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We’re gearing up for a big 10-week season of weekly A Rational Fear Podcasts — but before we hit full steam, enjoy this chat with one of Australia's most prominent satirical broadcasters.
From ABC's The Weekly: Charlie Pickering.
We also speak with NASA Scientist and Climate Activist: Peter Kalmus
This is a big discussion about civil disobedience and what actions may or may not work when it comes to shaking up the narrative of climate action. Dan also pushes Charlie on how he covers climate, and his thoughts on reaching the ABC audience.
Leave us a review here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/a-rational-fear/id522303261
Dan Ilic 0:00
G'day, welcome to A Rational Fear, another special episode of A Rational Fear light as I call it's not the full A Rational Fear. It's just a slimmed down version that is the least amount of effort to make to maintain your Patreon support. That's all it is. That's what we're doing. And we've got a great guest, Charlie Pickering needs no introduction, but I'll give you one in a second. Anyway, here we go. I'm recording my end of A Rational Fear on Gadigal Land of the Eora Nation. sovereignty with never ceaded, we need a treaty. Let's start
Simon Chilvers 0:29
the show. A rational fear contains naughty words like bricks, Canberra, and gum and section 40 of our A Rational Fear recommended listening by immature audience.
Dan Ilic 0:43
Tonight the CEO of Star City casino says that even though the casino license has been revoked, customers will still be allowed to leave their kids in their car unsupervised. And Kanye West agrees to buy in principle, Paula and I agree in principle to not buy anything from Kanye West. And in a shocking misstep, Scott Morrison has signed up to a speaker's bureau initially wanted to sign up to a meandering rant bureau. Instead, it's the 19th of October. And this is A Rational Fear
Welcome to A Rational Fear I'm your host, former president of China, Dan Xi Ping and joining us onA Rational Fear light is the host of Foxtel's The Mansion it is Charlie Pickering.
Charlie Pickering 1:39
That's great. It's great that some remember by some
Dan Ilic 1:42
people that worked on the show is of that show? Yeah, it was great. Don't Charlie, one of the best moments in show business in my life. I was having lunch with you in Manly one day, and you saying, Hey, man, I've got a show coming up. Do you want to come and work on it? And I'm like, yeah, that's my chili peppers, my cherry picker impression.
Charlie Pickering 2:02
It's pretty accurate. It's pretty
Dan Ilic 2:04
good. Don't often I don't often do
Charlie Pickering 2:09
more of them come and be
Dan Ilic 2:13
waiting here by chamber impression. It's great. Yeah, I don't often do my impressions to the people who do the impressions of
Charlie Pickering 2:20
it shows extreme confidence when that's your absolute confidence with an impression used to do it to the person.
Dan Ilic 2:27
I did do my Andrew Denton impression to him at a rap party once on the microphone. And it was it went down. Well, I think Andrew was like, that doesn't? That doesn't sound like me at all. What do you what do you try it? Like? Why are you implying that I make people cry? Yeah. Hey, thanks for joining us on irrational fear. Charlie. I really appreciate I've been meaning to get you on for a long time. But you, you know, one of the busiest man in showbiz. You're like the James Brown of Australian comedy showbiz.
Charlie Pickering 2:55
Hopefully, you're talking purely about work ethic and not
Dan Ilic 2:58
talking about your work. busiest man in China,
Charlie Pickering 3:01
yes, well, I think I've done I've done very well to cultivate the image of busyness. And I think that's been probably the greatest achievement of my career. So far. Everyone thinks that I've got a lot on
Dan Ilic 3:12
Yeah, tell us easier. It's perception at a distance, you've done a great job. That's right. I kind of wanted to get you on because you're, you're always thinking about the big issues, and you kind of have to as a person who runs a inflammation refinery that is the weekly. And with a lot of the civil disobedience stuff that's been happening around climate, I thought it might be good to have a little chat with you about about your thoughts on it, and how, as someone who runs an inflammation distillery, the weekly, how you go about covering climate, like, you know, the weekly has been on for so many years now. And you've covered it in so many ways. How, let me ask you, first of all, how do you think about approaching climate stories, because it's a story that just keeps on going? I don't
Charlie Pickering 3:55
think we do it a lot. Because we do it with a philosophy of, we want to change minds that need to be changed. And if you actually wade into every single argument about climate change, based on every rhetorical thing that a conservative politician has said, or every single story that enters the news, you scream about it. People will stop listening to you and you end up changing no minds at all people stay in their positions. And it's it's funny, I've always tried to find unique arguments against the prevailing rhetoric of the conservative side of the climate change argument, I'd say conservative, it's not as the opposite of conservative because it's destructive. Like it's not conserving anything. But you know, the more fossil fuel driven side of the the, the political debate, and so the yardstick we measure our stuff by is Could someone with an open mind, have their mind made up by this, or are we just preaching to the choir voted and driving away the converted.
