Today’s guest is David Heinemeier Hansson (aka @DHH), Co-Founder & CTO of Basecamp, an online collaboration tool. David is a prominent figure in the tech industry and a polymath whose writings and opinions have touched upon a range of subjects, including technology, the future of work, entrepreneurship and most recently climate change. Outside of Basecamp, David is also known around the world as the creator of the popular programming framework, Ruby on Rails. In addition, he’s cowritten several books with his Basecamp cofounder, Jason Fried, on the subject of work, with titles that include “It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work” and “Rework.” David is also an avid race car driver, having won his class in the 82nd running of the Le Mans endurance race. Having connected on the topic of climate change via the magic of Twitter, David and I had an interesting discussion in which he shared his personal views on the crisis, steps he’s taken in his personal life, and where he thinks we’re headed. While his opinions aren't directly aligned with mine, it was good to get his take and hear from someone going through his own climate journey. And we will turn him into an optimist, yet! Also, please note that this episode was recorded live and broadcast on twitter, so it is not edited like a normal one. Audio quality a little worse, but even more authentic! Enjoy the show. You can find me on twitter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at firstname.lastname@example.org, where I encourage you to share your feedback on episodes and suggestions for future topics or guests.
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Jason Jacobs: Hello everyone. This is Jason Jacobs, and welcome to my climate journey. The 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 David Heinemeier Hansson also known as D H H on Twitter.
I'm sure as many of you know, David is the creator of Ruby on Rails. Co-founder and CTO at Basecamp. He's a bestselling author. He's a Le Mans class winning race car driver, and he's a pretty notable guy, but he isn't exactly climate focused with his day job. So you might ask, what is he doing coming on the my climate journey podcast?
Well, David and I got into a back and forth on Twitter about it started actually talking about offsets and there was a bit of a debate or discussion about the role of offsets in whether they are an distraction that convinces people they've done enough, enables them to go back to their ignorance and not making any changes in their lives, or if they are an eye opener that gets people thinking about climate and caring about the issue, paying attentio, better understanding the problem, and then finding other ways to get mobilized around their personal carbon footprint and in other more structural ways over time. Anyways, it was a great chat, so I invited them on my climate journey to talk about it.
More so kind of a nontraditional one, but I really enjoyed it. So this discussion was actually broadcast live on Twitter through an app called Talk Show, which is still in beta, but it basically enables people to listen to podcasts live and text questions as the discussion is happening. I hope you enjoy this discussion with David Heinemeier Hansson.
David, are you there?
David Heinemeier Hansson: I'm here.
Jason Jacobs: Great. Well, thank you so much for making the time. It's an honor to speak with you and to meet you today.
David Heinemeier Hansson: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
Jason Jacobs: Well, we had a, we had a great Twitter exchange on climate stuff maybe a month or so ago, and we've never spoken in person, not even to prep for this, but, uh, I thought it was a, it was a fun and important dialogue and it would be good to talk a little bit more and, uh, and Hey, what better fun than to do it live?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Absolutely. I haven't had some wonderful conversations spring out of contentious Twitter conversation, so always good to bubble up to a live conversation.
Jason Jacobs: Yeah. And I, and I'll tell you where we are. I mean, we come from wildly different backgrounds, but it seems like we're coming at this problem from similar places where, uh, I mean, I know you mentioned to me that you're not an expert, and I'm certainly not an expert, and I bet even the experts would say.
But they're, uh, not an expert. Um, so, uh, you know, but, um, but I think it's an important problem. I'm very concerned about, and it seems like you do as well. And I think that's a good starting point to then try to figure out what the responsibilities are and what the roles are and of each of us to, um, you know, to, to try to help.
David Heinemeier Hansson: Absolutely.
Jason Jacobs: So most people probably know, but, but just, uh, for, for anyone that, that, that may not, or just for context, for the discussion, do you want to take just a couple minutes and kind of give an introduction to who you are?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Sure. So I'm David Henry Hanson, uh, D H H on Twitter, and I am a partner at Basecamp.
I'm also the CTO at Basecamp, a project management and collaboration tool that, uh, we've been running for the past 17 years or so. And I'm also the creator of a web framework called Ruby on Rails. And these are really the two main pursuits I've had professionally for the past, uh, well, almost 20 years, and...
Jason Jacobs: It does go by fast, doesn't it?
David Heinemeier Hansson: It does go by fast and in that time we've sort of taken a bunch of the lessons and experiences we've had on that and written a handful of books.
