C2GTalk: An interview with Kumi Naidoo, South African Human Rights and Climate Justice Activist

How can the world put justice at the heart of governing climate-altering technologies?

31 May 2023

Where do you see the status of the 1.5°C goal right now?

How could the world govern Carbon Removal and Solar Radiation Modification fairly?

Can Carbon Dioxide Removal be reframed as a form of climate justice?

How should Carbon Dioxide Removal be approached?

How optimistic are you that the world will tackle climate change?

This interview was recorded on 11 April 2023 and is also available with interpretation into 中文,  Español, and Français.

Governing climate-altering technologies fairly will be very challenging, because of a democratic deficit, a transparency deficit, a coherence deficit, and an accountability deficit in global governance systems, says Kumi Naidoo in a C2GTalk. Nonetheless, it will be crucial to put justice at the heart of their consideration, by ensuring balanced participation of peoples, rooted in science, and in a spirit of redressing past injustice.

Kumi Naidoo is a South African human rights and climate justice activist. As a fifteen-year old, he organised school boycotts against the Apartheid educational system in South Africa. His work made him a target for the Security Police and he was forced into exile in the United Kingdom until 1990. On his return home he was part of the leadership that sought to establish the African National Congress (ANC) as a political party. Kumi then served as the official spokesperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the overseer of the country’s first democratic elections in April 1994, after having led the training of the 300 000 people that would run South Africans first democratic election. 

Kumi has led organisations including; the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Greenpeace International, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity and Amnesty International. He has served as Board Chair of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAAP); President of the Global Call for Climate Action (GCCA), Board member for 350.org, the Global Greengrants Fund, and as an ambassador to the Southern African Faith Communities Environmental Institute.  

Kumi serves on the International Council of Transparency International. He is a founding ambassador to the Campaign for a Just Energy Future and is a patron of Future SA, both of which advocate for accountability and an end to corruption in South Africa. 

Kumi is currently an Honorary Professor of Practice at Thunderbird School of Global Management, Arizona State University, and was most recently a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy, in Berlin. He has lectured at Fossil Free University and serves as a Special Advisor to the Green Economy Coalition and a Senior Advisor for the Community Arts Network (CAN). Kumi is a Visiting Fellow at Oxford and is a Global Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace & Dignity.  

Below are edited highlights from the full C2GTalk interview shown in the video above. Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

I am speaking today with Kumi Naidoo, one of the world’s leading human rights and environmental activists. 

From an early beginning fighting apartheid in South Africa he rose quickly to global leadership positions including International Executive Director of Greenpeace and Secretary-General of Amnesty International alongside many other roles.  To this day he is a prominent voice for global climate justice and serves as special advisor to the Green Economy Coalition and hosts the Power, People & Planet podcast. 

Kumi Naidoo, welcome to C2GTalk. 

Thank you very much.  Thanks for having me. 

The concept of climate justice has gained increasing attention over recent years and has emerged as a central issue in international climate diplomacy, including the Conference of the Parties process.   

How would you define climate justice, and to what extent do you think that international climate diplomacy is adequately dealing with it now? 

To understand climate justice you have to understand climate injustice; and climate injustice is very clear and simple: that those parts of the world that carry the biggest responsibility for the accumulation of greenhouse-trapping gases are not the ones that are paying the first and most brutal price in terms of current climate impacts; and that the choices of what economic system, what energy system, what food system, and so on — all of these choices have not been made by people in countries who are paying with their lives, their livelihoods, and their infrastructure right now. 

It is not to say that of course extreme weather events are not also taking lives in the Global North.  When it happens in the Global North we should also note that it disproportionately affects people of color, working-class people, and those who are more socially excluded, not always but quite often. 

When we then understand that injustice we have to ask, “Well, to make that right, how do we do that?”   

Climate justice is, firstly, about embracing in its full reality how we got to where we got to and recognizing that some policy choices that were made historically, when the signs were not as clear perhaps, were things that will fall into the basket of “forgivable errors;” but let’s not pretend that it did not happen, which is what a lot of dominant countries in the Global North have tried to do.

Thankfully, in Egypt we saw a very significant symbolic turn, in the sense that the notion of the “Loss and Damage” fund was actually accepted.  

Whether any money of substance goes into the fund I am not going to bet on right now.  The fact that principally it was won I think is a positive step. 

But in practical terms climate justice means also ensuring that there are technology transfers that are happening on renewable technologies, for example, really recognizing that lives have been lost already and more lives we know for sure are going to be lost in the coming decades and beyond, and responding to that with the urgency that it calls for, the sense of equity that it calls for, and the sense of justice. 

