Listen to the podcast here:
A huge barrier for many people engaging with sustainability and social impact issues is the expectation of perfection. Corinna Bellizzi welcomes Clover Hogan, a climate activist and the Executive Director at Force of Nature. Clover talks about how you need to give yourself a license to be human. Sharing your inconsistencies and mistakes opens doors for other people to engage. What matters most is your mindset. For many decades, we’d had the technology, resources, and ingenuity to solve the ecological climate crisis. But without the proper mindset to fuel action, change won’t happen. If you want to be a force of nature to reckoned with in your climate activism, this episode’s for you.
About Clover Hogan
Clover Hogan is a climate activist, researcher on eco-anxiety, and the founding Executive Director of Force of Nature – a youth non-profit mobilising mindsets for climate action. She has worked alongside the world’s leading authorities on sustainability, consulted within the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies, and supported students in 50+ countries to shift from climate anxiety to agency.
Show Notes (Final Audio):
00:02:53: Intergenerational Movement For Climate Activism
00:11:53: Give Yourself License To Be Human
00:13:30: Feeling Of Powerlessness
00:20:06: Consumption Crisis
00:25:40: Eco Anxiety
00:35:55: Environmentalism Is Everyone’s Issue
00:37:15: Understand Where People Are Coming From
00:44:45: The Individual In The Collective Action
00:48:08: Incredible Edible
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Be A Force Of Nature: The Mindset You Need To Save The Planet With Clover Hogan
My goal with this show is to invite each of you to care a little bit more every day so together we can build a better world and reverse global warming, even regenerate Earth. If you’ve been reading this show for a while, you know I’m a big fan of Paul Hawken‘s work and especially his new book, Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation. If you haven’t, you should go back to those episodes. I interviewed him and did an eleven-podcast series after the interview covering all of the content of that book. If you don’t want to read it, though I encourage you to, you can go through it step-by-step.
In this episode, I’m thrilled to introduce you to someone that Paul Hawken himself insisted I connect with. That’s Clover Hogan. Clover is a vibrant 22-year-old climate activist and force of nature herself who has been hard at work, safeguarding your future. She has been featured in Financial Times, Independent, Vogue, The Guardian, The New York Times and National Geographic. She’s even got a TED Talk. She’s done more in 22 years than I’ve done in 45 to save our precious planet. I’m ecstatic to get to know her with all of you. Clover, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for that stellar introduction. I’m blushing.
I’m double your age and while I have been activated with regard to our climate since I was in my teens, I have to say, I’m blown away at everything you’ve done. I’ve listened to some of your podcasts and also some of your guest appearances. I have to ask you to tell us about how you advocated for your education and the health of our planet from the early age of twelve, even convincing your parents to move to a different country for your schooling. Let’s start there.
The first thing I want to say is that we see this trend in young people engaging at an earlier and earlier age. The standard was a few years maybe to see 17, 18-year-olds out in the street protesting. Now, I encounter 11, 12, 13-year-olds who are so articulate, eloquent, passionate and clear on the changes that we need to see. There is an intergenerational movement that is taking place. On a personal level, I’ve had this fire under my feet driven by the urgency of what feels like this doomsday clock but also driven by the movement that is happening all around us in this real momentum for change.
When I was eleven, I was growing up in tropical North Queensland in Australia fishing frogs out of the toilet and dodging snakes that hung from the ceiling. I used to go down to the seafront outside our house and rescue beach sea turtles while avoiding the mud crabs that would stick out of the ground with their claws in the air.
I was very lucky to live immersed in nature and develop that ecophilia that deep connection with the natural world all around me from an early age, which is some backdrop to why it came as a shock to me when I learned about the climate and ecological crisis. I didn’t learn about it in school. I didn’t learn about it over my parents’ shoulders as they watched the news and the TV every night but I learned it through documentaries.
At eleven, I sat glued to my computer screen, staring at these images of million-year-old forest being bulldozed to produce Big Macs, watching dolphin hunts that turned the shoreline red, watching graphs projected by Al Gore that showed how quickly we were devouring the Earth and how good we were at pretending otherwise.
I remember feeling profound sadness, grief, anger, frustration and perhaps beneath all of that, incredibly confused. I couldn’t understand how I hadn’t learned about this in the classroom or at the dinner table. Amidst that smoothie of emotions, I was determined. As much as I felt those difficult emotions waking up to the crisis, I felt deeply inspired by the people making these documentaries, bringing light to the issues.
