Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 50 - Ian Bolliger - CLIMATE CRISIS - Part 3 of 3

I almost think about it as a matter of this is an opportunity, especially if economic devastation is as high as some people are predicting. And you know, people are throwing the R word around. Some people are throwing the D word around, I won’t quite say just yet.


Go to Part 1

Go to Part 2 

JESSE: I almost think about it as a matter of this is an opportunity, especially if economic devastation is as high as some people are predicting. And you know, people are throwing the R word around. Some people are throwing the D word around, I won’t quite say just yet. But because we don’t know how many people will get hired back, as things kind of subside, that’s going to be a large factor [??? 00:28] how many businesses will go out of business.

But regardless of that, and even if it was just saying a normal recession, it’s in some ways, the ability to start over. Where it’s like you have less inertia, as you mentioned, in a particular direction, because those methods and modes of industry have stopped. So, then you can say, okay, we now have to reallocate capital in new ways.

So, why don’t we go ahead and do something that has the possibility of longer-lasting through business cycles and into the future, which can be renewables and some of these things that get us away from more of the negative impact kind of things that we do now, especially that our dependence on fossil fuels. So, again, maybe it’s just my tendency towards optimism.

But I try to think about it in like, yes, this is a terrible situation. And a guest I spoke with earlier today who his, by the time this comes out, his episode will be out [??? 01:44] the episode before yours, Christian Posch. He lives in Germany, and he was speaking to me about friends he has in Italy and how terrible it is there. So, it’s like this, in many situations and countries, it’s a very horrific situation.

But I guess I have a tendency to say, despite all the bad things that are happening, what good things can we find and do and actually choose to focus on to move forward, that we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise?

IAN: Yeah, I know. I think you’ve hit it on the head. That’s like, definitely– The challenge is we need to make a lot of like, very quick short term decisions like the stimulus, right. Like that needed to be pushed through that we could not delay that. But it’s so massive that this locks in decisions for a long period of time. And so you have this decision that needs to be made very quickly.

And you saw how much tension there was between the Republican and Democratic side being Republicans claiming that Democrats were trying to throw in their policy agenda behind this stimulus. And democrats doing that basically trying to say, look, we believe that there should be like, I think one of the things that was pointed to was emissions regulations for airlines.

And the point was like, we don’t need this right now, we need money for the economy, which is being devastated by COVID. And I mean, I can see both sides to it. Like yes, this decision needs to happen right now.

But these decisions lock us in for a long period of time, because we’re going to build this big stimulus, and then we’re going to be needing to not spend a ton of money once the economy, like additional money, like once things start getting generated again. So, I think you’re right in that– Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, again, the primary concern right now is like, how do we stop this spread, and how do we protect society in the immediate term and like–

But once that is protected, we need to like, you’re right that we have a somewhat of a blank slate. And it just makes all those decisions kind of like that much more consequential because either you’re making a decision that locks us into going back to the status quo, or you’re given this kind of new opportunity to say, maybe we do something different.

And I think one of the strong– I think there was a lot of, particularly in the renewable energy side, there was a fair amount of positives that were in that stimulus bill. And I think it’s one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy is this so-called green jobs. And so I think it would be kind of foolish to not push that in terms of how do we rebuild the economy moving forward.

And so I think I’m optimistic that that will be kind of the result. Like you’re saying that from this clean slate, we’ll be able to kind of like shift directions a little bit more smoothly, because that inertia, some of that inertia has been removed. But it does mean that the decisions that we make are kind of like, more consequential in the next year or so.

JESSE: Yeah. Well, it’s like, when we think about these decisions and how we get kind of locked into these tracks of, well, this is what we invested in, so this is what we’re moving forward to, it’s like, yeah, ideally, we’re always focusing on the long term because we’re as a country, we’re essentially one large business. Like, that’s when we’re measuring our GDP in the economy.

We’re one large business like, how does the country as a whole, how productive is it, how productive is our people, all those kinds of things. So, it’s like, as a business you should be focusing on yes, like you want, In this case, we needed the immediate stimulus so that everything doesn’t just blow up and then after COVID is dealt with, then there’s nothing left for people to do. That would be bad.

But at the same time, if you’re only always focused on putting out fires, like you don’t have the ability to grow to your potential because you’re not focused on, okay, we’re gonna have some short term pain for that long term gain. And I think part of that is, this is outside of both our views. But I think part of that is simply our political cycle where it’s like, we have representatives we vote for to represent us in our government, and they have cycles every 2, 4, 6 years, whatever it is.

And so then they have to be focused on re-election which means appeasing constituents in the short term instead of saying no, this is the better thing for the long term. Even though it upsets you right now, like it will get better for your children and your grandchildren. Like I think because of that societal constraint of essentially our governmental system and our electoral system that sometimes derails us from making those investments.

