that can help keep the flames of public support and demand going. That is so needed. And most of the time, I boil that down to courage, people love to say are you hopeful? And my feeling is kind of like, what side of the bed did I wake up on that day? But courage, that fire in the belly and fire in the heart. In some ways, I think you can have that any day of the week.
[00:49:25] And you can find it, especially if you’ve got amazing partners and community in this work. And I will say that has really transformed for me in recent years and leaves you with a heck of a lot more courage for the work ahead.
Christiana Figueres: [00:49:43] How beautiful Katharine, thank you so much. I was going to say amen, but then I remember my daughters always correct me and they say a-women.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:49:53] Amazing.
Paul Dickinson: [00:49:57] Thank you for fire in the heart. I hope Clay names the episode after that.
Christiana Figueres: [00:50:01] And ferocious love. I also love that term that comes from your book. Totally love it. Thank you so much. Truly a wonderful journey of the heart and the soul. Thanks so much.
Katharine Wilkinson: [00:50:15] I am such a ridiculous fan of all of yours, so I’ve been really looking forward to this and feel humbled and delighted to be included.
Christiana Figueres: [00:50:27] Oh, thank you to you.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:50:39] So Katharine is just one of the most beautifully eloquent people on this issue that I think is there in our movement at the moment. And so great she could join us this week. What do you guys leave that discussion with?
Paul Dickinson: [00:50:50] What did us girls leave that discussion with?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:50:53] Absolutely.
Paul Dickinson: [00:50:57] I was struck really by this notion of feminine leadership, that kind of integration of head and heart sounds like a kind of cliché, but actually this evidence that women legislators are more interested in environmental laws and better protection for people and our biosphere just makes a lot of sense to me. I think some of the most savage and inappropriate actions by the Trump administration were really just to kind of increase short term cash flow for business. And I just think women are less inclined to put people at risk for short term cash flow. I don’t want to sound too cliched. And clearly there are bad women and there are good men. But just generally speaking, it’s rubbish when men are running everything because they ignore the priorities of the future for the greed of the present.
Christiana Figueres: [00:51:53] I’ve been bringing the conversation with Katharine together with a story that I have recently heard of Itzhak Perlman’s concert. He is one of those amazing violinists. He has a physical impediment in walking, and he walked very awkwardly over the stage to sit down and start his violin concert, I think, at Lincoln Center. And just as he was starting, one of the four violin strings broke. And so, of course, the orchestra conductor turned to get Pearlman’s indication of what he was going to do. Ask for another string, get up, go get another string? What was he going to do?
[00:52:49] And Perlman apparently closed his eyes. For a few seconds, then opened them again and motioned to the conductor to start over. And he played that entire piece with a violin of three strings, not four. And when he was asked about that, he said sometimes artists are called upon to make beautiful music with what is left. And that sentence has stayed with me now for at least a week, and I’m bringing it together with Katharine’s book because I think there’s such a sense in that book of grief, of despair at what we have lost a very, very frank admission at what we have lost and what we will continue to lose, but also the firm determination to make beautiful music with what is left. And I think those two features of that book to be courageous enough to admit the pain and the loss that we’re all experiencing, but at the same time to have the firm determined conviction that we can still make beautiful music with what is left is such a powerful message for us as we are trying to figure out how do we move forward into this decisive decade.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:54:29] Wow, that’s a beautiful story, Christiana. I absolutely love that I had never heard that before, and that’s astonishing as a piece of performance on the violin and an amazing piece of philosophy, I would completely agree with that. I love that. The other thing I thought is, in the book that we wrote, Christiana, we really spent a lot of time talking about this idea of abundance and this mindset of abundance.