Let me end by saying I was with Greenpeace when Copenhagen’s pledge failed. I was in a British Broadcasting Corporation interview, and I made this point then, which I feel so strongly that we need to make more and more today, which is that in a very tragic way that the climate catastrophe we are facing offers us an opportunity.  It offers us an opportunity to break away from the dichotomies of rich and poor, North and South, and developing and developed. 

Unless we really understand that this is the issue that has to bring humanity together to act collectively — true, the injustice of people in parts of the world that contributed least; yes, they will perish first; small island states will get covered by the ocean and so on — ultimately nobody is protected. That should drive us to a new sense of solidarity, maturity, and understanding. 

But I would say in conclusion that the reality is that far too many of our political and business leaders still suffer from a very, very high level of cognitive dissonance on the question of how close to the cliff we already are. 

To what extent do you think that addressing climate justice can be a bridge to a broader concept of global justice? 

Climate injustice does not exist in isolation of global injustice.  

Part of that includes the domination of a small number of countries historically from the Global North that made the most powerful decisions around economy, development, military spending, and all of those things, and those are the same countries that carry the burden of colonial brutality as well to a large extent.  The climate challenge is a failure of the economic system, the failure of our energy system, our food system, and so on, and all of those systems — let’s be very clear — were not designed by the vast majority of people living in poor countries in the Global South. 

The second thing is in the way we try to address climate moving forward we cannot simply, for example, say, “Okay, we need to move to a green economy, so let’s build a new economy based on clean, renewable, fossil-free energy” but we keep all the economic structures that dominated the fossil fuel industry the same.  Therefore, you will see many of us, if we make the connection between climate justice and global justice, we do not say we just need a green economy; we are saying, “We need a green, inclusive, and equitable economy.” 

I think even the environmental movement, if I can be self-critical here, does not want to talk sufficiently about a very uncomfortable word, as we should be doing, and that word is “consumption.”  Basically the reality is that if all of us in the Global South were to have equity in consumption with everybody in the Global North, then basically the climate struggle would be completely over and we would all be dead in a very short space of time. 

It is like when people talk about population.   

Here is a good global justice/climate justice link.  As head of Greenpeace, I used to go to very many volunteer groups in the Global North especially, and they would sometimes ask me this question, correctly so: “Why do we not take on the question of population more strongly?” 

The question was right, but often, and even in generalized audiences, the question of population always comes up in climate.  Sometimes people will say black and white; they will say, “You folks in Africa have too many kids,” and they say, “Stop having so many kids or we will never solve the climate problem.” 

My first response to that is that I genuinely believe that we must address the population question.  We should not dodge it.  Secondly, the way you address the population question is through turbocharging, accelerating, and advancing gender equality.  That is what transforms family sizes that we have seen around the world. Thirdly you start making serious investments in how you address all the other issues.  

Having said all of that, it takes the consumption — and this is just a ballpark thing; I do not want to be held accountable for this very, very scientific statistic — of at least 100 to 150 kids in Africa to equal in a lifetime the consumption of one kid in, say, North America or Europe.   

We need to be very clear in not de-historicizing how we landed here, and then with all brutal honesty we have to be able to ask: “Well, how do we recognize we cannot reverse the past, but how do we acknowledge it, look at how we address it, and try to build a future that does not replicate the injustices and lack of equity that we have seen in the past?” 

For that to happen, may I say we cannot have the approach that we saw after the global financial crisis, or even now I would say after Covid-19, which is all about system recovery, system protection, and system maintenance.   

What was needed after the 2009 global financial crisis, and what is needed even more urgently right now, is system innovation, system redesign, and system transformation.  Any one of us who is saying to ourselves right now that we will secure the safety of our children and their children by rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic is in serious denial about how close to absolute catastrophe we are. 

I wanted to talk a little bit about the 1.5°C number, hard fought by a lot of countries to get that on the international agenda.   

At the same time we keep seeing increasing warnings from scientists that there is basically no credible pathway to 1.5°C and that there will inevitably be some overshoot, the question being for how long and by how much.   

In an article for Al Jazeera you noted the idea “1.5°C to Stay Alive” changed to “1.5°C, We Might Survive.” It is a broad question, but where do you see the status, both politically but also psychologically, of this 1.5°C goal right now?  How important is it to hold on to it given the scientific warnings that it may not be possible?  What kind of psychological impact will it have if we cross that?  I would just be very interested in your thoughts on that. 

