Transcript Zero Episode 22: How Climate Change Reached Davos

Read a transcript of the conversation between podcast host Akshat Rathi and Gail Whiteman, founder of Arctic Basecamp.

From Davos to Höhenweg ski station, looking at Davos below, Switzerland, on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. Photographer: Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg
From Davos to Höhenweg ski station, looking at Davos below, Switzerland, on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2023. Photographer: Francesca Volpi/Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- For Episode 22 of the podcast, Bloomberg Green reporter Akshat Rathi interviewed Gail Whiteman, who in 2017 founded Arctic Basecamp: an actual polar tent at the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland, where she aims to deliver a message about the climate and the Arctic to world leaders. Listen to the full episode below, learn more about the podcast here, and subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google and Stitcher to stay on top of new episodes.

Akshat Rathi  00:00

Hi, welcome to Zero. I’m Akshat Rathi. This week: thin ice, missing snow and a party for billionaires.

Akshat Rathi  00:22

Next week I'll be going to Davos, a ski resort town in Switzerland. But I'm not telling you about my holiday. It’s that one week in January where Davos becomes the home of the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting: an invite-only gathering of CEOs, billionaires, select political leaders and, increasingly, climate people. That's not always been the case. As recently as 2014, climate didn't even get a mention in the executive summary that is sent to attendees before the meeting starts. And now, climate has broken through, with more than a quarter of the main panel discussions tied to climate issues one way or another. 

It's disorienting to be a climate journalist at Davos. On the one hand, you are close to the people who have power or money (or both) to make the decisions that can change the fate of the climate. The 2020 meeting, which was the last big one before the world shut down to deal with a pandemic, had 119 billionaires and 53 heads of state attending.  On the other hand, Davos is a Petri dish for innovations in greenwashing. That same 2020 meeting ended with Davos attendees failing to find a consensus around carbon taxes. But it closed with a widely applauded initiative to plant one trillion trees.

There is little doubt that the business world listens closely to what happens in Davos. So how did climate get to Davos? What made the world's business elite take notice? One person that deserves credit is Gail Whiteman. She's a professor of sustainability at the University of Exeter's business school. And she physically brought climate science to Davos in 2017: by giving climate scientists a space to present their data. She called it the Arctic Basecamp. The Arctic Basecamp is housed in an actual polar tent used for Arctic exploration. Gail pitched the tent not too far from the main venue, and has camped there every year since. It's not the most comfortable approach. But getting to Davos means unparalleled exposure to world leaders. 

Gail Whiteman  02:32

We were packing up the tent, and we saw there's a ton of security. So really, you know, guys with guns everywhere, and snipers and so on. So we knew somebody fancy was going to be around and then we saw Mr. Netanyahu walking by –

Akshat Rathi  02:46

Head of State of Israel at the time. 

Gail Whiteman  02:48

Yes, he was, absolutely. And he walked up to me, and he said, What the heck are you doing here with this big Arctic tent? And I said, Well, we are Arctic scientists. And we're bringing a message of climate risk to global leaders. And he said, You're sleeping here. And I said, Yeah, we are. We’ve slept here for three nights…. Davos gives you the opportunity where you can make those unusual moments, and just speak science to power.

Akshat Rathi  03:15

The tent is not a stunt. Davos is exclusive, and accommodation at the meeting can run into the thousands of dollars. The tent was Gail's way of making things work. And she filled the tent with climate scientists and youth activists, people who couldn't normally afford to go to Davos. I wanted to talk to Gail about how she brought climate change to Davos, the limits of raising awareness among the elites and what needs to happen for the Arctic Basecamp to succeed.

Akshat Rathi  03:54

Gail, welcome to the show.

Gail Whiteman  03:55

Thanks for having me, Akshat. It's great to be here.

Akshat Rathi  03:58

Now tell us about the Arctic Basecamp. Maybe starting with your motto, which is what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic.

