Daughters and Sons Guest Event: From Image to Action—Raising Climate Awareness

Tuesday, May 28, 2024
Jianan Yu/Reuters

Author, Artist, Climate Activist

Founder and President, Quadrivium Foundation; Cofounder, Futurific; Executive Producer, A Brief History of the Future


Coanchor, Nightline, ABC News; CFR Member 

Introductory Remarks

President, Council on Foreign Relations

Using visual mediums and narratives, an artist and a documentary producer discuss the urgent challenges of climate change and what it will take to solve the climate crisis through science, the power of collective action, and a myriad of hopeful efforts currently underway.

Oliver Jeffers produced exclusive art for this CFR event which was on display for viewing during the reception.

FROMAN: Well, good evening, everybody. My name is Mike Froman. I’m president of the Council.

And I am particularly excited to be opening tonight’s event, which is our Daughters and Sons event entitled, “From Image to Action: Raising Climate Awareness.” We’ve got about 200 people here, and we’ve got a number of people virtually as well.

This meeting marks an important milestone. It’s actually the one hundredth event we’ve done for Daughters and Sons. It actually goes back to 1962. And, yeah, that’s worth a clap right there. Yeah, thank you. (Applause.) Since 1971, we’ve been doing at least one of these annually.

And that would not have been possible without the generous support of Stanley S. Shuman Family Foundation and the Marc Haas Foundation. And I am personally very grateful to friendship with Stan and David and the whole Shuman family for their involvement and support of the Council. Stan is here, and I understand other members of the Shuman family may be participating virtually. Over the years, we’ve had everyone from Janet Yellen to Madeleine Albright to Neil deGrasse Tyson participate in these events. In January we had one in Washington D.C., with two of our fellows, Jacob Ware and Bruce Hoffman, talking about their book on extremism in the United States.

But to me, the value of this event—it goes to one of the core objectives of the Council on Foreign Relations, which is to help identify, develop, and promote the next generation of diverse foreign policy experts. We do that through our term membership program, our young professionals program, our research assistants, or internship program. And today we reach down to the youngest members of the Council family, the sons and daughters of members, and hope that as your interest in international relations continues to develop, that you will be a key member of the CFR family going forward as well.

It also is an important event to me because it’s part of our efforts to bring difficult foreign policy issues to life, to make them relatable. We’ve had, for example, both here and in Washington the Dinner of Extinction, which isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. (Laughter.) It was a delicious meal curated by Chef Sam Kass, all made of materials that will be extinct with climate change. And by the end of the meal, when he explains that chocolate, coffee, and wine are all likely to be gone or scarce, people get really upset about climate change—(laughter)—and say, we’ve got to do something about that. We’ve done similar programs around the issue of refugees and asylum, trying to bring those stories to life and giving a face to a—sometimes a series of statistics.

And tonight’s program is very much along the same lines. We’re delighted to be joined by two great storytellers, Oliver Jeffers and Kathryn Murdoch, who approached how we’re thinking about climate change in unconventional ways. And Juju Chang from Nightline will be the moderator, a CFR member, a former term member as well. The way the program’s going to work, first Oliver is going to give some remarks, and then Kathryn will follow. We’ll get a sneak peek at her PBS documentary series, A Brief History of the Future. And then there’ll be a moderated discussion and Q&A, including from people in this room. Preference will go for people under twenty-one years old—(laughter)—or, under twenty-two, let’s say, asking questions. So hope you will all have questions as well.

First a word about Oliver. I hope you’ve all gone upstairs and had a chance to see his amazing artwork. He is a world-renowned artist and author. He may be most known for his twenty-or-so children’s books, including New York Times bestseller books, but it would be too limiting to think of them only as children’s books because while his illustrations are whimsical, they really bring challenging issues—like the issues facing the globe, conflict, climate change, capitalism, other issues—to life for a whole series of generations. He breaks them down into simple terms, talks about some of the absurdities of life. And I hope you’ll appreciate some of that art upstairs.

I personally have two of his books upstairs in my office right next to Foreign Affairs magazine. Now, to be truthful, he gave me one of the books to give to my daughter, but I’ve not yet given it to her. So I’m coveting that myself. But it includes his latest book, Begin Again: A Map of Our Past and a Guide for our Future, which was published last fall.

Let me turn it over to Oliver first, and then I’ll come back up and talk about Kathryn. Oliver. (Applause.)

JEFFERS: Hello. (Off mic)—issues and our potential and the roles in between these things. And I’m going to tell you a bit about me, my background a little bit, and the themes of some of my work. The accent is from Belfast, by the way. And if you don’t know where Belfast is, it is there. (Laughter.) This is where I grew up. And this is—you know, as Belfast is publicly decorated with beautiful works of art on all the walls and the streets, I grew up with a real appreciation for making art and telling stories.

