2018 Sustaining Our World Lecture: Dr. Jonathan Foley


[MUSIC PLAYING] DAN BROWN: As director of
the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, I am pleased to welcome you to the annual
Sustaining our World lecture presented by the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences
in ecology and environment. This is our largest and most public lecture in SEFS and offers
us the opportunity to showcase work that advances our mission of generating and disseminating
knowledge for the stewardship of natural and managed environments and the sustainable use
of their products and services. We look for presenters for this lecture whose
work exemplifies the links between science and practice in the service of sustainability.
We’ve had a wide range of topics ranging from wildlife conservation to forest fires and
building tall with wood and human nature connections. You may see the video cameras around the room.
That means that tonight’s lecture is being recorded. And if you want to share with your
friends, go back and rewatch it, or check some of our past lectures, they’ll be on our
website. I want to acknowledge the generous support of the Byron and Alice Lockwood foundation
which made this evening’s lecture possible. And I am most honored and thrilled that Jon
Foley has agreed to serve as the first Sustaining our World lecturer during my term as the director
of SEFS. Jon is the executive director of the California Academy of Sciences. I’ve known
Jon’s work for a number of years, starting at the University of Wisconsin, University
of Minnesota from there. And he’s made a number of major contributions to our understanding
of changes in global ecosystems, land use and climate, and global food security. His work has inspired my own for a number
of years, not that we’re old or anything. He has thought big and brought rigorous scientific
thinking to really challenging and thorny problems. Simply, Jon’s work focuses on the
sustainability of our planet and the ecosystems and natural resources on which we depend–
small order. A key focus of his work has been on society’s
use and production of food, water, and energy and how that affects species extinctions,
resource depletion, freshwater decline, and climate change. He’s won numerous awards,
including Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, J. S. McDonnell
Foundation’s 21st Century Science Award, a Leopold Leadership Fellowship, a Sustainability
Science Award from the Ecological Society of America, and in 2014, he was named winner
of the prestigious Heinz Award for the Environment. As executive director of the California Academy
of Sciences, Jon oversees that institution’s programs of scientific research, education,
and public engagement. He’s one of the most effective science communicators I know and
has written many popular articles, op-eds, and essays in publications like the National
Geographic, Scientific American, and New York Times, The Guardian, and many others. I’ll be talking tonight about his newest initiative,
Planet Vision, which inspires us to work together to look to science and nature for guidance
to find a new way forward. We’re hoping you leave here tonight evermore inspired to work
with communities, businesses, governments, and individuals to put these world changing
ideas into action. It is with great pleasure that I present to you the 2018 Sustaining
our World lecturer, Dr. Jonathan Foley [APPLAUSE] JONATHAN FOLEY: Thank you very much for having
me here today, and it’s really a pleasure to be in Seattle again. It’s just such a great
place– and visiting the UW and seeing all the magnificent work going on here. I have
the pleasure today of meeting a number of students and faculty and folks here at the
University, and I hope to talk to a lot of you after this talk tonight too about the
work you’re doing here. But it’s just truly inspiring and really great to be here. As Dan was saying, we’re going to be speaking
tonight– and this whole lecture series is really focusing on sustainability. And here
we are in a school devoted to the environment, to forest ecology, and to the environment
writ large here at the University of Washington. So you may think– and given my background
as a scientist– that I’m going to be talking about science and technology or maybe policy
and that kind of thing. But actually, I’ve come around the last couple
of years to think that the sustainability challenge we face most of all is really one
to deal with our own history as a people and as a species and our culture. So I really
want to start with that. One of the things that’s so bizarre and interesting about our
time on this planet is how different it is from any other time something like humans
have walked the earth. Something like us– something that would eventually
become a human being, early hominids, and, even before that– have walked this planet
for, I don’t know, 6 million years or so they tell us. Do the math. That’s 300,000 generations
of something like us who walked and lived and died on this planet. And one fact was undeniably true during that
entire time– Earth was big, we were small. But that suddenly flipped around and changed
entirely in just the last two or so human generations compared to the 300,000 before
us. So what happened? We suddenly felt that the Earth got suddenly very, very small, and
we– our species, our civilization– got very large indeed. Why did that happen? Well, a couple of reasons.
One, of course, is there is a lot more of us on the planet today than ever before. This
is just a graph showing human population over time. For most of our existence, we were just
in the maybe 100 million or less range. We broke the half billion mark in the 15th century,
the billion mark in the 18th century, 2 billion in early 20th century, and then we suddenly
rocket to over 7 billion today. 7.4 is the current number of billions of people on Earth. The good news is we’re slowing down dramatically
our population growth, and we will stabilize population. It can’t grow indefinitely. And
we’ll see stabilization somewhere in the range of 8, 9, or 10 billion probably. I think nine,
but others will give you a different number. We’ll see, but the good news is it’s slowing
down faster than we anticipated. That’s good, but it happened right after the largest growth
in human numbers this planet has ever, ever experienced. But even more than just the number of humans
on the planet, of course, is what we’re doing as a species– how skilled we are at using
technology, using our resources in transforming our planet. This weird picture I just showed
over here– and I’m sorry the projector has kind of shifted the image a little to the
left. Maybe they can play with that a little. But what we see here is that we can see the
nighttime lights of our cities. I like this. This is good. Here we go. They are literally
moving the Earth for us. This is really cool. Excellent. Thank you very much. What we see here is the nighttime lights of
planet Earth at night. We can look down from satellites and see our cities, even our fishing
fleets or oil fields– anything that uses technology and creates light, we see it. And
I don’t have to draw boundaries and put names on this map to show you, hey, there’s India.
There’s Taiwan, and there’s China. There’s Japan. There’s South Korea. There’s not North Korea
right there. Well, that’s Kim’s house– the one with the light on. Isn’t that striking–
the big difference between South and North Korea here? You can even see it from outer
space. That’s kind of amazing. So here we see the
massive increase in human numbers, but even more importantly is the increase in our technological
prowess and our ability to change the planet at a global scale. This is also very new. So one of the things I really want to point
out is that our species’ growth and our success has put enormous pressures on this planet,
and a lot of it’s happened very recently. If we just look at the last 50 years or so,
we see incredible changes. Just in 50 years, the world population more than doubled. In
just 50 years, the economy grew over eight and 1/2 fold during the same time– so twice
as many people doing more than eight times more stuff. We use three times more food, about twice
as much water, and about three and 1/2 times more energy in fossil fuels than we did just
50 years ago. The astonishing thing about this is not only did we change more than any
other period in history, we changed more in two generations than the entire sum of human
evolution and all civilizations’ histories combined in just 50 years. I’m about to turn
50, so I’m like, whoa. This is a lot of change in just a pretty short lifetime so far, so
that’s really unprecedented. What does this mean? We’re hitting kind of
an inflection point in this species’ history. Everything is changing. Even the way we’re
changing is changing right now, right here in a way that’s totally different than anything
our species has ever experienced before. And of course, this increasing population
growth and resource consumption and so on is really degrading our natural resources
and even large planetary systems that we depend on. Let me just mention a few of them and
show you some examples. One, of course, is our use of land and how we’re using ecosystems
around the world. For example, this is a rainforest that is
being cleared to grow oil palm in Indonesia. So we see a massive clearing of natural forest
to grow a very valuable commodity that’s shipped all over the world. As the economy grows,
so does the demand for palm oil. So this is a huge transformation of ecosystems
right at the local scale, but we can look globally now using satellites and other data
to look at our footprint of human activity. This is just the footprint of food and only
food. The green areas are where we grow our crops– the plant-based part of our diet.