Dan Ilic 5:02
Are we at a point now in in climate discourse where that feels like a, I feel like that's a eight year old argument. And right now you as someone with a platform on the ABC, and you might not be changing the mind of the 65 year old demographic who watches the ABC, but you have this enormous platform to change the minds of people who are actually in power to actually inform an electorate in a way that can pressure them to put pressure on the government to do more to, you know,
Charlie Pickering 5:29
push it. It's interesting that you say that, because if you have a look at the last federal election, in Australia, and this is all through an Australian lens, the threat to the conservative power base was less what labour said or the green said, and more about the fact that the penny dropped in places like KU Yan, that that one of their priorities was climate change. And they affected an electoral change. Now, I live just down the road from Google. And I know those people will. And I know that screaming at them was never going to make up their mind that but a rational argument, and an irrational understanding of things is what made them prioritize climate change at the ballot box. Yeah. And it's, it's just interesting, it's just a matter of approach because I'll be really honest, I know my demographic at the ABC. They're not on tick tock. You know, what, around 1% of my viewing audiences on Twitter 1%,
Dan Ilic 6:33
that's it. Yeah.
Charlie Pickering 6:34
I mean, or at least that was what I was told, when I started the network. And they said, Hey, don't worry about what people are saying about you on Twitter. But if we're going to survive this, and if we're going to make the changes, we need to as a society, I think it's a multi pronged approach. And I think it's understanding where your audience is, and what changes you can affect in that audience. Now, I don't know how you get on truth, social, and convince them that climate change is real. But I've got a pretty good instinct for the the television audience of the national broadcaster. And the fact that maybe it's not about making someone believe that climate change is real. But maybe it's it's been about convincing people that climate change has to move up their list of electoral priorities and determine what they do at the ballot box. And I think to candidates being elected, has been one of those things that has taken climate action into the realm of actual possibility.
Dan Ilic 7:41
Yeah, I agree with you there. And that's something our audience knows a lot about. We've been closely following those campaigns for two years. Now. What about you know, when you're holding when you've got this platform? Do you? Do you consider yourself a part of journalism, in a sense to hold governments to account to do more on action on climate? Dude, do you have that perspective?
Charlie Pickering 8:04
I do. But more than that, I feel that I have an opportunity to hold media to account. Because a lot of the way my show works, and to be honest, it's the technical comedy construction that the Daily Show achieved. And we've all kind of followed that path of taking all the clips that are on all the TV and telling the story based on what people are seeing on TV. And so for me, you can get at a you can get a good rhetorical argument rather than being angry, say at a Conservative government for being in a pocket of fossil fuels, which there is no surprise to that. And no joke I can come up with about it is new. But picking on Kashi on breakfast TV, for yelling at climate protesters that stop traffic for 15 minutes, and showing how he's actually the unreasonable one in the conversation. That, for me is more fertile ground. Now admittedly, the ABC audience don't need to be told that Kashi isn't the barometer of intelligent conversation. But
Dan Ilic 9:14
by using media to tell the story, you actually have a shortcut to the audience because the audience knows what you're talking about because the audience is engrossed in that space as well.