 So for twenty years I’ve told lots of stories and drawn lots of pictures and lots of books. Some of them—most of them I’ve written. Some of them I’ve not. But I get often asked, where do you get your ideas for stories from? And I tell people, they’re all true stories. Which they’re not. I made that up. So I lie professionally to children—(laughter)—for two decades. Although, actually, Stuck is a true story. But that’s for another time.

But for the longest time, I thought that these were sort of simple distractions. You know, entertainment, these stories. And I also have really formally believed and come from a perspective of art making. So for as long as I’ve been making books, actually longer, I’ve had a foot in the fine art world, making paintings about how we question our world and trying to understand the things around me. Quite a different endeavor to picture-book making. But these things really sort of came together in a big way nine years ago, when my wife and I had our first son.

Hang on. What is this not working? (Pause.) Connection lost. Is it going? OK. We’ve lost the connection again. So oh, wait, here we go. So this is my son. It’s him, born in New York. And it’s not working, so you’re just going to have to click for me. Oh, there we go.

And I was walking around with my son in the first few months of his life. I was sort of explaining everything that I was seeing around to him. And, you know, I started doing this for humor purposes more than anything else, because I thought it was hilarious I was explaining every little thing that I saw to somebody who didn’t speak a word of English. He truly didn’t know anything. And the hilarity quickly turned to alarm, when I realized that, wait a minute, I got to teach him everything. But, you know, this—I realized that, here he is, he’s a blank canvas, and unmolded ball of clay. He was an untold story.

And as I was speaking to him about the things that he was seeing around him, I began writing him a letter about just this—what the simple, basic realities and truths are of what it is to be a human alive on Earth in the 21st century. And maybe it was just me, but around that time it really felt like I was partly trying to protect him from what felt like an angrier and scarier world than usual. You know, there seemed to be a lot of lost and angry people who were doing a lot of shouting. There was a lot of division, and blame, and hatred. And the general consensus was that we were sliding backwards somehow.

And I recognized with my son that with every fresh birth there’s a fresh opportunity to tell a new story, to tell a better story that reframes the context of how this future contributing member of society will propel themselves forward. Maybe if we can get to the new arrivals before the noise of the word does, we might stand a chance. So this letter turned into a book called, Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth. And I thought that other people might benefit from remembering some of these simple truths I was reminding myself of. Like, you know, people may come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. We may all look different and act different and sound different, but don’t be fooled. We are all people.

So if you’re going to give somebody a tour, you have to start with where you are, and Earth is in our solar system. So the first part of this book was showing that Earth’s place in the cosmos is roughly around here. And in researching this, I came across a phenomenon known as the overview effect. And if you haven’t heard of the overview effect, it’s what happens to the human mind when it ventures far enough from the surface of our planet to see the entirety of this object as one single thing. And it totally changes the way that those people think about the problems that we have close to the surface. You know, Edgar Mitchell, the astronaut, said: It makes you want to go back down to Earth, grab politicians by the scruff of their necks, drag them a quarter of a million miles away, and say, look at that, you—and then he swears.

But something like this normally only really happens to astronauts. But maybe not, because having grown up in Northern Ireland, which is actually there, and trying to—and it’s had a pretty interesting, if not dramatic, political history recently. And whenever I would try to explain the nuances of this, the turbulence of this identity crisis, this political crisis, and the trouble that it caused and still causes—when I was trying to explain this to very well-educated Americans that I would meet in New York when we moved here seventeen years ago, even to British expatriates, to anybody who basically wasn’t from Northern Ireland, people didn’t seem to really know all that much or care all that much that—I just to have to keep drawing this map over and over and over again, sort of explaining, “No, this is the British Isles. This is Great Britain. This, and this bit, is the United Kingdom.” And people just didn’t really care.

And it just made me think that all of the violence and the tragic waste of life and energy that we were putting ourselves up against seemed really poignant, and just a waste of life and energy. And I recognize the way that I was speaking about Northern Ireland, from the distance of New York, was not dissimilar to how astronauts spoke about the troubles on Earth when looking at them from the Moon. So everything can change, depending on where you see it from, on how you choose to see it. So in Apollo 8, when they went up to look for a landing spot for the Apollo 11 a year later, they were the first people to take that famous Earthrise photograph, you know, the one of the whole planet for the first time.

And three very intelligent astronauts, when they looked at Earth, they could see a giant landmass. They didn’t know which part of Earth they were looking at. And it took them longer than they would have liked to admit that it was actually the entire bottom half of Africa they were looking at. Why they didn’t recognize it immediately is because it was sideways. And we are just so used to looking at our map of the Earth with north at the top and south at the bottom. But, of course, from space, that’s obvious there’s no up and down to our planet. There is no left, there is no right. North is just a story that we’ve told ourselves to make sense out of chaos.