If I can just tell a little story, in July of 2015 I was in Kiribati, Fiji, and Vanuatu, and the wonderful people there that I met taught me the slogan “1.5°C to Stay Alive.”   

Six months later, when I met them at the Paris climate negotiations, some of them pulled me into a small protest they were having, that actually turned out to be quite big, which they got permission to have just outside the negotiating chamber.  They gave me the megaphone, and I was about to start chanting the slogan they had taught me six months earlier, “1.5°C to Stay Alive,” when somebody started waving and said: “The slogan has changed: “It’s 1.5°C, We Might Survive.”

I want to make a very painful point here.  I think unless we are honest with ourselves we are going to make the same mistakes we have always made.   

In 2009, when the Copenhagen negotiations collapsed, a colleague of mine from Greenpeace China gave me a blank piece of white paper and said to me — I was new at Greenpeace, one week into the job or something, and they did not know how I spoke; he was a communications person — “Kumi, you have to smash this thing down on the table and say, ‘It’s disgusting how they have betrayed the people of the world,’” and so on.  I thanked him for his guidance.   

I did not quite do exactly what he asked me to do because it turned out that I was then deemed to have done too much, that I had “crossed the line,” as some people say.  I said then, “We must ask the question: Would the level of urgency be as low as it is now if the people most impacted right now and losing their lives right now were from places that had a lot of natural resources that economies in the North needed?  Would the level of urgency be different if these were economically strong countries?  Would the level be different if they were militarily strong?”  Lastly — and this is where some people said I crossed the line at that time — “Or would the level of urgency be so low if it were not for the color of people’s skins?”  

Here is the dilemma we have.  If we look at all of our institutions, including the institutions that are pushing for the big changes that we need to make, sadly they are all burdened by the problem of structural racism.  The power of who gets voice, all of that, is extremely still stuck.   

It is not as if organizations are not trying to change.  If you look at the international nongovernmental organizational sector, they have been perpetually for the last 30 years trying to change.  But it is one thing to say, “We recognize we need to change” but then do not exercise the kind of moral courage that is necessary to be as global as the challenges that we seek to achieve.  It is a problem. 

When we look at the question of where we are at 1.2°C now, it is tragic.   

Firstly, we have to say it is a tragic failure of political and economic leadership — and, yes, we are having to step on some toes that we do not normally do. 

It is also a failure of activist leadership.  Of course the situation would be much, much worse if not for the sacrifices and the fights that people have made against tremendous odds.  But right now we are at a point where if you are saying “it cannot business as usual, it cannot be government as usual,” we also have to be saying “it cannot be activism as usual.” 

We are winning important battles — let’s be clear, against extreme odds we are winning important battles — but we must acknowledge we are losing the overall struggle, and if we are losing the overall struggle then we have to recalibrate.

Within that context one of the issues the Al Jazeera article that you referred raised is that the math just does not add up.   

I am not a big advocate for carbon dioxide removal — let me be clear that it is not something that comes naturally out of my inner being — but when I look at the fact that the reality we face is that if tomorrow we were able to switch off all emissions, as the favorite gangster in my local community owners growing up always said, ‘We are still completely screwed,’ because the emissions that are there are still going to cause immeasurable damage. 

If we say we cannot find a climate justice-centric way of green carbon dioxide removal, which is what I think we need to be searching for — and I would rather most of it be through natural carbon dioxide interventions, such as mass tree planting and so on — which, by the way, is one of the reasons many people in the Global South are questioning this whole new emergence, because they say, “Why should we take these people in the Global North seriously when they could have been investing in mass tree-planting initiatives as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) called for in 2018, but they are always going to look for shinier, big-gadget stuff interventions, which they will first come and experiment with us in the Global South?” 

Those tensions are not easy to deal with, but we have to put it all on the table and recognize that if we say we do not even want to look at it at all, then let’s be clear about what that means.  That means we are saying the people of the Pacific Island states are totally dispensable, we do not care about them, their lives do not matter; we are saying that the lives of people in various coastal cities around the world — in Bangladesh for sure, in Ghana for sure, and in many, many other countries — for other small island states in other parts of the world we are making a decision to say they do not matter. 

Having said all of that, am I scared about carbon dioxide removal?  Am I worried about the way the policy, the practice, and where the money is is dominated by the Global South?  Of course I am terrified, but I believe we have no choice but to try to get on top of it, try to make sure it is not another “wild, wild West” situation as the fossil fuel industry was, try to get it under some form of global governance and control so that the decisions are not just made by the people who are going to benefit commercially because right now companies are just setting up things and going.