The brown areas are where we grow our animals– basically the grazing lands and pastures of
the world. Together, you put the green stuff and the
tan stuff together– it’s about 38% roughly of all the land on Earth. All the land there
has ever been and all the land there will ever be is being used for one thing– to grow
food– which is by far the biggest part of our footprint on the planet. Nothing else
even comes close. If you put all the cities and all the suburbs
together in the world, it’s about 0.6% of the Earth’s land. For every acre of sprawl,
there are 60 acres of food out there in the world. So that’s huge. We’ve transformed a
planet’s worth of land mostly to give us food. We’re also, of course, transforming the water
cycle. We’re using up what we have to call the available water. We’re not using water
molecules. There’s still as much water on planet Earth as there was 3 billion years
ago, but what’s available to us in fresh water at the right time in the right place at the
right quality– that is changing pretty dramatically, and mainly because of our use of water for,
in this case, irrigation. This is a picture looking out the airplane
window flying into Phoenix seeing– I think it’s iceberg lettuce being grown here in the
deserts of Arizona using up the Colorado River. We’re not alone in doing things like this.
The Soviet Union did it, too. For example, this is the old Aral Sea of Central Asia. This Aral Sea is only here because two rivers–
one here and one here– traveling through Kazakhstan feed that basin with water. And
that water comes from snow melt way, way over here to the east over towards China. When
the snow melts, the water comes down the rivers, fills the bowl of sand, you’ve got a sea. But the Soviets– like we did– dammed up
rivers and used that water to irrigate the desert. And they irrigated Kazakhstan primarily
to grow cotton of all things in Central Asia, and you can imagine what happens. Turn off
the water supply, boom. There goes the sea. This is not a small lake. This is not just
inconveniencing people who have a cottage over here or something. This is 300 miles
across. It would be like taking Lake Tahoe and moving it to Montana or something– and
something the size of Wisconsin or something here. This is a huge– now extinct, basically–
inland sea, and we did that. That’s incredible. So we’re transforming land. We’re transforming
water at a planetary scale, and we’re really using up our atmosphere as well. Now, we’re
not using up the air that we breathe. Don’t worry about that. We’re still getting enough
oxygen. That’s cool. The problem is we’re using the atmosphere
as a really convenient dump for pollution. We’re putting carbon pollution– carbon dioxide–
into the atmosphere as well as other gases like nitrous oxide and methane and a bunch
of other stuff that all have the property of trapping heat in our atmosphere– something
we’ve known since the 1830s, by the way. So this is pretty amazing. We are changing
the composition of the atmosphere by dumping stuff into it. The problem is– and why there
seems to be so much disconnect here– is that it’s invisible to our eyes. If we saw in the
infrared, we could see the pollution. But in the wavelengths our eyeballs see– visible
light– it’s invisible, which is kind of weird. So it’s hard for some folks to understand.
How the hell can we change the sky? I don’t see it up there. So I think that’s part of
the cognitive dissonance we have about climate change. The other part is, frankly, we’re short. We’re
only like, two meters tall, and we don’t have wings. So we don’t get up into the sky very
much, and to our vantage point, the sky looks like it’s infinite. And we, for thousands of years, told stories
about the gods and goddesses up in the sky. That was their realm, not ours. How dare we
say we could change it? But we are, because the atmosphere, as you
know, is actually a fairly thin little layer of air. The lower atmosphere– the troposphere,
we call it– where all of our water comes from, all of our weather, all of our food,
ultimately, comes from this about 10-kilometer thick layer of air– about six miles. That’s
not very far at all. We can drive six miles each day. That’s a very short commute here
in Seattle. But if you went six miles straight up, you’re
heading into outer space. In San Francisco, I could drive six miles from where I live,
and I’d about end up in Berkeley. Now, I didn’t actually go to outer space– might feel like
that sometimes– but I’m still in San Francisco area. But if I go straight up, I’m heading
into outer space. So we’ve changed this atmosphere. We’ve increased
the levels of just one of these gases– carbon dioxide– by over 50% already, and we did
it by accident. And we almost didn’t notice it until the 1950s. So this is pretty astonishing. The bottom line here is we’re pushing our
planet to many simultaneous limits of its capacity for land, water, even our atmosphere
and climate system to provide a habitable planet. That’s pretty dangerous stuff. There’s
some real serious issues here. And almost all of this major global environmental
change has come from just three things– how we use and produce our food, how we use and
produce our water, and how we use and produce energy. Of course, there are other environmental
issues that are important, too, but these three underpin very large global changes that
affect all of us no matter where we live. So this is pretty big stuff. So this is an incredible challenge. How are
we going to deal with a degraded planet as we’re changing it and we’re growing as a civilization? Now, I’m an environmental scientist. My job
is often to just bum you out, right? Did I succeed yet? People are a little like, oh,
my God. And after a while, I realized when I do this, I don’t get invited to parties
very much anymore. So being smart about that, I decided to add
some good news to my talks a little bit. Because it’s a funny time to be alive. There are some
things that are big challenges indeed, but there are also some incredible opportunities
today. And a lot of things are getting better, and we definitely should be mentioning them,
too. And things are getting better, at least for
people– not everybody else on the planet. And people alive today are probably better
off than any other humans who have walked the Earth. Let me tell you why. A couple of things that have happened– first,
we as a species now live longer than anybody before us. Just 50 years ago, human life expectancy
was 55 years on average for the planet. Today, it’s over 70. That’s pretty good. We have much smaller families. Women have
much more control over their reproductive choices than they ever have before, and they’re
choosing to have smaller families spaced apart and later in life. That’s good, too. 50 years ago, the average woman on Earth–
on average– had five children. Today, it’s two and 1/2 and falling rapidly. That’s good
news if we want to stabilize population and more importantly to help empower women and
girls. So that’s really, really good. We’re also far more literate. We were at 50%
literacy just 50 years ago. Back in 1900, only 15% of the world was illiterate at a
primary level. Today it’s over 85% and growing rapidly. That’s good. We are more urban. I don’t know if that’s
good or not, but it’s an interesting fact. Over half of our population lives in an urban
area now. That’s a first for our time in history– way more mobile, way more connected. And if you look at data from Steven Pinker
and others, they would argue that we’re seeing much less death and harm from violence in
warfare than anybody before us in human history– obviously still too much and very tragic,
but we’re more peaceful as a species than any generations before us. So this is the
good news. We as a species are living longer and healthier
and better lives in a safer, smarter, and more connected world. Sometimes it doesn’t
feel like that, but it’s true. And the data aren’t really lying here. This is good stuff. So here we are. We’re in this Dickens moment.
