Aug. 4, 2021

120. Welcome to the Discontinuity

120. Welcome to the Discontinuity

In Episode 120, Quinn discusses retraining our mind to understand and operate in the discontinuity we are in. Let’s get META.

HIs guest is Alex Steffen, a longtime climate reporter and futurist, as well as writer of the forthcoming book The Snap Forward.

The world as we know it is changing – in fact, it’s already changed. The changes brought on by human-made effects on climate are now the context in which we live our lives. Whether you’ve been fighting the powers behind climate change for years or are just now finding your place, what comes next?

Step one: accept that everything you ever thought you knew about the world has changed. Not an easy task, but very soon we’re all going to be forced to reconcile with our situation –  whether we like it or not. The thing to remember is not how bad things are, but how good they can get – and how quickly – if we just face up to reality. It all starts with acknowledging where we are. Then we can snap forward.

Have feedback or questions? Tweet us, or send a message to questions@importantnotimportant.com

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Important, Not Important is produced by Crate Media

Transcript

Quinn:

Welcome to Important, Not Important, my name is Quinn Emmett, and this is science for people who give a shit, and boy does that ever ring true today. There's a lot going on out there, folks, our world is changing every single day, you can see it, you can feel it. We give you the tools you need to think better, to feel better, to fight for a better, very different future for everyone. That means and again, especially today, the context, and that's straight from some of the smartest thinkers on earth, and the action steps you can take to feel better and to build systemic change. Our guests are scientists, futurists, journalists, farmers, educators, CEOs, investors, engineers, even a reverend.

Quinn:

Some quick housekeeping before we get started. You can send questions, thoughts and feedback to us on Twitter @Importantnotimp. Or you can email us at questions@importantnotimportant.com. You can also join tens of thousands of other smart folks and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It's the most important science news plus analysis and action steps so you can get involved. Lastly, you can hunt for a new impactful job on the frontlines of the future at importantjobs.com. That's importantjobs.com. If you work for a company or organization already doing that work, or looking to get started doing that work, if you need your first sustainability officer, you can list your open roles there for incredibly affordable rates. Our goal is to move the needle of progress, not make a bunch of money, and you can get them in front of our entire community of amazing shit givers.

Quinn:

As foreshadowed, this week's episode is getting kind of meta, but is hopefully a good step. It's a help for those of you who have been fighting the climate change and the power structures behind it for a long time. But also to everybody new to it. I think there's a lot of folks who are new to it these days, and obviously the show's grown. So we're aware of that. I'm talking today with a friend about retraining our minds to try and understand and operate in this, as he puts it, discontinuity we are in. It's not just one issue. It's not one vote or industry. It is everything. It's all encompassing. This discontinuity we have built, it will last beyond the rest of our lives. So in order to best execute on it, to operate within it, to build radical, unforeseeable change, we have to come to terms with what it means to be in this, again, so we can figure out how to build something new and better that applies to so many more people than it ever has before. But that includes you too.

Quinn:

My guest is... Again, there's nobody better talked about this stuff than Alex Steffen. He is a longtime climate reporter, climate futurist, he's the author of the forthcoming book, The Snap Forward, he's got an incredible blog and podcast that accompany those, can't recommend them enough. I'm a big fan of Alex's work in the way he thinks, in the way he challenges me to think, and I hope this conversation does the same for you.

Quinn:

If you're new here, go ahead, scroll back, check out some of our recent episodes, some incredible conversations with amazing people. How does the universe end? What happens when trees talk to each other, and what can we learn from them? What does that mean for climate change? What about carbon offsets? Are they actually bullshit? How do we be poverty with just a couple bucks? What is the future of mosquitoes? You can find all those recent episodes. And of course, you're going to want to hit the subscribe button now, so you're ready when our next conversations drop. We've got incredible stuff coming. And that includes conversation with [Isaias Hernandez 00:04:05], who's built an incredible following on Instagram about intersectional, environmental justice. We've got a conversation with Twitter's new ethics chief about what's next for that incredible platform. Hit subscribe now, so you're delivered to you right on your phone. Please enjoy my conversation with Alex Steffen.

Quinn:

My guest today is Alex Steffen, and together we're going to try to understand, get a little philosophical, but also to turn the philosophy practical, which is sort of the best version of philosophy, how can we try to understand the unknowns about the climate crisis and what we're very much in, what we're dealing with. Alex, welcome, man.

Alex Steffen:

Thanks. Thanks for having me on.

Quinn:

Of course, man. If you could, could you tell everybody real quick who you are and what you do?

Alex Steffen:

Sure. My name's Alex Steffen and I'm a climate futurist. What I do is I look at big natural systems like climate, human systems, the things we've built around ourselves, infrastructure, cities, agriculture, education, law, and ask how those two things are changing each other. How what we're doing in terms of what we're building and how we're living is changing the planet. And how the planet as it changes is changing us.

Quinn:

Yeah, that sounds pretty timely.

Alex Steffen:

There's a little bit going on with it. Yeah.

Quinn:

What did Katharine Hayhoe tweet last year? I don't know, I've completely lost track of time at this point like everybody else, but something about... What did she call it? She called it like Cassandra Freud or something like that about... It doesn't feel great to be the one shouting from the rooftops this whole time, and now [crosstalk 00:05:48]

Alex Steffen:

Absolutely. The Cassandra effect, right? Who could see the future, but nobody believed her, right? Was the Greek myth. Yeah.

Quinn:

Yeah, you've been at this for far longer than I have. I had the real corporate job for a while. But it does feel strange, and it felt this way at the beginning of COVID too, where people are like, "Man, live." Sometimes it's a little pushy, maybe? And a little of like, "Do you feel justified in being..." not doomerism, but I guess being... definitely get the alarmist things, sometimes, or how does it feel that everything is going this way, or this and that, and it's like, "I'm not celebrating. I would, more than anything, I would like to be wrong, and never do this job again."

Alex Steffen:

Oh, yeah. No, the dream of literally everyone who works on climate and environmental issues is to put themselves out of a job, right?

Quinn:

Oh, my God. Yeah.

Alex Steffen:

That would be the best case scenario is I have to go find some honest work to do, become a blacksmith or a [inaudible 00:06:52].

Quinn:

Please, God. One of the organizations I really love to support is called Alex's Lemonade Stand, it's a pediatric cancer organization, and we've had their co executive director on a few times, it was started by his late daughter, Alex. And he talks about that all the time, he's like, "I don't want to do this fucking job. Why would I want to work on kid's cancer all day? It's literally the worst thing in the world, my daughter died from it. I want to put myself out of business as soon as humanly possible."

Alex Steffen:

Exactly.

Quinn:

And as complicated as cancer can certainly be, the more we find out about it, it's not a monolith. Unfortunately, these, like you said, the climate systems, our ecosystems, the societal and economic systems we have designed and the way they all intersect are just a tad bit more complicated and affecting everyone.

Alex Steffen:

Yeah. I was going to say that one of the real difficulties about this moment in time is that we are experiencing negative consequences, and we're all pretty aware of that now, right? People at this point either understand it's happening, or are actively denying that it's happening, right? Very few people haven't heard that things are changing at this point. But we are very much... we all grew up in our own contexts, we all are educated and trained to do certain jobs, to do certain work, to think about things certain ways. We're surrounded by media and culture that tells us, "Hey, here's what's important. Here's what's cool. Here's what's worth looking at." And the really difficult thing about doing this kind of work, is that the first step to understanding what's going on is understanding that everything has already changed, right? That we're in what I call a discontinuity, right? That the experiences and expertise that we acquired before, don't really work now. And the systems we've built around us were built for a world that no longer is the world we live on in very literal ways.

