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Podcast: Bill McKibben and Trebbe Johnson on action and ‘radical joy’ after COP26 climate summit failure

  • On today’s episode of the Mongabay Newscast, we talk with Bill McKibben about how the climate movement will continue to push for real change in spite of the dithering by world leaders at COP26, and we discuss how to stay sane, happy, and engaged even as the impacts of climate chaos increase around the world with author Trebbe Johnson.
  • Noted environmental activist, author, and founder of 350.org as well as the newly created Third Act initiative, Bill McKibben tells us about his response to COP26, why he was inspired by the activism he saw at the COP, and how he sees climate activism evolving to counter the outsized influence of the industries that rely on burning fossil fuels and clearing the world’s forests for profit.
  • Trebbe Johnson, author of Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty In Earth’s Broken Places and founder of an organization with the same name, Radical Joy for Hard Times, tells us about ecological grief, how it can affect people concerned about climate change and the future of our planet, and how to deal with that grief and stay committed to working towards a better future for all life on Earth.

Today we’re talking with Bill McKibben about the climate movements that continue to push for real change in spite of the dithering by world leaders, and we discuss how to stay sane, happy, and engaged even as the impacts of climate chaos increase around the world with author Trebbe Johnson.

Listen here:

The 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as COP26, was held in Glasgow, Scotland earlier this month, and it was largely deemed a failure. Countries failed to commit to ​​ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that would keep the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius within reach. Rather infamously, it was reported that if all of the fossil fuels lobbyists attending COP26 represented a single nation, they’d be the single largest national delegation in attendance. The text of the Glasgow Climate Pact adopted by the 197 countries participating in COP26 was changed last-minute so that it spoke of a “phase down” of coal rather than a “phase out” — which is a rather neat summary of how COP26 failed to meet the urgency of the climate crisis.

There was some tentative progress made at COP26, however. Perhaps the biggest achievement was that 127 countries signed the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, committing to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation” by 2030 as part of their efforts to combat climate change. Russia, Brazil, and China — which rank as the #1, #2, and #6 countries in the world in terms of tree cover — signed the Declaration, which is notable since they were not signatories to the NY Declaration on Forests, which was adopted by just 39 countries in 2014. The more than 100 countries that signed the Glasgow Declaration represent 85% of Earth’s forested land, and some $19.2 billion in national and private funds were committed during COP26 to support their forest protection efforts. The Declaration also recognizes the important role that Indigenous communities play in protecting forests. But there are plenty of details that must still be worked out. For instance, as Mongabay founder and CEO Rhett Butler noted, “That loose definition [of deforestation] leaves a lot of room for interpretation — for example, a country could potentially claim “net zero deforestation” by converting natural forests to monoculture plantations.” And as Mongabay contributor Justin Catonoso reported from Glasgow, many NGOs are warning that commitments to stop deforestation in the name of climate change will be undermined by the continued burning of forest biomass as a zero carbon fuel.

There are plenty of climate solutions available to us, of course, and we’ve covered many of them here on this podcast in recent months, such as securing Indigenous and local communities’ land rights, making our food system more sustainable through things like agroforestry and agroecology, and restoring forests to unlock their carbon storage potential. And of course another way we can keep pushing for a more sustainable, equitable future is through activism.

Bill McKibben, noted environmental activist, author, and founder of 350.org as well as the newly created Third Act initiative, joins us today to talk about the state of the climate movement and what gives him hope that we may yet rise to the challenge and halt global warming. McKibben tells us about his response to the failures of COP26, why he was inspired by the activism he saw at the COP, and how he sees climate activism evolving to counter the outsized influence of the industries that rely on burning fossil fuels and clearing the world’s forests for profit.

We’re also joined today by Trebbe Johnson, author of Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty In Earth’s Broken Places and founder of an organization with the same name: Radical Joy for Hard Times. Johnson tells us about ecological grief, how it can affect people concerned about the future of our planet, and how to deal with that grief and stay committed to working towards a better future for all life on Earth.

Further reading:

”Hope old and new: COP26 focused on two largely unsung climate solutions” (18 November 2021)

“‘Standing with your feet in the water’: COP26 struggles to succeed” (12 November 2021)

”Do forest declarations work? How do the Glasgow and New York declarations compare?” (4 November 2021)

”COP26 Glasgow Declaration: Salvation or threat to Earth’s forests?” (3 November 2021)

”$1.7 billion pledged in support of Indigenous and local communities’ land tenure” (2 November 2021)

“The way out of the climate and ecological crisis is collective. Hope is in the movement that we know how to build,” Nicole Becker, Argentina. Photo © UNICEF/UN0364362.
Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. 100,000 people joined the Climate March in Glasgow at COP26. Photo © Babawale Obayanju / Friends of the Earth Nigeria. Licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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Follow Mike Gaworecki on Twitter: @mikeg2001

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