How creativity can aid the fight against climate change
i-D and Parley for the Oceans collaborate on 'the endless conversation', a dialogue between its founder Cyrill Gutsch and the activists, conservationists, academics and designers who are changing the world.
i-D and Parley for the Oceans: For the Oceans, Climate and Life, is an endless interview by Cyrill Gutsch, founder and CEO of Parley for the Oceans. Conversations are with Roger Hallam, founder of Extinction Rebellion; Helen Kirkum, artist and footwear designer; Dr. Sylvia Earle, oceanographer and explorer; James Gilchrist, Dover Street Market; Cristina Mittermeier, writer, activist, biologist and leading conservationist photographer; Hillary Taymour, founder of Collina Strada; Ian Urbina, author of The Outlaw Ocean; Satya S. Tripathi, Secretary-General of the Global Alliance for a Sustainable Planet and Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd.
“Change is pain and costs a lot of energy, money and time. But what is more beautiful? What makes us feel more alive than actively participating in the most important quest our species has ever faced?”
“We are at war with the oceans. And if we win this war, we lose it all.” That’s what I thought, sitting in a tiny law office in Frankfurt, Germany on June 16 in 2012. I called my partner, Lea Stepken, in New York, from the bathroom after Googling “United Nations + 2048 + Global Collapse + Fish + Oceans” on my phone. During a two minute conversation we decided to end our professional careers, close down our design firm, and create a new form of environmental organisation with the humble goal of ending the global environmental crisis. We would do this by utilising the creative community, by forming a collaborative network capable of transforming the most important ecosystem on our planet: our old and outdated Economy.
What had happened that day? Why was I not sitting in my grandmother’s house in the Black Forest, celebrating her birthday, eating homemade cake with my family. Captain Paul Watson happened. Pirate, ocean warrior, poet, co-founder of Greenpeace and founder of Sea Shepherd. A fierce environmentalist and a wonderful human being filled with humour, love and brilliance. Meeting Paul changed my life. Paul made a strong case that day. Our generation would leave behind a dead sea if we do not change how we live on this planet.
In front of me was this man who had dedicated his whole life to protecting life in the sea; who was in danger of being extradited to a country where he could easily spend the rest of his life in prison. Looking at his ankle tag, I was flooded with a mixture of scepticism, fear and excitement. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was talking with an overdramatic activist. If what he was saying was true, why wasn’t it front page news?
I did research; read studies from renowned marine scientists, official statements from government officials and endless experts who talked about how quickly our oceans were dying. I couldn’t believe that not everyone was up in arms in rebellion. The planet wasn’t safe from human activity. We would eat up every last bite. I’d been cynical and uncaring before, but on June 16, 2012, I allowed myself to feel what it would feel like to lose all living creatures, and that day I made the decision to dedicate my life to the oceans.
Today, Parley is a global organisation with operations in over 30 countries and strong relationships in the creative community; as well as with governments, intergovernmental organisations, environmentalists and brands who want to lead what we call the material revolution. Our mission is to help shape a new economy, one that leaves the toxic age we have created.
Ending the global environmental crisis sounds like an impossible mission, a big sacrifice to make. Change is pain and change costs a lot of energy, money and time. It challenges us to leave our comfort zones. But what is more beautiful? What makes us feel more alive than actively participating in the most important quest our species has ever faced? Parley is the home for these crazy ones, the troublemakers, nerds, the ones who believe they can change the world. And I truly believe that together, we can invent ourselves out of this mess.
The Endless Interview is a series of conversations between members of the Parley Network and myself conducted specially for this issue of i-D, about the need for interdisciplinary, creative and collaborative thinking in order to solve the problems of climate change and work a path through the issues we face.
“I think what is super exciting about this moment in 2022 is that we're on the cusp of millions of people coming out of their repression and actually going on the streets and saying, ‘We're reclaiming humanity.’
The founder of Extinction Rebellion discusses what it takes to launch a rebellion, for the oceans and for our own future.
Cyrill: What made you decide to focus your life on the climate emergency?
Roger: I think I'm the same, dare I say, as most people, in that I can't actually remember the point at which I realised the climate crisis was a massive problem. It sort of creeps up on you. Obviously it was a lot more visceral for me because, as a farmer, growing plants makes you realise how vulnerable you are to nature – I had four or five occasions when there were extreme weather events, which more or less destroyed my business. I think I had a sense though, that this civilisation and this society was not going to deal well with the climate crisis because it's so distant. Our society's not very good at dealing with distant things.
Cyrill: But as a farmer you actually knew what it meant.
Roger: I've spoken to hundreds of people about their journey with all of this, and I think it's quite a familiar pattern: you are aware of it for maybe a decade, and then one day you crack. I knew what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I was sort of angry after that. It took me a while to get involved with climate activism.
Cyrill: So how do you start a rebellion? How do you maintain a rebellion?
Roger: That’s the question, isn't it?
Cyrill: It’s a question of survival.
Roger: It’s the biggest question. Well, the first thing to say is that when you're dealing in social science, you're always dealing with probabilities. You can never be sure. It’s very difficult to predict. So what I am going to tell you is, in my opinion, basically the best bet.
First of all, you need to have a vanguard of activists and campaigners, people with a variety of different talents, ideally. You get the people together, you have a plan and then off you go. And the plan is to make a demand of the government. With Extinction Rebellion, that demand included a citizen's assembly – ordinary people making decisions; reducing carbon emissions to zero in five years; and telling the truth about the scientific reality of the situation. The next thing you have to do is go and organise. You go to a town, you hand out leaflets, put up posters, you get in touch with various activists and you have public meetings.
You do that about 500 times in an average-sized Western democracy and you’re recruiting people, who are then hopefully recruiting more people. It’s a positive feedback cycle. And then you give the government an ultimatum and they say “no”, and so you engage in civil disobedience. And there are two elements to that. One is obviously material disruption, a bit like a labour strike or something like that. You go to the capital city and they can't move for five weeks, that's sort of a classic design for civil resistance. The second element is more psychological, even spiritual – if people are getting beaten up or thrown in prison, then it backfires and members of the establishment will break ranks to support you and you'll attract more liberals, as you might say, to the cause. The only thing that entrenched power understands is popular disruptive power, and I'm not saying that because I'm some mad left revolutionary and all of that, I'm saying it as a social scientist. It gets the job done. So that's the proposition of Extinction Rebellion and what we’re doing.
