Climate Risk and Resilience
Global change scientist, public policy strategist and film co-producer Phoebe Barnard, PhD has a fire in her belly for transformative change in our society and economy — led by women and men of vision and collaborative values.
She works at scales from global to local, on climate risk and resilience, ecosystems, global change ecology and societal futures. She is the CEO of Stable Planet Alliance, Affiliate Full Professor at University of Washington, and Research Associate at University of Cape Town, and was awarded globally for impactful leadership and team building. Phoebe founded and collaboratively led national and bioregional biodiversity and climate programs in Namibia and South Africa, and international transdisciplinary research. Her PhD is from Uppsala University, Sweden in evolutionary ecology.
She is a mountaineer, a meditator, yogi, community gardener, and leadership mentor, and mentors young professionals across Africa, Europe and the Americas — all now young leaders and change-makers in their own rights.
Get To Know Phoebe
Larry Greene 00:01
I was delighted to learn that one of our new neighbors in Mount Vernon Washington was Dr. Phoebe Barnard. Dr. Barnard's work spans the globe. She is an environmental and societal futures analyst, global change ecologist, biodiversity conservation biologist, climate risk and resilience specialist and on and on. She is a highly skilled practitioner of building diverse collaborative teams, organizations, and communities, developing local resilience and strategies to Big Picture challenges we face. Phoebe focuses on achieving a community's common goals. You get the idea. Phoebe knows a lot about a lot of things, but in her humility, she is always seeking to learn.
Phoebe is founding Executive Director of the Stable Planet Alliance, which focuses on bending the curve on human population and resource consumption. She is also an Associate Science Policy and Communications strategist with the Conservation Biology Institute. She is Affiliated Professor On Environmental Futures Sustainability and Conservation Science at the University of Washington, and she is research associate of the University of Cape Town's Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology and its African Climate and Development Initiative.
And as you will see, even at the global level, Phoebe is not one to shy away from some of the most sensitive issues, for example, addressing overpopulation and overconsumption. Finally, Phoebe shares her thoughts on the wisdom of making big, bold, transformational systems changes as soon as possible. So let's get into our conversation with Phoebe.
Welcome to Navigating Our Future, Phoebe!
Phoebe Barnard 02:20
Thank you so much, Larry, it's a real treat to be with you. And on such a sunny day! I actually don't mind being inside for a bit because I've been working in the garden and working up a sweat.
Larry Greene 02:32
Well, I'm so excited about our conversation. We've known each other for a while, but we haven't gotten together and I'm really interested in seeing the world and the Salish Sea through your eyes. But first, I'd love to hear you know more about you and your path in life that led you to do your life's work and your life in our community?
Phoebe Barnard 02:56
Wow, okay. Let's see the one or two minute version. I was very fortunate, maybe really quite privileged, not financially so much as with a really good family with whom I grew up in New England. Good parents who loved nature and loved community service and gave me the good values that one needs to grow up and live a life of service.
So my background. I'm a biodiversity specialist and evolutionary biologist, ecologist. But I started working on big picture issues of our global planetary changes quite early on, working mainly in governments. With one foot in academia most of my career, and working in southern Africa and Middle Eastern Africa, most of my career, I've been lucky to walk that dual path between science, public policy, strategic planning and communications that I've regarded as a fantastic privilege. I'll stop there and let you take the conversation from that point.
Larry Greene 04:15
Sure. Well, tell me about some of the most significant turning points in your life that moved you to do your work now.
Phoebe Barnard 04:24
Hmm, good question.
I was the youngest of four kids and my siblings were quite a bit older. So their choices in life helped shape me as well as our parents' choices and values. I went into environmental science by choice but I was always very keen on communication. So studying education and psychology a little bit at the same time as biology.
The turning points. I suppose the first one was deciding to leave the US and go study for my undergrad in the Maritimes of Canada, so I went to Acadia University in Nova Scotia. And while I was there, I met an English ornithologist, we got married, we went off to Africa together to take up a job with Oxford University in Zimbabwe. As it happened that that post for a PhD never happened because Zimbabwe was still very turbulent at the time.
So I found that I needed to make a different plan. In the end, we ended up going to Namibia instead of a post apartheid colonial project of South Africa at the time, and building a wonderful career teaching young students building leadership skills, professional development, and then working in governments and universities from there.
So those were probably the biggest tipping points.
