Today’s guest is Akshat Rathi, a London-based reporter, covering science, energy, and environment for Bloomberg News. We have a great discussion about Akshat's history and most recent role at Quartz, his views on the nature of the climate challenge, the state of science journalism and path forward, and a wide range of relevant sub-topics around barriers and potential solutions. A great primer on the problem, and on journalism's role in the fight. Enjoy the show!
Today’s guest is Akshat Rathi, a London-based reporter, covering science, energy, and environment for Bloomberg News. He has a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Oxford, and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai.
He tells stories of the people and their ideas tackling the biggest problem facing humanity: climate change. And he is currently working on a book about scaling up climate solutions.
Previously, Akshat was a senior reporter at Quartz and a science editor at The Conversation. He has also worked for The Economist and the Royal Society of Chemistry. His writings have also been published in Nature, The Hindu, The Guardian, Ars Technica, and Chemistry World, among others.
In 2018, Akshat won Journalist of the Year at the Drum’s Online Media Awards ceremony, he was a finalist for the John B. Oakes award for distinguished environmental journalism, and he was shortlisted for British Science Writer of the Year by the Association of British Science Writers. In 2019, he was shortlisted by the British Journalism Awards for the best science journalism category.
Akshat has won fellowships from Columbia University and City University of New York to enhance his reporting work. He has also served on the advisory panel of the 2019 Cairncross Review on the sustainability of high-quality journalism in the UK.
In today’s episode, we cover:
Links to topics discussed in this episode:
Enjoy the show!
Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone, this is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to My Climate Journey. This show follows my journey to interview a wide range of guests to better understand and make sense of the formidable problem of climate change and try to figure out how people like you and I can help. Today's guest is Akshat Rathi. Most recently, Akshat was a senior reporter for Quartz, where he covered science, energy and environment. In early 2020, he'll be joining Bloomberg News. Akshat has a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Oxford and a BTech in chemical engineering from the Institute of Chemical Technology in Mumbai.
Jason Jacobs: Akshat tells stories of the people and their ideas tackling the biggest problem facing humanity, and that's climate change. He's also currently working on a book about scaling up climate solutions. Akshat was the first journalist that I've had on the podcast so far and I really enjoy this discussion. I think one thing I appreciate about Akshat is when you talk to him, you don't feel like you're speaking with someone who's just a communicator, but someone who really is a strategic domain expert in this complex, nuanced systems challenge. He's also just a really nice guy. Akshat Rathi, welcome to the show.
Akshat Rathi: Hey, nice to be here.
Jason Jacobs: I'm so excited for this one. The climate category is so bro... If there even is such a thing, because it's like the everything category and the nothing category, but journalism is such an important piece and I have yet to talk to a journalist on the show. So you are the icebreaker, the guinea pig, the bravest of the brave and I'm excited for you to come. So thank you.
Akshat Rathi: Hey, I'm a moonwalker according to this SquadCast.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, for listeners we use SquadCast for these remote episodes. Unfortunately this was not in person and if you don't enter your name, it assigns a random name. And so Akshat's name is Dynamic Moonwalker. So I might have to call you that in perpetuity from now on outside of this discussion if that's okay.
Akshat Rathi: I'm happy with that.
Jason Jacobs: So why don't we just take it from the top? I know until three days ago, you were at Quartz, so maybe let's talk about that. What were you doing there and what's Quartz?
Akshat Rathi: Yes, so Quartz is a business publication that was created by the Atlantic in 2012, so it's seven and a little bit years old. I joined early 2015 and I went in there as a science wrangler. So my goal was to try and bring people who write about science in one form or another from different perspectives because it's a business publication covering all sorts of business topics, and to try and inject a little more rigor in the way that subject was covered. And I did that for about two years and then I had an option whether to go down the route of being an editor full time or be a writer full time. And I enjoyed writing a little bit too much and so I didn't want to give that up. And so that's when I figured out that I have to find a beat for myself that would keep me engaged in a more focused way.
Akshat Rathi: And it was 2016, end of 2016, Trump had been elected as president, and my editor had asked me a question. He said, "You know what? Hey, this clean goal thing has been in Trump's campaign for quite some time. Do you know what it is? Do people know what it is?" And that's what got me started on the climate beat.
Jason Jacobs: And before you got started on the climate beat, is climate always something that you were concerned about or when and how and in what capacity did that manifest?
Akshat Rathi: I wasn't a climate person, so I trained as a chemical engineer and then I did a PhD in organic chemistry, but I was a node in and out. I liked science, I liked math. And when I was doing my PhD, my goal was to try and make a dent in the world of academic knowledge and perhaps find something that nobody had found before, which is the goal of every PhD student. And so I did that and I enjoyed it. And at some point in my PhD, I recognized that my interests were big and broad. I didn't want to do just chemistry or organic chemistry as I was studying for the rest of my life, and I used to write as a hobby. And so after my PhD, I figured out whether if there's a way in which I could turn my hobby into a job and that's how I became a journalist.
