Gaya Herrington

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Gaya Herrington 00:11

So I’ve been very much brought up in this growth narrative, that growth is progress, et cetera. And then through my sustainability studies, I discovered that what we see as the solution to persistent poverty, for example, and what we see as progress is actually the root cause of the key challenges that we see throughout society.

So climate change, obviously, the fact that we’re bumping into planetary limits is one thing.

But it’s actually also socially degrading, it’s tearing up, because it always first increasing income inequality. So it’s tearing up our social cohesion and our sense of community. The pursuit of growth, we’ve seen continuous commodification of everything including our social needs, including obviously the natural surroundings, which we then call natural capital.

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  01:16

Thank you for joining us. My name is Gabe. I’m currently a junior at Bowdoin College, studying Earth science and chemistry. 

Marie Fadeyeva  01:41

Hello, my name is Marie. I am a senior at Columbia University where I’m studying computer science. And I’m really excited to talk to you today. 

Gaya Herrington  01:49

Nice to meet you. My name is Gaya Herrington. I’m an American now, I have been living here for 10 years. I was born in Europe, in the Netherlands. I studied econometrics in Europe at the Free University in Amsterdam, and then I entered finance. I was an economic policy adviser to the Dutch Central Bank for a little while. I made international policy there, the global BCBS global banking rules, and then at European level. And then when I came to the US, I worked at KPMG and I consulted for many big corporations, but I also went back to school and I got my second master’s in sustainability at Harvard. 

My thesis that I wrote for that last graduate degree went viral I think about two years ago. And I subsequently was asked to write a book, which I understand you have read so I’m very much looking forward to your questions about that. 

And basically, it’s been quite a journey because I grew up in the Netherlands, which invented capitalism, really. The Dutch did that. And then I came to the US, and the US, of course, really turbocharged it.

And then I started in finance. I was well versed in economics, as they call it was really just one school is neoclassical economics. And I’ve been very much brought up in this growth narrative, that growth is progress. etc. And then through my sustainability studies, I discovered that what we see as the solution to persistent poverty, for example, and what we see as progress is actually the root cause of the key challenges that we see throughout society.

So climate change, obviously. The fact that we’re bumping into planetary limits is one thing. But it’s actually also socially degrading, it’s tearing up, it’s because it always first increasing income inequality. So it’s tearing up our social cohesion and our sense of community. The pursuit of growth, we see continuous commodification of everything, including our social needs, including obviously the natural surroundings, which we then call natural capital.

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  04:22

So thanks, thanks for the introduction. We’re excited to ask some questions about the book and also just your experiences in finance.

I think in the US often finance has a negative connotation. Like if someone’s going into finance people might assume it’s because they want to make a lot of money. And I don’t think there’s much of an overlap that people see of finance with some of the kinds of research that you did with the limits to growth.

So I was wondering, what made you kind of go down the route where you’re using your experience in economics, to do this limits to growth research, and this environmentally relevant research. Whereas many of your peers probably went into different areas of finance. 

Gaya Herrington  05:25

Yeah, yeah. No, I think that’s true. I think. When I was at the beginning of my career, the whole thing around finance was still not that tainted. It was still before the global financial crisis, for example. And so the story that you know, finance spurs innovation, and all those things, it was still a little bit stronger or more believable. It’s very hard to argue that for all that’s happened, I would say, but it’s a little bit like, like what tech is today, finance used to be a few decades ago. There’s this hot new thing and this idea that it spurs innovation and obviously ithat’s going to automatically benefit humanity. And you see that still with tech today as well. There are a lot of people who believe that story as well. Even though you if you look at it, it’s also, yeah, innovation is not necessarily directly, always bettering humanity and meeting human needs. But yeah, we can come back to that later. But that’s one reason that I ended up there. Also, when you studied econometrics at the time, again, just like tech today, the brightest are very much recruited immediately out of university.

It’s very hard to have a long term profit if you’re killing the planet. It’s a bit simplistically put, but ultimately that’s what it comes down to.

