Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (@ayanaeliza), a marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and Brooklyn native. She is co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities, and co-creator of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast How to Save a Planet, on climate solutions. She co-edited the bestselling climate anthology All We Can Save and co-founded The All We Can Save Project.
Recently, she co-authored the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy. Previously, she was executive director of the Waitt Institute, developed policy at the EPA and NOAA, and taught as an adjunct professor at New York University. Dr. Johnson earned a BA in environmental science and public policy from Harvard University and a PhD in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
She publishes widely, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Scientific American. She is on the 2021 TIME100 Next List and was named one of Elle‘s 27 Women Leading the Charge to Protect Our Environment. Outside magazine called her “the climate leader we need.”
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m sort of stepping back from doing public stuff for the year, as you know I pushed this off for quite some time, so this will be one of the few things that I do this year, so no pressure, but just fucking nail it on the questions.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s just dig into that first. So why aren’t you doing public-facing stuff, and why did you say yes to this?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: The short answer is I’m writing a book, which means you need, as you know, long stretches of uninterrupted time, ideally to actually think about really interesting ways to frame things, and there’s a lot of research involved in that project. And I’m trying to adhere more and more to the philosophy of essentialism, which I’m sure you’re familiar with.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Which is a process. So that’s the professional reason, I’m focused on this one big project this year, but the personal reason is, you know that cultural perspective that when you have your photograph taken it steals a part of your soul?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: That traditional understanding in a bunch of different cultures, and that’s how I’ve felt after the last two years, having my name and my face and my voice everywhere, I just feel like I need to gather the pieces back up. And as an introvert, I’m just done with the world. How long can this pandemic last? I would like to go out for a drink at a bar alone and watch other people and bring a book, but I’ve been weirdly fine being isolated.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: So yeah, that’s the other piece of that, just wanting to regather my energy and have time to read and think some new thoughts. You get into this rut of saying the same things over again if you don’t have time to really process new information and figure out what you think about it all.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, absolutely. Sounds like a period of soul retrieval, as some might say, gathering the pieces. I actually was just thinking, as you said that, when you mentioned repeating yourself, thinking of a friend of mine named Josh Waitzkin who long ago, I was asking for advice around speaking engagements, because it was all new to me. No one expected the first book to do anything, and suddenly I was foisted into this speaking world, and he described to me why he stopped, and that was he was repeating the same things, and it started to become calcified and he started to become inflexible. He didn’t phrase it that way, but he recognized that he didn’t have the —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Fairly synonymous with calcified.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, yeah, he didn’t have the room or the space to develop his thinking any further on the topics he was speaking on.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I think a period of hibernation is good for everyone.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And I’m trying to think of it that way. So we’ll see.
Tim Ferriss: And so why do you say yes to this?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Because I have a group text, the consensus opinion of which is always correct, and I asked the group text and they said I should do this.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, wow, all right, thank you group on the group text.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah, we’ve got a finance executive, a journalist, and a Hollywood executive, and me in the group text, so whatever you need, we’ve got the answer.
Tim Ferriss: So how did this group assemble?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I don’t know if I have permission to tell the story of the magical group text.
Tim Ferriss: To be continued. Let’s talk about marine biology, if you’re open to it, which I suspect you might be.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m into the ocean, mm-hmm (affirmative).
Tim Ferriss: So, little known fact, I wanted to be a marine biologist until I was 15 or so. I grew up out near Montauk as a townie, way out by the Hamptons, and my mom took me to meet Frank Mundus at one point, who was the inspiration for the crazy shark hunter in Jaws, Quint, and he had the record for the largest great white caught on rod and reel. So my interest started with sharks, quickly then expanded with this textbook called Fishes of the World, and I read that all the way through my younger elementary school years, I would spend my recesses reading this book. So I’ve —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I just turned around to see if I have it on my bookshelf, I do not, I have The Diversity of Fishes and Coral Reef Fishes textbooks, but not Fishes of the World, sorry.
Tim Ferriss: Not Fishes of the World. So I want to know, and I’m sure you’ve spoken about this before, but I think for setting the table it’s going to be helpful, how did you first get bitten by the bug? And was there a specific creature that catalyzed that?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I think a lot of kids who have a positive experience with the ocean at a young age totally fall for it head over heels, like it’s amazing. Whatever you like, it’s in there doing something weird, whether it’s sharks, or for me it was just the coral reef ecosystem existing, to see through the bottom of a glass-bottom boat this whole other thing happening, just blew my mind, and I had followup questions. And so it all started for me when I was five on this, I guess that’s the magic age when you’re supposed to choose what you want to be when you grow up, and it’s a really common dream job, marine biologist, and I guess I’m just super, super stubborn and I’m like, no, really.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: But my parents took me to Key West, Florida, it was, I think, one of two family vacations we ever went on. We were a working-class family, we weren’t jetting around. And I learned to swim that summer, and I went on a glass-bottom boat ride, and I saw coral reef for the first time, and all these crazy, colorful fish, and just this whole other thing going on. And then we went to the aquarium and they have these touch tanks, and they had starfish and sea urchins, and I got to hold a sea urchin in the palm of my hand, and they have tube feet on the bottom, they have hundreds of tubes coming out of the bottom of this hard shelled spiny thing, and the that’s how they crawl across the palm of your hand, or a reef, and I was just completely blown away by this purple, spine-waving, foot suction scenario that was happening, these aliens that actually live on our planet. And then looking in a tank and seeing an electric eel do its thing I was like, “What is this called? This is my job now.”
Tim Ferriss: When did you realize that you had what it took to make it a career path, or that you could find the support to make it a career path? Does that make sense? Because I had the dream, but I had no exposure, maybe not enough stubbornness, and then I ended up shifting to other things, of course.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I think you probably have enough stubbornness, I don’t think that was the thing.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, well maybe not enough directional stubbornness.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I think like so many people I had a lot of dream jobs, that was just the first one. After that I was learning about the Civil Rights Movement when I was around 10 years old and I decided I wanted to be, very specific dream job, the lawyer that got the next Martin Luther King out of jail. You don’t die, but you’re super helpful. And I was like, that’s the thing I can do, I can defend the good guys. And then I went backpacking for the first time and was like, oh, park ranger is a job? You could get paid to hang out in the forest? Sign me up, obviously best job. And then in college, I was majoring in environmental science and public policy and I thought, oh, maybe I will do environmental policy, or environmental law. And I took environmental law as an undergrad in the law school, and I studied abroad in the Caribbean. I nailed this, I studied abroad in Turks and Caicos.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: It’s a super tough job. I mean, I had to memorize the Latin name of every coral reef species. We had tests underwater with a slate, we had to write down everything they point at. And actually one of the things they pointed at, I was like, “I’m sorry, what are you pointing at?” And they were like, “Over there,” and I was like, “I don’t see it, it’s just in the water?” And I surface, and I’m like, “I want to get a good grade on this test, I’ve studied so hard but I can’t tell what you’re pointing at,” and he’s like, “The thing that I’m not going to swim closer to because it might not be a good idea,” and it was a reef shark, so a reef shark on my quiz that day.
But we were studying not just the ecology, but also the economics of fisheries management and the policy piece, and I realized that it was this really cool puzzle, that ocean conservation is actually not just science, it’s also economics and policy and culture and communications and protection, it is the park ranger and the lawyer and all that in one. So I basically figured out how to have all my dream jobs at once. So I don’t say that I necessarily had a moment when I realized that I could be a marine biologist, I had a moment when I realized I could get a PhD in marine biology and then never do any research again, but know enough to be able to understand the papers, to be able to translate that science into policymaking, and to be able to be hopefully useful as a communicator on these topics as well.
Tim Ferriss: So you just nothing but net, you figured out the Voltron of career paths. You’re like Luke Skywalker shooting that Death Star at the very end.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: It’s like, why choose?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And it’s weird, because people ask me, “What do you do?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, I write things, and I read things, and I talk about stuff, and try to get laws changed,” whatever the thing is. So to me, it’s about projects and collaborations, as opposed to research, per se. Which is a bummer, because hanging out underwater is pretty cool too.
Tim Ferriss: I have to ask, just because I’ve never come across anyone quite like you, and I’ve interviewed a lot of people. And I will say just also as some backstory, this past summer was the first time I came across your name, and I came across your name because I like a lot of what Alex does, and I was on Spotify looking at new podcasts, and I saw How to Save a Planet. And began listening, and very quickly it became my morning routine where I was going through the back catalog, and I would go to the gym and I would listen to these episodes. And I became so —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And you were just lifting such heavy weights because you were like, “We’ve got to save the planet.”
Tim Ferriss: I was getting huge, jacked, ripped, tan even, which I can’t even explain it.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Your hair was growing back, the whole thing.
Tim Ferriss: My hair was growing back, all the good things were happening. And I had to actually, it actually had the opposite effect in the sense that I became so engrossed with certain sections I was like, I can’t exercise while I’m listening to this, I actually have to be driving, or something else that is a little less, I was going to say less dangerous, although statistically, it’s probably not true. But the question —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I do have trouble counting reps if anything else is going on, I understand.
