June 14, 2022
Imagine a future without climate change: clean air, less pollution, and renewable energy. We always talk about the downsides, but what about focusing more on the solutions?
Imagine a future without climate change: clean air, less pollution, and renewable energy. We always talk about the downsides, but what about focusing more on the solutions? As humans, we have as much power to create and nurture our planet as we do to destroy it.
Professor Mark Maslin believes that climate change and the environmental crisis are a challenge and an opportunity to help everyone realize that the planet is worth saving, protecting, and preserving for future generations.
Mark is an author, professor of Earth System Science at University College London (UCL), and Co-Founder & Chief Science Officer of Rezatec. Mark's areas of scientific expertise include the cause of global climate change and its effect on the carbon cycle, biodiversity, rainforest, and evolution. He is a leading scientist with particular expertise in past, present, and future climate change.
In today's episode, Cory and Mark discuss the extremely broad overview of climate change and the issues that we face. Going back to the past, understanding the present, and imagining the future of climate with humanity, Mark explains the power we all have to make a positive or negative impact on the planet.
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Cory Ames 0:00
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Mark Maslin 1:00
I want normal people to realize that as a species, we have a global impact. The nice thing is that it's different from geology, because we can change our impact. If we want to reforest the whole of Canada, we could. If we want to actually get rid of all the plastics from our planet, we could. It's our power, which is we can be positive or negative with that power. And therefore I want people to realize that we have choice as a species what we do to help the planet.
Cory Ames 1:36
Let's talk how to save our planet. Hey, y'all, Cory here with the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always, very, very grateful to have you listening in. Today's guest is Professor Mark Maslin. He's a professor of Earth System Science at the University College London. He's at Royal Society Industrial Fellow, Executive Director of Rezatec, and the director of the London NERC doctoral training partnership.
Maslin is a leading scientist with particular expertise in past global and regional climactic change, and he's published over 175 papers in journals such as Science, Nature, and the Lancet. Mark's area of scientific expertise includes causes of past and future global climate change, and its effects on the global carbon cycle, biodiversity, rainforest, and human evolution. He also works on monitoring land carbon sinks, using remote sensing and ecological models, and international and national climate change policies. Mark is the author of a good few books on climate, most recently How to Save Our Planet: The Facts, which sets the stage for a bulk of the substance of our conversation today. In this book, and in our conversation today, Mark, paints an extremely broad overview of this topic of climate change, the issue of climate change that we face today, going from the history of humanity, the history of the planet, to the many actions that can be taken by governments, businesses, and individuals in the modern world.
We get into this, the nitty gritty, in our conversation today, perhaps to set a broad roadmap for, yes, how to save our planet, perhaps avoid climate catastrophe, but most importantly work towards an ecotopia. I know you'll enjoy this this chat with Mark - I certainly did. But before we dive in, I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World Weekly newsletter, the weekly newsletter that I write, curate and publish myself every single Monday, send out to our now over 6200 change makers and innovators from all sectors all over the globe every single Monday. Go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next one in your inbox that's growensemble.com backslash newsletter. Alright, y'all without further ado, here's Professor Mark Maslin.
Mark Maslin 4:17
So I'm Professor Mark Maslin. I'm a professor of Earth system science at University College London here in the UK. And that sounds like a real mouthful. Well, what it means is, I am lucky enough to study climate change in the past, the present and the future. Everything from early human evolution to the climate change that we're causing, to greenhouse gases being emitted from burning fossil fuels. I also run my own company, Rezatec, and as you can see, I do quite a lot of media and outreach and write a few books.
Cory Ames 4:52
I've noticed that. Most certainly one of the first things that came to mind was, well this guy is quite prolific here. So I'd be interested to know Mark, first, how do you have a sense of balancing this all.
Mark Maslin 5:04
So it's not easy. And again, sort of like, congratulations for the birth of your first child, you know, and that is really important - trying to actually balance life and work is always difficult. I think what helps is having a really supportive organization. So University College London, basically, as long as I do my teaching, and my supervision of PhD students, I can really do what I like. And that I think, is the joy of being an academic, which is you can attack problems from different ways. So when I decided to set up a company 10 years ago, which now employs about 50 people, they're very supportive. And actually, there are grants out there to support academics getting into that entrepreneurial, sort of like, area. So it's all really supportive. But again, there are times where like you, I'm sure you sit down in the evening and go, "Okay, phone down, phone off, I'm just going to watch something on the actual box - on the TV." So it's trying to keep that perspective.
Cory Ames 6:05
I'm with you on that. There are certainly moments where it feels good to have some level of decompression, especially right now with a two month old, as I know you understand. But Mark, you mentioned, and I heard you mention this previously before, you focus on the past, present and future of climate change. I think that's an interesting way to describe it. And first, I guess, I'd love to know what drew you originally to focus on such a broad perspective, a broad overview, of climate change? What had you take an interest in the issue the topic this way?