Cyrill: Interestingly enough, when I hear you speak, you don’t blame a certain type of character or a group in society. You speak about the overall society.
Roger: In order to bring about successful, positive, political change, you have to show respect to your opponent. This will produce more success than telling them they’re terrible people. That doesn't mean that you're not calling out bad actions. What you're saying is that the fossil fuel companies are involved in something that's profoundly evil, there's no question about that; when you're dealing with individuals in the oil industry though, it doesn't make any strategic or moral sense to other them because all you're going to do is polarise the situation. We need to do what Gandhi and Martin Luther King did, which is to create maximum disruption and maximum love.
Cyrill: But that means you’re separating the person and the actions that a person takes. You are more or less saying that a person has the choice to change?
Roger: Yes. I mean, you can construct in a fairly shallow technical way, or you can construct in a more metaphysical way. I think over the next twenty years more and more people, millions of people, will come to the realisation that if the human race continues as it does we'll destroy ourselves. Because we are misunderstanding a fundamental metaphysical point here, which is that we are all the same. The individual obviously has some sort of reality. But the main reality is that everyone in society is massively interconnected and there's no individuals that are fundamentally better than other individuals.
One of the reasons Extinction Rebellion was sort of successful was that it was making a deeper communication with society about what we think it is to be human and how we relate to each other; how we relate to future generations, how we relate to previous generations, how we relate to nature itself. The proposition is that we're part of a chain of being – we're not individuals with our own self-interests. And this is not a moral point. This is not trying to be idealistic. It's fundamentally real. In other words, it's absolutely in our self-interest to act together and engage in civil resistance because if we don't, we're going to destroy ourselves.
Cyrill: The next decade might be the most interesting ten years in human existence.
Roger: The human race has the opportunity to basically transfer to a new kind of existence. And it's entirely possible we can do that, but it needs to be systematic. And obviously it has to happen really fast. I think this is what's super exciting about this moment in 2022, we're on the cusp of millions of people coming out onto the streets and saying "We're reclaiming humanity. We are not going to destroy ourselves and we're not going to destroy nature." It’s as dramatic as that.
Cyrill: Do you think we can end industrialised farming and industrialised fishing?
Roger: I used to work quite closely with a researcher in Spain who studied social movements. I always remember him saying to me: "Roger, basically, people know it sucks. What they need to know is what to do." The moral imperative at this moment is not stopping people from doing things. The moral imperative is to proactively engage in civil resistance. Nothing is going to change otherwise.
Cyrill: And with each act of civil disobedience, you are creating waves.
Roger: When you engage in civil resistance there's a moment of truth. It's what's called nonlinear dynamics. Once that nonlinear dynamic starts to gain ground, it becomes unstoppable – and let me clarify, I'm talking about disciplined civil disobedience here, which I think is ten times more powerful than a riot, because I don’t think that a riot gains sympathy from other people. I think disciplined civil disobedience can cause soul searching in various aspects of the opposition, like the judiciary, or the civil service, or the police.
Cyrill: There's a long build-up, but then there's this moment of realisation. You just switch and then you look back and you're like, "How could I have not seen that for such a long time?"
Roger: It's an amazing time to be alive. This is my fundamental proposition: you're alive, but why don't you choose to be fully alive? And you'll feel so much more alive going into rebellion than being in denial. If you read a book about the French Resistance, for example, one thing they talk about is how, if you think you might get shot tomorrow, you feel incredibly alive today. That's what the next ten years are going to be like.
“I consciously made the decision not to use the word sustainability… It's overused and it's confusing. It means everything and nothing.”
Cyrill: Tell me about your background.
Helen: I studied traditional footwear at the University of Northampton. I started with brogues and dress shoes, and doing that I realised how much craft goes into footwear design and production. I loved how long-lasting the products created within the traditional footwear industry of the UK were. Then I did my MA at the Royal College of Art in London. When I was there, I essentially tried to unlearn the things that I had learned at Northampton. So, I looked at alternative footwear construction and how we can change the way that things are made. How can we intercept traditional design to make it more conceptual, more functional, more playful? And that's when I got into sneakers.
Cyrill: Are you a sneakerhead?
Helen: No, and I’ve never been a sneakerhead. I think that's one of the reasons that I can approach the deconstruction of shoes a little bit naively. I think that's what makes my work interesting. When I deconstruct the pieces, there's no hierarchy of components, whether it's a logo or an iconic part of a trainer, it all just becomes shapes and that becomes part of the pattern. I think that helps me to create never-seen-before pieces.
Cyrill: What I like about it is that you respect the original energy, effort and ingredients that went into these products.
Helen: Yeah, definitely. It's like a puzzle. I love the idea of celebrating recycled material as it is, because they do have lives within them; there are memories embedded within the material. And then we extract and collage them all together to create something new, which I love. I’m obsessed with old shoes!
Cyrill: Where are you in eight years? What's the ultimate Helen Kirkum vision?
Helen: We're trying to reimagine the British footwear industry using post-consumer waste. In the UK alone it's something like 149 million sneakers that are going to landfill every year. The tradition and the workforce here is amazing, and I would love to create a network of factories that are creating products from utilising post-consumer waste.
Cyrill: Do you like the word sustainability?
Helen: I don't really like it. I actually consciously made the decision not to use the word sustainability in any of our outward-facing communications. We don't put it on our website. I think it's overused and it's confusing to people. It means everything and nothing. How we choose to approach talking about what we do is by explaining what we do: the materials that we use and how we create new products. Then all the information is there on the table for anyone that's interested in what we do to decide for themselves how they feel about it. I think sometimes using the word ‘sustainability’ can put ideas in people's minds that's not always true in a lot of cases. How do you feel about it? Do you like it?