[00:54:53] And I thought that Katharine did a remarkable job of walking this line between the abundance of the future and the abundance of the feminine leadership. Everybody who’s been left out of decision making now coming into decision making, the abundance that that can bring for the future, while also walking the line of facing the reality that there are only so many seats around the board table. And there is also a scarcity in certain elements of how the world is now. And we need to allow that abundance to meet that scarcity and permeate it so that we can all reap the rewards of it and see the benefit of that. And I thought it was actually intellectually very impressive that they were able to bring those two things together in such a coherent way and really had the potential to really work for people. It really worked for me. It really helped me understand something that we need to face both of those things. And I thought it was very compelling.
Christiana Figueres: [00:55:54] I agree. I admire her courage and her frankness in saying in order to bring more women to the table, some will have to leave the table. That is not often expressed. We all assume that in order to bring more women, we just make the table bigger. When we can that’s fantastic. And that definitely is the way to go. But sometimes that’s not possible. Sometimes there are only 12 seats on the board or there is only one CEO per company. And so sometimes someone will have to go. And I thought her story of Bill McKibben stepping down from 350 or was was quite an impressive story. Again, admiration to Bill.
Paul Dickinson: [00:56:48] I just had the privilege to discuss this briefly with Gro Harlem Brundtland. I met her and I was talking about quotas for women. And she said, it’s nothing to do with women. She said it’s about a preponderance of any one gender.
[00:57:03] She said in Norway, you say no less than 40 percent of any one gender on any major committee. And then suddenly it’s much simpler. You can argue it’s about a recognition of gender inequality. But if you formulate it simply by saying committees that have too much of any one gender are going to make bad decisions, I completely agree with that. And it makes perfect sense. And we should implement it everywhere immediately. Why not? If it was the other way round, the men would say implement this immediately. So why don’t we just implement it immediately?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:57:36] Absolutely. I like that phrasing as well. That’s really nice. And one other thing we have come from this episode where we’ve explored this amazing book All We Can Save and actually International Women’s Day coming up in a couple of weeks. And one thing we should point to, people who are interested in understanding more about women’s leadership, female leadership, what can inspire you is to look at Science Moms.
Paul Dickinson: [00:58:00] Which is incredibly cool.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:58:01] Full stamp of incredibly cool endorsement from Paul Dickinson. Science Moms is a nonpartisan group of climate scientists and mothers dedicated to empowering other moms to talk to their children about climate change. Acknowledging that moms are an overlooked but incredible force for change in every arena, including climate and Science Moms provides content and calls to action to mobilize moms to speak out and act on the climate crisis. Extremely cool.
Christiana Figueres: [00:58:28] Another very cool women lead and women built alliance and group is Moms Clean Air Force. And quite fun that we’re talking about security on this podcast. The Moms Clean Air Force is a group of moms that are concerned about the air quality that their children are exposed to and are being very eloquent and very compelling in bringing together local pollution and planetary pollution and helping everyone to understand that to a large extent they are one and the same.
[00:59:11] And that going beyond fossil fuels will help with both. But it’s a wonderful play on words for them to call themselves the Moms Clean Air Force.
Paul Dickinson: [00:59:27] If I was going to be rescued by the Moms Clean Air Force or Donald Trump Space Force, I would go for the Moms Clean Air Force any day.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:59:36] So this brings us to the end of another episode of Outrage + Optimism. But, of course, we still have some music for you. So this week, Desirée Dawson with Mountain Tops. Desirée Dawson is a yoga teacher, recording artist and songwriter from Vancouver in British Columbia. And as ever, we will hear from her about this song. What makes it a song with a purpose we’ll leave you with her. Hope you enjoy it. And we will see you next week. Thanks for being here.
Paul Dickinson: [01:00:02] Bye bye.
Desirée Dawson: [01:00:05] I think it’s really important that artists engage with their medium in a way that it’s authentic, that the content that they’re bringing forward is relevant to what’s going on in their world, what they’re processing, what they’re seeing, what they’re observing. And as artists, it’s kind of our role to take all those things and then translate them into ways that can be integrated and absorbed and understood by those who are viewers or listeners of that medium. So with music, I really believe it’s such a healer, it’s such a medicine. And in so many ways, whether it can get you feeling and processing and crying or dancing or connecting or loving, there’s just so many things there. And to me, all of those things are necessary for any kind of social change, for any kind of shift that we’re looking for on this planet. We need to be more connected to ourselves and to everyone around us.