Is it the best of times, the worst of times? Is it a time of planetary crisis, or is it
a moment of incredible opportunity? I get asked this all the time. So which one is it,
Jon? Which is it– good times, bad times? Which is it? Here’s my answer. It’s up to you. Which one
do you want? Let’s go build it, because we still get to decide. Do you want a better
future, or do you want a really crappy future? Both of those options are still on the table,
and they’re not going to be on the table much longer. But right now, we still have incredible opportunities
to make that choice. So let’s go make it. Let’s go build a future we want. I think we
can do that, so let’s get to work. But we need to reboot civilization. We need
civilization 2.0 now. We need a whole upgrade. Download the new civilization app or something,
right? How do we do this? We need to think about how we use and produce
food, how we use and produce water and energy and materials, our cities, our very lives–
all of that needs to change. And we call this “sustainability.” That’s even the name of
this lecture series– with sustainability. Now, this word anchors so much of my work
and the work of a lot of people in this room and in fact, this entire building. But you
know what? I hate this word with a passion you cannot even imagine. I hate this word,
because it just sucks. I mean, sustainable? If I were to ask you, hey, how’s your marriage?
Well, it’s sustainable. I’m like, oh, man. That sucks. I’m sorry. That’s kind of a bummer,
man. Nobody would design a marketing campaign with,
what do we want? To keep the status quo indefinitely under certain conditions and following the
Millennium Development Goals. Like, what the– stop. No. This word sucks. I’m sorry. It’s good for wonks. It’s good for scientists.
But you really want to win people over, we got to find a better word. What’s weird–
to me, anyway– is there was no word in the English language for this idea. There’s no
word in, as far as I know, any Western languages for this idea. Hey, how about we build a civilization without
destroying it? That would be kind of cool. We didn’t have a word for it. We didn’t even
think it was something to worry about. That’s kind of crazy. In German– I can’t speak German, but the
German word for sustainability is something like [SPEAKING GERMAN] I think it’s pronounced.
The best literal translation is “pasteurized.” It means, let us treat it somehow so it doesn’t
get spoiled. I’m like, what the hell? We need a better word, OK? So please work on this. In the meantime, I don’t have a better word,
but I know what I mean when I say sustainability. I’m saying, hey, how about people and nature
thriving together? And listen to it today, and keep doing it tomorrow. That would be
good. But unfortunately, that’s more than one word.
We need a better word. Let’s see if we can do that. But what we need is we need solutions
to get us there. Absolutely we need solutions, but we also need new kinds of leadership to
get us there. Because honestly, we’re not seeing it right now. So what I want to tell you about tonight is
some ideas about solutions in how we change the conversation and lead ourselves to this
more sustainable future. But we have had leadership in this country before that did inspire us,
that did challenge us, that did drive us forward. We were inspired and challenged by Martin
Luther King, who said he had a dream. He didn’t have a PowerPoint. He didn’t talk
about sustainability or Millennium Development Goals or whatever. He had a dream. Dreams
are things people aspire to. I want to see the sustainability dream. Let’s build it,
but we were challenged with a dream. Or Kennedy asked us, don’t ask what the country
can do for you, but what can you do for your country? What can you do for the world, et
cetera– this kind of dream of Kennedy but also to move to the moon and come back to
the Earth. Incredibly inspiring moments– we’ve come up with them again and again and
again in this country from incredible dreams to shared visions of who we could be as a
people. And now we have not a common dream, we have
a fragmented nightmare. And I don’t care who you voted for. We seem today to not be arguing
about the persistence of our dreams and what we could do together, we’re arguing about
what version of the nightmare do you believe is true. Neither of these candidates– none
of them– offered a dream or hope. They offered different versions of fear. And this is where we are today, and this is
extremely dangerous. And I really want to call out all of our politicians. This isn’t
partisan. A lot of them do this. Our politicians and media organizations are deliberately doing
this to us. They’re doing this on purpose. They’re instilling fear. They’re dividing
us, and they’re doing it for themselves for money, for votes, for clicks, for fame. And
we shouldn’t even tolerate it. I mean, this is so dangerous. And if you don’t believe me, look at the data.
We’ve been tracking sentiments in this country– how Americans feel about their country and
things– polling basically. People have been tracking this for over 150 years, even in
some cases longer. We know very well what’s going on. Today for the first time– and this is an
incredible new low– people don’t even trust the media at all. Only 11% of our country
have a great deal of confidence in our news telling organizations. Walter Cronkite must
be just rolling in his grave today. Politicians– also all time low. I’m kind
of surprised it’s this high, but 19% of the country have confidence in the White House,
8% of our legislative branch– Congress. How can you have a functioning democracy like
this? This is incredible. We are now paralyzed by fear, anxiety, and
distrust. It’s incredible. Half of Americans report significant stress in the last couple
of years. A third of us say it’s affecting our health– mental health, physical health,
and combined– a third of Americans. Think of the lost productivity. Think of the
lost economics behind this. Think of the fear and all the anxiety that this is producing.
And a lot of us– this is really scary. And for the first time in American history,
more Americans are fearful of the future than not. That has never happened before, even
during the Civil War, even during the Depression, even during World War II, Vietnam, Korea,
Watergate. We’ve never been this fearful or this despondent before– unbelievable. This is scary stuff, but I want to leave you
with one kind of funny statistic. At least I find it funny but sad at the same time.
