Jan. 17, 2023

Best of: How To Be A Better Ancestor

Best of: How To Be A Better Ancestor
Apple Podcasts podcast player badge
Spotify podcast player badge
Google Podcasts podcast player badge
RSS Feed podcast player badge

How can I be a better ancestor?

This question has haunted and inspired me since way back in 2019 when I first read the Optimist's Telescope. A beautiful, helpful, inspiring book by Bina Venkataraman.Then I had Bina on the show.

I think it's fair to sayit reframed and focused my work and now all of our work here.

You simply cannot be a better ancestor by hoping shit gets better in posting black boxes on your Instagram stories. You have to do the work for today and tomorrow. If you want your descendants to consider you the cool, great-great uncle, you need to drive change today.

Bina is a journalist. She's an author and a science policy expert. She's the editor at large at the Boston Globe and a fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard. She's been an advisor to President Obama on everything from climate innovation to Ebola to public school science education.

I hope you enjoy this wonderful throwback conversation.

It is mid-Trump presidency. It is before COVID, before Biden, with old co-host Brian Colbert Kennedy, sharing the mic with me, where we dig into the influence Bina's family had on her perspective and her ideas for how you can value the future, how you can use the tools we have available to us now to both prevent further calamities and a build better future.


Have feedback or questions? Tweet us, or send a message to

New here?Get started with our fan favorite episodes at


INI Book Club:




Follow us:


Find our more about our guests here:

Advertise with us:


Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.

Brian: And I'm Brian Colbert Kennedy.

Quinn: This is the podcast where we dive into a specific topic or question affecting everyone on the planet right now or in the next 10 years, which is kind of the entire point of today's conversation. If it can kill us, or most of us, or turn us into data from Star Trek, we are in. Our guests are scientists, doctors, engineers, politicians, astronauts, even a reverend, and we work towards action steps our listeners can take with their voice, their vote, and their dollar.

Brian: This is your friendly reminder that you can send questions, thoughts, feedback, drawings, to us-

Quinn: Cookies.

Brian: Mostly cookies. To us on Twitter @importantnotimp or email us at And you can actually also leave us complimentary or threatening voice messages at the link in our show note.

Quinn: To be clear, you can't send cookies to any of these things, but if you do make great cookies, send us a note and we'll give you the correct address.

Brian: Yeah, we'll figure something out.

Quinn: That'd be great. Yeah.

Brian: A couple of cookie monsters over here.

Quinn: You can go pick them up. You can also join thousands of other smart people and subscribe to our free weekly newsletter, comes out Fridays most of the time, at This week's episode is talking about how crazy shit is out there. We recognize that, we see you, but despite all of that, turns out you can actually plan for the future and save the world at the same time.

Brian: Amazing. We have with us, this week, Bina Venkataraman. She's the author of the forthcoming book, The Optimist's Telescope.

Quinn: It is great. Brian actually found out that it's not a real telescope.

Brian: I thought it was a telescope.

Quinn: Yep. He was bummed for a little bit, but he's excited again because Bina's awesome.

Brian: She really was fantastic, and I'm excited for this book, and I love that she wants to ... Well, the episode's great. Don't want to spoil anything, you know?

Quinn: We used to do that and people didn't like that.

Brian: Yeah, yeah. Right, right. And I was about to again.

Quinn: They would say, "Why did you talk about it when you're about to talk about it?" We were young. We didn't know.

Brian: Yeah, that was years ago.

Quinn: Okay, here we go. Let's go talk to Bina.

Brian: Okay.

Quinn: Our guest today is Bina Venkatraman, and together we're going to talk about planning for chaos, strategies when it's basically mad max out there. Bina, welcome.

Bina Venkataram: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

Quinn: We are very happy to have you. Bina, if you don't mind, why don't you tell everybody who you are and what you do.

Bina Venkataram: Sure. I'm Bina Venkatraman, I'm the author of The Optimist's Telescope, thinking ahead in a reckless age. New book. And I teach in the program on science, technology, and society at MIT where I brainwash young college students.

Quinn: Perfect, you're one of those people.

Brian: Good brainwashing though.

Quinn: Right, right, right.

Brian: It's different.

Quinn: We need some good brainwashing these days.

Bina Venkataram: I'm sure that's what Lennon thought, too.

Brian: Oh no.

Quinn: Anyways.

Brian: That sounds great. Again, we're so happy to have you. This is going to be a great combo. And then, just as a reminder to everyone, and so you know, I don't know if we talked about it before recording, but we're just going to go over some-

Quinn: We did.

Brian: Oh, we did. Great. I was listening. We're going to go over some context for our question and our topic today, and then dig into some action-oriented questions that get to the core of why we should all care about it, and you, and what we can all do to support you. Sound good?

Bina Venkataram: That's great.

Quinn: Awesome. Bina, we like to start with one important question to set the tone for things, and I know you said you listened to some episodes, so one, my apologies for all that time you can never get back, and two, you cheated a little bit. But if you could, could you just tell us why you are vital to the survival of the species?

Bina Venkataram: Am I? No. I mean-

Quinn: That's for you to answer.

Bina Venkataram: I think I'm vital because everyone's vital to the survival of the species. I think to be alive today where we're facing critical tipping points, the melting arctic, the rising seas, we are all ... Right? If you think about us in the fabric of time, if you think about the generations of people alive today, we have such extraordinary power to shape the future, we have such extraordinary power to do things at scale, the scale of the planet.

And we know about what we're doing, we know the half-life of our radioactive waste, we know how long our pollution's going to linger in the atmosphere and heat up the planet, and so I think, as one among many, it's sort of like we all have to act. It's going to take action at all different levels to do something about it.

That said, I just had a friend tell me, she said, "You need to be the nightingale." And I was like, "What?" I kind of looked at her like she was smoking something, and she wasn't, she was sober. And what she said was, "You need to sing the song that people feel in their hearts, but haven't yet brought into sound, into words."

Brian: You sure she wasn't smoking?

Bina Venkataram: No, I'm sure. But this idea, and she said, "That's how the revolution starts," that was how she ended it, like with one nightingale singing to another nightingale. I know. I was like, "No pressure, I just have to sing the song that's in people's hearts." But I think if I think of the ideal case of the book I just wrote, I mean, yeah, I hope I am bringing to words and bringing to action the deepest, highest aspirations that we have to actually care for the future, actually be good ancestors for future generations, be remembered as the people who actually saved the planet instead of cursing it.

Quinn: You said something in there I'm going to come back to, but I'm not going to give it away yet. But I'm curious, and maybe I should ask your friend this, but I want to ask you, before we get into things, why do you feel uniquely suited to be the nightingale, to do this specific job, to write this book and brainwash all these young people? Why you?

Bina Venkataram: If not me, then who? I think I've been thinking about the future and I've been connected to, I guess ... I've felt the connection between the fate of humanity and the fate of the planet as something that, I mean, I just sort of grew with an intuitive sense of that And I've been thinking about it, studying it, acting to try to address it for basically my entire professional life in one way or another, although it's looked very different depending on where I've been, if I've been in government or I've been a journalist in a newsroom.