Alex Steffen:

It can be very hard when the first thing somebody tells you is, "Okay, this is going to be easy. You start by just changing everything you thought and then we'll take the second step," right? That's difficult. And all of us are attached to what we know, right? Some of us a lot more than others. Some of us have financial incentives to not sort of see things change, maybe somebody works in a polluting industry or somebody has investments in those industries, or somebody lives in a place that is guaranteed to be hit hard by the changes that are coming, and they don't want to sort of face up to that, they don't want to see their property value drop, for example. Some people have direct incentive to not want things to change.

Alex Steffen:

A lot of us have indirect and emotional incentives, right? It's hard to think about things changing. It's overwhelming, it can be depressing. The reason why things are changing, it stems from a failure of our civilization to take care of the basic realities of human life, the nature around us and how we treat each other. And so a lot of people have a barrier to wanting to see how much has already changed now. And for those folks... I think almost all of us have some part of that in us, right, something that we don't want to acknowledge as changed. For those folks, for those of us who are in that position, that first step of just acknowledging how profound a change in era we have gone through can be impossible, right? There are people who just can't make that leap.

Alex Steffen:

There are also a lot of people who don't want other people to make that leap. I mean, we live in the midst of one of the largest disinformation campaigns ever launched by human beings, right? The denialism campaign around climate change, what I call predatory delay. So in the midst of that, each of us is in this unique position of having to first of all swallow this really big pill of understanding, right, that the entire Earth is different than it was 100 years ago, right?

Quinn:

Yeah. It's the matrix moment.

Alex Steffen:

Yeah, exactly, exactly. Then we have to figure out how we feel about that and what we do about it, and how we respond to that reality, right? The first step there's a doozy.

Quinn:

Yeah, and you have to empathize with folks who, again, it feels, I mentioned offline, a little bit like some phone calls I was offering to have with folks at the beginning of COVID when I started to do the math on this thing. You have to empathize with folks who... There's all these levels of, "I'm ready to hear it, hit me." And they handle it, and then they go to a dark place for a little while. "I'm ready to hear it," and then it turns out they're not. Or, "I can't deal with this right now. I've got enough just day to day shit on my plate." And then, of course, there's the denialism side of it. But it's a little harder when you've been in this thing for a long time, and you have to... It's breaking the news to folks is, as my wife has said, I have developed the unique ability to be the bummer in every single conversation, no matter the subject. I can ruin just about everything. And it's not the world's most fun superpower.

Alex Steffen:

No, no.

Quinn:

But learning how to talk to people, and how to shepherd them along, because we need all of them is something that is important. And as much as I want to talk about uncertainties today, like you said, they are certainties that have already happened. Clearly, I mean, just look outside, those things are happening. And the fundamentals that are the catalysts behind them are already there, and we can explain those to those folks. Then like you said, that's a big enough ask, but to go... And when they go, like, "What's going to happen?" You're like, "I mean, I think these things will probably happen. And they're entirely different than anything we've ever experienced since we bred off from neanderthals, but here's the deal." That's a tough one.

Alex Steffen:

Yeah, absolutely.

Quinn:

It's a tough one.

Alex Steffen:

I mean, that is the essence of when I talk about The Snap Forward, the title of my forthcoming book, and the newsletter and podcasts that I'm doing. When I talk about The Snap Forward, that's what I'm talking about, is that each of us has this process ahead of us, some of us are already in the midst of it, some of us are just starting it, where we are in a very short period of time going to be forced to try and understand how much has changed, and how many uncertainties are built into that, but also how much we definitely know, right? We know that things are already not the same as they were and will never be again. That's just a baseline. There are lots of parts of this that can be extremely discouraging. To work on these issues is to have to process on a regular basis really bad news, right?

Alex Steffen:

But that's not the whole story. I don't even think it's the largest part of the story, right? There's certainly a lot of change happening. There's the planetary crisis itself, climate change, biodiversity and ecosystems, toxics, invasive species, topsoil loss, water pollution, etc. Right? There are a whole mass of issues that are related to how we interact with nature. And the news on all those fronts is terrible, right? I mean, it's not going well out there, in case that's news to anybody. The ways in which it is worsening, are increasing the odds, right, as these problems interact and interconnect, they're accelerating each other and they're increasing the odds that we hit, if not catastrophic tipping points, at least a whole lot of small tipping points where a system that was working, an ecosystem that was kind of hanging on suddenly collapses, right? The thing that was working suddenly ceases to work the way we have expected.

Alex Steffen:

None of that is good news, right? And it's huge, it's hard to get our heads around how powerful that shift is, right? It is so powerful that it's changing the rules for human societies, and that that is the the nature of the problem, right, that when we talk about the planetary crisis, the crisis is that we're still doing old things, but we live in a new world. On top of that, you have the problem of we have long assumed that nature and environmental problems are out there somewhere, that they're things that are happening out in the woods, out in the mountains, they're things that that hikers and fishermen care about or whatever, right?

Quinn:

Shark can't eat you if you don't get in the water.

Alex Steffen:

Right. Exactly. So we have really underestimated the degree to which changes in the natural world are triggering even larger changes in the human world, especially because we've been in denial, we've delayed, we've put things off, we've not acted. And so there's this enormous torque built up behind every human system on Earth, which is as we recognize what's happening, that torque is getting released, and the changes that we're seeing are happening faster than we've ever seen things happen before, and we're just at the start of that roller coaster ride. So you have the natural world, but then you have the human need to respond and react. And it can be really hard in all that to see that that need to respond and react is also an amazing opportunity, right? That we have-

Quinn:

That's the clutch, that's what we're holding on to.

Alex Steffen:

Exactly. We have the necessity of remaking everything, it is possible to remake most things in ways that benefit most people more than our current, like what we think is going on now. And I actually have found that the more that I engage with this discontinuity, with the need to snap forward, the more optimistic I feel about what we can be doing, right? But again, it takes some new attitudes, and one of them that's really hard is we all we want there to be an orderly transition. We want things to progress smoothly from what we're used to into a new state of being in a way that is in control, that doesn't cost us any more than it has to, all that stuff. And as part of that, we want to believe that there are small things we can do that help push that orderly transition forward. But those small things are always keeping these changes external to our lives and our work and our families, and our most immediate concerns, right? They're always out there, it's like a charity we do, "Oh, this is the day we take care of the planet." You know?

Quinn:

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alex Steffen:

Yeah. And that's not how it is, right? I mean, this is, in fact, the context for our lives is this change, is the main context. Whatever else we think is going on, part of the discontinuity is that we can no longer keep nature out there, and the human world here, and our lives how we want them to be within it. So we're all sort of called to recognize that this is a moment, not only of planetary change, but a personal change for every single person on the planet. And that's a heavy lift.

Quinn:

It's a heavy one. And that's the part where it diverges from that moment in the matrix where he's like, "Or you can just go back to your fucking life in your office." The difference now is you can go back to your life in your office, but recognize that it's all going to change completely, because the Mr. Smith and his guys are going to destroy that as well. It's not just two worlds anymore, it's not just this whole thing that's been happening and you didn't know about the whole time, that thing is going to intersect with your day to day that has felt safe and boring, and everything is going to change, and it's already changed, and it's going to be actually really difficult for you to not only comprehend what's coming, but what has already happened.