Gail Whiteman  04:07

So Arctic Basecamp is a science communication platform, we're not for profit. And that's right. That is our motto that what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay there. And in fact, it's really a barometer of global risks. So our mission and the reason why we set up Arctic Basecamp in Davos in 2017, was [that] we felt that we needed to speak science to power and communicate all the global risks that were hitting the planet coming from the Arctic, and in fact, coming from the polar regions more generally.

Akshat Rathi  04:36

Now, the very existence of the Arctic Basecamp is tied to Davos, and we're going to talk a lot about Davos. Now, Davos is a town in Switzerland, which happens to host the World Economic Forum every year. But it's also a shorthand for something else. Help me describe for the listener what we are referencing when we say “Davos.”

Gail Whiteman  04:57

Well, it's funny because I think there's probably a couple of groups in the world: those that when you say the word Davos, they immediately get the desire like, Oh, I've got to get there, I want to join the elite, the top of business, the top of policy and government, at the top of media to somehow get to the place where the movers and shakers have been meeting since I think 1971. There's another group that will say, if you say the word Davos, they'll say, oh, that's where all the elite go. Not to try and save the planet or fix the problems, but actually, just to make their lovely life that much more lovely. And maybe there's another group that have never heard of Davos at all. But the Davos that we want to talk to, and the reason why we go there is it is actually the place where the World Economic Forum convenes people that have power from all different stakeholder groups. And the mission, in many ways has, I think, shifted over time from just trying to make the world a more economically viable place into actually a more sustainable place. Of course, not all of them are on the program yet, but increasingly, a number of them are. So we go to try and influence that group that have power, that are interested in really getting us to a safer space in a low-carbon economy, and really try and show them just what the heck is happening in the Arctic, and the scale and speed of change that is happening.  

Akshat Rathi  06:19

This January, where it's supposed to be a ski town, we are likely not going to see any snow because of the massive heatwave that has happened in Europe over the Christmas period in the first week of January. What do you think that does to the people who come to Davos now, where between a quarter and a third of all the big panels that happen inside the Davos tent are tied to climate change?

Gail Whiteman  06:46

Well, I hope it shocks the hell out of them. I mean, you know, Switzerland in the winter should have snow. We have been camping outside of Davos, except for this May when we were there, of course, and it was Alpine summer. There's always snow. Now, sometimes there's too much snow, we have to dig ourselves in and out of our base camp tent.  But it has never been the situation that we're going to be facing this year. And I hope it's a real reality check that it's not that climate change, it somehow has to be addressed by 2030, which people sort of think it does like, Well, okay, we've got to get, you know, half emissions by 2030. So people are thinking that we still have time, we still have time. And this should be a wake-up call.

Akshat Rathi  07:30

But now climate impacts are happening everywhere that goes from hurricanes in America, to droughts in the Horn of Africa, to heat waves in Europe. Why is it that you wanted to bring the Arctic to Davos, and not all climate impacts?

Gail Whiteman  07:46

Well, in fact, we are bringing all the climate impacts to Davos because what happens in the Arctic is driving those impacts all around the world. So the Arctic is, in many ways, a remote and incredibly beautiful place that seems sort of far away. And maybe if you're a Canadian like me, or if you're a polar bear lover, you pay attention to what's going on in the Arctic. But it is a really important place in the global climate systems. So the snow and ice in the Arctic acts really as a big insurance policy on runaway climate change. And as it has changed as it has melted and thawed, in fact, that has ramped up global climate change throughout the world, particularly extreme weather in the mid latitudes. So if you're worried about wildfires in California, or you're worried about the polar vortex in the East Coast of the US, or the extreme heatwave that we had in Europe this summer, and that we're having right now, but also the shifting monsoon patterns and typhoon patterns throughout the Asian side of the world, that's the Arctic calling. And that's just the starting place.