Cyrill: I think it's the dumbest word on earth. It sounds so sterile. It's unambitious. It comes from a time where the environment was a threat for companies, where they felt like they had to defend themselves from environmentalists like us. I think that now, with the lack of a better word, people are starting to see something positive in it, but it’s not ambitious. It doesn't say, "I want to change something." I have to be very careful with what words I use because they are misleading, they are not clear. How can we have a conversation if we don't have the vocabulary? That's how I feel about it. What do you think about ‘greenwashing’? People are so quick to throw out the word ‘greenwashing’ when a brand tries to do something.
Helen: Within the industry there's so many different words for the same thing, so it's extremely hard for people to see the woods for the trees and to understand the right things to do as a consumer. That’s a really challenging situation. As we were saying, even when you are in the midst of this industry you still don't understand what anything means. So, imagine somebody just wants to buy a better quality T-shirt and the amount of labels can be overwhelming. There's just so many versions of “sustainability”.
Cyrill: Who are your natural allies in organisations? The designers? Is it the chief sustainability officer? Is it the marketing people?
Helen: I'm a designer. I love designing products and I love design innovation. I love creating things that people don't expect to see. So I'd definitely say my allies are the designers.
If I think about any projects that I work on, it's always the design team that are really excited about what I'm doing and then it can be about convincing other people. So many students and young professionals are interested in what we do and I really try to give them some inspiration, something to grasp onto as they start their own design journey. When someone DMs me a picture of a shoe that they cut up or they changed in some way because they were inspired by what I'm doing… that's the mindset shift that I'm trying to achieve with business.
Cyrill: In 2015 at the New York Times Fashion Summit in Paris, I put out this idea of the purpose of new luxury, that people would actually buy into things because they believe in what they stand for, what they cause, what impact they have and what new direction they fund. Could you underline that? Could you say, yes, this is exactly what people are doing? Or are they just buying it for the aesthetic?
Helen: From our customers, I would say that yes, they are definitely interested in the story and what we're trying to achieve. I'm very vocal on social media and in the way that we communicate about the brand and I think we do attract people that believe in what we're doing. Of course we've got critics and people that aren't keen on what we're doing, but they might spend a thousand pounds on a different design from a sneaker brand that doesn't even touch the conversation around sustainability and ethics. So it's hard. You never know. I think, sometimes naively, "Yeah, now everyone talks about sustainability and the world's going to change." And then you kind of read some of the facts and you see that there’s a lot more work to do.
Where we are now is the best place humankind has ever been in our history. Because, for the first time, we really have evidence that we are moving rapidly into a very bad place, and it's not too late to recover.
Dr. Sylvia Earle
Also known as Her Deepness, the legendary oceanographer has spent 7000 hours beneath the ocean’s surface. She is Explorer in Residence at the National Geographic Society, founder of Mission Blue and former Chief Scientist of NOAA – the first woman to serve in that role.
Cyrill: Where are we today? Where do we stand when it comes to the sea?
Sylvia: Where we are now, early in the 21st century, is the best place that humankind has ever been in our history – moving from consuming nature to respecting what the limits are, reversing the harm and building a better relationship. Why do I say that this is the best time ever? Because for the first time we really have evidence that we are moving rapidly into a very bad place, and it's not too late to recover. We've learned more since the middle of the 20th century than during all preceding history.
Cyrill: How much do we really know about the ocean? Do we even understand what we’re losing?
Sylvia: We know more than we've known before, but there are still some big gaps. It would be prudent for us, armed with what we do know, to take the precautionary principle seriously. We know that our existence is totally dependent on the existence of the rest of life on Earth. So we ought to be smart enough to take care of the forests, the deserts, the oceans, the diversity of life. Nature keeps us alive. There are no irrelevant parts. Nature is resilient, but how far can we push it? Why would we want to when it is the fabric of our very existence? We know enough to know, as never before, that we need nature. We need intact systems to make our life support functions safe. And we also know that we're running out of time.
Cyrill: Scientists say we’re in the sixth mass extinction event. There are drastic changes happening, whether we see it or not.
Sylvia: Well, in a way, this is like the “aha” moment for humankind. For example, the oxygen in the atmosphere is being replenished every second by photosynthesis, by life in the ocean and on the land capturing carbon dioxide and ultimately maintaining planetary chemistry, planetary temperature, planetary circumstances that make Earth habitable. No other place in the universe is like our home. It seems so simple. We couldn't exist for very long without the ocean.
Cyrill: And what are we doing to the ocean?
Sylvia: Well, there are two big categories. One is what we're putting into the ocean, which is carbon dioxide, and which is turning the ocean more acidic and affecting the chemistry of the ocean. And then there are all the plastics, this avalanche of synthetic materials that are now clogging up the ocean. There’s also the issue of noise, which we're putting into the ocean on an unprecedented scale. 90% of international trade goes by sea. These huge container ships with huge propellers and huge engines are deafening and breaking the sound systems that are critical for communication in the ocean for dolphins and whales and fish. What we're taking out of the ocean is another thing, whether it’s fish, shrimp or lobsters. And some of the creatures we take out of the ocean and eat, they may be 100 years old. We’re destroying ocean wildlife. We’re making it harder and harder for the ocean to recover.
Cyrill: If we were to stop large-scale industrial fishing, how long would it take for the oceans to recover?
Sylvia: I think we’ve changed it permanently already. It can't go back to what it was. It will come back together, but in a different way… and the sooner we stop the damage, the faster recovery can occur.
Cyrill: 200 species go extinct every day. What happens when a species disappears?
Sylvia: They leave a gap in the orchestra of life. That piece is no longer there. Will that place be filled by something else? Well, that's how the world has progressed through all of history, but if you lose too many of these pieces in a rapid extinction, which is what we’re in the middle of, we may geologically transform Earth so it isn’t habitable for humans eventually. After that asteroid hit Earth 65 million years ago, everything changed; life went on but it was different. What prospered before could not prosper in the new environment. We are creating a new environment. Can we prosper going forward?
Cyrill: Do you think we will turn things around?
Sylvia: I think one of the glorious things about being a human is being the beneficiary of knowledge that has been accumulated over time by other humans. So what we know now is a consequence of millions of minds over tens of thousands of years. It’s a cumulation of learning, knowledge, seeing things, understanding who we are, where we’ve come from, the patterns that could tell us where we’re going.