Quinn:

When we see the heat that's... What did they say this week? Basically all the salmon in the river in Washington are gone. They're just like, "That's it," they couldn't survive the heat. Or the billion starfish in the Pacific Northwest that just didn't survive the heat wave. And you're going like, "How can that happen?" You're like, "Well, that's the easy thing to understand." That's literally just temperature. Fish aren't made to do that. But it's all the interconnected stuff that's going to... Again, it's all the interconnected stuff that's going to require folks in every part of society to look at it and take a step back and not only be ready to snap forward but to... Again, like we were talking about offline, to retrain ourselves to do systems thinking, to look at what we've built and go, "Oh, if X, and what about Y and Z?" And constantly take the step back and going, like, "What else is that connected to? What else..."

Quinn:

I wrote a whole thing about now is the moment to ask yourself and ask your company and your government, whatever it is, like, "What am I exposed to?" And it's not one level, it's over and over and over, whether it's your investments, or whatever it is, because there's just... It's not like when microchips came out, and they changed the world, and it was great, and that's exciting, and Intel was born, a bunch of people made money. Entire sectors are going away, and then every one is going to have to evaluate their scope three missions, and entire companies aren't going to be able to make it through that. What does that mean, from everything from buying your porch furniture, to jobs, to old forests to Tonga grass? It goes on and on, so-

Alex Steffen:

Yeah, and it shakes through whole categories of the way we think. For example, one of the things that, not just I, but a bunch of people have been talking about is how when we're trying to figure out risk, how much risk are we exposed to, one of the problems is that it no longer actually makes much sense to ask what is exposed to risk, but try and figure out the things where the risk is small enough that we don't need to worry about them very much, right? And then look at everything else that is already exposed to risk and change, that the risk is becoming ubiquitous in our society. Especially the risk that things will not be as you initially planned for is totally ubiquitous in pretty much every aspect of human society pretty much everywhere right now. There's some things where, hey, you don't need to worry about that for an hour, that's way down our list of concerns. But that still means there's a whole lot of things above that on the list, right?

Quinn:

100%, yeah.

Alex Steffen:

And so there's that initial problem. There's also the problem that we are used to trying to think of these things being things that will get fixed, right? Like, "Oh, we're exposed to this environmental harm," like a toxin or air pollution, "Well, we got to pass some laws, we got to do some things, and it's going to be fixed." In the best case scenario, we're going to respond to this massive set of ecological and climate problems and stop things from getting worse, or at least not much worse. That's the best case scenario, we're going to spend the rest of our lives living in the consequences of what people didn't do for the last four decades. And that's a bummer. It really sucks. There's no other way around that, right? That's a horrible... It was a crime, honestly, it was a crime against humanity to have done that. And we did know better, we knew better at the time, people have been saying we should have done things differently for five decades now, right?

Alex Steffen:

One of my first gigs as a young reporter was going to the Earth Summit in 1992 when everyone knew, every single leader of every nation on Earth knew these were problems that were serious then, needed to be addressed, etc. But we've had this campaign of disinformation, we've had campaigns of civic sabotage and predatory delay, that mean now, we just live in the world where that already happened. The planetary crisis we once were seeking to avoid has already occurred. And we now live in the midst of it, and we're trying to contain its magnitude, right? But part of the problem with this legacy of thinking somebody's going to come along and fix these things, is that we also have that thinking about our own lives, right? I talked about how we have this idea of like, "Oh, what are the simple things I can do," treating a planetary crisis that's changed the era of human civilization, as a charity, we can set aside.

Alex Steffen:

But we also have that in our own lives. I can't tell you how many people I have talked to in my life who are like, "Great, so what do we do? Should we all move to Alaska? Do you have a bunker?"

Quinn:

Oh, all the time. Every day.

Alex Steffen:

How do I do a thing right now that will just make this go away for me, even if it's an extreme thing? As long as it locks me back into certainty, right? As long as I can say, if I build a bunker or move to Alaska or invested all my money in clean energy, or whatever the thought is that a person is having, grow backyard food, that's going to return me to a state of certainty in my life, right? And that's not possible anymore. The difficulty here is we have to become native to the demands of this moment. And one of those demands is that we are going to have to be dynamic and adaptive for the rest of our lives. Well, for generations to come. That's just how it comes now. And if it were as simple as, hey, all you need to do is move to Alaska, then it would be horrible, but it would be solvable. It wouldn't be confusing and difficult, we wouldn't be in a discontinuity. We just be in, pardon language, a shitstorm.

Quinn:

Sure, but a shitstorm ends and it's easy to understand and it's the thing you get over and it's a thing you get through, it's like strep throat, it's pretty clear, it doesn't just keep fucking changing. And that is the thing that we have to be ready for, because this is how... I mean, this is how compound interest works. And the problem is what happens when compound interest is mixed with living systems upon we have not only relied but exploited to the entire way? So this is exactly where I want to go today, right? You've spent so much time and so much of your career, like you said, since 1992 on your first job, when everyone's like, "No, we get it," comparing the past to the present, and comparing the present to the future and going, "These aren't the same, and they won't be as long as we're around." So not only like documenting all that, which is very important, everything that's changed in this relatively incredibly brief timescale of modern humanity.

Quinn:

But also, and again, this is what I was saying offline, trying to look forward, trying to extrapolate from the facts on the ground we have now as far as we can, and asking questions about our options going forward, about our storytelling going forward, about how we measure things going forward, about what our expectations should be, how we set our attitudes, how we build policy, how we talk to each other, and what the second order effects of all of those things are, because I mean, I think especially with kids, trying to understand the unknowns in a lot of situations is a fool's errand. And this is obviously a very specific version of that. But my goal, whenever I'm welcoming people to the funeral home that is the climate movement at times, is to be transparent and practical about, okay, you've seen some shit, either happened to you personally, or your hometown, or where your parents are, ora loved one, or some species you care about, or forest, whatever it might be. Welcome. Here's the real context behind that.

Quinn:

But then also trying to be... And I find this is so important, to be as transparent, but also as practical as we can about what's coming, but also what we still don't know. And I think, like you said in the email to me, how unlikely it is that those unknowns might end up being advantageous to us. But what it means to have to take on radical global uncertainty, and again, that is why people say, "Can't I just build a backyard garden and this is fixed? Can't I just go to Canada," which, by the way, got bad news, it's not going great. What does it mean as a society, for primaries in our election system, for all of these things, because that is what living... And I've transparently stolen this word, like living in a discontinuity is, is becoming comfortable, like you said, being in it, but being comfortable, and now becoming a species and business or a family or a person that defines himself as being adaptable, because otherwise, it's just going to be mentally and spiritually and practically very difficult to get through this thing, much less to contribute to arresting it in any way possible.

Quinn:

So one of the things I've loved in your blog and podcast coming up, and I'm sure is going to be a big part of your book is you've written about how control, for example, which is exactly what, like you said, is how we've defined ourselves as these orderly transitions, whether it's in business, or the stock market, or congress where we've got a bunch of people who've been in power for 40 plus years, right? But that's inherently what we're just going to have less of, and how it's just not an option any longer. And it reminds me of, maybe you've read this, there's a new book by Mariana Mazzucato, I think is how you pronounce her name, it's called the Mission Economy.

Alex Steffen:

I'm familiar with her work, I haven't read that book.

Quinn:

Yeah, it's really great. It's pretty new, and I'm going to just very poorly and vastly oversimplify it. But the main thrust is essentially we have to design policy and economies and societies to an extent to support those, to reflect an achievable, measurable mission. What is the output? And what are the measurements we can take along the way? And it reminds me, I was rereading some of your old stuff, and things you've said back at Worldchanging, but it's the opposite of these corporate 2015 netzero pledges from the fucking airlines, right, with no intermittent markers along the way.