Inspired by them, I declared at the dinner table one night to my parents that I wanted to become an environmentalist. I wanted to commit the rest of my life to this cause. Being the brilliant people that they are, I managed to coerce them or they allow themselves to be coerced perhaps into moving to Indonesia at the age of thirteen so that I could go to a place called the Green School.
That is wall-less bamboo classrooms in the middle of the jungle where kids learn by doing and where instead of asking students to pursue a convenient career, our teachers asked us which problems in the world we wanted to solve. That was the first time I had the space to channel all those difficult emotions that I’d been grappling with from that first documentary I watched, channeling them into action and channeling them into the problems that I saw all around me.
I probably watched all of those same documentaries. I think you’re speaking to likely The Cove, which is heartbreaking. I spent ten years building a fish oil company and understanding what is happening in our oceans around the world because of the research I had to do to even sell the products. One of the things that are unavoidable even if you’re being a very responsible company is that there are people who are essentially pirating the oceans.
Channel your emotions into action and solving the problems around you.
What has been happening off the coast of Peru is disheartening. For instance, even though they have supposedly Marine Stewardship Council certified label blue fishery there off the coast of Peru where a majority of all the sardines and anchovies that we eat are sourced from, 15,000 dolphins a year are illegally captured and killed.
Part of the underlying reason for that is because local fishermen who don’t have the giant trolling vessels and other equipment that enables them to capture the tonnage of fish when fishing is open start to look at dolphins even as competition. They’re not harvesting them for even meat. They’re killing and wasting them.
When you learn that knowledge, you can’t unlearn it. It probably fed into my ultimate decision to leave Nordic Naturals after nine years of building it, after being so ingrained in it that it wasn’t just a company I worked for. It was like I was Mrs. Nordic Naturals in a way because I saw the problem is connected. Regardless of what you do, it’s like if you use palm oil in a product that you manufacture, even if it’s sourced ethically and you’ve done all of the legwork, you’re still supporting the use of palm oil and the bad actors.
It’s a very complex situation where if you’re voting with your dollars and intention, you have to step back and say, “I can’t use palm oil in any products that I manufacture. I can’t choose to use fish from an area where this is happening,” and these are globally connected systems. Even if you are doing it responsibly in your little corner of the world, it impacts global systems because everything is connected. The oceans of the world are connected. We’re in a mess.
You touched on an important point there, which is that moment of waking up to how we’re part of the problem. I remember that was one of the most difficult to reconcile feelings at eleven because one of the documentaries I watched was Food, Inc. I was learning about animal agriculture for the first time. That was when I started to join those dots of, “What is on my plate at the end of each day or perhaps three times a day is directly contributing to these problems.”
That extended to learning about the palm oil industry and living in Indonesia. The sky would turn yellow for three months of every year and you’d realize that’s because they’re burning Borneo. They are clear-cutting and burning the forest that’s on my doorstep. You start to wake up to that feeling of being complicit, that enormous source of guilt or at least it was for me.
When faced with those emotions, it’s easy to want to shut down because you suddenly realize that pretty much every part of how our lives are designed in the 21st Century is somehow contributing to the climate crisis or you can flip that and say, “This is an invitation for me to rethink how I navigate the way that I show up every day by way of my lifestyle,” or in your instance, what you’re doing for your 9:00 to 5:00 and how you are showing up in the workplace.
It’s very overwhelming for people to see that and start to feel complicit because it’s like, “What do I do? How do I make a change? Do I need to stop eating meat and live in a treehouse? This is too much for me. I’m going to call it in. I give up. I’m going home.” It’s important to think about where people are and how they can make small changes to move in a direction that will have a greater impact with time.
Otherwise, we can move from an agency into overwhelm and start to essentially shut down and ultimately not be active or engaged in our place in the world because, “It’s too much. I can’t change it on my own.” I wondered if you could provide some perspective on how you are supporting both young people and that intergenerational perspective to ensure that we have some agency, that we’re able to move forward with confidence and have a more positive outlook on what our impact can be.
To build on that for a moment, a huge barrier to lots of people engaging with sustainability social impact issues is this expectation of perfection. There’s this thought that, “Unless I do everything perfectly unless I am vegetarian and I recycle everything and I don’t buy fast fashion and all of this then I can’t engage.
There is a lot of gate-keeping within the sustainability and climate spaces as well. I’ve taken it upon myself as I grow my own platform to show up with a lot of vulnerability and honesty about how inconsistent I am as a self-proclaimed environmentalist. Giving myself license to be human, make mistakes and not have it all right or perfect opens a door for some other people to engage.