Tim Ferriss: You know, we can’t be good at everything.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Can’t multitask that.
Tim Ferriss: And my question for you, which had a very strange segue to get here, but what superpowers, if you had to answer this, what superpowers did you receive, absorb from your parents? And from which parent?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Okay. I should preface this by saying my parents are incredibly cool. I will never be as cool as my parents, and I think because I acknowledged that very early on I was like, okay, this is just great. My parents, my mom grew up on Long Island in a big Irish Catholic family, both of my grandparents on that side are from Newfoundland, and she became a high school English teacher. She taught starting in the ’60s in the South Bronx, in Bed-Stuy, in super rough neighborhoods, just really wanted to make sure those kids got a good education and didn’t manage to get through high school without really learning to read and reading a bunch of books and processing that. And she and my dad met because their best friends were dating, this is the long version of the story. My dad had just moved to New York from Jamaica, he grew up in Kingston, and —
Tim Ferriss: I like the long versions, by the way, we have nothing but time.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And so I have this very interesting Irish, Jamaican mashup going, and those two cultures are actually quite similar, as I’ve learned more about Irish history in the last few years, just the way that the British screwed over the Irish, and the way that that shapes your culture, and the way that that influences the music and the dance and the way you find joy amidst it all, that gets passed down in the reverence and sarcasm.
Tim Ferriss: That’s where the sass comes from.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I definitely think I’m more sassy than my parents, definitely more chatty. They’re both sparse with conversation, so my mom actually, after I finished college, she was like, “When did you learn to tell a story and make jokes? Because we definitely didn’t teach you that.” We had the quiet and not so lengthy dinners in our house, I grew up as an only child. So from my dad, who passed away a few years ago.
Tim Ferriss: I’m sorry.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Super artistic, was an architect and a potter, and he started what may have been the first black-owned architecture firm in New York City, and dealt with just the insane racism of that very insular field. And so there’s sort of a, I’m just going to do this. I know this will be hard, but this is the thing, and I’m just going to figure it out.
So him with his partners made that work, and I’m embarrassed to say, for many years I thought he was a failure. I didn’t understand, because he wasn’t doing a bunch of cool buildings he could show me, he wasn’t making any money really at all, and so I didn’t think it worked. And then I ended up hanging out with a bunch of architects a few years ago and I mentioned, “Oh, my dad was an architect,” and they asked me about him, and they were like, “Oh, we know of that firm.” He opened doors for so many other black architects. He was the first, him and his partners were the first. And to be the first is not always glamorous, and people don’t usually remember you in most contexts.
And so now I’m just, I was always proud of the meticulous nature of the way that he approached things, he was incredibly proud about everything, from his building plans, to his handwriting, to his fashion sense, and really trained my eye as far as design and style, and my appreciation for art. But the thing that he instilled in me was that I had to give back. This was the mantra, to whom much is given much is expected, kind of thing, and also just the, you’re going to have to work twice as hard to get half as much, because you’re not white, and I was like, damn it.
So those are more the lessons than the superpowers, perhaps, but I guess on the superpowers side it’s just caring about how things look. I think within the climate and environmental movement people don’t put enough, often, energy into design. For so many years it was just this unappealing crunchy mess. You weren’t like, oh, that’s where all the cool kids are. And so I do think about aesthetics in my work in a very deep way because of my dad. Which is not a superpower in other fields, but might be more so here.
And my mom is just a super deep researcher. So she ended up developing all these new curriculums for her classes to include writers, authors of color, black writers, Asian writers, Native American writers. So she was reading all these books, she was buying them all with her own money, literally taking them in shopping carts to school at the beginning and end of every semester, handing them out to the kids, and just finding ways to help people have a greater understanding of the world using literature as a way to teach history, as a way to teach cultural competency, as a way to teach about morality and justice. And so she’s just a lifelong consummate teacher.
And I think there’s a superpower in the curiosity that she still, every day, wakes up and wants to understand in more nuance how the world works. I don’t think I have it as strongly as she does, I’m like, oh, my God, the deluge of information, it’s too much. I would like to know less sometimes, but I think, yeah, I would say her endurance, intellectual endurance, and her real desire to have other people understand the important things that she learns.
Tim Ferriss: Where do you think —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I have no idea what I was going to say. I’m not sure if I had more time to think about it if I would say the same thing.
Tim Ferriss: Well, that’s the goal with the questions that you haven’t heard before is that you don’t have a whole lot of time.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Where did you get the storytelling, if you had to guess? Certainly, I mean, having spent a decent amount of time in Ireland, there’s an incredible tradition, maybe there is something in your code, so to speak, but is there another explanation, or another source or inspiration?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: There is, and it’s that two of my cousins on my mom’s side started an improv comedy group when they were maybe in college, or so, in L.A., and they were my idols. Steven Connell, who’s now a professional poet, actor, writer, and Joseph Pisani, and they would just put on these incredible shows in the driveway at our family’s annual clam bake, and call up volunteers and stuff, and just watching the way their minds worked in connecting the dots and making everyone laugh and making it participatory. And no one ever got made fun of in a cruel way ever, it was just we’re all in this absurdity creation together, and that was all our dinner table conversations were listening to them tell crazy stories.
I never aspired to be an actor, and as you know I’m not really interested in being on video even, at all. So I think for me it was just I really looked up to them, and I was just so impressed with what they could pull out of thin air and how they could turn something that seemed so mundane into the most delightful and fascinating tale.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s go back to scuba diving for a second, and the reason I bring it up is I’ve seen —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Because breathing underwater is cool?
Tim Ferriss: Because breathing underwater is —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Bananas.
Tim Ferriss: Fucking rad, point one, but point two is that I’ve seen transformations in people where they have this binary switch of sorts where they go from being vaguely interested in marine biology, or the ocean, and they have their first experience with either snorkeling or scuba in a vibrant environment, and something just switches, and the way they relate to life underwater and the ocean itself changes. My question for you is —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Are you speaking from experience?
Tim Ferriss: I am speaking from experience. So scuba diving and snorkeling are two of my favorite experiences and activities in the world, and when people talk about colonizing Mars, or they talk about psychedelic experiences and they’re like, “Oh, I’m probably never going to have either of those,” I just say, “Go snorkeling or scuba diving.” Do not trample all the coral.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Don’t touch anything.
Tim Ferriss: Don’t touch anything, but for me these were life-changing experiences, and I’m wondering if there is any equivalent you have seen within discussions around climate or the subject matter of climate. Is there some experience that people can have that you have seen or heard of that flips a switch, and there’s a before and an after?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Not in a positive way like that, right?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: What you’ve described is this awe and delight that you can experience when you’re immersed in this underwater world. The perspective that you gain when you realize that there’s a whole bunch of stuff that is not about humans and we’re not even supposed to be there.
And the way that those marine ecosystems, you can see the food web in front of you. You can see who’s eating who and how it’s all connected in this really dynamic and immediate way.
And the thing with climate is it’s this slow-moving disaster in a sense. I mean, it’s moving much more quickly than people had ever thought that it would. Every time we read a new report, it’s like, “Oh, it’s actually worse and faster.” It’s never like, “No big deal, just kidding.”
And so the thing that I’ve seen flip the switch is these natural disasters, which is a term I don’t use anymore. I just call them disasters or extreme weather event or something like that, because they’re not natural anymore.
This is not nature as it was intended to be. And so people who experience wildfires or hurricanes and other disasters, I think, often have this kind of like, “Oh, fuck, I’m not safe from this.” You’re not safe from this.
I mean, for so long, it felt like the media was portraying climate change as something that would affect poor, probably brown people in some far away island. And so Americans were, if you read the news, insulated from thinking that this would ever really come home to roost for us.
And in the last few years, I think it’s become clear that we’re not safe. And wealthier people are actively working on ways to protect themselves and their families from the impacts of the climate crisis, but even they will not be able to hide from that because they still need to get their food from somewhere and their medical treatment from somewhere. And we are all connected.
So, I don’t know, I wish I had a more fun answer. But I think the only equivalent that I can think of that’s more similar to experiencing marine life is the understanding that species are going extinct because of this too.
These magnificent things that have been on the planet for millennia have no place to live anymore, right? If you think about temperature range and a mountain and you think, “Okay, well they can’t sustain temperatures over a certain amount so species are moving up and up and up the mountain.”
But when you get to the top of the mountain, there’s no foliage. You’re above the tree line. The trees haven’t grown there yet. There’s no soil there. And there’s nowhere else to go. There’s no further up to go to get away from the heat.
And same with coral reefs. Corals can’t get up and move. And there’s nowhere to go. And so we have fish who are literally migrating towards the poles to try to stay cool. And all of these changes are so dramatic and happening right before our eyes in our lifetimes.
This is not something that’s playing out over generations. This is something that’s playing out over years, is really shocking. And so for people who have a specific love of nature over time, whether it’s as a bird watcher and noticing what birds are missing or that the birds are coming at very different times, or if you’re a gardener and realize that the first frost comes much later and springtime is changing to change when you plant things, people who have a more day to day intimate relationship with any sort of species or ecosystem I think there’s sort of a persistent low-level heartache about going through the world and seeing the things that you care about be so threatened and these things start to crumble.