Quinn:

So just this week in the reconciliation bill, they said, "We're going to do ...one of the things that's included and will probably get cut, is we're going to add dental and vision to Medicare." Great. That's a measurable outcome. It's like Apollo, right? We're going to put a man on the fucking moon. Great. Everything else we do has to support that very clear, practical thing. And it's the same thing as, not netzero, not some vague term that literally nobody can agree on, but just zero emissions, that's threshold, that's table stakes, that's an outcome that's not up for debate. And everything else from how we fund it and who works on it and the decisions we make along the timeline, how dynamic we are, has to support and be able to stand up to that one thing. Again, from our societies, to the cars we buy, to debates, whatever it might be.

Quinn:

My question is, do you feel like we can do that? Do you feel like we can rewrite our policymaking, our economies and our societies to do that? I think anyone younger than you and I has no other choice, because they were born after 911, and they're like, "This whole thing has to be redone. We don't have a choice. I don't care about your investments, because I'm not part of the stock market anyways." They're like, "It's a zero sum game." But knowing what we know, how possible do you feel like that is and how do we get ourselves to that point where we're willing to make those bets?

Alex Steffen:

Yeah. Well, I mean, I think that the first question we have to ask ourselves is what are we trying to do? What's the goal? I mean, we can say some things that we probably all agree on that one of the goals is to have a long lived human civilization that gives many people the opportunity to live rich, full lives, is stable and equitable and whatever. We can have some notions about what human goodness is, but really the critical thing is, we don't know what the outcome we're seeking is. And we don't know that in very real terms, because we haven't engaged with the reality of discontinuity, right? That really, the number one step we face is understanding the situation we're in, because right now, the number of people who understand it... I mean, I sometimes half jokingly say that very few people, perhaps no one, has fully engaged with the reality of discontinuity, right? It's hard to do. But-

Quinn:

For sure. No, we're not built to do that.

Alex Steffen:

No, our brains are built the exact opposite way. We look for pattern and continuity, but also we are surrounded by a political and societal context that really values continuity. It values the continuity, not of the long continuity of humanity, but the continuity of what's making money right now. Like where do people have their investments? What's my property value? How's my index fund doing? How's the bottom line on the company, etc. and people really do not want to rock that boat. And we want to believe that there's something we can do that will maintain that fundamental continuity moving forward.

Alex Steffen:

So we think about things like policy as the answer, right? We're going to get policy that's going to change [crosstalk 00:33:20], first we get the laws, and then everything changes. But it's not working, and it's not going to work, because until we wrestle with discontinuity, we can't acknowledge that there are people whose interests radically diverge on this. If we're being blunt, the interests of coal miners and oil executives and Miami Beach real estate developers diverge strongly from your interests and my interests and the interests of most people, right? There's not a happy medium there, right? The myth is, we're going to bring everyone to the table, we're going to get everyone to agree, and then we're going to move forward in orderly way and go from this world to a new world, a new normal, that works better.

Alex Steffen:

That that leads to all sorts of problems, not least of which is it makes it very easy for people who don't actually want to change at all, to sign up and say, "We're part of the change," right? We've set a netzero goal, by 2050 we're going to be netzero. And in the mean time we've-

Quinn:

Trees.

Alex Steffen:

Right. In the meantime, we've doubled recycling rates in the office. That's our first step. And the absurdity of oil companies talking about their own carbon footprint, that kind of thing. The reality is that until we understand how temporary all the systems are around us, and how much torque is built up in the world around us, how ready to change almost everything around us is, if it hasn't already changed, and we're just ignoring it, until we understand that we can't design rational outcomes. The first step here is understanding how different from our expectations the world has already become. The first step is the snap forward, right?

Alex Steffen:

And when we talk about things like how do we get congress to act, or how do we do these things? I don't believe that there is a way to fashion the politics, the culture, the activism, the business practices, the innovations that we need, without first accepting the inherent conflict here between the need to move fast and acknowledge the truth, and other people's need to move slow and their denial of reality. You have to see that as built into it, because that is why nothing has happened so far.

Quinn:

I think about it, though, and not to be... It's hard not to be kind of ruthless when you look at what's already happening and what's already baked in, and how many people are already suffering or will, and go, "Okay, I understand that you have different priorities and different vested interests, because of your business or your beliefs, or whatever it may be, but I don't have time, and we don't have time to get you on board. If you're not..." Like you said, we're not explaining it to anybody anymore. I mean, I wrote about this in our newsletter today, we don't have the bandwidth to convince anyone anymore, that's past, you get it, or you fucking don't. And if you don't, that's probably because, again, you have vested interest otherwise, or someone has... It's like you said, the largest effort and mechanisms behind disinformation that's ever existed, forget it.

Quinn:

But I do wonder if... We have to find some way to be proactively applying themselves to these things. And I think this is where a lot of the angst behind groups like Sunrise comes from is going, "Yes, we need everyone to understand that there is a snap forward, that we are... a discontinuity that we are in and your investments already don't matter, and X and Y." But at the same time, we had to do this stuff yesterday, so we actually have to be acting in the meantime. And if you're not on board, then we just have to get to 51 votes, type of thing. It's [crosstalk 00:37:28]

Alex Steffen:

Well, look, we could craft the politics. I mean, we could certainly craft an imaginary politics that would take us forward in enormous strides, right?

Quinn:

Of course.

Alex Steffen:

I mean, the real secret here, the sort of open secret to all this is we already have so many amazing solutions, right? There's so many things we already know how to do-

Quinn:

Solar is free.

Alex Steffen:

Solar is essentially free, yeah. I mean, we're already at replacement rate for clean energy, right, it's cheaper in many cases, to shut down the fossil fuel asset than to continue to run it compared to the cost of building and then running a clean energy asset. But anyway, that's true for efficiency, it's true for urban planning, we have amazing progress happening in terms of our understanding of ecological restoration. I mean, there are literally millions of people working very hard on creating good solutions, and now have them for five decades. And some of those solutions are not just as good as what we have now, in pure economic terms, they're better, right? The only reason they're not being deployed and taken up, is because those who have slow interests have built a vast political machine to control the pace of their own defeat. That is exactly what... I mean, honestly, one way to describe the Republican Party is a machine for climate predatory delay that also includes Evangelical Christians [crosstalk 00:38:50]

Quinn:

100%, but it also reminds me of 2010, and I remember sitting next to someone on a plane who was arguing against what became Obamacare covering pre existing conditions. And my only thought was, and again, this is where it gets dark is, "Oh, you must not have a family member with a pre existing condition." Because if you have any connection to someone with one, the fact that they cannot go to the doctor, besides emergency room, which... Americans going to the emergency room destroys our entire system in 400 different ways. But if you were exposed to someone with a pre existing condition in any way, there's no way you could vote against this thing unless you have just an enormous vested interest against it, right? You'd be arguing against your own personal human dignity, against potentially family or friends or whatever it can be.

Quinn:

And that's where you see the Miami thing, people going, "We're we're moving here for Bitcoin," and whatever it might be, and it's great, but your buildings are falling down and your foundation is made out of Swiss cheese. At some point, you're going to be exposed enough that you have to get on board in some way.

