Transcript: How do we flip the script on climate fatigue? Make it personal!
TEDxLondon Climate Curious
Pip Wheaton 0:08
Humans are so flippin complex, right? We have so many internal contradictions. So like, I think that it is also possible in within one person to have these competing contradictory beliefs and motivations.
Ben Hurst 0:21
This is climate curious, the podcast for people who are bored, scared or confused by climate change.
Maryam Pasha 0:28
I Maryam Pasha, the director and curator at TEDx London and the co host of this podcast, alongside the amazing Ben.
Ben Hurst 0:34
Hi, I’m Ben Hurst, activist and advocate exploring what positive masculinity can look like, and self confessed climate Normie.
Maryam Pasha 0:46
Hi, listeners. So you’ll notice that I’m not with Ben this week. But that is because I have gotten to come to see and meet the incredible social innovators, changemakers activists, academics, researchers, journalists, the list goes on here at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford. As part of that I am really excited to be sitting down with PIP Wheaton from Ashoka, who is doing all things planet and climate because you do some really cool stuff around stuff that I love, which is around how do we talk about climate? How do we communicate? How do we make change and shift things, which is, you know, something that Ben, my co host, and I have been exploring on the podcast forever. So I want to ask you some questions about it. And you’ve done some cool research here at Oxford as well, this just come out. But before we get started, please like properly introduce yourself to our listeners. So hi, I’m
Pip Wheaton 1:36
PIP Wheaton. I’m Australian, but I live in New Zealand. That’s
Maryam Pasha 1:41
like a whole other podcast.
Pip Wheaton 1:42
Yeah. Okay, great. And I in when I’m in New Zealand, I work for local governments, I work for Wellington City Council, and I do climate change stuff there with them. And the other hat that I wear, which is the hat that I’m wearing during this conversation, is that I work for Ashoka. Awesome.
Maryam Pasha 2:01
So one of the things before and we were chatting about this, as you talked about the idea of being stuck in some of our work on climate, tell those of us who are not as immersed in climate, where you’ve might feel we’re stuck and where changes and maybe happening in the way that it needs to I’m just I’m curious to understand like, where you imagine we are at this moment in time. So
Pip Wheaton 2:27
more than ever before. We know that the people care. We also have more solutions than we’ve ever had before, we’ve got heaps of solutions in the technology space, we know a bunch of the like regulation solutions that need to happen as nature based solutions is the list of gone. And we have a better understanding of the science than we’ve ever had before. So we know what the stakes are. And yet, even with those like leaps of not only like understanding, but also of like public understanding, we’re still not seeing change happen fast enough. And the way that we’ve been looking at this is is the really human part of it. So when we talk about those technological solutions, like Who is it, that’s going to be taking those new technologies and implementing them more like changing the tech that they use at the moment for these new solutions that are climate positive. When we talk about regulations, who are the who are the public officials that are going to be moving those new regular regulations through the, you know, that the the institutions that they work in, and so forth, and I think we talk a lot about individual behaviour change. And that’s really good, that’s really important. But when we’re talking about these big systemic changes, we quite often remove the individual nature of the fact that people need to do these changes.
Maryam Pasha 3:56
So let’s, there’s a really interesting relationship here is something that we talk about here on the podcast, when I personally kind of have been evolving my understanding around which is the interaction or the relationship there or the responsibility between the individual on the system. And I feel like there’s this, especially when you know, your climate curious, you’re starting to hear about this stuff. There’s this like onus given to the individual, like you have to do this, you have to do that you have to stop this, you have to change this, you have to not eat meat, you know, whatever it might be. And then that doesn’t resonate so much. And then you look at like systems change, and moving these big, big systems where the individual maybe can’t make those changes on their own. But then then you realise actually, there’s agency so anyway, this like very convoluted questions to ask, what is this relationship it feels difficult, like to know how much agency responsibility lies in each place.