I think what’s what’s interesting is that so you’re right that, you know, there’s still many things that are wrong in the financial sector. There’s short term thinking and the fact obviously that a lot of things that are important to us that we value, do not have a price and the financial sector then can only work with things at a price and so it discounts a lot of what we actually want in our life for short term profits, not even necessarily long term. Because it’s very hard to have a long term profit if you’re killing the planet. It’s a bit simplistically put, but ultimately that’s what it comes down to.

But you do see now is that some people have started to realize that as well. So these are not the majority of banks, for example, but you have the Dutch Triodos Bank that you may have heard of, and they recently also publicly embraced a post growth idea. So the idea that we in the developed countries in the mature economies, like in Europe and the US in North America, we have to embrace this idea that we don’t have to keep growing our economy all the time. This is called the post growth thinking and Triodos is a bank, they have an international bank, and they have embraced that notion. 

So it’s not impossible to have that in finance. But you’re right that the vast majority doesn’t have it yet, and that the financial sector is a very important sector still. So you know, it is nice to see those things, those little changes, because it is a sector that needs to change as well.

Marie Fadeyeva  08:49

So I know that in your book you advocate for working less. And I think that idea really goes hand in hand with the concept of universal basic income, or UBI. And I wanted to ask you, what are your thoughts on that? 

I think UBI would be like, personally, I think it’s necessary to implement in the next like 5 to 10 years or so just because a lot of people in America are living in poverty, or basically like on the poverty line. And my background is I’m coming from like a low income family and about to like go out into the world and start making my own money and what I noticed is that once you have your basic needs met, right, for like food and water and shelter and how you get those needs met right with money, right? You buy yourself nutritious food, you buy yourself like you don’t buy water you get it from home, like Brita filter and you rent an apartment. 

Okay, your basic needs are met, then you can really go out into the world and become like, an activist, right? You can have your job but you can also put that energy into activism or what you care about. So I’m wondering, first, what are your thoughts on UBI if you like feel the same way that I do regarding working less and UBI and what you think would be necessary for UBI to be implemented, in like the next say, five to 10 years?

Gaya Herrington  10:14

Yeah, no, I think you’re absolutely right. I think it’s very important that we pivot the economy more towards human needs because you’re exactly right. Once your needs are met, you have the ability to become more activistic, and that’s also a social need by the way, the social need to to build community together, leave the world a little bit better than you found it. This is a very strong human need that a lot of us, even people with a high income don’t get to fulfill really, in today’s society. But you know, some people, who are the few people that really benefit from the current status quo of course, don’t think that’s a bonus for them.

And that’s also why those people wouldn’t want a UBI, if you get activist citizens. That’s better for most people, but not every single one right now. But, so in short, I think some form of a guaranteed income is necessary. I think it’s also totally warranted. You know, what we’ve seen now is that we’ve seen all this, obviously this, this enormous, the some of the innovation that really went into us being much more productive than several decades ago. And I think I mentioned this in my book as well.

It’s so funny that we had John Maynard Keynes in 1930. He already predicted that we would get more productive and then his estimate of how much more productive we would be has actually turned out to be quite accurate too. And then he said, okay, well, that would be a new challenge for humanity, because how will we spend all this leisure time?

And he was a little bit afraid too, or he was like, I’m not sure if humanity is up to that task, because it’s such a big change from the mindset that we’ve always had so far. And he was right with that too. So far, we have failed that challenge. 

We could have translated all that productivity into just being activists or artists or just, you know, family people, or whatever we wanted to do. And instead, we kept the work that we have, even though we we would have had enough with a 15 hour work week by now. But we use that instead, we invented all these new things to do, and now we’re all doing a lot of stuff that a lot of us find not very fulfilling. A lot of us have jobs, even people who have jobs, even if they’re well paying, they don’t feel like they’re adding real value to society. 

A lot of us feel like we’re doing busy work, you know, tricks for money for income so, you know, I think all of that creative and innovative capabilities would be set free to where people could actually do something, you know, what they think would add real value and a lot of that would go to activism, I think. 

I will say, just to be a bit more technical, the universal basic income, I have nothing against it. I think there are other ways to have people get it, you know, cut that dependency that we have now between economic growth and people having livelihoods basically, that’s what it is right now. Right? Why do we all want jobs so much? Because we need those jobs for livelihoods. 