Akshat Rathi: Climate change I think played a role in my understanding of the world at the background level all through and I was aware of the problem. When I was at Oxford, one of the things that I read which changed my life was the UN livestock report, which was called Livestock's Long Shadow, and it talked about how emissions from meat production were greater than all of transportation, which includes cars, planes, ships, the whole lot.
Akshat Rathi: That changed my mind as to what kind of problem we are facing, which is one that we don't always grapple in the way that we should be grappling with it. And so it played into my background as I was going through life finishing university, getting my first job, and when the opportunity came in 2016, things all came together and it's been a great beat to follow since.
Jason Jacobs: Is the PhD to journalism path one that well trodden?
Akshat Rathi: It's not, and I am actually quite happy that more and more people or more and more PhDs are doing it because I think we bring a brilliant unusual understanding to journalism just because we've spent a lot of time trying to understand academic science and how it is put together, how the sausage is made. Once you know how the sausage is made, you'll have a better understanding of what questions you need to ask and that's been tremendously valuable. When I am covering the subject, I have a intuitive sense, especially if it's science paper or related about where there might be gaps in the knowledge and the way that science is done and I'm able to get to those questions much more quickly. And I find that sources are also much more comfortable because they can sometimes talk to me in jog and knowing that I'm getting what they mean a little more quickly and we can then have more in depth conversations.
Jason Jacobs: And you had mentioned that when you came into Quartz that one of the things that was necessary on the science side was introducing more rigor. What do you mean by rigor and what was the state of the state when you first started working in Quartz on this area?
Akshat Rathi: I think this is generally true of science journalism across the media that if you think about subject knowledge expertise, the science bit itself is so in depth and complex and broad that it's knowledge base, it's entire knowledge base and just science is probably equal into all the other subject areas you cover in news. Of course, that is not to say that people will be equally interested in science as they are interested in everything, which is politics and sports and culture, but to a journalist who is covering that bit, it is a massive challenge to be able to know how a black hole is formed and what effects it has in the universe to how an atom works inside a battery. It is as different as understanding how the Middle East crisis happened to how the latest Hollywood movie came about. It's completely different bases of knowledge, and so it is a challenge to use science to do journalism, but if you're able to use it, you enrich any story you tell.
Akshat Rathi: So say it's a management story about how women in the workplace make a company better. If you were writing that story just based on talking to different people in the area of that expertise, they'll give you only a certain amount of perspective. If you also dig into academic studies about how in a sample of companies where gender proportions have changed has affected their outcomes, you'd been a much more quantitative space to be able to write about this particular story. But reading those papers or understanding those papers doesn't come naturally to journalists because they are storytellers. And to me, I think combining that storytelling with the understanding of data and science and the methods of science is just a rich form in which we can tell stories.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I think all of that makes good sense. As a a nonacademic, one perception that I have and I'd love to get your input on is that a lot of these academic papers not only are they long and dry, but they tend to contradict each other. And so how do you know where to put your trust when reading these academic papers given that the findings seemingly, and if I'm incorrect, please let me know, but tend to be all over the map?
Akshat Rathi: That's a good question. And I would say it's actually quite the opposite. So there would be new stories, especially if you live here in the UK where we have a very hyper partisan media landscape, that have the same piece of news reported in quite two different opposing ways if you put that context. Science on the other hand or generally academic studies on the other hand, they build on each other. And so often, a science paper the way it is structured, is there'll be a long introduction which should capture everything or at least everything relevant that has happened in that space before it explains why it is answering a question that is built up on that base of knowledge. And so yes, academic papers do go and have opposing ideas, but they are all trying to do that in the pursuit of building up a base of knowledge.
Akshat Rathi: And in that sense, I would say the news landscape is worse than the academic landscape when it comes to knowledge sharing, but you're absolutely right that academic papers are dry and boring to read, but that's because they're not written for us. They're written for other academics. And I know enough academics who enjoy the process of reading those papers. And that's perhaps where a journalist who comes from an academic world can help translate what are interesting, breathtaking, important pieces of research that are lying in these thick, dense, boring pieces of text on the internet.
Jason Jacobs: So this is not the direction I thought I would be taking this discussion, but I guess that's typically the way it goes. But when I'm hearing you talking, one thing that comes to mind is that one of the issues in the climate fight right now is that there seems to be a growing skepticism or mistrust in science itself. And I think in order to get the general public to hunker down and be supportive of doing the bold things that are required to try to get a better handle on the problem and stop the bleeding, if you will, then we need to have a broader trust of science. And so I said that as a statement, but my first question is, do you agree? And then if so, are we better served to try to convince people just to trust in science and we're not the experts and to stay out of the way and trust or to build bridges to help maybe connect the dots between these dry academic papers and a language or a format that the general public might be better equipped to understand?
Akshat Rathi: So I would challenge you on the fact that you believe that there is more distrust in science. If anything, at least in the 10 years of journalism I have seen and been part of, the trust in science hasn't been higher.
Jason Jacobs: Oh, from where? Are you talking about in general or from a specific audience?
Akshat Rathi: Very specifically in the climate sphere, but also in general.