The latest being it doesn't have to be crazy at work released last year. Well, actually, a little more than that ago. Uh, about a year and a half ago, uh, we released Rework in 2010 about running, uh, your company in a smarter, better way. And, um, yeah, I'm a big proponent on Twitter for all sorts of courses and casuses, uh, worker rights, uh, calmer, uh, work approaches, uh, how to build a web applications in a better way.
And I kind of stick my hand in a lot of contentious pies. And, uh, I guess that's why I kind of ended up talking to you about, uh, something completely out of my professional wheelhouse, which is climate change. Um, but I think you're, you're absolutely right in the sense that this is just something that inevitably is going to affect all of us.
So whether we are experts or not, we should be on the road to at least becoming somewhat well versed in what the hell is going on. I live in Malibu, California now, and we've had some terrible climate change induced and provoke fires here recently. There's always been fires in Southern California, but they're getting wilder and longer and more intense, and about a third of Malibu's housing stock burned to the ground, uh, two years ago.
So it feels personal in a sense that I think anyone who lived next to climate change induced disasters have felt like, I'm sure everyone in Australia right now are starting to think, Oh, this climate change is not just the discussion for the experts. It's actually something that's going to affect me and not in 50 years, but right now.
Jason Jacobs: So, so once you, I guess how long ago was it that this started becoming acute for you in terms of concern and, and then as it did, uh, where did you start in terms of trying to make sense of it all and get your bearings?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Well, I think actually coming out here to California and starting to live in Southern California, and first we lived through a, what was it, three or four year drought.
Um, that there wasn't that great. The, this Malibu area that I'd been coming to for about a decade, um, suddenly was completely barren. It just looked like sort of wasteland, um, compared to what it used to do. And then after that drought, we just got hit year after year. I think it's been three years in a row now where there's just been absolutely catastrophic leak.
Bad fires out here. And then two years ago it was so bad that we evacuated for two weeks while a third of Malibu burned to the ground, and the entire area was simply just covered in smoke. So I think that that was probably the point where. I went from, Oh, this is something sort of I care about in the abstract sense as it goes with anyone.
I think, um, who doesn't have this as a sort of a main profession or otherwise involved with it when you feel it on your own body and in the literal sense that like you're breathing. Heavy smoke where you can see the flames. Um, yeah. It's not, it doesn't, it's not optional, right? Like, isn't it like something special happened to me.
This happened to everyone who lived near, all of a sudden we all went like, Oh, shit, climate change. Uh, it's here for us. I mean, obviously it's been here for a lot of people for a long time. Um, but that was sort of the, the, the visceral introduction. And then, um. I read a great book called the uninhabitable earth by David Wallace Wells that goes over the consequences of global warming goes over the trajectory occur in, on, goes over the most recent science. Um. And how that has actually changed rapidly just in the last few years and talks about what this society look like, if not only we're going to break the Paris target of two degrees, keeping below two degrees, but what happens at three degrees?
What happens at four degrees? What happens is six degrees or eight degrees, and I mean, it's a scary as any of the dystopian science fiction post-apocalyptic novel you'd ever read. Right. It's the world at six degrees is, is a very bad one. Um, so I think that that really helped kind of provide me with a more concrete framework for how to think about it.
It just gave me a bunch of sort of basic facts, like the fact that we've doubled the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere in just the last 25 years. I'm like. I've remembered that entire time. I'm 40 years old, like the last 25 years. Like that's all me. That's all us. Like this wasn't something that just accumulated slowly since the stone age?
No, I mean, we've literally doubled since as one of the quotes went. I think since Seinfeld was aired, we've doubled the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and we keep setting new records. Um, so. Yeah. I think that's kind of what brought me to this sense of like, this is a disaster. I mean, and it's a disaster we're watching in real time and we're really not doing anything about it. We keep setting new records for the amount of greenhouse gases released. Um, and, and this is why I think we need some sort of dramatic, um, kind of awareness raised about this. And perhaps the sad answer is that the only real drama that'll change people's mind is when they're home or their neighbor's home is either flooded, burned down, uh, uninhabitable because of heat or change.
Um, can you actually convince someone to change their way of life by rational argument? I'm not so sure actually. I mean, I think all the evidence is no, you can't because that's what people have been trying to do for the past 20, 30 years and it hasn't worked.
Jason Jacobs: So, I mean, a lot of people that, that, uh, um, that care about this problem describe an awakening of sorts where it's, it's kind of like a, a red pill or blue pill moment where we're, once you open your eyes and you understand the magnitude of the problem as you've been describing, then you can't stop thinking about it. And then anything you try to do, it's in the back of your head and you feel like, why aren't we doing more?