Even though we’re more divided than ever, there’s one fact that gives me a little bit
of hope. It turns out that 80% of Americans do agree on one thing. The vast majority of us agree that we can’t
agree on anything. So 80% of Americans agree that we are more divided than ever. Wow. Now,
why am I talking about this? I’m talking about it, because it’s dangerous. This is dangerous
for our world. It’s dangerous for our democracy, for everything. But it’s basically because if we don’t fix
this, nothing else matters. If we can’t fix civil discourse, if we can’t fix the cultural
erosion of America, if we can’t fix the narratives that we share about ourselves in the future,
you can’t fix anything else. So in a polarized, hopeless world, having good science or a new
technology or some policy instrument– it doesn’t matter at all, because no one will
even let you talk about it. You can’t move forward together if you’re tearing each other
apart. So as a lot of you are biologists, this thing
called the Liebig’s Law of Minimum– what’s the thing that limits you most? Right now
culture limits us more than science or technology or markets or policy into building a better
world. Because if we don’t get this right, the other stuff can’t be implemented. We need
to change the conversation. This is so crucial. So here’s what I believe. I believe we can
build a better world, but we can only do it if we can help envision one together. You
can’t build a better world if you can’t share a vision of what it could possibly be or at
least have the conversation around it. But to do that, we need new kinds of messengers
and very different kinds of messages to move forward. Now, how about new messengers? Who should
be helping us get there? Well, this is a very biased point of view, because I happen to
work at one. But one of them I would argue are cultural institutions, because that’s
our business. You want to change culture? How about people who do this for a living
like museums or aquariums, planetariums, parks– places where people convene, civic places
where people come together. Why could they be helpful? Well, one, museums
alone– full disclosure, I run a museum. But I’m really glad I do, because guess what?
They’re freaking huge. 850 million visits happen to American museums every year. Our
population is 340 million, but 850 million people go into and out of museums every year. That’s an incredible number. That’s more than
all of the sports stadiums in the country combined plus all of the theme parks in the
country combined. So when you’re beating the NBA, NASCAR, and Disney combined and then
some, you got something. And until Facebook, this was the largest cultural force America
ever unleashed in the world. Incredible. They’re also trusted. That’s even more important.
Museums get about an 80% to 90% approval rating from Republicans and Democrats. We are not
more trusted than we were before, but everybody else has fallen down. So we are now not only
the most trusted institutions in America, I would say we’re probably the only trusted
institutions in America right now. And sadly, universities have fallen dramatically
in the last three years. A third of Republicans think a college education will do their children
more harm than good. That was not true three years ago– three years ago. That’s it. We
have a problem. But museums at least are still trusted. So
we’re huge, we’re trusted, and it turns out museums do a big share of teaching about science
in America today. Now, we tend to think Americans don’t know anything about science. No, that’s
not true at all. Our kids do lag behind. If we look at other
industrialized countries– let’s say the top 30 countries– we usually come in around 30th
in terms of scientific literacy for, let’s say, a seventh grader or an eighth grader.
That’s sadly true. Our K-12 systems need a lot of work. But if you look at the average 40-year-old,
let’s say, in America and around the world and ask, what do they know about basic biology,
physics, chemistry, medical terminology, engineering? Actually, we come in number one in the world.
We beat Japan, even South Korea. What happened? Why? Well, one of the reasons
is great universities. Our community colleges, colleges, universities, research universities,
the liberal arts schools, all of them in America are the best in the world. And also we require
all of our students to have some science classes even if they’re majoring in the arts or law
or medicine. So our kids in America have pretty poor scientific
literacy compared to their peers at their age. But later in life, Americans actually
get really good scientific literacy, because our colleges and universities make up for
a lot of it. But also we have the best informal science
education in the world. We have the best museums, the best planetariums, aquariums, zoos, parks.
We got the National Geographic. We got Neil deGrasse Tyson. We got Science Friday. No other country in the world– OK. They got
Attenborough in the UK, but other than that. I’d love him to come here. But other than
that, we’re pretty damn good at this stuff. And we have Carl Sagan, too. Don’t forget
about that. So we got some great science communication in this country. And it turns out Americans learn– about 70%
of the scientific literacy they get over their lives happens in informal settings– not a
college, not a K through 12 school, but in informal settings. And of that, museums are
the largest. So strangely, we’re the biggest cultural force in the country until Facebook.
We’re the most trusted– certainly more than Facebook. And third, we are the biggest science teachers
in the country. So I’m like, wow. That’s pretty cool. Maybe we should use that. So if places
like museums and parks and aquariums could step up and be a trusted place for talking
about these issues, that would be great. But we also need new messages, too, and this
is one of the things that’s so, so important. Because right now, the dominant narrative
about the environment is really dominated by fear. You hear so much about fear in environmental
issues. You’ll see– like on climate change, for example– so many pictures of collapsing
icebergs, drowning polar bears, forest fires, hurricanes, you name it. It’s designed to
make you afraid. And this is really, really disturbing. But
this is a very bad communications strategy, too, because it doesn’t actually hit most
Americans. It aims at the edges. There’s an interesting study from Yale called the Six
Americas Report that points out that America is not red or blue when it comes to climate
change. There are about six shades of climate belief in America. This is what they are. There are people who
are critically alarmed. They’re not just believing in climate change. They’re really freaked
out about it. And that’s where the fear messaging is aiming at. Over here you’ve got the people who are totally
dismissive and say, not only do they not believe it, they think it’s a hoax. This is like Rush
Limbaugh, our president, a few other people you might imagine. Oh, by the way, I love this idea, too, that
somehow a bunch of scientists could pull off a global hoax. A bunch of professors got together
150 years ago and said, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to screw with thermometers
for the next century just to mess with people. I’m not sure why we’re going to do it, but
it’d be a lot of fun. What the hell? And I look at people like, you really think
we’re capable of pulling off– I mean, have you been to a faculty meeting ever? We can’t
even agree on the color of the paint on the walls or something. Come on. This is ridiculous,
but OK. You want to believe that, that’s fine. The problem is the messaging on environment
here that’s primarily fear-based isn’t aiming at most Americans. It’s aiming at your base
or the enemy. So this is kind of where environmental messaging has gone completely off the rails. So this is where those fear-based measures
are aiming. This is aiming at your donors and your activists. These are the people who
write your checks and show up at your protests. Great. And this is the people who hate you.
OK. But you know what? 71% of the country is somewhere
in the middle. They’re movable, and you’re not talking to them in ways they can hear
you at all. In fact, they’re tuning out. So the strategy to connect to the rest of
us just isn’t working. What we need is different strategies. They get to that kind of movable
middle– the middle part where people are concerned, but they don’t know what to do.
I’m not sure about this. Maybe they’re not that engaged. Or they’re doubtful, but they
could be convinced. They’re at least persuadable. So how do you do that? Well, first, you have
to figure out what inspires them. And hey, scientists? I hate to tell you this. It isn’t
facts. I’m a scientist, too, but you know what? Explaining climate change again to somebody
isn’t going to suddenly make them stand up. Oh, now that they explained it the 30th time,
I’m super excited. And I’m going to go buy a hybrid car and put up a solar panel. No.
They heard you the first time. They just don’t like you, OK? It’s that simple. It’s cultural.
It’s not scientific at all. So you have to create an emotional connection.
