[00:00:00:06] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: A full 2/3 of existing fossil fuel reserves can literally never be burned. You know, that's the scale of this problem.
[00:00:07:16] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: This is climate conversations by ClimateX.
[00:00:09:26] [MUSIC PLAYING]
[00:00:17:00] Well, I think we're going to have a lot of fun today. I'm Rajesh Kasturirangan here at Office of Digital Learning with my colleagues--
[00:00:25:04] CURT NEWTON: --Curt Newton from Office of Digital Learning--
[00:00:27:20] LAURA HOWELLS: --hi, Laura Howells from the same place.
[00:00:29:20] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And today, we're going to be talking to Geoffrey Supran, who is not only a scientist, but someone who is increasingly acting against some of the most powerful fossil fuel interests in the world.
[00:00:41:01] CURT NEWTON: Science plus activism, it's a powerful combination.
[00:00:43:11] LAURA HOWELLS: Yeah.
[00:00:43:20] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah. And you know what he's going to be talking about.
[00:00:47:10] CURT NEWTON: I heard something about the inverted V. What do you know about that?
[00:00:51:06] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I think it's about bringing carbon down from its peak as quickly as possible.
[00:00:56:27] CURT NEWTON: Yeah. It started off low-ish, went up really fast over recent years, and we gotta flip that script and bring it down really quickly.
[00:01:05:07] LAURA HOWELLS: Yeah. And hopefully, Geoffrey is going to be telling us how to do that.
[00:01:07:24] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I'm really looking forward to it.
[00:01:09:07] CURT NEWTON: Yeah, here we go.
[00:01:12:01] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Well, this week, we have-- I would say-- two guests who live in the same body. I'm going to introduce them as Dr. Geoffrey Supran, a researcher in quantum dots, and currently a post-doc-- a joint post-doc-- between Harvard and MIT. But he's also a Comrade Geoffrey Supran, who organizes sit-ins in front of the president of MIT's office, and writes papers that gets Exxon to launch threats at them. And I think we are going to have a very, very nice conversation.
[00:01:46:28] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Thanks for having me.
[00:01:48:01] LAURA HOWELLS: Good introduction.
[00:01:50:17] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So Geoffrey, quantum dots to Exxon-Mobil, where was the switch?
[00:01:58:17] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: It was in the lab, I think. So you know, I started doing renewable energy research when I was 16 years old. I've had this longstanding belief in the power of science to make the world a better place. And that still is very strongly with me. But this is a story I've told many times about how about half way through my PhD-- it's probably about five years ago or so now-- we were sitting in the lab. We were trying to make these better solar cells, these brighter LEDs. And through a variety of steps that I'm happy to go into more detail, I gradually started to realize that we already have most of the technologies we need to start tackling the climate change crisis.
[00:02:33:09] And what we truly lack is the political will-- the will, for example, put a price on carbon. The will to subsidize renewables instead of fossil fuels. The will to stand up to the fossil fuel industry, to its disinformation, its lobbying, and its extractivist culture that is quantifiably incompatible with the science of stopping climate change.
[00:02:51:28] So, yeah, it was kind of through these realizations that I got involved in fossil fuel divestment. And as they say, the rest is history.
[00:02:58:22] LAURA HOWELLS: I'd love to know about your first experience of entering this fray, and how that shaped your future experiences in the political world.
[00:03:06:22] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah. So it was around 2012. The fossil fuel divestment movement was just getting started in various parts of the US. And the 350.org Do The Math tour was spreading. And as I said, I started working on renewables back in high school. But for me, I was always excited in the entrepreneurial aspects of it. And to be honest, I have zero prior background in environmentalism, in politics. I was just a through-and-through physicist.
[00:03:32:15] And so it really was through thinking about this divestment campaign, a couple of my friends were just starting to talk about starting an MIT group or something. I was kind of like, why they are wasting their time? What are they doing? And so I'm a scientist, and so I started to read the literature. And I think I came across a couple of specific points-- specific graphs, basically-- that really shook me to my core.
[00:03:53:22] So one was the realization of how urgent the climate crisis is. I really didn't realize. So with my hands, I'm drawing a kind of upside down V. Basically, for the last 160 years or so, global CO2 emissions have been rising at this continual exponential rate. And if we are to have any chance of holding back catastrophic warming, those emissions are going to have to peak right now, and then start falling faster than they've been rising for these past couple of centuries. That's unprecedented, that's crazy.