So I made this map of the earth upside down, but with the countries labeled the right way around, to show that when you look at something that’s quite familiar from a different perspective everything can suddenly seem very foreign. Even today, most of human conflicts come from the ideas of national identity, and immigration, and borders, and man-made problems of perspective that have nothing at all to do with the cosmological reality that we’re in a ball floating through space. And that wherever we go, we all go together. So it is tragic to think of the human energy spent on border disputes, on religious disputes, these imaginary lines, given the magnitude of the looming threat of our home getting dangerously close to no longer being able to stand life as we know it.

And as was clearly demonstrated four years ago, it’s probably not going to be border disputes, or religious disputes, or occupations, or who has what, that is the long-term threat to humanity. But maybe it’s going to be germs, or more likely weather, that will make life no longer possible. And for one thing, germs, the weather, don’t need passports. We are going to have to start acting as one species with one destiny. We are not going to survive if we don’t start doing that, as said by Frank White, one of the NASA engineers who put those early Apollo missions up into space.

And that’s why I think that disunity is the biggest obstacle that we possibly face right now. And what can serve as a way around that, what can serve as a unifier? I personally believe it’s stories. To put things in boxes, like climate issue, is a story that we tell that gives us permission to ignore them because it doesn’t fit inside the story of your individual life, or its being able to dismiss it as “other”. But another way to tell that story is that everything is a climate related issue. You know, doing your taxes is a climate-related issue. Playing chess is a climate-related issue. Because you need a climate to do any of these things in. So segregating them and saying this is this issue, the rest of things happened over here, is idiotic. It’s equivalent to having a nonsmoking section on an airplane back in the ’80s. You remember that?

So I think we need to reframe the story that we’re speaking about climate. And we need to get behind a new story that is climate, that involves everything and everyone. And if you’re underestimating the power of story, don’t forget that that’s all we are. We are no more than the stories we are told, the stories told about us, and the stories we tell. I said that. Just there now. (Laughter.) Everything we know about ourselves comes from a story, the story of the sort of culture we identify with, the story of the country we’re from, the story of what our ancestors experienced, the stories that we’re told, are told about us. That’s our reputation and how we project out into the world.

And then the stories we tell, that we tell ourselves. And the most important story of all is the story that we tell ourselves. Because that’s the sort of person that we believe that we are and the sort of person we believe we can be. And by framing that internal story I think is where art is most powerful, giving us that sense of belonging, and purpose, and community, and reminding of that being more powerful than war, than growth, than whatever it is. Shifting the perspective.

So a case in point, and this is the last transatlantic journey we’re going to do. We moved our family back to Northern Ireland in 2020. And from that point of view, we watched an even more brutal election campaign than the one that we experienced from when my son was born back across that same ocean. And watching it from over there this time, I started to notice some similarities to the country that I grew up in. And when you think about it, it’s kind of clear that the USA today is not that different to Northern Ireland than the 1970s and the 1980s. Where we don’t necessarily know who we are, but we know who we’re not. One group’s identity is primarily based around the existence of an enemy.

And looking at this from the perspective of Northern Ireland and watching regenerations that that cycle goes, doesn’t go anywhere. Because we’re still doing it. If they think it’s right, it must therefore be wrong. And we’re focused so much on being right that we forget where we actually want to go. So this mural I showed you at the start, it’s in Northern Ireland. It’s still up. We seek nothing but the elementary right implanted in every man, the right if you’re attacked to defend yourself. It landed on me that maybe this explains a big part of the problem. Maybe this explains why public discourse between disparate groups is basically impossible.

Because, you know, in U.S. politics, in religion, even in the climate arena, because I think that most people are engaging in a position of communication from an immediate place of defensiveness, assuming that they’re going to be attacked. And that there’s an assumption that anybody with a different political leaning or background is going to tell you you’re doing it or thinking it wrong. But as I’ve learned, from watching my wife be the wonderful mother she is to our children, the surest way to get somebody to change their mind is not by telling them they’re wrong. But yet, this is what we keep doing, time and again, time and again. It happens over and over.

And maybe this is why meaningful dialogue is almost impossible, because everyone everywhere feels attacked, and that there’s somehow the victim in the story they’re telling themselves. So how do we get around those defenses? I think we tell better stories, ones that include everyone. And it is possible. So even as a point, and looking back at Northern Ireland, why do we keep going against our own best interests when it’s quite clear what we’ve done wrong for all these years? It got me thinking that pretty much everybody everywhere is taught to think that it’s very important to be right over wrong. But one problem with this is that if somebody is right, it means somebody else is wrong. And that means they carry the weight of that defeat around with them, and it keeps old wounds open. I mean, this is pretty much how World War II blossomed out of World War I, right?