Alex Steffen:

Well, so there's an old saying that good strategy is about winning than fighting. And I think in a very real way, all good climate strategy, all good sustainability strategy is the same, that we are not going to first convince everyone, second come up with a plan, and then third react. That is the orderly transition model, and it has already failed, it has zero chance of happening now, it is no longer possible to do that. What we're going to have is instead a whole set of conflicts and interventions, where various folks who need new solutions to happen, figure out how to make those solutions beat other existing practices. And one of the real problems with not being able to see the discontinuity is we don't realize that that is inevitable, that is inevitably going to happen across every single system in every single human society that doesn't completely fall apart, some will, there are places that are going to be hit very hard in the coming decades, and are going to have a very hard time even holding on.

Alex Steffen:

But most of human society is not going to be hit that hard. And what we're going to see is that torque being released, right? It's going to change everything from investment decisions, to policy choices, to our culture, and the way we think about our own futures and our own lives, right, to how the economy works, how we need to educate our kids, it's going to change... It is already beginning to change every single aspect of human society. So we have this idea that what we're trying to do is push this huge boulder of climate action, of sustainability up this really steep hill, and we just need to get more people behind it and push that boulder. If we can just bring more people up on board, we're going to get it to the top of the hill, and thank God, then we're good.

Alex Steffen:

But that's not the situation we're in. The situation is the boulder's already at the top of the hill, and we want it to roll down. And there's a whole bunch of people who are making money keeping it propped up at the top of the hill. They're holding it up there, keeping it from rolling, right? And the sooner it rolls, the better it is for almost everybody in society. The only people for whom it is not better are those people who have slow investments, slow priorities they can't get out of, and frankly, that's a small number of people, and they're doing the wrong thing, they're doing the wrong thing, they need to be... Our concern should not be focused on them. Our concern should be focused on our kids, and their kids and our grandkids, great grandkids.

Alex Steffen:

We should be thinking about who really benefits and who really loses, and how many people are... What's the greater good for the greatest number? And absolutely, the most rapid climate action, sustainability action, the ruggedization of our systems and cities, the creation of sustainable prosperity, the acceleration of change, these are absolutely good for way more people, billions more people, than slow progress, quote, unquote, would be. But also, Stuart Brand has that great quote that the greatest good for the greatest number will always be about future generations, because most of the people who will ever live have not yet been born. So if we're talking about what is right and fair and good, the immediate destruction of slow systems is what's right and fair and good, and the rapid implementation of sustainability solutions, ruggedization of restoration, of the things we know how to do.

Alex Steffen:

And we know that those things, by and large, will leave us better off than what we currently have. And it's only the inability to see what we currently have as brittle, as about to fall down, as in fact losing us money, etc. Because of our current debate, the inability to see that makes it look like we're giving up prosperity and wealth for some crazy broken ecological future. But it's actually for most of us the exact opposite of that. We're giving up a system that's losing us money, that's exposing us to danger, that's harming our children, that's making the planet unlivable, and human societies way more vulnerable and unstable, for a world in which we have at least leveled off the threats to civilization, and created the seeds for prosperity for a lot more people in ways that are more ruggedized to the realities that we face today.

Alex Steffen:

I mean, I think the open secret of this moment is not how bad things are, it's how good they can get and how quickly, if we chase up to reality, if we take that initial snap forward, right? So I mean, that's where I'm coming from.

Quinn:

No, no, no, I agree with you. People will ask the questions, they want to engage on these things, or they say they want to engage and I go like, "Okay, how much time do you have and how much you want to really get into this?" And you have to start with this fact that, like you said, okay, how do we get into a discontinuity? Then you dial it down to first principles. We have based and fought over, and then decided upon economies, societies and geopolitics that are entirely dependent on and constructed on a single, finite resource that powered the entire industrial revolution of the West, but also ruined everything, and ruined everything in this incredibly unequal way. It's like when people talk about their ex partners, and talking about ignoring red flags and things like that, we've ignored so many red flags.

Quinn:

Then you get to something like COVID. Ed Yong in The Atlantic had this great quote about it's like a flood going down a sidewalk, and it's leaking into every crack that's been there along the way. And my version of that that I've harped on is essentially, of course, it started before this, but for mainstream Americans, March, whatever it was, 13th 2020, whatever that Friday was, when everyone's like, "I'm getting my kid out of school." That was our pop quiz. And that was our pop quiz, and the quiz was, "What are all of the decisions that you as a society have made up to this point? Now we're going to see how they hold up." And we failed on most of them. And so many of them come down to, oh, this thing, this resource that you've built everything on, both by design, and by necessity, to the people in charge, which mostly look like guys like you and me, it made millions of people sick with pre existing cardio respiratory conditions.

Quinn:

Now you've got this relatively unique virus that comes along, and it's kind of like this perfect virus, it's less deadly than SARS, which is good on one hand, but on the other hand, that means it can get spread everywhere, and it attacks our respiratory and cardiopulmonary systems in these crazy ways. But if you've already got these pre existing conditions, because we've got millions of black and brown kids that live within 30 miles of a coal plant in Los Angeles, fucking untapped oil wells next to you school and your house-

Alex Steffen:

Freeways.

Quinn:

You're already done. And that all comes back to that single thing. All the wars we fought, all these things. And like you said, yes, we're in this continuity now because of those things, because all of these things are way more connected than we ever anticipated. It's not just Mark Wahlberg movies and what oil exploded in the ocean and when? It's what does that do over time to every one of these systems? And like you said, this system, not that we want to build it, that we need to have started building forever ago, is going to be so much better for so many people, because in the past 100 years, all they've had is exposure to the worst elements of this thing. That's, for me, is where I'm fine with the old institutions of power completely being dissected and crumbling. And I think, so many of the young people feel the same way.

Quinn:

All they have ever felt is elections that were lost, is poisoned air, is poisoned water, is just massive inequality. And they're like, "You think I care about the stock market? I can't even invest in the stock market. And also, most of your companies aren't going to exist through this discontinuity anyways. We have to tear the whole thing down, because this is the end of the beginning. This is version one, and it was a nightmare.

Alex Steffen:

I mean, believe me, I am very sympathetic to the idea of burn it all down, right? You can't do this for-

Quinn:

And of course you have to have transitions.

Alex Steffen:

Well, you can't do this for three decades, like I have, and not have a deep reservoir of rage about how horrible many of the decisions that have been made have been and how much they've harmed people, how much they've harmed, not just nature, but people. I think it's really important again, though, to understand that we have a narrative here, that this is an issue, that it will be solved by advancing changes and by creating policy and incentives that will move the ball forward until we've solved the issue, like we're trying to solve gun violence or racism, right?

Alex Steffen:

But it's not an issue. We're not going to solve it. And I think the idea that the first step is we sort of overthrow everything, and then we fix it is delusional. I don't think we're going to overthrow everything. I think that what we're going to have is a society that still has many of the exact same problems we have today, but is now responding to the realities of today. And-

Quinn:

Well, in a lot of ways they already are just because it's... Look, I mean, you say who's leading the way on installing solar power? And it's businesses, not because they give a shit, but because it's better for the bottom line. Capitalism is still running the game.

Alex Steffen:

Way more people benefit from change now than benefit from delay, way more people. And that includes investors and companies and national governments etc. It includes all the halls of power, right? They're slow nations, but most nations are fast, right? There are still political parties, but most political parties are understanding that they need to start becoming faster. And that the important thing to understand, I think, is that we still keep trying to grapple with this as something that we're going to find a way out of, but it's not the thing that we're moving through, it just is reality now.

Quinn:

It just is. Yeah, of course.