Akshat Rathi  08:52

Let's do Arctic climate science 101. The measure that often is talked about is sea ice coverage. Why is it that that measure? How much of the Arctic is covered by sea ice is so important?

Gail Whiteman  09:06

Well, I think it's a good question. You know, as a social scientist, myself, I had to really do Arctic science 101. And I've got some amazing world-class colleagues that have really helped me understand why the sea ice and in particular the summer sea ice is so important. First of all the ice when it's there, and the snow is white, and the sun, light comes in from space and it hits the white and most of it bounces back up. So the ice itself, the ice cover and the snow cover are really important because they're a protective barrier from that heat getting into the oceans or onto the land. That's the albedo effect that we've heard about in Al Gore's film and everybody talks about. Now, the summer in the Arctic, there's always some melt, of course, because it's warmer than it is in deep winter, right when the ice is the thickest and has the biggest extent. But the real read is that in the summer, how small it's getting. And that's the worrying sign. So it's not this fluctuation that you've had, we have a little bit of that dark ocean showing up.

Akshat Rathi  10:07

Yeah, so it accelerates, right? Because if you lose sea ice, then you're going to get more sunlight not being reflected by the white snow, but instead being captured by the dark snow and that heats up the sea even more and that causes melting even more.

Gail Whiteman  10:23

And then it starts to change things like the circulation system of the oceans, but also the jet stream. And that's how extreme weather starts to change.

Akshat Rathi  10:31

And we can connect those jet stream fluctuations to things like the polar vortex, which holds this cold, typically, inside the Arctic, then sometimes escapes, like we saw in the US when there was a cold snap in December, pushing temperatures in the negative in places like Texas. And if the polar vortex doesn't flow, as well as it does, it also causes heat waves like the one that we've just seen in Europe, which has melted all the snow in Davos. 

Gail Whiteman  11:02

Exactly. So it regulates that global climate system that gives us the weather that we're kind of used to. And then we start to see things get really strange. So parts of Switzerland this week have been 20 degrees Celsius, that is not a Swiss January, let me tell you. It's just completely different, which means there's knock-on effects, it's not just that you can't ski as much as you might want. It's also that the whole biodiversity chain changes, because then trees start to think it's spring and so do flies and other species. But there's also some really specific things that can happen, that need to happen in the Arctic that aren't happening. The first is that as shipping opens up, there's a real need to get rid of heavy fuel used by ships. 

Akshat Rathi  11:49

Right. Because these heavy fuels are really polluting. And when they burn that fuel through ships, they pump out all these really bad particles, dark particles onto snow, which makes snow darker and thus makes it easier to melt.

Gail Whiteman  12:04

Exactly. Or the idea is that oh, as the Arctic melts, we can get at oil and gas deposits that are there. And yet, that's going to be catastrophic. So don't do that. So it's this idea of short-lived economic gains for some companies or some countries. And yet, the rest will pay the price because the price tags are coming, are not necessarily being felt by those that could gain from it. And there's lots of other things. We know that the big wildcard is permafrost. So, much of Siberia and certainly parts of Canada and the US and Alaska, have permafrost, which in that has carbon stored, frozen, and as it thaws, it releases methane, which is a much more concentrated greenhouse gas. But there's almost no direct sensors monitoring that situation that looks like it is potentially destabilizing as well, I think the whole of the Arctic terrestrial area, we've got only 250 on-the-ground sensors, which would be like one sensor per, you know, the state of West Virginia, or the whole country of Ireland. It's not like you can get your cholesterol measured by having your neighbor down the road’s cholesterol measured. And that means actually, if you're okay, like we actually need more measurement of something so important.

Akshat Rathi  13:23

Now, once you decided to go to Davos, because the Arctic needed to be talked about at Davos, was it as easy as buying a ticket and submitting a panel idea? And then they will be like, yes, that's a really good topic. It's very important, we should talk about it. Gail, please come along and set up a panel? 