Mark Maslin 6:37
Well, my career started like many academics, as I started quite narrow. So I was lucky enough to do my PhD here in UK in Cambridge. And I started studying the last ice age, and particularly the collapses of the ice sheet that occur on stuff like human timescales. I was trying to put that together. And then as my career developed, I started to broaden out. And I think one of the seminal moments was when Oxford University Press asked me to write a very short introduction to global warming. And I suddenly realized, even though this was a short book, I had suddenly to learn the history of the climate change science, I had to learn about the politics. And I suddenly really got steeped in all of these difference of disciplines. And that really helped me to broaden my sort of approach. It also helps being in sort of like, academia, where I can work with lawyers, I can work with medics. I've been very lucky over the years to write papers with most colleagues from most different disciplines. And I think that's something we lack, we sometimes need more of that joined up thinking because it is when you cross over between different disciplines, or even into business, that suddenly new ideas start to spark off. And actually, if we're to solve the actual climate change, and the sustainability issues for the planet, we need lots of new entrepreneurial thinking, we need new ways of actually solving fundamental human issues.
Cory Ames 8:07
and perhaps a bit of a diversion, but I'm always curious in people's research and writing process. I mean, given the space of your expertise, which is so broad, exactly. Past, present, and future of climate change, you're really kind of asking for the entirety of human history, to some degree as where you can dig in. And so when you're tasked with something like that, write an introduction to global warming, climate change, and you see that there's pockets or fields where you feel you might need some more research, how do you go about that? What is your research process like? What sort of notes and things are you devising, readings are you picking up? And how does that then kind of turn itself into what becomes the synthesized writing that you look to publish?
Mark Maslin 8:46
So I'd love to say that there was a real plan, there was a structure and I thought about things. Science is a little bit more ad hoc than that. So, many of the projects have been where I've engaged with somebody, we've had an idea, and suddenly, something really new has then grown out of that. And so that's one way of operating. So again, work I've done sort of like, looking at, say, coffee, and the carbon footprint of coffee came out of a student really having a dynamic idea. I think also, what we really get a kick out of is our masters and our PhD students who really drive some of the innovation within academia. They think, in a much younger, more dynamic and less rigid way. And I'm always guided by them because they're the ones at the cutting edge. But I think also there is a way of being strategic.
So again, with the book, How to Save Our Planet: The Facts. That was a conscious decision, because I'd written the book, The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene with Simon Lewis. And it's a fantastic book. It really is. It goes through the whole history of humanity, and how we've had this impact on the planet. But it's a worthy book. I mean, it is quite a tome, but it's the sort of thing that you could hit somebody over the head with, and still knowledge would not go in. And so I was really being quite pragmatic, saying, I want a book that I can write that the guys I play soccer with, the people I go down the pub with, could actually pick up and read and go, "Oh, is that what Mark does? I wondered." So that's why I wrote it in a very different style in a very different way. And so that was really pragmatic. And I have to say, my agent, really, when she actually first heard about the idea, she was just like, "What?" And then I had to actually write chapters. Me, I had to actually write chapters before going to a publisher, which is a shock. I showed them the actual paragraphs and all of the work and they went, "Oh, I get it." Because as you've seen, it's all written in single sentences. It's all bullet points. It's very different to normal books.
Cory Ames 10:53
Yeah, certainly, right off the bat, that was something that I picked up and what stuck out to me in the introduction. Not often, you know, are people writing-- I wanted to write this book for anyone and everyone. It's like, oh, you know, like, that's usually especially in the context of book publishing, and you know, what sort of books you're going to sell. That's, you know, that's a tough approach to take, if it's for anyone and everyone that means it's for no one to some degree. But I do think that, you know, you certainly rose up to that challenge. And it's, I got it right here by my side here, I spent some meaningful time with it in preparation for our conversation. But I think you certainly took that to task, writing it for anyone and everyone. And it became something I felt like over my few weeks of preparation, like a handbook, which perhaps, you know, maybe that was your intention to some degree. There's a really great summarization and broad overview and introduction to these sections of the past, present and future of climate change, to lead yourself down rabbit holes of further reading references, and all that good stuff that you supplied in the backside of the book.
And so Mark, I'd love to start to get into the substance of the book itself, with that very broad overview. And I think something that's not often talked about is this historical context, the planetary history as well as the history of humanity. And obviously, this is quite a full question, but what are some of the most important things, you think that we should understand about that historical context, if we're thinking about climate change in the modern context?
Mark Maslin 12:22
so I think the most important thing that we need to take away is that these processes that have started to alter the planet that are part of humanity, have been with us since the beginning. And I think that's really important. And also, we're introducing a new concept, the Anthropocene, which basically is a geological period of time, which is defined by us. Because I think people are only now starting to realize that we are the new geological superpower on this planet. We are as powerful as a meteorite impact, (Don't Look Up), we are as powerful as plate tectonics, and I think that's really important that we step away and realize that. But I'll give you some facts and figures. Okay, so we move more rock, soil, and sediment and all the natural processes put together (damn the geologists). We actually make-- we've made enough concrete to cover the whole world, including the oceans, in a layer two millimeters thick (damn the engineers). We make 300 million tons of plastic every year, which most of it ends up in the oceans. And of course, we also have micro plastic in our blood (damn the chemist). And the shocking fact is that a plastic bag, unfortunately, it was a pure white plastic bag, was found at the bottom of the Mariana's Trench, seven kilometers deep in the ocean, in the northwest Pacific. That's how far our pollution has got.