But what happens if we replace the words “right” and “wrong,” with “better” and “worse”? It becomes clear almost immediately what needs to actually be done, and where it is that we want to go. Get your ego out of the way. What is the future you want? Putting this to the test in 2020, I conducted a social media experiment. It was, like, can you actually engage in meaningful discussion with those on the opposite side of the political spectrum to you if you can waive that sense of being attacked? And I did. So having traveled all over the world on book tours, having met people from all walks of life, I have a theory that even very seemingly different people at the outset want surprisingly similar things. And putting these things to the test, I decided to ask people on the other side of the political spectrum to me what it is that they wanted? What was the world they wanted to live in? What did that looked like? I genuinely, sincerely wanted to know.

And because, have you noticed that when you ask somebody what they want, they tend to answer what they don’t want? Well, what happens if you—so I said, I would like to know the world you want to live in, without mentioning that you don’t want. And it did—it led to actual respectful conversation in the midst of real vitriol. And it revealed the truth of this hunch that we’re all so busy trying to be understood that we forget to try and understand. So this, I thought, is the same as Catholics, Protestants in Northern Ireland. And maybe between politicians and activists it’s we all want surprisingly similar things. And it led to the creation of this poem that’s in the book Begin Again that Mike mentioned, the heart of it.

When you dig deep enough by asking the why behind the why enough times, you come to a truth at the heart of it that all people, no matter who they are, where they’re from, or what they believe, just want the same things. A den, a pack, position, and direction. All we really want is safety, dignity, community, and purpose. That’s what those are. And these things should be easy for all living human beings to accomplish. Art can help us get there, I think. From outside the art world, it’s often seen just as little more than a decoration. You know, the icing on the cake. But art is not the icing on the cake. It’s not even the cake. It’s the table upon which the cake sits.

The job of art is not to make things pretty, but it’s too subtly changed the ground under your feet so you see the sky above your head anew. To make you question how you feel the way you do and why you feel that way. And to make your wonder what it is that you’re here for. It’s to show the absurdity of being too collectively busy arguing over what’s playing on the radio to do anything about the smoke coming out of the engine. It’s about pointing out, like that old Irish saying, that there are none so blind as those who don’t want to see. And it’s pointing out that this is the only place where all the people live. And understanding the truth of that it’s simultaneous both the location of all the problems in the universe and also all the solutions.

So what is the story of the future we all have to collectively write? Which perspective we choose, I think, is entirely down to us. Thank you. (Applause.)

FROMAN: Thank you so much, Oliver. I promised this was going to be different than most Council on Foreign Relations events. And Oliver has lived up to that.

Let me say a few words about Kathryn. She has been, over the last couple of decades, one of our most effective climate advocates, starting with the Clinton Climate Initiative, now cochair of the Climate Leadership Council and Trustee of the Environmental Defense Fund. Last month her docuseries A Brief History of the Future, featuring futurist Ari Wallach, premiered on PBS. She’ll talk more about that. But it really is about reframing the conversation about the environment, not just to focus on the fear and the consequences of what we’re seeing but also the genuinely heroic and innovative efforts to try and address it.

Following Kathryn’s remarks, we get a little preview of the docuseries, but it’s just a taste. I hope you all watch. It’s a six-part series, I believe. So I hope you all will watch all six. And then we’ll have a conversation with Juju, Kathryn, and Oliver. Kathryn. (Applause.)

MURDOCH: Thank you so much. I was really excited to come to this event, and not just because it’s within walking distance of my house. Really, it’s because it’s geared towards young people. I’ve got teenagers. And I know how much pressure we’ve put on the next generation. A recent study on climate anxiety found 75 percent of those sixteen to twenty-five believe the future is frightening. Many believe they shouldn’t have children. One and three feel depressed often. And it’s no wonder. Our conception of the future is pretty bleak. News, in response to human nature, has always been focused on the bad things. And this has just accelerated in the rage cycles of social media. The environmental movement has found that fear and protests can get attention. Cultural images of the future are almost uniformly dystopian, from Mad Max to The Hunger Games, from Blade Runner to The Last of Us.

So it’s not surprising that climate doomerism abounds. But the thing is, we have the technologies to bend the curve on warming, and they are now affordable. But we don’t yet have the public, and therefore the political, will. We hear a lot about behavior changes. That’s where all the guilt and the shame comes in, and where most people are turned off the topic. But according to the IEA, behavior changes will only result in about 5 percent of the cuts we need. Eighty percent comes from scaling up existing technologies that already work. The environmental movement has been good at stopping things, but now our whole society needs to get good at building things—like support for green energy, smart grids, energy efficient buildings and clean transport.

We’ve made incredible progress already. When I started working on climate change about, I don’t know, seventeen years ago, it was not unreasonable to think that we would head towards a world with an increase of four to six degrees Celsius. That would be catastrophic. Happily, this is no longer the trajectory. Thanks mainly to incredible cost reductions and global investments in clean technology, we’re probably going towards about 2.5. Still awful, but heading in the right direction. No one talks about this.