Charlie Pickering 9:23
That's right. I think the media has to change as much as governments need to change. Well, I know myself, crikey, Barnaby Joyce came on my show to sell a book and suffered through the most excruciating interview of his political career. And he's had some doozies. Right. And that taught me that politicians need the media probably more than the media needs politician, head of
Dan Ilic 9:49
the weather board and iron ore the Winterboard nine go by the way, it books out do we know?
Charlie Pickering 9:55
I'm not sure how it's sold. But I will say most of the conversation was more about His family situation, that his his particularly moving memoir. So what what I think is important there is if you can change what is normal in the media, you then change the way that politicians have to interact with the media. And so I think there is there is benefit to holding the media to account as much as you hold politicians to account. Because the media at the end of the day lasts longer than governments. They shape things over a longer period of time. They are if you're angry that politicians are in the pocket of donors, or TV networks, or in the pockets of sponsors far more than you'd like. And they're open about it. Like they will invent a TV show with cold supermarkets once you do invent a TV show
Dan Ilic 10:44
I've seen on the block recently, like them putting gas the episodes without putting gas in the kitchen, and then it cuts through an ad for green gas.
Charlie Pickering 10:54
Yeah. And it's Yeah, which is once again, I mean, we need to have a stern chat with the team at the block of moving away from guests as well. I believe that the problem is so big and so urgent. And the consequences are so dire. It takes a really multi pronged approach to shifting the needle and into to actually changing mindsets over time. And it's interesting at my school, there's a parents group that they have discussions about climate change, and how to talk about climate change with family members who perhaps don't consider it that much of a priority. And that's a very different thing to me picking on Kashi, which is different to someone supergluing their hand to the road, or throwing soup on a Van Gogh, it's all part of the same picture, which is getting the consciousness of the world to move far enough that we can we can actually save the day.
Dan Ilic 11:50
What do climate protesters have to do to cut through to the mainstream? Who What do they need to glue their hand to to really capture Australia's attention? Is there a painting with us with that people will pay attention to in Australia a set Nolan backups?
Charlie Pickering 12:04
I was gonna say Sydney No, that is Ned Kelly is probably, you know, you could throw spaghetti at a Brett Whiteley. He could throw spaghetti at a pro heart. No one had noticed. But um, um, but it's, it's like. So here's the thing. I'm not 100% Convinced that throwing soup on a Van Gogh achieves much beyond being in the news bulletin that night or being a clip on Twitter. Now, that might not be the most popular opinion. But I know that my parents would never look at that and go, do you know what I really think I need to have a think about climate change. I think the protests that have been the most persuasive have been, I think the mass protests with parents and kids and you know, multigenerational peaceful street protests that get more probably more minutes or the same number of minutes on the news. But what they show is an image of regular people, families, multi generations, and hopefully people that look like the viewer concerned enough about this to get out and spend their time and effort marching? I know, that's just one form of protest. But I still find that the most persuasive I still think the peaceful civil rights marches of the 60s, were the most persuasive. Not that I think they necessarily achieved the end of the Confederacy. You know, I think we're, you know, I think it was Fran Lebowitz, who said, I'm sick of all these articles about, we need to find out what Trump voters want. She said, we know what they want, they want the fucking Confederacy. Let's stop listening to it. But um, I do think that there's lots of different forms of protest. I think the ones that interests me the most are the ones that actually persuade people to change their priorities. Well, I know that my parents would see someone throw soup on a Van Gogh, and think I'm not going to listen to their position. Now, my parents are older. But I don't think you have to convince that many people under 30 that climate change is real and we need to do something serious about it
Dan Ilic 14:19
do XR, protesters need to throw soup on David Koch. Is this what you're saying?