[00:04:22:00] And at the same time, this Do The Math talk-- the divestment campaign-- was really highlighting the fact that if we're to achieve that kind of decarbonization, a full 2/3 of existing fossil fuel reserves can literally never be burned. That's the scale of this problem. And it was kind of coming to grips with the science, and then people-- communicators like Bill McKibben-- turning this science into a story about the complicity of the fossil fuel industry, and the agency that each of us has to collectively do something about it. That really shook me to my core and got me engaged.
[00:04:55:12] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I want to get to your work on the quantifiably wrong aspects of the fossil fuel industry's work. But something strikes me in the way you narrate your story. It reminds me a little bit of how scientists-- probably 40 or 50 years ago-- would talk about their work in, say, the anti-nuclear disarmament movement. Do you see any connections? Do you feel like climate action is to science today, that nuclear disarmament was to science in 1955 or '60?
[00:05:27:22] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Probably not one-to-one. And I feel like now that I'm also a post-doc in history of science at Harvard, I feel like I have to be more cautious about what I do and don't know about the history of movements, and things. Because to be honest, I'm no expert in the history of the anti-nuclear proliferation movement. But yeah, without a doubt, there are similarities in the sense of how scientists feel some kind of moral obligation to speak truth to power when they're informed by their work and their broader scientific understanding.
[00:05:59:06] I think we're living in a time which is not unique, where scientists are being chastised for speaking out, talking about morals, how they feel, things like that. But I really feel that rather than scientists in some way being somehow subhuman-- somehow not entitled to do anything other than talk about the facts-- I actually believe, if anything, scientists are super human, right? Because we're essentially informed citizens. And who else do you want contributing to important policy debate?
[00:06:26:09] So certainly, there are kind of mirrors in the anti-proliferation movement. And likewise, a lot of feelings-- a lot of emotions, a lot of kind of moral questions-- that are bubbling to the surface.
[00:06:36:29] CURT NEWTON: What are your takeaways at this point, about the ability to turn your science basis-- your grounding in facts-- towards really productive work with your opponents, effectively, in any of these negotiations?
[00:06:50:20] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Well, I mean, the key thing that I think I've learned over time is that values-- not facts-- are the currency of persuasion. So whilst I'm speaking to friends here-- and it's useful and constructive to talk about how science has informed me-- I've learned the hard way, sometimes, that simply presenting people with more facts, more graphs is-- most of the time-- not the most effective course of action. Science, of course, has to form the foundation of informed advocacy and activism.
[00:07:17:15] But, yeah, we have to talk about, not just what this problem is, but why it matters to us personally.
[00:07:22:01] CURT NEWTON: Right. And that rules out way beyond just the scientific community to everybody you're speaking to.
[00:07:27:01] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Right. This just insights from basic behavioral science, and climate psychology, and so on. I think it's worth mentioning briefly that with climate change, there are amazing-- I was meeting with a congressman the other day. And there are amazing opportunities to build climate narratives that currently are just so weakly perpetuated-- things like climate change as a national security issue, things like clean energy as an all-American story of powerful, gritty engineering-- harnessing the power of nature to build cleaner air and better jobs. And so this is a story that could be told. And right now, we're not doing a great job.
[00:08:03:08] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So you mentioned something where you said you learned the hard way, sometimes, that values matter more. So, do you see your hard-won insights into activism, or perhaps public expression of values informing your science? So going the other way?
[00:08:22:06] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah. So during the March for Science-- which I think a lot of people are familiar with-- there was a lot of-- I don't know what the right word is, but kind of-- messiness. There was a lot of dumb talk about, is science political, and all these kind of things. And it was very frustrating to see the kind of slow evolution of scientists getting to grips with the fact that undoubtedly, science is political.
[00:08:46:01] One has to very carefully distinguish between science as the sociopolitical society of people making complex decisions about who they take funding from, what questions they ask and don't ask, how they communicate about them, and how I literally sit in the lab and read a number off a thermometer. And that scientific method, we try with all our might to keep completely apolitical.
[00:09:10:04] But science as an institution is highly political. And so for sure, things that I think are interesting inform the decisions I make about what questions I choose to ask and not ask. And I think that most scientists who disagree with that are kind of just blind to the realities of the fact that we're all human. So, yeah, I think it's important that we identify key questions that could impact things like climate policy, and ask the tough questions, and speak truth to power.