Jason Jacobs: But you're saying the general public's trust in science or the scientists' trust in their own work?
Akshat Rathi: General public's trust in science.
Jason Jacobs: Okay, keep going. I just wanted to make sure I understand.
Akshat Rathi: Yes, you're right that climate movement has had its problems with climate deniers and climate skepticism perhaps given too much attention, but that phase is on the wind now. So at the COP 25 meeting, which is the annual climate meeting that the UN organizes, which is currently happening in Madrid, you had the most, the newest EU climate chief come through. And in his opening remarks, I think a journalist asked him a question or maybe it was just his remarks, he said, "The problem that climate deniers is not one I think about or care about anymore. The real problem we now have is the people who do agree on climate change, which is the last majority of EU countries, but also globally, that we do more on what we do agree is a problem." And so climate demands and climate skepticism is on the fringe now. That is not to say it is not a problem, but it's just is smaller and smaller problem as we go forward, and that's a good thing.
Jason Jacobs: And when you look at where we are and where we need to go and the need to overall move more boldly, more aggressively, faster, more effectively, et cetera, what is journalism's biggest role to play there?
Akshat Rathi: So to me the biggest problem, if there is one, and I don't think it's fair to say there is one, but if I were pick what I see as the biggest problem, it is inertia. Humans are as individuals, but as groups, very stuck in our own race, comfortable in the places that we find ourselves even if we know that the next destination we might get to might be more comfortable because that journey from going from one destination to another involves disruption. That is not something that our being allows us to very easily agree to. And so in some way, I see the role of journalism to be people who are able to bridge this gap between reality, which is the climate problem as we know it, and perception, which is maybe it's not going to be as bad, maybe it doesn't need as much of an overhaul, maybe it's not going to affect my life, maybe it's not going to affect my bank balance. But I think bridging that gap is what journalism has done for all sorts of other problems, but should be doing more for climate change.
Jason Jacobs: And any thoughts on how journalism may be able to do that more effectively?
Akshat Rathi: I think journalism is probably the most human of the professions in that humans are writing to other humans and humans are messy. And so the way journalism conveys a message from one human to another is also messy and there are hundreds and thousands and millions of ways of doing it. I think one of the problems that has held back climate action is that there hasn't been enough attention from journalists to a problem of this magnitude and urgency, and that's starting to change. So in what journalism can do for climate, the first thing is to do more and better journalism so that bigger audiences can be reached. And for adults, journalism is their form of education, and this is a form of education that needs to be relevant and proportional to what the problem is.
Akshat Rathi: That would be one, but the second is to be more accurate in how the problem is portrayed, how the solutions are portrayed. And on that, I think there are still major challenges left. We still have people who don't understand the entire climate problem or will pick up on things that make for good headlines. So a good example would be from last night. Here we have a UK election happening on Thursday, and so a lot of political parties have put their leaders for debates in different publications on different TV channels. On one of those TV channels on the BBC, a labor MP, a former MP, was asked a question about climate change and she said, "Yes, it's a big problem and we need to address it."
Akshat Rathi: While she was answering, the host asked her, "Will you nationalize sausages?" And this is A, an absurd question, B, is completely misinformed to what the labor MP's policies have been on climate change. And this is happening on international television where millions of people are watching, and so there needs to be a much more informed journalist who is able to ask the right questions, which are crucial and important if you have to inform the wider problem.
Jason Jacobs: How much of this do you think falls on the journalists themselves versus the news organizations having bigger research departments for example, to pull from?
Akshat Rathi: Could you explain that a little more?
Jason Jacobs: Oh, yeah, so it's a weird example, but when I sold software early on in my career, I would go in and speak with CIOs and heads of information technology at big companies, and I had some expertise of the things I was talking about, but I would have a sales engineer who would be with me who was trained as an engineer but was also customer facing, who had deeper knowledge that could inform... Or another example is like financial advisor where you have a financial advisor that's the face to the client across their equities, their bonds, the different asset classes, but then they have expertise to pull from within the bank of someone who's only expertise is fixed income and they know it cold and someone who's only expertise is big blue chip stocks and they know it cold. And so is there a similar model that could be or is being applied in journalism, especially in an area like climate where it's just so broad that it's impossible for any one person to be the master of every domain?
Akshat Rathi: It's not. And I think that's because of the constraints of the business model. We'll talk about it later, but I'll be joining Bloomberg News in January, that is the largest newsroom on the planet. And when I say the largest, it has 2,700 journalists. Coming from journalism, that is large, that is really big.
Jason Jacobs: Not coming from journalism. That sounds large to me.
Akshat Rathi: Oh, that's interesting.
Jason Jacobs: For what it's worth.