Alex Steffen:

So all have the questions that we had before, still exist, and they're not going away, we're not going to solve every societal issue with the move towards sustainability and ruggedization, and sensible ideas, we're going to remain in a situation where some people are deeply disadvantaged and horribly, tragically compromised. In fact, many more people than today. But if we're also, if we're very smart, we're going to also live in a situation where billions of people are rising up out of poverty, where people have, even as they're exposed to greater threats, greater capacity to survive those threats and to withstand those threats with prosperity intact. That's the world that we're moving in, and it gets so... I have, at least, it sounds like you do too. I have such a desire for there to be a bad guy to defeat, until we level up and evolve and get the big boss and win.

Quinn:

That's the way we've been trained, right?

Alex Steffen:

I mean, that's the narrative.

Quinn:

Look, for better or worse, however way you felt it, this was the... And I campaigned for him, the problem with Obama from the beginning, right, is that... And he has said this, is that everyone put on him this completely untenable expectation for what he could be, and there were 1,000 different versions of that. And in that case, it's impossible not to fail. It's the same thing for... That's the hope version of finding the good guy that's going to save us all. And it's the same thing for Biden winning and changing most of his politics along the way, and what's he going to do, and hiring this all star climate team along the way, and then you get mad because the Justice Department's being independent, but that's the whole point is we wanted it... It goes on and on and on. We want it to be that simple. We want, like you said, gun control, right? God, I fucking hate guns, I'm so tired of the whole thing.

Quinn:

We had Gutenberg on and his daughter was mowed down in her school and you're just like, "Melt all the guns down, and can we just fucking be done with this?" Right? That is also complicated, but it's a hell of a lot more simple than this. My point when I talk about these Sunrise kids or, I mean, my kids who are white privileged kids and are going to be fine. But everyone else that has been marginalized the whole time and is angry and grew up reading Hunger Games is... I not only want to be an ally to them as much as I can, my goal is the outcome, the means that we get there requires everyone, right? So it means empathizing with them and allying with them, in the same way that when CEOs or investors or founders or whoever VCs call me about, "How can I take advantage of this as an opportunity?" Right? On the capitalistic side. And because they're like, "Look, we were invested in all these things, and they're all going south," whatever it might be.

Quinn:

It's looking at them, and like you said, going, "These are the biggest markets that are ever going to exist, and it's not even close. And these are the ways you can participate in those whether it's investing or founding in something, and whatever it was." And then a lot of the Sunrise kids are going to hate that. Because they're like, "Fuck capitalism, burn the whole thing down." I'm like, "No, I get-

Alex Steffen:

Sure. But isn't that the role of being young in our society-

Quinn:

Of course.

Alex Steffen:

... is to be like, "Look at all the things that are fucked up, let's change course." Right?

Quinn:

And they're more justified than anyone's ever been. But you need everybody.

Alex Steffen:

Well, I think that... On the one hand, I agree. And on the other hand, I totally disagree. Because I think that the reality of this situation is that this crisis is a professional crisis. Most of the decisions, in fact, almost all the important decisions about how things are changing or not in our society, are made by people whose job it is to make that decision. And the people-

Quinn:

Like you talked about with the disinformation.

Alex Steffen:

Exactly. And the people who have the power to influence those decision makers are also by and large professionals, right? We're talking about classes of people who are... On the one hand, there's the billionaires and so forth, but just the top 10% in wealthy societies are full of people who have assets, have political access, have education, etc. And that's like the top 2% of the globe, right? So on the one hand, yes, do we need everyone in a certain way? Yes. But the reality is that most of the job is going to get done by that top 2% of humanity, and most of the job within that it's going to happen with the people who their actual work is to decide, do we build a solar farm or a new coal plant? Do we build a new highway, or do we densify around a new rail line? Do we continue to do what we're doing now, or do we build a seawall and create a wetland and whatever to protect the city from rising seas? These are the decisions that make the world.

Alex Steffen:

I get frustrated, and sometimes even pretty angry, when people put on, for example, youth climate activists, the responsibility to change things, because it's not their responsibility. They're doing exactly what they should do and saying, "Hey-

Quinn:

They didn't make this fucking mess.

Alex Steffen:

Well, and they have no power to change it. That's the thing, we have to get real about power, who has power and who doesn't? And in our world, it's people with professional training, investible income and political connections, and good education and so forth, who have the power. And generally, that's older people, not always, but generally. And generally, it's people who are highly concentrated in the developed world, and in the parts of the developing, in quotes, world that are already pretty rich, like parts of China and parts of India, there are a lot of very wealthy people. But we're the ones who are... You and I are both in that group, right? And we're the ones who are going to have to make these decisions.

Alex Steffen:

I think it starts to really get obsessive, and it becomes an obsessive belief in the power of truth telling to bring on orderly transition, when that is not what's going to do it, right? A recognition of reality, not the speaking truth to power part of it, but the recognition that this has already happened, and now we need to adapt to it. That is the revolutionary breakthrough in terms of changing the behavior of people whose job it is to make these decisions and I get very frustrated, not because I don't believe in climate justice, or in youth activism, or etc. Of course, I believe in these things. I spent my entire life fighting in many ways for these things.

Alex Steffen:

But we let ourselves off the hook. People like you and I and the people listening to the show, and our friends and colleagues and bosses and so forth, we let ourselves off the hook by saying, "We need everyone," blah, blah, blah, what we really need is we need us, we need the people who have the power to make the decisions to make the decisions.

Quinn:

Absolutely. That's the only thing that's going to get it there. I mean, look, the entire United... I mean, we mythologize this all the time. But the future of the United States, as much as Rob wrote about a couple weeks ago, as much as the green vortex, as he put it, has worked the past decade almost inadvertently, but thank God it has made so much progress, it comes down to this one senator from West Virginia or the one, turns out, very moderate senator from Arizona. Look, I'm for the kitchen sink approach. This is why I pick up the phone when someone calls and says, "Jesus Christ..." And say something dark, like, "What can my company do to benefit from COVID?" And I'm like, "Ignoring the fact that you're a sick person, here are the things." Because if I can all turn them into being a benefit in some way, because they have the levers of power, then I will do whatever I can to do that. And it's the same thing for getting that 51st vote.

Quinn:

If the whole pie is, as they are, I think still right now, these Sunrise LA kids have been camped out on Feinstein's doorstep for like three days, if that is part of it, as well as whatever donors have to donate to her or get her to retire or whatever it might be. Again, whatever the means are to get us there. Great. The climate justice part, it's all of it, but we cannot... I think the point, not to put words in your mouth, but what you're getting to is like, we would be, especially folks like us, would be so naive to think that fundamental systemic, societal change, or even human change just happens because we are marching in the streets is not how it works.

Quinn:

I mean, we how many black people have been killed in the streets for so many years, millions of people marched the last year, millions of people across the entire world, tens of millions of people, and one guy barely got justice for kneeling on videotape on a guy's neck. That's what it took to get to that point, barely. So the idea that we're going to get rid of capitalistic society, it's incorrect, and it's black or white, that's not the way it's going to work. But I will do whatever it takes to... I've always, but just nudge the needle of progress as far as we can every time because I think any anticipation that we're going to do more than nudge it is naive. But I also think that it's the... What is the Japanese tenet, 1% every day doesn't look like much, but over time it adds up.

Quinn:

We have to do these things every time, and any win we get on a state level, on a local level, on a federal level, international level for these non binding treaties, whatever the thing is, I will push every day, whatever the stakeholder is because like you said, these people don't have power, they can camp out on her doorstep, and it's great, and I support it. And any of these people who are like, "Great, I'll send 200 bucks a month to Sunrise." Okay, great, but what is your company capable of doing? Who are you close to that you can influence, because I will be ruthless, and vigilante about getting us wherever it takes us to get there.