They have to want to hear you. And the so-called science deficit model– if I just tell them
the facts again– isn’t correct. There’s evidence saying that it’s wrong. We need cultural context. We need to make
sure people hear you and want to hear you, and then they can hear the facts. But if they
don’t want to hear you, they ain’t going to hear you. So what inspires people? The middle– those
four Americas in the middle– they don’t want to hear about fear. They want to hear about
hope. Give me some hope, because I’m so freaked out right now. I’m so anxious. I’m hiding
under my bed. And please stop telling me about the problems
again of sea level rise or deforestation or extinction. I’ve heard it. I got it. What
are we going to do about it? You have to focus on solutions, not just the problems. I think people in America– especially those
middle four Americas, that group– the big one– they’re so tired of partisan bickering
and people yelling at each other on Twitter and cable news and whatever. They’re so sick
of it, and they would love to see something about collaboration. How could I work with
other people rather than calling them the enemy and fighting all the time? They’re just
sick of it. So if you combine hope, not fear, solutions,
not problems, and collaboration instead of conflict, you got something. And then that
middle still respects science. They want to know, is this grounded in science? Is there
some evidence for that? But until you give them hope and solutions and collaboration,
they won’t hear the science. But they want it there, but they can’t hear
it until you’ve given them hope and solutions and collaborative opportunity. Then they can
hear the science. And they’ll respect it, because they still respect science. So that’s why we designed this project that
I was going to tell you about tonight– this thing called Planet Vision. Notice we don’t
use the word “sustainability” anywhere. It’s about solutions for a better future. Who could
be opposed to that? My museum sees a million and a half people
a year. I’ve met a lot of them. I met people who voted for Trump, people who voted for
Bernie Sanders, people who voted– it doesn’t matter. Everybody I’ve ever met, anybody you’ve
ever met still wants the same thing. They want a better world for their kids, a better
world for the future generations. Everybody wants that. So why don’t we offer that to them? Why don’t
we talk about it? So we started with better messages. We’re getting into the science now.
We’re saying, hey, we’ve got to rethink how we use food and water and energy. And it’s kind of big stuff, like how we produce
food on the global scale and how we use water and energy– these kind of big things. That’s
really cool, but we also have to make it personal. And I’ll show you how we did that later. We went back to the science and said, what
are the solutions we need to the food system, for example? I used to work on this stuff
myself, but others do, too. And we can say, we’ve got to figure out how to feed the world,
keep feeding the world, and doing it sustainably. If we’re going to do that, we’ve got to think
about land and forests. We’ve got to think about yields. We’ve got to think about efficiency.
We’ve definitely got to think about our diets, and we definitely have to focus on food waste.
These are the areas where solutions are needed. But the trick we did is we found the solutions
and then mapped them into where you are. Are you just an individual at home who wants to
help out? Great. You can start with food waste. Here’s what you can do. Here’s what you can
do with diets. Or are you a multi-billion dollar corporation?
Amazon, hey. Why don’t we talk about what you can do? Or hey, an NGO or foundation–
hey, Bill Gates, this is what you can do, and this is what governments can do, and so
on and so on. So this so-called solutions matrix shows you
what we need to do but also who can do it, and you see yourself as part of the team.
And we did this for water. We did this for energy. And the thing that’s really powerful about
this is when you tell people, this is what you can do in your own life, they go, oh,
changing light bulbs, getting a hybrid car– that doesn’t matter, because it’s just a drop
in the ocean. It’s not enough to matter. What we found with focus groups is that, yes, that
is a small thing to be sure if you are alone, but you’re not. There’s lots of other people
just like you. But you’re now on the same team as Elon Musk
and Pope Francis and Michael Bloomberg and Arnold Schwarzenegger– I don’t know, a bunch
of people. That’s a freaking cool team. I want to be on that team. You want to be on
the team with the pope and Schwarzenegger and Elon Musk. I don’t care what they’re doing.
You want to be on that team, don’t you? I do. So that’s kind of cool. So you say, hey. I’m
not doing it alone. I’m not being lectured at. I’m shown what I can do, but I’m helping
out people I admire and people that are doing good work, and I’m collaborating. That’s very,
very powerful. But we also have to make it personal– not
from the global but to, what does this mean for your food, your water, your use of energy?
And we come up with these simple tips. So I don’t want to go through them all in detail. But when people ask, what can I do for food
at my personal level, we don’t want people to argue about GMOs and organic and just polarize
ourselves. And it turns out it doesn’t matter that much anyway in the larger food system.
The biggest number of all– the biggest problem in the global food system– is waste. 40%
of all the food on Earth regardless of how it’s grown is thrown away or lost in the system.
We’ve got to fix that before we do anything else. We have to shift our diets. Too much red meat
grown from grain is a massive, massive inefficiency in the food system. We could do better there.
And yes, let’s support new kinds of sustainable farms and fisheries, especially ones that
are trying new ideas. That would be great. So these are kind of common sense things.
We did it for water saying, hey, it’s mostly in your food but also your landscaping– instruments
like leaks in your house and updating water appliances when you need to. Same with energy–
of course, get smart about electricity and transport and heating and cooling. Here are
some tips– all good stuff designed to save you money, make you more healthy, more productive,
and enjoy your life more. But then we get to the kind of trickier ones.
People do want to talk about this, but we don’t want to preach. And we have to talk
about consumption. We buy a lot of stuff. We throw away a lot of stuff. And also, this is the third rail, but we’re
going to touch it– about population. I’m going to stop talking about population and
lecturing people about their choices about their families. No. We’re talking instead
about, hey, how about girls being empowered? Wouldn’t that be a good thing? And when girls
are empowered and have more opportunity and more education, they tend to have smaller
families. But the more important thing is the girls
got empowered. That’s really cool, and everybody loves that. So we’re talking about big issues.
We’re doing so in a way that can be heard by messengers that you can hear in ways that
are tangible to you and get you excited, and this works pretty well. Let me just show you a short little video
clip about this, and then I’m going to show you how we’re going to disperse this and implement
it and kind of take it to scale. This is just a little overview clip that’s about two minutes,
so let me just roll this and see what you think. [MUSIC PLAYING] So this kind of messaging that we’re trying
to use is upbeat, positive, solutions-oriented– not blaming people, not pointing fingers–
and joining us, inspiring some kind of collaboration. We’re trying to use trusted local places like
your local museum, your aquarium, your home town institution that’s not a corporation,
and it’s not a government agency. It’s just some local folks who just share stuff with
you and your kids with inspiring messages but also backed up by good science. So this is kind of where we’re going with
this. What we want to do is we’re distributing it, as I mentioned– through museums is one
channel. Another, of course, is digital. That’s why we made videos and social media. That
will get huge. And of course, influential audiences like
you– so that’s why I’m going around talking about stuff like this in lecture halls. And
we’re going to write op-eds and stuff like that, too. So there’s kind of a three-tiered
strategy. But then we also want to roll it out nationally.