And the last fact that I usually give to people, which is if you take the weight of land, mammals, okay, you take them all together, and you put them on the scales. 30% is humans, okay? There's 7.9 billion of us, okay. But there's 67% of that weight, which is our livestock and our pets. So that just means 3% of all mammals, by weight, on land, are wild. So when David Attenborough and all the other naturalist are going around filming it for us to watch on a Sunday night on the sofa, it's just that 3%. That's how much we have changed the whole face of the planet. And I think that's something that I want people to know, I want normal people to realize that as a species, we have a global impact. The nice thing is that it's different from geology, because we can change that impact. If we want to reforest the whole of Canada, we could. If we want to actually get rid of all the plastics from our planet, we could. It's our power, which is we can be positive or negative with that power. And therefore I want people to realize that we have choice, as a species, what we do to our planet.
Cory Ames 15:12
That's really interesting, I guess, can't help but get you thinking about, perhaps the core of humanity, like what it means for us. Like, does it mean that we have this obsession to perhaps attempt to control nature, in a way, and we should step back from that? Or, you know, perhaps like you're describing, we're going to have an impact. And perhaps that is something that's very core to our human nature, perhaps the more correct way to look forward is to really evaluate how we're going to impact. Because inevitably, humans are going to attempt to impact the planet, the natural ecosystems or otherwise. Have you fallen on either side of those scales in different ways at different times?
Mark Maslin 15:51
Yes. And I have to say, I think you have to step back and look at the facts, which is, by 2050, there'll be 10 billion people on the planet, and we will have stabilized the population now. So firstly, take a cheer humanity, we're the first species to actually self control our population. Interestingly enough, that's because of women being educated up to secondary school level and above, they then take control of fertility. And that basically stabilizes the actual population. So half the population of a planet, basically is making sure that we actually stabilize our population. But that 20 billion people has a huge impact. Now, admittedly, it is the smaller percentage. So we look at, say, just carbon going into the atmosphere, the top richest 10% of people in the world, around the world, in each country. So it's not just the rich countries, poor countries with rich people too. So all those together, they emit 50% of the lifestyle on carbon emissions. Okay, so we can't blame everybody. It is the high consumption lifestyle, particularly in the West, that drives a lot of this sort of like environmental degradation, and of course, greenhouse gases.
But I'm of the view that we have such power and agency, we need to basically step up and go, "Yes, that's true. Up to now, we have been pretending that we don't, okay, pretending that we're not part of nature, and we're not really affecting it." And economics says, you know, the actual atmosphere, soils and things that, don't count, you don't have to actually count them in your accountancy. So, you know, they're all freebies, you know, the planet is a freebie. And that's true, up until, say, now, where, actually what we do really affects everybody. And so therefore, I'm with humanity stepping up to become a global species that realizes that it has to manage the planet, and our environment, for our own good. So in the book, I say something like, I'm wanting people to help us save the planet from ourselves, for ourselves, okay. This is a deeply selfish human drive, which is: let's protect our home.
I mean, I love that Greta Thunberg has this wonderful analogy that our house is on fire. And that's great, but I actually perceive it more that we're all living in this one big house. And actually, everybody's basically kicking all the furniture and basically spraying the walls, etc, and just not realizing it's our house. And there are certain people that are a little bit more disruptive than others - you know, the very, super rich - and therefore we need to do is just say, Look, we only have one planet, okay? Even if certain people, Elon Musk goes to Mars, we still only have one planet. So therefore, I think we need to change the attitude towards our planet, our environment, and how we actually deal with each other.
Cory Ames 19:09
In speaking to that, where do you feel like the narrative currently sits of acceptance, denial, kind of speaking to the wider public sense, not necessarily people who are in the throes of studying climate, taking action on climate, but where do you think the general public's assessment of climate change is at right now?
Mark Maslin 19:30
The dial has completely switched. And this has been amazing. So I would say back in 2019, there was a growing movement in the sort of like school strikes, extinction rebellion around the world, lots of real agitation about getting really worried about climate change. And there were starting to be sort of like some major climate events that really were a wake up call, like the Australian wildfires, the California wildfires. But then suddenly the pandemic happened. And we all assumed that the whole narrative about climate change would just be dampened down like it was when we had the financial crash in 2008. But actually, no, what happened was people suddenly became more sensitized to nature. They realized that by having to stay at home, the air pollution was reducing wildlife was coming into cities, you know, suddenly, they realized that just the little changes were having big impacts. And the narrative of climate change has grown and grown to the point that most countries, the majority of people are now calling for change.
There was this incredible publication in the medical journal, The Lancet, that looked at young people's views. And they basically found that 50% of young people in countries across the world are anxious about climate change, and basically feel betrayed by their governments. In some countries like Indonesia, it goes up to 90% of young people feel like that. So we have this new generation of people coming through, that suddenly realized that us old people have actually mucked it up, we're dragging our feet, we are not putting in the solutions, which they know exist. And we're still beholden to the fossil fuel lobby, and the fossil fuel industry, which keeps basically pushing politics to make sure that they can keep polluting the planet. I mean, for me, the most ridiculous thing is, on average, our subsidies from our governments, that's my taxpayer's money, is of an order of about half a trillion dollars, globally, every year. The worst offenders: USA, EU, UK, and China.