The kids now know things no one knew when I was ten years old. This knowledge gives us the best chance we will ever have. It's really exhilarating to be a part of the 21st century; we have so many options, we can still endure, we can still create a secure future. I think that is exciting.
We need to reinvent materials and design products that are better than what we have now. The choice needs to not be between excitement and sustainability. Sustainability needs to be desirable.”
Vice President of Dover Street Market America and Comme des Garçons America and a partner of Parley for the Oceans.
Cyrill: I want to talk with you about what we can achieve when it comes to issues of fighting climate change, fighting plastic pollution and overfishing. I wanted your opinion because you’re on the industry side but you also work with designers, and your company is led, in Rei Kawakubo, by a creative and an artist. It’s very unique.
James: Well we have to do it. It's very clear and obvious that we need to do something and we need to do it quickly. What to do in terms of making small moves is kind of obvious, but what to do to make a real impact is not obvious, or it certainly wasn't obvious to me.
Having the opportunity to work with Parley has really given us amazing opportunities to learn. We’re now facing a huge challenge. What lies ahead is a little bit overwhelming and a little bit daunting, but I feel excited by it in a way. If we can be a model for how a medium-sized creative global organisation can solve these problems and actually implement solutions – and as a result inspire others to do so – I think I'd be very happy.
Cyrill: How did you feel when you saw the first projection of your carbon footprint?
James: It was just, wow, it's a big number. It was a slightly overwhelming feeling.
Cyrill: It's very hard, I think, to get a feeling for what your footprint means.
James: It was very hard for me to contextualise it. I'm in the business and I can see what we're doing and what a lot of the issues are, but when it actually comes down to the footprint, it's very hard to contextualise.
Cyrill: When you picture replacing materials that you work with today, do you feel that a company your size can even deal with changing materials? Is that something you can make part of your business?
James: As a person, I'm a problem solver. I needed to not think about the enormity of the problem but to take it step by step and work out how to get momentum going. I think you can do that by celebrating small wins, by making actual progress. I'm also a very optimistic person, so I feel like we can do it. Is it going to be hard? For sure. But I wouldn't be working with you if I didn't believe that we could do it.
Cyrill: Do you see an opportunity in that? Not only from improving your footprint, but also an opportunity to redefine your toolkit, and maybe even open up new ways of making things, new ways of using things.
James: That has to happen. In the beginning there are going to be some compromises; when we are introducing new technologies but can’t give up old ones completely. But hopefully over time, that's going to become much broader and more developed and also more innovative. I don’t believe that the answer to this problem is only through sacrifice or limiting yourself. We need to reinvent materials and design products that are better than the products we have now. The choice needs to not be between excitement and sustainability. Sustainability needs to be desirable.
Cyrill: Honestly, I was criticised a lot for that at the beginning of Parley. People felt that I was extremely demanding, nagging, and they misunderstand that. But it is also the precondition for driving through innovation, you have to try as hard as you can to not take someone else’s lack of imagination as an answer. But with Dover Street Market, your approach shows in how you build your stores, how you work with others. It's really unlimited and to me it feels like freedom, to be honest, creative freedom.
James: That's what this company was founded upon. Creative freedom and creation is the number one thing. It's the central point of the DNA of everything. This creative process flows through everything we do.
Cyrill: What role does collaboration play in that?
James: It's huge. For us, it's one plus one equals three, and that's always been about collaboration. Rei Kawakubo was one of the first designers that I was aware of actually being open to working on collaborations very early in her career. I think that's been a huge part of the success of both Comme and DSM. For example: people that were part of the design were recognised and given their own brands within the organisation.
Cyrill: Why Parley? What is the role of an organisation like mine?
James: I think it's a visionary organisation and that’s so important, because most governments and corporations lack vision. I don’t know what we’d be doing without people like you to be honest. Change isn’t coming fast enough.
Cyrill: What do you see when you speak to your staff about the impact of climate change, of fighting against it? When you look at people who shop at Dover Street Market or Comme des Garçons, do you feel that people care about the environment?
James: Definitely. And I would say that, even in the last three years, it's becoming more and more relevant, more and more at the front of peoples’ minds. That's an amazing thing. There’s a lot of attention on sustainability; customers talk about it, designers talk about it, it’s a regular topic of discussion for me, across all aspects of the business. That's another reason to feel optimistic. I truly believe that people want this change, so we have to figure out how we can create it.
“What we need to do is compel the people that have money to spend it on keeping this planet alive instead of buying Twitter.”
Christina is a writer, activist, biologist and a leading conservationist photographer.
Cyrill: You have been in the wild, in the water, in nature, for a very long time. How can you describe the difference between today and when you began observing nature?
Cristina: I began my career as a conservationist 30 years ago. The one thing that you notice more clearly than anything is that there used to be a lot more wildlife in the ocean and there used to be a lot less pollution in the ocean.
Cyrill: There's a lot of beauty there, and of course it's very well portrayed in your work, but then you also witness horror, correct?
Cristina: I try to create images that talk about beauty and what our planet could be if we take care of it, but we have to remind people that it's not all well and we certainly see a lot of horrible things. Right now, I’m by the beach and fishermen are coming in as we speak. This is a shark fishing community, so each boat is bringing in between ten and fifteen sharks. There's about twenty boats here and they do this every day.
Cyrill: That's a lot of sharks.
Cristina: That's a lot of sharks. Clearly there's still many sharks because they're still catching so many, but this can't be good.
Cyrill: How does it make you feel?
Cristina: Well, I feel very bad for the fishermen themselves because they make so little money from this type of activity. And how do we make them feel welcomed into alternative economies? How do we provide them with the tools and the training so that they can understand that a living shark is more valuable than a dead shark? They have little education and this is what their parents and their grandparents have been doing for many years. It's a very long process.
Cyrill: Then of course there's industrial fishing, which is the bigger problem. Do you witness that as well? Do you see fishing fleets out there in the water?
Cristina: Oh my gosh, especially here in the Gulf of California. I think the worst operators are Norway and Spain, but Mexico certainly has a very large fishing fleet. These fishing fleets are owned by a handful of very wealthy people. The artisanal fishermen usually go out in small boats with less sophisticated fishing tools and they're fishing mainly for local consumption, so it’s way more sustainable. One of the things that we try to do is create conservation mechanisms that keep the industrial fishing fleets away from the coast so that the artisanal fishermen have a better chance of getting a more valuable catch.
