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  3. Who’s shaping the debate
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Who’s shaping the debate - the obvious and the ones you might not know

A minuscule (and overly masculine) selection of those whose views are shaping, and have shaped, the story - a tiny smattering of economists, leaders, naturalists and campaigners. Some are obvious, and we have given a 30 second smorgasbord of their latest position. Some you may not have heard of. Don’t judge us on who is below and who isn’t. Greta is not here but it is worth remembering that she started as a lone schoolgirl, missing lessons every Friday, in order to stand outside the Swedish parliament building with a placard.


Published the first economic report into climate change, a document that is still considered seminal... Failure, he argued, could lead to economic woes rivalling that of the world wars and the Great Depression. He was all for a carbon tax.

– Stern versus Nordhaus
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They've emerged as one of the most prominent global voices on how we re-wire our economy - and stresses that we have to start seeing the value in natural things and processes.

– Mark Carney

Stern versus Nordhaus

How much are your grandkids worth?

How do you explain this in 30 seconds? We’ll have a go. In 2006 Nicholas Stern published the first economic report into climate change, a document that is still considered seminal. Given his position (he was a senior advisor to Gordon Brown) it acted as a rallying cry for urgent action on climate change. Failure, he argued, could lead to economic woes rivalling that of the world wars and the Great Depression. He was all for a carbon tax.

Economists were divided - not over the existence of global warming, but over how fast and how big the change had to come - some felt Stern was too dramatic. In a speech on Stern’s report, the Yale economic bastion William Nordhaus commented that the British government’s opinion on climate change is ‘no more infallible than was its pre-war view about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’. #micdrop #ouch.

It boiled down to one question; how much do you negatively impact this generation, to save a future one? More specifically, it’s about discount rates: is $1 spent making someone’s life better in 100 years worth the same $1 as making someone's life better now? In very basic terms: Stern - yes; Nordhaus - no. Further complicating the debate is the fact that the science increasingly shows it may not be about your grandkids anymore - it’s also about the value we put on the world we live in and retire into.

Mark Carney

The ‘world’s most trusted Canadian’

Has some radical ideas, not endorsed by all, but always expressed with a mix of academic rigour and central banker pragmatism. He’s emerged as one of the most prominent global voices on how we re-wire our economy - and stresses that we have to start seeing the value in natural things and processes.

He's building quite the climate focused CV:

- Chairs the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero
- UN Special Envoy for climate action and finance
- Advises Boris Johnson on climate change
- Launched the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM)

Value(s), published in March 2021, is heavy at 600+ pages but worth the effort. It’s a sweeping history of the relationship between value and price, and how that relationship has to change. He narrates the audio version himself (it’s a rather calming listen).

For a quicker understanding of his ideas, listen to his 2020 Reith Lectures.

Christiana Figueres

‘Stubborn optimist’ with balls of steel

Tasked with delivering a successful Paris COP after the ‘elitist’ mess of Copenhagen, which she pulled off - despite tense negotiations, recent terrorist attacks in Paris and a bomb found in the conference centre Metro station at the pivotal point (she made the difficult decision not to halt proceedings).

A Costa Rican diplomat (her father was three times president there) who served as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010-2016 describes her as a ‘stubborn optimist’ and co-founded the Global Optimist Group (some great content and podcasts).

If you want a quick, simple vision of what 2050 could look like if we get our act together, versus what it looks like if we don't, then read Chapter 2 of the book she co-wrote in 2020 with Tom Rivett-Carnac, The future we choose.

Bill Gates

Divestment ain’t the answer

Students please stop whinging about your university investing in Shell.

He believes strongly that carbon pricing has to play a central role, and that almost everything hinges on decarbonising electricity.

Famously uninterested in playing in Washington, the climate issue has driven a more political stance from him.

His new book, How to avoid a climate disaster, is a quick and easy read.

Michael Bloomberg

Mike versus coal

Waged a war on coal. He made the fight about American health; coal makes the air dirty, Americans breathe it in, people die before they should. His efforts helped close over 60% of all US coal plants since 2011 and over 50% of European ones since 2016.

And how do you deal with climate change in America with a Trump White House? You talk about bottom up tactics - about leadership from business and the public. Another increasingly climate focused CV:

- Chair of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD)
- President of the board of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group
- Co-chairs the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy
- Co-chairs the “America Is All In” coalition
- Global advisor to the Earthshot prize
- UN Special Envoy and climate ambition and solutions

At the UN Secretary-General’s request, he formed the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative with other private sector leaders to quicken investments in climate solutions.