To your question, when I was sixteen I went to COP21 in Paris. It was my first time going from grassroots activism to suddenly engaging with global leaders and decision-makers for the Paris Agreement. There was so much pressure placed on this one moment as there is with pretty much every COP that has happened in the years before I was born and since.
I was going in with this starry-eyed optimism because for the first time I was like, “I can sigh some relief of world leaders coming together around a table to act with the urgency that this emergency requires.” The first event that I went to was something called the Sustainable Innovation Forum sponsored by the likes of Coca-Cola, BMW and Shell which are the iconic polluters and contributors to climate change.
I remember feeling that it was going to a conference on lung cancer sponsored by Philip Morris, the cigarette company. I felt crippled by the hypocrisy and the blatant unapologetic greenwash. I was hearing from these polished suited people in historic seats of power making promises far enough into the future that they required no immediate action.
I was familiar with the anxiety and the anger and all of those feelings but never before had I felt so powerless in those moments and allowed myself to think for the first time, “Perhaps the system is too broken. Perhaps the problem is too big. Perhaps most devastatingly, I’m too small to do anything about it.” It was a few months later back at the Green School that I was taking a class on Environmental Psychology.
My teacher introduced me to the word ecophobia coined by environmental educator, David Sobel, in 1996. He defined it as the feeling of powerlessness to prevent cataclysmic environmental change. It was this real light bulb moment for me because, for one, I realized that I wasn’t alone in these feelings of powerlessness. I also realized that we’d had the technology resources, ingenuity to solve the climate and equal logical crisis for many decades yet critically what we lacked was the mindset. This mass mobilization and challenge of the stories that we subscribe to as a culture.
That was when I decided that I wanted to learn everything that I could about the intersection of mindset and the climate crisis and within that understanding the role of, of human wellbeing on a physical level, on a mental level. That led to the conception of Force of Nature which I founded three years ago. It is a global youth nonprofit mobilizing mindset for climate action.
We work with students through CEOs to help them step up in the face of the climate crisis, starting from a point of coming into conversation with those difficult climate emotions whether that’s climate despair or climate denial and begin to understand the role of their own internal barriers and the necessity to dismantle them in order to dismantle the institutional systemic barriers that are getting in the way of solving this problem.
Most people in the United States don’t even know what COP21 through 26 are. I would love for you to give the 30,000-foot view to anybody who doesn’t know what this is and how it’s designed to help us solve some of these global challenges.
I don’t blame you for not knowing what COP is if you’re reading this. We’re now approaching COP27 in the year 2022 which says quite clearly that there have been 27 of these annual conferences that have taken place with the exception of the one year. We skipped one, thanks to the global pandemic. It’s the one time where world leaders come together, traditionally from the policy but increasingly from the private sector as and from civil society to say, “How do we keep within 1.5 degrees of warming?” which has been established as the tipping point for climate collapse or the point of no return we don’t want to pass.
This conference is called the Conference of Parties. It has been running since before I was born. The challenge with COP is that the agreement that world leaders come to basically has to be passed by all of the member states who are present in the room. That means there are a lot of conflicting, vested interests.
It also suggests that the structure and format of the conference are designed to fail because unlike, for example, comparable treaties like the agreement that has come to limit the CFCs that were contributing to the hole in the ozone layer or even nuclear treaties to disarm certain nation-states, they began with a small number of countries coming together and ratifying an agreement.
This is a much greater challenge because you’re trying to get everyone around the table. There’s a huge inequity when you think about countries from the Global North, countries the like UK, the USA or Australia, my home country, who’ve already gone through their industrialization and their development are no longer as dependent on some of the dirtier fuels like coal versus countries like China or India who haven’t benefited from those same resources and are going through that development.
At the heart of restoring our relationship with nature is to stop commodifying nature.
There is a lot of competing interest. The world leaders who are there in many ways have their hands tied. Civil society was a lot more engaged. Young people were a lot more engaged. Alongside my team at Force of Nature and the other youth organizers who were there, we tried to disrupt these corridors of power. Instead of getting locked into the same mindset that has led to incremental outcomes to COP each year, we tried to push the needle and the transformative thinking that will ultimately lead to us realizing the transformation that we need.
COP is an important moment but we realized that it is nowhere near enough. We need to rethink so many of the systems that we have inherited. Unfortunately, we don’t yet have the political instruments that we need to achieve that other than, for example, nonviolent direct action people taking directly to the streets to demand the change that we need to see from our governments.