And so, I think one of the things that I bring to the table is a sense of connecting what we actually believe and sort of value and want to do as human beings, and not being willing to accept that the way that we're doing things now is how it has to be. I actually think that we have far greater capacity than we give ourselves credit for, as individuals, as communities, and as a society. And so, I think it's a combination of my stubbornness to accept the world as it is and my, I guess, creativity and passion to make a difference.

Quinn: I love that. I feel like stubbornness is pretty necessary these days. You know, things are going down the pipe pretty quickly in a lot of directions and we need people who are just like, "Yeah, no. It's not going to fucking happen. I'm going to stand in the way of this." It's the Lord of the Rings, you shall not pass, right?

Bina Venkataram: Yeah, totally. I need a cape like that.

Brian: Oh, definitely get a cape.

Quinn: Brian will definitely make you a cape.

Bina Venkataram: And maybe a beard. Do you think I could grow a beard like that?

Brian: Cape, beard, staff.

Quinn: Different podcast. We can get into it, but you're going to need a staff that glows on demand, a cape for sure, and yeah. I'm into it. I love that. Let's talk a little bit about our ... A little context for today, and as usual, and everybody else knows, this is a very poorly put together and not edited Wikipedia article, like the old Wikipedia when your parents were like, "You can't use that for your homework, it's not reliable."

Usually I go into sort of a generalists take on some technical subject of which I have just learned, like pediatric cancer, or ocean acidification, or the relatively successful standardization of British health records, or some monsoon, or it's less wonky. It could be more contextual history or sort of a monologue on ethics about a recurring pandemic, or soil, or why we ... It's insane that we keep having to tell people that we need more young women and people of color in science, because how the fuck is that not obvious by now?

But instead of that, today I think we just get right into it, because if you listen to this podcast, if you're cognitively awake, technically in any capacity, you're seeing and hearing and feeling some, as we like to say, existential-ish shit that's probably stressing you the fuck out every day like the rest of us. How do you deal right now? More importantly for today, how the hell are you supposed to plan for a completely unpredictable, sure looks dark out there, future? Right?

You probably end your day, like a lot of other folks, binging something like Handmaid's Tale or Black Mirror, and five years ago, you're like, "Boy, that's scary," and now you're like, "That doesn't look bad compared to fucking Twitter today." And that's why I'm thankful for people like Bina and to have this conversation today, because she is clearly the expert, and after reading the book, I feel in such safer hands that she's going to plan everything else for me for planning for all of this chaos.

Bina, I have to say, there is one thing that stook out to me very early. We talk to a lot of exceptional individuals on this show, and many are driven to do what they do, not for profit or fame, though those are sometimes, not always, byproducts of their work, they do them for good, because it's the right thing to do, to either create a better future or prevent a much worse one.

And so, sometimes, since we're always pushing towards action and trying to practically inspire folks and young listeners, I'll ask something like, Bina, is there a specific relationship you can point to that was a catalyst for your actions to get you where you are today? But before I ask you that, or instead, could you, for us, read for us the dedication in your book, that first page?

Bina Venkataram: Sure. It's for my parents, who crossed oceans for the sake of the future.

Quinn: I loved that so much. To me, it is a perfect encapsulation of what parents do for their children, but at the same time, the task before us. I would love if you could talk to me a little bit about how your parents have informed your work and life thus far and why they have inspired you to continue to look down the road.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. Thank you, and thanks for sharing that you feel that way as well. My parents came to this country, my dad in particular, came to the U.S. from South India. He was the first in his family to come. At a time when he couldn't afford to call home, he would send letters or telegrams back home. There were sort of weeks that went in between hearing from his parents when he came. He has a kind of typical, or let's say stereotypical, American dream story. He came with $7 in his pocket. Why does everyone have $7? I just want to know.

Quinn: Yeah. I'm so confused. Is someone just give them an envelope with that?

Bina Venkataram: Right. Right. Yeah, and he didn't have a driver's license, but he realized at some point, because he was in Toledo, Ohio, that he needed to be able to drive a car. And so, he went to look at this woman's used car, and she was like, "Okay, it costs whatever, like $100," whatever it was when he finally had that money, and he said, "Okay, I'll buy it, but you have to teach me how to drive it."

He had some incredible people who helped him along the way. And my mom came over a few years later, they had an arranged marriage that crashed and burned, but that's another story for another podcast. But also first in her family to sort of live in the United States. And so, they were both just so future-oriented in how they raised us, my sister and I.

Everything was invested in our future education, otherwise they've always sort of ... They were the kinds of parents that would sacrifice sort of their own comforts and things that they wanted to make sure that my sister and I would do well in the world. And with my mom, that really manifested a lot in her being my number one cheerleader. My mom is a physicist, so she was not at all sort of the kind of mom who had low standards or was easy to emulate.

But she was a college professor, she always brought really interesting students and faculty home, and there were really interesting speakers that would go to her college, and she would always make sure she dragged me along to hear Bill McKibben come speak at The College of Wooster, or Jane Goodall. And she just was my biggest champion, and she remains so today.

Quinn: I love that. I mean, I've got a few small, crazy children in my life and I joke sometimes they're going to grow up and say, "Dad, what did you do when the chips were on the line and the apocalypse was coming?" And I'll say, "I started a podcast." And they will be horrified at my level of commitment.

Bina Venkataram: You're the nightingale. No.

Quinn: Nobody wants that. Thank you, but it does stick with me though, you know, because they're old enough to start asking, oh my God, so many questions. But at the same time, who crossed oceans stuck with me, because that's what we try to do every day, right?

Bina Venkataram: Right. And I think there's a lot in our culture right now that's encouraging us to sort of focus on the immediate, and part of it is, I think, our dread about the future. It's sort of like, "Well if the world's going to hell in a hand basket, as you guys put it, just going to get what's mine here and now."

But there's so many of us, whether we're parents, or people who are just aware of the future, who really are willing to and have the aspiration to cross oceans for the sake of the future. And I think it's sort of like we're kind of at odds with where our culture and society is at the moment, but I actually think there's a huge potential to actually take what our aspiration is and make it reality.

And your story, your line reminds me of one of the posters I saw. I was in D.C. for the climate march that happened in April 2017, soon after the Trump presidential election, and there was this beautiful hand-printed poster of a father sitting on a chair and kid, and they're sort of in scuba suits, like a steampunk style scuba suits, and this kid says, "Daddy, where were you during the climate wars?" Yeah, that image has stayed with me.

Quinn: Yeah. I mean, it's that kind of provocative shit that's going to stick with people and really start the fight, right? I mean, everybody loves, after all, these protests, whether it's science, or the women's march, or whatever, it's those signs where people go, "Wow, they just went out there and carried that sign around, huh? Okay, I guess that's where we are as people." They're that fed-up that they're will to go write this or that, or whatever it might be.