At a certain point in my career, after 31 years, down there and having decided to part ways with my ornithologist husband, my dad had died, and my mother became not ill, but old. So I decided it was time to start earning proper currency, not soft currency, and return to the states. Alas, for me and my new family, that happened just about the time of the 2016 elections. So it was a bit of a culture shock, but interesting and lovely to be back. Fortunately, we settled in the Salish Sea area, in Skagit County in Washington. And that's been an absolute pleasure.
Larry Greene 06:55
I know what you're talking about. That sounds tremendous. Who inspired you in your life and why?
Phoebe Barnard 07:02
Well, I think a number of people -- probably far too many to account -- particularly the rioters of the 60s and 70s. I was still just a little kid, because I was born in 61. But Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold, the usual suspects for people in my field, from North America.
But also during my life, a number of strong African leaders, like Wangari Maathai, a number of people that aren't well known overseas, but who, sometimes were my mentees, sometimes younger than I am, able to really just teach me a lot about humility and navigating complex cultures, complex religions, complex languages, and complex and corrupt politics.
Larry Greene 07:58
Yeah, well, I'll tell you what I appreciate as I've learned more about you: your breadth and depth and sense of purpose that you bring to your work to create a more life-affirming path, not only in our bioregion, but also through your work globally. So we're all very lucky to have you as such a dedicated member of our regional community.
Phoebe Barnard 08:25
There are many of us doing good work, but thank you.
Larry Greene 08:28
Well, that's true. We're all in this together, aren't we?
So many of these elements of your knowledge, your expertise and your skill set really amaze me. You're a biodiversity science scientist. You've done such great work there, but I'm also really interested in your ability to create collaborative teams and get through conflict, resolve those issues and pull it all together in a package with your policy strategy. To me, collaboration is absolutely critical and know I can learn an awful lot from you about that. So can you give me and our audience a better understanding of why you chose to develop and combine these skill sets to address our challenges?
Phoebe Barnard 09:31
Thank you for that. Larry. Interesting question. I realized early on that my real loves professionally were biodiversity and climate change and the vulnerability of not only wild species, but also human civilization to climate change. This is one of a number of kind of big global change drivers.
My friend, Guy Preston, in South Africa used to call this "a lethal cocktail of environmental threats" and I realized that most of these things were what are often called "wicked problems" in North America, you know, just big, nasty, complex, problematic naughty things that are too big for any single person's brain to get on top of. And of course, as a woman, I guess I find it quite easy, rewarding and rich to be able to collaborate. So at a certain point in the 90s, I had been working on biodiversity and climate change.
Then, I was offered a chance to set up Namibia's first National Program on Biological Diversity, conservation. And I put together a national task force on that. They were a bunch of very sometimes prickly, techy scientists, government officials, nonprofit leaders and young students that older people usually couldn't get along with. And part of that, I think, was from their apartheid history before that. They'd been a little bit isolated. They were used to having personal fiefdoms, and little petty disagreements between them had become big.
So my task was to sort of put them all in a metaphorical room, throw a ball up into the air and say: Hey, people it's time to start to play ball! I'm not going to unlock the door until you figure out how to play the game."
So there was a lot of moderation, facilitation, and conflict resolution that had to be done as part of that process. And from there, actually people started working together and remembered the benefits of focusing on the game and not the man, so to speak, not the player. Keeping your eye on the ball, on the goals, was surprisingly easy. They actually surprised themselves a lot by how much they enjoyed working on it.
So a few years later, when I was still running that program, I realized that none of my colleagues were getting their act together to set up a National Climate Change Program. And I was going to have to do it. I also, at the same time, set up a National Climate Change Task Force and the same kind of process, getting people in different organizations, different sectors, different generations, different perspectives, to all try to work together to solve the process of how to give a new country, Namibia -- which had the benefit of being able to close the door on its colonial past and open the door -- almost a blank slate for a new, independent future. And the orienting questions was: How we were going to contribute to that to make sure that the country was sustainable, resilient in the face of climate change and biodiversity loss, and that its people could benefit.
Remember that both Namibia and South Africa were countries like many post colonial countries, where conservation had a little bit of unfortunate colonial history, and was often perceived by local people as being what white guys wearing khaki uniforms carrying guns would come around and do. They would mark off a place on a map, put up a fence, kick everybody out, put down boreholes, so the animals could drink, and then start arresting people for poaching in what had been their land.
