Conversation between Ketan Joshi, author of Windfall and renewable energy analyst, and Megan Ruttan, Currently’s Director of Community Engagement and Organizing. They discuss the latest IPCC highlights, how it’s different than the previous ones, and what people on the ground can use from the report.
(All conversation has been paraphrased unless in direct quotes)
Outline of chat:
Introduction on Ketan.
Explanation of the latest IPCC release.
How this latest summary is different from past summaries?
How folks can use and interpret the latest IPCC report in their direct community action?
Megan Ruttan: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Ketan Joshi: My name is Ketan and I’m based in Oslo, Norway. I’m an energy data analyst. My day job is communications work with big climate and energy activist groups and NGOs. I also do a bunch of writing and analysis. I used to work in the energy industry, in Australia specifically, with wind farms. After that, I wrote a book [called Windfall] about energy justice and climate politics in Australia.
Windfall [looks] at a fossil-free future. I think it’s pretty relevant to a bunch of debates about the community friction around new renewable energy projects, particularly in North America and Europe. I hope people can check it out. Because I’m pretty proud of it. It’s not a bad book.
Megan: Those of us who are in climate, we’re used to the cycle of IPCC reports that coming out regularly for a while now. They’re genuinely exhausting.
Ketan: It’s actually a really weird reporting cycle. The main report is split into three chunks — Working Group One (the science and physical science), Working Group Two (impacts and consequences of climate change), and Working Group Three (solutions), which is the one that I have the most personal interest in.
It’s such a huge undertaking, you’re summarizing basically an entire field of study, one of the most rigorous and massive fields of study regarding physical science, an all-encompassing issue.
Right now we have the summary for policymakers. This is the one that’s political, it’s not purely scientific. In Working Group Three last time, the summary of this political bit came out, and it wasn’t great. There was a real focus on pathways to delay action — the promise of future technology.
Megan: I’ve only seen it in reference to staying below 1.5 C and that’s the only time I noticed it in the discourse so far.
Ketan: The coverage of Working Group One had this tone of fatalism or inevitability and Working Group Three was the other end of the spectrum — magical technological carbon removal will save us.
Megan: I know we’ve both been in a place where we’re very frustrated with either pole. It’s not too late and also there’s so much we have to do. There’s this whiplash between we’re doomed and we’re fine.
Ketan: What sticks out in this report is that you can’t build new fossil fuel infrastructure.
Megan: People working on climate have known for so long that we can’t build fossil fuel infrastructure for so long, the IPCC has caught up finally.
Ketan: There are just so many good bits in it that you can reference. You can say it’s not just activists and those of us who are yelling the loudest. This IPCC document is a really sober and heavily referenced, and very, very authoritative publication. Now, you can reference it and say “don’t build your Willow project or your coal seam gas field in Australia.” It’s remarkable.
Megan: What struck me is that Guterres — the Secretary-General of the UN — said that climate action actually has to happen everywhere, right now. Everywhere, everyone all the time. Which is a sort of diffusion of action, rather than just waiting for top-down. We all have to do it everywhere all at once. No matter where you are.
Ketan: It’s a tough message. People have had a feeling that this problem is so big that someone else is in charge, right?
Megan: True, and I don’t think everyone has been ready to internalize what it means for us all to act on climate or are prepared for what this is going to mean to our lives.
Ketan: But also, there’s a really rich and full of beautiful potential way for people to shift how they live — in a way that’s beneficial to themselves, to their community, to the climate, to the environment, and biodiversity — all of that is in the IPCC report. It’s the focus and it’s so good that’s the focus.
Megan: We’re always expecting the big moment to come down, now Guterres says, we have to be doing this everywhere we are. I think that’s a huge takeaway from this, is that it’s up to everybody, not just any one person.
Ketan: In a press conference for working on the synthesis report, someone said “it’s everybody.”
But there are ways in which action happens that doesn’t put this burden onto your shoulders. It means that everybody has to lift each other up. It was nice he raised this message in a way to stop people from freaking out.
Megan: And they do freak out.
Ketan: Of course, when you tackle something like this as a group, as a collective, you still freak out a bit, but it’s not quite as bad. You have help. You have people who can help you make these decisions. It can be quite a connecting thing. I’m being a little bit idealistic.
Megan: *joking* I’m not idealistic at all. But that’s what we need to do. Speaking as a community organizer, our whole newsletter is meant to spur community action — that’s what we’re here for right now. It’s really everybody everywhere, right now working together, and the big fights are going to be local.
There are all kinds of big fights, wherever you are, there’s going to be a big fight for you to have, which sounds exhausting, I know. But that’s what you got to do.
Ketan: You know, a lot of people despair when they see an IPCC report comes out. They go into the report and think about what the government is doing, which is often making the climate problem worse.
What I don’t think people realize is that a potential response is that, you can do things at the community level, which has a dual action. The first action is that you actually get real emissions reductions done and you reduce air pollution, and it’s beneficial for your community. The other side effect of it is that politicians freak out. It’s a wonderful thing when a politician who has been luxuriating in denial freaks out, it’s a really nice and happy thing. Suddenly, they’re being forced to act, because people are discovering that the community can do it better.
Megan: Nobody’s coming to save us. We have to save each other and ourselves. When a politician in Canada says something to me about my climate activism, it’s like, well, you made us do this. It’s up to you.
Ketan: There’s a lot of detail in this IPCC summary on what those community-level actions can be, particularly in Working Group Three. They highlight a bunch of really nice examples of this.
Megan: Collective action rather than, you know, entreating our leaders, is finally making it to a synthesis report and I love it. I appreciate that. Even if it’s well past the time.