Sorry, I went on a bit of a rant. 

I am glad you did because carbon removal is clearly a lot in the spotlight at the moment and has seen a huge amount of attention over the past year or so, especially in the United States now, so I think it is important to get into it. 

I was wondering to what degree you can frame carbon removal as a form of justice or restitution.  I know that some people talk about in terms of “decolonizing” the atmosphere with some sense of historic polluters trying to undo historic harm.  Is that a fair framing for it?  Traditionally there had been a sense of, “Oh, you know we are going to impose this new technology North and South,” but you could flip it around and see it as justice. 

My interest in this conversation — and I have been a member of the Global Carbon Removal Partnership led by Dr. Sanjeev Khagram out of the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State — is to make sure that the Global South is not marginalized and that we try to flip it around in that way, but as you well know, Mark, that is a Herculean task.  We should not state it as if it is something that will happen if there is political will.  Even with political will it is hard to make happen. 

I think the challenge we have is that far too much of the capacity — intellectually, research-wise, investment-wise, the numbers of people engaged in the conversation on carbon dioxide removal, and so on — is substantially in the Global North.  The one thing we need to do is make sure that this conversation and any initiatives balance the participation of people.  That is the one thing that we absolutely need to do.  Let’s be blunt about it.  Where we are now is a very, very long way from where we need to be in terms of just basic justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. 

The second way we can flip it around is to make sure that people in the way we do any of these initiatives — and I would say — leave carbon dioxide removal, but even the way we make the transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy, do it with a spirit of redress, do it with a spirit that these communities were the ones that paid the brunt for the overconsumption in the Global North and with the consequent emissions that came with it.  Let’s recognize that they have already paid a whole range of different costs in terms of extreme weather events, all of which are going to increase as we move forward year after year. 

That is what I am saying.  If any technologies are developed, these technologies should be made available either pro bono or on a substantiated-use basis, and we know how hard the fight is for the Global South with the patent regimes that we have, even in terms of lifesaving pharmaceutical drugs or any other sector you want to look at. 

The last thing I would say, in terms of flipping it around, is that it is also about making sure that there is absolutely nothing that is experimented with or that is tried without scientific approval, whether it comes from the IPCC, some appropriate UN body, or whatever, and that it should be done in a way that we do not replicate economic injustice in the way most economic projects are constructed today.

I wanted to touch on another even more controversial technology.  Some scientists are exploring the possibility that you might be able to reflect a small portion of incoming sunlight from the stratosphere or from brighted clouds, an idea called solar radiation modification (SRM).  This obviously could create new risks of its own.  It is there to address risks but could create new risks of its own, and there is a lot of uncertainty around these ideas. 

Over recent months we have seen quite a lot of debate about whether there should be research, how there should be research, and basically how the world might go about governing this or whether that is even possible at all.  I would just be very interested in your thoughts.  Have you put that on your radar screen as an avenue of inquiry and how that fits into the broader schema of a more just approach to this? 

The very fact that this exploration and conversation is happening needs to be recognized that it is happening from the same places that brought us down this path to climate destruction, meaning that it came very much from the Global North, and it is the same places in the Global North that now are telling us that we need to do solar radiation and various other geoengineering types of things. 

I take a very simple view to this.  We are in a deep crisis in terms of what is happening in our atmosphere.  The very fact that we even have to have these conversations is a failure of leadership in the past.  Let’s not compound that failure by moving forward with “solutions” that are not tried and tested.   

All I am saying is that just because a solution is put forward that actually reduces emissions, even if it does so substantially or even is able to draw down carbon, even if that positive thing is going to give us five or six negative outcomes with substantial changes in our entire atmospheric reality, then that should surely not go ahead.  

I am not saying let’s not have any discussion about it because we are in such a deep crisis, but we should not have a situation where these things can move forward without there being a global consensus that this is not going to have impacts. 

For example, even if you take non-technological solutions, let’s say — and I am only speaking as a layperson; I am not a scientist — that planting algae forests in the oceans will draw down carbon dioxide in the oceans — and it seems like lots of people support it, and it is being explored, but even that natural intervention needs to be tested.  You cannot say that suddenly if we cover one-third of the world’s oceans in algae forests that it might not have other unintended consequences.  We have the knowledge and we have the capability of actually trying to figure out what could happen. 

It is basic due diligence.  If you talk to people in business all over the world, they say, before you do anything you do due diligence.  Given the social implications of getting it wrong, there has to be very high-quality due diligence in the way we do this.  