Why aren't I doing more? And this is bad and Holy crap. And I certainly had one of those moments, and that's why I'm here doing what I'm doing. So I'm curious, given that you're as concerned as you describe, uh, you know, talk to me about how that manifests in terms of, you know, what, what you'll do about it or how you'll go about figuring out what to do about it, or just kind of, now that, you know, what do you do with that information?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Yeah. That's, that's one of those, uh, damaging factors, where we're in some ways, you almost, you're, you're like the, the guy sitting in matrix in the matrix chewing on the state go like, ignorance is bliss. I'd almost rather not know because it really is, um, just existentially dread fulfilling to, to think about this because you can go like, okay, we can definitely do some things ourselves and we should, um.
But that's also not going to change the trajectory. Right. And then I think of the fact that even prior to my personal increased awareness of this, like there were people who knew all this, like, yeah, there's some new information coming out. There's some new science, but like the general trajectory of everything, I mean, we've known about that since what the 80s at least. Um, and certainly by the mid nineties, um, uh, the inconvenient truths and so on, like the information is put out there and that hasn't been enough to really do anything. So that's kind of where I'm, I'm flip flopping back between this intense pessimism that anything is actually going to change until it's essentially too late, or at least until the effects are so dire that you can't not change.
And by that point, it will be catastrophically late. Um, and then at the same time thinking, well, we can't just give up. We can't just roll over and die. Um, so we should try to do something. So for us, uh, I did a carbon budget for our family a, a while back. And, um, it was, it was interesting because first of all, it was more complicated than I thought it should be.
Like, uh, I had to sort of piece a bunch of different things together. Oh, what's the, um, uh, CO2, average CO2 outlet per kilowatt hours in California and like this, that, and the other thing. Um, but the final budget for us was that the number one thing was flying. Um, which was something I'd picked up on by like Gretta's, um, advocacy, obviously, basically saying like, why are you flying like this?
This is, this is not great. And it's one of those things where everything is small. Almost everything is small in its individual sense. People say like, I think a flight traffic, something like what, two to 4% or something of total emissions. And you go like, well, we can't change this by not by only changing two to 4% and then you hear something like Australia goes like, well, our total contribution to the whole, uh, CO2 outlet is like only two to 4%.
There's a lot of things that are two to 4% and I mean, unless we're willing to tackle some of those things. Um, yeah, we're never going to get there. There's not one lever you can just pull and you're going to get 100% of what you need. Um, the transformation that we need are a ton of things that are two to 4%.
So on the specifics of flight, it told me, made me feel guilty. And it made me feel guilty because I fly a fair amount. Um, I fly for, uh, because we've lived in different places around the world. I fly for a racing, I fly for conferences, I fly for meetups at our company. I fly for a bunch of reasons where you could go like, do you know what?
Like these are not existential reasons. Um, I fly for vacations and, and like, is that is that reasonable? Can we keep doing that? Um, does it make sense for me to take the personal sacrifice in the great model of Gretta and saying like, no, we're simply just going to travel everywhere by train or boat or, or what have you.
Um, those are some of the things I think everyone needs to struggle with, but what I wanted to do at least was to struggle with that on a personal level because I'll, at the same time, a lot of people go like, well, this requires collective action and totally true. It does. Um, we're not, we're not going to solve this by a few enlightened individuals really rehabbing their entire life.
It requires collective action, but what is that collective action? The collective action is scaling up the individual action. Right? So if we, for example, take the flying, like I think that the, the estimates right now is that, uh, in 2050 or something, we're going to fly twice as much as we do today. And there's no estimates saying that like flying is going to get any materially lighter on the environment because we just like the energy density and all this things required to say, make planes fly on batteries. It's not like two decades out. That's much further out than that. So if flying is essentially a significant contributor and we want to do collective action, what is that collection, that collective action?
Obviously it's less flying. Right? So that's what sort of the government action and scaling that option action up is going to be. So in some ways, people who are making individual actions, they're essentially just test driving what we should all be doing, what the collection of action should be. So.
Jason Jacobs: But, but I guess so I don't disagree with any of that. But going back to what you said about Malibu and how you were skeptical that people were going to care until it really cutely affects them in a way that's quite tangible. Um, and while the symptoms are becoming. More visible and more frequent and storms are becoming more intense and, and things like that.
And any given day, the percent of the people that are being affected in that acute ways, it's actually pretty small percentage wise. Yet we all are responsible collectively for the, you know, for the carbon budget and for emissions and, and things like that. So, um, so this awakening that you're talking about, I mean, is it realistic to think that.