Climate of Hope, written with Carl Pope, is another good quick read. Not our top choice, if you were short on time, but it does mix public policy thoughts and practical solutions - and was probably quite an important tome to be published in 2018 America.

Sir David Attenborough

The definition of national treasure

His 94 years of unremitting curiosity and love for the natural world, and the career he has built from that, gives us a unique, poignant and - at times - stark appraisal of the state of our planet.

Blue Planet II can claim significant responsibility for driving consumer reaction against plastic. Life on Air is one of the most charming books ever written; A Life on Our Planet, published in April 2021, is one of the most important. He narrates the audio version himself, his voice adding extra weight and emotion to an already weighty and emotional subject.

Whilst there are absolutely moments where it feels as though watching Paddington 1 and 2 on repeat are the only ways to cope with what he is saying, there are equally points at which his words are like a warm hug; yes it is our greatest mistake but, if we act now, we have time to put it right.

Isabella Tree

Unruly thorns and animal poo

The aptly named Isabella Tree turned the family estate, Knepp Castle, previously an unprofitable 3,500 acre intensive farm, into Britain’s first lowland rewilding project. 70 miles of fences were torn down, longhorn cattle and tamworth piggies introduced, and then they let nature takeover.

Remove the wildflower meadow idyll from your mind when you hear the term rewilding (or wilding, as Isabella would put it). Think midges, thorny scrub, unruly blackberries and animal poo - of all shapes and sizes. But that mix - alongside letting native ponies, pigs, cattle and other grazing animals free roam, rut and gobble - allows the crucial bugs, beetles, worms, fungi etc. to flourish. And, following them, have come the turtle doves, nightingales, owls and purple emperor butterflies.

Her book about the experience, Wilding, will make you look at the oak trees, fields and hedgerows you pass differently (and it has some great pig anecdotes).

Ma Jun

Mapping real-time pollution across China

One of China’s biggest environmental campaigners, Ma believes in data transparency - and what can happen when people have it; if you can measure it, then you can fight it. He started by pressing for data on water pollution after a trip to Lake Tai, China’s third largest freshwater lake.

Due to pollution, what should have been crystal blue waters looked like stodgy pea-soup, thanks to algae bloom. The algae is home to bacteria that basically sucks the oxygen out of the water. It was caused by pollutants from nearby factories, in the world’s electronic and clothing supply chain hotbed, full of companies cutting corners to offer large multinationals the best prices.

Ma started mapping factories - 40,000 of them across China - colour coding them based on their confirmed public reporting and violations. Some multinationals started comparing their supply chain to the map and then put pressure on suppliers to clean up. Today, the colour codes can make the difference between companies that get a loan from a major bank and one that doesn’t. The award-winning Blue Map app has been expanded to show water, carbon, plastic, waste and biodiversity across China. It’s users can check local air and water quality and get real-time pollution data.

Amongst other things, he’s also director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (China’s largest NGO) and Co-Chair of G20 Sustainable Finance Working Group.

Louis VI

Clue: not the 9th century king with a penchant for croissants...

He’s a rapper, filmmaker and climate activist.

His lyrics tackle the environmental impact of climate change and his recent film ‘The world is (y)ours’ considers climate change from the perspective of first- and second-generation immigrants in the UK. He is a regular speaker at climate change and science events and describes himself as ‘probably the biggest nature geek out of London’. One of his driving ambitions is to help people of colour to become more involved in climate activism and the environment and consider the natural world as something they can enjoy, influence and protect.

Ron Finley

‘Plant some shit’

American king of urban gardening. He told the 3.5 million people who watched his Ted Talk that “if you ain’t gardening, you ain’t gangsta.”

A former fashion designer, he started by planting pumpkins (amongst other veg) in patches of roadside wasteland in his neighbourhood, an effort that got him a ticket from the City of LA for ‘gardening without a permit’ (yes that was actually a thing - until he got the law overturned). He’d grown fed up of the dearth of fresh produce in his part of LA, let alone anything remotely organic. He encourages passers by to pick what they want from his garden. For Ron, gardening is a way to teach kids resilience, empathy and patience - and it’s making him a household name in America.

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