Right now we’re only doing it at the Cal Academy, my museum in San Francisco. But by this fall
and winter, we’re going to give it away to any museum who wants it for free. Here you
go– a little bit like how Seafood Watch is now in every aquarium in the country. We want these guides around food, water, and
energy to be also in every town and city in the country, and this is the best way we can
deliver it– in these face-to-face but scaled encounters. So we’re pretty excited about
that. You can certainly help us spread the word if you can, and that would be great. But let me wrap up, and then I’d love to have
some time for comments and conversation at the end, which would be really great. But
here’s what I want to ask you to do tonight. I think you’re all here because you care about
these issues. We think about these issues a lot. And I really want us– especially the younger
people in the audience now, and all of us, but especially the students and others here–
this is a time unlike any other in human history. What we decide to do in the next two decades
or so will determine the course of human civilization well beyond our lifetime– way beyond it. People are going to look back at our time
in history and judge us. Future generations will look back and say, what did you do in
the early 21st century? And I’d like to stand up and be pretty proud of what we did together. We have a choice before us. Do we build a
better world, or do we let a degraded world enter our sphere? And we still have that choice,
but we should stand up and make it. So that’s so critical. Also, please dare to hope. To hope in this
world right now requires courage. And I see it in abundance, but we have to bring it together
and celebrate it. We must continue to hope. Don’t confuse this with blind optimism. There’s
no silver bullet technology. There’s no invisible hand in the market that’s going to save us.
That ain’t going to happen. The hands that are going to fix this world and make it better
are the ones right in front of you right now. Those hands, not the invisible ones, are the
ones that are going to change the world. And that’s the difference between hope and
optimism. Hope is a verb. It’s an active stance asking you to dare and risk it all and know
that you might fail. But you get up anyway, and you do it again. That’s what hope is.
Don’t confuse it with just blind optimism. Hope requires courage, so have some. And finally, I think it’s time to make our
choice. I told you before– is it going to be a great world or a really awful world?
And I said, that’s up to you. Don’t abdicate that choice. You get to make it still. You’re
the only people in human history. You get to determine the future for millennia. We’ll make it now. No other generation has
been given that awesome responsibility or that incredible opportunity depending on how
you look at it, so make your choice. And I’m going to remind you what Robert Wilson once
said. He said, “the future is up for grabs.” And “it belongs to any and all who will take
the risk and accept the responsibility of consciously creating the future they want.” So with that, I just want to say thank you,
and I hope we can lift the lights and have a little conversation here tonight. And then
I’ll see what we can do. So thank you for being here, and I look forward to conversation. [APPLAUSE] Sorry about the audio, but I’ll use my inside
voice. I don’t have an inside voice I was told once. So comments, questions? Let’s have
a conversation, folks. Yes? Oh, they’re roaming around with microphones,
by the way. Because this is going to be recorded or something, so they like to pick up the
audio. So if you could wait for the mics, great. Then I’ll probably repeat them anyway. AUDIENCE: So one of the things that I’m most
excited about right now and something that I’m seeing more of is the focus on soil as
an opportunity ecologically– way beyond just trying to preserve it and keep it in place
but the whole biology of that soil community. And I wondered if you might want to comment
on that. JONATHAN FOLEY: Yeah. Let me repeat the question,
because you might not have heard it around the room. The question is a great question
about the potential for soils to play a positive role in shaping a better future. Extrapolating from your question, but there’s
a lot of discussion today about what people call “regenerative agriculture.” Not just
sustainable agriculture– let’s keep it from getting worse– but regenerative, which is
a better word– not great, but better. And the idea– hey, we can not only keep it OK.
Let’s make it even better. Can we, for example, increase the organic
matter of the carbon in the soil to build up the soil’s health, its ability to retain
water, its biodiversity and take carbon out of the atmosphere and lock it up so it doesn’t
contribute to climate change? Sounds awesome. Great. But I live in Silicon Valley area,
and I’m a little bit wary of the hype cycle. There are people out there who are over-hyping
how much on climate change we can solve with soils. It’s not that much. And soils are like
a bathtub. They’ll eventually fill up, and the cows keep burping. So if we’re using grazing systems to restore
the soil, that will work for a while. And there are a couple of cases– one in Marin
County that Whendee Silver has looked at. One or two others have been published. Most
do not, but some systems can be carbon negative and pull carbon net out of the atmosphere,
even accounting for cow burps and cow farts. But eventually, the soils fill. And by the
way, my ex-wife is a veterinarian. And she taught me one thing at least– is that cows
burp methane. They don’t fart as much. They burp it. I’m sorry to use those words, but
hey, we’re all adults. So when people talk about cow farts and silly
research on climate change, you can remind them gently that cows burp methane, thank
you very much. I lived in Wisconsin for a while. It was required that I knew that. So
the point is that cows continue to release methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, after
the soils have done restoring. So then what? But in the meantime, let’s fix all the soils
we can. That’s great. It’s good for biodiversity. It’s good for water. It’s good for erosion.
Win, win, win, win, win, but it’s not a silver bullet. It’s not going to save us from climate change,
but it’s this piece of silver buckshot. We’ll take it, but it’s not a one size fits all
solution. But it’s certainly one we should use, absolutely. More questions. Yes. AUDIENCE: Thank you very much for that talk.
You talk a lot about “we,” and I really enjoy what you say about that we should dare to
envision our future. But overall, you let the “we” be rather poorly defined. And the
solution that you present is still very centered around a centrally-crafted message disseminated
through top-down intuitions. So my question is, what do you think the role of your institution
is in rather empowering communities to build a more inclusive vision for our future? JONATHAN FOLEY: That’s a great question. I’m
paraphrasing in case you didn’t hear it. I kept on using the word “we” and in a language
that’s like, hey, we’re all doing this together. And yet she’s pointed out very nicely, well,
yeah, but you already kind of decided what you’re going to tell people. And you’re disseminating
something that has already been cooked up in your museum, so where’s the “we?” How has
this become our vision collectively? Great question. So we are not really a top-down organization.
People choose to go to museums. We’re not telling anybody anything they didn’t want
to come see. We’re not forcing people to do anything, and it’s a conversation. The exhibit that we’re doing here– most of
time it’s staffed by just a couple of people who just want to talk to you and have a conversation.