Charlie Pickering 14:24
I mean, I think of more soup on cash policy across the board. He's probably wise. And he'd love it. It's zany. It's wacky. It's a fun way to start the day. I don't know I guess. I've taken an approach in my broadcast career, to try to speak to the broader like the largest number of people I can and hopefully change minds because because I actually think the audience that I have with the ABC is a really important one. It's like Gen X and above. And let's be honest Gen X and above the one ones keeping the old way of doing things in the game. And you have to convince them to let go, you know, like the tail independents, and all of that. You have to convince them to shift their priorities in some way. Now, Gen X is hard because they've got young kids at the moment, and they're under slept. And it's hard for them to care about anything except getting to bed. But I do think, and it's not pretty, and it's not spectacular in their own photos of it. But it's that changing in priorities of people that I think is, is really important. And so it's funny, I've found I think, Greta tunberg is persuasive to those people beyond the right wing commentariat. I don't think anyone actually, I think I think most people are inspired by Greta tunberg. And a young person being that organized and responsible and articulate about something so important. And it's funny. The reason I think she's really persuasive is a bunch of people of the age and demographic that you need to convince go on. That's like my daughter, but my daughter's never organized a global climate protest. Yeah, that's pretty impressive. You know, there's a girl at my daughter's school who can play the flute without reading the music. I thought that was impressive. But now look at what Greta tunberg parental competitiveness,
Dan Ilic 16:21
you see what you could be doing, Jenny, you could be out there glaring at Donald Trump. But here you are playing Minecraft. I totally agree with you. I think young folks are so inspiring in this conversation. And we have our own in Australia, like Anjali Sharma, also, Jean Hinchcliffe and those young school strikes strike. It's just so inspiring and so articulate. It's one of those things where I go, well, they may not be a person that has power, like literal power, but they have a certain level of soft power that they can use, and they're using it with great effect. I think Anjali Sharma is on q&a this week. And that's so great. She's such an incredible, incredible voice, incredibly well read, credibly well spoken and just absolutely destroys people in her wake.
Charlie Pickering 17:11
But in the interest of balance, we also have to find a persuasive barrel of oil to speak against.
Dan Ilic 17:20
The sad thing about Kayla bond is it and now he's a middle aged man that he can no longer be the voice of young consider young conservatives.
Charlie Pickering 17:28
Yeah, I'm not sure if there is a rebrand available to the young conservative movement that will that will capture enough numbers to shift the needle, you know,
Dan Ilic 17:38
well, Charlie, you have very interesting thoughts. As a high and mighty TV host sitting in your ivory tower, the AVC pontificating about how the best this actually works in the ground in theory, but what if I told you we're about to speak with someone who does it for real, and is actually a NASA scientist,
Charlie Pickering 17:59
then I would withdraw everything I've said up until now.
Dan Ilic 18:02
Well, I'm very excited to have Peter columnist on the show. He is a climate scientist. He's worked at NASA. He is a bit of a master when it comes to civil disobedience and climate hate. You have done incredible work in your own space, not only as a climate scientist, but as an activist trying to raise attention for the climate emergency. What we're seeing now seems to be this incredible momentum of more people acting out in civil kind of in in civil society. But there's been so much kind of interesting conversation around whether it's appropriate or not. So, Peter, is it right to be civilly disobedient? Is this correct?
Peter Kalmus 18:41
Yeah, for me, it's common sense to fight as hard as I can for this planet. I mean, everything. food, air, water, like kids, friends, everything I love. Beautiful ecosystems depends on this planet being healthy. And I've been fighting for 16 years before I tried civil disobedience. And you know, there was a little motion in the movement over that time, especially once some Greta and the youth started doing climate strikes, but it's going to slow as a climate scientist I am. It's cold read, I am desperate. So I am desperate. And then when I did civil disobedience is very mild form of civil disobedience. So I want to push back against this notion that I'm somehow like the king. It was pretty low risk. You know, I'm a white guy. I just changed myself to a door. You know, 100 cops showed up in riot gear, we have to go viral. I gave a really impassioned speech for speech in the heart that I hadn't prepared at all in advance. I just was saying what I was feeling and that helped to go viral too. So it's really important when doing these acts, if you can speak with your genuine emotions, just be authentically you and get a camera on you while you're in a middle of the action. That can be really really powerful. But yeah, it's the the outcome of the civil disobedience was like a million times more impactful than any thing I tried before I tried civil disobedience. So to me, it's really clear that the movement should keep doing it. We don't need every single person on the movement doing civil disobedience, we could use a damn sight more than, but we do need more civil disobedience. And we need a lot of advocates, you know, activists who aren't necessarily putting themselves at great risk, but they are going into board meetings, and they're speaking out and they're speaking truth to power, and they're maybe risking their jobs a little bit to tell the truth about the climate emergency. And, you know, we can't we're not going to carbon offset our way out of this.