Cory Ames 21:57
And so what's the pulse for you as someone deep into thinking about climate and, ideally, provoking people to act on it? Among you and who you consider your colleagues, you feel like it's a hopeful group? It's a very concerned or cynical group? Or perhaps it falls all across that spectrum?
Mark Maslin 22:16
So this opens a huge can of worms. So I have some incredible colleagues, Megan and Patrick, who are clinical psychologists, and they specialize in climate anxiety. Because what we're finding is that certain people have been fighting the good fight for 25, 30 years. They see small progress at the international meetings, but actually, the co2 in the atmosphere keeps going up. And we're starting to really get drawn down and basically worn out because we don't seem to be getting anywhere. And then you also have this new group of young people who feel powerless, they basically they can access the whole world through the internet, their phone, etc. They understand that these extreme weather events are happening everywhere, they understand the unfairness of the system, and they see politics not doing anything. And if they do say something, guess what, they don't do anything about it. You know, stuff like all of this sort of like greenwash coming out of politics. And so that we have that group that is also growing really anxious.
And I think what we need to do is we need to move into a new form of politics. Because in the book, I say, we have the scientists - hey, look, we've been telling you about climate change, environmental degradation, plastic pollutions for the last 20 or 30 years, okay? It's all there, you don't actually need us anymore. It's all there, you just have to read. We've got sort of like the entrepreneurs, okay - I mean, come on, one of the biggest companies in the world is Tesla, an electric car company. We've got the companies, we've got the entrepreneurs that can drive these changes. We have the social groups, we've got civil society, we've got young people wanting change, we've got church groups, we've got stuff like religious groups, we've got major companies also wanting to change. I mean, Microsoft declared that they were going carbon neutral by 2030. Tick, okay.
Even my own university have said that. What they then said was between 2030 and 2050, we want to suck out of the atmosphere, all our pollution and all the pollution that our supply chain has caused since our founding in 1975. Wow, you know, that's a huge ambition. Because Microsoft's basically working on the principle, we will be here in 2050. We'd like a planet to still be able to sell you stuff on, you know, and that's fine. So we've got the companies. What we don't have are the policies and the politicians. And the problem is there is so much vested interest, particularly in the fossil fuel lobby, that is actually causing that issue, and actually influencing politics.
And I think what people don't necessarily realize is when you look at the fossil fuel industry globally, out of the biggest 25 companies 19 are state or part state owned. Which causes a real problem, because you and I know that if we want to regulate, you know, evil corporations, we just do it. Okay. The US basically broke up Standard Oil sort of like many years ago and fragmented into seven oil companies to compete. We can do things like that. But when the state owns the company, they get tax breaks, subsidies, preferential treatment, you know, all of that, which is hidden. And also, it's not in their interest to pull them back or rein them back, because they're getting the petrochemical dollar. So this was really interesting crisis, which is climate change is not a crisis of capitalism, per se. It's actually a crisis of the nation states, and why countries are not working together to actually solve this issue.
Cory Ames 26:17
So perhaps then, you think that that is, I guess, the economic system that can move forward? A capitalist economic system, and with different change in the nation state that we see across the globe, that perhaps we could continue to operate on this existing system?
Mark Maslin 26:33
Okay, so I, in my book, say that the climate, and the atmosphere does not care what color badge you wear. It doesn't care if you're right wing, middle, left wing, authoritarian state, it doesn't care. All it cares is about what you're doing to the environment, how much you're putting into the atmosphere. So what's interesting, and the book is apolitical, because there are solutions. There are solutions, the Republicans have solutions that could work using the markets to actually drive change, okay. They did this with the Clean Air Act, you know, basically had a trading system. Originally, the cleaning up of the sort of, like, the air, preventing acid rain, was going to cost us something like $8 billion, okay. But because they did a trading scheme, which meant that sort of like the fast movers could do it quicker, and then sell the credits back to the ones that were slower, it only cost a billion dollars.
So you can use market forces. So there are solutions on the right, there's solutions on the left. And therefore, what we need is just every solution we have and all the politics to work in the same direction. Again, it is just about changing the dynamics. And if you happen to be a hard-nosed libertarian, sort of like markets-know-best, why are you subsidizing the fossil fuel industry? Okay? I'm sorry, let the markets rule. That's fine by me. Because if you take away the subsidies from the sort of fossil fuel industry, guess what? Renewables win hands down. If you then basically cost in and you charge companies for the damage they do to the country and the planet, yeah, guess what? Fossil fuel companies suddenly get a huge liability, particularly in the States, when, of course, I love the fact that the environmental laws, there is unlimited liability. Okay. So that would get them running scared. So again, it's a little bit about using the right politics that you believe in to actually make sure we have a sort of better, healthier world.
Cory Ames 28:46
And so in your opinion, I guess the the crux of it is with the politics in the policy? Because there is often the question of, you know, which sector is to blame? Or which sector, you know, is accountable, be it governments, business, or even just the individual consumer, as we have responsibility, accountability. But is that where you see the real kind of tipping point of it is, is with our politics?