As consumers with our own personal footprint that, that, that in the aggregate that those changes are ever going to add up to enough to matter.
David Heinemeier Hansson: No, but that's not what I really put my hope in. I put my hope in the fact that people who have personal scars on their psyche from being exposed directly, personally, bodily to climate change, they're going to make different political decisions.
They're going to vote differently. Um, we've already sort of seen that in, if you trend, how important is climate change to you over periods of time? It's on, on a huge surge. There's a ton more people now saying, this is an important political, uh, topic. This is something I'm going to in part, have influenced by votes.
Um, in a way that just wasn't true at all, even five or 10 years ago where you really kind of, it was a very niche topic, and I think as more and more people are simply getting exposed to the effects of climate change, whether that's like on a day to day basis or it's just once a year as it mostly is out here in Southern California, that's going to leave the kinds of scars that hopefully is going to provoke the political action.
But do you know what, on the whole, yeah, I'm pretty pessimistic. Um, after I was finishing up the uninhabitable earth and as most of these, um. Books do they end on kind of like a cautiously optimistic note, like everything is terrible. We're going in a terrible direction. But if, if we right now completely reshape how we did it, there's still time.
And like they post that as like, that's a dangling piece of hope and yeah, I, I'm not seeing it. I really am not. So I think by far the most overwhelmingly likely scenario is that we're not going to fix this problem. Until we're faced with all the most dire consequences until we've hit two C or three C or maybe even four C until there are millions of climate refugees, until they're huge areas of rich Western countries getting flooded or burned out to such a point where it feels like it's a literal emergency, not a sort of theoretical emergency, but it's an emergency in the sense of like, my house is burning kind of emergency, right? Like it's kind of ...
Jason Jacobs: Isn't that an excuse to go back. Isn't that just an excuse to go back to doing whatever it is that we normally do and put our, you know, put our ear muffs back on and pretend that this problem isn't there?
David Heinemeier Hansson: I don't know if it is that, to me, that's just an assessment of of reality.
I'm still looking at it from, from our perspective, what can we do, right? Because even if I think the most likely outcome is we're going to burn this earth to the ground and then, I mean, the earth is going to be fine on a, on a millennial timescale, right? Like, it's going to recover. Um, we might not, society might not, a civilization might not, but, um, I, I want to sort of go into that thing like, at least we did, we did something.
But at the same time, I mean, we're all hypocrites, right? Like most people are not willing to essentially be carbon neutral in their life. Um, and then we find all these rationalization to, to not be it.
Jason Jacobs: But let's play this forward. So you said your hope is the people that feel that acutely, um, move towards political action in terms of how they vote.
So if, so, when that happens, if that's your hope, like what political action and how should they vote and what types of policies should be put in place. Like what do we get? What are, what are we striving to do.
David Heinemeier Hansson: I think the, the main proposal that's out there right now is to the Green New Deal. Um, and like, that's a I grabbed back off a lot of different ideas.
Um, but I, I, part of me has such pessimism to it because if you look at one of the things that have inspired the most backlash around the world. Um, it's been raising fuel prices, for example, and for very good reason. Fuel prices for a lot of people is a material part of their budget. You saw the, the Yellow Vest Movement in France came off.
Um, essentially sort of related to that, right? Like a lot of different factors. But you've seen it other places too. And this is one of the things we need to have happen, but obviously can't happen in isolation. Can't just raise fuel prices and then say to, uh, to poor middle class people. Well, too bad for you, right?
Like it needs to come together with redistribution and mitigating the impacts on people who are most affected by it. And like, we can't even in the U S seem to think that like a wealth tax is a good idea. Do we really have the political courage to do these things that need to be done. Um, I hope so.
Right? Like I, there's candidates out there now from Bernie Sanders to AOC to, to others who are very forceful in their language around what needs to be done. Are they able to do those things? Do Americans want those things? Actually, at the end of the day, like, do you look at some of these surveys on number of people who think climate change is a major issue. Large number, right?
Number of people who personally want to do anything that changed their current lifestyle, a much smaller, right. Especially once it gets specific. Um, would you pay seven bucks a gallon for gas? And people go like, what? No, of course not. Are you crazy? That can't be it. Like something else. Politicians do something.
Right. And I think that's, that's sort of part of it is, is like, it's, it's hard to change a big ship, like especially American society that's been so, uh, built around, for example, the automobile. Um. Like, what do you, what are you going to tell people who lives an hour drive away from work? Like, Hey, get on your bicycle.