Bina Venkataram: Right.

Quinn: Yeah. We have to. We can't mince words anymore. And I just loved your writing so much. Before we really get into the meat of the book, but there's something that did stick with me on this sort of, again, long-term sort of ethos of the whole thing, and you said it before. There's a phrase in there, and it's also in the intro from your publisher that they sent along, which is, "What if, even in this reckless age, we could choose to value the future and become quote/unquote better ancestors?"

I love that because it implies not only what we've been talking about, which is forward thinking, but the idea of making a leap to the future and then looking back and asking, "What sort of legacy do I want to leave?" You know? If people later are building on our shoulders, what are those shoulders made of? What did we do to move this along?

Brian: This comes to mind. For Mitch McConnell, it would be something like bankrupting democracy and the only livable planet that we're aware of until some futuristic seafaring nation arises from the seas over what used to be New York to give representative government another shot. But for someone else, it could be something different, hopefully.

Quinn: Sure. That's his motto.

Bina Venkataram: Mitch McConnell is an invertabrae. You know, I'm not sure he's capable of this kind of thinking yet. I mean, it takes a prefrontal cortex.

Quinn: But what does it mean to you?

Brian: For you ... Yeah.

Quinn: That's his mantra, and he's like, "This is what I want my children to think I was made of." Bina, what does that phrase mean to you, and practically, as again we're working towards practicality, how does that influence your own long-term planning?

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. I mean, I think it's a lens I use with a lot of the decisions I make, personally, but mostly in my work. It's interesting because I don't have kids, and I decided not to have kids, by the way, I have like seven god children and two nieces-

Quinn: It's enough.

Bina Venkataram: A bunch of nieces and nephews. Yeah. Bunch of young people whose future I'm personally invested in. But also, I sort of see my role as an ancestor as much more about our shared future, like all of our children and grandchildren, and I see that the role I need to play is about nurturing the future, but in a much more broader sense of our community.

And it's why I work on problems like climate change, it's why I think about and write about tools like gene editing, which I think have incredible potential to be heirlooms that we leave to the future, because if that knowledge and those tools can be used to prevent and cure disease, that's great.

But it's also sort of the kind of heirloom that you have to think about carefully, so you're not ... We could, for example, edit out traits out of the entire human species. We have that power and capacity to change the whole future of our species, and when we hold that power, I think we need to think of it as ancestors, and that means not just thinking about what diseases are we going to cure today, how are we going to engineer the perfect embryo so the next child that's born is perfect in X, Y, and Z way.

We actually have to be thinking about it from the perspective of like, what does that do to the human genetic pool? Are we decreasing diversity? How are we going to change and have ... What are the potential unintended consequences of using technologies like that? I think thinking of yourself as an ancestor also automatically kicks in like the kind of thinking the Trump administration doesn't want us to do right now when they are trying to get the national climate assessment not to look at climate models beyond the year 2040.

When you think of yourself as an ancestor, you're thinking beyond the lives of your children and grandchildren, or in my case my nieces and their children. It automatically implicates me in what happens in 2050 and beyond. And when we think about the seas rising in Miami or we think about frequent droughts or floods, the kinds of impacts that are predicted in our warming climate, when I'm an ancestor, my decisions today actually matter. It doesn't matter.

The fact that those consequences are coming in the distant future doesn't mean I can discount them the way that economists and policy makers talk about discounting the future. I can't discount them in that way. It's not a cold-hearted calculation, because I actually have obligations and values to those ... I actually have obligations and I have a deeply held value to care for and steward resources, like heirlooms, to those future generations. I hope you're going to edit me so I sound better, I'm sorry.

Quinn: You sound incredible, are you kidding me?

Brian: We're just going to speed you up. We're just going to speed it up really fast.

Bina Venkataram: [crosstalk 00:21:10] Make me talk really [crosstalk 00:21:13]

Quinn: Keep it coming.

Bina Venkataram: But the thing is, this might sound like pie in the sky or I'm super idealistic to be thinking in this ancestral way, but the reality is it's kind of a foundational, universal value, and you can go back to Thomas Jefferson who talked about leaving resources to the future unencumbered by the predecessors, so we should be stewarding things for future generations. Teddy Roosevelt spoke about not letting a present day minority squander resources that belong to the future.

Edmund Burke, who was this Irish political philosopher, who was kind of the godfather of conservatism, wrote about society, his actual idea of society was a partnership among generations. There are these concepts like the public trust doctrine that are sort of in democratic constitutions on multiple continents, and the idea behind the public trust doctrine is that there are certain resources that ought to be held in the trust for the common benefit of generations alive today, but also generations in the future.

This kind of language and aspiration and ideal exists in cultures around the world, in our foundational documents of government and democracy, and the question is, how do we act on those aspirations? Because there's a big disconnect between what we see in that language and what we feel in our hearts as our obligation to future generations and what we're actually doing today collectively.

Quinn: Well, it's interesting, I mean, because it does exist in so many different places, and at the same time, it's not even being considered in so many places or hasn't been recently, but I feel like people are feeling the need to go back to it.

I mean, you look at, like you said, reading the founders, or reading Marcus Aurelius, or anything like that, it's all about that, it's all about long-term consideration and how, if you read those things now, how much it can influence your life, but most people read Twitter, they don't read the founders, they don't read those kind of things. You know? Facebook has more control over more people's lives than any country, and their motto is move fast and break things. Right?

Bina Venkataram: Right.

Quinn: Think of move fast and break things versus the term "better ancestor." I may be a science nerd, but I'm a proud liberal arts major, and how many of these technological issues would've never happened, or would have been considered differently, or rolled out with more attention to detail if there are things like a liberal arts major and chief at some of these companies who could say things like ...

I mean, almost forget better ancestor, but start with, "Should we do this? Why shouldn't we do this? Who will this affect? Who won't this affect? Will people benefit?" Things like that. And then you can get to better ancestor, because it feels like they're so far from it. You know? I look at the other day, I mean, we knew this was going to happen when this psycho got elected in Brazil, and he was like, "Yeah, well I'm going to cut down the Amazon."

Turns out he's cutting down the fucking Amazon, which is our [inaudible 00:24:18] against climate changes, is the Amazon, and it's all for cows that are going to be turned into meat because we can't stop eating meat. And it's like, what are we doing?

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. Well I remember when candidate Trump was still in the Republican primary field and he would say these outlandish things, and people would say, like really smart people would say on Facebook and people in my life would say, "He would never do those things. He would never build a wall."

Quinn: Yeah. He doesn't mean it literally.

Bina Venkataram: My line is always like, "When they tell you what they're going to do, believe them." Believe them, because at the very worst, you're planning for a scenario that will never come to pass, but you're still prepared for that to be the reality and you're actually taking them at their word.