Mark Maslin 29:08
So I think it's a tripartite. I think we have to look at government, we have to look at corporations and we have to look at individuals. So governments, let's think about governments. Governments first, lead, okay. They can inspire. And they can do things like incentivize, tax, regulate, and most importantly, enforce. And that's something that's forgotten, which is, there are some incredible environmental regulations around the world, but they don't enforce them, so therefore, they don't actually get fulfilled. I also think that people forget, and this is where the new wave of economists like Mariana Mazzucato and Kate Raworth come in, because they show that governments are the drivers of innovation. We always think it's Silicon Valley and things like that - no. All the tech originally comes through either university or government labs, which are basically playing with ideas and produce new stuff. Okay. And actually, by putting incentives in place, you can actually get a whole sector, a whole industry to innovate very quickly because you follow the money. Brilliant.
But we also need companies, because this is the dynamic heart of most countries' economy. Companies that I work with can change quickly. They are nimble on their feet, they are happy to innovate. They're not slow, and "oh, we've always done it like this." Okay. And you need that dynamicism. Okay. You're also finding that corporations are getting really frustrated with governments. And I've talked to so many incredible CEOs that go, "I just wish the government would put some strict regulations in, enforce it, stick with it." Because they are always going to make money. If you meet some of the best CEOs in the world, they will always make money, they just want a good lay a playing field in which they can play their best game. Okay.
But we also need individuals. And we need these on multiple levels. So firstly, we need individuals to step up like they are with a school strikes with the actual huge demonstrations, to actually demand change from government. They need to vote in governments like they have done in Australia, that take climate change seriously, and will look after the population. You also need individuals to think about where they spend their money, because that's where the corporation's come in. So they can actually turn around and go, "hang on, I'm not going to buy this product, I'm going to buy the one that I think is more sustainable, and it's actually going to be better for the planet, and actually makes me feel good. And I noticed that it's the same price or slightly cheaper." Excellent. So I think that's really important.
I also have a lot of time for individuals, because these are the people that actually cause change. I have been very lucky to advise companies, some billion dollar companies all the way down to start up companies. And I go in there and sort of like help them think through their sustainability agendas, how they're going to engage with climate change risk, and opportunities. And what's interesting is, it's the people in those companies that start to agitate, and I call them my green viruses. So probably not very PC considering the pandemic, but what you find is two people will have a chat around the watercooler. Okay. And they'll go, "Oh, I'm really worried about climate change, but I don't like talking about it." Another person goes, "Oh, me, too. Why don't we do recycling? Why don't we do this," and I've seen it suddenly percolate a whole billion dollar company that went from zero to hero in less than five years.
So people are always the key driver of change. We just need governments to step up and lead and actually provide some inspiration for the change. We need corporations to have that real dynamicism and change. And we've seen huge technological changes when industry is tasked with change. Think about it. Pandemic: within six months, we had a vaccination, for a number of reasons. One, government had been funding medicine, and particularly vaccines, since the 1940s. Okay, incredible, sort of like amount of public money had been going into this unknown to the public, which then came to fruition at the right time. Companies went, "Okay, right, we need to actually get this into market, we need to get it out to the people as quick as possible." And then you had the incredible individuals who are like, "Hey, let's try this. This is a new way of doing it." And suddenly you have 4, 5, 6, 7, then 8, 9, 10, different vaccinations, all because of that, working together. And I think that's what we need, but on a global scale to deal with climate change, and also environmental issues.
Cory Ames 34:13
One way or another, it all starts with individuals in those large institutions in those various sectors. And I think that there can be some obsession with what's maybe the best thing to do or the most effective thing to do, as opposed to, perhaps that's not the most important thing to think about at the beginning is perhaps this just you know, what can you do? What sort of actions can you initially take? Because in some of your examples there, it's quite impressive, or incredible, what sort of indirect-- that action and momentum, what indirect effect that then has.
Mark, a particular section of the book that I really focused in on, because I think it's not often discussed about, I'd be curious if you could set the stage first. What sort of future might we imagine if we don't act appropriate on climate? I think that is talked about quite a bit perhaps, but I'd like to hear your quick take on it. What I think is not talked about that often is what sort of future might be available to us if we do act on climate? Which I think is something that it can be very energizing and exciting and empowering, but I'll let you take it from there.
Mark Maslin 35:15
So I think it is always good to think about the worst case scenario, okay. If you run a company, you should always look at the bottom line, you should always look at what the risks are. So if we're looking at, say, a four degree warming by the end of the century, we are looking at huge amounts of heatwaves, we're looking at floods, we're looking at droughts, prolonged droughts, we're looking at wildfires in Siberia, Canada, down into, sort of like, California, and across Africa, but also in Australia. We're looking at a world where air pollution is worse, because of all of that wildfires, and all of that sort of like drought is then putting lots of dust into the atmosphere.