I’m seeing some encouraging things from an entrepreneurial perspective that I want to mention for a moment and get your feedback on. You mentioned something that people don’t think about. We’re kicking the can down the road when it comes to environmental issues often. We’ll say, “We solved it in our backyard,” but the smog in China is overwhelming. A lot of the products that we get are manufactured there because we’ve essentially kicked the manufacturing can down the road.
If we’re going to address these systems, we need to look at where there’s a lot of waste too. In one of my episodes, I interviewed Manik Suri, the CEO and Founder of Therma. He’s Harvard educated, super smart guy. He spent some time also in Washington, DC. He’s got a political little bit of background himself too but he acknowledged that the reality is there are places all around the globe where refrigeration is taking off. Refrigeration creates other greenhouse gasses that you can’t draw down from the atmosphere once they’re released.
What he’s doing is working to optimize what refrigeration systems are doing presently by even not running them 24/7 like most refrigerators are, set and forget and you have global growth. In these arenas where they didn’t have great refrigeration in the past and the total emissions that refrigeration as its own set is responsible for 7% of the annual emissions and carbon output as well as other greenhouse gases which we can’t drawdown.
Some of this is going to be addressed with technology but one of the things I’m very concerned about and I love your feedback on is specifically with regard to the rare earth minerals that we’re mining for to create all of these batteries around the world and essentially looking to create electric cars as a solution to the fossil problem with regard to emissions. I’d love for you to comment on that and see what perspective you have given the research and the work that you’re doing.
You’ve touched on an important point, which is the risk of taking a techno-utopian tunnel vision to the climate crisis. It’s convenient for us to say, “This technological solution, providing everyone with electric vehicles will solve the energy crisis.” What we realize is that the problem is so much deeper. When we’re talking about the climate crisis, it’s not just about an energy transition. We’re talking about a consumption crisis.
We’re talking about a centuries-long economic system that is built on the commodification of nature and has been made possible by the exploitation and the sacrifice of communities around the world. Until you truly go to the cultural heart of the crisis, we’re not going to be able to solve climate change with the intersectionality, with the systemic lens that we need.
We’re seeing this rush of companies and profit-based solutions and jumping in and saying, “We can take advantage of this crisis. We can make money off this technology. We might invent something that could help a lot of people but we’re going to patent it so that we can hold it close to our hearts and not trigger the change that we need.” We need to do away with that.
A simple example was Elon Musk tweeted that he’d be donating $100 million to a prize for best carbon capture technology. My first thought reading that tweet was like, “So, trees don’t exist?” It’s easier to invest $100 million in some Silicon Valley billion-dollar solution that invests in the solutions that are already under our feet.
This is why I deeply love the work of Paul Hawken, our mutual friend and particularly his addition to Project Drawdown of regeneration, which says, “We have the solutions. It’s about at the heart restoring our relationship to nature, not commodifying nature. At the heart of that needs to be building fair and equitable communities. We can’t separate our people from the planet.” We need to start from that place. That’s why so much of our work at Force of Nature is focused on the personal, emotional, moral relationship to this crisis.
In interfacing with decision-makers in boardrooms, we realize that the conversation can’t happen at a bottom-line level. It has to come to what does it mean to be human. What are the difficult questions we need to ask one another? Interestingly, whenever we have found ourselves in those rooms with big business leaders and ask them, “Why are you here chatting to a bunch of twenty-year-olds about the climate crisis? It isn’t because of COP26 or even some IPCC report.
It’s because their kids have come home to them at the end of the day and asked, “Mom, dad, what are you doing about the climate crisis?” For them, it’s about legacy. It is, “What is the planet that I’m handing over to my kids and will they get to enjoy the beautiful natural spaces that I’ve had the privilege of growing up?” If we can bring it back to that level, we can escape some of the noise and the techno-utopianism that otherwise gets in the way.
I probably woke up to activism at age nine, when I found that they were using rhesus macaques and blinding them to do research on corneal dystrophies or how you could create surgeries to correct vision. I thought at the time, “I’m going to go ahead and grab your baby, blind it and that’s okay with you because essentially, it’s going to better the next generation of individuals.”
I don’t understand how we could take the life of something that is as intelligent and beautiful as a rhesus macaque and essentially maim it. That got under my skin at nine years old. I went around door-to-door in my neighborhood and got people to sign petitions that I then sent off because I was so upset by it.
Yet this is the part that is hard for people to come to terms with because even when they have that real fire in their bellies, they might also benefit later on from something LASIK that came as a result of all these years of animal testing. It’s like, “I wanted to get that surgery to protect my vision or ensure that I’m able to go around and enjoy the outdoors without wearing glasses every day of my life.” We almost become “accidental hypocrites.” This is what I would refer to it as.