So, you know, a lot of people ask, how can you have stable employment in a post growth economy? Well, it’s exactly that — we have to work less and then as long as the economy is not growing if we share the work more, there doesn’t need to be unemployment. But really, if you think about it, also why do we want to all have a job anyway? 

There it definitely can be a lot of social needs met through you know, feeling useful, contributing to your, to your community. So most people would probably still choose to work even though they would choose to work less if they didn’t have to. Yeah, so but there’s also this this part of you know, we need to cut that, for those that cannot work or just for now don’t want to work, for example, because they want to care for a loved one, an elderly person or a newborn. We should have those people be able to afford likelihoods too. They don’t need to be rich, but they should have their basic needs met, as you said and we can totally afford that as a society. 

So that can be done through a UBI. But another way, there are other policies that for to some extent, appeal maybe slightly more to me and that’s because UBI still sounds like a handout and it really wouldn’t be because a lot of things that are now sold for profits being you know, are let’s say, the, the resources that go into production, which then are go into products that are sold to people like you and I that need to pay for them that then go into profits. 

You know, those resources that were taken, those are everybody’s in that country wherever it was taken from. The waste that is done, just released to the air and our waters. I mean, that’s from all of us, right? So what you could do is also say, well, those are all common pool resources, the products and the resources that you use, the air and the water, and that belongs to every single citizen in this country. And if you use that you have to pay them. So that would be a universal basic dividend is what it’s called. So it’s like you can use it as a company, you can use that. But it you know, that’s a common pool resource you’d take from all the citizens and you have to pay for it. And that could go into a pool and people could be paid through that. Universal dividends. And the reason that I like that slightly better is because it’s it’s an entitlement that we all already have. It’s not a handout. It’s just a compensation for what other organizations are using that is ultimately ours. 

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  16:48

Thanks for that answer. I have kind of a follow up from what you were talking about earlier in your answer, relating to the book and John Maynard Keynes. I was just looking back at that passage in the book. And as you said, there’s there was this kind of choice where a lot of jobs were created that society might not have like a real pressing need for, and this results in people working more and being less happy with how fulfilling their jobs are.

So I was just kind of curious about what those like, how that choice was made, how that choice relates to like American culture and consumerism specifically. And also just kind of what those industries or jobs are that were newly created that are causing this culture shift.

Gaya Herrington  18:07

Yeah. Yeah. So how does that happen? That’s a good question. You know, this is, I call it an economic system. The thing with a system is that there’s no one person controlling these outcomes. No, there’s no you know, not even a group of people are coming together and say, This is what we’re going to do. But it when you’ve set up a system in a certain way, it’s going to go towards certain outcomes depending on how the system is designed. And I should say that this you know, our economy is a system that is a construct, by and from human beings. It’s not the only way to do things. At some point, it was designed and thought out, and of course, again, not by one single person or a single group, necessarily, but, once you have I mean, certain influential people definitely designed it in a certain way but ultimately no one really controls a system, but it does work towards certain outcomes. And, you know, some are in the 70s there was a very strong push by certain people to to push this neoclassical economics concept. And then, then the neoliberal, that kind of turbocharged it where, you know, everything had to be privatized, and all those things, lower tax rates. 

And you that’s ultimately how it happened. To make that acceptable, because they weren’t those policies really weren’t in the benefit of most people, there was a certain narrative that was given to it. And I think that has reshaped our culture today, that narrative of individualism. And, you know, the American Dream. All very, very, very appealing stories and that I think worked very well. I think it’s starting to lose its grip, because it hasn’t delivered to too many people for too long. But for a while it was it was really gripping. And I think that’s that’s still has shaped the culture that we see today.

Marie Fadeyeva  20:35

I have a question kind of going off with an idea of like culture, consumerism. First I wanted to ask you if you’ve seen the movie Barbie.

Gaya Herrington  20:44

I have not, it’s on my list. I haven’t seen it. 

Marie Fadeyeva  20:48

Have you seen the advertisements that exist for the movie?

Gaya Herrington  20:54

I have not. I try to shield myself. 

Marie Fadeyeva  20:56

Okay. Okay, 

Gaya Herrington  20:57

That’s good for your mental health. To shield yourself from advertising. Yeah, but sorry. Go ahead.