It's interesting, what you were saying about the technology companies too, because I think that we do need to have building blocks towards this idea of being good ancestors, and for a lot of companies today, and even for us in our lives today, I think a lot of this comes down to, or can be influenced by, how we measure ourselves.

How are we measuring progress? How are we measuring success? And I go back to this story that the ancient Greek historian Herodotus told, which may or may not have been true, but let's go with it was maybe true.

Quinn: Nobody's going to check on it.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. Well, yeah, we can't fact check this one so easily, it turns out. But there was a magistrate in Athens named Solon who was sort of this wise man of Athens, he put into place all these incredible reforms in Athens, like banning the practice of enslaving people for their debts. He expanded suffrage so that common people could vote. Really some of the foundational reforms of democracy that remain in place today.

And so, once he put those into place in Athens, he fled the country because he actually didn't want to be pressured, and there was sort of a contract like, "Put these in place and for a period of 10 years, you can't erase them," and so he left. And this part, by the way, about what he did in Athens is definitely true. And then, what Herodotus says is that he went to Sardis, which is in modern day Turkey, and he met this king, King Croesus, and the king sort of took him on a tour of his place and his riches, and showed him all his bars of gold and all of his wealth.

And then, at the end of the tour, he said to Solon, the king says, "Who's the happiest in the world?" Or sorry, is it who's the happiest man? I think it was who is the happiest man in the world. And Solon said ... Croesus thought he basically led the witness and that he was going to get the answer like, "You must be because you have all this wealth." And Solon talked about the length of a person's life and how you can't measure a person's worth on any given day.

And I think this is the lesson that carries forth to today. And by the way, King Croesus ended up having terrible luck, he lost his son, and Solon named this guy who had died heroically in battle who was survived by his children and grandchildren who all remembered him well, this General Tellus. And Croesus is really frustrated by that, but of course his fortunes turned and he ended up being very unlucky.

And so, I think the lesson to carry forth is that we measure ourselves so much today in snapshots of time, and these technology companies are doing that very thing. We're doing that very thing when we're looking at how many likes we have on Facebook or how many retweets we have on Twitter, and that's not actually the measure of our value and our worth over time, right?

It starts with looking at, what's the value you're creating over the net five years of your life, or the next 10 years? If it's a company, is it just about your quarterly profit or is it actually about what value you're creating for shareholders and your founders over a longer period of time? And I think you can extrapolate that out to the idea of legacy or the idea of leaving heirlooms. And actually, I much prefer the idea of heirlooms to legacy. We can go back to that if you want, but if you don't, we don't have to talk about it.

But this idea that how we measure ourselves in this era, because we can gather so much data in every increment of the little increments of time, we can look at our heart rates in every second of every day if we want to, so I think we really have to resist the urge to be measuring ourselves and what we do based on these little increments. And we have to be looking and taking a step back from that data that we gather to ask ourselves what we're really doing and what really matters.

Quinn: Yeah. I love it. It's true. And so, the data, at some point, will become helpful and will shed light on some things. It could prevent disease or show you that, hey look, you actually haven't done anything but gone for more than a walk for three weeks, you might want to get off the fucking couch.

Bina Venkataram: Right.

Quinn: But that applies itself to a lot of different things, which is, how do you use it and how do you ... It's not a needle in a haystack if you're just looking at one needle, and then one needle, and then one needle. Or, I guess, the signal in the noise sort of thing.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. Exactly. Right. What's the trend versus what is it telling you in this second, right?

Quinn: Right.

Brian: Yes, let's talk about heirlooms. Yeah, speaking of them, in I think it was episode 20 of this show, it was called how the hell are we going to feed 10 billion people, we talked with Fred Iutzi of The Land Institute, and you spent some time down there, which is so awesome. Can you tell us how agriculture lends itself to this mantra of not cutting corners and of looking forward to building a better future?

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. I had so much fun at The Land Institute. I hung out a lot with Wes Jackson, who was on the verge of turning 80 at the time, who was the founder of The Land Institute, and talk about a visionary guy, and also just really funny. He likes to say things like, "I have methods in my madness." I think what they're doing there is really interesting, right? What we're doing now, if you think about agriculture, here we are, we're going to push nine billion people on the planet, and we need to figure out how to feed them all.

And at the current rate, we're depleting fertile soils around the world, and the way that most crops are grown is to boost annual yields, which is very, by the way, incremental measure of what they're worth. You can be stripping the soil and boosting it with fertilizers and irrigation using vast resources to get your crop for that given year, but over time you might be eroding the ability of that land to feed people in the future.

Quinn: Right.

Bina Venkataram: And so, what I think is so interesting about what The Land Institute is doing is bringing this mentality, I think, of heirlooms and ancestral thinking to what they're doing with ... For example, they're interested in reclaiming some of the ecosystem of the ancient prairie, which has these grains that are perennial.

And so, they bred perennial grains and tried to boost their annual yield so that they'll still be profitable for farmers in the short run to grow. But so that those perennial grains have deeper roots that are anchoring the fertile topsoil, requiring less fertilizer and irrigation to grow, and trying to wed that really futuristic thinking about what's going to feed people in the future with what the present day demands of the market are.

And I find that to be a really creative way around this conundrum where sometimes it's like, well, we just need to do what's need in the short-term to stay afloat, right? We need farmers to survive. We need to actually be able to feed people now. But we need to bring in that kind of future thinking. And so, I think sometimes there's ways to kind of combine those things into one, and I'll give you a sort of individual example of that.

There are these programs now that are linking lotteries with savings, because it terms out that savings rates are really, really low among low and middle income Americans, for example. This is also true in a lot of other parts of the world. And it's really hard for people to save, but in those demographics, you also find a fair number of people playing the lottery.

And actually, the lottery is heavily subsidized by the poor, which is almost like a regressive tax because there's people in our society are ending up paying for government services by playing the lottery. And there's some creative groups out there, including a group called Commonwealth based in Boston, that have worked with folks like the Michigan Credit Union League, to set up these schemes where people, by putting money into a savings account, they get entered into these lotteries, and there are cash prizes that are drawn every month or regularly. And that prospect of winning something big now lures people into saving for their future.

Brian: Wow.

Bina Venkataram: Like normal gambling, they can't actually lose their money, they can only pad their savings account, and it just takes the interest, and then the interest gets put into the lottery system.

Quinn: I love that. I mean, yeah, the lottery, it's a fiasco. As some way of turning that on its head is genius.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. I mean, it's this idea of being creative about recognizing that there are a lot of short-term demands, we do live in a culture of instant gratification, we need to do things at present, right? Sometimes we don't have a lot of resources to put towards the future, but through these kind of creative ways, including perennial grains and this lottery savings approach, we can actually wed our future aspirations to what we need to do in the present.

Quinn: We talk about not having resources dedicated to the future, and if you really look at where the money is sunk, if you look at fossil fuel subsidies and go, "We got to phase out the electric vehicle, $7500 subsidy or whatever," and you go, "But wait a minute, there's a trillion dollars a year going to fossil fuels. We do have resources for a lot of these things, they're just being applied in these institutionalized, horrific ways."