Akshat Rathi: But within Bloomberg, there are 5,000 technologists. So there are 5,000 people who are working on software and computer coding and improvement of the product, but there are 2,700 journalists. Now scale that down to Quartz, which is a global publication, reaches millions of people each month, more than 10 million, closer to 15, it's only 90 journalists. And so that's 30 times smaller than Bloomberg News. And so yes, if you talk at the Bloomberg scale, there is enough expertise within their financial journalism, for example, for the bond market. And within bond market, there are probably five reporters just reporting on a specific one market in the UK. In Quartz, that's not the case. We have one reporter who understands the bond markets and then one editor who understands bond markets and if there's a bond market story that applies to a wide audience, they might be able to write it.
Akshat Rathi: So if you take that to climate, that is what I was doing when I was at Quartz. I was one person who was fully dedicated to it. We had two or three reporters from around the world who contributed towards it, but that's about it. That's how much of a resource given to the climate story. When now I'm going to Bloomberg, before I was hired, there were maybe five or six people who were dedicated to climate. By the time I go, it'll be a dozen people, so then double the team, but that's about it. So there isn't yet a business model that would support the kind of model that you are saying where we could draw on internal expertise from within our newsroom to be able to tell what is a big story
Jason Jacobs: You bring up business model which brings up something I've been wrestling with even for this podcast which at some point, right now, it has no business model, but if it wants to be a long and ongoing concern over the longterm, will somehow need to figure out how to support itself. And how do you think about business models in climate journalism's? Specifically, I worry with ad driven business models that to your point before it even subconsciously will draw people to sensationalism, but I also worry with premium models that it will limit who's going to read this important material.
Akshat Rathi: Yeah, and it's a whole can of worms that we open if we talk about business models in journalism because one of the biggest problems that we faced in the last decade or so is that business models with journalism are not working, which is why you are getting what is likely to be a democratic deficit in many countries where the information is not available for people to be able to make the right choices they need to for themselves but also for the places they live in and the countries they live in. Broadly though, what we've ended up with is the free internet, which is completely ad supported, is shrinking and that's because there's not enough advertising or quality advertising supporting that kind of journalism.
Akshat Rathi: And if you go down the sensationalism route, which many publications have done, it's a race to the bottom and that's not a good model to be in. Then there is in the middle of freemium model, of free plus premium model, where you would be able to access a certain number of articles from a certain publication for that month or that year, and if you want more, you pay. That seems to be working and lots of publications are doing that, New York Times, Bloomberg, but there's also in that space, a model that The Guardian uses where it will keep its journalism for free, but it asks for voluntary contributions from its readers. And it has been able to make inroads because of its depth, its size, its audience that has allowed it to flourish in a difficult space.
Akshat Rathi: And then of course there's premium journalism, which is completely behind a pay wall and you can only access it if you can pay for it. And that is places like the Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, and yes, that means only people with a certain amount of income or available money are able to access it. But luckily, we have enough across this broad mix for now that we are not completely deficient in the information that we need although I do worry what happens to the free publications, whether they can continue to run for long.
Jason Jacobs: And when it comes to climate journalism specifically, I know you might have personal biases in terms of which models you like better for yourself, but do you also have a view in terms of the way you'd like to see the overall industry move or does a portfolio approach make sense and it's just different strokes for different folks?
Akshat Rathi: Yeah, I think one aspect in climate journalism, and this is probably the fourth business model in journalism that I haven't talked, which is not for profit supported journalism. And so that has been increasingly growing. US listeners with probably know of ProPublica, which is a completely philanthropy funded organization that does excellent journalism. In the climate sphere, there are publications like Climate Home, there is Carbon Brief, these are, again, completely funded by philanthropies and they have added a crucial, important source of information that we've needed. We are also getting to a reader funded model of journalism.
Akshat Rathi: One of the first people who is doing it at an individual level is Emily Atkin, who's an independent journalist who quit her job three months ago to start a newsletter, and just yesterday, she finally has asked readers to pay for her newsletter. And so there'll be a freemium model here where there'll be some issues that'll go out for free, but only people who pay for it will get all of the issues and the newsletter. And so that's also a positive sign that somebody is trying the new form of journalism and I hope it succeeds, but it's a messy place and there is no clear winner.
Jason Jacobs: And coming back to something you said before about needing more rigor or more domain expertise from climate journalism, I threw out an idea of having this research department, which you said wasn't going to work. Do you have ideas for how to better foster that? What's the best way to get there?
Akshat Rathi: So journalists have depended on science journalists in general, but journalists in general on the expertise of others, and most of the experts are willing to give their time generously to journalists knowing that we are the vessels through which the stories are told to the mass audience. And so finding ways in which you can reduce the friction between journalists being able to access deep expertise will enrich journalism. And there are places that are trying to do that. So one good example is a website called Climate Feedback. It was started by a PhD student as a way of ensuring that climate journalism is done with keeping facts as much of the story... As part of the story as possible. So what it does internally is it looks at climate stories that are trending, that are getting a lot of audience attention, and then it sends out that new story to huge list of experts, about 300 scientists, to see if they can peer review what is written in that article and then they publish their analysis saying whether this story is a good story, a bad story, it’s well-informed, it's not.