And we're also going to be looking at scary things like food shortages. And that's not necessarily the direct effect of extreme weather events. More the fact that actually, at the moment, half our food is produced by people working outside - small family owned farms, who actually, they farm their own land, producing enough food for themselves, and they sell on to the village, to the local town, and to the city. And what we're seeing already, and we're tracking this through the Lancet countdown is that the number of days lost, because it's physiologically impossible to work outside, are increasing. And that's when it's too hot and too humid, you literally walk out and you just go, "uuugh." We've all done that, okay, we've all been to places where you suddenly walk out and you go, "where's my air conditioning?" You know, sort of like, and that is going to be a real issue. If you can't harvest the food, you can't produce the food, we're going to have crisises.
We're also going to have major issues with small island nations will have actually been drowned. So people will have actually had to be moved, migrate away from their ancestral homes. We will be losing the Great Barrier Reef, okay, we're already having major damage to it already. But at four degrees, it will be dead, which will be a huge loss to sort of like biodiversity and the global ecosystem. And so basically, we're looking at world in which the amount of human misery, the amount of suffering, and the number of people sort of like starving, and actually suffering from extreme weather events, will have increased markedly. Whereas, we can flip that route, if we suddenly decide we're going for net zero, we're actually going to reduce emissions as quickly as possible, and get to that one and a half degrees. You can envisage a very different world.
And what's really interesting is Adam Vaughan at New Scientist wrote an article last year, saying, "What does a one and a half degree world look like?" And had lots of us experts putting our ideas in, etc. And it was greeted very well, lots of people said this great. On Twitter, a person who writes for The Atlantic said, you know, "I pitched this idea two years previously, to my editor at The Atlantic," and they went "no no no, nobody does all that positive stuff, nobody will believe it." So I think we're also changing the way we think about the future, which is, I think the pandemic has told us that bad things can happen, but we can actually start to think about a more positive future.
So if you can imagine, firstly, your home. Your home will be almost exactly the same, except it will be incredibly well insulated. It will have heat exchangers so it's warm in the winter, cool in the summer, because we will need all of that cooling due to the heat waves. It will be controlled by all the electronics to make sure that everything is kept at the right temperature. Food is then sort of like preserved, and then you're told when it's out of date. And when you need to restock the fridge will have this support network. Then, when you step outside, you'll say "Well hang on, do I take the bike to work? Do I work at home," because of course, hey, look, with all the zoom and things, I don't really have to go into work, you know, we can do it all virtually. Hey, with a little bit of hologram you might even feel like you're in the board meeting, which actually might not be a good thing. You then step out, you basically hop into your electric car - the battery lasts forever now because we've cracked that - and you drive off, drop the kids off at they're wonderfully air conditioned, wonderful school, and then you can think of all of these wonderful ways of doing it.
You can also then think about the whole of the public transport sector has changed. And for me, one of the big things is the USA - Why, why isn't there high speed train network in the USA? If you had one running the whole of the East Coast, and part of the West coast with little nubs going to Chicago and Atlanta, which are the two key hubs, you could get rid of 80% of the internal flights from the US, okay. Ridiculous thing, people still fly Boston to New York, okay, because it's quicker and cheaper than trying to get the train down across New England. So you can imagine that. And think about it, you're going to build this with American technology, American steel, American workers, it is a 20 year project. And you'll be using magnetic high speed trains, just like Japan, and they'll be traveling about 350 miles an hour. Okay. Imagine being the president that brings this here, okay, you would never be voted out of office. Think of all the green jobs you're going to create on top of that.
You can also then look around the rest of the world and actually see air pollution has basically disappeared, because we're not burning fossil fuels. One of the great tragedies is that something like 2 million people have died over the last two years because of the pandemic, because of COVID. But what people forget, is every year 10 million people die prematurely due to air pollution from fossil fuels. But that - we don't talk about that because that's almost acceptable. That's an acceptable death, whereas COVID isn't. So think about it, we've suddenly started to save all these people's lives, we save a huge amount of money, because guess what, we don't have to spend it on the health service because people are healthier.
So you've got all of this, we then can then step to the biosphere. We've started to rewild and reforest areas. Why? Well firstly, even though there's 10 billion of us on the planet, we've migrated to the cities. We're already doing this. And so the strange thing is that even though there's gonna be more people on the planet, the planet is wilder. All those remote places actually will be depopulated. Perfect timing to actually come in, rewild - so whether it's Savannah, whether it happens to be sort of like wetlands - and we can reforest vast areas. We used to have 6 trillion trees on the planet, we only have 3 trillion trees. So we know that they can support another 3 trillion trees, which is a lot of trees. And to give you an example, 1 trillion trees is about the size of the USA, okay?
So we can do all these things. And suddenly, that cleans up our atmosphere, it starts to actually allow biodiversity to flourish. And if we respect biodiversity in the boundaries, then all those zoonotic diseases to stop jumping from the wildlife into humanity and causing us issues. So there are so many incredible positives that we can do by getting rid of fossil fuels, switching to renewable energy, and actually starting to clean up all of our economy.
Cory Ames 43:24
I think it's incredibly important to paint that picture of what it is that we're not just working to avoid, but what we are potentially working towards. You know, what's what's worth saving, and protecting and preserving and as well, and what what sort of day to day experience might be available to us if we do proceed to take action. But you paint that picture, and you know, I know myself, I feel exactly like, yeah, of course, I want that, especially in the context of, you know, high speed bullet train throughout the US, I'm like, "Yeah, that's just a no brainer, why would I not do that?" Or why would I not want that being an American citizen.