I’m of that camp. I married a man whose father has corneal dystrophy. His vision has been solved specifically by a lot of the research that was done on monkeys before it was done on humans. It’s my own genetic realm now because I have children with this man and that’s an inheritable disease. It’s quite possible that their lives will benefit from this if they ever develop corneal dystrophy. These things are interrelated. They’re connected.
I just think that we can approach things in a better way if we’re more mindful if we aren’t sitting there being self-serving to the point where we’re saying, ” I developed this technology and I’m going to patent it so nobody else can use it.” That is very much what the Elon Musks of the world do. They are not necessarily typically creating technologies that they will release into the wilds for everyone to benefit from.
I can’t speak specifically to all of the technology that Tesla has created and what they’re doing but I live here and the Silicon Valley of the Bay Area is proximal to that. It’s become this status symbol and icon to own and drive a Tesla more than any other vehicle in the area. What you see is all of the increase in mining for rare earth minerals. A lot of that is being done in Australia. There are not even talks of melting permafrost of Iceland to go ahead and get rare earth minerals. These are things that will have a consequence later.
If we can think about even the technology we’re working to build to create something that doesn’t have the same repercussions that might exist in some other way. If we can capture that lens and go forward with intention through the young people that are working in research and through the industries that already exist, we can create a more circular world, a circular economy and something that can regenerate if we’re all committed to it.
I know that’s not going to happen overnight but I do believe that we can get there. I wonder if you could talk for a moment about your own optimism, having been at COP26 and as critical as we can be of the inaction that seems to come from these governmental bodies coming together for all of this. That’s a complex question but I love your perspective.
When I first woke up to the crisis and declared myself an environmentalist, I learned over the years to suppress those icky feelings, the grief, the powerlessness, the guilt of benefiting from many of the systems that are contributing to the climate crisis. It wasn’t until November of 2019 that I could no longer suppress those feelings or perform those mental gymnastics. This was during the fires back home in Australia. Living in London, I would wake up, read the headlines and burst into tears in the shower, on the Tube and The Underground, much to the dismay of polite British society.
I was reading these headlines of two billion animals being incinerated in the Inferno. I was scared for my friends and my family in the affected areas. I was watching Instagram stories of friends, standing on the roots of their homes, holding these hoses, trying to beat back the embers and the smoke. Growing up, climate change was something that I read about in articles and watched in documentaries.
Even though you feel powerless, show up and do the work every day.
For the first time, standing in front of a train, I was confronted with the enormity of this crisis and what it meant for me on a personal selfish level. I was seeing the loss of my own country. I was seeing the loss of the very nature that made me an environmentalist in the first place. I had no choice but to surrender to that grief process.
In acknowledging that eco-anxiety and in talking about it publicly for the first time, I felt enormous relief. I realized the gift in those feelings because I could see then that the reason we hadn’t yet solved the climate crisis was because as a society, we’ve gotten so good at switching ourselves off, particularly those of us who live in a bubble of relative climate privilege, sleepwalking toward this cliff of climate collapse, even as the science tells us that that’s where we’re heading.
Leaning into those difficult emotions and not trying to crowd them out with false optimism or hope is incredibly powerful. That’s why I’m so passionate about the research we’ve done at Force of Nature bringing to light the rise of eco-anxiety, particularly in young people. We’ve been able to show that across our students in 50 countries, over 70% of those young people feel eco anxious. Seventy percent of those young people feel hopeless in the face of the climate crisis and only 26% of those young people feel they can meaningfully contribute to solving the problem.
What we’ve seen is eco-anxiety is the healthy, natural response to this crisis that we’ve inherited. Yet when we lose faith in the systems that we’ve inherited, be that in our ability to vote and go to the polls and not have to choose between a climate change denier or a seasoned procrastinator or that’s having faith in the products that we can buy at the supermarket and not feeling that they’re all greenwash.
Also when we lose faith in ourselves, when we begin to entertain those thoughts of, “Perhaps I’m too small. Perhaps the problem is too big,” that’s when that anxiety, which is healthy and necessary to wake us up to the crisis, that’s when it can ferment into the ecophobia that I referenced at the start of our conversation, that feeling of powerlessness.
We need to learn how to create space for that smoothie of emotions, all those difficult feelings, appreciate the gifts that they bring us and channel them into action so that when we feel that fire in the belly, we don’t want to switch off because we’re like, “That’s too painful. It’s too confronting,” but we say, “Isn’t that amazing that I care so deeply about this issue, that I’m awake and attuned to it? I owe myself as well as owing my community and the planet that I live on to acknowledge those feelings and channel them into doing something about it.