If we take just the case of SRM, where do you think those kinds of governance processes, conversations, and deliberations should take place?  Are there any fora that exist? 

And how would you do so in a way that is inclusive, meaning not just token inclusive but bringing in people who truly understand the issues, the risks of doing, the risks of not doing, and those genuinely involved?  How do you actually go about creating some fair and inclusive governance around SRM? 

The short answer is, with extreme difficulty because we have a very broken global governance system.  Our global governance system right now suffers from firstly a democratic deficit, a transparency deficit, a coherence deficit, and overall an accountability deficit. Let’s just go through four of them.  If you do not look at it that way, you cannot fully understand what the solution is. 

On the democratic deficit, from all the institutions you would say in some ways certainly from the post-Second World War institutions — the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the United Nations — the United Nations and most of the UN structures with all their warts and all will tend to be on the democratic side a little whereas the IMF and the World Bank are governed by the “one dollar, one vote” system.  At least the United Nations has a notion of equity. 

Let’s take the more democratic part of the global governance system, the United Nations, and if you look at the Security Council, why should the United Kingdom and France have a veto?  They have been superpowers.  In 1945, at the end of the Second World War, they were very dominant.  They were colonial hegemons, controlling large amounts of the world’s population.   

Today they do not control those.  The only reason they could have that veto is because they possess weapons of mass destruction known as nuclear weapons.  If you say every nation then that has nuclear weapons should be on the Security Council, then you need India, Pakistan, Israel, North Korea, and so on.  Let’s be clear that this Security Council does not reflect the new world reality and needs fundamental change. 

The second thing is the coherence deficit.  If you look at it outside of climate, a country has the finance minister running off to the World Bank and the IMF, the foreign minister going to the United Nations, the health minister to the World Health Organization, the trade minister to the World Trade Organization, and so on.  Just stop for a moment and think what that means for a small country like Lesotho, Swaziland, or a small Pacific Island State that has a population of 12,000.  How do you survive in that system? 

Even in big countries the incoherence around how these different ministers might perform at the global level is very high.  So, here, when we look at it from a climate perspective, whether it is on any new technology perspective, and so on, we have to recognize that any of these initiatives that are being talked about, scary or promising as they are, whichever way you want to look at it, will have multiple implications.  You have to look at it with real intersectionality. 

Let’s be clear.  There is no appropriate existing mechanism — I will tell you where I get closest to after I finish the other two deficits.  The transparency deficit means that often most members of parliament and most local government counselors in most countries around the world do not understand how the global governance system works, their place in it, and so on.  There is such a big disconnect because it is very opaque and lacking in transparency.  All these three deficits give you then an accountability and a compliance deficit.  The terrifying thing —  

I want to share something painful, I had a call after the Al Jazeera article came out with some close colleagues on the African continent who reached out to me with concern about what I meant in that article when I said, “Let’s look at it with an open mind.”  I will go more than saying I do not simply respect and honor their work; I really love, respect, and honor their work.  It was very painful for me to hear that sentiment. 

But the most important thing, which I agree with them on, is I was urging them that we need to look at how do we have a pathway to save the folks in the most vulnerable places and so on.   

The thing that resonated with me was they said: “How many times have we gone with optimism and hope and gotten a UN conference or a sudden governance treaty at the global level to be agreed — like for example the Green Climate Fund in 2015, which was supposed to be fully funded by 2020, and so on?  How often have we gone and we would celebrate at the end of it that, yes, there were words and commitments raised by the dominant nations of the world, and then we say, ‘Oh, okay, we won,’ only to find that it is not implemented?” 

Given all of that, right now I think these decisions must be rooted in science and scientific clarity as much as humanly possible, and I think that the best governance possibility we have, warts and all, is to try to see whether we can carve out a kind of unique role within the IPCC (Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change) process or for there to be an IPCC special commission on carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that should be recognized and given appropriate resources, support, and presence, and then to push to mobilize acceptance for the rulings that come out of the IPCC. 

I know many people will say, and quite correctly so, that the IPCC is an extremely conservative body, there is too much mediation that happens there, that five-year assessments are always less serious than they turn out to be, and so on; but in a world of limited and declining choices — I am not saying that I am wedded to that, but I would say that that could be a possible option in the absence of other options.38:47 

You brought up the idea of optimism and hope just to be dashed.  You have spent a lifetime as an activist with ups and downs along the way, but you are still active, you are still going at it, and you still have the energy.  It can be extremely challenging to stay motivated in climate, especially when you see so many challenges.  What kind of philosophies do you turn to?  Where do you draw your energy from, and how do you keep on going despite the size of the problem, recognizing the depth of the problem, but still maintain the sense of agency and an ability to move forward? 