Marie Fadeyeva  21:04

No, so maybe you’ll like this question. So the amount of money that went into the advertising for Barbie like there was like, makeup launches or like installations outside all over the world. So it was $150 million dollars. And that’s a lot of money. So, I guess this question is more about how we can engage with cultural change in our everyday life. And right now, there’s something in New York that exists called the Percent for Art, where 1% of the budget for buildings in the city is allocated toward public art. So that initiative is specifically aimed at like promoting art within public spaces.

So it seems that a good like potential solution to climate education or like increasing awareness about climate change would be something like Percent for Climate where it’s a similar idea, only applied to climate education where maybe it could be also like a public art installation, but it also could be some sort of messaging that people would see. Similar to like how the Barbie movie promotion worked, that you’ve successfully shielded yourself from. That’s awesome, given how much money was put into that campaign. 

Yeah, so I’m wondering, what are your thoughts on that specifically, with implementing a policy regarding making climate education a very visible concept that people will have to interact with, no matter where they are in the world, as they go out into a typical day in their life. 

And I also wanted to mention in New York, there’s this thing called, I think it’s called the climate clock, where it’s basically a countdown to a point in time where it says that climate change will be irreversible. And I’m wondering, what are your thoughts on that? Because that’s a very anxiety inducing campaign that does not evoke a lot of positive emotion. Yeah, I’m just interested in your thoughts on that.

Gaya Herrington  23:01

Yeah. Yeah, there’s a lot there. Because it’s, you’re right. A Barbie is easier to promote than climate change because it’s more fun. So that’s one thing I you know, it’s very anxiety inducing. So I’m not sure if there’s any way to…The 1% thing, I always I, I do think that this point in time has a lot of opportunity, but the stakes are also incredibly high. And it’s if you feel disempowered, if you feel like you don’t have much power to influence the current system, it’s very understandable why you would want to not listen to it because we are talking about the ecosystem break down. Irreversible damage to the way that this planet sustains life, including us.

What humanity does in the next few years will determine our wellbeing levels for the rest of the century, which is quite incredible.

Everything that we need is ultimately nature. So you know, we have to have an economy where we our ultimate goal is fixing these ecological questions, these social questions, climate change, and a lot of other things on top of that, biodiversity, income and wealth inequality. 

And it’s really like this is a now or never a moment in history. What humanity does in the next few years will determine our wellbeing levels for the rest of the century, which is quite incredible. This is, this is truly unique. A never before point in history. Because we never as humans were this global power where we could influence global weather patterns. But the idea that that was ever a question of, you know, what do we want our world to look like? Sometimes I read things like oh, well, we’re in the sixth mass extinction. And we have a lot of biodiversity loss and if you think about it, you know, this, this percent of GDP is dependent on biodiversity. I mean, that’s just what you can measure. The economy is 100% dependent on biodiversity. 

So I’m not against the 1% thing. I think everything is better than nothing. But at the same time, it needs to be way more. I’m, yeah, I don’t know. 

How do you, I’m always a bit hesitant or, not hesitant, but I’m a little bit you know, talking to young people. I’m like, gosh, this must not be nice to hear.

How do you feel when I say these kinds of things? Do you feel anxious?

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  26:04

I think I do feel some level of anxiousness like when I’m when I’m reading about this or if I’m talking to you or someone else about it. But I think the reality, at least for me, is that I feel like a lot of the time in everyday life, like if I’m at school with friends, or if I’m at home, like there’s not really any kind of discussion. 

And that’s also something else that we wanted to bring up and maybe ask you about a little later. Like, where I went to high school there was maybe one teacher who brought in climate change, a physics teacher who brought in climate change to some of his lessons and had like a couple of individual focused lessons about it. 

And last year, I wasn’t in high school last year but my brother was, and there were the wildfires in Canada and a lot of smoke in New York City. I don’t believe any of the teachers talked about climate change in relation to the smoke, even though school was online. 

And I kind of you know, in high school and during college, I feel like there’s often a lack of discussion or care, especially because people that are very busy. You know, they’re working a lot or they’re very busy in school. It’s easy to tune out, unless you’re directly involved in like activism or research like every single day.

Marie Fadeyeva  27:52

I can speak on my experience, too. 

