Encourage young people to get educated about climate change with credible sources. Listen to podcasts, read books, keep updated with news articles and learn from leaders in the field. Our podcast Climate Solutions draws on insights from experts on the environment, including the Director of Political Research at French university Sciences Po, Martial Foucault, Director of Opinion Polling at BVA in Paris Adelaide Zulfikarpasic, and Head of the Climate Policy Unit at the European Investment Bank, the EU climate bank, Edward Calthrop.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Matt Rees.
Matt Rees is the host of Climate Solutions, a podcast by the European Investment Bank, the EU bank. Matt has won several podcasting awards for Climate Solutions and for other podcasts, A Dictionary of Finance and Monster Under the Bed. A former foreign correspondent with Time and Newsweek now based in Luxembourg, he’s also the author of nine novels and a book of non-fiction. The second season of Climate Solutions is live now.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I’m from Wales, and studied in England as well as the U.S. As a kid, I was quite introverted, all I wanted to do was write. I was also quite dark, I’d say. As an adolescent, I read a lot of novels and stories about the Russian front during World War II. I think we can safely assume that this was some kind of a cry for help. Thinking about it now, I suppose it signals that I always knew things were not okay and that the world needed to change. If we’ve learned anything from the last few years, from climate change to populist politics and fake news, it is this: I was right.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you passionate about tackling environmental issues? Can you share that story with us?
I was very focused on political reporting and war reporting in the Middle East. One day, I was tracking a story of illegal waste dumping in the West Bank. Israeli businesses were taking toxic waste into the West Bank and paying Palestinians to let them dump it on their land, instead of making it safe, which is costly. I went to one village and everyone was angry at a local guy whose garden, essentially, was filled with barrels marked as toxic that were leaking brown ooze. But he was a poor guy desperate for some cash. It demonstrated to me the link that exists everywhere between environmental issues and money. That’s very important now with the question of a “just transition” for regions dependent on coal and gas to cleaner energy. It’s also a reminder that one of our biggest environmental issues is this: The businesses that have done most of the polluting have never had to pay for it. One of my colleagues at the European Investment Bank calls that “the biggest market failure in history.”
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that the European Investment Bank is taking to understand responses to climate change since the COVID-19 crisis?
The European Investment Bank has published the third annual edition of the EIB Climate Survey, a thorough assessment of how people feel about climate change in light of COVID-19. Over 30,000 people responded in every EU country as well as in the United Kingdom, the United States and China. The survey investigated what we’re ready to do to stop climate change and how the COVID-19 crisis is changing our perception of the climate emergency.
Interestingly, COVID-19 has caused us to change our behaviour in ways that might be positive for climate change — for example, by remote working, instead of commuting to an office, thus reducing carbon emissions. The survey shows that most of us would like to continue teleworking. The survey also highlighted that we really feel the climate emergency in our lives. We found, for example, that 75% of Europeans feel the impact of climate change on their daily lives and that “climate change remains firmly on the list (of concerns)” in addition to the pandemic.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. In your opinion what are 5 things we should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement?
- Encourage young people to get educated about climate change with credible sources. Listen to podcasts, read books, keep updated with news articles and learn from leaders in the field. Our podcast Climate Solutions draws on insights from experts on the environment, including the Director of Political Research at French university Sciences Po, Martial Foucault, Director of Opinion Polling at BVA in Paris Adelaide Zulfikarpasic, and Head of the Climate Policy Unit at the European Investment Bank, the EU climate bank, Edward Calthrop.
- Lead by example by making positive lifestyle changes. The European Investment Bank’s Climate Survey revealed that 72% of Europeans believe their own behaviour can make a difference in tackling climate change — and there are everyday lifestyle tweaks we can make that all add up. I stopped driving my (hybrid) car to work a couple of years ago, for example. Sometimes I take the bus, but mostly I ride my bike. Even on cold mornings, I force myself to suck it up and get on my bike. The bike is a good example, because so many of the things you can do to help the environment are also good for you, physically.
- Emphasize the importance of acting now. We discuss the importance of immediate action in tackling the climate emergency on the podcast. To quote Ed Calthrop, one of our expert guests on the podcast: “The overriding lesson from the pandemic is that we have to learn that we cannot ignore the longer-term risks of climate change.” The parallel is this: The countries that acted early and decisively suffered fewer deaths and, ultimately, less economic hardship from the pandemic. If we delay on climate action, everything’s going to be harder and worse.
- Encourage a dialogue with your children about climate change. One of our episodes is about the generational differences in attitudes to climate change. It’s obvious from Fridays for Future demonstrations that young people see this as a major issue. Our survey shows it’s a bigger issue for them even than youth unemployment. But we don’t want it to become a wedge between the generations. It has such potential to build connections between the young and old. In one episode of the podcast, Martial Foucault makes some really illuminating points about how young people now are engaging in protest very actively. The key is that a dialogue between young and older people allows us all to acknowledge that climate change is a threat to everyone and that it’s affecting us now. It’s different to previous crises, where young people tended to want change, but older people were opposed. Our survey shows young people are more in favour of change, but people over 65 are motivated too. We just have to talk about the changes we’re all prepared to make.
- Immerse your children in nature and the outside world, to encourage a connection and understanding of our planet. Last summer, where I live, there were far, far more bees around than usual. They’d come into the house and my daughter would freak out, fearing that they’d sting her. I showed her that the bees were the result of a special, new wild-flower sanctuary nearby and explained why pollinators like bees are so important to biodiversity — and why they’re under threat (We have an episode on this in our first series of Climate Solutions). It took away her fear, made her feel connected to nature and motivated her to do other things that are linked to climate action, like recycling around the house.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious?
It’s increasingly important for companies to commit to sustainability goals. Consumers are now more conscious in supporting organisations that consider their environmental impact in their strategies. One of the key elements of the European Investment Bank’s work at the moment is that we don’t invest in anything that is going to become a “stranded asset,” meaning that as regulations close in on businesses that pollute or degrade the environment some technologies and facilities will become outmoded and essentially worthless. Businesses need to think about that — and understand that the new, green technologies now being developed will grow much faster than old products. The European Investment Bank aims to support €1 trillion of climate and environmental investment this decade. Businesses should want a piece of that action, frankly.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
I based the main character in my first novels on a Palestinian friend who had lived through wars and troubled times. He remained an independent thinker, criticising the government and the militant groups even though it was dangerous. I’ve never faced that kind of pressure, but thanks to him I try to focus on what’s right, rather than what’s easiest or safest.
You are a person doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?
We need to make the division of labour between men and women in the home more equal. Because women’s work in the home is utterly undervalued by society, we also undervalue women in the workplace and, consequently, we have societies that are shaped by male aggression. Countering that with better maternity and paternity leave laws would be good for men, as well as women. The current ugliness of American politics in particular is rooted in a history marred by racism and sexism. But this is an issue absolutely everywhere. It’s something we can all change in our own lives right now, just as we can all make changes for the climate.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.” (The Buddha) I was quite an angry young man, but every confrontation left me emotionally wrecked. I was only able to cope with it, when I understood that the main victim of my anger was me.
What is the best way for people to follow you?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!