Tim Ferriss: So what I would love to do as a thought exercise is to play with the idea of certain experiences or — I’m struggling to find the right word, because this is a conversation —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I totally failed to tell you why my parents are the coolest.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And my parents were the proto hipsters. So my dad was living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn when it was super rough. And he was a student at Pratt, this art, architecture school. And my mom was living in Harlem and they would ride their bicycles and meet in Central Park and hang out.
And they would play the flute together and make homemade pickles. And they had a whole vegetable garden in the back of the brownstone they got in Fort Greene back when brownstones were 30 something thousand dollars.
And they had the whole scenario sorted. And then I came along and was just like sort of — I ruined everything. I ruined all their activities.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. They were hipsters before it was cool. That’s amazing.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I know. It was very cool. They were playing tennis while wearing white bell-bottoms. I mean the whole thing was impeccable and here I am just trying to not let them down.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s come back to your last answer prior to the pickles and the flute.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Pickles in a jar of pottery that my father made himself.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, my God. Just gets better and better.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: We had a whole pottery studio and a kiln and a wheel in the basement of our house. And a dark room, the whole shebang.
Tim Ferriss: So if we look at for a second, not as fun to discuss, but for lack of a better way to describe it, say, scaring people into action versus, or in combination with inspiring people into action, I’d love to explore this a little bit. Because I think both obviously can work.
But if I think about, for instance, some of the things that I’ve been involved with, whether that’s really interested in trophic cascade, both as it relates to say sharks, and also —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Oh, I didn’t see that one coming.
Tim Ferriss: — yeah, gray wolves. So I’ve been involved with a number of predators.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Do you want to define trophic cascade for —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I think you’re going to be better at doing that. We’ll get there in a second. We’ll get there in a second and I want you to do it because I will screw it up and actually one of the — oh, God, I’m going to take us all over the place. Okay. Before we get any further, well, actually let me just finish my little quick piece.
This is to say that the shark component and my introduction to trophic cascade came about because of a shark tagging trip that I went on. And then on the wolf side, there was a similar experience that as you mentioned, can and does happen to people made me very interested in other examples of trophic cascade and also the sort of plight of animals that become political targets or political symbols.
And so they were positive experiences, certainly with a lot of terrible stories in the ether around both of them, but ultimately it was kind of awe and wonder that that brought me into both of those.
And similarly I’ve seen, so I’ve been very heavily involved with science related to psychedelic compounds at Johns Hopkins and other places.
And what has happened in the last handful of years are many people I never would’ve suspected have become involved with conservation in South America through great nonprofits like the Amazon Conservation Team and others. But it began with firsthand experience with say some of these displaced indigenous groups in South America.
Do you think there are other ways to introduce people to the kind of ecosystem that includes climate change to make them beneficial, proactive participants that include awe and wonder in ways that I haven’t described? It’s a very long-winded question, but I’ve never asked it before.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m with you. I think fear and anxiety and just really unpleasant news is not terribly motivating for most people. It is for some. For me, I actually don’t that often think about the details of how bad the scientific projections are and exactly what’s happening to ecosystems. I focus almost entirely on solutions.
My perspective is like, “It’s as bad as we thought and actually worse, it’s all happening fast.” And then I immediately pivot to, “What are we going to do about it? What can I do to help?”
And I think the thing that’s really interesting to me and actually super inspiring is that we basically have all the solutions we need. We know how to transition to a hundred percent renewable energy. We know how to farm in regenerative ways that restore carbon to the soil instead of emitting it, right?
We know how to transform public transit in cities. We know how to compost food. We already know how to do all this stuff. We know how to make buildings more efficient. We know how to improve manufacturing processes.
It’s just a matter of how fast we’re going to do this. And whether people will get out of their own ways and be able to forsake the self-interest, whether that’s money or power and just get this shit done.
And to me, that is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning. I’m like, “How are we going to get this shit done?” Because we can, because it is a possibility, because we have this wide range of possible futures still available to us. And I want to be part of making sure we get the best one.
And so the things that I get excited about that I think many people could and will get more excited about as media starts to shift from problem to solutions is that coastal ecosystems like wetlands and mangroves can absorb five times more carbon than a forest on land.
Let’s protect and restore those. Let’s think about farming, oysters, and seaweed in the ocean that absorbs a lot of carbon and is a super low footprint source of food. I don’t know. You probably have a take on whether those are good things but they’re super sustainable, I’ll tell you that. Many Americans are —
Tim Ferriss: We’re going to come back to that. We’re coming back to that.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And some people get really excited about the technology of figuring out how we’re going to go from these clunky solar panels to solar panels that are just regular roof tiles, right? Or how we’re going to shift our food systems to accommodate for these things. What is the role of technology? What is the role of culture? What is the role of politics?
Some people just love getting out of bed in the morning and harassing politicians into doing better on climate policy. I’m glad that that floats your boat. Right. And so I think it can be very exciting to consider how to put your interests, passions, superpowers, to work towards specific climate solutions.
And we don’t have to do all of them. Everyone just has to do something. And the solutions are really cool. Offshore wind turbines powering the 40 percent of Americans who live in coastal counties, that would be great. Let’s get it going.
And so I guess if you think only about the problem, then, of course, it’s a bummer. And I fell into that trap when you asked me the question in its previous framing. But when you think about the solutions, there’s no limit to the sources of inspiration and places to look and things you to be like, “Ooh, I want that. I want to help with that. I want to support that. I want to fund that. I want to innovate the 2.0 version of that.”
Tim Ferriss: All right. We’re going to play another game, a guessing game. So I mentioned that I listened to many, many episodes —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Which was your favorite? Which was your least favorite?
Tim Ferriss: We’re going to get to both of those.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: So I have shared a few episodes with my audience.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: That’s nice.
Tim Ferriss: Through my newsletter, which goes out to a few million people and —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: No big deal.
Tim Ferriss: No big deal. But, just as a side note, I mean, it’s the, if you want to push to direct action, having direct contact with your subscribers is very helpful to anyone out there who’s determining where they should focus on growing an audience. The question I have for you is which episodes do you think I chose? Can you possibly guess?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: For what best and worst, favorite and least?
Tim Ferriss: Let’s go with the ones I shared. I wouldn’t have shared the —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Which did you share? Okay.
Tim Ferriss: Yep.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I know your vibe, but not really.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. I’ll —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I will tell you the first one that comes to mind.
Tim Ferriss: Just a helpful tip is that my audience spans the political spectrum, right? So, I —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Well, you just gave it away.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Did I? Well, tell me.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Well, what I was going to say before you gave me this hint was the ones on kelp are actually really interesting because they have this health and wellness and food angle and super creative entrepreneurship piece.
So I thought you might have been — and they’re kind of fun too. So I thought you might have shared that, but it’s a two pattern, so that’s a little less shareable.
Tim Ferriss: That is an excellent guess and you are correct. And this, [crosstalk 00:49:24] so, what is this guy’s name? Because the story about him —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Bren Smith, the fisherman intern [crosstalk 00:49:33].
Tim Ferriss: — living in a tent on the side of a golf course, selling LSD to his fellow students. This is the guy, right? That’s the story?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: This is the dude.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So I shared that —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And apparently just getting late [crosstalk 00:49:47].
Tim Ferriss: So, the entire thing as a story, from the perspective of storytelling was so riveting that even if someone said, “I don’t buy climate change,” it’s still something they would listen to. And that was the first episode that I shared actually.
And I just thought from a human interest perspective, from a solutions perspective, from a capitalist perspective, even though that’s a dirty word in some circles, from an enlightened self-interest perspective, maybe we could say, there are so many entry points on this episode. And it’s funny also, right? It’s the humor.
And that’s something I really appreciated about and still do, but appreciated about how you engaged with the podcast, and part of why I kept listening to it was using humor when possible because this shit can be so dark. But that is the first episode that I shared. So, that’s a very good —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m so glad because I have a crush on seaweed and Bren Smith, the fisherman who’s now an ocean farmer is a wonderful human being. And I love his organization, GreenWave, which is training people to become ocean farmers and doing all this great work.
I’m so enamored the whole thing that I joined their board. And I’m saying no to everyone constantly.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: So that’s how big a fan I am of that work. So it was really great to have him on the show.
Tim Ferriss: Do you recall the name of the episode or how people would find that episode? Because I think it’s such an — it’s just an incredible story with very colorful characters involved.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: What should people Google if they want to find that episode?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: “Kelp Farming, for the Climate.”
Tim Ferriss: Yep. And so “Kelp Farming, for the Climate.” What I did in my newsletter is I renamed the link.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: So that it wasn’t for the climate.
Tim Ferriss: That’s right. Because the episode will get there, but I didn’t want to —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: What’d you name it?
Tim Ferriss: That is a great question. Let me see if I can find it. This might take a minute, one minute.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: So the other episode I thought once you gave me that hot tip was that you chose the one where we discussed how to have conversations about climate change with climate science deniers, the “Trying to Talk to Family about Climate Change Question? Here’s How.” episode.