Akshat Rathi: But it also has that access of 300 scientists who are willing to be talking to journalists. And so if you had a question, you could reach out to them and there would be within that expertise, somebody who can answer that specific question you might have about the West Antarctic ice sheet that might be about to collapse. And so that sort of friction that usually exists if I have to cover a story and I have a deadline and within hours I need somebody to be able to tell me whether this particular academic paper I'm reading does actually mean really bad news for the world, I need to be able to tap into somebody who really knows that subject. And to do that quickly, will be a service to journalism.
Jason Jacobs: Would you also like to see more people like you that have PhDs moving into journalism?
Akshat Rathi: Certainly, and I think that's happening already, which is a very good sign. I know among my peers, there are PhD students in publications like the New Scientist and in fact, The Economist. My former science editor, the first job I had in journalism was with The Economist, my science editor at the time, and he is still the science editor there, was a PhD in zoology. And so PhDs like us are getting into journalism and that's a good thing.
Jason Jacobs: But here's an idea and I can't be the first one to think of this, but if I am, then we get to have this light bulb, big breakthrough moment right here on the episode. But one program I've really become enamored with at least from a distance, is this AAAS Fellowship program, which takes PhDs and puts them in a place where they're desperately needed and where they don't typically go, which is in the government sitting inside senator's offices or at the DOE or places like that. Is there a similar kind of program for journalism?
Akshat Rathi: There isn't, but that's an excellent idea. In some way, The Economist internship, which is what I got when I first finished my PhD, was designed for a non journalist to be taking on a journalism role. So it didn't say a PhD, but it was for people who hadn't studied journalism, hadn't done it in a serious way, to come in and get a crash course in how you do journalism.
Jason Jacobs: Is that an idea that we just figured out together, which is that somebody should build a AAAS Fellowship program for journalism?
Akshat Rathi: That would be great.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah, but I cut you off, but accidentally. Please finish your thought.
Akshat Rathi: No, no, I think that would be a great idea. And if it's an organization or a philanthropy or a rich donor I think that translation of expertise that can allow journalism to become better is a good idea.
Jason Jacobs: So want to go back to this whole concept of mistrust, because I said that there seems mistrust in science is growing and you took issue with that and said actually it's going the other way. What about mistrust in journalism?
Akshat Rathi: Yeah, so that too. I was looking at some data recently, is that if you look at professions and trust, scientists and doctors have been historically at the very top and they continue to be there. Politicians and journalists tend to be at the very bottom. And so when I went from being a scientist to a journalist, I just made the worst leap of trust in public that I could have. Luckily though, even despite all the disinformation and fake news and attack on journalists, there has been a slight increase in the trust in journalism. And I do not know what the study attributed it to or what I will attribute it to, but I do think that in this age where journalists are all on social media and so is the wider public and there can be a direct conversation between public and the journalist, our ability to hold journalists to account has never been higher. And so maybe that is the reason why there has been a little bit more trust in journalism than previously.
Jason Jacobs: And we've talked a lot about journalism's role in the climate fight. One thing we haven't talked as much about at least so far in the discussion that it would be great to touch on if you're okay is just taking a step back, you've done so much in terms of these long form real thought out pieces about all different aspects of climate change or many different aspects of climate change, but it'd be great to just talk about the problem overall. How are you feeling about it? Are you an optimist? Is it an existential threat? Maybe just describe the problem as you see it or the nature of it.
Akshat Rathi: I see the problem as a big problem, probably the biggest problem that we face in the longterm, but that is an aggregate. That's an answer in aggregate. If I would, thinking about humanity, then that's true. But very few people think about humanity the first time they wake up in the morning. The first thing they think about is themselves or their family or their immediate surrounding. And so private journalism has to bridge this huge gap, which is this big story that needs to be addressed in big ways and bring it down from time to time to the level of the individual, and that's a big challenge for anybody doing it.
Akshat Rathi: In terms of whether I'm an optimist or not, that question has been asked around and I don't know what a good answer is. I'm just by nature an optimist. I think that's what gets me up in the morning and gets me going. So I don't think there's a choice there for me. I'm just who I am and I perceive it because I feel like there are solutions and we can use those solutions to try and solve a problem. And my goal is to try and find those solutions and tell people about them.
Jason Jacobs: Maybe it's because the politicians or the journalists or there aren't enough people in general reading the academic papers as you were talking about before, but there seems to be a wide range of how people actually talk about and frame the problem in their own heads. Some people say we have 12 years to act and other people say humanity is going to be fine no matter what, or we're just talking about degrees here and similar to other diseases when they come up it needs to get addressed, but this is not an existential threat. How severe, how urgent do you think the problem is?
Akshat Rathi: I think the problem is very severe and very urgent. The way we interpret it is up to us and there are given the size of the problem, people can take the route that they feel is the route that they are most comfortable with. If that is a doomsday scenario and that is what gets them going, go with that. If it's a more pragmatic approach to what's solving problems and building coalitions, do that. I think we've just not done anything to cut emissions for so long that right now there is scope for everybody to come on board no matter how they approach the problem. There is so much room to try and solve this problem.