Pip Wheaton 4:57
So there’s a really interesting piece of it. research that looks at the different roles that people play, or the weight, like the rolls through which they can have impact on emissions basically, impact on climate change. And they identified five. And some of them we talked about quite a lot, and others, we talk about far less so that the fibre consumers, and I think that’s where a lot of the individual behaviour change focuses the secondary citizens to how we vote and you know, how we engage our political representatives. The third one is in our relationships. So that’s like both like interpersonal, in person relationships, but also like, how will you show up on social media and stuff? The fourth one is investment. So which bank do you use? It doesn’t have to be like big investment, but even where you put your money. And then the fifth one, and this is one that I think is probably what I find personally most interesting is the as organisational contributors, so whether that’s as a volunteer or a board member, or an employee or a business owner, what your what’s your influence in the organisations that you are part of, and, like, all of these have potential for contributing to systemic change, or like, you know, when they’re in aggregate, when, when they’re all added up, they can contribute to systems change. But I think particularly in our organisational roles, there’s a really interesting opportunity to, to make action be bigger than just a single individual. Right?
Maryam Pasha 6:32
So it’s, so this is really interesting, because what it’s doing is, it’s looking at all the multiple identities that we have as a as a person, and not just assuming that we have one answer for only one sphere of influence. And so that’s, that’s fascinating, and a really different way to look at it. I think, also, this idea of where do you have power? Right? How do you see that being used effectively, like in the research you’ve done.
Pip Wheaton 7:03
So, in the research, we, we looked at such a diversity of different approaches, so we, you know, it was everything from working with fishing communities, subsistence fishing communities, or, and helping them like become stewards of the of the, of the ecosystem, smallholder farmers, neighbourhoods in Birmingham in the UK, like, big corporates, like, you know, sustainability managers, or even just like normal employees in big corporates. And I think that like, interest interesting, because like, obviously, each of those has different access to different types of powers and different levers and different influence. But at the end of the day, we have a tendency to underestimate the amount of power we have all we really only think of it in like, quite siloed ways. Because big part of the just to get a little bit philosophical for a second, like part of the part of the problem that sits underneath climate change is that we have become so individualised, this isn’t a new idea, but like, you know that we are disconnected from nature, we are disconnected from each other, we are disconnected from ourselves. When we think of ourselves as individuals, then of course, we don’t see the full extent of our power. And so a lot of the social entrepreneurs that we that we looked at that we spoke to, there was a really big part of the of their approaches that was about helping people really engage in a, in a deeply personal way, with the topic of climate change, but also imagining new possibilities. You know, if you can’t imagine a future, how can you create it. And also seeing another another one of the tactics that sort of sat with that was like making progress visible. So helping them see how their contribution was not actually just a single individual action, but how it actually fit it into into a bigger
Maryam Pasha 9:31
signal, similar philosophical point for a second, I think, this is really interesting in how we imagine the individual because I asked you this question of as individual versus systemic, right? Because I didn’t even think about that there could be a third option, which is like group or community or you know, and that that actually just shows how, even in the way that we look at this. We’ve we have almost and forgotten the communal aspect and how that’s related to power? Well, I
Pip Wheaton 10:05
mean, so when I said the individual collected, like, he was the first person I ever heard say that, right? And I was just like, Oh, that makes so much sense. And like, it’s not his idea, but he just like,
Maryam Pasha 10:17
articulated it so beautifully. Yeah, there’s definitely something here around. This isn’t this isn’t this the truth, though, that that the part of me that sees oppression and injustice as a deliberate choice rather than accidental outcome knows that those in power know that if there’s a separate us and make us think that we’re just one, that it keeps them in power longer? Oh, absolutely. Like, it’s a very deliberate tactic. It’s like a very obvious thing. And we just forget it, because we get lost in it. It
Pip Wheaton 10:57
serves the vested interests. But I also think that there’s like, I do think that there are people who are very definitely deliberately causing harm, right? Absolutely. I also increasingly think that the majority of people who are complicit are not deliberate, because it agree, I think that
Maryam Pasha 11:26
it’s not, I don’t think people who wake up in the morning and go to work at Shell, I don’t think anyone, like below, like, I don’t even know what their whole hierarchy is, but below a certain level, wakes up in the morning and thinks I’m gonna go and like, you know, what, like, put out a disinformation campaign and deny climate, and like, hide the science and like, murder, like, I think they think I’m gonna work and I’m gonna, like, do this report, and I’m gonna ask these emails, and then I’m gonna, like, go pick up my kid from school and whatever make for dinner. And, and that’s the insidious nature of the system we’re in is that those people actually don’t, like always, like, tell them not to work, or they can’t they have to. So it’s like, but I think above a certain level, you’re making an active choice. Like, I think that there’s above a certain level where you are making a decision, because you could actually work somewhere else. And you could do something else that would allow you to still have this quality of life that wasn’t actually actively destroying the planet.