Tim Ferriss: I did not share that one, but I’ve not heard that episode either.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: It’s a former Republican congressman and his son talking about how their perspectives on climate have evolved and how the son and his sisters played a big role in shifting his father’s perspective and how they’re working with Republicans on trying to get climate policy sort of awareness passed because it doesn’t need to be a partisan issue. We can all care about maintaining a habitable planet.
Tim Ferriss: So here’s what I put in my newsletter. So the newsletter’s called 5-Bullet Friday, and it’s just the five coolest, most interesting things I’ve come across or experimented with that week.
And this is a podcast episode I’m listening to, “From Cod Fishing to Kelp Farming,” I put in parenthesis my title and then “with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Alex Blumberg.” And here’s what I wrote:
“For many reasons, I’m considering investing heavily in aquaculture, so I’ve been doing a deep dive — pun intended — into the subject. This episode is incredibly smart, incredibly helpful, and…incredibly hilarious. I didn’t expect the characters involved and kept bursting out laughing at the gym this morning. I looked like a crazy person but kept on listening. Whether you want an investing advantage or simply great stories, this episode is really worth the time. And if you’d like to learn storytelling and podcasting tips from one of the co-hosts, Alex Blumberg, you can find my 2015 interview with him here.”
So the reason I positioned it this way, the reason I renamed the title is because I wanted as large of a funnel at top of people who had clicked play on this episode as possible. So that’s why [crosstalk 00:54:15] I positioned it the way that I did.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m glad you like our corny jokes.
Tim Ferriss: The corny jokes.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Those were mostly unscripted and I’m very surprised that so many of them made the cut to stay.
Tim Ferriss: I was astonished that — what was the kelp farmer’s name again?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Bren Smith. Bren, with no T. B-R-E-N.
Tim Ferriss: B-R-E-N. Okay. So I was surprised you kept everything he said related to the tent, which you alluded to because he was like, “You really want to get a lot of ass in college, turns out living in a tent, golf course is the way to do it.” It was fantastic.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I could not have predicted that that would be the way, but [crosstalk 00:55:06].
Tim Ferriss: What do you think my least favorite episodes might be and —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Oh, plural. You went plural on [crosstalk 00:55:17].
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to provide a lens though, and this is not going to be surprising. Not least favorite to personally listen to, but those least likely to share?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Least likely to share, “Black Lives Matter and the Climate.” You have to really double retitle that one.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, you’re close, but it’s not exactly that. It’s any episode that had a mixture of many causes or multiple causes. Not because they don’t matter, not because they aren’t important, but because I felt like it was, if I’m trying to use a Trojan horse approach to get the funnel to be as large as possible for clicking, I didn’t want in the beginning, right, the later things can be different, but I wanted to provide single points of action, if that makes any sense. I wanted to —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: So not the one titled, “Environmentalist Drag Queen Pattie Gonia Says the Outdoors is for Everyone?”
Tim Ferriss: That’s right.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Not the one that says, “We Can’t Solve the Climate Crisis without Gender Equality. We’ll Prove It to You?”
Tim Ferriss: If there were episodes that’s laid out in the call to action, sort of a clear sequence or in the narrative, a clear sequence, then I would be open to sharing it. If it felt to me like, and hopefully this doesn’t come across terribly. But if I felt like for the listener who is not even remotely — who feels like the climate, acting in some proactive way with respect to climate change, is futile.
If that’s how they’re coming into it, I don’t think there’s really anything I can do if they’re already demoralized about that. If I felt like an episode might look like the back of a car like Berkeley, California, with multiple bumper stickers that they wouldn’t know how to put in any order or make any sense of, and therefore they would just opt out then I would be less inclined to share it. Doesn’t mean they’re not important episodes, but that’s —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Which was your favorite episode that you didn’t share because of that reason?
Tim Ferriss: I’ll give an example of one I liked, but then also had some issues with. I thought the episode related to — and you’re going to have more of the specifics here, I guess you would say activists within Amazon.
I thought that was a really interesting episode that had a couple of points in the dialogue that veered into a number of different areas that made it hard for me to be totally sympathetic to some of the protagonists in the episode.
But I did find that very interesting from the perspective of the incredible leverage you can get if you are able to successfully catalyze action within enormous companies, especially those with large carbon footprints. Side note: did British Petroleum actually create the term “carbon footprint?” Was that like a —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: They definitely popularized it and trade upon it and tried to make it seem like this whole thing is our fault.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m not sure if they actually coined the term.
Tim Ferriss: The shifting, creating online calculators to shift the onus to the individual.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: It’s brilliant but disgusting.
Tim Ferriss: I mean, it really is. Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of the best of the worst words that work, Frank Luntz type of death tax, the framing of language.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: We need more of these linguistic jiu jitsu happening on the side of climate solutions, please.
Tim Ferriss: And, I noticed that with some of your sponsors on the show also, and I was like, “Oh, that’s quite clever.” I think it was —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I don’t even know who they were.
Tim Ferriss: There was, I want to say, and again, God, this is —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: We’re really going down the rabbit hole here.
Tim Ferriss: — faulty memory at work, but I think it was, I want to say Fidelity or some investment firm that offered the ability to invest in, for lack of a better term, climate-friendly or climate solution-focused companies [crosstalk 01:00:04] —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Probably not vetted, do not personally endorse.
Tim Ferriss: No, right. But I noticed that instead of saying, they said “the green transition,” and I was like that’s an interesting way of phrasing it. That’s a very interesting way of phrasing it because the language matters, but zooming out —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And what I’ve been using a lot is “transformation” because that’s, I feel like the most embraceable word I can think of that indicates just how much things have to change. We’re not talking about tweaking little things, tweaks in policy, tweaks in behavior, tweaks in corporate practices. We’re talking about transforming our energy system, food system, transportation, manufacturing, buildings, all of it. And when you think about the climate challenge in those terms, there is a place for everybody in working towards these solutions, in figuring out this green transition or this transformation, right? Because no matter where you work, your company needs to be a part of this. No matter where you live, your community needs to be prepared for this. No matter what skills you have, believe me, they are necessary. And so I think of that as that the word transformation both is appropriate to the scale of what needs to happen, but also a bit more welcoming because it implies that we can still sort of shape the future that we want, which is true.
Tim Ferriss: Well, let’s talk about transformation and the large-scale, broad-spectrum transformation. Because the scale of that, I can imagine intimidating a lot of people and them saying, “You know what? I’m going to be a drop in the ocean — pun intended — and it’s just not going to — what am I going to do? Really, am I going to replace my straws and make a difference? I don’t think I can do anything.” For those people, and I know you’ve spoken about this and you’ve spoken about it in the podcast as well, how do you suggest people think about where they might fit in? And the Venn diagram comes to mind, but what do you recommend to people who are saying, “You know, I would love to do something; realistically I can’t make this my full-time job. What would you have me do? How would you suggest I even think about it?”
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I would say don’t think about it as a side thing. Think about how this is part of your life already. And so I think often people think I want to help on some environment thing. They’re like do I go volunteer for a nonprofit, do I quit my job and go do this entirely other thing? When the answer is often change your company, change your sports team, change your church, figure out how to have the things you’re already a part of where you already have influence and leverage, change those things. As opposed to trying to, I don’t know, do some entirely new thing that you have no networking or power into. This idea of power mapping of figuring out where you actually have the ability to make change, I think is a really important step.
And this sort of — I think in many ways the environmental movement had a real problem initially, because it was asking everyone to do the same thing. We still fall into this trap. Everybody spread the word, everybody march, everyone donate, everyone vote, right? And we should do all those things, of course. But if you and I were both doing the same exact thing to contribute to climate solutions, that would be a total waste of both of our time, right? We should do the things we’re good at.
And so the way that I think about it, and we sort of went into this sort of debate between individual behavior change, where it does all add up if we all change our diets, if we all change our transportation, if we all change our electricity, that does add up to something. But the we’re counting on individuals to change things is — that whole system needs to change. I don’t get to choose where my electricity comes from when I turn on my lights in this apartment building per se. So we need to make the system make other things possible in terms of energy, for example. So we did this whole episode called “Is Your Carbon Footprint BS?”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. That was a good episode.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Talking about this debate between — I hoped you would like that one, this debate between two siblings where one was like individual actions matter. And the other one was like no, only this big level systems change stuff matters. And the answer that we landed on is that your individual actions matter in so much as they contribute to larger-scale change. And the way that I think about everyone finding their sort of bespoke role in climate solutions is this Venn diagram of just three circles. And the first one is: what are you good at? What superpowers, what skills are you bringing to the table, your network, your resources, what you got?
And then the next circle would be: what part of this transformation do you want to work on? Right. Are you really excited about seaweed? Are you really excited about offshore wind farms? Are you really excited about bike lanes or composting or political change or cultural shifts? Whatever is the piece. There are so many pieces to this puzzle and no one can do them all, so just like which ones are you picking?