Cyrill: How do you make governments change laws as an environmentalist, campaigning with or for citizens?
Cristina: It really hinges on building a reputation as somebody who wants to collaborate and is credible. And then having relationships that are built on trust with government officials who are interested in creating change. Becoming hopeful because the people that work in governments, in industries, they're younger now than they used to be and because they're young, they can see that their future is also at stake. They're more interested in becoming part of solution-oriented policies. Instead of coming with the attitude of ‘us versus them’, creating conflict and yelling across the aisle, we come in with a collaborative attitude of creating positive change together. Something that benefits everybody.
Cyrill: How important is content in this epic battle?
Cristina: There's so much content coming at us all the time. So I think it needs to be beautiful, to help people to stop for a second, have a reaction, maybe read a caption and then be willing to go down that rabbit hole of liking, sharing, commenting, and then hopefully signing a petition or making a donation. Take Antarctica, which is so far away and so inaccessible to so many people, we have something like 1.4 million signatures asking government officials in many countries to take action. And we probably need twice as many, three times as many.
Cyrill: The United Nations agreed on 2030 being the year when we would have to have achieved a lot. What can we do in eight years?
Cristina: What we need to do is compel the people that have some money on this planet to spend it on keeping this planet alive instead of buying Twitter. Lack of funding is what keeps conservation groups working at snail pace. The whole machine needs to be funded, and I just don't see many people doing that. The really wealthy people are not stepping up to the plate in a significant way. Jeff Bezos donated $400 million to 44 climate groups and to him, that's a drop in the ocean. It's just not enough to get the job done. The conservation and environmental communities don’t have the funds they need.
Cyrill: When you look at the pandemic and how quickly there was a vaccine developed, with trillions of dollars of spending just to avoid pretty much the end of our civilisation… is that the level that you expect when it comes to conservation work and environmentalism?
Cristina: When Notre Dame burned down, the international community came together overnight to raise millions and millions of dollars to rebuild a church. We need to see that level of commitment for the environment.
Cyrill: How can we change people so that they actually understand that stuff has to happen at scale? What else needs to happen?
Cristina: I think regular people in the street are going to understand pretty soon that governments and corporations are not going to get this job done. So we all need to step up a lot, and until we do that we're just going down the slippery slope of extinction ourselves. I think everybody should be looking at their own carbon footprints and everybody should be looking at their own consumption patterns. Eating local and eating low in the food chain, eating more plant-based stuff. Become engaged, speak up and be outraged. And stop buying so much junk.
Cyrill: In what moments did you observe people changing their mind?
Cristina: I think there's been two big moments in the last fifteen years. One was Al Gore's film An Inconvenient Truth, a well-funded communications campaign with proper money and proper production value. And then the second one was Greta Thunberg creating a movement.
Cyrill: What gives you hope?
Cristina: It gives me hope that there's organisations like Parley and SeaLegacy out there giving it our all to create awareness and helping to bring others into the conversation. And we're going to keep on doing it.
Cyrill: What can we learn from Indigenous people?
Cristina: Indigenous people are the last people on this planet that are still connected to the operating system of Mother Earth, because they depend on the same resources year after year. They've come to understand that in the physical nature of seasons and the return of animals, that if they take more than they need, if they abuse the gifts of mother nature, it might not be enough for next year. They know very well how our planet works and we better start listening to them.
We need to change capitalism and the corporate definition of success. We need to change our way of thinking that means people treat producing a million sneakers as an accomplishment.”
Hillary Taymour is a designer based in New York and the founder of Collina Strada.
Cyrill: How can big fashion corporations learn from what you do?
Hillary: When I work with my marketing directors, when I talk to my merchandising people, they just want to keep growing bigger and bigger. They want to know how many more dresses we can make, how many more we can sell, how we can push something that was a hit further. But I just take a step back. I don’t need to be responsible for making 2000 pieces of clothing that will never get sold to try and make a tiny bit more money. I’m in this business to make clothes that make people feel good. I'm not in the business to print T-shirts to rep my brand name. I want to make pieces where people understand the values that are behind them, and what we're trying to do and express through our form of art, and know that they weren't buying something that was made unethically. It was made responsibly, made with care and someone did the research behind it.
Cyrill: Do you think that somebody learned something from you already?
Hillary: Yes, I can say that without a doubt. I feel like – and not in a conceited way – I've become this poster girl for that. So, just by doing things like having these conversations with you, or even today, Alessandro Michele from Gucci was in the studio, and I was telling him about rose silk and the fabrics we’re using. When I talk to these big companies they want to collaborate with me because they want to be more sustainable. So we walk through the collaboration, and it’s like, where does the zipper come from? What about the tags? What is the outerwear stuffed with? You can see questions popping out of their brain. It starts to click and they actually get that we're talking about where the thread comes from, where you're making it, what the box looks like, every little detail. They'll be like, "Oh, wow. You really take this seriously.”
Cyrill: Do you feel that people really want to know who makes this stuff and where it’s coming from?
Hillary: Not often enough. But I think we can start to teach consumers differently because a lot of people on my Instagram will be like "Oh, we love those pants, but ew, not for $600." And I'm like, "Girl, what have you ever made in twenty hours that wasn't $600?" You know what I mean? If you worked for me for twenty hours on a special project making something, you would want that much money too.
Cyrill: When you look at the next eight years of the fashion industry, what do you think we could achieve?
Hillary: When I'm shopping in the real world, I feel really sad because you see people just buying shit that they don't need, with no ethics, no rhyme or reason. And then when I'm walking in the streets and there's so much garbage in the streets I get overwhelmed. I used to walk the Williamsburg Bridge every day to go to work, and now it makes me sad because there's so much garbage everywhere. It's really hard sometimes to be in a city with this many people that don't care.