OK, I’m going to check how wonky this room is with a mnemonic I use to help me remember all the climate legislation that has passed. Ira and Bill walk into a bar and eat a bag of chips. And they got very drunk because no one knows they exist. (Laughter.) So IRA, of course, is the Inflation Reduction Act. BIL is the bipartisan infrastructure law. And chips is the semiconductor—all of these are huge climate legislation that has been passed in the last year.

Great sports coaches know that in order to achieve a goal—setting that Olympic record, achieving the grand slam, swishing that three pointer—you have to be able to visualize doing it. The magic ratio of coaching is five pieces of positive feedback for every piece of negative feedback. What do you think the ratio is on climate progress? Anyone in this room who cares about not just a livable future but a better one can start talking about it. We can all do that. We’ve patched the hole in the ozone. We stopped acid rain. We’ve brought fisheries back from the brink of collapse. Endangered species have come off the list. The air in New York is pretty clean. We can do it again.

We need to stop wallowing in imaginary apocalypse and start working towards futures we want to live in, with functioning political systems, with regenerative agriculture, with human-centered technology, with stakeholder capitalism, with thriving fisheries, with diversity in ideas and experience as well as biodiverse and abundant nature. With A Brief History of the Future, we wanted to highlight the many, many people working every day to make better tomorrows. If we can imagine a better future and champion those building a pathway to it, we might just make it come true.

So I hope you enjoy this trailer. And I look forward to talking to you all later. (Applause.)

(A video presentation begins.)

MR.     : How well we live tomorrow will depend on the action we take today.

MR.     : When you hear the term “the future,” what does that conjure up? Human activity has damaged the systems of life that sustain us all.

MS.     : We’re seeing drought, wildfires, floods.

MR.     : We could commit ourselves to extinction. Or we could commit ourselves to a civilization in which human beings can continue to thrive.

MR.     : Civilization is precious. Life is precious.

MR.     : I set out in search of people who are building better futures.

MR.     : Humans are extraordinary. We are such a miracle.

MS.     : The land is resilient. We are resilient.

MS.     : Fusion is really the holy grail of energy.

MS.     : This is the largest 3-D printed community in the world.

MS.     : I have to know where I came from so that we can move forward.

MR.     : What does it mean to be human at this moment in time?

MS.     : To care?

COMPUTER: Boy that really blows my digital mind.

MS.     : We’ve got to believe that there’s a better way.

MS.     : Where people have clean air, clean water, available food, cheap, abundant energy

MR.     : The big shared human projects—confronting climate change, staying a step ahead of the next pandemic, preventing nuclear conflict—will require cooperation.

MR.     : That’s the key for success, when we are one team, the world.

MR.     : It’s ideas that determine our trajectory as a species. That idea that progress is possible is probably one of the most powerful ideas we’ve ever had.

MR.     : People are building better futures for themselves and the communities around them.

MR.     : This sustainable building is the cleanest power plant in the world. The roof is an alpine ski slope.

MS.     : What we do and the things we create over the next few decades will shape all minds going forward for the rest of time.

MR.     : Hundreds of years from now, we are going to look back on our generation as the most pivotal in human history.

(Video presentation ends.)

CHANG: (Off mic)—presentation, right? (Applause.) I’m Juju Chang and I want to welcome you to this convening of Sons and Daughters. I really appreciate the pigs in a blanket and the fruit punch upstairs. (Laughter.) I think that should be de rigueur for every meeting, Mike.

I’m thrilled to be in conversation with you because I overheard you saying in the greenroom that someone prescribed your six-part series as an antidepressant. (Laughs.) And I really do think, you know, your themes are so similar—that we don’t have a climate problem, we have a story problem. What is it—you know, one of the reviews in the Washington Post referred to your series as audacious optimism. How did you try to frame it so that you could look towards the future, and look with optimism?

MURDOCH: Yeah, I think, you know, this really came about when my daughter told me that she didn’t think that there was a future for her. And I was completely devastated, because, as I said before, I’ve been working on climate solutions for a very long time. And I went out there—she said—she said, look at all the stories, look at the YA books, look at the television, look at the films that are out there. Every single thing is terrible. And I didn’t think that could be true.

I went looking. And she was absolutely right. There’s really not one thing out there, barring Star Trek. So Star Trek was the last time that we had a positive vision of the future. And that was 1964. And so I just thought this is—this is something that I really have to change. I really have to—you know, I’ve been talking about this for a long time. I’ve been uncomfortable with the fear-based communications of the climate movement for a long time. But I decided I was just going to have to go out and do it myself.

CHANG: And, Oliver, you fixate on the future as well, and telling a different story of the future. There’s this concept in psychology of your future self, like I’m going to study for my math test today so that Thursday Juju won’t be freaking out at the math test. And the same concept goes for the seven generations that you talk about in part one, this idea that you have to frame it like your story to your son into the future, project yourself into the future.

JEFFERS: Well, it’s that a little bit, because I was like—by the way, there was a film that looked into the future in a positive way that I just watched, like, two days ago, which is, like, why I have it at the top of my head. And it was Demolition Man, where it’s utopia but they’re all bored. So it’s still painted in a negative way. (Laughter.)