And then the third circle is: what brings you joy? So what gets you out of bed in the morning? Because so often people assume that this work has to be miserable, some sort of slog, but this is the work of our lifetimes. So why would we pick and it’s like this whole transformation. So if we could pick between doing anything and transforming any sector, pick something that you can keep working on for a while, that will energize you and you want to bring other people in. And so finding our way to the epicenter, each of us of our personal version of that Venn diagram can be really powerful. So for example, I, as a marine biologist and a kid who grew up in Brooklyn, a coastal city and a policy nerd who loves thinking about design, I co-founded a think tank for the future of coastal cities.
Because I was like this is what I’m good about, and know about, and care about, and excited about so let’s just mash all that up together and see how we can help coastal cities change their policies in order to adapt to the climate changes that are coming. And my friend Boris was like, “Well, should we just go to more marches?” I brought him to a climate protest and he was like, “Do we just do this again next week?” I was like, “No, go change your company. You’re an executive at Betterment.” And nine months later he launched their sustainable investing fund, which is much more power — I don’t care if he ever goes to a march again, right? Because that doesn’t matter because he has this much greater ability to make change where he already is. So what are you going to do, Tim? Tell us about your Venn diagram.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I will answer that. The energize you part, I just want to underscore because I think it is so, so, so important.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Totally.
Tim Ferriss: And much like in the podcast world, there’s this elephant graveyard of three-episode podcasts because people choose something at the outset that is too complex, not interesting enough to them, not energizing, and then they quit. Right? So I really think that energized piece is huge.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And joy, we can find joy in our work. Especially if it’s volunteer work, pick a fun one.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. So for me, part of the reason I’ve been looking forward to this conversation — well, there are many reasons I’ve been looking forward to this conversation, including the sass, but —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Mostly because I played hard to get.
Tim Ferriss: Mostly because she played hard to get, this is very true. Very, very, very true.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I don’t do it in dating, but apparently I do it with podcast invites.
Tim Ferriss: You know, and it works. So for me, if I’m getting all vulnerable and stuff, the last two years have been very difficult for me from the perspective of existential distress and just disappointment in humanity in general. That’s why, when people are like, “Oh, what are you doing for philanthropy?” I’m like I’m not sure that’s the right word because phil, anthrop, anthropology, I don’t actually like humans that much.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Humans are consistently disappointing, aren’t they?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And so the last two years I’ve just been like, “We’re fucked. I don’t see how we right this ship and it’s…”
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: But how fucked do you want to be?
Tim Ferriss: Well, hold on. So it’s like in my mind, I’m thinking, well, if COVID, this clear and present danger that is literally killing people right in front of us, can’t get political leaders to coordinate or cooperate, how are we going to handle this iceberg that we’re heading towards that is on the range of possibly decades away? And I understand it’s not a switch that gets flipped, but —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah, it’s here.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. It’s here. And I was just like God, maybe I should just pick up pottery, take some watercolor classes, and just enjoy it while it lasts because I think —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Make some pickles.
Tim Ferriss: Make some pickles. And what I think got me — well, I wasn’t totally on the bench, right? I was listening to things like your podcast because I’ve been reading books, I’ve read Drawdown. I would actually love your thoughts on that because they rank and I don’t know if their algorithm or their method is sort of scientifically credible, I just don’t know, but the book was given to me.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: It’s very good. And their new version, The Drawdown Review available for free online, I can share the link with you, is wonderful. And the graphic design makes everything super clear.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. So I’ll tie this in then because I went through Drawdown. I paid particular attention to the back and the appendices and I looked at where my strengths and enthusiasm might overlap. And I was like okay, I see that refrigerants is really, really high, but I don’t know anything about refrigerants. It doesn’t excite me. I don’t of any particular knowledge or network related to refrigerants, but there were some where I was like okay, I could actually see becoming involved in say aquaculture. And spoke to a number of people I won’t mention by name, but who are very, very — some of the smartest technologists in the world who I know. Right. And they mentioned that they thought some of the most promising interventions were ocean-based. And talked about different organizations and companies, Climeworks and carbon removal, things like Charm Industrial, which I find super, super, super interesting.
And a name that we chatted about before we started recording, Chris Sacca, also got me very interested in looking at sort of solutions-focused, obviously market-driven technologies that might play a role. And the reason that got me excited is not because I’m a techno-optimist who’s like, “We can fuck up everything because there’ll be this deus ex machina god out of the sky who will save us with some new technology.” I don’t really endorse that kind of approach. But the idea that you could align just the most coldblooded capitalist animal to do the right thing in self-interest for the collective, does that make sense? Was very exciting to me.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: There’s a lot of money to be made in green energy, in food system shifts, in huge transportation. All of it.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, huge. And so that got me very excited and you might laugh at me, but another thing that got me off the bench was the recent breakthroughs in fusion technologies. And I know the joke is fusion’s always 30 years away, but looking at it more closely, I was like you know what, man, there are so many ways this might not work and so many challenges. But if it does, this could be extremely, extremely, I mean, exponentially more effective than many of these other technologies that are being brought to bear on the problem. Not to say that’s the only option, right, because I think that’s a hail Mary or some people view it as a hail Mary. But it was fusion that got me really excited. And I’m looking at a text from a friend of mine, he’s saying advanced geothermal ocean wind looked very promising. So you mentioned the — I’m not sure the phrasing you used, but the ocean wind I think is very interesting.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah. Offshore wind farms.
Tim Ferriss: Offshore wind. And these are also places where — so I’ll give you just a quick example that maps for me in my mind. So I’ve spent many years now and thousands of hours on psychedelic science and medicine and therapeutics and so on. I made a decision very early on not to invest in any for-profit companies because I wanted to preserve my ability to kind of critique and comment on the space and to be viewed as unbiased. So that was my decision, but I did a lot of fundraising and I’ve raised — I mean, certainly I’d be in the top I’d say three people who’ve raised money in the space. But as soon as a few for-profit companies began to show promise and went public for better and for worse, a lot of the people who were donating to the nonprofits completely abandoned it and went to for-profit.
And I think there are issues with that related to IP and otherwise. But I do think that just based on the number of limited partners, meaning investors and so on, who have started to plow money into some of these technologies we’re talking about, that got me excited because you could finally in my mind sort of align in an exciting way, individual self-interest, even if they don’t give a shit about the environment. Which preferably they would, but even if they don’t with sort of collective betterment, so what am I going to do? I’m going to interview people like you. I am going to have entrepreneurs on the podcast who are, and I want to make this really clear, putting climate aside, putting all of that aside, really incredible thinkers and entrepreneurs and builders at the end of the day.
They can stand on their own two feet from that perspective. So their story is interesting, much like Bren, even if you take sort of climate out of it or any politics out of it. And I’ll be investing. I’m investing, I’ve done a lot of early-stage investing and I’ve started in the last six to 12 months, especially putting the — I would say probably at this point, the majority of my investing dollars into some of these startups.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I love it.
Tim Ferriss: So that’s what I’m going to do. And we’ll see where it goes, but I feel good about it.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m into it. I think the highlighting people doing the work is interesting because in many cases it’s so surprising, right? Because people don’t think about the full spectrum of ways you can be a part of the solution. So showing oh, no, you can be a tycoon and do this. You can be a tech nerd and do this. You can be a technologist and do this. You can be a health nut and do this. Whatever is your thing, we need you. And I think that’s really exciting. That’s actually the same approach that we took with the anthology that I co-edited, All We Can Save, which is this collection of 40 or so essays by women leading on climate work. And to see side by side, an essay by a woman who led the Beyond Coal Campaign at the Sierra Club, which has effectively shut down over 300 coal fire power plants in the US in the last decade.
This is not peanuts, this is the transformation, right? To that side by side, with a supermodel writing about how the fashion industry is part of the problem and an artist writing about how she’s part of the solution, and a landscape architect talking about how we’re going to protect coastal cities by replanting more oysters and thinking about how we design our coastlines differently, right? Having a farmer tell the stories of how they’ve shifted their practices and are training the next generation. All of these are super interesting and I haven’t said climate once. It’s about this cool work that people are doing that is contributing to the changes that we need to see. And honestly, it’s stuff that would need to happen even if climate change weren’t a problem because burning coal is really bad for our health and it’s bad for the planet even if it didn’t change the climate, right?
Because fast fashion is really dangerous for people and the planet in other ways it’s toxic and bad for workers. It’s not a good thing anyway. Eating industrial food pool of pesticides is not good for us anyway, and it’s not good for the planet or the climate. And so I think you’re right that for so many of the solutions that we have, they are better jobs, they result in cleaner water, cleaner air, things are just more beautiful and green and we can still make plenty of money, it’s just a better world, full stop on all these different levels.
And so you can actually, in many cases take climate out of the equation because fossil fuels are bad for our health, right? They are so bad for maternal health, right, it is really dangerous for babies to be exposed to all these toxins. We know that there’s associated with birth weight and birth defects and all of these other problems, not to mention what’s happening in coal mining communities, right? With public health and black lung and all of these things and the pollution of the waterways and the loss of ecosystems. So I think, yeah, sure, if you want to do this for another reason besides climate, that’s fine with me. We need to get it done.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, not to mention fertility overall. I mean, it’s just terrifying to see with — I’m not sure what you would call them. Call them microplastics and so on. I mean it’s terrifying. People should watch Children of Men as a preview of what —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I haven’t seen that.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah, it’s brutal. It’s worth checking out. It’s pretty dystopian, but it’s not improbable either.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Have you seen the new film Don’t Look Up?
