Impossible Is Not a Fact: It is an Attitude

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Issue 316
September/October 2019
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Impossible Is Not a Fact: It is an Attitude
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Cover: Greta Thunberg 2019 © Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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A new podcast inspires Rachel Marsh with both rage and hope. Outrage and Optimism: www.globaloptimism.com

Artwork by David Morrison

Artwork by David Morrison

Come all ye heart-weary activists longing to heal the planet, and bring your environmentalist friends with you, for I have the perfect podcast for your ears. Outrage and Optimism describes itself as “a podcast about solving the climate crisis and reshaping the world”. In other words, it’s a podcast for people who already understand that we face a climate and extinction crisis, and who want to take radical action to “create a kinder, healthier and more beautiful world for everyone”.

The weekly podcast is presented by Christiana Figueres, who as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change brought together the countries for the Paris Agreement, Paul Dickinson, who co-founded CDP, an NGO showing what business is doing to reduce CO2 emissions, and Tom Rivett-Carnac, who has previously worked with both Figueres and Dickinson. The three are already very good friends, so there is an easy humour and unforced rapport between them from the first episode, though each brings a different perspective to keep the discussions interesting.

But why call it ‘Outrage and Optimism’? This is explained beautifully in the first episode, where Figueres asserts that we need both in order to move beyond the climate crisis. She describes her despair following the Copenhagen climate negotiations, and her realisation that her belief that agreement was impossible would ensure the failure of all future talks. She intentionally changed her attitude, and slowly the mood began to change. “We finally understood”, she said, “that optimism is not the result of an achievement, but rather the input with which we have to approach any challenging task.” And the outrage? We’re possibly all more familiar with this one. It’s seeing the extinction of species, and the increasing frequency of extreme weather events, and the rising death toll. It’s the anger we feel when, even though we have the policies, the technologies and the finance to make a difference, we are still not moving fast enough. Outrage gives us the energy to come together and act, or as Figueres puts it, “Optimism is the direction, and outrage is the fuel.” Crucially, the podcast includes the outrage felt by those left behind by rising global inequality – the need for climate justice – so that our actions need to be about creating a better world for everyone, not just saving the world as it is now.

For a relatively new podcast, the team has already interviewed some huge names, including David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Bill McKibben, Jane Goodall, Ellie Goulding and – perhaps not such a big name in the environmental movement – William Hague. Well, yes. Although activists tend to be left-leaning, Hague makes the point that the political right also needs to be engaged and to come on board. The discussion is polite but lively. Well worth a listen. There are episodes about pollution in our cities, about the role of the EU, the mechanics of the Paris Agreement, and how the climate crisis is magnifying the numbers of refugees. There are moments of hope – Democrat presidential hopeful Jay Inslee claims that strong action on the climate can win votes – there are tears (including an absolute mic drop moment at the end of the Attenborough interview), and there are moments of despair. (Figueres is deeply moved by her interview with Thunberg, and all three are profoundly concerned by Thunberg’s sadness.)

This is a podcast that assumes its listeners are intelligent; it manages to strike the right balance between providing information, global context and news. But it’s the emotional frankness that makes it so transformative. I’ve felt it changing my brain wiring as I’ve listened. I’ll leave the final word to Figueres: “Remember, impossible is not a fact: it is an attitude... and we are running out of time.”

Rachel Marsh is a podcast addict and designs Resurgence & Ecologist magazine.

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