Ep4: Going, Going, Gone
Biodiversity & Climate Change
Enjoy nature? Well, do it while you can. We’re losing as many as 200 species a day, scientists say — plants, animals, birds, bugs — with cascading effects for all other species, including humans. And it's humans — our factories, cars, planes and power plants, our sprawling cities and mono-culture farms — who have disrupted complex ecosystems and are speeding climate change.
Dr. Gretta Pecl and Sakhile Koketso join this episode to discuss the many impacts of biodiversity loss, the challenges of combatting climate change at various scales, why biodiversity matters to all of us, and how our current trajectory is on track to making us the ‘crappiest ancestors ever’ for all our future generations — though we still have time to avoid the worst, with the right actions now.
Dr. Gretta Pecl is a professor of marine ecology at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, and the Director of the Centre for Marine Socioecology. She leads many projects and initiatives, including the Future Seas project, the citizen science project Redmap Australia, and the Species on the Move conference. She is a lead author on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation.
Sakhile Koketso heads Science, Policy and Governance at the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). She has also worked with Whitebird Environ Consult Inc., the Green Climate Fund, the Kalahari Conservation Society, the United Nations Development Programme, and with national parks in Botswana, her country of origin.
Guest Host Bio
Taili Ni, assistant producer of the COAL+ICE Podcast, is a program officer at Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations.
Click below to see the full episode transcript:
COAL+ICE Podcast, Episode 4:
Going, Going, Gone: Biodiversity and Climate Change
March 8, 2022
00:05 Mary Kay Magistad: It kind of boggles the mind how many species there are on Earth, and how much we take that for granted.
(Bring up full one distinctive sound)
It also boggles the mind how quickly species are disappearing – because of climate change, because of us.
And sure, extinctions have always happened – 99% of the 4 billion species that have ever lived on earth are now gone. But they tended to disappear slowly – like no more than 10% of species in a million years.
Except for five times in the past. Five mass extinction events, that each wiped out 75% or more of all species on Earth – plants, animals, birds, bugs. Famously, one of those times, an asteroid hit the earth, and wiped out the dinosaurs, and a whole lot more.
Now, it’s us. It’s humans, causing a huge spike in extinction rates – especially over the past century or so, as the industrial age accelerated, and factories, cars, planes, power plants, and other conveniences of modern life – kicked greenhouse gases into the air, warming the planet, acidifying the oceans, and imperiling more species than we even know about.
And why should we care? Well, we’re all connected on this planet. Ecosystems work because of the balance within them. We rely on them for our food, our medicines, for drinkable water, and breathable air. Take that for granted at your peril. Mess with it, as we’ve been doing, and we may not be able to live with the unintended consequences.
02:00 This is the COAL and ICE podcast from Asia Society. I’m Mary Kay Magistad.
(Music up for a bit)
This podcast was inspired by Asia Society’s COAL+ICE photography exhibition, which started in Beijing a decade ago and has since traveled to Copenhagen, Paris and San Francisco, during major climate change conferences. It’s at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, March 15th to April 22nd, 2022.
Over the decade that COAL+ICE has been around, the issues around climate change have only grown more urgent – and the current rate of biodiversity loss is a five-alarm fire.
This episode is about that, and what we can do about it. And leading the conversation as guest host this time is the COAL+ICE podcast’s assistant producer Taili Ni. Taili – take it away.
02:53 Taili Ni: In this episode, I’m joined by Dr. Gretta Pecl and Sakhile Koketso to talk about how climate change is impacting global biodiversity, why that matters, and what can be done about it. Dr. Gretta Pecl is a Professor of marine ecology at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania, and the Director of the Centre for Marine Socioecology. She leads numerous other initiatives such as the Future Seas project, Redmap Australia, and the Species on the Move conference. Sakhile Koketso is Head of Science, Policy and Governance at the United Nations’ Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Gretta, Sakhile, thanks for joining.
03:31 Sakhile Koketso: Thanks for having us, Taili.
03:33 Taili Ni: The world is facing an unprecedented loss of biodiversity in the face of climate change, among other stressors. We are living through what many scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction, with global species extinction rates of tens to hundreds of times higher than baseline rates over the past 10 million years. You’re both deeply knowledgeable on the challenges facing biodiversity conservation. What worries you most about where we are and where we’re headed?