Jason Jacobs: When it comes to consumers, for example, do you think that consumers should be changing their behavior and do you have confidence that consumers are capable of changing their behavior at scale?
Akshat Rathi: I think everybody contributes and consumers are likely to be a small part of the problem because they can only consume what is offered to them. And so unless there are climate friendly options for everything in front of us and easily accessible, consumers won't be able to do very much to be able to move the needle. But there are things that consumers can do right now which they do have access to and they should be doing those things. So I think it's both. You need systemic change and you need behavioral change. Which might happen first, I don't know. But I think we need both of them to be able to solve the problem.
Jason Jacobs: What about market forces versus policy and regulation?
Akshat Rathi: Again, I think it's in a place we need both of these. There will be places like the US where there is a, I wouldn't say it's a free market utopia, but it is more free market than not and people prefer to keep it that way. And so in that space, you try more market friendly options. In other places, like in China, you might have less market friendly options available to you because of the way the government is structured and the way policies are implemented. And so you use the models of higher regulation, more government support to get things done. I think again, it's such a big problem, we will need everything on the table and the solution will be different in different places.
Jason Jacobs: Is it essential that we put a price on carbon?
Akshat Rathi: Perhaps, but also again, we do know that even if we do put a price on carbon that on its own is not enough. And so, again, it is right now all of the above and that in some way, is actually perhaps an optimistic note that currently we have so many solutions and so many options in front of us that we can choose what fits our particular politics in a particular country.
Jason Jacobs: Does it matter what we do in the US given what's happening in places like India, China and other developing countries?
Akshat Rathi: 100%. The goal that finally solves this long problem is reaching zero emissions. And that means every player, be it a country or a state or a company, and eventually an individual, everybody has to come to zero. And that means the US has to do its part just as India and China have to do their own, but we also have to make sure that we do it in a way that is fair because humans, even as we are born, we understand fairness even if we can't speak the language of fairness. And so fairness is built into us humans. And if we don't come up with a solution that is fair, then we won't have a solution that works for everybody.
Jason Jacobs: Is it cool if we do a few more of these?
Akshat Rathi: Yeah.
Jason Jacobs: Okay, because I've got... I could keep going, but I don't want to beat a dead horse here, but where do things like direct air capture and other forms of carbon removal fit in? Do you think we'll need them and do you think they'll ever be able to be done at the scale we need in ways where the math works?
Akshat Rathi: Yeah, I think we need them and there is good analysis to explain why we need them. If we'd started to cut emissions in the '90s and continued to cut emissions since then, then maybe we wouldn't have needed negative emissions. Maybe we wouldn't have needed to pull carbon dioxide out from the air. But as it stands, we have not and we have delayed cutting emissions and that means if we are to avoid climate catastrophe in the form of 1.5 degrees Celsius or two degrees Celsius of warming, then we will need to use technologies such as direct air capture but others, that will bring carbon dioxide levels to do the net zero part that we talk about. Will we be able to scale it up? We've been able to scale up other technologies, there is no reason, at least from a technology perspective, that this is not possible. It is also from a geological perspective, where do you vary the carbon. We have plenty of places in the world where we can vary enough carbon to stave off this problem. So it's not a technology problem, it's more a problem of politics and financing.
Jason Jacobs: Where do things like fission and fusion fit in, if at all?
Akshat Rathi: Again, it's right now the question of the nuclear as I understand it is as one of the biggest sources of a zero carbon source of energy, we need to do as much as we can to try and extend the life of power plants that we already have and innovate in this space to be able to bring down the cost of building new power plants. At the end, despite all we talk about safety and risks and worries, the thing that has been the biggest challenge for new nuclear power plants is that they are too expensive to build. And so if we can find the ways in which we can make that cheaper, nuclear becomes an option for us to be having in cutting emissions and we need all sorts of options available to us. Trying to solve a problem with just a handful of technologies means risking not being able to solve the problem at all.
Jason Jacobs: And what about fusion? Do you think it'll ever happen at scale?
Akshat Rathi: I don't know, but-
Jason Jacobs: Or even happen at this point?
Akshat Rathi: The joke goes fusion is the source of energy of the future will always remain so.
Jason Jacobs: Yup, 10 years away in perpetuity.
Akshat Rathi: Yes, but things have been different in fusion and if you talk to fusion experts, which I have done, we have made progress over the last 50 years. The sums of private capital in fusion, which I reported on last year, blew me away that there are companies that have raised more than a billion dollars and there are more than 20 startups around the world that are working on the problem, was not something I was aware of before I started reporting on it. And so the fact that there is that much interest and that much push from private capital is a signal that this is a solvable problem or it's a more solvable problem today than it was 10 years ago.
Jason Jacobs: How do you feel about the fossil fuel companies?
Akshat Rathi: Again, how do I feel? Does it matter? I suppose the perspective have is that I grew up in India, and so growing up in the '90s, India was a place that was held back by its socialistic roots, which meant slow growth for a long time and that meant lots and lots of people in poverty and not much social mobility between classes. And in the '90s just like China, India moved to a more market driven economy, and as it did that, it relied on fossil fuels to be able to get the energy it needed to run those economies.