Speaker 1 12:32
What not as I also think it is. Humans are so flippin complex, right? Yeah, so many internal contradictions, that like, I think that it is also possible within one person to have these competing contradictory beliefs and motivation, yes, if you fully own up to the true extent of your own influence and power, then you need to change everything. So it’s actually like a really scary thing to do. And so you’re like, internally, you, you create protection mechanisms. So you don’t, you don’t own up to it, right. And so you convince yourself that actually, like, I’m either I’m too small, it’s too hard. It’s too late. I’m not actually part of the problem. I’m just providing the services that people need, you know, people want to drive their cars. And so you tell yourself all of these things, and I think there is a lot of cognitive dissonance.
Maryam Pasha 13:31
That’s it, I think we really underestimate how powerful cognitive dissonance actually is in how it drives our behaviour. So
Speaker 1 13:39
when I think about this stuff, I quite often find it useful to like pull up examples of people that I have worked with, or have known and have, like, engaged with them around climate change, because like, all of this is about making it personal, rather than actually having ideas of specific individuals who have struggled or not made decisions or have made decisions in ways that are useful. I find really helpful to then try and go okay, so what would they need? Yeah. And so this one person I’m thinking of in particular, they are in a position of huge influence. The really interesting thing for me when I was when I was working with this person was to see how often we would get so close to doing something like transformative. And then, like at the 11th hour, they would get cold feet, and there would always be a really like, convenient reason why we couldn’t do the really bold thing. Wow. And one of the things that it taught me, which like which I carry through into my work now, is that like, sometimes the work is to make courageous decisions. Not feel courageous. I actually today interesting de risk these things for the for the people who who need to be doing things differently.
Ben Hurst 15:08
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Maryam Pasha 16:19
So I’ve heard this, you know, what people talk about, like the social cover, the politicians need to be able to take the actions or how, you know, someone I worked with was talking about the the letter that all those businesses wrote to President Biden, when he came into office, saying like, you know, it was like the Wall Street Journal, right? And it was like all of these big, big American companies saying, take climate action, and they gave him the business cover to do that, to do it. So I totally understand that idea that sometimes, even when people want to act, they need something that makes it not feel like
Speaker 1 16:59
they’re being really, really brave. And this was actually one of the tactics that we saw in the research. Right?
Maryam Pasha 17:04
So tell me first, before you tell me a bit about the research, like, what is it? What did you What did you set out to look into? Right?
Pip Wheaton 17:11
So we set out to look into. So if we, if we take as the starting point that we need everyone, right? We need as many people doing things differently as possible. So so much so that it’s like, it is actually everyone. We wanted to look at the approaches that social entrepreneurs were using to help people on that journey to proactively driving change, right. And I think there’s a big difference between an we saw in the research, there is a big difference between approaches that get people to do a thing, right, such that like, it is clearly delineated, and like, you know, if the social isolates is Yeah, leaves and like they stop doing the thing, and getting people to proactively drive change themselves. And they’re both needed, because we need everything. But we were really interested in that second approach. And, and what we wanted to do was, we were like, if we choose a diverse enough group of social entrepreneurs, both like diverse in terms of like, geography, the types of change the types of individuals that they were working with. If we could identify commonalities in the strategies and tactics that they use, then maybe those strategies and tactics might be useful in other contexts. And what we found was was three different strategies. And each of them has different tactics that contribute to them, but the three strategies were making it personal, curating support, and realigning systems. So if we think about the letter that the businesses wrote to Biden, that would fall under the curating salon strategy and it was a tactic that we that we called helping them make the case. And we saw this in a lot of different ways. But a really good example of it we saw in the organisation canopy. The Ashoka fellows name is Nicole Ryecroft she’s brilliant,
Maryam Pasha 19:08
he can you give me example making it personal and then realising systems as well.