CHANG: That’s hilarious.

JEFFERS: But the—

MURDOCH: But there are utopias, but there are—utopias are nowhere lands, right? They’re perfect, but underneath they’re actually dystopias.

JEFFERS: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I guess that’s true. (Laughter.) But for me, it was more looking at the short attention span that we have these days. And, you know, the—when we think about the future, we—because we’ve been sort of taught to think of ourselves so much, and it’s, you know, this this age of individualism, that we tend to think of the future no further past our own life. You know, where in medieval Europe you were building a cathedral that your grandfather probably started and your grandson would finish. And it just that—sort of the long-lens view of time, rather than projecting the future was, like, we have the tools we have at our disposal, I believe, and it’s just reminding people to think in a slightly less sort of self-centered and short-term view.

CHANGE: And so how do you tackle the story problem? What kind of stories do you try to shift towards?

JEFFERS: Well, I do think it’s—I mean, the stories that I try to tell are not necessarily what I’m talking about. It’s more, like, if you think about this, there’s a huge wash of mental health crisis. There’s. like. depression, there’s people going into extremism. And if you sort of take the lens back quite far on that. it’s all of these individuals are—end up in the—one of these two extremes, probably for the same reason as that the collective story of the world, which is about growth and more and speed and everything, has left them behind. And they can’t keep up. They don’t fit in that story anymore. And so it’s—some people internalize that and get sad and some people get angry and externalize it.

So what I mean is just, like, telling better stories where it isn’t necessarily about more stuff. It isn’t necessarily about growth. It isn’t necessarily about what’s in it for me. But it’s more, like, we do better when we do something for somebody else. And it’s reframing those kinds of stories that, like, are a reflection back community. And so in the beginning of the book that’s upstairs, there’s—I thought about—like, the way that I approach work is how do I communicate what I’m trying to feel in as simple a way as possible with as little distortion.

And I eventually sort of hit on with the importance of other people is that, you know, when you ask somebody what they want, when they don’t answer with what they don’t want, what people would often say was, like, oh, you know, more money or whatever. But that’s leverage towards, what? And thinking about that and sort of scratching behind the surface is that people want to feel loved. You know, you—when you hear a good story or laugh at a good joke, the first thing you think of is, who can I tell this to?

CHANG: So much, Kathryn, of your stories have that same underpinning, of community and dignity. I’m going to just run through some of the highlight of the series. There’s lab-grown sushi. There’s aboriginal forestry, those root bridges. There’s circular economics. There’s mushroom textiles. There’s citizens’ assemblies, coral gardens. I sat my older son down, the physics major, and had him look at the mirror solar energy, concentrated solar energy. Tell the audience about that, and others that you’ve managed to uncover very optimistically.

MURDOCH: Yeah. Well, it’s really interesting, what you were just mentioning as what we call cathedral thinking. So that what you start may be finished by generations later, but it’s something that we’ve lost. But one of the reasons we focus on the solar plant in Morocco is that’s sort of—that’s our new cathedral thinking, is that we can—we can actually build these things that are—that are massive, that will change everything, and that will help the next generation. And one of the things we really wanted to look at, though, was not just the technology. There’s lots of technology. It’s very fun, I promise. But there’s also a lot about the social and political systems that we live in, because you can’t—I think we’ve all recognized now that technology alone is not going to solve anything.

CHANG: And you go to Japan, where there’s future policymaking, that these local communities create policies—and Wales does the same thing—with future Wales and a future Japan in mind.

MURDOCH: Exactly. In Japan, they actually don golden robes. And when they put those robes on, they represent future generations. And then they make decisions in the city council based on that responsibility. And it’s incredible, because they make very, very different decisions. And, again, we interviewed the first futures minister in Wales. And she tells the stories of just how different it is to make the decisions. Instead of thinking, oh, I have a traffic problem I’m going to build more roads, they think, well, I have a traffic problem, but I need to think about climate change and the next generation. Therefore, I’m going to put in more bike paths. I’m going to put in—you know, I’m going to—I’m going to rearrange this so that there’s more nature involved, et cetera. And so it’s just a very, very different process. And I think that those things can be as inspiring as the whiz bang technology.

CHANG: I wonder, Oliver, it seems appropriate that this is the sons and daughter event, because so much of your work was inspired by trying to explain to your young son, right? And how do you keep your stories hope-based? And how do you frame them so that it’s not just for Oliver, but for every young person out there?

JEFFERS: Well, I keep them hope-based because I am hopeful. I am actually optimistic of the future. You know, I think to what you were saying, is that for all of the problems that there are, there are solutions. And I can see a means to get there by the work that I’m doing, which is, like, trying to remind people that coming from the united front is the only way to really get there. So I genuinely am optimistic. But I also believe that hope is probably one of the most powerful emotions that we have. You know, the future is unwritten. We have to write it. The idea of being able to project what is to come and then manifesting that is extremely powerful.