When about hope, it’s multifaceted, convoluted and isn’t holding hope on one hand and despair on the other. It’s, “How do I expand my emotional container for that range of feelings?” Coming out of COP, I would describe it as having an emotional hangover. I’d gone through the incredibly high highs of connecting with my team, peers, community, taking to the streets and meeting the individuals from around the world who are leading the solutions.
At the same time, I’m seeing once again the hypocrisy, the greenwash, the incrementalism within those corridors of power. All of the countries have their own pavilions at COP, speaking to what they’re doing to address the climate emergency. I was not surprised to rock up at the Australia pavilion and see they had excellent coffee, which was a huge pro but they were sponsored by Santos, one of Australia’s biggest oil and gas companies. You have all this fossil fuel money. You have all this vested interest. You have all of this political power, trying to stop change from happening.
That necessarily leads to despair and everything else. I’ve realized I need to be selective in terms of where I look for it. I no longer look for it in those conventional places, in the people who elect into power but in the people who have no choice but to act. The people who are on the front lines of this crisis, the young people who are staring down the barrel of our future and are terrified of what we’re inheriting. I find it in the people who feel the powerlessness, who feel the despair and yet choose to continue to show up and do the work every single day.
You have given me two terms that I’m in love with, emotional smoothie and emotional hangover. This is getting me to think about one thing. That is in this present time, we live in a very polarized environment where people are choosing sides on specific issues. That has been the case, at least in the United States, with regard to the issues around environmentalism, people making it a political issue when it should be an everyone issue. I wonder what your thoughts are specifically about that. I have one more thought that I like for you to think about out as we have this conversation. That is with regard to this idea of cancel culture.
What I’m hearing from people is, “You’re canceling them unjustly,” but this is taking the concept of voting with your dollars and turning it into something that’s somehow toxic, voting with your time voting with your attention, the power of your intention, even as you approach something, as you become more informed. What would you say to the person who’s frustrated with the issues overall and says, “Stop canceling me or the things I want to do,” when you start to say things like, “Bitcoin currency is bad for the environment. I’m investing in it and making money so just stop.”
I’ll share a personal anecdote because it speaks to a few of the themes that you touched on. When I declared myself an environmentalist at the dinner table, my first action was to reject what my dad had made for dinner on the table which was an array of different meat dishes. I said, “My first act is to become a vegetarian. I don’t want to eat meat anymore. I’m not interested. With that, I’m judging you intensely for continuing to choose to eat meat.”
My dad is French. He’s also a retired chef. For him, me announcing my vegetarianism was rejecting everything that he’s ever cared about, his love language to the family and how he shows his care for us. To be honest, it was a source of real fighting and contention in my family for many years. We could never get on the same page. I was arguing the ethics of the argument. I was throwing a lot of blame, guilt and everything else at him. On the flip side, he could not understand where I was coming from.
It wasn’t until I started my internship at Impossible Foods in Silicon Valley, the company that makes meat from plants, that I was able to, for the first time communicate the science and remove the subjectivity of my own ethics, my own moral judgment and speak to this from the lens of how animal agriculture is the leading driver of tropical deforestation, taxes our water system and impacts frontline communities. I was able to speak to it in terms that he could understand. Even then, he didn’t become a vegetarian or anything close to it but we could at least begin to speak the same language.
Try taking cheese from a Frenchman and you might be up for a fight.
Fast forward a couple of years, I get this call from my mom and she said, “Clo, your dad and I have watched this documentary on Netflix about going plant-based and how great it is for your health. Your dad and I are going to try this whole vegetarian thing.” Initially, I wanted to bang my head against the wall because I was like, “I tried for ten years to no avail and it takes one documentary and you guys are all on board.”
It was an important lesson to me. We have to go to where people are. There is this real barrier in the climate sustainability movement to say, “Because I care about this thing for these reasons, you should care about this thing for the same reasons too.” That’s never going to work. That’s never going to be successful. That’s not how humans operate. We need to understand where people are coming from. Unfortunately, the climate has become hyper-politicized.
Yet if we even remove the words, climate change, according to some interesting studies that have taken place in the states and talk about the solutions that will deliver on climate action whether that is regenerative agriculture and looking after local farmers and taking power back away from these huge multinational food corporations or it’s ensuring that girls have access to education and kids around the world have school uniforms so that they can learn and they don’t have financial barriers. Whether it’s ensuring that we’re not participating in this fast fashion culture that has detrimental impacts.