Bina Venkataram: Yeah.

Quinn: Which I recognize it's going to be a battle to end those. I think we're on the way, but it's still ... There's money to be freed up. Money can't do everything, but I don't know. You hope from the ground up, from the top down that we can start to get there. You mentioned this a little bit. It is rocky out there, right? This book wouldn't exist if it didn't, right?

The current climate, or literally the climate around us, not our cultural climate, but the actual climate, and the climate of the last whatever, since the last little ice age, couple hundred thousand years, it's actually kind of a blip, right? It's perfectly suited for humans, and we've fucking blown it in about a hundred years.

But it's not just the environment under threat, the rest of the climate is, as well, right? We were like, "Oh, monarchy's a nightmare, we're going to try democracy." We ruined that as well. Some say it's kind of cyclical. But you actually spend some time in the book, and I really liked this, talking about how the failure of government of past great societies wasn't, and isn't necessarily, inevitable. And how past societies didn't have the tools we do, and this is what you mentioned, now to track, for example, antibiotic resistance, now that we can, or Google flu, or to look with satellites at a deforestation live, day to day. Right?

For example, for better or worse, we've got these satellites now that can see everything, every minute of the day, and they can use that information to create a historical database, like we were saying, all this data, look at the long-term, and then we have these powerful computers and these algorithms that can parse all of that, weeks or years of it, and we get this comprehensive look, the most comprehensive look we've ever had, of all of these interconnected systems. And then the computer says, basically, "Congrats, you ruined everything, you have 11 years to live," right?

I'm exaggerating, but it's true. It doesn't have to be ... We have put ourselves in a very tough spot. Even if, for instance, just on carbon, if we stopped right now, it would get worse for a while, because it's baked in, but it isn't inevitable, right? We always joke about ... Have you ever heard of the term "the great filter," Bina?

Bina Venkataram: No. What is that?

Quinn: Oh man. I feel like we could nerd out on this for a while we. I'll send you this-

Brian: Quinn loves the great filter.

Quinn: Insane thing, I think. It was proposed ... I can't remember, was it Fermi? Was it part of Fermi's paradox? 40-50 years ago, and I wrote this ridiculous thing on it that associated Ghost Busters with it, because sure, but the idea of the great filter is ... Fermi's paradox was, all right, if there're all these ... And this was 40 years ago, and now we actually know all these exo planets are out there.

If there's other life out there, why haven't we seen them? Right? And there's all these answers, which is they're too far away, nothing can go faster than light, so we just haven't received that contact yet, or by the time we receive it, it was 800 million years ago, they're out of here.

Bina Venkataram: Right.

Quinn: Or there's nothing else out there. All these questions. One of the further rabbit holes is, if there's no one else out there, why? And again, having all these incredible telescopes out there has taught that there are actually planets in these habitable conditions, or in these habitable zones, the quote/unquote Goldilocks zones, where there'll probably be a small enough planet that's rocky and might be able to have water, which is kind of all we need.

But the question is, is, if that's true, and now we know even more, is there some sort of filter that every civilization runs into that snuffs it out? Do they get to the point where their weapons are too powerful and they snuff themselves out, like nuclear weapons? Anyways, is it something else?

And the question for humanity has always been, let's say that theory is holds water, are we past our great filter or are we just not there yet? And if the answer is ... Apparently, and the more people dig into this, and you can really nerd out on it, if we've already passed it, that's great because we might survive this thing.

Was our great filter leaping from single cell to multi-cell? Because the more we find out about that, the more we find out how fucking random it was and impossible it was that we got to that point. Or, are we not to our great filter yet and nukes are going to do it or climate change is going to do it? If the idea is that everybody has one. The question is, do you get past it?

I'm exaggerating only slightly, but like you're saying, it's a choice more for us than ever before. And I would love to hear more about that, because I would love to know what the fuck we need to do to skirt back from that little railing on the side of the cliff that we've really backed ourself up against.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah, well I love that way of thinking about it because it really fores you to reckon with the fact that there are threats we face that could be existential and we don't know for sure that they will be, we don't know what the great filter is. I think that's the beauty of it, but the thought experiment that kind of allows that ... I think the beauty of the thought experiment, not the beauty of the great filter, sorry, but [crosstalk 00:39:44]

Quinn: Easy, easy.

Bina Venkataram: It allows us to think about and try to make actually life on earth better for as many creatures and for ourselves as we can because it allows us to think about things that are not just existential, but things that are pretty damn awful in general, too.

I mean, I guess one of the things that I think about here is that ... I call the time we're living in a reckless age, and it speaks to what you were saying because unlike the people who were in Pompeii before Vesuvius blew in '79, we actually have ways to read the warning signs. Like you were saying, we have satellite measurements, we have the record of warm temperatures, we know the power of our nuclear weapons, we know the power of artificial intelligence and gene editing, we can kind of read the tea leaves much better than sort of previous civilizations that have been wiped out. And so that gives us this incredible potential, right?

And the question is, how do we act on this? Our predictive power is so strong, but how do we actually act on the warning signs, so we can save our civilizations, we can save what's best of humanity, so we can have a more just society, a society that doesn't have such stark inequality and isn't fraying at the seams into conflict, which is, I think, where we're going right now. And so, you can't ... The reason we're reckless is because we actually have the evidence and we [inaudible 00:41:16] need to be acting on it fast enough.

That said, what's implied there is that we have the choice because we have the knowledge and because we actually have the tools, in a lot of cases, to solve these problems. And I think with climate change, it's very much the case that we have the tools, and when I use the word tool, I don't just mean the tech, we have the hardware, I feel like people really need to expand their view of that, and a lot of it's about the human potential of how we're going to solve these problems as communities.

And I think ... One of the problem, why is it we can have this knowledge of the polarized caps melting and not act on it? Or, why can we know and see our forests disappearing and not act on it? And I think one of the problems is, when we think about the future, the future is in our minds, we don't touch it, we don't sense it, we don't smell it, we conjure it in our minds, and one of the beautiful things about being human is that we can conjure it in our minds.

If you talk to evolutionary psychologists and biologists about this look of experiments, it seems like we're one of the only, if not the only, species that can actually do this, like literally imagine the future. When a squirrel plans for the future by putting away nuts, that's more instinctually programmed, it's not a vision of the future like we have. But we're not exceptionally good at even though we can do it, right?

We're good at imagining like, "I could win the Powerball," or there might be a terrorist attack because people remember all the images of 9/11, there's a million movies about terrorist attacks, but we're not so good with imagining things we haven't experienced, like slow sea level rise that then makes storms really bad. Getting better at imagining it now that we've seen hurricane Sandy, and we've seen hurricane Katrina, and we've seen Bangladesh flooding, and all of that, but we're still like we're suffering from a deficit in imagination in how we think about the future and what's possible.