Firstly, let me say on the observation of ups and downs that there have been substantially more downs than there have been ups.  

Secondly, I would say that in this moment we have to be saying to ourselves that pessimism is a luxury we simply cannot afford.   

Thirdly, what we should be saying to ourselves is that the pessimism of our analysis, of the scale of the problem, can only and best be overcome by the optimism of our creativity, our intellectual excellence, our participation, and our search for a better way forward. 

Sadly, because of the greed in the economic system and the way injustice has been allowed to proper, far too many people have already died and far too many people will also die unnecessarily, if we had made the right decisions some time ago in Rio.  Rather than have the attitude George W. Bush had in Rio, where he waved his finger and said, “The American way of life is nonnegotiable,” what we should have heard then was, “Let’s get together and look at the scale of the problem” and not have fossil fuel companies have the data, hide it, and do campaigns that actually say the opposite. 

Optimism right now must come from the understanding that humanity can, should, and must be substantially better than what we are right now in the policies we make and how we actually make the changes that we need to make.  The way you said it reminds me of an invitation that I recently got to speak at an event.  I said yes, and the person wrote back very nicely, thanking me, and saying, “It is really nice to see somebody of your age continuing to participate and be active.” 

Let me give this four-and-a-half decade reflection: This is on the negative side one of the scariest moments I have seen.   

We have a convergence of crises and boiling points, and we are on a suicidal trajectory quite frankly, but on the positive side I do not remember any moment at all at a global level when I have looked at the world and said: “Wow!  The appetite for deep structural and systemic change is higher today than it has ever been.”  What I mean is that people recognize that it is no longer a question of rearranging deck chairs and making incremental baby steps this way and that way. 

We live on a finite planet, and more and more people — not the majority, I want to be clear — significantly growing in number understanding that we do not secure the future of our children and their future children by not being willing to ask some big questions about how we bring down the level of economic inequality in the world, for starters.

There are a lot of good rich people in the world, but we all must understand, those of us who have incomes, especially those who overconsume on a very large basis, that because you do that and you have secured that right for yourself therefore thousands of others cannot have much less.   

Martin Luther King Jr. put it very well when he said: “We should refuse to adjust to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few when millions of God’s children are smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in an affluent society.”  He said that in 1965, when I was four months old.  If that was accurate in the United States then and globally, it is a thousand times more accurate today. 

So unless we are willing to address some of those fundamentals — and the good thing is, as I told Greta Thunberg and Fridays for the Future when they received Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Prize: “Let’s make the struggle for climate justice fun.  Let’s celebrate community.  Let’s enjoy ourselves.  Let’s make sure that we are laughing along the way.”  Tragic as the challenges might be, we have to not give those who did not have the political courage to do the right things the benefit of knowing that they also extracted any possibility of happiness from current and future generations. 

Our kids, especially young girls, are asking themselves tragic questions about should we be having children.  This is not just isolated.  Every country I go to, young people are coming up for those kinds of conversations.  Within all of this, in every community I go to in the world I see joy, I see happiness, in the poorest communities.  My philosophy is, let’s become more creative in our activism. 

Let me say one thing about a critical thing in which I have made many mistakes — and I think many of us do — is that in the climate struggle especially and in other struggles as well, when we talk climate all our narratives up to now have been aimed at the head.  They have been aimed with 1.5°C, 350 parts per million, LULCC and all sorts of other acronyms that even the majority of people in the climate negotiations are not exactly aware of. 

On the other side, we have, for example, people like Steve Bannon, who have long dispensed with facts.  They are very, very comfortable with gross untruths and lies, but one of the things we can learn from them is that they do not put all of their energies into facts, scientific arguments, and so on.  They remember that there is a thing called the heart, and they understand that people get moved to actions by emotions, passions, and so on. 

You can do this little experiment.  Gather people around the kitchen table and ask them what is their favorite movie, song, speech that they heard, or book.  They might say it is this, it is that, or whatever.  Then you ask them what it is about.  Most people will not actually remember the details of exactly what it is about.  You know what they will remember?  They will remember how it made them feel. 

We have to take into account people’s feelings and build the kinds of feelings, build the kind of society that you want — compassion, solidarity, love, understanding, tolerance, inclusion, all of that. 

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