[00:09:36:17] CURT NEWTON: So you've recently identified just one of those questions, and released a widely circulated paper this past August on the statements rigorously cataloged that Exxon has made, and comparing those to the scientific statements that some of their scientists have made. You just take a moment and kind of walk us through those results?
[00:09:59:08] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yes. So the context-- which I think is important to understand, because this is about how it informed our study-- is that right now, the last couple of years, ExxonMobil is under intense legal scrutiny on multiple legal fronts. I used to say, five and then it became six, and then seven, then eight. But we have the attorneys general of New York and Massachusetts investigating the company. The Securities and Exchange Commission has launched a formal federal probe. And more recently, some of Exxon's own employees and shareholders-- I think, on the backs of these investigations-- actually filed lawsuits against the company. And most recently, five communities in California-- including San Francisco and Oakland-- have filed suits.
[00:10:33:10] And in some way or other, all of these investigations and lawsuits are kind of pivoting around one key question, which is-- in some way or other-- has the company's communications about climate change misled its customers, its shareholders, or the general public about basic climate science and its implications?
[00:10:49:17] And, of course, the company fervently denies all allegations. It says that anyone who takes a really close look at all the evidence-- all the documents-- will see that these allegations have no basis. They said, quote, "read the documents, read all of these documents and make up your own mind."
[00:11:04:02] LAURA HOWELLS: And so you did just that?
[00:11:05:13] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yes. So Naomi Oreskes and I at Harvard, we decided we can read. So we'll take up that challenge. And so we looked at all the documents. We analyzed them with an established social science method. And we made up our minds, and we reported them in a peer reviewed journal called Environmental Research Letters. Anyone who's interested can read the paper at bit.ly/exxon paper.
[00:11:26:12] And basically, what we found was a gaping systematic discrepancy between-- on the one hand, what the company said about climate change internally and in academic circles-- and on the other hand, what it said about climate change to the general public. On the Op Ed page of the New York Times, in so-called advertorials-- paid Op Ed styled adverts.
[00:11:45:25] So our conclusion bottom line, was that the company has misled the public about basic climate science and its implications. It did so by speaking quietly about the science, and very loudly in promoting doubt about it.
[00:11:58:16] CURT NEWTON: And that speaking quietly about the science has provided them and their statements with a certain amount of cover.
[00:12:03:21] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: That's correct. And we see this track record of mixed messaging on climate continued with ExxonMobil's, but also other corporation's behavior-- where, for example, the company says that it supports the Paris Agreements and are staying below 2 degrees warming. And yet, as I was saying, it's pursuing a business model that is incompatible with the science of doing so.
[00:12:22:20] It says that it supports putting a price on carbon, but last year, it was funding lobbying efforts to take down two carbon tax bills right here in Massachusetts. So actions speak louder than words.
[00:12:33:13] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So do you think that this is different parts of the company speaking in different voices? Or a concerted strategy, which has a soft and hard voice?
[00:12:44:10] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: I don't know. I mean, I'm obviously not in a position to read the minds of those inside the company. And it's also worth making very clear that we're not lawyers. We're academics. And we conducted a peer-reviewed study, which we think is informative to these ongoing investigations and lawsuits. But it's up to those involved to determine if there's actually been any wrongdoing.
[00:13:06:04] LAURA HOWELLS: And what was the response from ExxonMobil, either publicly or privately?
[00:13:10:27] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Or both?
[00:13:12:08] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Publicly, they weren't very happy. They published a statement in which they said a number of things about us-- which we wrote a rebuttal to what they said in the LA Times, basically kind of enumerating the ways in which their arguments didn't carry water. In short, their arguments were formed on the basis of cherry picking, straw man arguments, outright falsehoods, and character assassination-- essentially, accusing us of being activists, as though there's actually something wrong with being activists, and without actually grappling with any of the analysis or data, just trying to sort of undermine our legitimacy.
[00:13:50:28] But I think that the public-- in these days of alternative facts, and kind of anti-science rhetoric-- I think the public's a little bit smarter than the company and other fossil fuel interests give them credit for.
[00:14:04:23] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah. But I can understand the tactic, right? So they are doing exactly what you said.
[00:14:11:01] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah. They're misleading the public about the history of misleading the public.
[00:14:14:25] CURT NEWTON: Brilliant. Could you imagine a way in which the activist community could be engaging productively with Exxon and other fossil fuel companies? Could we find some common middle ground?