Tim Ferriss: No, what’s that?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Adam McKay directed it, this new film. He directed, I don’t know, Vice, Saturday Night Live, and he’s a comedy writer and it stars Leonardo DiCaprio and — I’m so bad at this, Jennifer Lawrence. It’s star-studded, Meryl Streep and Tyler Perry and all these folks. And it’s basically a satire or a parable where this comet is coming to hit the Earth and we sort of ignore it. And there’s this whole campaign that says, “Don’t look up,” and Meryl Streep plays the president. And she’s more worried about getting votes than about deflecting this comet from ruining all life on Earth. And some technologist is like, “Wait, we could just mine the comet; let’s not deflect it,” and all of this stuff. It is this anxiety-inducing for anyone who’s trying to be — has been trying to communicate on climate for years, piece of cinema.
And the point was to spark more conversation on climate and do it in a way that uses humor. So when you said you appreciated How to Save a Planet, the podcast I co-created, because it was funny, at least to you. I really appreciated that because I think we need more climate media that is deploying humor, because humor, quantitatively we know, is a way to have people open their minds to new ideas, right? When you’re laughing, you’re not fighting. You’re able to listen. It helps you let your guard down. It helps you be in community with people in a different way. And so I actually just released an op-ed today co-authored with the director, the title is “Why Our Secret Weapon against the Climate Crisis Could Be Humor.”
Tim Ferriss: Oh, amazing. I’ll read that.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah, in The Guardian.
Tim Ferriss: We will link to that in the show notes as well. So let me just kind of brain vomit on you for a second and then I’d love to —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: That sounds gross.
Tim Ferriss: And then I’d love to get your perspective. And again, I don’t mean to draw this comparison constantly, but there are some parallels. So in the case of psychedelic science and therapeutics, let’s just say MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD or psilocybin for, let’s just say end-of-life anxiety in terminal cancer patients, both real research examples. And both are in phase three trials or have just completed phase three trials. They’re very close to the kind of regulatory finish line per se and the data look very, very, very good. The tip of the spear that has ended up becoming incredibly strategically important for all of these, not just cultural narrative changes, but political changes and regulatory changes is focusing on the veteran populations who suffer from PTSD because the veterans have political immunity in the sense that neither side Republican nor Democrat can come out and say, “Fuck the vets.” It would be incredibly politically damaging and —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: While still passing policies that essentially do that.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Right, exactly. But nonetheless, that has become a key piece of the puzzle for allowing both sides to cooperate in any fashion, right. And that’s another reason why, although there are a lot of kind of anti-business, anti-capitalist folks on the left, but nonetheless, I think most people recognize that capitalism is kind of the —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: That’s sounding like an opera now.
Tim Ferriss: — best of the worst options that we have. And so I’ve viewed some of the for-profit solutions as one bridge potentially. Are there other ways you think to get people to cooperate who are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, are there other bridges or other tricks? Anything to end this.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: The one that comes to mind because you use this example of veterans is the immense risk that our dependence on fossil fuels places on our armed forces, our military. We are literally fighting wars for oil. We would not have to do that. All those lives would be saved if we were just using sunshine and wind instead, or geothermal or whatever magical fusion thing you think will happen soon.
Tim Ferriss: Well, hold on, don’t put words in my mouth.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Renewable energies. And I think we don’t understand that military convoys, so many of them are actually just transporting fuel for military operations and that’s what’s getting bombed. It is putting our soldiers at risk, this dependence. It is creating wars in places where the weather patterns have changed so dramatically that there is famine that leads to unrest that leads to violence that leads to the United States getting involved. This is a national security issue. This is the safety of our military issue. And so in some senses, the military has the foresight to say climate change is absolutely how happening, how are we going to plan for this? They are taking steps to think through a lot of those practicalities. But it is extremely disrespectful of our troops to be putting people in harm’s way for reasons that don’t exist.
We just do not have to live this way on this planet. And so I wish that people would talk a little bit more about that. And it is the same for thinking about our naval bases, all on the coast, all at risk of sea level rise and storms. We have in Norfolk, Virginia, the big base there, access is cut off during high rains because the street floods because of sea level rise, right. And so that is absolutely a national security and safety issue. There’s a lot of stuff on that side that I wish more people would appreciate. If we’re going to say “Support our troops,” that means we have to deal with climate change.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I think on the other side, just the joy of nature, the ability to go for a hike, the ability to enjoy springtime, the ability to be outside in the summer and not melt, the ability to go skiing, the ability to go scuba diving on a coral reef. All these pleasures that exist because nature has been relatively stable for a long time. I would love to go skiing this winter in driving distance of New York City. But not looking really good right now for snow. And so thinking about it from not just self-interest or financial gain, which there are plenty of arguments for that as well but thinking about it from just the things that we love to do in the world, being all at risk. I mean coffee, chocolate, wine, all of this is getting turned upside down by the changes in our climate that we can’t grow these things as well anymore. Wildfires in Napa, obviously, no good, right? For many reasons. So I think we could be a bit more hedonistic about why we should do something to preserve our die and icy pleasures in the world.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. If you don’t want — I mean, I was watching a program on wine production and how that has shifted and how things are being grown in the UK that 50 years ago couldn’t have been grown in the UK. And I don’t know, somebody had mentioned this to me, I didn’t fact check it, but that a lot of lobster harvesting is moving to Canada due to climate change.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Lobster used to be very common in Long Island Sound, no longer here and starting to move out of Maine and even further north into Nova Scotia.
Tim Ferriss: Let me ask you a question about your episodes of the podcast.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: Because I gave my best shot, but you’ve certainly listened to more episodes than I have. Which episodes —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I do listen to them all after. And I do a game tape thing. Like, how could I have done that better? How could I joke of [crosstalk 01:28:59]?
Tim Ferriss: Are you serious?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, all right. Well then all —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Everyone has a learning experience.
Tim Ferriss: All the better since you’re doing these post-game analyses to ask the question I wanted to ask, which is which episodes worked the best and which would you have done differently to have them work better? And by work, you’re in a unique position to speak to working because you always had a call to action. So I suppose another way to phrase this would be, which episodes have had the biggest impact and which would you have done differently to have them have a greater impact? If you could maybe give an example of each.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: This is a question I would love to be able to answer quantitatively, but I can’t. I don’t think there’s robust tracking of who’s clicking what and taking what actions afterwards. I sort of wanted there to be a whole dashboard built out and the whole thing. I did not get my wish. And I also had myself taken off the email distribution for all incoming listener mail because it was just too much.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I don’t even have sort of a firm qualitative grasp after the first few episodes. I think for a bunch of episodes, we had the same call to action, which was: call your members of Congress because this is our chance to pass federal climate policy through the combination of the infrastructure bill — which did pass and had some climate measures in it — and the Build Back Better Plan, which has way more in terms the energy transition, supporting the shift to electric cars, all sorts of infrastructure and federal-related things that we need to see happen.
We encourage people to call their members of Congress and say, “I support this. I think we should have a good climate policy in America. I think we should have a civilian climate core that puts Americans to work restoring and protecting our ecosystems and building, physically, this transition. I think we should have offshore wind energy in this country. We’ve got a lot of ocean, we’ve got a lot of wind. I think we should have 100 percent clean electricity by 2035,” which is the goal, right? We can get there, but we’ve got to get it going. Encouraging people, offering specific talking points, this is not partisan. This is just we need the federal government to do its part in jump-starting this transition, just as they did with innovating the internet or funding Tesla to get started, right? The government funds a lot of really important early-stage stuff in R&D and jump starts it.
We had a ton of people calling in, which matters because very few people actually pick up the phone and call their representatives. I’m super, super wussy about it for some reason, even though I know you can call after hours and just leave a voicemail. I still get really nervous, but because so few people call, your call has outsized weight. They have to log every call from their constituents. If they get 10 calls on anything, they’re like, “What is our position on this?” And they have to develop one. They have to be able to answer to the people who elected them.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: They assume 10 people didn’t call who feel the same way, so your voice actually does have a lot of power in that context, and so seeing people feel like that actually mattered is a way to leverage your power as a citizen. Then we also had a lot of people after the electric car episode that were like, I bought an electric car because that episode was great. It sort of like spans the gamut of people like, I’m eating so much more kelp now. I think having this sort of call to action at the end of every episode, whether it’s, try out some seaweed recipes, or, call your senator, hopefully there’s sort of something for everyone.
Tim Ferriss: All right. I want to mention a couple of things and then jump into some more questions —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: You’ve got a smirk with that intro that I’m like, what are you going to mention?