So there was a big historical poison to overcome and to help leech out of the bloodstream of those countries. So in a way, it was a wonderful opportunity to help completely reframe how we approach environmental protection and conservation and it had to be defined a little bit differently than it's done in North America so that it had very direct benefit for people or else it wouldn't be successful.
So those kinds of things reinforced my own instincts that collaboration was essential, that team building was possible, but that it would be messy sometimes. I needed not to take personally any kind of reactive, angry comments that they weren't directed at me so much as that they were just the complexity of the business of starting a new path when people had been used to working alone in silos for all their lives.
Larry Greene 15:10
Tell me a little bit more about your work around the Millennial Ecosystem Assessment. What was that all about?
Phoebe Barnard 15:18
Well, that was a cool thing. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was and still is the biggest global analysis. It was not a new research project but just an assessment of what was already there on the table of the ability of the planet's ecosystems to support human health, wellbeing and economic activity. And at the time, when this started in 2001, or 2000, actually, I was a UN negotiator for the government of Namibia.
I was sitting in Nairobi at a conference and I was approached by two American guys. I'd heard of one of them. And they said, "We've heard about you, and we'd really like you to join our board."
And so I said, "Well, that's interesting. I haven't heard very much about this. What have you got in mind?"
And they told me, and my initial instinct, Larry was, oh, no, it was a big global endeavor. It was a kind of Intergovernmental Panel in the same sense that the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, because it worked through a number of the big, multilateral environmental conventions like climate change, biodiversity, desertification, societies, and the the International Convention on trading in endangered species, for example, all of those things.
So it was fundamentally intergovernmental in character. And my instinct was, they're going to spend a lot of money, and not much is going to come out of it. But they talked me into it, saying, "This is going to be different. Just to wait and see."
My second apprehension with it was that it was really focused on humans, human health, human wellbeing, human economic activity, related to ecosystems. And as a biodiversity scientist, I had to overcome some of them by natural irritation, you know, for God's sake, humans get all the attention! We have 10 million other species that are barely getting attention. And most of them we don't even know. So why more yet more on humans?
They persuaded me, I think, rightly, that nothing was going to change for biodiversity conservation unless we were able to communicate it to politicians, economists, and ordinary people in ways that would affect them directly. And I'm really glad that I agreed to be involved on the board on the executive committee in the future scenarios, working with a group setting up a regional Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Program in southern Africa.
So I was very involved in it at a number of levels. And it really helped change my way of thinking about how to solve our big problems that the standard scientific approach of just going with (?) animals and then saying, hey, people, here are the results. This wasn't working, it was going to continue not to work for the next 20 years.
And now in 2022, we are seeing the results of that. So the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment for a five year period -- assessing the whole global significance of what was happening, and then engaging with governments on transforming the way they made public policy. And that was the fundamental change that really started to make the difference, because then governments could see biodiversity and the ecosystems of the world in terms of how it supported their national economies, and how they would eventually become poor and degraded and unstable. Unless they invest it in those things.
Larry Greene 19:27
How did you move them away from just focusing on humans to realize that they're part of this integrated whole system?
Phoebe Barnard 19:35
In southern Africa, though, that was never a big issue. It's much more clear to people there that their lives depend on ecosystems and natural resources. People are very close to the land over much of the country, and even in cities. They get it.
It's not like the US where people have been kind of increasingly in urban bubbles. or in suburban bubbles where they drive around in a car to do almost everything. It's quite a different thing.
But at some point, Larry, -- and it was definitely connected to my experiences in the Millennium Assessment -- I realized that all of our hard work was not getting us anywhere if we didn't address the root human causes. I started to see those as our predatory, voracious, materialistic, hyper-consumptive economy, the way that politics ran, in most countries with a kind of democracy that had very short terms. Since I was literally working up to 18, even 20 hours a day for short periods during that time and I had small children, I was really just almost like an elastic band that had no more elastic limits left.
I felt that people had to spend more time being popular than being right and acting for the good of the planet or society. And these human psychology issues made us more likely to choose convenience and comfort and status and ego over community and well being and wisdom. So for a long time, I realized that I was going to have to shift gears. And so when I moved back to the states, it seemed like a good time to do that.
Larry Greene 21:52
Yeah, that's exactly it. I mean, the people, many indigenous peoples around the world, live very close to the Earth. And they understand that. The problem is that they're all impacted by our current, global capitalistic system which is predatory, as you mentioned. And that is the challenge.