I think a big part of how we act on this choice, this choice we have to really plan for the future and do better to avoid the fate of these societies and these civilizations that have collapsed throughout history, even on our planet and probably on other planets for all we know, it is to bridge that imagination gap. And part of what we have to do is not sanitize these threats to the future, but also have visions of the future that include our agency.

When we think about climate change, for example, a lot of times I feel like people only picture the physical phenomena of flooded streets of Miami, which by the way you can see on a full moon anytime you want, or droughts, and people being displaced, and conflict, and refugee crises, and that is all realistic in terms of what could happen under climate change. But I think if we want to actually get to the point where we're not just turning away from these scenarios, we have to be also envisioning what we can do differently and how our society could actually be a society that addresses this problem.

We need to have the positive visions of us solving the problem. I think of it as an engaged form of optimism, it's not believing that the world's going to be fine, but it's having a picture of what we want society to look like and stepping back from that to ask how we do it. And it's one of the reasons why people are giving the Green New Deal such a hard time, because they're saying it's going to cost trillions of dollars, at least on Fox News they're saying that, which is a ridiculous propositions because it's not a policy proposal yet, it's just political resolution, right? It's aspirational. Policy has to be put together on it.

And then, on the other hand, people are just saying it's trying to do too much. I understand the criticisms, but what really compels be about it is that unlike other responses to climate change we've had in the past, either at a policy level or at a political level, that is what I call, it's like an aspirational vision of how society would solve major problems of inequality and climate change, and involves picturing society not just as it is now, but as it could be and as it could be better.

It's an animating vision that people can get behind with feeling like, "Oh, we have the agency to make this future a reality," instead of just predicting. It's not just about the negative future, right? And it's not just about things will be fine, or we're going to keep things exactly the way they are, because we know for a lot, wide [inaudible 00:45:39] of our societies around the world, things as they are are not good enough.

Quinn: True. It is incredibly simple and lazy to say, but we have to harness that agency and use it because these lobsters that are going further up the coast of Northeast America are like, "Boy, the water's warm, we should probably move up to Canada." They don't have any fucking idea why it's happening or that it's just going to get worse. We do, and we can do something about it, so we should.

Bina Venkataram: Right. We're smarter than lobsters. Someone needs to make a bumper sticker.

Brian: Smarter than lobsters.

Quinn: Smarter than lobsters. Let's go.

Bina Venkataram: You know what? Lobsters are delicious, so let's not plan them too much. So delicious.

Quinn: I'm with you.

Bina Venkataram: I live in New England, I'm so happy to have lobster. And speaking of lobster, I mean one of these really inspiring stories of what we can do to act more like ancestors came from spending some time on the pacific coast of Mexico with these lobster fishing villages. I was up and down the Baja Peninsula, which was so horrible, just having to hang out in Baja [crosstalk 00:46:41] fishing boats. I know. Feel bad for me.

These communities have basically set up their own way of collectively shepherding an heirloom, which is the lobster fishery. They've set up their own independent ways of policing the fishery, they're very careful about what they catch, the size of the lobster, so that they don't take the breeding lobster out of the oceans.

And they're effectively acting like ancestors with this resource of the fishery. And you hear all these stories around the world of fisheries being destroyed, but there's actually people doing this the right way and showing that it's possible to act in this way that conserves what we have for future generations.

Quinn: It's out there, right? I mean, and the simpler version is, in the less generational, but someone has started to do something, is you look at Oslo, I think, today, removed the last parking spaces downtown because they just said, "Yeah, we're going to fucking do this thing. We're just going to get rid of cars." And they actually did it. And it's amazing, and it's like, we can do it, we need to just start doing it.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah, and I think it's important to talk about that. I'm so glad you brought it up because I think we can feel the scale of this crisis, particularly the climate crisis, but the many crises we face, is just so large that it can feel so intimidating for one person to look at.

And I think you look at an example and then you could just say, "Oh, that's just Oslo," but as you amass all these examples, as you look around the world, which I did for my book, you start to see that there's just an incredible number of people, and communities, and businesses, and organizations, and even governments that are doing things that matter and that show a model of how we can actually act in this way and actually plan for the future in this way.

What we need to do is learn from their example, replicate them, and continue to build more examples of this so that they all become larger than the sum of the parts.

Quinn: We can do it. Just got to do it.

Brian: It seems so easy. Yeah. Bina, we mentioned it before, you're clearly the nightingale, or the oracle from the Matrix.

Bina Venkataram: Oh man, I feel so good about myself now.

Quinn: That's what we're here for.

Brian: That's what we like to do here. Yeah, yeah. What are the biggest obstacles that you run into? Where do you find yourself running into the ground, or are there things that you're running from?

Bina Venkataram: What am I running from? I haven't had to run from anything recently.

Brian: Good.

Bina Venkataram: You know, I do think there's this tendency to sanitize the threats of the future, because it's easier to just focus on what's immediate and not take seriously these threats of the future. We have to find ways to help people take them more seriously. One that I came across that I wrote about was using role play games to help communities really contend with sea level rise.

You give people a scenario and these games kind of occupy this space between fiction and reality because people are willing to kind of play the game. If you play Monopoly, you're not going to really own Atlantic Avenue, but you suspend your [inaudible 00:49:57] for the game.

Brian: Hold on. Hold on. Pretty sure I'm the owner of Atlantic Avenue.

Bina Venkataram: Oh, I'm so sorry [crosstalk 00:50:03]

Brian: Son of a bitch.

Bina Venkataram: And then they're playing the game, and then they realize that these scenarios, after the game's done, there was a study in nature done on this, that people then feel engaged and they feel actually more like they have an opportunity to plan for sea level rise in their community. This was done in several communities.

I think there are ways to help people really engage with these scenarios of the future in a way that makes them feel like there's something they can do about it and they're not just the victims in this doomsday that's coming.

Brian: Right.

Quinn: Yeah. Well, on that note, I think we can start to work towards how we can actually help folks take action. Give them a little preview of the book to come. Brian, you want to take us through that?

Brian: Yeah, yeah. Of course. What we like to do is lay out some ways that our listeners can take action with their voice, their vote, and their dollar to help support your mission and our mission as a people. Let's get into it. How can our listeners support you with their voice? We like to, if we can, come up with some actionable, specific questions that we could be asking of our local representatives that could help support you.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. I think we need to be asking our politicians, candidates, we need to be asking them, what are they doing about problems that face future generations? What are they doing about climate change? How are they investing in education? What's their plan for not just the next generation, but the generation after that? We need to be holding them accountable for what they do to act not just on immediate problems, but on future problems.

I mean, and one thing I want to say about voting, and I hope I'm not just going way off the rails of what you actually want here, so just-

Quinn: Please. That's what we do here.

Bina Venkataram: Reel me back in. Reel me back in if I am. When you're thinking about voting, and especially in this upcoming presidential election, do not fall in the trap of failing to imagine what's possible. I feel like we are all reeling from the 2016 election still, and with duke reason, but what's happened in the past is only so much of a precedent, right? We live in unprecedented times.