Akshat Rathi: That meant I am doing better than my father did or a lot better than my father did, than he did compared to my grandfather. And that acceleration that I have seen in my own family happened to millions of other families. And I think here in the West, people probably don't see that perspective because they haven't seen that kind of social mobility within their lifetime and what it does to the people, their surroundings, their relatives, and their just general quality of life that people in India or China or the developing countries have seen.
Akshat Rathi: And that has happened on the back of fossil fuels, most of those fossil fuels as it happens also were provided by state owned companies. So in India, coal is largely a monopoly run by Coal India Limited, a state owned company. That's the same story with China and it's coal consumption and it's coal production. And so when we talk about fossil fuel companies, and I suppose the context of your question is one where oil companies and the way they have changed the conversation through disinformation and delayed action on climate change is a problem, is true and it's a problem that needs to be addressed and lots of things that are happening in that space, but we should not forget that most of the fossil fuels even today, are provided by state owned companies, which means governments are responsible for providing those fossil fuels to their own people. And those governments have done that because fossil fuels have been important in providing the energy we needed for our human development.
Jason Jacobs: So then how do we balance the issue of energy poverty and the issue of climate change?
Akshat Rathi: We are in that time where it is an easier question to answer than it has ever been. In the '90s, energy poverty, the only way you could address it was with more fossil fuel. That's not the case anymore because zero carbon energy sources are cheap and cheaper in many places than fossil fuels. So that question only gets easier as the years go by and we lower the technology, we lower the prices of solar and wind and batteries and we will come to a point where the question won't be whether it's fossil fuels or clean sources of energy, it will be clean source of energy all the time.
Jason Jacobs: So given that that's the trajectory we're on, how do you think about technologies that decarbonize fossil fuels at point of emission?
Akshat Rathi: They're important and necessary because we have industries and sources of emissions that are not just fossil fuel related that will not be addressed by the technologies that are becoming cheaper. So if you think about the steel industry or the cement industry, those are industries that do not have as of now, an economically viable option, do not produce carbon dioxide. In the case of cement, it's part of the chemistry. That's how cement is made. And so those industries will need ways in which we can trap the emissions they produce and then buried underground. There are also emissions from sources like aviation, especially long haul aviation or shipping, probably long haul shipping, that we don't yet have economically viable options to place. And so the best way in which we can deal with it is to allow for technologies like direct air capture that can offset those emissions. And so probably goes back to the point I made that right now, all of the above is what we should be looking at.
Jason Jacobs: And a similar but different question, what does that mean then as it relates to things like consumer offsets and corporate offsets?
Akshat Rathi: They are messy. And I think enough has been written about it recently and I think that's been a service that journalism has done to show that offsets only work in very specific cases and the threshold of what is required to make an offset work should be much, much higher than it is for most offsets that are sold in the market. And I think we are seeing corporations recognize that there is a problem in the offset market, which is why companies like Stripe are coming out with the support for negative emissions technologies knowing well that offsets only solve part of the problem if they solve that part of the problem. And I think that awareness is partly down to journalists pointing out the real problems and offsets, but also journalists trying to explain what negative emissions technologies can do and how they are in more perfect offset if there was one.
Jason Jacobs: I have one more topic on this punch list and then two closing questions if that's all right. So the last one that we didn't talk about is just solar geoengineering research. Where does that fit into all of this, if at all?
Akshat Rathi: I think the climate problem should have been taught in the past as a problem of insurance. We understand as individuals living in a society that insurance is key. That we pay a small sum to ensure that we don't end up with a large loss in the future. We buy home insurance, we buy mobile phone insurance. Climate change should have been an insurance problem. We should have recognized that this problem could be much worse than what we think it is going to be, and we should have found a way to insure ourselves against it by reducing emissions, which we didn't. And that is how, in that context, is how we should be thinking about solar geoengineering.
Akshat Rathi: It is an extreme step which would require an extreme amount of agreement among countries that we've never had before and we should be only taking it in an extreme scenario where the benefits outweigh the harms, but we still don't know what the harms are and we still don't know what the benefits are. And so in the spirit of insurance, we should be working on that problem and trying to understand those harms and benefits before we use it.
Jason Jacobs: I guess one last punch list question I didn't ask, which is just if you, for each incremental dollar coming into the space, how do you think about emissions reduction versus removal versus things like adaptation and resiliency? Where can that incremental dollar be highest value?
Akshat Rathi: A very good question. And I recently wrote an article about adaptation versus mitigation, and it was a fascinating discussion to have with people who've studied the subject for quite some time. I think that again, it's in aggregate the answer would be that we should try and spend money where adaptation and mitigation can be done together and there are lots of places where that's possible. So one example is take Puerto Rico for example. We had a hurricane that destroyed much of the infrastructure on the island and the neighboring smaller islands. If you were to build an energy infrastructure again, it is better to build one that is zero carbon because you want fewer emissions and one that is more resilient to future hurricanes. And so what Puerto Rico has done at least in parts, is deployed solar plus batteries, and that is a way in which they can mitigate and adapt going into the future, giving them a solution that will have a longer life. And so where you have a win-win, where you can mitigate and adapt, I think that our dollar is well spent. But purely spending on adaptation without mitigation is futile.