IAN: Yep. I definitely have kind of had similar thoughts along the way. And it’s challenging because there’s no perfect government out there. But the democratic system seems to work pretty well in general, but there is this like, challenge of like, how do you value long term decisions? And it’s pretty hard given the incentive structure that’s out there right now. I think it makes sense to categorize the country as one large business. I think there are a lot of other ways to categorize [??? 07:43] think about it. And I think, I mean– [crosstalk]

JESSE: Well, it’s a matter of like, if you’re a hammer you see a nail. Like I do business so that’s just–

IAN: Yeah, yeah, no, totally. But I bring that up only because I think that that is a common way to see it, and is not necessarily always in line with again improving societal welfare. And it’s not mine, but it’s a lot of people’s job in the academic world to think about how do we value equality or inequality? And if the whole country is growing, the GDP is growing, what does that mean? Are people living better lives, more fulfilling lives? Is there more equality? How’s the health care system?

Like, what are people kind of like– What is the overall welfare that people are experiencing in the society? And I think it’s often kind of like you mentioned if you’re a hammer you see nail, like that’s– I mean, GDP is what we quantify most easily. And so that’s the easiest thing to say, all right, look, GDP is increasing, that’s better. And that’s often a good thing. I mean, it’s certainly, you can’t say in a vacuum that that’s a bad thing. But there are obviously other factors to take into play when considering kind of what is the state of health of a society?

JESSE: Yeah, we got a little off track. We’re starting to run a little out of time, but I do want to talk a little bit about this. So, I think I saw it, and maybe this is the project you worked on with Protect Our Winters, but since you are a skier, if it gets too hot, and there’s no more snow, am I going to see you out on the sidewalk with the skis that have wheels on them or what are you going to do?

IAN: Oh, man. yeah, it’s a legitimate question. Our lab group, the group I work with, called the Climate Impact Lab did kind of a quick study looking at ski towns across the US and what percentage of days, of current days below freezing would we expect to still have below freezing by 2050, by the end of the century. And Truckee, California, which is kind of the closest to where I am right now and close to where I typically live for most of the winter was expected to see the greatest drop in days below freezing.

And so being in California, being on the west coast is not the place to be in terms of having a positive outlook for future winter seasons. I think a little bit in the interior, in the Rockies and the inner mountain area as well like the change won’t be as substantial. Because the main trend we see is, is increasing temperatures.

As far as precipitation goes, there are in many cases trends towards more variable precipitation, but it’s not necessarily true overall that we see strong evidence that there will be generally less or generally more precipitation in a place. So, if you have a place like the Rockies, most of the skiers in Colorado that is substantially below freezing during most of the winter, a small rise in temperature is not going to substantially affect their snowpack.

Whereas out here, it’s just going to mean a lot more rain. And that’s obviously bad for skiing. It’s also really bad for water resources. So, we built this like very substantial infrastructure to provide water to California here but that relies, to a large degree on the ability of snow to retain that winter precipitation when we get almost all of our precipitation in California and release it in the summer when it’s like never raining.

And we simply don’t have the reservoirs and the manmade capacity to make up for that if all of a sudden that winter precipitation is falling as rain and we aren’t able to catch it or harness it, we’re essentially losing it. So, it’s a big challenge. Skiing is obviously something that I think about personally a lot, but there’s kind of like other major challenges that arise from changes to snowpack.

JESSE: But I think that’s something that like I said is the marketing side of me. I think that’s the sexy way you go in, you market it to Athlone people to ski, and trying to make an impact and be like well, you’re not gonna be able to ski anymore because it’s gonna be gone. And then not only that we’re gonna have more of a drought and you know, all these kind of things, the things that you study and you make it more hit home. I know it is– marketers are vilified.

But when they do their job right, they help make you able to relate to the message. And that’s basically sometimes that is a matter of making you fearful. And in your case, probably for the right reasons, you know, taking that message and being like, you shouldn’t be afraid because these are the things that can happen, and that can get very bad for all of us.

IAN: Yeah, I think there’s often a debate in like climate communications world between whether fear is a good motivator or fear is kind of a paralyzer. Whether you should always end your messages with kind of like a positive note and say, “All right. Look, but things are getting better.” And then other people say, “Well, no actually you can motivate people, if you like, describe kind of the direness of the situation.” And I don’t know whether there’s a right answer or a wrong answer.

But it’s definitely true that for many people, it’s like you need to be shown the scary side, and that kind of ties back to what we originally talked about where I was mentioning, trying to quantify both the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario.

Like it’s hard to not say a single, it’s hard for people not to hear a single message like this is what’s going to happen. But it is, I think having at least two scenarios in mind is not too much for the average person to kind of like think about. Like, how bad could this be? What are the opportunities for benefit?

And so I think both of those, kind of a two-pronged approach where you’re presenting both the scary stuff and the like, opportunities really helps people see kind of what impact their actions can have to kind of make that worst-case scenario less likely, and the best-case scenario a little more likely.

JESSE: Yeah. I mean, so if we were saying this is a product, and I don’t typically like to use fear, the things I sell aren’t really fear-based. Like home security is fear-based, there’s some fear there when you’re selling home security system, but so if we were productizing climate change, basically what you would do, this very simple version is you would talk to your customer, which is all of society, all the humans on the planet and you make them fearful of the things that can go wrong and happen because of the things that we’re doing.