So it’s actually implementation. It’s pretty conversational. It’s very like, hey, what
are you thinking here– stuff like that. One of the things that’s so cool is we want
to empower people to do things themselves. One of the things that was so bizarre to me–
and it sounds like a stereotype, but especially millennials right now– people are really
afraid to do stuff themselves anymore, like changing their shower head. A lot of people
are like, I don’t know how to do that, and they’re afraid to. What? OK. Or changing the thermostat in your
apartment or something– oh, I don’t know how to do that. I have to hire an electrician.
I’m like, no, you don’t. We can help you. So we actually have a– don’t tell Apple this,
but we kind of call it the “genius bar.” But not officially, of course. I don’t want to
get sued by Apple. And the video– no, we didn’t say that. But it’s like, hey, we can
show you how to do that, too. And you know what we do deliberately? Our
home improvement table there at the Academy is not staffed by a 50-year-old white guy
wearing plaid or something, which would be way too typical. We make sure there’s older
people and younger people, people of color, women who are doing this more than men, stuff
like that. So it is a lot more inclusive and really tries to reflect who we’re talking
to, and we listen. The nice thing about museums is we’ve learned
that we humans have two ears and one mouth. We should try to use some of that ratio once
in a while. So you have really good point and one that we have to address very, very
well. And so this is why we want to bring this to
the local institutions, and this is iterative. So here’s our ideas. Let’s hear yours. And
this is meant to iterate over time and be improved. But at a certain point, we also
have to obey the laws of physics. In terms of food, food waste is by far the largest
user of land and water and gigatons of carbon and methane of anything we do. And so we have
to stay true to the science, too. But you raise a really great point. And I
don’t have a perfect answer for you other than we listen, we adapt. What we say in San
Francisco will be very different than what’s said in Dallas or even Seattle or Detroit
or New York. So it should be adapted to where those conversations take place, because that’s
really where the action is, as you said. So it’s really cool. That’s a great question, by the way. It’s
really cool. Somebody in the middle here– maybe you can get her a mic. Oh, hey. AUDIENCE: Hi, Jon. Thanks so much for the
talk. It was awesome. So I think it’s great that this is being rolled out in museums.
I love museums. I would love to work for a museum someday. JONATHAN FOLEY: Could you speak up a little
bit? AUDIENCE: I was just saying that I love museums.
I would love to work for museums someday. JONATHAN FOLEY: Subtle hint there, huh? AUDIENCE: Yeah, subtle hint. However, I think
one thing that hasn’t been addressed– at least in this talk– is how you would get
people from under served communities who might not be able to afford to attend a museum to
learn this material– to actually have access to Planet Vision. If it’s being offered in
museums and museums are trusted, that’s great. But how do you get to the people who might
not be able to afford access to the education there? JONATHAN FOLEY: That is so, so, so important.
So the question was, how do you guarantee that programming like this– if it’s delivered
in museums– is truly accessible to everybody, including folks who are economically disadvantaged
or otherwise disadvantaged? How do we make sure everybody hears this message? I couldn’t be more committed to that. We give
away 350,000 free visits a year– more than anything in the Bay Area by far. Even the
San Francisco Giants can’t match that. We do more than any museum on the West Coast,
in fact, which is art, science of any kind. And when we do that, we find that actually
the demographics of people who visit our museum anyway are exactly the same demographics of
the nine counties in the Bay Area. It’s about a third Asian, about a third Latino, a third
Caucasian and everybody else– and African American and everything else. It looks like
the Bay Area. That’s pretty good. But you have to have programming that does
this. For example, it’s not just enough to waive a ticket price. It turns out kids sometimes
can’t get to your museum, because the schools can’t afford buses anymore. So Google, for
example, last year helped us bring every middle schooler from Oakland to the Cal Academy.
They bought the tickets. We said, that’s not enough. You’ve got to
get the buses, too. They’re like, OK, we’ll pay for the buses. They weren’t Google buses,
they were just school buses. But it was still cool. That’s OK. And third, we said, you know what? A lot of
these kids’ parents can’t take the day off of work and be chaperones. The said, we got
this, and they sent 20 of their staff for a week to be voluntary chaperones all week
with these kids. That was freaking awesome. That was really nice. So we did some stuff like that. Other museums
try to do that as well. The Seattle Aquarium is very good at accessibility programming
as well. We all could do better. But really, the best thing I think I’ve ever done in my
career is a couple of weeks ago we announced we landed a $20 million set of grants to the
Academy to endow field trips for free for every child in San Francisco kindergarten
through fifth grade forever. Every year they get multiple field trips.
Then we give them family passes. Then we have free family nights where we have interpreters
there for people who don’t speak English or Spanish or something, so we have all sorts
of interpreters. It was incredible. It’s the only city in the world to have ever done that. So museums are working really hard to be more
accessible, and they’re far more accessible than higher ed I hate to say. Art museums
have more to do, but science museums and aquariums generally look like the communities that serve
them. But first, we got to make sure our staff reflect the community they’re in and then
our visitorship, and we’ve got to remove all those barriers. And it requires work and money, but we can
do it. It is so, so important. I do not ever want the next Rachel Carson, the next Neil
deGrasse Tyson or whoever– somebody who could change the world– to not visit our museum.
That would be criminal. Just because they couldn’t afford a ticket
or they couldn’t get on a bus or something or their parents couldn’t take the afternoon
off– hell no. That’s unacceptable. So this is where we can democratize science the most.
We have to keep working on it. Great point, but there’s a lot of room there. I don’t know how much time we have. Got a
couple more questions? There’s one in the back there, how about. You want to do that?
And then how are we doing on time? How about two or three more question. Yes. AUDIENCE: I was just curious to hear what
your plans are to globalize these ideas. Your marketing seems very focused for here in the
US museums. How do you plan to extend that to the rest of the world? JONATHAN FOLEY: Well, that’s a great question.
My staff are already kind of freaked out about the idea of doing this nationally let alone
globally. The question was, how do you take this to a global context? I don’t think it’s a good idea for a San Francisco
American institution to go to especially transitioning economy or developing countries and say, here.
Hi, I’m a white guy scientist from San Francisco, and I’m here to help you. No, no. But if others want to emulate this and say,
hey, we’d like to adapt this and use it in Brazil– in fact, we’ve been approached by
a few. Can we translate this and use it in our country? OK. We’ll think about that, but
first, we’re just doing it locally. We’re going to try it nationally for a while. But before we can go globally with this, we
have to find the right institutional partners starting in a few places and let them adapt
it to– again, your question. How do you make it theirs, not ours? And so this has to evolve
and really reflect the communities in which they exist, and it may not translate. The whole premise is based on that six Americas
data set of what connects to the movable center of America that hasn’t been talked to about
these kinds of issues effectively. But in France, it’s a little different– or in New
Zealand or in Sweden or whatever. So I think we’d have to redesign it and pivot
it, but some of it could be recycled. And we love recycling, so that’s good. So we’ll
see how that goes. I think we got time for one or two more questions, I think. This gentleman
in the front here. AUDIENCE: I was wondering if you have– this
is wonderful news for museums. And I wonder if you have a program to get this news out
to the various museums. We have in Seattle the Pacific Science Center. And they have
a reduced price for disadvantaged folks, and it’s tremendously successful. So the parents
take their kids there for babysitting and free entertainment, and it’s just a great
deal for getting the word around. JONATHAN FOLEY: Well, what we’re going to
do– the question is, hey, will this show up in Seattle like at the Pacific Science
Center is what it’s called. Yeah, absolutely. We’re already talking to the Seattle aquarium.