CHANG: Absolutely. You talk about visualization with the famous European footballer, whose name escapes me.

MURDOCH: Kylian Mbappé.

CHANG: Yeah, yeah. Say it again.

JEFFERS: Kylian Mbappé.

CHANG: Yeah. Mbappé. Can you explain why you sat down with him? And what was the point of that visualization?

MURDOCH: Yeah, it’s a little bit like what I said in my talk, which is that, you know, athletes absolutely visualize success. It’s an area where we know that this is what works. You would never have a coach sitting there telling the team, you’re going to fail, you’re going to fail. That’s crazy, right? And when we ask him, well, do you visualize a failure? He just—he says, no! (Laughter.) That’s not—that’s just a crazy idea. But that’s what we’re doing every day, particularly around climate change. We visualize failure over and over again. And that’s not the way to get there. And what I really wanted to impart was a sense of agency. It’s not just—so hope is incredibly important. But it’s not a passive hope. It’s an active hope.

CHANG: Oliver, speaking of visualization, you are a visual artist. And you’ve done everything from animation ideas. You know, The Day the Crayons Quit was one of my favorite books that I read to my children. And yet, in one of your books use lithographs. Like what medium—you know, the idea that the medium is the message. For the budding artists in here, how do you bow across different—

JEFFERS: Honestly, I choose whatever medium is going to best get the idea across. And half the time I don’t know what I’m doing. (Laughter.) Like, that’s—honestly, that’s one of the secrets of life, is understanding that nobody really knows what they’re doing. Well, just making it up as we go along. But with the—you know, sometimes—the reason I used, like, a lithograph with that is because I felt like the story of—The Fate of Fausto was a timeless story. But then I would also use public sculpture to make points. Like, I tried to—I did this massive sculpture in the U.K. last year. We’re hoping to bring it to the U.S.

And it was a scale model of the solar system, that used the distance between the planets, the speed at which you would travel in a normal car, as a way to look backwards in history. And you take one step away from Earth, and you get to the Moon. That’s the furthest people have ever been. And the Earth’s about this size, and the Moon, you know, that size, that far away. You still have to walk for three and a half hours and about nine miles to get to Pluto, which is the last thing circling around us. And, you know, the time it would take you to drive there in a car is 11,000 years.

And if you look back through history, it’s just been conflict, after conflict, after conflict. And as Yuval Noah Harari said in the book Sapiens, was, like, from a very long lens view, the road of civilization has been a very slow journey towards unity and equality and improvement. And you have to remember that. You have to remember that trajectory.

CHANG: Right. And you pointed out that the one image that you had of the Earth and the Moon, that you had calculated that too—

JEFFERS: Yeah, oh, upstairs. That’s an accurate model. We—I can’t remember what the scale is, but it’s—when you’re looking at the sky and the full moon, it’s the distance from one side of the Moon to the other is the distance from L.A. to New York, 3,000 miles. So just to give you a sense of the size of it. And the—(inaudible)—space, which is the solar system one, was accurate to within a millimeter.

CHANG: That’s amazing.

JEFFERS: And, you know, just we are using these things as a way to make you feel a certain way. And the professor of astrophysics who helped us with that, he said it’s the only time in his fifty-year career he’s been able to talk about his work without using numbers, because it’s about a feeling. So it was like, whatever the medium is that can convey the feeling that you want to is the way to go.

CHANG: You spoke to Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in the—in the documentary. I know that so much of what you do, you want to spread out to the world. And that PBS is allowing you to share it with educators and keep it on this side of the paywall. Why is that important?

MURDOCH: Yeah. I mean, I think, as I—as I said before, just this sense of agency, giving people a sense of active hope, that they’re able to make a decision right now and participate in this, is really important to me. I think there has been so much—the problem with doomerism is that it’s an awful lot like denial, because you don’t need to do anything. And so I really want to reach people where they are, and include them in this journey. And say, look, there’s so much going on that’s amazing. We interviewed seventy-two people. We are looking at, you know, a second season. It’s easy. There’s a lot of people doing amazing things out there. And it’s easy to forget that, when everything seems terrible all the time.

CHANG: Yeah. Tell us about the fusion visit that you made, because literally history was being made as you were visiting her. I love that it was a her. She was the chief designer of the nuclear fusion plant. And Neil deGrasse Tyson called it the holy grail of sustainable energy.

MURDOCH: (Laughs.) Yeah. She actually calls it the holy grail. And I think what’s interesting about that segment is that, you know, it is—what she talks about it—as sort of as chapters in a book. That we are—we’re not at the very beginning and we’re not at the end, we’re, she says, about chapter three. I would say since then we’re probably on chapter four. We’ve actually made some progress since then. And a lot of that is, you know, standing on the backs of other people’s work over generations. And, again, that’s more of that cathedral thinking. It will be a game changer. But, as I said earlier, we don’t need magical technologies to do what we need to do. We actually have the technology we need. We just need to implement it.