Gail Whiteman  13:40

Oh, my God, no, no, it was not at all an easy process. And in fact, how it started off was I was actually in Tromsø. I was in part of the Arctic Circle in Norway at an academic conference. I'm a social scientist. And I have worked my entire career, collectively and collaboratively with the natural scientists around the world. So I bring in the natural science into discussions of global risk, particularly in boardrooms around the world. So I was in Tromsø, and the conference at the time in 2011, was on tipping points. And all the Arctic natural scientists were absolutely worried about the global implications at that time. And that's over a decade ago now. And I said, you know, why are we talking about this in the Arctic? And they said that that's where it's happening. And I said, yeah, but when you're talking global tipping points, the globe is not here. And that's when the light bulb moment for me was I said, we have to go to Davos. And then my fellow colleagues in the natural scientists said a couple of different things. First of all, they said, What is Davos, for example? 

Akshat Rathi  14:51

So that’s the group that hadn’t heard of Davos. 

Gail Whiteman  14:53

Yeah, they're like, what is Davos exactly? Then I explained. And then some of them who knew what Davos was, and then there was the group that also said, Well, we do know what Davos is, but we're not sure that's the role of science. And this is over a decade ago. So scientists felt that their role was to do research and rigorously peer-review and publish it. And I certainly agree with that wholeheartedly. But in order to get the implications of that research out, we have to sometimes go to places that we don't know where we are. So I very bravely said, we've got to go to the World Economic Forum, we have to go to Davos, let's go. And I had worked a little bit with the World Economic Forum. And I went down that summer to talk to some folks that I knew there. And they were very interested, I have to say. 

Akshat Rathi  15:35

And this is we're talking… 

Gail Whiteman  15:38

2011, 2012. Yeah. And climate change was starting to be on the agenda. But again, just sort of starting. But the Arctic was really seen as a niche part of that storyline. And there was a bit of work that was being done on the Arctic, which was more about who owned the mineral rights or shipping this kind of stuff. So internally, there was this idea, of course, that it's a rich place of natural resources.

Akshat Rathi  16:02

So you go to the World Economic Forum, and there is some interest in the Arctic, what happens next?

Gail Whiteman  16:09

But it wasn't on the official program. But I did know that there was a series of side events. So I thought, well, we'll just do a side event. I completely underestimated the fact that you can't get a place to stay at Davos. The hotels are booked out in advance, and the World Economic Forum has guests who get the chance to book those rooms. And there's absolutely no way we could get a room. And then even if we could get a room, the cost of those rooms during the Davos week for scientists, for academics, impossible for us to be able to pay for that. So I charmed my way a couple of times onto a hotel list. They were like, basically, you can have a closet if it's still available. But eventually I would get kicked off on that. And you can stay outside Davos, but then you've got to come in, and then you've got no place to present. So around 2016, I said, you know what, let's just bring an Arctic science tent, a weather haven tent that scientists use in the field. And let's bring it and let's find a backyard, we can put it in, and we're gonna camp in it. And we're gonna use that as our event space. And we did. 

Akshat Rathi  17:18

So that’s where the name Arctic Basecamp comes from? 

Gail Whiteman 


Akshat Rathi 

 So what should people picture when they're imagining the Arctic Basecamp tent in Davos?

Gail Whiteman  17:27

It's a pretty big tent. I mean, it's not a tent to get married in, so to speak. But it's a pretty big tent. So it's about two and a half, three meters wide, and about five meters long. And it's a big sort of domed tent. And it's white with orange, which is a classic weather haven colors. And our big logo, Arctic Basecamp. It’s insulated. Of course, it's got some insulation around it. And then we have smaller sleeping tents, which are little yellow tents, two-person tents that are set up around it.

Akshat Rathi  17:56

Base camps are typically camps that are set up at the base of a mountain. So like the Everest base camp would be a very famous one where even climbing up to the base camp is quite the challenge. But of course, that's just the base camp, and then you actually go to the peak. And so what you were trying to say with that is now we've created this place, actual physical place where people can come and if they so understand the importance of what's happening in the Arctic, well they can go to the next step and do something about it.