[00:14:31:26] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Or is that not possible at all?
[00:14:33:26] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Well, so, there's a long history-- about 26 years or so now-- of shareholder activism within the annual general meetings of ExxonMobil. Shareholders trying to compel the company to work with their shareholders to address climate change. Essentially, for the last 25 years or so, that's been 100% unsuccessful. I think you'd have to check on the order of 60 or so resolutions have been passed, and all have failed. And the company has always fought against them.
[00:14:58:13] This past year, I think I'm right in saying that for the first time, a shareholder resolution did actually pass that will compel the company at the next meeting to produce some kind of report about the risks of climate change to its business practice. So this is kind at the core of the SEC and the AG's investigations.
[00:15:15:14] So clearly, these shareholder engagement tactics are kind of one approach for working or trying to work with the company. I think that we've made clear, but maybe we could do a better job of making even clearer what one would want to see from the company. And in my mind-- without getting into specifics-- it's all about breaking this historical trend of mixed messaging. So you can't do one thing and say another, and expect to get off scot-free.
[00:15:41:18] CURT NEWTON: Some way to call off the hounds that they've unleashed on the political process.
[00:15:45:10] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah. So right now, I think many will be familiar with the fact that ExxonMobil was working very hard to try to secure an oil drilling deal in Russia with Rosneft. There were estimates this is $1/2 trillion worth of potential assets. And so it's rather interesting that now Rex Tillerson became Secretary of State-- the country's top diplomat-- who is in a position to kind of work with Russia and figure these things out.
[00:16:12:22] And so-- yeah. I think the public needs to stand up and call out these kinds of dubious behaviors, that are really incompatible with the company's stated basic positions on addressing climate change.
[00:16:27:06] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So jumping to the other end, you started by talking about the inverted V, right? I think that the inverted V cannot happen unless there is no fossil fuel industry as we currently know it.
[00:16:42:04] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah, the inverted V requires at the least, a massive contraction in the fossil fuel industry. And at the most, a complete bankruptcy of that industry. That's just scientific reality. That's not activist speak.
[00:16:54:27] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Right. And so now that you've also seen the same thing from the point of view of how a company would respond just to calling out its misleading communication. They know that this is an existential battle for them. And they know that they cannot exist in 50 years if we are to survive.
[00:17:14:17] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah, that's right. There's a big difference between-- someone asked me the other day, I think kind of like your question. How far can we get working with these companies? The problem here is that this isn't about asking business model A to be changed to A plus B, or A minus C or something. It's about getting rid of all the letters of the alphabet and just switching to a completely different business practice. And so that is a complete reconstitution. And as you said, the next potential threat to their existence.
[00:17:42:24] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And perhaps that's why they respond with various degrees of viciousness in different places.
[00:17:50:00] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah. I mean, when your entire existence is on the line, when you're backed into a corner, you lash out. And it's understandable, to be honest, that businesses need to protect their core scenarios. But at the same time, we do see other fossil fuel companies-- more notably, those in Europe, Total as an example in France-- that are much more heavily starting to transition, or at least heavily invest in solar and other renewable industries, trying to carve out a new area in which they can continue to thrive.
[00:18:21:23] Even if we could see ExxonMobil, and Chevron, and these other companies genuinely invest serious amounts of their Capex-- their capital expenditure-- in carbon capture and storage, even biofuel-- technologies that are less clearly going to be part of the decarbonization scenario, but at least move in that direction-- that would be better than this industry spending $700 billion a year looking for more fossil fuels.
[00:18:44:16] LAURA HOWELLS: And so you say that we're starting to be able to back these fossil fuel companies into a corner. Now that they are backed into a corner, what comes next? How do we capitalize on this kind of change in status?
[00:18:58:29] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: I'm not sure. We're definitely seeing-- just over the last few weeks, I've started to feel as though there are kind of pieces of this litigative jigsaw puzzle starting to crystallize quite suddenly. I spoke at a climate liability panel at New York Climate Week a couple weeks ago. And we were talking about how my and Naomi's Exxon work, but then the Union of Concerned Scientists recently published a study in accounting framework, if you like-- also, peer reviewed work, associating-- tying-- specific amounts of global warming and sea level rise to specific company's emissions.