Dan Ilic 20:30
There's this incredible kind of pushback from people saying you shouldn't pour soup over Van Gogh's. But it seems to be that this kind of civil disobedience is really cutting through with with a large bunch of, of media all around the world, we've seen so many people going up to artworks gluing their hands to them, kind of being in the being in front of things that people love, it seems that that is like a real key way to kind of cut through and get a headline. Whereas Pete, we've we've kind of been ignoring this, this essential part of the of the discourse in kind of climate activism, do you see that as a reasonable way of protesting,
Peter Kalmus 21:09
solving climate change, it's going to take radical change at almost every level of society, because our entire society runs on burning fossil fuels, things are going to have to get a little bit impolite. And if you're clutching pearls, just because a couple of teenagers throw some soup at a painting and don't even damage it one bit. If that's like your level of like, that's all you can take that I think that reveals that you have a real problem, honestly. So yeah, things are gonna get real on the climate movement, a lot of stuffs not gonna get good, not going to be popular. But maybe people should take their anger at the world leaders who haven't been doing jack shit and the fossil fuel industry, which is what's causing this because they're taking fossil fuel money. So don't direct the anger, the activist direct to world leaders who are destroying our planet.
Dan Ilic 21:57
I think it's so interesting. Like in Australia, there have been some laws passed recently where you can go to jail for two years for interrupting the infrastructure that moves fossil fuels. And so people are moving away from people are very heavily discouraged from doing that kind of civil disobedience. So moving into the galleries and into, you know, lauded spaces where beautiful works of art, to, to glue their hands to a Picasso is this new expression of the same thing, which probably generates so much more headlines, but like we've seen in Australia, the people who have done that have actually been charged with anything, do you think we'll see more civil disobedience in places where well around things that people are actually in love with rather than infrastructure moving fossil fuels?
Peter Kalmus 22:45
That's a great question. I don't really know where the movements gonna go. But I know, one thing I've learned over 16 years of doing climate activism is that the movement does move, like it's actually a very good word for what it is because it never stays still. It's constantly evolving in response to sort of like where the culture is at, right? And it's got to constantly be pushing the limits of social norms. But yeah, you can't if you do civil disobedience, in jail, and not a single person knows about it. You've basically wasted your you have these like cards, you can play these, he's risking actions you can take, well, you got a certain number of arrests that you can play, and you don't want to waste him. So you have to people do have to know about it. So So yeah, people say, Oh, it's a media stunt. And those are the trolls that are trying to discredit the activist, but that's just the way it works. You You know, if an activist falls and gets put into handcuffs, and no one hears it, did it really happen? As far as changing? As far as social impact? It absolutely did not happen. So we do need media.
Charlie Pickering 23:54
So Peter, can I ask you, because I'll say that my response to for what desperate one of a better term attacks on paintings, but I feel conflicted in the in the way that it makes me feel when I see it. I understand that you get media attention when you throw spaghetti at a painting. But I wonder if you actually achieve a change in people's understanding or a change in people's outlook for those people that, you know, they do their recycling, and they think they're contributing, you know, the people in the middle that aren't really paying attention to it properly yet. I understand you might get on the news a lot. But do you actually change any minds?