Gail Whiteman  18:25

Exactly. And it was this idea that we could control this space, and it was a space for science, and we were not fancy. And we were cold. And we were very thankful for any dinner anybody ever gave us during any of the Davos weeks, to be honest with you. That first year was minus 24 Celsius. It was freezing. And we ended up doing the actual event indoors at the Research Institute beside us that Professor Conrad Stefan, who was a Swiss glaciologist, he just come back to Switzerland and he was in charge of a larger institute that had this Davos base for snow and avalanche research. And he was completely supportive. So we co-hosted it with him and his team let us use indoor facilities that first year to do the actual presentations. And we were super lucky. We had Vice President Al Gore joined us as a keynote, Christiana Figueres. We had Peter Bakker, CEO of World Business Council leaders from WWF and Naoko Ishii was there from GEF. And it was a huge event, we had well over 120 people. And that was a rocking way of kicking off Davos.

Akshat Rathi  19:28

You've continued to do it since and many of the names you just recounted, like Al Gore are people who already understand the problem. So what was it that you had to do to bring in the other crowd, the crowd you'd really wanted to get to?

Gail Whiteman  19:42

Exactly. Well, the first thing is we had to change locations, because it was not actually on the animal corridor of the Davos participant. They were not walking past that. They were maybe getting in their helicopter, but that was not enough to see us. We got a location in the second year, which we stayed out every year since at the Schatzalp Hotel, which is a glorious hotel, it's a short funicular ride up the mountain. And it's one of the classic hotels in Davos. And it's also where they have the closing lunch every year. Lots of folks stay at the Schatzalp. It has got major events happening all the time. You know, Bill Gates, Malala, John Kerry have done events, and, you know, a glorious view. So it's kind of on the world leader tour. 

Akshat Rathi 

That's handy. 

Gail Whiteman

Yeah, that's handy. You know, one here in 2018, I believe, where we were packing up the tent, and we saw there's a ton of security. So really, you know, guys with guns everywhere, and snipers and so on. So we knew somebody fancy was going to be around and, and then we saw Mr. Netanyahu walking by with his wife and entourage.

Akshat Rathi 

Head of the State of Israel at the time. 

Gail Whiteman

Yes, he was, absolutely. And he walked up to me, and he said, What the heck are you doing here with this big Arctic tent? And I said, Well, we are Arctic scientists. And we're bringing a message of climate risk to global leaders. And he said, You're sleeping here? And I said, Yeah, we are. We slept here for three nights. I was wearing the sweater I'd slept in. I mean, you know, it was not the most glamorous meeting, I would have to say. And then he said, I want to see the tents. So they all came in. And we talked about climate change and global risk and let him see some ice core samples. You know, that kind of thing. I'm not suggesting he was on our target list for who we wanted to brief but Davos gives you the opportunity where you can make those unusual moments, and just speak science to power.

Akshat Rathi  21:41

After the break, I asked Gail, whether what happens at Davos really makes a difference. And what needs to happen to save the Arctic. 

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Akshat Rathi  22:27

Davos has been the place where climate change is being talked about more recently. Part of it is because of initiatives like yours, bringing the Arctic Basecamp to fruition and bringing world leaders to really understand this problem. But we also know that emissions haven't started falling. There was the one year in the pandemic that we saw a drop and that was because of economic activity being halted. We saw emissions rise over the record high that was set in 2019, last year. So now we have a new record high. That is why many people look at Davos and go, yes, they're talking about climate change. But if they're not doing something about it, isn't that greenwashing. How do you respond to that?