We never could've seen or envisioned the Russians interfering in social media to manipulate our elections. We are facing unprecedented sea level rise. And so, don't let the inability to imagine something different than what we've seen before in our political leadership keep you from embracing and voting for candidates and ideas that you believe are right for this society. Right? Let's not regress or retreat to what we've known before.

That, I feel like, is just an important lens to put on your voting and how you think about it. And with those candidates, we need to be really holding them accountable, asking, even at the local level of our candidates, what are the consequences of this policy going to be for the next generation? How should I be thinking about this for the future, especially if you're young, and even if you're not young, you probably care. If you're listening to this, you probably care.

I would just say, keep that lens of being an ancestor in how you act and how you vote and how think at that level. I think as consumers, if you consume, which you probably do, we all do, that's another way to really use your power of looking at companies that actually are thinking long-term about their impacts, looking at their supply chains to figure out how they can do better environmentally and socially.

I think it matters a lot, and I think we saw this with Nike and the Colin Kaepernick protest that they just responded to the fact that consumers have this incredible power and are outraged by how the NFL treated Kaepernick for taking a knee to protest injustice.

And so, I think that companies are responding to consumers who care, and we need to continue to show them both that we care, but then I bought a pair of Nike's after that. I was like, "I'm going to reward this company for doing this." And I think there are different ways, different issues that, depending on what you care about when it comes to the future, that you can find ways to support the companies that are actually acting on those values.

Quinn: Yeah, that sounds about right. That seems pretty specific to me. And I'm not sure if we've ever really had a voting sort of perspective like that, which I think is really helpful, which is, it goes back to earlier in the conversation, which was, oh, he's saying all these things when he was candidate, and look, he did all of them after everyone said, "He's not going to really do that."

Use your imagination and use it to imagine what would happen if he wins again, but also to imagine what we can do. I thought there was a great article, and obviously there's 20 candidates, so everyone is still picking their own, including myself, but I love ... I can't remember, was it a New York Times columnist who said, "I want to live in Elizabeth Warren's America"?

Bina Venkataram: Right.

Quinn: And it is, it's taking that and going, "Oh my God, what if we had that?" You know? And hers is obviously helpful because she's so fucking specific about everything, and that's the joke, right? She's got a plan for everything. But if you take a minute and you write a story in your mind about taking all of those things and imagining, okay, four years from now, what could that feel like? And it's like, "Holy shit, I want to be there." I get it. And do that. Do that. Find who your person is, and then, of course, everyone has to get in line at the end or else we're going to die.

Bina Venkataram: Right. What I worry about is people aren't doing what you're saying. They're asking themselves, "Yeah, but who's electable? Who's really electable?" They're so worried about what happened. And I get it, we're all worried, right? It's pretty fucking bad. We don't like this. But we have to let our imaginations allow us to inhabit a world in which a candidate wins that does what we actually want for American society and what we want for the world.

And the reason I say that is that there's no guarantee that the past is going to be precedent. We don't know who's electable. All we know is what we care about and how we want to shape our society for the future, and if we're not willing to imagine it, then it's going to become self-fulfilling, right? We're never going to have that reality.

Quinn: Sure, and it's insane to use these precedents of electability when the entire thing got thrown out last election, right?

Bina Venkataram: Right.

Quinn: And literally anyone can be president. But also, like you said, we have to let ourselves do that. And I'll use a phrase that has always stuck with me, and people give it shit or they're inspired by it, and I know this one is close to you because of your old boss, but we have to have the audacity of hope.

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. Turns out he was pretty smart. Yeah.

Quinn: So weird, right? Fuck.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: We blew it. But it's true. You have to go in there and have that, and go, "I want to be there. Who do I have to put for us to get there?" From getting cars out of cities, to punishing polluters, to civil rights, to the whole thing, who do I have to do it? And let yourself go, "Oh my God, I'm going to work my ass off to get us there."

Bina Venkataram: Yeah, and I think because we are in such a time of despair, where our politics is broken, where our climate's warming, where inequality's rising, these are the times where we actually need the courage to be that kind of optimist, right? It's more important than ever that we don't just retreat into this incrementalism like let's just make it less bad. You know? This is when we lift our sights. I don't know. If your listeners can be brave enough to lift their sights like that, I will feel like I did a little, little, mini nightingale song.

Quinn: You're incredible. Before we get to our don't call it a lightning round, last questions, and get you out of here, why don't you pimp your book for a minute here. Comes out August-

Brian: Yeah, I was just going to say that.

Quinn: -August 27th, I believe. Is that correct?

Bina Venkataram: Yeah. Yeah, The Optimist's Telescope comes out August 27th.

Quinn: This will come out-

Bina Venkataram: Just before Labor Day.

Quinn: This will come out probably right ... What day of the week is that? Oh, we're coming out that day.

Brian: August 27th. Tuesday. Are we?

Quinn: It's up to you. Do you want us to come out the week before or that day? Up to you.

Bina Venkataram: That day is great, I think. I can ask the publicist when I walk out of here, and if she says differently, I'll let you know. But that day sounds great.

Quinn: To be clear, she might also say never. My God. What did you do?

Bina Venkataram: She hasn't been listening, so she doesn't know what I said.

Quinn: Great, great, great. Let's get out of here. All right. Brian, take us home here.

Brian: All right. First of all, thank you so, so, so very much for being here today. Sorry about all the microphone stuff, but you sound great and this has been wonderful.

Quinn: So great.

Bina Venkataram: You guys are great. I love you. You're awesome.

Quinn: Oh boy.

Brian: The feeling is mutual. And maybe later when we figure out for sure when we'll put the episode up, you can let us know if you have any ideas, anybody else that you think that we could talk to. You mentioned, I think, some organization at the beginning of the discussion, actually, so if there's anybody you think we can talk to, world changers like yourself, please let us know.

Bina Venkataram: Oh, I'm sure I can come up with a list for you. Absolutely.

Brian: Oh yeah, perfect. And here we go. This is the don't call it a lightning round, lightning round, of final questions, if you're ready.

Quinn: It's not. We got to find another name. 75 episodes later. Hey, Bina, when was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?

Bina Venkataram: I was 17 and I had been part of a program in my small town in Ohio of 20,000 people, I shadowed a city council member, and she was kind of moderate, maybe even a little bit Republican, and it turned out at the time ... They were just expecting to talk to the high school students and tell them whatever. There was a proposal to drill for oil in the only woodland park in my time at the time, and ended up mobilizing with a lot of other students, a teacher of mine at school, community members, to block the drilling of oil in the park.

And after having a pretty unanimous pre-vote to authorize the drilling, the initiative ended up failing entirely and they didn't drill for oil in the park, a lot because of our organizing. And it felt like, wow, this is what you can do when you get people together and when you care enough.