My goal, in a perfect utopia, would be limitations on large corporations for the amount of goods that they're allowed to make yearly. They would get fined if they went over their quota and all that money would go to help the environment. Until that happens, there's no way we can stop fast fashion. There's no way we can stop these huge corporations from printing T-shirts, from printing fucking sneakers. Us little guys can only do so much. I'm just a platform to speak about the change that could happen. By making sustainable garments, I'm making a dent that's so insignificant in the amount of product in the world. It makes my heart hurt.
Cyrill: Do you think a cultural change is needed?
Hillary: A cultural change of how capitalism works. I was watching this guy who was joking on TikTok about how he just figured out what capitalism is, and how he has to work so hard and has no self-love, and he got so deep in it. And I was like, "Yeah, it’s true." We all work our asses off. Everyone wants to think that they did a good job at the end of the day, and that's your self- worth, right? You did a good job at your work today. But if we change the corporate definition of a good work ethic, of success, I think we can start to change the way of thinking that means producing a million sneakers in an accomplishment.
Cyrill: Do you attract young designers — kids that say, "hey, I want to work for you"?
Hillary: Yeah. We get a lot, for sure. One of my co-workers was at the Met, we had a dress there, and there was a mom and daughter, and the mom was looking and she was like, "Oh, I don't really like this one," or something. And the daughter goes, "Mom, that's made of deadstock. That is so cool." The kids know. It’s part of their culture. It’s cool to make a difference. It’s up to them and I love to see that progress. I think new, upcoming designers will make a difference. Once those designers get placed in bigger places, once the generation switches and we get in charge of bigger houses or given bigger companies, that's when the real change will be able to happen in manufacturing.
“There's a whole universe of human-focused crimes that are connected to environmental crimes, and it's really important to be mindful of them; from murder to wage theft to sea slavery. They're part of the same problem.”
A journalist and director of the Outlaw Ocean Project, which is a non-profit journalism organisation that focuses on crimes at sea around the world.
Cyrill: How would you describe the state of the ocean today?
Ian: Dire, but I'm hopeful. Dire in that I think, unlike human and environmental concerns on land, the ocean has been much longer overlooked and much more broadly abused. Dire because it's still relatively unpoliced and unprotected, and dire because it's so huge and so essential. Hopeful though because in the last five or ten years there's been new technology, new public awareness, new journalism, new supply chain innovation, the likes of which you guys have pushed at Parley. So there are a lot of new possibilities to better police and protect the oceans.
Cyrill: What are the major threats for the oceans?
Ian: Everything has to always be thought of under the umbrella of the climate crisis. And that's such a big umbrella that sometimes it doesn't help to mention it, simply because it's so big. I think the biggest crisis facing planetary existence, whether it's on land or offshore, is climate change. And then more specifically, threats to the ocean in my view are probably plastic pollution or pollution generally speaking. Acidification is one form of pollution, oil dumping is another form of pollution, or plastic and other types of runoff is a third type of pollution. The other threat is from over extraction, from industrial fishing for example.
Cyrill: And the burning of oil creates different problems in the sea, right?
Ian: Our fossil fuel addiction is the driver of so many different manifestations of climate change. Destructive extraction of what's below the seafloor, whether it's gas or oil, is a huge problem, driven by fossil fuel addiction. Over absorption of carbon, that's ultimately driven by fossil fuel addiction. Acidification die offs, coral bleaching and temperature change, too much carbon in the air; it is all fossil fuel driven. At the end of the day, what's driving the climate crisis and its manifestation in the ocean is our fossil fuel addiction.
Cyrill: Talking of overfishing, do you know how many vessels are out there actually killing animals?
Ian: I don't know. I don't think I've ever seen that number. The normal estimate of how many people work at sea, whether they're small scale fisheries, artisanal fishermen, distant water fishing vessels, or industrial vessels on the high seas… all told you're looking at 50 to 55 million people. My personal opinion is that small scale subsistence fisheries are probably to be thought of a little bit differently. It's a categorically different thing than industrial scale, distant water fishing. If you look at the raw amount of biomass, the amount of fish pulled out of the water, industrial scale distant water fishing boats are way more extractive than small scale fisheries.
Cyrill: Commercial industrial fishing optimises the way of taking animals out to the max? They're using factory boats, they have massive nets. These are big, huge machines.
Ian: Technology has made fishing too efficient and too easy. With refrigeration, sonar, radar, satellite, you can see where the fish are and you just have to go out there and scoop them up. Historically, fishing was a hunting endeavour where you chased your prey and there was some art to it. Now it's more like harvesting.
Cyrill: Very early on in your work you connected – let's say the crimes against wildlife, sea life – with crimes against humans, right? There is a lot happening which is not good for people that are working out there.
Ian: I think there are two points worth making when it comes to connecting environmental and marine crimes to other forms of crimes. One point to make is that there's a whole universe of human-focused crimes that are hand and glove connected to the environmental crimes and it's really important to be mindful of them, from murder to wage theft to sea slavery. These are very human focused crimes and they're part of the same problems that cause environmental problems. The second point to make about connected crimes is there are all of these unsexy business crimes — fraud, money laundering, tax evasion – but they matter a lot and here's why. Most fisheries crimes are civil, not criminal. What that means is, if you commit them, you are probably going to get a fine and not go to jail. The problem with that is no one gives a fuck, they're not scared of fines. You just tell your accountant to figure the cost of the fine into the expenses. It’s just a number to them, right?
Cyrill: Do you think there are enough laws in place to protect the oceans?
Ian: No. Most laws are based on consensus. They're not even laws. They're often treaties and regional management agreements. So they're consensus built, and that means they tend to have been – for everyone to have agreed on them – watered down. And then there are no cops that tend to police them, and the people who do enforce them have huge conflicts of interest. The system is rotten. Few cops, few laws, and the few people who are supposed to enforce the few laws are getting paid by the guys they're supposed to police.
Cyrill: Are there moments in your work when you're overwhelmed by all these crimes that you're uncovering?
Ian: Every day.
Cyrill: How do you deal with that? Are there moments where you really lose faith in humanity?
Ian: I deal with it the same way you do. You're dealing with a huge problem. I always say, ‘Don't think about the war, just focus on the battles and fight the battle you're in, and then go to the next battle.’ This is probably going to be a long war.