Phoebe Barnard 22:14
These are such times for really deep learning, because the dominant cultures of the world are usually the white settlers, to put it, frankly, that have come in with cultural arrogance, and put up their own systems and excluded everyone else. They have not been good listeners. And if there's anything that we can do in the Salish Sea, it is to help lead the way for that listening process. In the USA, at the moment listening is pretty nonexistent.
Larry Greene 22:47
Well, we're going to get into that a lot deeper, but I'm still looking at not even so much your past work, which is amazing, but since October 21, you became the CEO of a global organization called Stable Planet Alliance. As I understand, your mission is to bend the curve on population and consumption. So let's go a little bit further into that work and where you're headed with it?
Phoebe Barnard 23:22
Sure. So Stable Planet Alliance is a really exciting project. For me, it is a global coalition of a number of lively, dynamic, highly respected organizations around the world that are working in the areas of population, the economy, media, and women's empowerment and voices and leadership.
The reason? Let me just go back to June 2021. I was approached by a colleague of mine, who I've still never met face to face, but he's the chairman of the American Geographical Society. A political scientist and spatial geographer called Chris Tucker.
Chris Tucker had approached me and some of my colleagues and co-authors after we had written a paper called World Scientists Warning Of A Climate Emergency, which was one of a series of scientists' warnings, but it identified six issues that were regarded as being absolutely crucial for humanity to make big progress on in the next eight years, to 2030. That included energy pollutants, nature, food systems, population and the economy.
And it spelled out all kinds of details about how to do that, but it was mainly just raising the alarm. And Chris Tucker came to us and said, "Hey, you guys mentioned the "P" word -- Population. And scientists don't often do that, you know. I've just written a book he said, called Planet of Three Billion and I'd love you guys to read it. But I'd also like to take these messages forward with you."
Now, I looked around at my co-authors on that paper, and they were all fantastic scientists but they were all men who worked in academia. And I knew that they weren't really going to get into this issue. It was going to have to be up to me.
I'd been working with women around the world for most of my career. I'd been working in areas of high population growth, and understood some of the cultural and political and economic sensitivities around talking about population. Finally, I'd been used to working in a kind of conflict resolution-oriented, sensitive topic space for a long time. And I guess I sort of got scappy about taking things on. Of course, it helps to be older and have silver hair, you know. You get away with things that you wouldn't get away with in your 20s.
And I said, "Look, Chris, I'm happy to work with you on this. Let's start getting people talking."
Anyway, fast forward to July 2021 and Chris introduced me to a group of people who essentially could make such an organization happened. So between then and October, we started putting it together. We also worked with 14 other people to put together a paper called The Scientist Warnings Into Action that focused on the precise actions at six scales from local to global, from household and community levels right on up to the UN.
That would need to be taken on those six issues: energy, pollutants, nature, food systems, population and economy. And we would need to create it at three timescales, knowing that this decade, this next decade is absolutely pivotal for the future of not only our climate and our planet, but also of our civilization. We can get into that in a minute, but I'll defend that statement if I need to.
And so I said that I would put together an organization to deal with these issues but it's going to be focused on the broader picture. And it's going to look not only at population, which the patron of the group wanted me to focus on, but it's going to also work on hyper-consumption, because you cannot talk about population without talking about the impact of the affluent world, whether it's in North America, Brunei, Luxembourg or Qatar, which are all up there in the high consuming nation states--or whether it's wealthy people in Lagos, Nigeria, or Santiago, Chile, or anywhere in the world.
So that was the birth of Stable Planet Alliance. And again, I decided to put together a group of strategic partners and a group of really motivated individuals and put together a strategy. We're still busy with it now because we've only been going about six months, and starting to move that train out of the station and seeing who else wants to jump aboard. But a good chunk of what we will do is essentially organized around implementing those recommended actions from the Scientists Warnings Into Action paper that we launched at COP 26, the climate change big meeting in Glasgow last November, and tackle population and hyper consumption very much in that framework.
Larry Greene 29:29
Can you tell me a little bit more about this plan to bend the curve? I mean, talk about the population and consumption issue. I understand the consumption side. But I think in the population area, that's where it gets a little tricky. So maybe if you could expand on how you deal with those issues. What are the challenges that come up, and how do you deal with them?