Alex Steffen:

I am with you. And at the same time, I think one of the one of the things that I'm trying to help folks see is that our idea of how change happens, our model of change is built on a model of trying to nudge forward, push forward progress on specific issues, right? And this is not an issue, what we face is not an issue, it can't be fixed through activism, it can't be fixed through [crosstalk 01:01:07]

Quinn:

No, of course not.

Alex Steffen:

It can't be fixed. But also, we can't respond those ways through the kind of power that we're able to marshal in these narrow avenues within activism that is, at best, partially effective, especially when done by people who have very little power other than the power of showing up. But also that can't be done in policy arenas, where predatory delay and civic sabotage have pre limited the outcomes available to such an extent that those outcomes no longer include what we need to do, right? You can't win the fight, because the fight is already set up to be lost. You can't fight and win.

Quinn:

Right, [crosstalk 01:01:46]

Alex Steffen:

Hear me out.

Quinn:

... if they've literally changed the fight.

Alex Steffen:

Right. Hear me out. Exactly. You cannot fight to win, because the victory condition is no longer contained within the game, right? So the problem we face, right, is that the situation is that the world has already changed to a degree, very few of us, if any of us, are really capable of grasping, it has already right now while we're talking. And everything around us is still oriented towards the previous understanding of the world, towards the old systems, the old ways of doing things, including activism, including politics, right? And so part of the challenge is having to understand that the recognition of that reality is itself incredibly disruptive, which is why so much effort has been spent to keep us from recognizing it, to keep us from discussing it, right? And it is disruptive, not only to the people who have a stake in preventing change, but also it's disruptive to all of us who've acquired professional expertise or social standing or political power-

Quinn:

Oh, yeah, you enjoy democracy. Yeah.

Alex Steffen:

Well, I mean, who are benefiting from the way that things are set up, right? And we have a lot of triangulation in our society where people are like, "Well, we're going to do this part now." Right? You know, big goals down the road, we all want to netzero, but we're going to do this part now. And people who are experts in doing this part now, but doing this part now has become part of the way we deny the reality of our situation, that we don't face the reality that we are already in this massive discontinuity where everything we thought we knew no longer works. And where we do have a lot of good ideas, a lot of knowledge, a lot of insight into what we can do next, but we have to begin with the understanding that we're not going to change what we have into what needs to happen. It's already in discontinuity. It's already disrupted. It's an upheaval.

Alex Steffen:

So what we're building is something out of that dynamic, right? And that's a very different task than having people sit in Feinstein's office, right? I mean, that mayor may not be helping. I don't think it does any harm, but we need to understand what's already happened, right, we're not yet prepared for what's already happened. And a big part of what I'm trying to say, with the snap forward, is that if we want to understand how to be effective in the world, we have to understand first, when we are, we have to get to when we are and act from that premise, and that so much of what we're trained to do about this situation is ineffective, not because we're bad people or it was badly intentioned, or that it was a stupid idea when it was created, but simply because it's of a different world. It's from a world we no longer live in.

Alex Steffen:

A lot of what's going to need to happen from my point of view, is that we're going to need to win a whole lot of fights, win a whole lot of battles and then go back and fight to have it integrate into a better society. We don't have time to take it step wise and hope that in 20 years policy comes through that brings us forward because in 20 years we'll live in a whole nother planet yet again.

Quinn:

Oh, of course. People ask me all the time, they're like, "What do you think college is going to look like in 10 years?" I'm like, "Oh, this is [inaudible 01:05:12]. You think that's the thing that's going to change?" It's wild man. Did you read, or see... I'm sure you're familiar with Eric Holthaus?

Alex Steffen:

Sure.

Quinn:

Meteorologist and writer, he wrote a great book last year called The Future Earth. And I really enjoy it because it's not as necessarily aggressive as probably even our conversation today. But the first part of it does set up like, "Look, this is what's baked in and is already happening. But this is the earth we can build over the next 40 years, it's going to be very rough, especially these..." And he sections it off by decade, "The next 10 and the 10 after that... And actually, that second beat is actually going to probably be the worst of it. But if we make monumental encompassing overwhelming progress along the way, here's the little benefits we might start to see for more people than have ever had helped before. And past that, what that might look like."

Quinn:

But it's important to acknowledge in every step, and I think he does a really good job of like you're saying, this just is, which sounds like something from the Bible, right? This is what it is right now. And this is what it is for as long as it's... You and I certainly will ever know, and our children and their grandchildren is overwhelming, fundamental 30,000 feet down to ground level change. And not just once, not just twice, but over and over and over. And some of that's going to be very difficult to comprehend. It's like the first time you're in Berkeley that you've ever... Earthquakes that shake or scary, earthquakes were the ground rolls, I don't know if you've been one of those-

Alex Steffen:

Sure.

Quinn:

... those are the ones that fuck with your head because our lizard brains aren't really programmed to think that the Earth can move underneath your feet. It's not the-

Alex Steffen:

Like why are there waves on the ground? Yeah, exactly.

Quinn:

Right. It doesn't add up, and that's what a lot of this is, and not that we can control earthquakes, but we can build this much better thing. But the old way of doing it, which I fully agree with, and I think we probably agree on, more [inaudible 01:07:19] letting on here, which is just it's going to require not just everything we know how to do, but acknowledging that most of that's not going to work. And so how do we do everything within the scope of what actually might be possible?

Alex Steffen:

Yeah. Again, part of what I'm trying to do with The Snap Forward is to help us move our thinking into a new place. And I like Eric's work, he interviewed me for that book, I think it's a good book. But there's a challenge, which is it verges on what I call safe utopias, right? And a safe utopia is a place where we solve our problems without having to address fundamental conflicts that exist in our society, where the problems resolve themselves through bringing everyone together. Safe utopias are an essential part of the idea of an orderly transition, that we can get to an end point where everything is going to be better for people no matter... Yes, things have changed permanently, we live in a new world, but everything is going to be better for people because we come together. And I am 100% pro coming together. But I also think we have to acknowledge that conflict is baked into every aspect of the problems that we're facing now, that this crisis-

Quinn:

Also just who we are.

Alex Steffen:

Who we are, but also, I mean, certainly, and there's competition, and the desire to gain power and status over others, these are major human drives., But also just that every system around us has somebody who is going to fight as long as they can to keep things the same way, because it's good for them, right? And that there's no way that we're going to talk those people out of giving up their power, because so many of them have held on for so long, that there's no transition there. You can't transition coal now, right? There's no way to save the coal industry. The only thing we're doing with coal is shutting it all down as soon as we possibly can, right? So there's no way to bring coal interests and people who care about the planetary future to the table together and agree on an outcome. There's just no way that's ever going to happen. It's a zero sum conflict, because of how long we've waited.

Quinn:

Unless that outcome is how do we just... We have to start by acknowledging that coal is over and go from there.

Alex Steffen:

Yeah, I mean, we could have a whole discussion about the coal industry, right?

Quinn:

Oh, God, yeah, [crosstalk 01:09:48]

Alex Steffen:

Because I think that actually it's one of the biggest mistakes progressive politics has made is identifying coal miners as an emblem of climate justice. I think it's catastrophic to our thinking, because they're not. When you are a person doing the crime, you are not a victim of that crime.

Quinn:

And you've also known you've been a part of it for 25 years, this isn't the old days anymore.

Alex Steffen:

Exactly. There have been so many offers on the table of so many opportunities to do things differently. So anyway, that's a whole other issue.

Quinn:

I'm with you.