03:57 Gretta Pecl: It’s a very big question. I think what worries me is that despite many commitments and ambitious frameworks and goals and, you know, programs of monitoring that have been established over the last few decades, that biodiversity has just continued to decline further. And that’s not to say that a lot of those measures haven’t been effective to a certain degree. I think just the pressures and the challenges that we face are so enormous. Climate change, and a growing human population and resource demands now continuing to act on biodiversity. So if we struggled so badly without the escalation of climate change, what does that mean for us going forward?
04:46 Taili Ni: Sakhile, what about you? What keeps you up at night?
04:50 Sakhile Koketso: It’s the fact that the drivers of biodiversity loss seem to be accelerating across the board. So, climate change is a big one, but we’ve got invasive alien species, nutrient loading, unsustainable use of biological resources, and we’ve got habitat loss and destruction. So it’s exactly what Gretta said. We know that climate change is a magnifier. It’s an amplifier. It will amplify the impacts of these other causes of biodiversity loss. And so, we have a very small window to act, because as climate change continues, we’re going to lose the ability to restore ecosystems to their previous state.
05:34 Taili Ni: Gretta, you are based at the University of Tasmania in Australia. Waters off the east coast of Tasmania are warming four times faster than the global average. What impact is that having? What are you seeing in your work?
05:46 Gretta Pecl: Yes, so the east coast of Tasmania gets a bit of a double whammy. We have the extension of the East Australian current, that current that brought Nemo’s dad cruising down past Sydney in the movie Nemo. That’s pushing further and stronger down our east coast as a function of warming over the Pacific. And so we have that change in current system and the underlying warming that you know that much of the rest of the ocean has as well. So we have those two things happening and it means that it’s in the top 10 percent for rates of warming. We’ve lost about 95 percent of our giant kelp, you know an iconic species that provides habitat for a whole lot of other plants and animals. We’ve had climate-driven range extensions of species–a long spine sea urchin that eats all our other kelp materials and seagrasses and creates rocky urchin barrens and habitats that, you know, are not very desired by other species that live there. We’ve had new diseases come up that have almost wiped out agriculture industries overnight. Some pretty major impacts in that region. We’ve also had some species that culturally are very important for the indigenous population of Tasmania. A particular rainbow kelp shell that the indigenous community are reporting that those species are declining. They also appear to be becoming thinner and more fragile. And you know, these are changes that the indigenous women of Tasmania have got a thousands and thousands year history of knowledge, and these changes look like they're pretty unprecedented and they are entirely consistent with what we think is happening with climate change.
07:33 Taili Ni: And are you also seeing a lot of shifts in species movements?
07:35 Gretta Pecl: All over the planet we have plants and animals in the northern hemisphere moving north, and in the southern hemisphere moving south. Moving to high elevations on mountains and deeper in the ocean. You know, more or less tracking the thermal gradients or you know the changes in temperature we’re seeing all over the planet, those shifts in the climate zones. It’s not a perfect pattern, because it’s affected by a whole lot of things. And species can shift and move at different rates, and there are factors that are also affecting their distributions. It’s a case of some things moving quickly, others not moving at all, lots of ecological connections being broken, and big changes in ecosystem structure and function. So these are big changes that are happening everywhere. But across Australia in our marine systems, it does look like the east coast of Tasmania is a really major area for those changes. And we have at least 100 species that have either moved from the north of Tasmania to the south or from mainland Australia into Tasmanian waters. And for some of those changes we won’t notice at all, those species won’t have any discernible impact, for other species they might even be seen as good things, and for some species they are creating big challenges. But having said that, the changes we’re seeing in species patterns can be in the eye of the beholder. So it depends, you know, on what people value as to whether some of these changes are perceived as being good or bad. And I think that’s half the challenge with climate change and with natural systems.
09:09 Taili Ni: That’s interesting. Do you have an example of maybe one of those that could go either way depending on where you’re standing, what your interests are?