Phoebe Barnard 29:58
Sure. I think part of the reason is that it's been tricky in the last 27 years to talk about world population. And I'll explain why that is in a second because a lot of the leadership of those discussions has been by either big organizations that people can't really relate to like the UN family planning division. Or it's been led by organizations, frankly, run by older white North American men who don't have really much of a clue about the realities of life on the ground for women around the world, but especially in places like West Africa, which has the highest total fertility rates in the world.
The reason I say 27 years, is because in 1994 (it's actually getting almost to 28 years now) there was a World Conference on Family Planning. That gave rise in Egypt to a big statement called the Cairo Consensus that shifted the dialogue away from talking about global population on to focusing on the rights of women and families, to sexual and reproductive health. And it now has an acronym "Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights", S R, H, R. Like many things in history, it was a really important shift because a lot of the discussion had just been driven by people's ecological concerns -- oh, the planet has too many people -- but they weren't connecting that in a way that really helped empower women and help educate women on the ground. So the shift was good.
But like many things in history, it's a pendulum swing, it went a little bit too far, to the extent that nobody felt that they could mention the word "population". It became, honestly a taboo topic, a politically incorrect topic. And I decided it can't stay that way, the fate of the planet, our civilization and our climate are all at risk because of this kind of thing. None of the big major conservation or environmental NGOs will talk about it. If they do, they get shut down. They get accused of being eco fascists or racists. And I thought, okay, I was born white, but nonetheless, I'm going to wade in there with a group of my colleagues around the world. And we're going to face that down, because we don't have time. We cannot afford this. And, indeed, the tide is already changing a little bit on that line. People that are still saying, "oh, we can't talk about population, because it's potentially, you know, coercive", or, they'll speak about it in ways that are almost according to a script.
Some of the biggest and most respected organizations are still talking that way. But the others have really started to change because everyone suddenly realizes, we're in 2022 and we've got to make these big changes by 2030, on everything from our energy systems, to the food we eat, to the numbers that we have, and how we live our lifestyles. And where we get our raw materials from? We don't have time for this. So it is already changing.
But Stable Planet Alliance is bending that curve through two means. One is public policy shift. We're aiming to help shift the next iteration of the big UN goals that govern the planet: The Sustainable Development Goals.
Sustainable Development Goals are kind of updated every 10 years. Currently, they do not mention population to any significant degree. It's a huge and fatal gap. And they barely mentioned hyper-consumption, although at least they do pay some attention to that. So public policy is one area of our engagement from the UN on down through two national population policies and an economic policies, but also through the realm of public perception, public awareness and public dialogue.
And the way that we are doing that is basically just letting women around the world have their truth. Have their say, speak their truth and have that help shape how people think about having children, having large families, having lifestyles that rely on high consuming paradigms of what success means for them there.
You know, in many parts of the world, a man's success is defined by the number of wives and children that he has, the number of cars if he has cars, and those kinds of things can be very, very pervasive culturally. So we just need to shape the way people talk about these things in ways that are culturally appropriate, so that we're not telling people what to say, we're just getting people talking, and giving them frameworks in which to understand that the way we used to talk about population or consumption in the 1950s, is really leading us down a very dangerous path as a global civilization and as nations around the world.
Larry Greene 36:11
Nobody really mentions the issue of the challenge of raising a child and doing a good job in our society right now, or the impact on overconsumption. Somehow, I think those two are related and this is where we really need to understand these issues better. What's your take on all of that in a country like the US, which is so called developed nation?
Phoebe Barnard 36:43
Frankly, I think, Larry, that the US culture has become two cultures. I don't think that's controversial. The backward looking culture, if I can be blunt, has lost the plot about the future. And like many nationalist and autocratic traditions around the world, it's backward looking to glory days, where women were subjugated, and where the myth of American suburbia still reign supreme, you know, the times before and during our childhoods years.
The US is particularly difficult at this time, but it's not the only one. There are a number of countries around the world that I think it may surprise the US to feel that it's in the company of Iran, China, Poland, Hungary, and there are a couple of others going down the path of coercive pronatalism and coercive pronatalism simply means that culturally and economically in terms of policy, women's own autonomy is being stripped away and women are being pressurized to have more and more children, for the economy, for the Army, for the voters, they just need to be producing more babies to keep this dream afloat.