But that as an example, I can't help but you know, bring it to the the crux of both industry interest, you know, as that that would take a big knock on airlines to either not exist or choose to make some drastic change. And then, of course, like the political will, of politicians who might be, you know, might have some financing and supporting blocks in that industry? Again, we've talked about it throughout the conversation, but is that, you know, the only crux for us? Because it does feel like it's this context of most people would like, what you are describing there. You describe it in the book is that the Ecotopia that we can work towards. I don't see many people disagreeing with that, just, you know, they would just be disagreeing for the sake of doing it. Is that all, the largest barrier, the largest resistance is perhaps in those spheres?
Mark Maslin 44:44
So for me, I think the biggest issue is the politics and people's perception of politics. So I remember interviewing Al Gore once on his second movie, because we are talking about climate change because, hey, I'm the climate change expert. So we were talking about sort of like, how do we solve climate change? And he has one line, it's one of the few that I really do agree with, which is he said, "We need to fix democracy, before we can fix the climate." I think that's something that all countries who are democratic need to really grapple with, which is, how do we produce politicians that think about the majority of the population, and actually think about future generations, instead of about trying to keep the small group, the lobby groups, happy.
I'll give you an example. In the 1970s, the Republican President Nixon tried to put in a version of universal basic income. The reason being is he was seeing that Americans were suffering during the energy crisis, and he wanted to support them. So he was going to give them a guaranteed payment every year to basically make sure that Americans were supported because it was their money. And then they would go and spend it on American goods and services. Perfect. The only reason it didn't go through, is because the Democrats at the time thought it wasn't strong enough. Okay. Imagine now, saying to the population, we're actually going to support-- this is your money, it's our country, we created this wealth, we're going to make sure you have a guaranteed payment. They do it in Alaska. Can you imagine the shock of that? It's like, "No, this is against the economy. This is this is anti-capitalism." It's like, "No, it's 1970s American capitalism, which seemed to work quite well, thank you very much," you know.
So I think we have to change our view of politics. I think we need politicians who are much more holistic in their approach, and actually can understand how decarbonizing drives economic growth, drives a healthier population, makes everybody safer, and therefore, they might even be a little bit happier. And if so they might actually vote for you again. So I think that's what we need to do. We really need to rethink some of our politics and our political institutions and stop this sort of like bickering and, like, "ask them, ask them." We just need to move forward. I have to say, I'm going to do a radical idea, which is, some countries in the world have a mandated quota of how many female senators or MPs they have to have. And actually, there are two countries in the world, Rwanda and Bolivia, that have more than 50% of the elected representatives are female. Really interesting, it completely changes the politics of a country, becomes much more about supporting the population and less about beating your chest and invading other countries - he says quietly.
Cory Ames 48:08
I think that it's incredibly surprising to put in the context of you know, what politics in the US looked like, perhaps in the 70s, under a Republican administration, Nixon used the example there. I mean, under the Nixon administration, likewise responsible for the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency here in the US, and in the context of rapidly rising inflation, I believe through executive order Nixon also put into place, price lock, and a cap on any increases of executive or leadership pay. So that's interesting think, "Oh, that was something that was done by a Republican president?" It's like, yeah, the whole spectrum of our politics has dramatically changed.
But Mark, I appreciate you spending so much time with me here. I want to be respectful of that. But before we wrap up, you mind if I ask you a few rapid fire questions?
Mark Maslin 48:39
go for it.
Cory Ames 48:40
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All right. So in the context of that ecotopia, what's one thing in that vision that perhaps you're most excited, or energized about, perhaps manifesting?
Mark Maslin 50:34
I think it's the rewilding and reforestation. It's bringing back nature - the idea that we have the power to destroy, but we have the power to create and nurture. And I think that is an incredible way of actually thinking about the planet, and very symbolic, that we can actually heal our broken planet.
Cory Ames 50:55
And again, an incredibly important thing to think about as well. We're often focused on humans' negative impact, as opposed to perhaps exactly that - what could be done if we were considered more so the keystone species that created a positive impact something reiterated many times from guests on this podcast. But next one for you, Mark, is there any particular morning routine or daily habit that you feel like you have to stick to?
Mark Maslin 51:20
Oh, so my morning routine is get up, have a cup of coffee, with lots of sugar, but don't tell my partner, and then gym, okay. It's just my little moment of peace, you know, sort of quiet. And actually, I find that my brain is actually working in the background going, "you got to do this, got to do this," and then come back from the gym, and then I can actually sit down and go, "right, what is on my agenda today? And how the hell am I going to get through it."
Cory Ames 51:54
an important way to start. Next one for you, what's one book, film or a resource that you might recommend to our listeners? Can be what we talked about here, or otherwise something that's impacted you recently or that you always come back to.