So I’m a pretty anxious person in general. I’m almost 23 now and when I was 19, in the winter break, after my first semester ever of college in my freshman year, I was at home in Wisconsin and I came across writing by Jem Bendell. I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, and he talks about like collapse and adaptation. 

And his perspective, like at least the writing that I read was very, very scary to read. And I think I was like a 19 year old person just starting college like really looking forward to your future and creating your own life. I was like, I was just shocked. I definitely had like, I want to say a few months like genuinely where I was just in a spiral of being really scared. 

And I was not fun to talk to at that time. I was not fun to be around because I was always really scared and anxious. But I guess like as time passed, I kind of got out of that spiral by thinking about like the need to keep going for like the people that I love because I noticed like how much my fear was impacting people around me and I know that, you know, I really care about my parents, my brother, my boyfriend, my friends. Yeah, and that to me is also a reason to keep going and not to fall into like a doom spiral of fear. And to just do my part where I can and where my skills fit in to helping the environment.

Gaya Herrington  29:28

Yeah, that’s I think that’s a very good attitude. Yeah. You know, you have this activist Greta Thunberg, and she also went through a period of depression before she became an activist. And that’s really understandable. 

I find it very hard to talk to young people. I have a two year old daughter and I’m already you know, I’m not looking forward to the day that I’ll have to explain to her what climate change is.

I will have to explain to her because she will experience it. And I feel like at this point, it’s sort of a coming of age rite that you know, we this is when she’s old enough and you know, you used to have like tribesmen take boys in the woods and they killed an animal or something and then now he was a man. And I feel like this kind of rights really, we were going to do with with our children now because it’s talking about climate change, it changes you forever.  

And it’s so that’s why I’m always a bit, I find it very hard to talk to young people. It’s very different than talking to older people, because the older generation, they have, you have to explain to them how things have changed. Because they are like, this benefited me so much, so how can this system be so bad? And you know, you just kind of have to guide them there, like…Well, I mean, it’s not working anymore. Right? You have to change and, and with young people it’s very different because they are they know all these things, but they feel powerless, because they have less power. 

But I do always bring it back to this, which is collapse does not mean the end of life. It does not mean the end of humanity, and it does mean a collapse of the current system. 

And nobody knows how it will be. And I will say that you still have a lot of influence in shaping what that is going to become.

It means that what we are having today, these things that you’re getting used to, this other part of your life, it will not be there in the future. Not like this. It will be different.

I do think that the current narrative of our current economic system is not working out much longer anymore. And so we have to come up with a new story, and you can still be part of that story. 

And my suggestion to you, of course, is that this new economic system should be centered around meeting human needs within planetary boundaries. And that’s something that that you can — and what does that mean? In practice? You know, we could talk about that for years. But you get to decide on that too. And I would urge you to talk to your peers about it and talk about climate change sometimes and all these other things, because that in and of itself already is an is an act of activism and using the power that you do have.

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  32:32

That kind of message leaves me with some hope about talking to people and just kind of having starting like a small wave of change in that way. And that’s something that I wanted to ask you about. Because I feel like one of the things that worries me is that I probably didn’t have a single discussion with a group of friends, outside of a class setting, about climate this past semester at school. 

And as I was saying that this even in high school, I don’t think it was brought up. I don’t think it was kind of inserted into classes where it could have been, where it was relevant. And I’m wondering if this, does make you nervous at all, like the lack of discussion among people who are just interested in other things or don’t have time or have enough information to an informed discussion about it.

Gaya Herrington  33:56

Yeah, it does, you know, and I was asked earlier, like, what would you have the school curriculum be? And I am actually a little bit surprised because I thought I thought about things like oh, you know, empathy skills, and nonviolent communication is so important for community building to change the system, and then systems thinking about how to do that. 

I didn’t include, I didn’t think of saying, you know, sustainability courses because I honestly would think that today climate change is there in the school curriculum. So to hear you say that it wasn’t discussed is definitely a bit disappointing. 

It’s a little bit surprising too because it’s so pertinent to the world we live in today. Yeah, to answer your question, I am a little bit disappointed about that.