And so autocrats like Viktor Orban in Hungary, and other leaders are driving these policies which are very counter to what we need to do as a planet. But nonetheless, that's how political curveballs happen at crisis times. It's really unfortunate.
But I think we can expect to see more and more division in the world and a little bit less stability -- probably over time, quite a bit less stability, as people start voting with their feet. And moving not just from Texas, to places like Washington state, but moving countries to where they feel that their political and social and cultural values are more supported. Then, of course, there is climate migration, which is bringing hundreds of millions of people onto their feet to move to cooler and more stable climates over the next few decades.
Larry Greene 39:41
How do we bring all these people, as you've mentioned, across faith and science and all other areas to work with, as you point out humility, love and deep collaboration?
Phoebe Barnard 39:55
I think the Salish Sea region is going to be one of the real leading testbeds of a new global society. But it won't be easy unless we all have the confidence to stand up and make it so. And we know that some of our communities are kind of purple politically, and that there will be probably division within them that starts to hinder progress. But fundamentally, I think we're all learning that you can't change everybody's mind, you just need to go with the people that are like-minded and share a common vision.
Now, in the Pacific Northwest and especially the immediate Salish Sea region, we are so blessed. You know that your listeners know that. But with fertile soils, beautiful scenery, a strong economy, good governance, good water security, and so on, that cannot be underestimated. In the future with climate change, we also need to acknowledge that is potentially providing a stable and attractive source, rather a sink for climate migrants from all over the place. Not just from California, but from everywhere in the country where people are feeling a little bit vulnerable, scared, on the poverty line, and so on.
So we've got two choices, like any attractive region, that we can be prepared, or we can be caught unawares. If we are proactive, and prepared for people coming to our region, we can design our systems from Portland through Vancouver, to be able to not only receive migrants and help them assimilate in society, learn skills and contribute their own skills to the economy. By doing so, we can actually make this transition an economic boon rather than a threat. Then we will be ahead.
Now we're a little bit of a wild card here--how smoke continues to affect our region from wildfires. The Pacific Northwest is sometimes regarded as an unattractive place to be because of that. I think we can expect that the way that city councils and rural communities and counties and states all prepare for the future is going to be critical in whether they are left behind or whether they thrive.
And so I would love to see my own county, Skagit, really step up to the plate firmly because we have a lot of good people here wanting to do so. But we don't always have a conducive political framework for future planning. Our county planning commission, for example, is not conducive. And so we need to find ways to make these futures these positive and proactive futures happen within sometimes very kind of patchy political and economic framework.
Larry Greene 43:41
Do we reach a point where we're at capacity and our ecosystem just like other ecosystems, can't support more people in the area? What do we do, then? That's a really big challenge to me. How do we say that we're already at capacity to people wanting to come here? How would you deal with that issue, which I think is almost certain, if you project out a real possibility.
Phoebe Barnard 44:16
I'm actually reading a book written by one of my colleagues, Phil Cafaro, who is politically very liberal. It's called How Much Is Too Much, I think. Let me go get it for a second over here. I got it wrong slightly, How Many Is Too Many. And with a progressive political argument, he starts to look at reducing immigration.
Now for me, that's a really touchy point. And I had to examine my own assumptions and my own "political correctness" about talking about it. I'm not very far into it but the essence of his thesis is that, although welcoming migrants has always worked well for us as a country, we now are coming soon up to capacity. And we need to consider that sometimes welcoming migrants, a little bit uncritically, can really strain things for our economic well being through labor, market gluts, things like that, salaries and so on. I'm learning a lot. I haven't formed an opinion yet. I'm accepting that things are complicated, and that we need to approach these kinds of questions in good faith and with a deep humanity. We won't succeed by setting up a priori policies that are fortress-like in mentality.
Larry Greene 46:05
What are your thoughts about what we can do? Right here in our region? How do we bring together the people who are working on these issues? That's kind of what this podcast series is all about: really looking at the challenges that we face, from a whole system's perspective, getting other people's perspectives into it, and then really dealing with this question, what does the resilient regenerative community look like?
Phoebe Barnard 46:37
Well this actually leads back to Millennium Ecosystem Assessment a little bit. For a long time I've been involved in the Transition Network, as I think you know many of us are. The transition movement is helping people form cohesive and resilient communities, in the face of increasing societal political economic shocks. This is a really fundamental strategy.
