The Stubborn Optimist’s Guide Revisited with Christiana Figueres

April 22, 2021

[This episode originally aired May 21, 2020]

Internationally-recognized global leader on climate change Christiana Figueres argues that the battle against global threats like climate change begins in our own heads. She became the United Nations’ top climate official after she watched the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit collapse “in blood, in screams, in tears.” In the wake of that debacle, Christiana began performing an act of emotional Aikido on herself, her team, and eventually delegates from 196 nations. She called it “stubborn optimism.” It requires a clear and alluring vision of a future that can supplant the dystopian and discouraging vision of what will happen if the world fails to act. It was stubborn optimism, she says, that convinced those nations to sign the first global climate framework, the Paris Agreement. In this episode, we explore how a similar shift in Silicon Valley’s vision could lead three billion people to take action for the planet.


Christiana Figueres

Christiana Figueres is a Costa Rican diplomat and global climate change leader who served as Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010 to 2016.

Episode Highlights

Major Takeaways

  • Our beliefs, not our current abilities, determine what we can do as a society. The massive international response to COVID-19 could be what it takes to shake humanity into awareness of our collective power to address climate change.
  • “Stubborn optimism” means pushing past fear so that we can imagine a better future. Visualize green, clean, efficient cities. What will they look like? What will rural areas look like when we have a green planet again? What will oceans look like, smell like, feel like?
  • Climate change is like COVID-19 in that it is happening now and has life-or-death consequences. But climate change’s impact horizon is much longer than COVID-19’s, tricking us into thinking we can afford to wait to take drastic action. Once we imagine climate change with more immediacy, we can get to work flattening the long curve of climate change.
  • In 2020, technology companies developed COVID-19 task forces to deliver lifesaving communication, address misinformation, and assist people to take actions in their community. Tech companies need to use the same tools and urgency to tackle climate change – and it must start now.

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