When we talk about things in those simple terms, 99% of people can get on board with that and say, “That sounds like a much better way of doing things.” You’re also communicating that from the place of invitation. You’re saying, “How can we make the world a much better place?” rather than, “Here’s why you are bad or wrong for being part of the problem.”
We’re all part of the problem. That’s the reality. For those of us who are in the business of communicating the issues, you need to get that moral high horse and say, “Here’s how I’m inconsistent. Here’s how I contribute to the problem. Here’s how I want to be part of the solution. I’d love to invite you to be part of that too.”
You’re speaking to the beauty of talking about vegetarianism as plant-based as opposed to vegetarian. There is a stigma associated with it. It’s like, “Don’t take my barbecue from me. I have this hamburger lifestyle. I want to be able to do what I want and have the types of food that I like to eat. That’s it. We won’t find substitutes because I’m in my habits and in this particular spot.”
As we get older, we learn more typically that not eating those things is better for us. I’m working to, in my own home, get us off of dairy because of how dairy cows are treated. You don’t necessarily know even when you’re getting cheese where the dairy cows were and how they were treated. I bought an open space preserve. There’s a herd of cattle that are living naturally and migrate from one pasture to another. They’re very well-tended.
I know the farmer that has put those cows on that public land as the rudiments that are required to preserve the ecosystem for the beetle and the grass that grows there that’s native to California. It’s a nature preserve. I could go and buy half of that cow and know that I’m not having this negative impact on the environment specifically because of how these animals are raised and treated.
We need to understand where people are coming from.
It takes a lot of work to get that in the know. You’re going to pay more on a per pound basis for that animal than anything you get from the supermarket but you’re going to know how it lived, how it probably passed because they are very mindful of the entire process there. They are not dairy cattle but they stay as a family unit for the entire life until they are taken. It’s a much more ethical way to raise animals and to think about things from a more sustainable perspective even if you’re not willing to go to base fully.
I love Jonathan Safran Foer’s take of not eating meat or animal products before dinner and making that simple shift to say, “For these 2 or maybe even 3 meals of the day, I’m not touching animal products.” The impact that it can have if we all would commit to something that would be so much greater than if we didn’t take that step.
We’re not, for 2 or 3 meals of the day, supporting the CAFOs farms that are the biggest part of the problem. If we choose to still harvest meat, seafood and things like that. To do so from spots that we know to be ethical, that we know to have been right-minded, we’re not overdoing it, were not raping the ecosystems, were not having a bunch of cattle sitting there on their own dung for the whole day. Even the milk that you would get from them is full of poop particles because they had nowhere else to lie down.
You raise an important point. It’s on the systemic nature of the problem as well. So much of the rhetoric has focused all of the blame and attention on individual actions. This is a part coincidence but it’s also largely a very coerced effort by the fossil fuel industry. You look at the fact that BP then British Petroleum, now Beyond Petroleum, came up with the carbon footprint calculator, which was evil yet genius.
They said, “Instead of people looking at us, we can put the blame on the individuals.” The individual is anxious about how much carbon they’re creating and what they’re contributing. There needs to be this individual in a collective effort. We all need to change the way that we show up, particularly for those of us in privileged places like the UK like myself or in Australia where we’re disproportionately consuming resources but it has to happen at the system level. There’s also this pervasive, yet dangerous myth that people do not care about the issues when in fact, people are not empowered to care.
Oftentimes, based on how value has been structured in the economy, doing the more sustainable “ethical thing” is expensive. It’s not even an option for a lot of people who have priced out of that. Even our connotation with sustainability has become yummy mummies who drink oat lattes and can afford shopping at Whole Foods or Planet Organic.
That’s why grounding every sustainability, environmental conversation social justice and equity is critically important. This is how do we create fair, equitable communities where we have a true cost when it comes to the resources that we’re using when we have a true sense of the value of how we’re interacting with nature and critically where we’re not making sustainability or access to clean air, access to clean water. Yet again something for the privilege that’s not a world that I want to live on, live in but more objectively that’s going to be able to deliver on the solutions that we need.
It’s not realistic. That’s the reality. There are people who survive on McDonald’s because they can go and get a basic hamburger for less than a couple of dollars. It’s a reality of an economic disparity. It’s also a reality of the privilege of knowledge. How do we educate the masses about the shifts they could mindfully make? That’s a question that I ask myself almost every day. It’s part of the impetus behind this show.