Jason Jacobs: If you had $100 billion and you could allocate towards anything to maximize its impact on this problem, where would you put it and how would you allocate it?
Akshat Rathi: $100 billion, which I probably have fairly done about, is just a sum that is so incomprehensible. If I had the power to spend it that I would perhaps hire-
Jason Jacobs: Don't say Goldman Sachs. No, I'm just joking.
Akshat Rathi: People who are much better experts at handling money and understanding this problem, and then depending on their advice, decide what to do with the money because I wouldn't have an idea where to start.
Jason Jacobs: So you'd take a small amount and put together an advisory board full of cross functional expertise to help you come up with a plan?
Akshat Rathi: That's right. That's right.
Jason Jacobs: I've never heard that before. That's actually... it's not the most pragmatic answer I've ever heard, it's a cop out, but it's also the most pragmatic answer I've ever heard. It's probably the right one.
Akshat Rathi: Well, one of the most fascinating uses of money that I've seen is breakthrough energy ventures, which is partly Bill Gates's money, but partly all these other billionaires who are putting in, well, not 100 billion but a billion, which is still a lot some not large enough, and the way they're doing it is exactly that. They've put together the star group of people who understand the problem and who are trying to tackle it and I think that is a sensible way in which you should spend money.
Jason Jacobs: And what about for any listener out there that's concerned about the problem and wants to help, what advice do you have for them as they're trying to figure out how to do so?
Akshat Rathi: Again, it's a question that as a journalist, I get asked so many times. From an individual perspective, I say, here are things that will make immediate impact and there are options that you have which will enable you to make that impact. First, fly less if you can. So only fly when it's absolutely necessary. Second, give up an on red meat or all meat if you can, because there are so many better alternatives that are available and it will do the world a hell of a lot, and third, become more politically active. The reason climate has struggled to be solved is it hasn't risen in the public consciousness or on the political agenda as much as it should. And if you think it's a problem, it is your responsibility in a way to bring along other people and make them recognize that it's a problem and you should be voting accordingly to put in place the right people who can change and solve this problem.
Jason Jacobs: And my last question Akshat, I know you can't say too much about the role of Bloomberg that you're starting in a few weeks, but anything you want to talk about in terms of the future, either Bloomberg specific or just in general in terms of how you're thinking about the impact that you'd like to have going forward?
Akshat Rathi: Yeah, I love my job at Quartz. As you said, I got to be able to do long form journalism and address big technology questions which I myself wasn't clear on. For example, what exactly happens inside a battery? Why should we believe this hype that electric cars will be the future or as the questions we discussed about carbon capture, whether it's going to be a part of the mix, whether the technology works at all? What happens when you put carbon dioxide under the ground? Those are big important questions and I got to answer them and that was great. I also felt like it was at that point in my career where I understood enough about the problem that I was seeing stories that needed to be told that I alone couldn't tell. And so I am very excited to go into a big newsroom where there will be access to lots and lots of other people who are deep experts in their own fields.
Akshat Rathi: Bloomberg has journalists in 120 countries, and so to be able to tap into a reporter in Chile or a reporter in Kosovo who might be able to tell me what's happening with the lithium mine in Chile or the coal plant in Kosovo, and then connect those dots and tell those stories with other people who know their beats much more, but I can try and help them tell the big story. And so I think Bloomberg will be a place to do that and I am hoping that proves to be true. It's also, I'm excited with the fact that business journalism has not been of as much service to trying to solve climate change as it could have been.
Akshat Rathi: Climate problem is such a big problem, but it is also a big business problem because it affects corporations, it affects individual, it affects personal finance, and with the expertise that Bloomberg has covering business news day in and day out and shaping markets, if they can and that's what the role of this team that I'm going to join will be, shape businesses and how they should be thinking about climate change, it will make a positive contribution towards solving the problem.
Jason Jacobs: Well, awesome. Well, we covered so much ground. Is there anything I didn't ask that I should have or any additional parting words for listeners?
Akshat Rathi: No, this is great. I think we've gone in lots of lots of directions. I would say that if you are somebody who cares about climate, go and support a publication, a news publication, that does good climate journalism, and I am certain now 10 years into this job that there are solid good journalism publications that are doing coverage and good work in this space and they could do with your support.
Jason Jacobs: Akshat, thank you so much for coming on the show. This was a lot of fun.
Akshat Rathi: Thank you for having me.
Jason Jacobs: Hey everyone, Jason here. Thanks again for joining me on My Climate Journey. If you'd like to learn more about the journey, you can visit us at myclimatejourney.co. Note, that is .co not .com. Someday, we'll get.com but right now .co. You can also find me on Twitter @jjacobs22 where I would encourage you to share your feedback on the episode or suggestions for future guests you'd like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers may be say that. Thank you.