Cyrill: You left The New York Times. Most of the journalists on this planet would just do everything they could to have that job, right? And still, you left. What was the reason, and what can you now do better than what you have done before?
Ian: I loved The New York Times. I have nothing negative to say about it, but it's a big company, a big organisation. I wanted to stay on this one topic and not have to move to other topics. I wanted to focus on oceans and crimes on the high seas. I also wanted to do experimental new things in terms of how you get the journalism seen, because I thought that if your goal is to affect change, then there's certain things that have to be done very differently. And working for a singular company where they lock down your content for just their clients, their consumers, isn't actually in the best interest of society, in my view.
And so I thought, "Well, I'm going to go to my own non-profit and I'm going to self-fund our journalism through philanthropy… And then I'm going to make sure that rather than two million people, twenty million people consume it because we're going to partner. with news outlets in ten different languages and they all get it for free. A lot of tier one Western news outlets, whether it's Der Spiegel or The New York Times or the BBC, tend to funnel to just their own audience. I want to reach Venezuela, Taiwan, Cuba, Iceland, Gambia. I want to reach non-English speakers, people who are directly impacted by these things.
Cyrill: We all started to talk about 2030 as the deadline. What can we do? What can mankind do in eight years? What can we achieve and what needs to happen to achieve that?
Ian: I think the best move personally – and this is my own perspective – is that the human population needs to move away from the consumption of things that run away, i.e. seafood and animals. If you put the ethics aside and just look at the consumption and the emissions, it's a really huge driver of the climate crisis.
Then in terms of the battles within the war, I think what can be done is that huge changes could occur in the fishing fleets if a couple of key players decided to go all in. I think governments can apply pressure on big corporate players to change the rules around how fleets operate. That would make a big difference. They can't get away with what they've been getting away with.
As taxpayers, we give money to governments. We have leverage over elected officials and we can lean on them and say, "I'm not going to vote for you again if you don't do this." Or, "I'm a taxpayer and therefore I'm writing you a letter and you need to do this." So as taxpayers, you have leverage and you can exert leverage on things that you care about. That's one way. As donors, you can give money to things that you believe in and help the organisations wherever they are to be more effective at fighting fights you care about. You can inform yourself, talk to people and inform them how these systems work.
Think of yourself in the many different roles you play; as a voter, a taxpayers, a consumer. Choose your priorities. Contribute to moving in the right direction even if it is only in a small amount. And it sounds small, but if everyone started thinking of themselves as multifaceted and tried to exert a little bit of help where they could it would make a huge difference.
“I think people simply can't imagine change. They simply can't imagine how we could have a different material operating system.”
Satya S. Tripathi
Satya is the Secretary General of the Global Alliance for a Sustainable Planet, an economist, a lawyer and the Chancellor of Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences – the world's largest academic institution dedicated exclusively to indigenous people and cultures. He has served with the UN for more than two decades and was most recently the UN Assistant Secretary-General, Head of New York Office at UN Environment and Secretary of the UN Environment Management Group.
Cyrill: You must have seen every initiative on the planet in your role at the United Nations. Have you seen a master plan? Have you seen a plan that shows how we can reduce the output of carbon dioxide? Or something feasible from a project management perspective?
Satya: More than 15 years ago, I was the UN's recovery coordination head after the 2004 tsunami. We had a $7.2 billion recovery plan. We knew exactly what we wanted to do, where it needed to happen. And we succeeded because we had a plan. We called it actually the blueprint for recovery.
With climate change we have a lot of little plans, some big ideas, some small ideas, they are all over the place, but there is not one single plan that you can call a 'blueprint for recovery'. Of course, you can call the Paris Agreement a blueprint, but that's a 2°C blueprint only if everybody delivers on what they promise. There are no common measures and no common reporting.
Cyrill: I didn't see a blueprint there. I saw objectives.
Satya: When I refer to the Paris Agreement, what I was saying is that it is as close to a blueprint as we have got. There are a set of objectives and promises, but they are very broad. Perhaps in the cases of some countries they have put forward specific details about how much reduction is coming from renewable energy and how much will come from emissions. And of course, there are some countries that have provided very detailed plans, but those are few and far between. So I wouldn't call the Paris Agreement a blueprint, but a good statement of objectives.
And I'm happy to take the statement of objectives if it gets implemented. But since the Paris Agreement the countries of the world have put $3 trillion dollars into fossil fuel subsidies. If you give $3 trillion to keep the monster alive, how will you ever solve this problem? That is the challenge. We say something and then we do the opposite. Banks are still making fossil fuel investments, and a new fossil fuel investment would need anywhere between 40 to 50 years to make money back.
Cyrill: The infrastructure being built is actually funding that destruction for the next fifty years.
Cyrill: I have a question for you, how much money has been invested since Paris into alternatives to fossil fuels?
Satya: $200 billion at most, compared to $3 trillion for fossil fuels.
Cyrill: That's a very clear language here. What do you think could we achieve in eight years if 10% of society would say, "We want out, we want to stop the destruction. We want to actually change the world, change the way we live on this planet," what could we do with eight years?
Satya: Well, the 10% of the society will have to be the top 10%, because they're responsible for 90% of the emissions. It can't be the bottom 10% because they don't count.
Cyrill: Let's assume it's the top 10%, the richest ones, the wealthiest ones…
Satya: Oh, then you can change everything. But you would have to convince the top 10% that the world as they know it is about to completely disintegrate in front of their eyes, that the money that they have in their banks and in their safes is going to mean nothing because you will have no world. You'll have hundreds of millions of people moving around as climate migrants and your water sources are drying up, and the ambient temperature will be going up beyond a temperature that humans can live at. I'm just hoping that by some miracle, they will really understand the risk for what it is and not believe that they can pay their way out of an existential mass extinction event.
Cyrill: No gated community can protect the 10%.
Satya: There will be no gated communities when hundreds of millions of people are looking for food and shelter. It doesn't work. Society hangs in a very fine balance. It lets people keep their wealth because the rest of the society believes that there is a pathway for them to be there as well if they work hard. Our social structures, our community structures, our natural structures, the planet as we understand, it's a very dire situation. It's just that we don't see it yet because we are too dumb to understand the implications or too smug and we just brush it aside.