JEFFERS: Probably around the same thing, the same solution.

CHANG: Absolutely.

JEFFERS: What you were saying about agency there, I think that’s a really important thing. It might be one of the most important things. There’s a spread in the book, Begin Again up there, which it’s, like, that we need to go from thinking of ourselves as customers on a cruise ship to being crew members of this—(inaudible)—ship. So everybody has a part to play.

CHANG: And, Oliver, so much of your art is about perspective. And I’m curious, like, there’s so many young people in this room who are thinking of themselves not necessarily as future artists, but what—how do you keep the artistic side of you alive as you go through life? And tell us about your artistic journey? How did you pick up the—

JEFFERS: Yeah. I mean, you know, you ask anybody who’s a three-year-old, they like to draw with crayons, of course. Everybody—Picasso said, all humans are born artists, the trick is remembering how to remain one as you grow older.

CHANG: Exactly.

JEFFERS: I really believe that a big part of it, why we all set our brushes aside, and our crayons aside, is that we become too self-conscious. We become too—we place too much of our sense of value in what other people think and this idea of perfection—you know, that you have to draw something and it has to look like the thing that you’re drawing. Whereas most of the great art that we really rally around that makes us feel something doesn’t do that.

And whenever I speak to art college students and they say, how did you find your style? Well, you don’t. Your style finds you. You get out of your own way. Whenever you try to draw a straight line, nobody can draw a straight line. It’s physically impossible at any length. But all the wiggles and bumps in there, that is your style. So you got to listen to your to your own body, listen to your hands. And, honestly, stop trying to care what people think of the thing that you’re making so much, because that really just puts up so many barriers.

CHANG: I’m curious, Ari Wallach is such an interesting host. And he really centers everything on the fact that what we do today can change the future, and that we need to think about it in those terms. Of the many adventures that he went on, what stays with you?

MURDOCH: Well, I think one of the most amazing things is that wherever we went—and we asked a lot of people the same question you did, actually, which is: What do you want? What’s a better future look like? And it’s amazing how hard that is, because most people will tell you what they don’t want. And that’s particularly true for activists. They will tell you over and over again what they don’t want. But when you ask people what they do want, what they kept coming back to was community. And that was a—that was a theme everywhere in the world, young or old, no matter where we were. And I think that that is something that people are really longing for. So trying to figure out how to be a community, without being a community that’s not them, I think is really difficult. And that’s what—that’s what we have to learn how to do.

CHANG: But I also love how you broke it down into bite-sized pieces. Because I’m sure, again, the young people in the audience are, like, do I, you know, work for political campaign? Do I—am I a policy—who am I? And you showed that in many ways a lot of these solutions are local, and community-based, and small, and initiatives that can really—you know, the old saying that all politics is local. That these are small steps, small bites.

MURDOCH: Yeah, some of them are smaller, but all of them have the power to really make transformational change. And so they’re in different stages in their maturity, I guess. But we talked a little bit—so, on the community, you know, we talked to President Macron about citizens assemblies. And this is something that has been used in Ireland, in France, in Australia in various places, where you can actually bring communities together to solve a problem, and then put it through into legislation. It’s a way of including people in civics. And I, as a—I’m putting my other hat on—(laughs)—as someone who runs a foundation, I’m really, really interested in this because I think that it is a—it’s a way forward.

CHANG: You mentioned the acronyms at the top, BIL and CHIPS, and all that. What is the policy areas or arenas that you think are effective in the climate fight, which you’ve been in for seventeen years? And what can we look to?

MURDOCH: Well, I would like to see a price on pollution, because I think that’s the easiest way to deal with it. If you tax the bad things and make them—(laughs)—make the good things cheaper, that’s easier. It just makes it faster. It’s all nice and convenient. So that’s, you know, a very simplified version of some of the work that I do. But I think, you know, we have passed amazing climate legislation. There is going to be—we’ve, you know, encouraged the building of clean energy across the United States. It is going gangbusters. But some people don’t know about it.

CHANG: Because there’s a pessimism—yeah. And there’s a lot of pessimism about multilateral, you know, climate accords, that may or may not be effective.

MURDOCH: Yeah. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be multilateral climate accords. I mean, there will be—I mean, there are already carbon border taxes in Europe. And so we will need to respond to that. If we put a carbon border adjustment on our goods here, the U.S. currently has an advantage on things like steel. It will lose that advantage over time, but right now, you know, against China or India or whatever, that that is an advantage. And so I think that’s a way forward.

CHANG: Right. Well, I think the far more interesting questions are sitting here in the audience. So I’m going to open up to Q&A. And just give you a quick reminder that while this whole conversation is on the record, that the Q&A portion of it is not for attribution.

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