I was encouraged to find that My Regeneration Series became a high school curriculum for a set of students in Ohio so that they could learn more about the challenges that we face whether it be the fast fashion issue, how our food systems work or agroforestry. How we might look at our forest not only a great place to be but also a space to potentially harvest from so that we bring the foods onto our plates as opposed to letting them become forest litter.
I’m thinking about all of these bits along the way. One of the things that I’ve often championed on this show is choosing one thing from this whole climate activist perspective that matters to you to champion and become a little bit expert on and then take it from there. For me, it has been related to food because I’m passionate about food. I have a little bit of land. I compost. I’m shopping almost exclusively for our produce at farmer’s markets so it’s coming from local areas. It’s not trucked in.
That means that the types of produce that I eat throughout the year and that my family uses shift because of the seasons, which is also of health benefit to you because you’re getting a more dynamic set of foods. The fact that I’m able to compost, garden and plant trees on my property that are fruit-bearing. I’ve also begun to look at gorilla gardening as a possible next step.
I’m teaching my kids about things like the strawberry trees that are around our neighborhood. They’re almost only planted in industrial complexes but I’ve located where some of them are. I’m like, “We’re going to go pick some strawberry tree fruit.” There’s a medical office close to our house that has them planted at every median between all of the parking areas and nobody touches them. It’s become something we’re gleaning.
One of my favorite environmental activists here is Pam Warhurst who started Incredible Edible and this movement to take back abandoned or poorly used land in the UK, taking over abandoned parking lots to build community gardening projects that not only produce people with amazing fresh organic food and enable food sovereignty but also bring people together and re-weave that fabric of community and tapestry of connection that we feel we’ve lost.
Particularly when you are living in a very built urban environment London, perhaps you don’t know who your neighbors are, don’t have your local places or people. Those solutions are amazing because they’re essential but also accessible and easy. Kudos. That sounds brilliant. I will need to go berry-picking in a parking lot.
I got to interview Ethan Welty on this show because I learned about what he’s doing with Falling Fruit. I thought it was so incredible to have a simple website out there that shows you fruits in different areas. I’ve begun logging where the fruit trees are in my neighborhood on there as well. I don’t know how many people in my local area are using it but it’s novel. It gets us thinking about where our food comes from in a different way.
The moment we start on that journey, we can get to a spot where we have a deeper understanding of what our impact is as we go about our daily lives beyond fuel consumption, which largely can be unavoidable and having to use technology to communicate and the power that you consume to do and whether you’re capable or at a stage in your life where you can do something like investing in solar and all the questions that might erupt from that.
How long is the solar panel going to last? Is it recyclable? You keep going into another wormhole at any rate. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I want to offer you the floor to share any last thoughts that you might have with our audience or if there’s a question that I haven’t asked that you wish I had, go ahead, ask and answer it.
Thank you. We covered so much ground that no further interrogations come to mind. I would encourage anyone to check out Force of Nature. You can find us online by visiting ForceOfNature.xyz. We have a pretty funky URL. You can find us at that same handle on Instagram. You can find me @CloverHogan. We are building an intergenerational movement that is global.
We’re looking for people all the time who want to come into conversation with their climate feelings but critically learn how to channel them into taking action in a big and exciting way. Please do reach out. We’d love to connect. We’re growing our community every day. Otherwise, if you’ve made it this far in the episode, I want to say thanks for reading. Thank you, Corinna, for having me as well.
It was a lot of fun for me. I will take some snips from this for those that don’t make it through the whole episode to at least share in social media particularly when we talk about emotional smoothies. I love that term so much. It’s a gift to have a word combination like that. Thank you.
Thank you so much. All the best of the show going forward.
As you consider your own activistic journey, I invite you to simply lean into discovery, understand you don’t know it all and you can’t know it all. Stay curious and hopeful. Ask questions. Most importantly, get involved. Pick something that matters to you and champion that one thing. You’ll make a lasting mark that you’ll be proud of. Thank you for being a part of this show and community because together we can do so much more. We can care more and we can be better. We can even regenerate Earth. Thank you.
- Paul Hawken – Previous episode
- Regeneration: Ending the Climate Crisis in One Generation
- eleven-podcast series – Previous episode
- Clover Hogan
- TED Talk – What to do when climate change feels unstoppable by Clover Hogan
- Green School
- Nordic Naturals
- Force of Nature
- Conference of Parties
- Manik Suri – Previous episode
- Project Drawdown
- Impossible Foods
- Incredible Edible
- Ethan Welty – Previous episode
- Instagram – Force of Nature