Gail Whiteman  23:11

Yeah, so I think the forum has, if I look at it on the international stage, has really significantly changed over the years. So a decade ago, there was probably inside the World Economic Forum 10 to 15 people working on environmental issues. Now, a decade later, there's probably well over 100 or 120 people working on environmental issues: climate change, biodiversity, plastics, all kinds of stuff. So they have massively scaled up their teams. And they've done, I think, tremendous work in all of those areas and work in the sense of mobilizing private-sector action. They've got a CEO Climate Leaders Group, which is impressive, is bold, is ambitious — co-leader is Jesper Brodin, CEO of IKEA. So you've got these really, you know, interesting and I think relatively young CEOs that are active in this space.

But you've hit the nail on the head here. If emissions do not fall, it doesn't matter. None of it matters. None of the science matters. None of the media stories matter. None of the corporate CEO good statements matter. I don't think it's only greenwash, just like I don't think the work that I'm doing is necessarily self-aggrandizing. I think what it is, is that we've got intractable problems. And when governments go back into their zone of say post-pandemic recovery, they focus on short-term gains. So you look in Europe, the the push back to coal, because of the war in Ukraine with Russia. You look at at the UK, flip flopping on what they're trying to do, depending on who is the current prime minister or not, but their real flip flop, flip flop back and forth on how far and how fast and should they bring that Cambo oilfield online or not? If we had 200 years, Akshat, I would feel pretty optimistic because there's been a sea change in this decade, since we've been trying to get to Davos, an absolute sea change. But the problem is that we've delayed action so long that physics is really pushing us. And I think extreme weather, which is the number one global risk around the world, is the wake-up call. 

Akshat Rathi  25:26

What specifically needs to happen at the World Economic Forum next?

Gail Whiteman  25:31

Well, from our perspective, because the Arctic is so important, you know, in terms of the future of humanity, what really needs to happen is it needs to become a central part of the forum programming, we have to go from Off Broadway, into the main tent, so to speak. And that means we have to become one of the projects – not Arctic Basecamp, we’re separate, but the Arctic more broadly, the polar regions need to become part of the World Economic Forum. So they have stuff on water and oceans, they have stuff on trees, where's the cryosphere, which is the frozen parts of the planet, we know that they're so important. So we really absolutely need the forum to pick this up as a project. And in order to do that, they need members, they need concrete, two, three companies or big foundations, philanthropic donors, that say this is important enough. And it is, because we cannot do any of the other things, if we don't save the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Akshat Rathi  26:30

You use the word “project.” Now, lots of things can be projects, but what does it really mean to be a project of the World Economic Forum? 

Gail Whiteman  26:38

Oh, that's a good question. So the forum has a center for nature and climate that they set up. And underneath that they have probably about, oh, I don't know, 50, or 100 projects. Those are the actual work projects that members work on throughout the year. The World Economic Forum, of course, the annual meeting is in Davos. But that doesn't mean that's all that the forum does. In fact, they have these work streams that continue throughout the year. And that's why you want to get on a project, you don't want to just pop up as “here's the Arctic!” again, in January of every year, you actually want people working on the Arctic or the polar regions more broadly, throughout the throughout the year. So you want to be a project.

Akshat Rathi  27:23

And because of the presence of the Arctic Basecamp at Davos, you've been asked by CEOs and companies to come and give briefings. What does that involve? And like, what does it lead to?

Gail Whiteman  27:34

Interesting, we found because we're sort of seeing, obviously, as an unusual experience at Davos, and one where the teams will bring up a CEO … we had one in May, large multinational company, an incoming CEO, his first time at Davos, and he wanted to come up and see different things. And he came into the Arctic Basecamp tent. And we did a bespoke science briefing, which meant it was just for him and his team. And we went through not just the latest in Arctic change, we then brought it into the global risk stuff. And for this company, they were incredibly focused on water risk, and change over time, and really did not know at the C-suite level, how much the Arctic would affect those water patterns throughout the world. So when we have a chance to do that, we do it. The same thing with food: The Arctic, because of its role in the water and precipitation patterns around the world, it actually threatens the six bread baskets of the world. You know, Arctic risk is coming to our food system. The world is focused on, of course, the breadbasket in Russia and Ukraine, and rightly should be, but the other overlying threat on that one, and all the others is actually Arctic change.