When I was working on the Millennium Assessment, basically 2000 to 2005, we ran a number of scenarios, and the four top ones included one that was meant to be the most successful for delivering a sustainable future civilization. It was called "Adaptive Mosaic" and essentially, it was a transitional, local experimentation model for relocalized communities.
It wasn't that we would turn our backs completely on globalization. It meant that we would just get back to knowing our neighbors, forming our own local leadership structures, setting collaborative goals, growing food locally, trading regionally, and that kind of thing.
And so my understanding of that scenario helped me decide in 2008 to start a transition group back in South Africa when I was still living there. I started with another guy, and we had a few volunteers. But ultimately, it was too early, and we were too busy. And it was not something that really carried on more than a couple of years. But the transition movement globally is growing, particularly in Europe and North America and I think that we can learn a lot of lessons from what local communities are finding in the transition movement.
These are the times for leadership. People that have ideas, confidence and vision are stepping up. We've seen it all over this country in politics. But even if people don't feel that they can face the world of politics, there are so many other important roles for leadership such as building together like-minded groups, to set visions and strategies and help politicians create those in a way that will also reflect well on the politicians. Those are all good things to be investing in right now.
All of us in the Salish Sea area, can be doing that. We can be investing in our own personal resilience. We can be investing in increased awareness of our food systems, increased awareness of how our economy could be different locally and regionally and that we don't have to buy in things from China and In France. However, I have to say I still occasionally buy a little sweet treat or up until a few months ago where I finally cut off dairy completely. I was still, excuse me, occasionally buying Haloumi cheese from Cyprus. But, you know, as Vicki, Robin says just being able to know our farmers and eat from within almost a walking distance, but certainly a public transport distance from our house, will create greater resilience in our communities than almost anything else.
Just learning to talk to our neighbors again. If our neighbors are Trump supporters, just being able to look through that process of finding common ground, building on the common ground, identifying any sticky points, deciding which of those we can work through, and which ones we're just going to have to leave behind to one side is one way of approaching it. All of that work is phenomenally important for the times ahead.
Larry Greene 51:12
Yeah, you mentioned Vicki Robin, and I also think of John De Graaff, and his work in that area. And I think you're right. I think finding ways to find the commonality that we have with others, instead of looking at "the other" as somebody to be feared is a good way to approach it. We can then look at "the other" as somebody who has something to contribute to where we're going. It's just finding that commonality that is so critical.
So many of the challenges that we're talking about are overwhelming for most people. I keep on coming back to how do we engage people out there? I think that the whole area of communication is so critical. In a time when we have these concerns, it's a logical to know that there's going to be disinformation that is influencing people's perspectives.
What are your thoughts about how we get everybody on the same page in an area like this where there is so much commonality? Regarding the transition movement that you talked about, I know there's a hub here. Hopefully I'm going to be having some conversations with some of the people. I did talk to Sarah Severn over in the islands about it. But it's fledgling. It still isn't a mainstream in this area. So communication is really key. What further thoughts can you share about getting people to come together around what they hold in common?
Phoebe Barnard 52:55
Well, first of all, I think that a lot of people have been disempowered by thinking that things are getting to be too late for effective change. And I want to say unqualified as scientist working at the global level on these things, it is not too late. But this is the decade, this is the time that people must step up.
With respect to division, I've spent a lot of my work time in the past specifically being asked to counter climate denialism in the newspapers. So I did a lot of that. And I learned, you know, the right kinds of ways to talk to denier lists, or talk to people that are influenced by denialists about it.
Fundamentally, I've learned that some people will never come with us. That's their choice. Don't waste time. We don't have time, move with the people that are like-minded and people who want to do the right thing, have compatible values, but aren't sure how to come along.
You know, talk to your neighbors, people in your community, whether it's a faith community, a school system, or whatever, to help them come along with you...if you have a clear idea. And if you don't have a clear idea, then reach out to the people who are doing stuff and say, I don't know what to do, but I'm a pair of hands and a brain. I can write letters, I can plant, whatever I can do so use me. So there are many kinds of ways to connect that will help people gain momentum.
Larry Greene 54:44
Yep, I agree with a note that you made, which I love, about your action focus here: "Let's get on with it better late than never. " That's it and I think it is the failure of not having only government but society, each one of us, face these challenges. I think fear is in the way.
We don't know what to do, or we were in denial about it or something of that nature. You've got to turn around and face your fears, and then move into action. And that seems to be a way through.