09:14 Gretta Pecl: Yeah, so we’ve got a couple. So the long spine sea urchin that I mentioned earlier that’s shifting down the coast as temperatures warm and eats a lot of our kelp materials, that’s actually a fishery now for the urchin. Ultimately I think everybody would be pretty happy for the urchin not to live here anymore, but there is a growing fishery for that that is profitable. It’s subsidized actually by royalties from our abalone fisheries. So the abalone fishery wants the urchin to go away so they subsidize the urchin fishery to try and address that problem, but ultimately the urchin fishery is hoping to turn a profit and to be maintained over time. So there might be some different perceptions there over time that develop, you know, on what’s good and what’s bad. Another example would be a species called snapper, so that’s a really highly prized recreational and commercial species that’s moved into Tasmanian waters. So far we haven’t noticed any negative impacts of that in the ecosystem, but over time we don’t know if that might start eating juveniles of some other species that we value here for commercial or recreational or cultural reasons. We don’t know what the impact of some of these predator kind of species that moving might be.
10:32 Sakhile Koketso: I have a question for you, Gretta. The abalone industry has subsidized the sea urchin fisheries. What happens when interests start to become vested in keeping the sea urchin, and then it becomes difficult to undo that infrastructure?
10:53 Gretta Pecl: Yeah, that question of maladaptation and investments is an excellent one. For this particular case, I think it’s much less of an issue because it’s hard to imagine a situation where people don’t want the urchin fished, because it more or less operates like an invasive species. The question is more would the people doing the fishing might not want it, you know, removed, whereas the other fisheries might want that problem gone altogether. Sakhile, that must be a very big challenge at your level, at an international level, trying to look at how you consider those on-the-ground actions and processes and then the large-scale international agreements that you’re trying to work with.
11:38 Sakhile Koketso: It is, it has been. But I think we’re seeing more and more people starting to acknowledge synergies amongst different international treaties. So basically the way I look at it is that we have all these international environmental treaties, right, so we have the Climate Change Convention, we have Biological Diversity Convention, we have drylands, we have migratory species, and all these other things. But on the ground you’re dealing with the same ecosystem, you’re dealing with the same people. So it’s really important for us to make it make sense as much as possible. If I take the example of forests. Fifteen-twenty years ago under the Climate Change Convention they realized that oh, tone of the ways we could actually mitigate climate change is through forests. So they came up with the RED program–reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation–it’s a very long name but that’s basically what it does. In its early form, it was just looking at carbon. It was not looking at forests as ecosystems or bioregions. Because if you’re just looking at carbon then you can plant any tree anywhere. But we know from an ecological perspective you can’t simply plant any type of tree anywhere. You could have a tree plantation and have the same type of tree, but that system is not biodiverse and that system is not resilient. You need only one disease or one pest and the whole thing comes down. And there are certain ecosystems where you shouldn’t be planting trees, for example, grassland ecosystems. And then there’s also the issue of governance of those systems, the rights and the tenure of indigenous peoples and local communities. In the recently ended COP26 in Glasglow we saw a lot of focus on nature-based solutions to climate change. And that’s something that the the Biodiversity Convention has been working on for over 15 years is trying to convince the international community, trying to convince the climate change community that nature does have a role to play in addressing climate change.
13:40 Taili Ni: Yeah I was going to ask you, Sakhile, about nature-based climate solutions. I know you’ve spoken about those before.
13:47 Sakhile Koketso: It’s the use of the conservation, sustainable use, and restoration of ecosystems to help people adapt to climate change. So, what could be a nature-based solution? So using forests to capture, to sequester, carbon and to keep it in the carbon sink. There are other examples. When I visited a coastal city in Tanzania, due to sea level rise, their wells were getting salinated and also their fields were starting to get inundated by the seawater. And so they then started to plant mangroves along the coastal areas. They halted the level of sea rise and protected a lot of their remaining wells. Also, the mangroves then became important for fishery nurseries, and so it also improved their food security. In a way, compensating for the loss of those fields. But yeah we’re seeing a lot of efforts worldwide to use ecosystems, natural systems, to address climate change.
14:55 Taili Ni: Sakhile, you started your career in on-the-ground positions in national parks and conservation areas in Botswana. What was that like?