Quinn: That is so rad. That is super cool. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?

Bina Venkataram: In the past six months.

Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Bina Venkataram: Well, I do feel like my editor, Jack Morrissey, has just been a huge champion for, and he's always talking about, he has kids, and he's talking about his heirlooms now. He's really kind of embodied ... He had to live with my book, God bless him, for a very long time and edit the whole beast multiple times, and so it's been really cool just to hear him talk about it recently and have him be actually taking the practices and ideas and putting them into action in his own life. And I guess I wasn't exactly expecting that, but it's been kind of gratifying to feel like there's all this potential for this book. Oh, I also ... Oh God, I have another one.

Quinn: Oh, here we go.

Bina Venkataram: I know. Yeah. I don't know. Anyway. Well, do you want me to keep going? I can.

Quinn: No, go ahead. Everyone out there's going to be sitting there going, "Who was it? Was it me? Why didn't she say?"

Bina Venkataram: I know, right? Well, Jacqueline Novogratz, who's the founder of Acumen, which does patient capital to help poor people around the world start businesses, I gave a talk at Ted, and I think she felt bad for me because I had to give the very last talk of the whole week in Vancouver, and then she invited me to talk to a group of women in her home about my book and about the idea of being good ancestors.

And it was just one of the most magical evenings I've ever had in my life, and no offense to you guys, but I don't think I'll ever be talking to a better group of people about my book. They were so deeply engaged and so, so ready to take this kind of thinking into all of their realms of badass work, from leading theater groups to running corporations.

And so, I think Jacqueline ... And also, Jacqueline, I think she just sees this idea and sees my book in a way that just gave me this huge lift. It was like getting a big boy of air if you were paragliding or something.

Quinn: That is pretty awesome. To be clear, if you had said us, I would've said you need better friends.

Brian: We would not have accepted that.

Quinn: Yeah. No chance. All right, Brian, take her home here.

Brian: Bina, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed? I like to call this, what's Bina time?

Bina Venkataram: A lot of times, I go to Walden Pond. I live about 20 minutes from Walden Pond, and if it's summer, I go for an early morning swim before people get there. And when I'm in Walden, I'm communing with nature, I'm being replenished, I'm being inspired. The way the light goes through the water there, it looks like you're back lit on a green screen, but you're underwater. It's just super energizing.

For me, swimming has this ability to make me feel both the power of being able to glide through the water, being able to do something and get through whatever I'm going through in my life, but also this incredible immersive relaxation, I just feel like I'm back in the womb being surrounded by something really, really bigger than me.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: I love it.

Brian: Photos of it are very pretty.

Bina Venkataram: It's gorgeous. You have to go to Walden. It's the best.

Brian: Wow.

Quinn: Cool. We'll come interrupt your swim one morning. You'll think it's super relaxing.

Bina Venkataram: I'll tell you when I'm not going to be there.

Quinn: Perfect. She had a lot of fun [crosstalk 01:04:11] Brian.

Brian: Oh, if you could Amazon Prime one book, and I mean, I think I might have the answer already, but if you could Amazon Prime one book to Donald Trump, what would it be?

Bina Venkataram: Oh. There's so many options.

Brian: We've had past guests who were authors of books say their book, so don't feel bad if you want to.

Bina Venkataram: I don't know. See, a part of me wants him to read my book, but a part of me doesn't because my book helps people think ahead and make their plans for the future become reality.

Quinn: And you don't want him to do that.

Brian: That's a good call.

Bina Venkataram: It's interesting because the Russians bought the rights ... A Russian publishing company bought foreign rights to my book, and I was a little bit like, "Oh, I hope Putin ... Do I want Putin to read my book? I don't know." Anyway, but ...

Quinn: It's like Biff with the Almanac.

Bina Venkataram: Right. Right. Yeah, exactly. One book.

Quinn: We've had coloring books, the constitution, and everything in between.

Bina Venkataram: I know. I just feel like I should have this on the tip of my tongue and I don't.

Quinn: Take your time.

Bina Venkataram: I should've listened to the end of your episode.

Quinn: Oh, now it comes out.

Bina Venkataram: I was trying to get through multiple ones. You know what I mean?

Quinn: No, no, no, no. We got it now.

Brian: You listened to two good ones.

Quinn: Most of two good ones, Brian.

Brian: Most. Sorry, most of two.

Bina Venkataram: I think ... Would he even care? Does he read?

Quinn: See, yes. Look, let's just imagine someone's reading it to him or something like that.

Bina Venkataram: Someone's reading it to him. How about we start with something pretty basic level of comprehension, like The Lorax?

Quinn: That's so good.

Brian: Yes.

Bina Venkataram: The Lorax, which by the way, I read to my niece the week of ... It was like a few days after the presidential election of 2016, I read it to my then three year old niece, and I wept. I don't know how you could not be moved by that book, but worth a try. Worth a try.

Quinn: It's a pretty good one. Well listen, Bina, where can our listeners follow you on the internet?

Bina Venkataram: They can follow me @binajv on Twitter and check out The Optimist's Telescope. I think if you just Google that, you'll find me.

Quinn: You doing a book tour?

Bina Venkataram: I am, yeah. Starting in D.C. at Politics and Prose on the 3rd of September, then Harvard Bookstore in Boston on September 5th, Core Club in New York on September 9th, and on from there. Brooklyn Book Festival, Boston Book Festival, there should be some other places in other parts of the country, too.

Quinn: Cool. Brian will just follow you wherever you go.

Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I can be your personal assistant. Whatever you need, just let me know.

Bina Venkataram: No, I would love to see you guys if you can make it to any of the above.

Quinn: We will-

Bina Venkataram: I think I'll be in L.A. I'll be in L.A. in November.

Quinn: You don't need to come to L.A. I mean, it's overrated.

Bina Venkataram: Summit. Do you ever go to Summit L.A.?

Quinn: Do we what?

Bina Venkataram: Have you ever been to the Summit L.A., the conference?

Quinn: I don't think so.

Bina Venkataram: Check it out. It seems like it's pretty cool.

Brian: Summit L.A.? Okay.

Quinn: All right. We got to get out more. Bina, this has been fucking great.

Brian: Yeah, yeah.

Quinn: Thank you so much for all your time. We kept you for quite a while here. And for your book, which I just devoured and loved and I'm clearly going to hand out to quite a lot of people who need it, but not the people that I don't want to have it.

Brian: That's right. Be very clear.

Quinn: To clarify. We don't need this thing weaponized. But I hope it does awesome and the book tour goes great, and we really appreciate you thinking this way and urging everyone else to do it as well.

Bina Venkataram: Thank you guys. You guys are fantastic. You're so awesome. This was a lot of fun and I really love what you're doing. I think it means a lot and it's making a difference.

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 your free email newsletter at 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. That's so weird. Also on Facebook and Instagram @importantnotimportant. Pinterest and Tumblr, the same thing. 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 podcast. 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

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

Brian: Thanks guys.