[00:19:33:06] And then, we have these ongoing investigations and continuing lawsuits. And we have to mention all these hurricanes recently in Puerto Rico, and Texas, and so on. There's definitely rumblings of increased civil suits, and things kind of-- basically, the public at some point, is going to say, why are we footing the entire bill for these disasters? Why is nobody else responsible at all for these?
[00:19:58:08] So I think that that could be one avenue that starts to play out, which will certainly bring about further questions about misleading communications, and other things-- which will prompt academics, and activists, and advocates to dig into the massive expanses of documents that exist. And at the same time, we have these huge kind of anti-pipeline campaigns that are putting pressure on basically every single project that is now being proposed in the US.
[00:20:26:00] CURT NEWTON: Do you think there's also an aspect of this conversation where we're all responsible, and it's really easy to blame the fossil fuel industry for all of this stuff? But, hey, I like a comfortable house and an easy existence as much as the next person. And I've burned a bunch of those fossil fuels that I happened to get from Exxon and others. Do you get the sense that people are also starting to grapple with our kind of collective responsibility for this stuff?
[00:20:53:19] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah. So we all contribute to global warming. There's a professor at MIT who-- several years ago, his class quantified the carbon footprint of a homeless person in America. And I think the answer was about 8 and 1/2 ton CO2 per year. The reality is 8 and 1/2 ton CO2 per year is way higher-- about eight times-- than we each need to be emitting if we're going to stay below 2 degrees of warming.
[00:21:16:13] So the reality is that if each of us literally just kind of takes off all our clothes and just go and sits outside, that won't actually solve the problem. There is a systemic failure here. So in the sense that we're all emitting, we're all responsible. But responsibility is not necessarily equal. You and I have not been complicit in a massive multi-decade effort to stymie policy and political action to ensure our own profits.
[00:21:43:08] I would love to be able to purchase an electric vehicle and switch to renewables and things. Right now, there are cost impediments that, in part, are the result of the fact that we don't have a price on carbon. We don't have subsidies high enough for these technologies. And that, in turn, is because of the role of fossil fuel interests in these disinformation campaigns, and so on.
[00:22:03:16] So we're all responsible. But the only way to collectively get out of it is to collectively work together to change the entire system. In case it's helpful, I coauthored an Op Ed in Mashable-- maybe just after March for Science. You can find it at bit.ly/TheoriesOfChange.
[00:22:20:27] And there, we talked about, what are the three most effective ways to take action? Number three-- the least important-- is individual action. And it basically boils down to drive less, fly less, and don't eat beef. At that point, I'd say you're doing a pretty good job, and move back to one and two. One is take collective action, and two is end climate silence. And I think that we need to grapple with the fact that we're responsible. But then, we need to move on and think, how can we collectively do something about it?
[00:22:46:12] LAURA HOWELLS: So what would you say to people who are starting off on this journey of wanting to get involved in collective action? Where would be the best place for them to start?
[00:22:54:21] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: So look at the article, because we provided a bunch of links to--
[00:22:57:17] LAURA HOWELLS: And we'll link out to that in the podcast.
[00:22:59:03] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Sure, yeah. But I'd say that there are a number of organizations-- 350.org is an obvious one that is international, and is very much founded on the principle of empowering people at the grassroots level to take local action with national, even international impact. If you're a student, I think the fossil fuel divestment campaign-- like, from personal experience-- is an incredible gateway to both learning more about the science, and to getting experience of, probably, the most important reframing of climate politics in about 25 years. So that's a key way.
[00:23:31:02] And I think the other way is really to try to bring climate change into your everyday world-- and as I was saying-- try to end climate silence by just having more conversations with more people about why this problem matters to you.
[00:23:44:16] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So you're mentioning all these solutions. And of course, it makes me think about-- I mean, these are all political problems, right? Meaning collective action is always about-- in fact, it's the definition of politics. And one thing that has happened-- I think-- everywhere in the world, but maybe more so in the United States than almost anywhere else, is that there has been a systematic attempt to prevent people from acting collectively.
[00:24:11:28] The kind of organizations like labor unions, things that made it easy to participate in collective action efforts at every level, have been systematically attacked and defunded, and-- to a great extent-- destroyed. So what institutional structures do you see that might help bring climate into politics in a big way?
[00:24:38:23] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: So it's funny. I'll say two things. One is I should recommend, also, if you want to know more about collective action, there's a fantastic book called This Is An Uprising, by the Anglo Brothers. I'd strongly recommend, if anyone wants a kind of one stop shop in the history of collective action and a kind of motivator for how the minority can have huge impact, that's a great one to read.