[01:01:00] I am a firm believer in the fact that all of us have our own set of gifts that we were brought into this world with. We have our own wisdom to share with each other. And a lot of times a lot of us are scared to really step into the versions of ourselves that are able to share those gifts.
[01:01:17] And so this song is a reminder that you, whoever is listening to this right now has those gifts, too. And it’s just about being connected enough to ourselves to really discover what those are and then having the courage and the bravery to sing it on the top of the mountain tops or say, hey, this is who I am and be really proud of that.
Clay Carnill: [01:04:23] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage + Optimism. This week, the artist that you heard was Desirée Dawson with her song Mountain Tops, a really cool fact about her. She won CBC Music’s 2016 Searchlight competition. It’s a really big deal. It’s Canada’s annual search for the best undiscovered voice in the country. And I really loved watching her finale performance, which is on YouTube. And so I’ve included it in the show notes for you all to enjoy as well. She plays a baritone ukulele. And I just think that’s the best ukulele. I’m opinionated. I know. As always, I’ve got links to Desirée’s music, socials and such in the show notes. So go buy her music and give her a follow. OK, Outrage + Optimism is a Global Optimism production. Our executive producer is Marina Mansilla Hermann and our producer is Clay Carnill. Global Optimism is Sara Law, Katie Bradford, Lara Richardson, Sophie McDonald, Freya Newman, Sarah Thomas, Sue Reid, Sharon Johnson and Jon Ward and our hosts are Christiana Figueres, Paul Dickinson and Tom Rivett-Carnac. Thank you so much to our guest this week, Katharine Wilkinson, if you don’t already have a copy of her latest anthology with fellow doctor Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, it’s titled All We Can Save. And it’s time for you to pick up a copy. I’ve got a link in the show notes to that, as well as her other incredible books that Tom mentioned just before the interview and a link to her podcast A Matter of Degrees.
[01:06:02] But amazing people never stop it. Just great books and podcasts. Katharine and Ayana launched the All We Can Save project, which aims to accelerate the success of the climate movement by providing focused support and community building for women climate leaders. I can’t recommend checking this out enough. And how do you get involved? Well, they have a cooler extended remix version of a book club, as they’ve self described it. But also you can donate, you can sign up for their email list. You can buy a friend the book and spread the word. So let’s go AllWeCanSave.Earth go there. Link’s in the show notes. And speaking of cool projects, in less than two weeks, the world will mark International Women’s Day on the 8th of March. If you want more leadership to inspire, you look no further than Science Moms. We mentioned it earlier in the episode, but Science Moms is a non-partisan group of climate scientists and mothers dedicated to empowering other moms to talk to their children about climate change, especially when it comes to changing the narrative of climate change from doom and despair to one that reveals an opportunity to help create the world that they want to raise their children in.
[01:07:13] You go to ScienceMoms.com. @science_moms on the gram, but why type when you can click? I’ve got you a link to both in the show notes, so go check them out. And of course we would not be a podcast without asking you to leave us a rating and review on Apple podcasts. We read every single review, as I say, and we have begun reading some of your reviews on the podcast. So it just takes a few minutes. Write something for us, give us a rating. Thank you for joining us and spreading the Stubborn Optimism. And last but certainly not least, we are online and active @GlobalOptimism on all social media channels except for TikTok. But Christiana is notorious for dancing, so I think we might be able to change that up soon. Send us a message on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, and maybe we’ll give you a shout out on the show. OK, that is a wrap on episode number ninety. If you have not already hit, subscribe to join us next week. But in the meantime, enjoy the next podcast in your queue. See you.