15:04 Sakhile Koketso: Ah, it was fun, and it was not fun. This was my first job out of university and so my head was full of ideas on the importance of range ecology and back in my time, I don’t know if this is still the case, but back in my time, because you joined with a university degree, you were automatically pushed in a lower management position. You go in and you’re managing people who have been there for 30, 25, 20 years, that have been doing the job and you come with all these bright ideas from university. I really enjoyed my time there because I learned a lot about environmental education, environmental communication because the park I was working in was designated as an educational game reserve. So it had both the job of conserving wildlife but it was also used to educate people. I was a bit scared of the actual managing the wildlife because I was a city girl and I didn’t really have much exposure beyond a few field trips. Suddenly I’m in charge of this game reserve, we have some wonderful wildlife, we have a lot of big antelopes and things like that, but we also had a very crazy rhino. On any given day we couldn’t guess his mood. Some days he’d allow us to drive by calmly, and other days he would charge us. Yeah, it was an experience. There were times that the northern part of the game reserve would flood and we’d have to put on these waders and wade through the floods to check on our animals to make sure they had adequate food, they were dry, they were not stuck in the mud. There were good moments and there were scary moments as well.
16:56 Taili Ni: And thinking back to that work in relation to your policy-focused work today, what would you say are the biggest differences in top-down versus bottom-up thinking? And Gretta, I’m interested in your take on this as well.
17:10 Sakhile Koketso: I think for me the biggest difference is that at international level, because we have to aggregate so much when we talk about biodiversity policy or climate change policy, we have to talk in generalities. You can’t be too specific because what works in one country doesn’t necessarily work in another country. You have to be very context-specific. Just within the department where I worked, there were different parks for different reasons, they served different purposes, they were managed differently. So then you get a system that’s that diverse at national level. The benefit of working at the international level and the benefit of organizations such as the CBD is that you actually get to see a lot of different approaches. What works in what circumstances, what are some lessons that could be pulled.
17:56 Taili Ni: Gretta, what about you, how do you think about top-down vs bottom-up systems thinking?
18:01 Gretta Pecl: Yeah I think Sakhile has described really well the benefits and the differences between the two approaches. I think it’s really important that we have both approaches and ways of looking at these problems and that they’re considered together and that the different actors that are involved in both those approaches are communicating. In the example of Sakhile and her career–that you’ve got that on-the-ground experience to be able to kind of think in both ways, that it’s difficult to think of the on-the-ground issues if you’ve not been doing that kind of work before and just sort of looking at the bigger picture. So I think it’s always good to try and look for both perspectives. And I guess it’s kind of similar in a way to those questions around knowledge systems. That it’s good to look at multiple knowledge systems as bringing something unique and valuable and fresh perspectives to these challenges, much like bottom-up and top-down approaches. Different approaches have different times and different circumstances where they’re appropriate to implement or to look at.
19:07 Taili Ni: Pivoting slightly, we’re all living through a global pandemic right now and COVID-19 has prompted a lot of discussion on the links between biodiversity loss and the emergence of zoonotic disease. Gretta, I’m interested to hear how you would expect this to evolve as climate change intensifies, or what other issues could stem from our fractured relationship with nature?
19:26 Gretta Pecl: Yeah, well I think it all stems from our fractured relationship with nature, in a way. And that the really big challenges are the way that humanity lives with nature and perceives ourselves as associated or not with nature. And the way that our systems run. So if you think about it, climate change and biodiversity loss essentially have the same root problem, which is that industries and businesses, and governments to some extent, privatize profits and socialize costs. So if there’s every an activity that happens, you know and there’s profit from it, that goes to the owners and the shareholders, but there are all these costs that nobody pays for, or that everybody pays for, ultimately, in terms of pollution and habitat loss and species loss and, you know, carbon emissions. And at the moment, in many systems in many ways, most of those costs are born by everybody. And I think we need to reframe that in our heads or in the way that we’re all communicating about these issues. So, you know, when we talk about carbon tax, for example, on businesses, maybe that’s not a tax, maybe that’s the invoice, you know, for the costs of the damage they’ve done through their activities. So I think if there’s a reframing around how we look at economic progress and economic development and how that operates with the world and what the full, actual cost of these activities are, that would be one enormous part of the solution. And part of that, or related to that, is this perception amongst many of us in many societies, in many ways, that we’re somehow separate from nature and not dependent on nature and there’s this massive disconnect between how we view the natural world. You know, the disconnect and the way our economic system operates are the two big problems. Sakhile, I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.