We’re going to talk to them. We’ll have talked to the Burke Museum, which
is a jewel. I guess you’re getting a new building for it here? I’m really excited about that.
That’s pretty cool. So you have a rich set of great, great aquariums and science, natural
history style museums here in Seattle. I was just in Vancouver a couple of weeks
ago. They’re excited about it, and we all talk to each other. And what’s nice is a lot
of museums cover all the sciences a little bit, like astronomy one day and zoology the
next and something in between every other day. Our museum is only about life and the
environment and sustainability. That’s all we do, so we’re kind of seen as the go-to
people for this stuff. Monterey Bay curates the Seafood Watch app
on your phone, or you might have seen it in aquariums. But all the aquariums use it, and
they’re glad. Hey, thanks, Monterey, for putting that together and sharing it with us. We’re
going to do the same thing. So yeah, I’m sure this will be in Seattle.
In fact, the American Associations of Zoos and Aquariums is meeting in Seattle this fall
where all the CEOs of the largest aquariums and zoos in the country come together. And
we’re going to be there with a big booth saying, hey, here you go. And zoos may be another
place, but we’re going to focus probably on aquariums– they’re a little bit more set
up for this– and museums and others, too. We’re not going to deny it to other groups. Those of you who are university professors–
I toyed around the idea of writing a little companion book for this. Not a textbook. God,
no. I would just rather not live than write a textbook for me. Sorry. Not something I
want to do. But I thought of a light little reader that
could be like a companion book. There are about 100 people in the country who probably
teach most of the freshmen global environment 101 courses at these big universities like
UW or Penn State or Arizona or whatever. We could talk to those central people and say,
hey, here’s a reader that you could add as a supplementary reading to your class. And it’s free. It’s fun. It’s not just science.
It’s a little bit more. We haven’t done that yet, but we thought that’s another cool audience
we could reach– the college freshmen lecture course. Why not? But we haven’t done that
yet, so hopefully we’ll build more audiences, too. OK. Any one last question? I think we have
time for that. Otherwise we should wrap it up. OK. Erica Howard, how about you? This
is a former graduate student of mine I haven’t seen in a while, so I’m very pleased to see
you here. ERICA HOWARD: Hi, Jon. Good to see you. So
last question– sorry if this is– JONATHAN FOLEY: Oh, you’re going to stump
me, aren’t you? You’re going to get even. ERICA HOWARD: I’m wondering– so cultural
institutions like museums are more trusted, potentially because they’ve been less politicized
in the past. And as you develop a higher profile and get into this kind of messaging, is that
still going to be true? JONATHAN FOLEY: That’s a great question. So
if you didn’t hear, the question is, so you’re trusted now. But if you keep going, what’s
going to happen– paraphrasing. Yeah. That might happen. But if you have trust capital and you don’t
spend a little of it, what are you doing it for? If we just sit on the sidelines during
the most urgent period in human history, I think it’s unethical and recklessly irresponsible–
especially of scientists– to stay out of the discourse of our world. For some bizarre reason, scientists think
they have a Hippocratic oath of saying, thou shall not touch politics. I would encourage
you to learn some Greek. You know what “politics” means? It means the affairs of the people.
It doesn’t mean partisanship or elections or nominating a candidate. That’s not what
that means. It means talking about our issues together as a people. Science should definitely be part of politics
with a lower case p. Call it politics with a capital P, if you will– partisanship, endorsing
a candidate– you can’t do that at a nonprofit. You shouldn’t touch that. Of course. That’s
just good stewardship. But you should definitely enter this discourse,
and I think museums have to. But we’re sticking our necks out more. We’re the only museum
on Earth to have divested from fossil fuels. We’re the only museum on Earth to say, we
will embrace the Paris accord. In fact, we’re going to beat it easily. We stand for LGBT
issues. We do a whole bunch of things. Because not only are we a science institution,
we are the largest cultural institution of any kind in America’s supposedly most progressive
city. Seattle might come in second. I don’t know. Maybe you’re going to beat it. I don’t
know. We think we are, but you probably do, too. It’s like what Lake Wobegon. We’re both
number one. It’s great. So we ought to step up, because who else will?
But does that mean we’re going to get some static for it? Oh, yeah. I’ve lost a few donors–
not many, but a couple. One or two that hurt, but that’s OK. I can still look myself in
the mirror, and I think we’re doing the right thing. But we should still be objective, driven by
evidence, and have empathy. I think this is where people lose trust– is when they don’t
believe the other side is even being fair or that they’re out of touch. Let me leave one last comment about universities
a little bit and the erosion of trust. That wasn’t quite your question– but since we’re
at a university in this question of, how does trust get eroded? You know why universities
are losing the trust battle in America? You think it’s a fact battle. It’s a culture battle,
and you’re getting your ass kicked. You know why? Because you look like you’re
out of touch. This is why they’re doing this. People who want to discredit science for their
own financial and personal gain– and you can guess who they are– they don’t want to
argue with environmental scientists about science. They want to paint you as out of
touch liberal elites who aren’t real Americans. In fact, there are memos– strategy documents
out there showing exactly how they’re doing that. If you fall for that trap, you’re helping
them. So don’t do that. Please try to figure out how to connect back to regular American
values. Talk about emotional things that connect you to people’s values, then you bring in
the science and the scholarship. But if you seem out of touch, liberal elites
in the ivory tower, you’ve already lost. Museums do a better job of this, though we need to
do better. Art museums need to do better, but we do a little bit better at that. But
we have to be– I think empathy, kindness, and respect, especially with the people we
disagree with. The worst thing in the world if you want to
make friends is to call somebody stupid. And unfortunately, sometimes in the academic community–
think like Richard Dawkins or something like that– we come off as a little smug and a
little too hoity-toity. That doesn’t help our cause. So totally right point. But I think if we navigate it with respect
and empathy and kindness and a little determination, we’ll probably be OK. Talk to me again in
five years. We’ll see. Hey, thanks so much for being here tonight. I really enjoyed it,
and there will be some time a little bit later. [APPLAUSE] [MUSIC PLAYING]

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