Tim Ferriss: My smirk? I always have a smirk. This is why half of the internet hates me, I’m convinced, is I just have a very punchable face. People are like, “What’s that fucking smirk about?” and I can’t erase it.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I could see that.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. It could be the Lenin, not as in John Lennon, but as in the sort of Russian propaganda beard that I have —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Communist leader, yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, the American History X look that I can’t seem to avoid might be the problem, but the couple things I wanted to mention just for people listening, first is if you want to see some of the coolest companies I’ve come across anywhere, go to Lowercarbon Capital. This is Chris Sacca and team. You will see some of the craziest, coolest things you can possibly imagine. Just check that out. Another is to echo what you just said. The calls really matter. I have interviewed Arnold Schwarzenegger on the podcast once, maybe twice, and I’ve gotten to know his team, and I’ve gotten to know a number of other lawmakers. Precisely as you said, because so few people call, if you get a few dozen people to call or a few hundred people to call, they will pay attention.
Also, the question I have for you is about sort of cultural pressure and getting to some type of tipping point with respect to elected officials, and here’s the phrasing of the question. I think expecting politicians to do anything that does not assist them in getting elected or reelected is probably naive, right? In the same way that to expect most public company CEOs to plan 20 years out is unrealistic if they’re being rewarded based on quarterly results.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Or, say, take a one percent loss to save the planet.
Tim Ferriss: Right. I think just people respond to incentives.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: My question for you is what do you think it will take, are there kind of next actions that I or other people could be thinking about, within the next few years, that could help shift that tide to the point that politicians actually need to think about and take positions — more aggressive positions?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Now sadly, it could be in the opposite direction also, but what could we do to make it matter more?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: We need to protect voting rights. The majority of Americans understand that climate change is a massive problem. It’s only nine percent of Americans who are full-blown climate science deniers.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: We have the largest percentage of Americans ever now who are deeply alarmed about the climate crisis, it’s about 1/3. Then there’s alarmed, there’s concerned, there’s all these different levels, but it’s like the vast majority of Americans are like, holy shit, climate change, what are we going to do? It’s not that we don’t have the constituency for it. It’s that — have you seen the shape of these ridiculous congressional districts? The way that they’re gerrymandered, that they don’t actually reflect communities. That they’re just designed to elect a specific party. The voter registration laws, the way they’re purging the voter rolls, the way they’re requiring all of these more forms of identification. Passing the Voting Rights Act, passing voter protections more generally is actually a really important step because our voices can’t be heard as citizens if we can’t elect the people who share our views because the system is so skewed.
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: That is something people, I think, don’t think about enough, that saving the structure of our democracy, of representative democracy, of the electoral process is actually really critical because we already do have the numbers, but we’re losing because of that. One of organizations that I’m completely enamored with that is doing work along these lines it’s called the Environmental Voter Project, and what they’ve identified is that there are 10 million, 16 million sometimes, environmentalists, self-described, who have environment as their number-one issue who are already registered to vote and who do not go to the polls. That is the lowest hanging fruit, right? Already registered, already care. Need to get them out to vote, and so I volunteer with that organization and serve on their advisory board because we know how close these elections are. They’re all one percent, a few hundred people in some cases, so getting people to actually go and use their right to vote is super critical.
Those are the things that are on my mind now because we’re coming up on midterm elections and making sure that we make it clear to politicians that we actually, we want you to have a good climate policy platform. We need you to protect your constituents in every state. We’re dealing with really wild, extreme weather events from landslides, to wildfires, to floods, to droughts, to hurricanes, to tornadoes out of nowhere, to fire tornadoes. I mean, it’s crazy. This is not a partisan issue. This is about doing your job and protecting your constituents. But I hear you that like, if they don’t feel that their reelection is at risk, it doesn’t matter. We need to protect voting rights.
We also need to think about how elections are funded. The Citizens United Supreme Court case that allowed corporations to fund elections really weakened our democracy dramatically. I know it’s sort of a wildcard, but overturned Citizens United would be a great step to climate policy in America. Cause we wouldn’t have the Chamber of Commerce and all of these fossil fuel companies and pipeline companies able to literally pay for elections, which is super dangerous. I can’t compete with that, right? I think just safeguarding our electoral process on the campaign finance side and on the voting rights side are really key.
Tim Ferriss: We will add links to the show notes for everybody, with everything that we’re talking about, including those organizations. Now, when I hear that, it sounds overwhelmingly complex, like there is next to nothing that I could do in that sphere as someone who also is, I don’t want to say politically illiterate, but —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Are you kidding me?
Tim Ferriss: Well, you tell me then. But let’s do a deeper dive then, what could someone who is, has an allergic reaction to politics still do to assist in something like this and —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I don’t know how to deal with your allergy, per se.
Tim Ferriss: Just politicians in general.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Take an antihistamine and just fucking jump in.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I think it comes down to choosing the thing that you care about, right? We can’t care about everything and that’s why Environmental Voter Project for me is easy, let’s get people who already care, who are already registered to vote to get to the poll. I can do that, I can host phone banks. You could host a phone bank with me. Wouldn’t that be a blast? You can tell people to volunteer, you just call your neighbors and be like, “Hey, we need you to vote.” Right? Pick the person with the good climate platform. It’ll be very clear probably which person that is, right? I think about local elections too often, at the presidential level or at the Senate level, it’s a very different calculus for people who feel very aligned with a particular political party, but when it comes to city council, which is where your transit, and waste management, and recycling, and composting, and bike lane, and building code, and whatever decisions are getting made in your city, governments, you can focus on those elections, right? That doesn’t have to feel so loaded and partisan.
It could feel like we need to get things right where I live. I want to be a part of that. Also, I will say local elections, you can support candidates and your dollars go way further, because in a presidential or Senate election, you’re talking millions, tens of millions of dollars. Local elections, often the entire budget for a campaign is like 10 grand. I’ve hosted fundraisers where we’ve been able to double the campaign budget of these local candidates, to help them get their ideas and their platforms out so that more people know what they stand for. To me, it makes it feel a lot more, both possible and concrete to think about local elections. There is an organization called Lead Locally that focuses on local candidates with great comment platforms. Thinking about, who’s running your port authority, who’s running your railroad commission, who’s running your school board, what are our kids getting taught about how we deal with these challenges? All of those positions really matter too, because it’s at the local level that these policies and solutions are often getting implemented. That’s where the rubber meets the road.
Tim Ferriss: All right. I’m going to do a much deeper dive. I’ll do some homework. I’ll do some homework and we’ll have some beers and talk about it.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Okay.
Tim Ferriss: The next —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Do you drink beer? So much gluten.
Tim Ferriss: No, I don’t.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Full of pesticides. Wheat is one of the highest pesticide crops, glyphosate, super dangerous for your sperm count.
Tim Ferriss: You mentioned beer before we started. You’re the one who started this whole thing. I like tequila and gin.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Okay. You can have tequila, I’ll have mezcal. We’ll meet on the internet.
Tim Ferriss: We could have some sotol. That’s a whole separate thing. It’s kind of like a mixture. Anyway, we’ll get into it another time.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: FedEx it to me, I’ll taste it.
Tim Ferriss: All right. Well, the question that I want to ask you is related to a term I brought up earlier, which I think about, it’s not the way that everyone thinks about these things, but the minimum effective dose. What I mean by that is, what are some small things that people can do that don’t require sacrifices and they may be things they’re not even aware have the magnitude of impact that they do. One I wanted to give as an example, right? I think sometimes people who have causes try to shame the hell out of people and ask them to change all of their behaviors and it just doesn’t work, right?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I’m always looking for the gateway drug. What is something really small that won’t get a lot of pushback for most people? I thought we would start with an example, which is on the FAQ at your website, the FAQ, shrimp. Could you talk about shrimp, please? Because this is a great example.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah. I will say I appreciate the need for people to have a place to start, but I also object to the framing that there’s, the way people often ask me the question, which is like, “What’s one simple thing I can do to like save the planet?” I’m like, “Hmm, maybe what’s the first thing you can do?” I think, “Okay, shrimp. Here’s the rundown.”
Tim Ferriss: Let me just say one thing before we move on, because I know you got short coverage with your eyes closed. I feel like if people believe that they are just getting the first homework assignment of a never ending list, you will have a really high —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: It doesn’t have to be homework.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I’m just saying if that’s the way it’s framed, if they’re like, “One little thing isn’t good enough?” They’ll be like, “You know what? I’m out. If this is Pandora’s box, that is, and I’m never going to get positive reinforcement, then I’m just not going to do anything because why would I,” right?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Who said you weren’t getting positive reinforcement?
Tim Ferriss: All right. I’m just saying.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I will be so proud of you if you do that one thing. Imagine what happens when you do 10 things how proud of you I will be.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I get it. It’s this human behavior thing. I’ve definitely grumbled that if I wanted to be useful, I should have gotten a degree in psychology, right? Cause this is all about how people make decisions and what motivates people. I’m not an expert in that, but I know that, if we each do one little thing, we will not solve the entire climate crisis and prevent apocalypse, right?