And then you would end your talk and say, but here’s the things that we can do, and this is what you should go do. And end it with a, it’s called a call to action when you’re like here’s all the things, here’s what you should go do about it. And so I’m a believer, at least in some cases, that fear is a proper motivator. Because I think, generally speaking, it’s easier for us to focus on negative things than positive things. Just look at the news cycle.

IAN: Yeah, totally.

JESSE: So, anyway, so what you probably didn’t see with the episodes that Joe sent you to look at is that– so last year I was asking people about food. This year, I’m asking all my guests a different, more nebulous question. And so what I’m asking is, what do you think the purpose of sport is?

IAN: What is the purpose of sport? That is a great question. The first thing that comes to mind is kind of twofold. One is to help inspire people to understand kind of like the challenges that life brings, and the benefits of persevering through those challenges. I think everybody likes the story of an underdog in sports. Everybody likes to see the struggles that somebody went through and then to like, ultimately wind up as champion. Everybody hates the Yankees, right?

They always win. Apologies if you’re from New York. But everybody hated the Warriors for three years. So, I think the stories that we gravitate to in sports are those that show us the value of perseverance and show us how hard it can be to actually do something meaningful and impactful, and kind of like overcome those challenges.

And I think the second, at least, what I have gained out of sports, so I do a lot of skiing now, which is, in some ways, an individual sport. I ski raced up through high school and that was certainly individual. But we trained as a team, we traveled as a team. I played baseball in college, and the team part of sports is something that has always drawn me in. And even in backcountry skiing, it’s incredibly– it’s a small team, but it’s people that you’re relying on to save your life if need be and to make smart decisions.

And so I think in that case, at least some sports and a lot of the Timorese ones are the kind of like partnership-oriented ones climbing, would throw in there as well; help us understand what it means to like– how you get to a point at which the sum is bigger than the parts, sum is better than the parts? I’m not choosing the right words here. But– [crosstalk]

JESSE: [??? 18:01] principle?

IAN: Yeah, yeah. Like how do you cooperate with people? And what does it mean to like, it teaches us that relying on other people is not a bad thing. It lets you achieve much greater outcomes then if you try to go at it alone. And that’s something that honestly, like I don’t think about every day, but I try to take into the academic world a lot with me because there’s so much individualism in like doing the research that’s in your lane that you’re most familiar with.

And it’s really challenging to collaborate across disciplines. A lot of the work that I do and that our lab does is working across disciplines and there’s so much challenge that comes from it. But we see examples of when it’s worked really well and the impact that it’s had.

And it’s kind of the same thing with sports. You know, you see examples of when all this hard work pays off, and that motivates you in to say, all right, maybe I can work a little harder like I see the benefits at the end of the day. I see this person succeeding. And so anyways, long-winded answer but maybe a little cheesy but [??? 19:08]

JESSE: No, it’s fine. Sometimes I like to think about again this goes back to mainly my optimism but sometimes I think– I like to think about you know we think about ourselves as individuals, but sometimes I like to think about humans as a superorganism where it’s like you said, when we work together, we achieve much greater things than if we were all working individually in different directions. And like you said, the [??? 19:30] principle being in the– I’m gonna mess up the saying [??? 19:36] the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There you go.

IAN: There you go. That was what I was looking for. Yeah.

JESSE: I’m sorry, Dr. Pam. I’m sure she’ll be like, “I taught you this.” My other undergrad major was psychology. But yeah, I like to think about it that way just because it’s, again, maybe it’s like I said, tends towards that optimism where it’s like we can achieve great things when we put our minds together and collectively work towards a common goal. You know, it’s just kind of my desire to believe in the human spirit. So, I’ll certainly agree with you there.

IAN: Have you given answers to this question yet?

JESSE: No, I have not given an answer to this question yet. We will see the– I guess I say the purpose of my asking this question is, my intention is to, hopefully, I’m a busy guy. So, we’ll see. Help me follow through here. Hopefully, collate everybody’s answers, and I’ll get back in touch with everybody at the end of the year, and then package it all together and write a book around the subject.

IAN: Okay. Cool. Yeah.

JESSE: So, my answer will certainly be within that context. But I’d like to see kind of what everybody else is talking about, and then that will give me things to dive into.

IAN: Yeah, that sounds really fast. [??? 21:00] Count me as one potential customer.

JESSE: Okay. Okay. Yeah, I don’t know how. At least it’s just an inkling of an idea right now. But it’s something and again, it a little bit comes back to the marketing side of it. And we’ll have to sign off here soon because I’m sure I’m gonna get real boring real quick. But it’s a matter of like, how do I structure the book so people actually want to read it. And you can take that topic and do it different ways. But anyway, Ian, thanks for spending time with me today, and hopefully, you have better weather where you are in California than here with my like, dreary 30 rainy day in Kansas City.

IAN: Yeah, yeah. It’s sunny out here. That’s California for you.

JESSE: All right, man.

IAN: It was a pleasure. Yeah. Thanks so much for giving me the opportunity to chat with you.

JESSE: Absolutely. Take care.

IAN: All right, bye.

Go to Part 1 Go to Part 2


Google Pay Mastercard PayPal Shop Pay SOFORT Visa