Pip Wheaton 19:12
One of the things about all these strategies is that none of them on their own is enough, okay? Like one organisation can choose to focus on one as long as the other things are happening within the context around. But the place that we saw them come together most powerfully was when the social entrepreneurs we were interviewing actually wove a number of different strategies together in ways that were suitable for the for the context. A brilliant example to to bring this to life is a wonderful organisation called Civic Square in Birmingham, are the Ashoka fellow who started at her name is Emeka. So Civic Square puts neighbourhoods at the forefront of their own climate transition. And one of the things that underpins that work is deep belief that people can come up with solutions to even the nerdiest of problems. And the, you know, something as complex and technical as climate change can often seem like really off putting. So one of the things that they do is they have a layer of their work that they call the dream Mater. Oh, I love it. And that’s all about like, giving people ways to engage with the complexity of climate change in ways that really deeply resonates. So they’ve done things like they’ve localised, the donut economics framework for the neighbourhood. They’ve got people to make scenes of the IPCC report, I mean, just. And all of these are way that ways that help people really build understanding. But another thing that they do in this part of the work is they, you know, they bring people together to collectively imagine different possibilities of what the neighbourhood could look like. They do all sorts of other things in this space, but but for me, that all translates to what we called in our research, making it personal, okay. Another part of what they do is looking at the sort of the rules and the codes that underpin the way that the world works, stuff that they really often, like invisible to us as we go about our daily lives. And they’ve had to, because what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to get neighbourhoods to come together and collectively take action. They realised quite quickly that that involves creating different contracts creating different finance. Yes, yes. And if we take the language that we use in the in the research that for us was about realigning systems, okay. And then the third part of their work, which we sort of map on to the the curating support piece comes together in what they call the everyday, the everyday matter. And that’s really about how they turn up in the community, day after day is like a consistent presence, rain, hail, shine, they are there. And if people just drop in for a cup of tea, that’s fine. If one person comes in today, that’s fine. But they are there reliably. And the thing that that that really struck me and like, was one of the surprises of the research is the importance of injecting consistent, sustained energy into this really stuck system, right? Because shifting inertia requires a huge amount of energy. Right. And that was one of the things that we saw the social entrepreneurs doing,
Maryam Pasha 22:45
how fascinating, first of all, just such an incredible project. So those findings, I think, really are clear for me when I think about how organisations can, or communities can show up in this, and the things like the tools that they can use and the techniques they can use to bring about change, right? Because that’s what that if I’m hearing, right, like, that’s what these three things do. Right, is they actually help us get unstuck. They move us faster, in a more sustainable, equitable, like, durable way. How do I or if someone’s listening, how do I do this? How do I implement this? What I do feel like I’m this sole individual, what is like Have there been, you know, in entrepreneurs, with Ashoka that you’ve, you know, the social entrepreneurs as Ashoka that you’ve, you’ve been researching, or just in general, since you’ve come up with these findings? How does that How is that manifested? How have you thought about that?
Pip Wheaton 23:48
So the the thing that I think is important here is that this is in relation, right? So the social entrepreneurs that we were, that we were studying, they were activating other people, right? And so it was in relationship with others. Right, right. So the way that we’ve been thinking about these findings is that we want them to be useful to other people who are trying to shift people that they are in relationship, right, whether it’s in community and businesses, and
Maryam Pasha 24:15
when I was listening to you, I was thinking to myself, you know, I bet you there are people who really want to, because I think that like, I’m gonna speak on behalf of my co host here. But you know, when that I started on this journey together, I was a little bit further down the climate path than him but not much. And so we’ve been on this like two and a half year journey together. And so now I think, actually about in terms of in relation to the people in our lives, people do come and talk to us or we do try to go talk to people about climate. And so actually, I think there will be people listening who are similarly starting to have that light bulb moments and starting to want to talk to people around them and, and it can be tough if the people around you are like whatever This is feels like it gives people some real practical how information?
Pip Wheaton 25:06
Yeah. And I think the, like the core of it when when you’re thinking about the one on one relationship with with people that you that you care about that you’re in, like a sustained relationship with. I think it’s about speaking to emotions.