Tim Ferriss: I agree.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Figuring out like, that’s why the Venn diagram, it’s like, what brings you joy? Do that, do it more than once.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I’m here for the delights and the positive reinforcement. I would say that one way to make that happen is to not do it alone.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Do this with your homies, do this with your family, do this with your friends, do this with your group texts. Find a thing that you all enjoy doing. There’s a very cool website that Patagonia made, full disclosure, I’m on their board. It’s called Action Works. It’s what they called skill-based volunteering. You can go to the website and search by the things that you’re good at. I’m good at video editing. Okay, great. This nonprofit needs help making a video about installing bike lanes in the community. Or you’re good at event planning. You’re like, oh, this nonprofit’s doing a thing, I could volunteer and help them do that. Or, oh, this other group needs help with their accounting, they just don’t have that expertise in house and you’re an accountant. You can help with that. I think things like that that feel specifically useful can often keep us going and you’re contributing to something that’s bigger. Maybe you like working with those people, maybe they’re delightful.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Then we have also things like shrimp, which is for me, I will say, it’s not just one simple thing and then you’re done.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It’s a way to trick people into thinking more about these things. That’s it, right?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Then you’ve opened the door, so to speak. So, shrimp, I’ll just give my like personal, quick take. I read this today and I was like, holy shit. I remember a friend talking about this and the fact of the matter is —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah, it’s a bummer.
Tim Ferriss: — I have shrimp, but I don’t need shrimp. I don’t like them that much. It’s easy for me to avoid in the same way that I saw My Octopus Teacher. I was like, “I don’t need to eat octopus,” even though I lived in Japan.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Absolutely do not.
Tim Ferriss: I don’t need octopus.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: You need them alive in the ocean being charming and weird.
Tim Ferriss: Yep. Shrimp, I keep stumbling, I keep interfering. Please tell us about shrimp.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Shrimp, if there’s one seafood you should probably stop eating, it is the most popular seafood in America, which is shrimp. There’s basically two ways that it gets to your plate and they’re both horrible. There’s very minor exceptions, but you’ll know if you’re part of the exception because you will be paying a lot of money for these very special shrimp. In general, shrimp either comes from the wild ocean, in which case that there’s a net that’s dragged along the sea floor and shrimp are pretty tiny, it’s a pretty fine mesh net. It’s catching everything else that’s there and sort of bulldozing the sea floor habitat and all of that stuff that they pull up, most of it just is made, sometimes is like 10 percent shrimp. The rest is often thrown back dead or dies cause it’s coming up from such depth that it basically gets decompression sickness, all these fish. The waste associated with that type of fishing is enormous. The habitat damage is really significant. Also, often the labor practices on those boats are truly horrific.
Then on the flip side, you can farm shrimp, aquaculture in coastal ponds. To do that, which is mostly happening in Southeast Asia, they’re bulldozing the mangroves, which are ecosystems that absorb a lot of carbon and protect the shorelines from things like tsunamis, after that big tsunami, maybe 10 or 15 years ago, places that had intact mangroves actually did much better than places that didn’t a natural barrier left. You’re bulldozing this ecosystem, which is also the habitat for all the juvenile fish that you would otherwise be catching off shore, it’s their nursery. You’re putting in these high density ponds of shrimp and you’re feeding them all this food and all the shrimp are pooping. Then they’re all getting diseases and you’re putting antibiotics and things to kill lice and all these chemicals. It’s polluting the local environment.
I don’t really want to eat shrimp that’s grown that way. Then often in the processing side of things, enslaved people are used to peel those shrimp. If you get pre-peeled frozen shrimp from Southeast Asia, I would not feel good about eating that for people or the planet. That’s why I’m like, eh, let’s just stop with the shrimp. Unless it’s Oregon trap caught pink shrimp, or recirculating aquaculture Florida shrimp, right? Those are sort of fancy and you’ll know if that’s what you’re getting.
Tim Ferriss: Hmm. So —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I know it’s a bummer. Shrimp cocktail, like very iconic.
Tim Ferriss: It’s so easy to order something else.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: But they’re also kind of like eating bugs. Yeah, let’s move past it. I know eating bugs is cool and high protein and low impact and whatever, but [crosstalk 01:51:04]
Tim Ferriss: As someone who has eaten a fair number of crickets, I take offense. Although interestingly enough, if someone has a shellfish allergy, they should also not eat any insect based proteins because the allergy is —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Noted.
Tim Ferriss: — the same. You may want to, if you can’t eat shrimp, don’t eat too many arthropods elsewhere. Let me ask you, and we’re going to wrap up in a few minutes. I know this has gone plenty long, so thank you very much for the time.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I look forward to you editing it down to its essence.
Tim Ferriss: Cool. We’ll see. Probably won’t do too much editing. I’m no Gimlet, Dr. Johnson. Do you go by Dr. Johnson? Is it Dr. Elizabeth Johnson? Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, I know would be the full.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah. Dr. Johnson, occasionally. I mean, sometimes a little gravitas doesn’t hurt when you’re trying to get your opinions heard, you may call me Ayana.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, thank you, Ayana. Beautiful flower, is that what your name means?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Yeah. It does. Which was very stressful for me for a while, because I was like, oh, that’s a lot of pressure. It turns out there’s a lot of different flowers and they’re all beautiful and it’s not this sort of singular thing. Now I’m cool with it.
Tim Ferriss: We could talk for many, many more hours. There are all sorts of things I’d love to ask you about, we talked a bit about offshore renewable energy, marine ecosystems. Algae biofuel, we didn’t really get into. Regenerative ocean farming, we spoke about a little bit, but we’re already at two hours roughly. I don’t want to chew up your entire day. What would you like to before we close up mention, if anything, any requests of the audience, anything you’d like to point people to, any complaints about the podcast you’d like to lodge publicly, anything at all?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: This is a question I should have an answer to, huh?
Tim Ferriss: Good news is we can —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: I sort of mentioned much of this stuff, right? Environmental Voter Project, taking your role as a citizen seriously. Thinking about Patagonia’s Action Works, to think about ways that you can volunteer using your specific skills. There’s also a website called Climatebase, if you are inspired to look for a job more directly in the climate sector, that’s a great list of job announcements there at climatebase.org. Obviously, if folks are curious about all these podcast episodes we’re mentioning, How to Save a Planet on Spotify. I miss that crew all the time. They are cranking them out and explaining stuff and telling us every week what we should do to help.
I guess I would say for those who have trouble seeing where they might fit into climate solutions, I know this is like kind of lame, but I would recommend the book that I co-edited with Dr. Katharine Wilkinson, which is called All We Can Save and the subtitle is Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis. It’s very forward-looking and it’ll give you these examples of all these different ways that people have creatively found to be a part of this transformation that we need to have. There’s some comics and poems and stuff in there too. It’s a sort of works on whatever level you want to approach it with on a given day. That I found really interesting to help to curate because I really see it as, 40 essays are 40 different doors into how we can participate in climate solutions. It’s not just solar panels and electric cars. Although I like both of those things, there’s a lot more to this.
What I’m doing next, which I would say, I guess keep your eye out is, I’m going to stop doing interviews on other people’s podcasts and write the book that I was supposed to write last year, which is tentatively titled What if We Get it Right? It’s entirely focused on talking about the futures we could have, if we charge ahead with all these solutions that we have at our fingertips. These visions of climate futurism. I think that question is so powerful. What if we get it right? What if we do what we’re supposed to do? Show me that it’s worth the effort, because it is effort and change is hard. Humans are not often that into change. Thinking about it through that lens, I find to be really energizing. What if we get it right, you guys?
Tim Ferriss: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Wouldn’t that be great? Don’t you want to be a part of that? I’ll be doing interviews as a big part of that book and I’m collaborating with artists. I have this very cool fellowship through the Headlands Center for the Arts, to have artists help to visualize some of the themes that I’m working with. I would just encourage everyone to think about that question: what is the future that we want and how can you be part of shaping that? As opposed to fighting the past or the bad guys who are against fossil fuels or whatever. What are you for? What do you want to see more of?
Tim Ferriss: That is an excellent title. I’m looking forward to that. That’s a great title. Awesome. Good titles are helpful.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: 2023, see to it.
Tim Ferriss: People can learn more about All We Can Save at allwecansave.earth, I believe.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Pretty good URL. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: That is a great URL. They can find you on Twitter and Instagram @ayanaeliza, as in Elizabeth. They can find you on your website, ayanaelizabeth.com, there’s urbanoceanlab.org, and then as I mentioned allwecansave.earth. How much fun? This has been great. Hopefully it wasn’t too —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Thanks so much for having me.
Tim Ferriss: — punishing and boring here.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: And your sturdy questions.
Tim Ferriss: Thank you. I’m all about sturdy questions and anything else you would like to add?
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Step it up, Tim, you need to.
Tim Ferriss: I am working on it and I am going to be stepping it up. Thank you so much, Dr. Johnson.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: You can drunk text me if you need some hot climate action solution tips.
Tim Ferriss: Boy, oh, boy. Yeah. Drunk texting, that is another, you were going to ask what superpower did I get from my parents? It might be drunk texting.
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: That’s not to be underrated.
Tim Ferriss: It has its —
Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: That clarity, that truth-telling, a messy truth-telling.Tim Ferriss: The massive reality that we all navigate. Sometimes you need a drunk text or two. For everybody listening, thank you for tuning in. You can find the show notes, links to everything that we have discussed and more at tim.blog/podcast. Until next time, thank you for tuning in.
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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