Marie Fadeyeva  34:53

I wanted to ask you about what you mentioned, that the system will not exist as it is now later, and also about creating a new system that would center around meeting human needs. And my question is, if you personally could do one small thing that would bring us closer to that system, and one very major thing that would also bring us closer to that system, what do you think those two things would be?

Gaya Herrington  35:31

So the major thing is easier because I have a tendency to think in systems and on a global level. 

So it would probably be a major policy change that is absolutely politically unattainable at the moment. But I do think that, you know, this pursuit of growth ultimately, I think one of the reasons we keep chasing that is not because it brings more benefits and wellbeing to human beings. That’s the way it’s sold, but it’s just very clearly not the case. Our life expectancy in the US hasn’t increased in a while. Actually the past few years, it started to slowly go down. We haven’t been happier because of it. So by all measures,  the growth of the past few decades really hasn’t benefited Americans’ well being. 

So what I think one of the things that that has benefited is, you know, private wealth accumulation. That has definitely increased. And so I think, ultimately, you know, for very few ultra rich people at the top, this continued growth pursuit is is gaining them a lot of money. That’s why it’s still going on. 

So I would, if I could change one large thing, it would be just making it illegal to have a private profit distribution. And then you take away that whole incentive. 

So to be clear, that doesn’t mean that companies can’t make profits. There are lots of not for profit companies right now existing today doing perfectly well. One in every five Americans, for example, is a customer or member at a credit union. Those are banks, but they don’t have a profit motive. So their goal is the best performance for their clients, who through their membership are also owners of the bank. And so  everybody that works with the credit union is still being paid an income, and profits are made, but they are saved up for future unexpected things. And when there’s really a lot of profit, it’s distributed back to the members. That’s it. 

And everybody who’s there, you know, just gets a little slice, they get good service and that’s it, there’s no owner, there’s no shareholders, there’s no private investor who’s never worked a day in his life in that organization but who continues to slice off a part of the profits for himself. 

So it’s totally possible to have a lot of companies that are doing a lot of good stuff and are making a profit to stay in business, but without having this being dispersed to other people in private who are not actually doing the work. I think that would make a real difference. Again, completely unattainable right now, but I think that that could transform the system. 

In terms of the small thing, I am not really sure. I would have to ask you, what do you mean with a small thing?because when I think of a small thing, it’s something that I can do and whatever I can do just by myself, system change I can’t do by myself, we have to do that together. That’s why I’m talking to you and to so many other people. Small things I can do by myself and so if I find them worthy of doing, I would already have done them.

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  39:16

One thing I was wondering about a little bit going back to where you’re talking about at the beginning, with your personal career. When did you find yourself starting to think about climate and starting to think about how you and your career and what you studied would play a role in addressing this issue? Did you have a moment or a period where where you kind of realized the situation?

Gaya Herrington  39:50

So I will say that growing up in the Netherlands I was definitely taught about climate change in the public schools. You know, that’s another difference, that when I came from the Netherlands to hear people talk to me about private schools and I was like, what’s that? You know, it’s it’s a very different system, and what you have there, again, it’s a capitalist country. So it’s going in the same direction, but you can see it has a lot more policies to kind of soften the sharp impacts of capitalism much more than in America. And so one of these things, for example, is that, you know, public schools are very well funded. 

So people don’t really, there’s no this zip code things where you look into an area of good schools. I had no idea what that meant. Because in the Netherlands, all public schools are good. So you just go pick a house and then you go to the closest one, which is a great way to build community because you all just live in the same area. Another reason why I think it’s good for social cohesion is because everybody just goes to the same school in public schools. 

So the you are in the class, together with them. Some of them will be future professors or politicians, and some of them will be the future local baker. And so you also get a lot more. You know, you see less classist behavior because you went to school with whoever you just served your drinks in the cafeteria. And so you don’t oppose tax increases if you have a high income because you’re like, Yeah, and it goes to people you know, will pick up my trash. That’s a great service. Thank you. I think, it’s harder to dehumanize anybody when you sit next to them in math class. So I think that’s that’s one of the things that I learned when I came to America. I’m like, Oh, this this public funding of public education is really important to just create good citizens not necessarily better workers even but just good citizens. 

So yeah, and we were also told in public school about climate change. So that’s, I guess, I was introduced to that from a very young age. I will say that, you know, how it typically goes is when you have this one thing, so in my case, that was the environment and climate change.