Maryam Pasha 25:21
Yep. This is that’s mainly under making it personal. Right,
Pip Wheaton 25:25
exactly. You know, climate change is such a technical topic. But when we talk about the technicalities, you trigger this frame of like, well, experts need to fix this. Yes, I’m not an expert. And if you talk about it, in terms of like, catastrophic impacts, if you don’t then have a clear call to action, you can trigger this like doom and gloom. It’s too big, it’s too late. Frame. And so I think that if you can tap into the emotions, which, you know, it’s not to say that that won’t necessarily include some fear, but tap into the the other emotions to like, care is such a powerful one. What are the people in places and things that you care about? Yeah. And for me, I often think that climate action is a form of care. So
Maryam Pasha 26:11
beautiful. Yeah. I think that will resonate with people too, because I think that care is so human, and it’s something that I would say, 98% of us probably do in our lives towards another person, even if it’s, you know, it doesn’t have to be like a kid like it your your, like your maybe it’s your parents, maybe it’s your best friend’s maybe it’s like, yeah, there’s so many relationships, where carers is there how, especially given your role in local government with, you know, with the other words you do, what’s your either plan or hope around how this research might live in the world? Right. So
Pip Wheaton 26:47
our hope is that we can, in the coming months, write it up into some sort of like, really action oriented, very practical playbook toolkit for something usable, but something usable. And so to do that, like we want to sort of make sure that there’s really rich examples. And hopefully, like some, some useful questions to help people, prompt them to think about the context that they’re operating in, like really think, who are the individuals? What makes them tick? What do they care about? How can I make this really personal for them? And, and help them think through what might be needed.
Maryam Pasha 27:26
I’m very excited for your toolkit, because I feel like I will use it. And we will use that Alex London, I want to also understand something because we actually when we met here at the forum, we were talking to each other about the work we do around storytelling and narratives and, and that, and I’m curious to know how this research is going to tie into some of the work you’re going to be doing around narratives.
Pip Wheaton 27:47
Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that’s like Central to this research is like the concept of agency, or how a person believes that they can impact the world. And our beliefs are shaped by so many different things. And as we dug into that more, we started to engage with the concept of narratives. And when we use the word narratives, like because I think there’s lots of different ways to interpret what we mean by that. It’s like one of the collective stories that we tell as a society that help us make sense of the world, and therefore shape how we move through it. Yes. And to be clear, like, narratives are fluid, they ebb and flow. We can have like internally inconsistent narratives that we believe at any one time, like, it’s really fascinating. But one of the pieces of research that I that I came across, showed that specifically for climate action, yep. people’s belief about whether or not change was possible, was the biggest determinant of whether or not they acted. And so at the moment, we are in this, this point in time where the dominant narrative is around doom and gloom. And yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s really important that we’ve gotten to the place that people are starting to wake up and go, Oh, my goodness, climate change is real. It’s not a future generation thing. It’s happening now. It’s happening and fires in Australia and California and Siberia is happening in flooding in New Zealand this year with heat domes and changes to really hardens the idea of clearly identifiable things, things that people got or that yes, that thing that’s climate change. That’s great. We needed that moment of awakening collectively. However, if we stay in that place of doom and gloom, we stay overwhelmed. And we don’t believe that change is possible. And if we don’t believe that change is possible, that belief becomes us. The self fulfilling basically. And so the thing that we’re really curious about is like, if, if that’s the the narrative of doom and gloom, and that’s going to stop action, then what are the narratives of climate agency that help people realise their power?