Akshat Rathi  28:48

Yeah, as a climate journalist, there's a shorthand that I've learned, which is, climate change is caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but it really manifests through water on Earth. And, of course, when I think about water, I'm thinking rivers and lakes and oceans and sea level rise. But really, it's not just water in liquid form, but water in the frozen form in the poles, both in the Arctic and the Antarctic.

Gail Whiteman  29:10

I love that metaphor. You know, I don't know if you've ever talked to Louis Pugh?

Akshat Rathi  29:14

Yes, it's interesting. You bring up Louis Pugh because we talked to him just a few episodes ago. And I hope listeners can go back into the archive and listen to the episode on why protecting the oceans is so important.

Gail Whiteman  29:25

You know, he says there's a great line. Ice is life. It's incredibly important from the water system. And then also, you know, sea level rise. We are seeing such instability in Greenland, which is the largest contributor right now to sea level rise, which threatens coastal communities everywhere. So I think Arctic Basecamp is a way of bringing the Arctic to Davos. But the real hero of the story is the Arctic itself. When you see the scale of change that's happening, whether it's in Greenland or you go to Northern Canada or Alaska or you're in Svalbard and onwards, and you see that scale of change, you feel a moral imperative to try and deal with that terrifying outcome. And that comes back to your point, Akshat. What will happen at Davos when there's no snow and all the people that are used to seeing that snow and they bring their big boots anyway, and they don't need them?

Akshat Rathi  30:20

Well, but Davos as the place of the powerful and the elite meeting at the start of the year to set the agenda for the rest of the year, typically, in the way that it manifests is the tip of what capitalism does. How do you think morality is going to help shape that outcome?

Gail Whiteman  30:43

Well, you know, call me naive but I actually think this is because I've seen it happen so many times. Ultimately, leaders are people. And when we touch their humanity, and we combine that with self interest at times, but when we touch their humanity, and they see the existential threats facing them, and we saw it with the pandemic, for sure, we saw it, to some degree with the war in Ukraine, people will rise or can rise to the occasion, not always will. And I think that will happen with the climate crisis. My worry is that it might not happen until it's too late to really avoid some major, major losses. So we're pretty close to the 1.5C safe space. And you'll get scientists that will say, we don't have a hope in hell of maintaining that. I stand on the side of optimism that, you know, as close to 1.5 as we can get is better than saying that that target’s away, because it's not a target. It's really about a physical limit. So we have to keep going until it's too late. And even then we have to try to mitigate as much as we can. The pandemic did show us that when people were faced with it, not all — there was gaming, there was all kinds of political expedient decision making at times around the world — but people will make decisions that are bigger than themselves. And I'm hoping that we can start doing that too. Because time's running out.

Akshat Rathi  32:16

I hope you're right. That was a fascinating conversation. Thank you, Gail. 

Gail Whiteman

Thank you.

Akshat Rathi  32:27

Last year was the first time I went to Davos. It was in May instead of the usual cold January, and the discussion, no surprises, focused on the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis that was to come and how the global economy will deal with high inflation. Despite that, the climate remained a priority. Seven months on, things haven't changed all that much. The war continues to drag on, inflation is still too high, and energy security remains top of mind. Will climate still be a priority at Davos? Find out at Thanks so much for listening to Zero. If you liked this episode, please take a moment to rate review and subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Send it to a friend or send it to someone who travels too often in a private jet. Get in touch at zeroes producer is Oscar Boyd and senior producer is Christine Driscoll. Our theme music is composed by Wonderly. Special thanks to Eric Rosten and Hugo Miller. I'm Akshat Rathi. Back next week.

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