Then, how sustainability insight, or really any insight, probably goes, is you see this one issue and you focus on that, you become an activist on that. And then you realize that oh, there are a lot of other factors around it and you kind of make it more holistic. And then you go to, oh, we have to take also take into account the social factors and the governance factors. You see that it’s a whole system and all intertwined. Then you get a little bit overwhelmed and you’ll get down because it’s too much for you to work on.

And then the last phase is where you see the opportunity in that like, oh, oh, yeah, the current system is not working. But we can create a new one. And we would want to do that anyway, because what we need to do to avoid ecosystem breakdown is also something that we would need to do to live better lives anyway. So and then you get to at the end of that towards the opportunity that you see, to create a better world and there’s a great motivation that comes from that.

Marie Fadeyeva  43:34

I know in a previous video you mentioned, or in a previous video interview, you’ve mentioned that the timeline to make the most critical change, and you’ve also touched upon this with  us, is that the next 5 to 10 years, so very immediate. 

So I’m wondering if you have any advice for Gabe and I? I’m graduating in May, and then Gabe is a junior so he’s got like a year and a half left. As people our age are starting out, leaving college and starting their like jobs, or the next step of their careers after college. What would you recommend us to do if we want to be a part of that change? 

Gaya Herrington  44:14

Yeah, that’s very, it’s a very good question. Because it’s, that’s always the question. 

You know, already, when you’re young, you’re like, what’s my place in the world? Who am I? What do I want, et cetera. And now you’re in this quite tumultuous time in history on top of that, so you’re like, what’s my place in the system? Also, what’s the system? You know? So I can see how you would have had to have that question. I would say that, in general, working in systems change is about this discovery. So it’s very, I would say, I think I say this in my book as well. Try to be comfortable with the uncomfortability that comes with that. There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty. 

And, you know, I believe that part of why we see so many people fall for like lunatic conspiracy theories, is because people want certainty. We really are not good with uncertainty. We don’t like it. And, you know, try to be as comfortable as you can with the uncertainty, because we’re going to have, we’re not going to have much really stable society. Right now. And that’s not doom saying it’s just, this is a society in transition. And so try to be as comfortable with that as you can. 

And in the meantime, decide what has real value for you. Hold on to that and try to, you know, strengthen that in the system, find a way that you can change that. And even if you’re not a decision maker, you always have influence in the system. And I know young people understand this because they’re, you know, you have these influencers on social media, etc. Right. So, you can you always have a way to influence the system. And, you know, find your way in that, while, doing that through staying a little bit comfortable with a lot of unanswered questions while you do that.

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  46:31

Just one super quick final thing which was the original idea of this podcast, to think about climate related high school curriculum. So I was just wondering if you could say one or two things about what you would add to a school curriculum. Like you said, you learned about it starting in elementary school, I believe.

Gaya Herrington  47:05

Yeah. Now that I learned that you don’t have that, you should probably have a class on you know, all the sustainability issues. So at least climate change, also the biodiversity crisis. Social inequalities as well. I think that’s a big part of sustainability as well. 

So those kinds of things, but I would also given that we are in this transformation right now. I think a class on systems thinking would be really useful as well. You know, where, because we’re operating in systems and systems, and no one has real control there. But it is good to know how things can be interconnected. Because if you want to be effective in a system, you don’t want to work on just a small part. You want to be able to see what are leverage points what are root causes. What is ultimately really causing this.

So systems thinking. And I do think that, you know, through this, this rising economic inequalities, or social cohesion, you know, one of the strongest parts of America was its social cohesion. We all had this, we were the United States of America that was a very strong narrative about who we were. And that’s kind of falling apart. And I think, you know, due to strengthen our social cohesion, I think it would be great to have empathy skills, ways of communication, nonviolent communication, how do you really listen to the other person? I think that would be great to have in school curriculums as well.

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  48:34

Thank you so much for meeting with us today. 

Gaya Herrington  48:38

You’re welcome. 

Gabe Gitter-Dentz  48:38

That was definitely interesting, very helpful for me to think about things in the big picture. Like starting to practice systems thinking.

Marie Fadeyeva  49:40

It was great to learn from you today.