21:35 Sakhile Koketso: On how our fractured relationship with nature…I think that the science is clear that we’re expecting an increase in zoonotic diseases just because of the way we live. We are destroying habitats, and as we destroy habitats and interact more in unsustainable ways with nature, as invasive species spread across the world, and as climate drives shifts in geographical ranges, and things like that, we are expecting to come across more of these diseases. Through COVID-19, I think there was a rightful focus on containing the disease, trying to eradicate it, trying to reduce the risk, and I think that we lost the opportunity to have a very frank conversation as modern society about how do we coexist in and with nature to avoid the recurrence of these kind of diseases. I think that there was a lot of focus on, this happened in Asia, and wet markets, and we might have had the opportunity to talk about what creates these kinds of situations, how these situations evolve, and how can we adjust our lifestyles in order to reduce the risk. You know, we do have the frameworks to deal with some of these things. Countries are negotiating a global biodiversity framework for the post-2020 period. We have the Paris Agreement. And I think that what needs to happen is exactly that we need to get not only all governments on board, but also the private sector on board, we need to get societies and communities on board, and sometimes we need to engage industry in trying to create solutions that are equitable and that are effective.
23:29 Taili Ni: Equitable solutions are important and going back to something that you said Gretta, we do all bear the costs, but we don’t all bear them equally. I’m interested in what both of you think when it comes to weighing different considerations when thinking about climate solutions, such as the immediacy or exigency of the threat (small island developing nations, for example have a much bigger and pressing threat than other places). So how do you weigh these different considerations, and Sakhile, how does the UN think about equity in outcomes with regard to climate change and its impacts?
24:07 Gretta Pecl: They’re not easy considerations and decisions to be making. However, I think equity and justice are absolutely the questions that need to be at the forefront. And in terms of climate change and biodiversity loss it’s the inequities that make me just incredibly angry. You know I’m angry about what we’re leaving for future generations, I’m angry about things like the countries and the regions and the people socioeconomically that have created the least contribution to the problem are bearing the greatest costs. You know, I think future generations are going to think we are the crappiest ancestors ever. The issues of equity and injustice are absolutely critical. I don’t think there are easy solutions, I think ethically and morally it in some cases are pretty obvious what needs to take priority. But the challenge that we face now is that there are so many priorities because we’ve let the problem run so long now that climate change will be affecting everyone everywhere. So yeah, that’s a big challenge in how do we mobilize to address all of these things for people that will be suffering.
25:30 Taili Ni: Sakhile, what about you, how do you weigh these different considerations and how does the UN think about them? Is that part of the consideration and is it integrated into the policies and programs that it puts in place?
25:42 Sakhile Koketso: I believe it is. I’ll speak specifically about the Convention on Biological Diversity which is where I work. So the Convention itself actually recognizes that equity is a very important consideration. Youth and future generations are considered. Also intergenerational equity, so equity between different groups, the particular needs and role that women play in conserving and sustainably using biodiversity. One important aspect of the Convention is how it relates to indigenous peoples and local communities. The post-2020 global biodiversity framework that I spoke about, is being negotiated with the full participation of the youth, the indigenous peoples and local communities, and I think that there definitely is a lot more work that could be done. Which is not to say that a lot of work hasn’t been done. I think that we have seen a lot of progress being made. We just would need to see a lot more and that’s why the proposed biodiversity framework is trying to increase ambition so that we can really try to meet some of these international targets.
26:57 Taili Ni: When it comes to policy, what’s something that we should be doing that we’re not?