[00:24:59:26] Back to your question, it's ironic that right as we speak, there is this massive slap kind of lawsuit, and actually, RICO lawsuits being filed by-- I think forestry-- deforestation companies, against Greenpeace and other organizations. Really, a massive attempt to shut these collective action groups-- these activist organizations-- up, by freaking them out about the idea of if they speak publicly, they'll be slapped with-- this is equivalent to a potentially $240 million lawsuit.
[00:25:32:10] So as you say, there are huge attempts ongoing to silence those who want to speak truth to power. Your question is like, what kind of frameworks might we want to see?
[00:25:43:10] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: I mean, I'm just saying that in an earlier era when the primary struggle seemed to be between capital and labor, in different parts of the world, solutions came up. And new institutional arrangements were created-- labor unions, political parties, all the things that we now either miss or take for granted.
[00:26:06:21] And I'm wondering when you're faced with a global problem-- which doesn't really respect political boundaries that exist today-- how do we imagine what collective action should be?
[00:26:19:05] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: So collective action is predicated on the idea that we all belong to certain so-called pillars of support, that's what social scientists call it. Basically, constituencies that either have the power to support the status quo, or to challenge it. So for example, myself, I've belonged to the student constituency, the youth constituency, and also, the scientists constituency. And all of us belong to these various pillars-- whether it be concerned mothers about their children, whether it be lawyers who believe that people's rights are being violated, and so on-- journalists-- and everyone belongs to these pillars. Religious groups, another great example.
[00:26:54:19] Rather than trying to form some massive completely unifying single organization globally, or something, I think probably the most powerful and realistic thing we can do is each think about what constituencies do we belong to. Where do we have a powerful voice? And then group with others-- starting locally-- who share those common values and communities constituencies, and then start to organize. Start to ask, how does climate change impact us? And how can we pull that out and fight back against it?
[00:27:22:18] CURT NEWTON: So it's like Marshall Ganz, architecture of these networks of networks.
[00:27:28:13] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: That's right.
[00:27:29:05] CURT NEWTON: Work within your local network, and then figure out ways to connect with others.
[00:27:32:27] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: That's right. And you bring up Marshall. You know, he's got this fantastic storytelling structure called Self, Us, Now. And going back to the storytelling aspect, if you're starting a collective campaign-- or even if you're just speaking to your friends, or writing an Op Ed, or giving a speech-- this idea of speaking about why climate change matters to me, and then why it matters to you-- bringing you into my circle. And then right now, what can we do about working together to do something about it? That's really at the heart of all of this.
[00:28:00:14] CURT NEWTON: Yeah. I've been checking out Marshall's videos in Resistant School, his project out of Harvard.
[00:28:06:05] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: So talking about storytelling, I believe you are going to tell a story soon. Is that right?
[00:28:12:00] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: I guess so. I don't know if soon is the correct word. But, yeah, Naomi Oreskes and I are-- the central focus of my post-doc with her is to write a book, a science-based fiction, about what a fossil fuel-free future could look like. As much as this information and climate denial have had a massively negative impact on our politic, to be honest, they're starting to lose. Public perception is starting to change. Public understanding is growing. And of course, clean energy is thriving like never before.
[00:28:44:16] And so we really want to step back from all the denial and disinformation and really provide a vision of what success could look like. You know, they say seeing is believing. And I think right now, most of us don't have a coherent vision. So I'm a joint post-doc. In MIT, I'm doing energy systems modeling, trying to look at different decarbonization scenarios, and how we can make them as feasible as possible.
[00:29:06:07] And then, with Naomi, we're writing a sequel to her previous book, cheery titled, The Collapse of Western Civilization. So we call this the anti-collapse. What could that rise to face this challenge really look like?
[00:29:17:25] LAURA HOWELLS: Has that been a tough thing to write and to think out yourself? I mean, as someone coming out with no understanding of what that book would read like, it sounds impossible. But from your perspective, did it take you a long time to find the right solutions to actually build up something that would work, and explore that in a book?
[00:29:34:18] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah. I mean, it's still very much ongoing. It's much harder to write the success story than the failure story. The failure story, you take the IPCC's worst case scenario. And then, you just-- it's a story of doing nothing.
[00:29:45:26] LAURA HOWELLS: Yeah.