Partly it is because it worked for so long. Let's still keep drilling oil because we have done it for so long. I think people simply can't imagine change. They simply can't imagine how we could run on a different material operating system. I don't even think it's a technology question. It's a cultural question. It's a barrier. There’s a roadblock in our minds.
Cyrill: All new technology at the beginning isn’t perfect.
Satya: We can create clean technologies. We can create alternative materials. We just need to take it seriously, invest in it, and change our mind and really get behind eco innovation. What needs to happen is a new material revolution. We need to create system scale proof points that can then be replicated across the planet, creating open source collaborative technologies. The most necessary genius we need at the moment is a collaborative genius. That's what we all need to become, collaborative geniuses.
“The problem is greed. French trawling fleets kill 10,000 dolphins every year in the Bay of Biscay, which is completely illegal under both French and EU law, but they're doing absolutely nothing to actually enforce that law.”
Captain Paul Watson
An ocean activist for decades, Paul also co-founded Greenpeace and founded Sea Shepherd Conservation, a global organisation working to defend, conserve and protect the ocean and its inhabitants from poachers and industrial fishing.
Cyrill: You’ve been defending the oceans for over 40 years… why are boats still out there removing life from the sea at this scale?
Paul: The problem is greed. We’re doing the best we can to stop and arrest poachers, but there's a complete lack of action. The major powers are doing very little. For example, the French trawling fleets kill 10,000 dolphins every year in the Bay of Biscay, which is completely illegal under both French and EU law, but they're doing absolutely nothing to actually enforce that law. That's the problem. Governments are really good at putting the laws down on paper and passing them. But without enforcement they're useless.
Cyrill: When Seaspiracy came out, the threat of IUU fishing resonated for some people – for a moment, people stopped eating fish or even went vegan. Do you think that’s the answer, to stop consuming fish?
Paul: The film had an impact, but it’s like we need to constantly put out these kinds of stories to keep people's attention. The change isn't coming quickly enough. People thought that Seaspiracy was going after everybody eating fish, but it's really targeting industrial fishing. It's one thing for somebody to go out in a small boat and catch a fish. It's another to have a super trawler pull in a net that can carry the equivalent of three school buses full of fish.
Cyrill: The toll of removing one life from the sea is higher than people realise.
Paul: For every kilo of shrimp that's taken from the ocean, 22 kilos of something else is killed and tossed back. Just a month and a half ago, our vessel, Age of Union, came upon a super trawler in the Bay of Biscay that had dumped 150,000 blue whiting. It wasn't their target fish, it wasn't profitable, so they just dumped them.
Cyrill: They kill everything and then select what they want to take home?
Paul: That's right. And in that process, you also take sea turtles and dolphins, seals, sea lions, even orcas… At any given time, there's probably 60,000 miles of either long lines or gill nets, or even illegal drift nets in the ocean.
Cyrill: What about in protected areas, where people can’t just drop nets and take sea life?
Paul: If there's no enforcement, then they're protected areas in name only. What we're doing with Sea Shepherd is getting the boats in there to patrol. We have three vessels dedicated to protecting the Vaquita Refuge in the Sea of Cortez, two vessels in the Mediterranean, two operating off of Africa, one in the Baltic. You have to have patrols. Satellites aren’t enough. For instance, there are about 400 squid fishing vessels south of the Galapagos. It's like a city. You can see them from the satellite. So we sailed the Brigitte Bardot into the middle of that to get evidence on what they were doing and found numerous infractions. But what do you do with those infractions? You report them to the authorities, whether it be Ecuador, or Columbia or to the United Nations, or even to China. Very little is done about it though.
Cyrill: You’ve said the first law of ecology is that everything is connected to everything else. How does this work in ocean ecosystems?
Paul: Ecosystems are like a game of Jenga. You pull out one species and pull out another and eventually you pull out enough and things will collapse. My main concern is that since 1950, there's been a 40% diminishment in Phytoplankton populations in the sea. Phytoplankton provides between 50% and 70% of the oxygen that we breathe and also sequesters enormous amounts of CO2. Now, why is phytoplankton being diminished? Phytoplankton needs nutrients, primarily nitrogen and iron and magnesium. Those nutrients come from the faeces of whales and dolphins and sea birds and fish. When you diminish whale, dolphin, seabird, and fish populations, you're diminishing the nutrient supply to the phytoplankton.
Cyrill: Scientists report we’re in a mass extinction event. Where do we stand today?
Paul: If nothing changes we'll lose, in the 65 year period between 2000 and 2065, more plant and animal species than in the 65 million years before that, combined. What we're seeing right now is our carbon levels rising at the same level as the beginning of the Permian extinction, which is the greatest mass extinction event in history. It wiped out 96% of everything in the ocean, 76% of everything on land. That was caused by a massive buildup of carbon caused by volcanoes and burning coal fields in Siberia. We're duplicating that right now. Right now, carbon levels in the atmosphere are about 420 parts per million, which is the highest it's been in millennia. It's increasing exponentially and that doesn't bode well for the future.
Cyrill: How do we take the pressure off the ocean?
Paul: When you say “the ocean” people think “the sea”. The sea is just one part of the ocean. We’re an ocean planet, really. It's water in continuous circulation, going through all these different mediums. The water in your body right now was once in the sea, once in the clouds, once in the bodies of other plants and animals. We are the ocean. When you interfere with one part of it, whether you’re polluting the atmosphere or polluting the groundwater, you're actually impacting the entire ocean because everything is interconnected. The ocean is us.
Cyrill: If we mobilised 10% of society and got them to act together in helping to preserve the ocean, what do you think their first three missions should be?
Paul: Well, in practical terms, what they could do easily is adopt a vegan diet, no longer use single-use plastic, and find ways to lower their carbon footprint through transportation. I think that anybody can actually work on those three things, but of course the complexity of the problems is such that you can't really say three things are going to solve it. Because in the ocean alone, you have all sorts of problems – from acidification to overfishing, plastic pollution, sonic pollution, radiation, chemical pollution, and destruction.
I think that really, what we need to do is allow the ocean to repair the damage that we've done to it. And the best way to do that is to leave it alone.