27:01 Sakhile Koketso: One of the things that has been my experience working in this field for so many years is that biodiversity/climate change/ecology–we’re very niche actors, right. So we have our constituency and our constituency is strong. We have all the science, we know like, even when we don’t have all the answers, we are pretty sure the direction in which we should be going. The difficulty is that when you step outside of our constituency, almost nobody understands what we do and/or we are not a priority. And this is the case in a lot of developing countries where governments–their priority is lifting people out of poverty, and lifting massive amounts of their population out of poverty. And the environment field, to them, looks as if it’s counter-development. It looks as if, to them, that we’re asking them to choose between growing their economy so that they can provide for their populations or protecting nature. We need to convince those in charge of economic policy development, social policy, that biodiversity is the basis of all life. It’s the basis of–yes, you reach a high level of economic development, and then if biodiversity is wiped out you’re going to go straight back to square one. That it’s in their own best interest to conserve biodiversity, sustainably use it, equitably share the benefits that arise from the use of biodiversity. So I think that there’s a lot of work that’s going on in a lot of countries. So for example I know that South Africa has just a few years ago, a couple of years ago, adopted a bioeconomy strategy, you know, that looks at–okay so the natural world is contributing to our economy, so how do we protect it? My own country, Botswana, has long recognized that nature is an important part of its economy because a lot of our tourism is based on wildlife and nature. And so it has always been recognized and has always had an important part to play for example even in the budget.
29:21 Taili Ni: There’s often a sense of disempowerment or uselessness that can be felt by individuals in the face of such huge and daunting problems. How can an interested and concerned citizen best implement changes in their own life? I know, Gretta, you’ve spearheaded Redmap, maybe you could speak a bit about that project and what effect if any citizen science could have for conservation efforts.
29:42 Gretta Pecl: Yeah, I think obviously this problem is nuanced and there’s always a lot of different context, but there’s certainly things that local people can do in local ways that are very useful and constructive. Redmap stands for the range extension database and mapping project. Redmap Australia is a citizen science project that invites fishers and divers around the coast to send in photo observations of species that they spot in locations that they think are unusual for that species. So we’re trying to get an early indication of what things are shifting as the climate changes. And I guess we’re taking the perspective that that fishers and divers are often in the water throughout the year, or year after year, and that if we can get more eyes on the water, and collaborate with local groups that are out fishing and diving and share our information with each other, that we’ll all be in a better position for understanding what changes look like they’re happening. We have two equal objectives. You know one is to use that information as an early indication of how species are changing, but the other is to use that information to engage and communicate back with coastal communities so that we can start those discussions up with the communities about the things that they are seeing and that they know, rather than sort of starting discussions up with what we as scientists know about those environments that they’re living in and using. And so we see it as a genuine conversation that we can have with the community. For each observation that gets sent in, we have the expert for that species in Australia that verifies that observation and they send an email back. It’s kind of a semi-automated system but it means that the observers are getting one-on-one communication about what they saw. Whenever we publish something that uses that data we always make sure there’s something in the news later or on Facebook or on Twitter that’s a public communication output as well, or a blog post or something like that. Yeah, so I think participating in citizen science is something that’s useful, people can do. Probably participating in ecosystem restoration projects is something that’s, you know, good to do as well. It’s a practical, tangible thing that we know from psychology research makes people feel like they are contributing and doing something constructive, and that’s what people need to give them that sense of hope and optimism about the world around them. And then other things, like having conversations about climate change and biodiversity and just sort of normalizing having those conversations about things that are important to us.
32:25 Taili Ni: You’re right, these are the things that are so important to us, but yet it often seems like a difficult concept to grasp. If you had to distill it down–Why is biodiversity worth preserving?
32:36 Sakhile Koketso: I would like to say biodiversity is worth conserving in and of itself. It has intrinsic value, right? We conserve biodiversity because it exists. But I think what will resonate more with people is biological diversity and the ecosystems and functions and services that it provides underpin life on Earth. The clean air that we breathe, the climate regulation, the micro-climate and the local climates, the provision of food on our table. If biodiversity collapses, there’s very little that humankind can do to survive beyond that. I can’t imagine how we would manage to hand-pollinate the crops required to feed nine billion people. Or the massive machinery that we would need to clean the air so that it’s breathable. And so on and so forth. So yeah, that’s my plug for biodiversity.
33:38 Gretta Pecl: Yeah, mine would be pretty similar, I think. There’s the value that biodiversity has just for itself. And then I just can’t see how societies and humanity will survive without biodiversity. So it’s certainly in our best interests to try and preserve that.