Phoebe Barnard 55:22
We have to get comfortable with change, and from other people change is fearful. And so helping people kind of face it in a way that is mutually supportive is important.
I went through a tough time about 20 years ago, or maybe not quite that long, 12 years ago, when I had cancer, and I was going through divorce, and my daughter was off the coast of Somalia at sea in a small sailboat and my staff were under threats of being laid off, and they all had small children. There was such an avalanche of change and crises in my life, that I started to think of the way I needed to get through it. It's just turning and opening the door on the blast furnace and letting it completely roast me like a ceramic pot until I had a protective glaze.
And then I could survive. It took hundreds of years of until archaeologists came in and found me as a broken pot, only to face that blast furnace, in a spirit of loving kindness. Yeah, and I do have a wonderful, practical Buddhism teacher. I am not a Buddhist. But I sit and meditate with a small group that he has convened. He used to be the Chancellor of the University of Washington at Bothell, and a fascinating guide, but from him, I am reconnecting with my Yin part that helps me approach the world in loving kindness rather than in reactive Yang mode. So all of us can help ourselves do that. Reaching out and rekindling connection in communities, even across political and cultural and linguistic divides, is really, really essential for all of us now.
Larry Greene 57:21
Sure, I think the Buddhist approach, as a way of life, a way of living, and and right action, right thinking and everything else is helpful to get us over the hump with other cultures.
Phoebe Barnard 57:38
Yeah, and people shouldn't fear "otherness". You mentioned "otherness", and because my husband is making a film on that subject at the moment, I've been thinking more deeply about it than I might otherwise. "Otherness" is almost universal. At some level, within all of us, there's some way in which we all feel "othered " in certain contexts, and recognizing that and being able to reach across those divides, will be a really important skill in the future. And there will always some people that you can reach, but that's the way we need to reconnect the threads of our tapestry that we call community.
Larry Greene 58:24
What values and principles guide your life?
Phoebe Barnard 58:30
Community, leadership, kindness, service, respect, love conquers all. Most of it boils down to those.
Larry Greene 58:42
So well said. As you mentioned, those are values that I think keep you moving forward. But there have got to be times when you get discouraged about what's happening. How do you deal with those times when they just come over you and you look at the world and you go, "Oh, my God, what's going on?"
Phoebe Barnard 59:09
I usually give into it for a few minutes. And I'll have a good cry, or I'll shout at myself in the empty room and then I'll go out for a run or a long walk with my dogs, or I'll go for a swim. In the difficult times that I had about 12 years ago, on my way to work, I would go over a mountain pass with a lake and I would stop there early in the morning and have a swim back and forth along this mountain lake. And that was incredibly therapeutic for dealing with deep stress. So each of us needs to find those things. I was lucky. I had an incredibly cheerful mother, not educated but wonderfully loving and kind and cheerful, so it's in In my DNA. I don't think I could work on climate change and biodiversity loss without that. So yes, I do have occasional periods of despondence. But I've learned decades ago, to let it out. Take a deep breath, go for a long run or a walk or a swim, and then move on.
Larry Greene 1:00:25
What's most sacred to you?
Phoebe Barnard 1:00:33
Almost everything is sacred. So that's a hard thing to answer. Life and biodiversity are of course incredibly sacred. My own cathedral. As a kind of spiritual atheist, if I may, loosely box myself that way, is the forest and the snowy volcanoes around us. But family, connection, love, all of that is sacred.
Larry Greene 1:01:12
We're very lucky to have many unique, wise, thoughtful and caring leaders like Phoebe and our community. I enjoy Phoebe's loving approach, with a dose of strength that brings people together, working collaboratively to improve quality of life for all. By being vulnerable and open to discovering better ways to view what's going on. Phoebe gives the same permission to others. Phoebe underscores her philosophy as successfully working effectively in community in engagement and empowerment that she believes are much better than other approaches.
She has demonstrated that curiosity and the drive for a better way to understand the underlying truths, which builds on relationship and trust and produces greater results. Few people are able to manage this process as well as Phoebe. Her abilities to weave together collaborative teams from the local to the global level are most impressive. Collaborative teams and communities tend to come up with paths to transformative change as she has proven time and again. To learn more about Phoebe visit her page on our website, navigatingourfuture.org. You will see the recording and a transcript of our conversation. More links to Phoebe's website, and samples of her best articles, videos and more.
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