Maryam Pasha 30:19
Okay, this is very interesting. One of my favourite quotes actually, is that you can’t depress people into action, which I think is so accurate, brilliant, brilliant. I, and so much of the work I do I, where I’m working with climate activist scientists, that are people who’ve been in this field for decades, the mind shift that they have to make from the work, they’ve had to do tirelessly to convince people it’s a problem, to where they have to be now, which is to show people how we can solve this is really difficult. And a lot of people are still stuck in the problem loop. Like, you just just don’t know how bad it is, you just don’t know. Like, it’s bad, it’s bad. And I find myself getting stuck in that loop. Because you’re talking to someone who’s like, you’d be like, You should be crying right now. Like if you’re not currently to get worse and worse, or you just feel like Do you understand the the level of this but what I am curious to know. And maybe I don’t know if you guys have thought about this, or if it’s part of this work is. So there is that doom and gloom narrative that needs to change to this like a Gen. Possible. These are the solutions, this is how we’re going to do this. We can do this. We’ve done hard things in the past, etc. But there’s this third one that seeming to emerge, which is the deliberate use of misinformation by actors who are entrenched in the current system to make it seem confusing and difficult. And this is something that someone said to me recently, I was like, yeah, that’s like a classic playbook, isn’t it? First, you deny it? And then you make say, it’s complicated. How does this how does that play out into the oldest
Pip Wheaton 31:58
there is the most brilliant academic article called the discourses of climate delay, that has likely already been turned into my favourite cartoon image that has like the basically they found 12 archetypes of the like the different arguments of delay, the discourses of delay, and a cartoonist turned each of those 12 into like, a caricature person. Incredible. It’s the most awesome image. And I also just love the like, taking academic research and making it into like something like engaging and humorous and irreverent. And the interesting thing is, like when they were doing this, this research, it wasn’t always the vested interests that were pushing these these random discourses like sometimes it’s super well intentioned, and it’s funny, like I sometimes listen to it, because people often play me stuff or show me stuff around me about like, this is why it’s hard. And, and I quite often, like use the 12 discourses as almost like a bingo card. I think one of the interesting things is like, there’s so much stuff going on in the in the digital space. There is disinformation, there is misinformation. Yes. There’s also the, like, the targeting of the climate activists, in ways that make them feel like the cost of taking action is too high personally, so things like Daxing, or like, you know, threats of real world harm. Yeah. That’s real. And like, you know, when we were talking earlier about, like, you know, most people are just, you know, that they’re actually it’s just cognitive dissonance, or they’re just sort of doing the job or whatever. That stuff doesn’t come from that that stuff actually comes from people who are trying to live really deliberate harm in the world. And I think the, you know, the fossil fuel companies are throwing millions and millions of dollars into this. And, and the climate action side of the trying to not use a battleground analogy. So the fossil fuel companies are throwing millions and millions and millions of dollars into this every year. And on the other side of the equation. We aren’t really taking the same approach, you know, with we’re not playing with the same playbook. And I’m really curious to see what are the very practical things that we can do to shift that and whether it’s like comms campaigns or different types of culture and arts and media, or if it’s a different legislation that helps tell a different story. Like, I think all of these tools need to be used, if we because
Maryam Pasha 34:49
it’s not, and this is the thing that was a real aha moment for me is it’s not that you are just trying to move people who are stationary to being unstuck. missionary, you’re trying to move people and communities and societies, they’re actively being pulled in the other direction. Like there is a pull factor. There’s someone, someone, not someone, but like there are, you know, actors and individuals who are not just entrenched incumbents. It’s not like they’re just standing there very strongly that as you pulling in the other direction, they’re putting things in motion that take us in the other direction. And I think, you know,
Pip Wheaton 35:27
it really insidious ways. Yeah. And I think it’s everything from like the way that they test the messaging to see what works yeah, like they do really like quite deliberate, quite sophisticated things, to test which messages. So this dissent, so this like that catch fire, and spread. They also have like, done things like they’ve captured cop, right, like the cop 28 is being headed up by an oil company CEO. And you know, people can say that, that doesn’t matter. But like, I just this week, I think there was a press release about how, you know, if we’re not really focusing on carbon capture and storage, then you know, we’re gonna lose the battle against climate change is like, yes, we absolutely need to be thinking about negative emissions. But all of the negative emissions technologies are harder, not actually proven at scale. They’re far more expensive. And simultaneously, we know how to reduce our emissions. Right. So why would we be doing these expensive, unproven things, when we already have proven, less expensive options on the table?
Maryam Pasha 36:34
This has been an incredible conversation. I just feel like I’m very happy that my co host wasn’t here. So that I got to ask you all the questions this week. This has been climate curious, remember, stay curious.
Ben Hurst 36:46
Thank you for joining us this week. We really hope you enjoyed this episode.
Maryam Pasha 36:50
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Ben Hurst 36:54
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Maryam Pasha 37:07
This episode was produced by Josie Colter artwork designed by Rebecca Menzies Curation by Maryam Pasha mixing engineers by Ben Beheshty music
Ben Hurst 37:18
also by Ben Beheshty presented by Ben Hurst and Maryam Pasha. Remember, stay curious