33:54 Taili Ni: Part of what makes this such an interesting conversation is that it’s an opportunity to bridge the all-too-common and ever-widening gap between policymakers, scientists, and the public. I welcome your thoughts on the causes of that gap and what we can do to address it.
34:09 Gretta Pecl: That’s the million-dollar question. I think that implementation gap that’s certainly just getting larger. At the Centre for Marine Socioecology, we do a lot of research around communication and engagement and are collaborating with psychologists and people who specialize in media and marketing and those sorts of things as well. I think that one of the challenges we have at the moment is that your average person on the street doesn’t think in a systems way. Like they can’t, they can’t see all these flow and effects and ramifications of things like biodiversity loss or climate change at a local scale, let alone at a global scale. And I think people just don’t know what they don’t know. And then the other thing I think is we often don’t help people see the vision of what’s possible, to see that, you know, potentially the world could be awesome. You know, if we’re addressing issues around biodiversity loss, invasive species, impacts of climate change, you know reducing carbon emissions, reducing pollution, the Earth could just be wonderful. We would all have a much better quality of life, except maybe billionaires, but you know, your average person on the street would have a much better quality of life. So it’s how do we with the public and different communities all over the world co-create those visions of the future so that we’ve got something to move towards, not just something to move away from. And I know things like sustainable development goals and you know other biodiversity targets create that vision or those targets at a global level, but it’s not really something that’s tangible and easily visualized by people in, you know, different sorts of countries and places around the world. So how do we work together to create powerful, strong visual images of where we could head and how much preferable that is to the alternatives.
36:15 Sakhile Koketso: Yeah, I just actually think that that’s such a cool way of presenting it. We have not been able to, what did you say, convince people of the vision? If there was a way of taking the global biodiversity framework, the vision of it, and presenting each person with their own slice of that vision, and a forward-looking vision, a positive vision, yeah I might steal that a couple of times.
36:44 Gretta Pecl: We’ve got one example of a project like that that used science fiction to try and do that. So we have a project called Future Seas which looked at co-creating visions of what’s technically possible with the future in terms of oceans and things like climate change and food security and those kinds of issues. And then we engaged some creative arts performers that developed an online performance–it was supposed to be live but you know, COVID–an online performance that was a high-stakes thriller–kidnapping and a hijacking on the high seas, some ocean infrastructure. It was actually told in two different futures, and it took all the elements of our research about different futures, about the business-as-usual future that we’re heading towards, and the more sustainable, technically possible future. It took all the elements of our research and embedded them in this story, told in these two different ways. There’d be a scene from the business-as-usual future with you know black hawk helicopters and fishing vessels with slicked diesel on the water surface and then the scene would be told again in the more sustainable future, where people are zooming off in their solar-powered dinghies and this kind of thing. So I think there’s a lot of potential for that kind of thing to really engage people, engage their brains and their emotions and connect to people’s values and start some of those conversations about where do we want to go.
38:10 Mary Kay Magistad: Where do we want to go? And how do we get there? That’s part of what the COAL+ICE podcast is all about – provoking thought, deepening understanding, and inspiring action – on climate change. In coming episodes, we’ll be looking at how that applies to what we eat, and where we live – especially, for the majority of the world’s population that now lives in cities. We’ll also have sci-fi writers weigh in how they imagine our climate future might be, depending on what we do now.
Thanks for listening to this episode, with the COAL+ICE Podcast’s assistant producer Taili Ni as guest host, and with her guests Dr. Gretta Pecl, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, and Sakhile Koketso, who heads the UN Convention on Biological Diversity’s Science, Policy and Governance department.
39:07 The COAL+ICE Podcast is a production of Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations, where Orville Schell is director, I’m associate director, and the editor and producer of this podcast, and Taili Ni is program officer.
And again, the COAL+ICE Podcast is a complement to the COAL+ICE multimedia exhibition and event series at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. March 15th to April 22nd. If you can make in person – it’s worth a visit. If you can’t, recordings of many of its events, including a conversation between Al Gore and young climate activists, will be available on Asia Society’s YouTube channel.
And in any case – do yourself a favor. Step outside. Go for a walk in the woods, or on a beach, or in a field – and listen, and look, and think about all the biodiversity we’ve got –all that’s at stake, in how we value it -- and do what you can to keep it around.