Peter Kalmus 24:39
That's a great, great question. I admit, when I first saw the action, I was I was actually young, and I couldn't really I was so busy that I couldn't tweet for many hours. And when I first saw it, I was shocked as well. And I was like, I wonder how this is gonna play out. And then I saw the comments and they were all like, 99% of them were really negative, but somehow Over the course of the day, I was thinking about it. And I came to the conclusion that it was actually a pretty brilliant action. And I think that it's too early to say, I could be completely wrong about that. And a lot of people are telling me, I'm completely wrong about that. But that's my instinct. And so far in this movement, my instinct has been pretty good. You have to understand that action in the broader context of the movement. And you have to understand how the media has been holding back the movement and how it's been holding back climate action, what you need to, I think what's gonna start happening, and this action in the context of many other actions, well, it's they're all chipping away at media narrative. And the media narrative has to understand the truth, which is that these are young people that are terrified for their lives. They're terrified for their future. And they're trying their best to let that message get out to the public. But they don't always know how to do it. And they're trying this. They're trying that maybe something doesn't go on the news at all. Maybe something does go on the news for every civil disobedience act by 20, something that you hear about, there's probably 1000 That you didn't hear about.
Dan Ilic 26:05
They're like velociraptors, in a cage, testing out the fence to find the weakest part of the fence is this, what is this what I'm hearing?
Peter Kalmus 26:14
I wish I wish they had that much politics. And I think we're telling the story, like it's a genuine emergency, and we're not sure how to get that to happen. There's a very small minority of us, I think that fully appreciate what an emergency that we're really in. And you're right, the moderates, the people who think that you know, recycling is kind of enough, maybe they buy an electric vehicle. It's not clear how so basically the in their minds, the narrative that they have, it's very comfortable narrative, right? That they basically don't have to change their way of lives that they're not going to have to give anything up. Business as usual can continue. And we'll just put up a few solar panels by have a few more EVs recycle a little bit harder, and everything's gonna be fine. I don't think the climate science justifies that viewpoint. I think that we look at the flooding in Pakistan, a third of the country underwater, I'm really worried that we're going to start seeing what you could call mega heat waves, you know, where maybe 100,000 People die in one Heatwave, maybe even more than that, you have to understand that these trends are going up year on year, all of these trends in their system that should be flat, like temperatures, they're going up every single year. So he so it's not like, you know, some some scientists, really popular ones used to say this is the new normal. And I that used to drive me crazy. So I pushed against that because it's not the new normal. We haven't like gone to a worse place. And we're sitting there now if it's worse place. It's like an escalator to a hellish earth that we're on. And I don't think the public understands those the nature of those trends and the nature of irreversibility of this yet, I've been trying to get them understand that for 16 years. Civil disobedience isn't perfect. Some people hate us for it. I think those people are probably the people that weren't really going to be there. We're going to be holding back things, no matter what is what I'm thinking. So and it's gonna play out with
Dan Ilic 28:05
Pete as an artist, I have to say, loosely, calling comic comedy and art, as an artist have to say, well, you know, Van Gogh's dead, what does he care? You know, he's gone. He's already got the headlines, you know, there's plenty of scans of that painting somewhere else. Pete, thank you so much for joining us on A Rational Fear. Really appreciate your time. I know you only had a few minutes to join us. Thank
Unknown Speaker 28:24
you so much. Great to meet you, Charlie. Always good to talk to
Unknown Speaker 28:26
you. Great to meet you, Peter.
Unknown Speaker 28:28
Well, Charlie, Wasn't it great to talk with Peter commerce?
Unknown Speaker 28:30
Absolutely. And actually a lot of food for thought. It's interesting. I'd love to hear what Kashi has to say to.
Dan Ilic 28:41
Charlie, thanks for joining us on A Rational Fear. I'm sorry, it's taken so long to get you on the show. And that I did have the appropriate mug that I stole from, from a from a Sydney office of the of the ABC with the weekly it's it's it's it's one of my high prize to show Bismark I'm so touched.
Charlie Pickering 28:56
I'm so sorry that that I've only got my best dead ever mug which my wife made featuring Art Garfunkel and that's lovely. That's fantastic. It's a pretty great. My wife and I make, like get mugs made for each other quite regularly. But that's an absolute cracker.
Dan Ilic 29:18
Do you identify as a member of Gen X? Yeah, I do. Thank you for taking time out of your busy parenting schedule to join us. You have
Charlie Pickering 29:29
no idea. It's um, yeah, it's it's not easy. The struggle is real.
Dan Ilic 29:36
Thanks, Charlie. Hey, thanks, Dan.
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