Mark Maslin 52:07
So for me, it is something like, and this sounds very strange, Sun Tzu's The Art of War. So this sounds very strange. This was written 3000 years ago by Chinese sort of general. And it was the inspiration for my book, okay, because it is written in very clear sort of like ideas, it's used by the Marine Corps, it's used by the British Army. And basically, it tells you how to actually run a war. And I love the fact that it starts off, "if you do not have to have a war, don't." It really has that sort of like, very simplistic, very, very clear logic and heart in it. And I think sometimes people could read that and actually take that into their own lives, which is, if you don't have to conflict with someone, then don't. If you can compromise, do so. If you actually have to do something, well, at least make sure you're going to do as well as you can. So for me, that's one of my favorite books.
Cory Ames 53:08
Excellent recommendation. A final one for you, Mark, what's one bit of advice that you might leave our listeners with? These folks are change makers and innovators from all sectors all over the globe, looking to leave the world a better place than they found it.
Mark Maslin 53:21
So my one piece of advice is talk about it. Okay. This is the greatest threat facing humanity, and we seem incapable of talking about it. We will talk about sort of like, which soap star is sleeping with which soap star, what are the Kardashians doing, except we won't tackle the most important things facing us as a species. And the thing is, we should be talking about it. We all have anxiety about it. And for me, the examples time after time after time, where people have actually talked about it, come together and created something new. Whether it's a new charity, whether it happens to be a new sort of like, drive within a company, I mean, absolutely amazing stuff. Okay. And that's where the solution is going to come from is us talking. It's what we do. We're humans, we're ultra social, we're networkers, we need to talk about it. So my piece of advice is, do not fear the sort of like climate change crisis, and the environmental crisis. See it as a challenge and the opportunity to talk about it to everybody, because together we can make a huge difference.
Cory Ames 54:37
Excellent advice for us to end on. Final, final bit Mark, where should people keep up with you in your work? Where would you like to direct folks to follow along?
Mark Maslin 54:45
So I have to say most of my work goes on to Twitter. So that's Prof. Mark Maslin at Twitter of course. And, yeah, occasionally, there's some nice stuff I post about science. Occasionally I have to say I get into a few fights with the climate deniers, you know, just when I'm bored. So hopefully that will be a good source of inspiration for people, but also have a look at the people I follow. So there are brilliant people like Katharine Hayhoe, Michael Mann, and people like that, that if you're interested in this area, these are people you should follow as well, because they provide much more inspirational stuff than me. I'm usually down in the dirt basically trying to actually still slug it out.
Cory Ames 55:29
Someone's got to do it. Or maybe no one has to do it, we'll see. Well, I appreciate it, Mark. We'll have all those items linked up in our show post at socialentrepreneurship.fm and growensemble.com Thanks again, Mark.
Mark Maslin 55:43
Cory Ames 55:44
All right, y'all. That's a wrap on another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast. As always so grateful to have you listening in. If you love the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts or hit subscribe wherever it is that you get yours. And as well. I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World Weekly newsletter. This is our weekly discussion with our community of social entrepreneurs and changemakers on all things building a better world does the newsletter I write and publish send out myself every single Monday go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter, to join in on that discussion, all things building a better world. Go to growensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next one in your inbox. And finally, if you know of a company work within a company or run a company that might be interested in sponsoring the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast, we always love starting conversations with potential partners who share our vision of building a better world together. Go to socialentrepreneurship.fm backslash contact. There, you can fill out a quick form, start that conversation with us. And these sorts of partnerships fuel our mission to build a better world together. All right, y'all. Until next time.
Professor, Executive Director, Author
Mark Maslin FRGS, FRSA is a Professor of Earth System Science at University College London. He is a founding Director of Rezatec Ltd, a data product services company. He is member of the CSR Board of Sopria-Steria Group and Sheep Inc. and member of Cheltenham Science Festival Advisory Committee.
Maslin is a leading scientist with particular expertise in past global and regional climatic change and has publish over 170 papers in journals such as Science, Nature, and The Lancet. He has been PI or Co-I on grants worth over £70 million. His areas of scientific expertise include causes of global climate change and its effects on the carbon cycle, biodiversity, rainforests and evolution. He also works on monitoring land carbon sinks using remote sensing and ecological models and regularly comments on international and national climate change policies.
Professor Maslin has presented over 45 public talks over the last three years, including talks to Twitter, Google, Royal Geographical Society, Tate Modern, Royal Society of Medicine, Fink Club, Frontline Club, British Museum, Natural History Museum, Goldman Sachs, UNFCCC COP, WTO and the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard. He has written 10 popular books, over 70 popular articles (e.g., New Scientist, The Times, Independent and Guardian) and has had over 2.9 million read of his articles on The Conversation. He regularly appears on radio and television (including BBC One "Climate Change: the facts", Timeteam, Newsnight, Dispatches, Horizon, The Today Programme, BBC News, Channel 5 News, Euronews and Sky News). His book “Climate Change: A Very Short Introduction” by Oxford University Press is now in its third edition and has sold over 50,000 copies. His latest book on human evolution, "The Cradle of Humanity", was described by Professor Brian Cox as 'exhilarating'. In 2018 he published a Penguin bestseller "The Human Planet" with Professor Simon Lewis. In April 2021 Penguin published his book "How to Save Our Planet: The Fact". He was included in Who’s Who in 2009, was made a Royal Society Industrial Fellow between 2012-2016 and is a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Scholar.
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