Alex Steffen:

The point that I'm trying to make is that we really want there to be ways in which this resolves itself back into continuity, into a new stability, into orderliness, that it all makes sense, again, that we all are in it together. But that's not the world we live in now. We live in a world that is disorderly, that is full of upheaval, and discontinuity, that we are not going to arrive in our lifetimes at a new normal. For the rest of our lives, part of the nature of our lives is to not have a normal that we can just go, "Well, this is how things are. So I'm just going to plan for that." That is the real crisis. The real crisis is that's the way things are now, and we're not admitting it. That is fundamental part of the crisis is the world is already disorderly, discontinuous, there is no transition, there's no new normal, there's no safe harbor at the end of this. There's just building a society that can live within the new era that we've created or not.

Quinn:

Right. And that's what I mean. I mean, I think normal then is, if you use a definition of what is your... Can there be an expectation, and if you want to call that normal, the expectation needs to be unpredictive or unpredictable, complete upheaval, essentially. And that's just what your... I mean, everything comes down to setting expectations, right? Whether it's profits or participation, I mean, that's-

Alex Steffen:

Well, the more people who engage in a snap forward, the more people who take on thinking about when we actually are and what that means, the faster we're going to find good solutions, and be able to figure out how to assemble all these amazing opportunities we have, and solutions, and better ways of doing things into new models that work. It's just we can't expect that the measurement of success of that is that we restore a new normal, because it's not in our capability at this point, maybe our kids will, maybe our great grandkids will, but it's not in our capability now, and that's not the win scenario for humanity. The win scenario for humanity is we minimize the damage, we minimize the suffering, and we elevate possibility, right? I mean, that's the win scenario.

Quinn:

100%. I mean, yeah, we can't change what age we were born into, but this is the job we've signed up for, which is just to begin the proactive undertaking of the transition as much as we can control it, which is very little, and the old ways, not only don't work, but just don't apply in any way anymore. So work within the systems where it's necessary. I mean, for instance, you have to pass this reconciliation build to do anything. But what is literally the next step past that, and it has to be something that's just fundamentally different? Yeah, I gotcha. So listen, we always want to end with specific action steps that people can take. And obviously, this is a much more philosophical talk than a lot of others.

Quinn:

But if you could spend a little time talking about again, what are the specific places, the specific questions people can ask, representatives, for instance, the people with the power or the specific places they can go to educate themselves or to level up so that they can feel like they are actually starting to, again, snap forward to acknowledge that we are in a... besides the fact that they already listened to this fucking show, that they're in a discontinuity. I mean, they already signed up for this thing. So where can we go... How can we get more people onboard enrolling with this?

Alex Steffen:

Yeah, well, I mean, one easy answer is folks can sign up for my newsletter, which is free, and it's available on Sub Stack, alexsteffen.substack.com, or you can google The Snap Forward. And a lot of what I do in the newsletter, or if folks want to support the newsletter, they can get a paid podcast as well, for subscribers. And a lot of what I'm doing in both of those is trying to explore these questions, how do we think about it? What do we know? And I do along the way, both there and in my Twitter feed, which is just @AlexSteffen, try and refer to informative things that I've found. I try and do a lot of spotlighting of good stuff, stuff that's interesting to think about.

Alex Steffen:

I think that the biggest thing people can do, other than starting, there's the George Clinton free your mind and your ass will follow, right? I think starting by freeing our minds and understanding that we live in a discontinuity is the biggest thing any of us can do. But after that one of the things that we can all aim for is having informed discussions with people in our lives, whether those are elected representatives, or neighbors, or our best friends, or our colleagues, where we start to talk about these things, not as something... not as an issue we have to do a thing on, not like, "Hey, do we have a climate giving program?" Or, "What's your policy on climate?" But as a change in the world we need to adapt to, a thing that we need to now respond to as a center of what's going on. I think the more people who are even asking those questions, including in our own families, how do we figure out if where we're living is a good place to stay?

Alex Steffen:

How are we going to talk with our kids about what's going on? How are our kids being educated? Are they being educated to understand the vastness of the discontinuity they're going to live their lives in, in a way that they're able to process, in an age appropriate and caring kind of way? In our professional lives, are we acquiring the skills we need? Are we making the investments with whatever resources we have in the kinds of things that are going to thrive and prosper and make a difference in the world ahead, in the new? Or aren't we? And if so, how do we figure that out?

Alex Steffen:

But also even I think, in our own lives, trying to understand what's going on around us, not just as tragedy, but as change that has tragic elements, it has loss but it also has growth. And we can't see the growth, because it's hard for us to see when we are, we can't see the possibility, we can't see the opportunity. But to my mind, one of the most important things that we can do is when we wake up in the morning, and this thought hits us, to ask, "What is opening up for us?" Not just what's closing down, right? We're losing species, we're losing ecosystems, cities will be destroyed, people will be impoverished, bad things are happening. But what else is happening?

Alex Steffen:

Because the fact is, once you leave behind the assumption that we're going to protect all these old systems that are already broken, that we're going to have an orderly transition, once you leave that assumption behind, all sorts of possibility opens. Well, we could build better societies, we can build materially better economies, we can do things to protect cities, we can do things to welcome refugees, we can do things to safeguard ecosystems. The number of things we are capable of doing and doing to our own benefit are enormous, right? I mean, again, the open secret is not how bad things have gotten, but how good they can get. So I think trying to center ourselves emotionally or spiritually, if people come at things that way, in that idea of what's opening up? How good can things get? And how can I be an agent in bringing that on? I think that's an important thing to do, and changes how you look at life, it makes things... It creates a source of positive energy and a place to put your love.

Quinn:

Yeah, I'm fully with that. I mean, one of our biggest things is, it is, at the very least, ineffective to take action without as much context as you can garner that's both reputable and informed and worldly and empathetic, certainly, and I hope this conversation... And I love your newsletter and your podcast, I'm a big fan, and I've learned so much from you over the years.

Alex Steffen:

Thank you.

Quinn:

So I can't wait for the book, so I can't recommend that enough. But it does matter folks, and setting your expectations, if nothing else, even if that expectation is to expect change at every turn, and often we won't be able to understand it, at least at the beginning, is necessary. But like you said, we won't just build these new orderly things, we have an opportunity to do things that we've just never done before. We've never done immigration right. We've never done power right. We've never done these things. And when I say right, I mean in a just way, in a way that is all inclusive, where water, and air, and shelter, and food, those are table stakes, doesn't matter, that's what we do. We don't do that in any way, anywhere. And we can start with those. But we have to acknowledge they're going to be more challenged than they ever have before in ways we can never comprehend again. But it is our job, like you said, of this generation to begin to change the thinking for folks, for ourselves and for everyone else so that we can take those on in the most effective way we can.

Alex Steffen:

Exactly.

Quinn:

I know you got to get out of here. I really appreciate it, man. Thank you so much.

Alex Steffen:

Absolutely. Thanks for having me on, man. It's really great, and I really appreciate the support and the encouragement that you've shown and let's keep in touch.

Quinn:

Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dish washing or fucking dog walking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com, it is all the news most vital to our survival as a species.

Brian:

And you can follow us all over the internet, you can find us on Twitter @Importantnotimp.

Quinn:

Just so weird.

Brian:

Also on Facebook and Instagram @Importantnotimportant, Pinterest and Tumblr the same thing. So check us out, follow us, share us, like us, you know the deal. And please subscribe to our show wherever you listen to things like this. And if you're really fucking awesome, rate us on Apple podcasts. Keep the lights on. Thanks.

Quinn:

Please.

Brian:

And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.

Quinn:

Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.

Brian:

Thanks, guys.