[00:29:46:07] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: And so this is the story of doing everything. But at the same time, trying to bound it within technical, and sociopolitical, and economic kind of reality. So, yeah, it's very difficult. But I think that at the end of the day, the most important thing is not getting precisely the right scenario, because that's just impossible, by definition. The point is to try to present a somewhat comprehensible vision of the fact that this is within our grasp. If only we can summon the courage to face the challenge together.
[00:30:18:01] CURT NEWTON: It brings to mind cartoons and other things about like, what if we're wrong about all this climate science? And it turns out that we're not confronting massive global warming. And we go through all of this positive social transformation for nothing. What would it look like?
[00:30:33:06] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: What we have is more jobs, better economy, cleaner air, cleaner water--
[00:30:36:22] CURT NEWTON: Drat.
[00:30:37:09] LAURA HOWELLS: Who wants that?
[00:30:38:02] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Who wants that? Exactly. Well, you're kind of-- I think-- going to wave your magic wand with this book. But before you do that, give us a mini magic wand. So our magic wand question is always this. If you had a magic wand, and you could wave it, and you could change one thing about the world that would make climate action better in any fashion whatsoever, what would that be?
[00:31:02:11] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Oh, my gosh. It might be as simple as making humans more empathetic.
[00:31:11:00] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: That sounds like a very easy problem to solve.
[00:31:13:16] CURT NEWTON: It would take a magic wand.
[00:31:17:01] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: I mean, you could say something else, like changing the radiative forcing of CO2 molecules, or something.
[00:31:21:29] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: There you go.
[00:31:22:24] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Let me just jump straight to the--
[00:31:23:28] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Yeah.
[00:31:24:29] LAURA HOWELLS: It's the scientist and the social scientist in you there.
[00:31:27:12] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah, right, exactly. Yeah I think--
[00:31:31:23] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Change physics.
[00:31:32:23] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Yeah, change physics is the easy one. But I think if I were to think of a kind of semi-realistic magic wand-- like a magic wand I hope we can actually create-- it might be to engender-- especially in young people, but in everyone-- a greater sense of the power that we collectively hold to change things. That's a semi-realistic magic wand that I think we can and we need to create.
[00:31:59:13] LAURA HOWELLS: And there are people already out there right now, like Timothy Gay at the Boston Latin School. He's doing a great job of empowering the high school students into that kind of climate understanding.
[00:32:08:03] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Well, when I go around schools in New England and speak to high schoolers, it's really inspiring. Because so many of them-- unlike a lot of the conversations I have with grown adults-- were not stuck on, is this thing real, and how serious it is. They just want to know how to get involved. You know, when I saw teenagers-- like 14, 15, 16-- organizing divestment campaigns, talking about stranded assets and carbon bubbles.
[00:32:33:05] Not only did it make me feel old, but it really inspired me. Because you realize that my generation, and the younger generations really get this problem. You know, this is a threat to us. And it's no longer about our kids and our grandkids, that traditional rhetoric. This is right now. This is Puerto Rico. And so there's hope in young people, and this kind of vision that, together, we can do something about.
[00:32:59:06] CURT NEWTON: Hope for the future. I am so with that.
[00:33:02:10] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: With that thought, thank you so much.
[00:33:04:29] GEOFFREY SUPRAN: Thanks for having me, it's a lot of fun.
[00:33:06:22] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: Bye. That was so interesting.
[00:33:10:24] LAURA HOWELLS: You know what? It's really nice, and quite rare in this kind of subject matter, to end on such a high note, and such a hopeful place.
[00:33:17:21] CURT NEWTON: Yeah. Geoffrey is one of my favorite people I've met in this whole movement. And I can't wait to get to listen back to all that.
[00:33:23:25] LAURA HOWELLS: I think we're going to be hearing a lot more from him as well, as time goes on.
[00:33:26:25] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And we would love to hear your thoughts on it too.
[00:33:29:20] LAURA HOWELLS: So you can reach out to us at ClimateX_feedback@MIT.edu. You can find us on Twitter and on Facebook, and on the ClimateX site.
[00:33:39:17] RAJESH KASTURIRANGAN: And if you want to leave comments or feedback on iTunes, or Stitcher, or any of the other platforms, we really appreciate any feedback you can give us.
[00:33:49:09] LAURA HOWELLS: And if you've got stories about climate activism going on in your community, we would love to hear from you. Tweet us @ClimateX_MIT. Clim
[00:33:57:21] CURT NEWTON: Thanks for listening.
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