Um Hmm. It's not really a whole answer. Um, so yeah, I'm pretty pessimistic at the overall picture and then I'm, I'm cautiously optimistic that like something is going to change and maybe that change is going to come through. Other things that we're going to realize that or the voting public is going to essentially decide that, um.
They want something radically new, right? Like let's say Bernie Sanders in the U S for example, is voted president. I think there's some hope there that like there's some for America, radical ideas in there that opens up the, the, the overtone window and we get discussed some radical changes to the economy as a, as a whole.
I, I don't have a lot of faith though.
Jason Jacobs: Well, what I hear from you is that in order to change, it needs to affect people acutely in that for most people it hasn't affected an acutely yet, and so we need to wait until two degrees, three degrees, five degrees and things to get really, really bad.
David Heinemeier Hansson: No, no, no, no.
I'm not saying wait for anything. The only thing I'm describing is reality, but not even reality. My expectations, the odds of reality. Okay.
Jason Jacobs: But if that's true, then it would lead me to believe. And I'm curious if you agree or disagree that if there a way to get a higher percentage of people to care that haven't yet been affected acutely, that it would be a good thing.
True or false?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Oh, of course, true. But like that has been the project of the past 20 years.
Jason Jacobs: So, but, but the whole Twitter chains that we have, but led to this discussion was that, uh, what was that offsets? For example, we were talking about offsets and they're crap. And it gives people an excuse for inaction and all these things. I'm like, certainly there's, yeah. And, and, and, uh, um, and those are all valid concerns, right? The other side of offsets, and I'm not saying that offsets fulfill this, but I'm saying the hope would be that offset or something would find a way to get people that haven't taken the red pill yet to get to take the red pill by starting somewhere and getting some type of exposure and some type of enlightenment to get more awareness.
And then they say, Oh crap. Cause as they get more awareness, they get more concerned. And the next thing you know, they're mobilized in other ways beyond wherever it is that they started. So maybe also this isn't the thing, but I guess my question for you is. What could be the thing, given that we both agree that it would be impactful if there was a thing that could get more people to care that aren't yet acutely affected?
David Heinemeier Hansson: I wish I knew, but I think the problem with offsets is that not only are most of them crap, most of them are snake oil. Um, and it's actually pretty difficult. We've been looking at this, uh, problem, and I've been talking to, uh, Toby, the CEO of Shopify, they announced that they're, um, coin for carbon neutral for Shopify.
And, uh, he's personally very, uh, sort of interested in and involved in this. And they're trying to find sort of what are the real things you can do. Cause I think the problem is that once you give people essentially a fake solution that doesn't work, they think they've done their part. And it actually doesn't lead to taking anyone taking the red pill in anything.
If anything, it prevents them from taking the red pill. They feel like, well, I've done my part, right? Like, Hey, uh, we don't, uh, we don't use plastic straws anymore. Like, I've done my part for society. I think there's, and this is not just, I mean. I'm essentially just advancing a narrative and an analysis, uh, presented by lots of people over time.
Um, I found the one version of it, uh, by Sissek, the, um, philosopher, um, compelling on this that, that he has this, this great, um, analogy of, of someone going to Starbucks to buy their $5 cup of coffee and, and then they don't know, like 50 cent to some charity and then like, Oh, I have to have my part. Like not only do I get to continue sort of in this, uh, commercial, uh, existing lane that I'm in, not really changing anything about my behavior.
I get to also feel good about it and I'd rather actually that people feel shitty about not doing anything. Then feeling good about not doing anything. I think that has more potential, more seeds planted for eventually doing real action. That actually means something.
Jason Jacobs: So, so there's certainly an argument that if it's going to dilute ourselves into thinking that we're there, then let's not even bother.
And let's just hold that for the good stuff. But the other side of that is that if you talk to the people that I've only been, you know, working on this problem for a little over a year, there's people that are gonna work on it for decades and decades, as you said. And what those people tell me is that they've never seen as much energy and attention in this area, although today, now it's still far too little.
I agree, right? But it's going in the right direction and momentum begets momentum. And so if we hold out for like the grand slam type of thing, right, it might be that the best way to get to the grand slam, like type of thing is to put up some base hits and doubles and get on the board. So like if you look at any type of news --the Bezos news with the $10 billion ... The Microsoft news, the Delta news, right? Like there's more dropping every week ...and you can say, but yeah, but relative to where we need to be, we're screwed and I don't disagree, but yet momentum begets momentum and so if we, again, if we, if we, if we hold out and let you know perfect be the enemy of good enough, then we're shooting ourselves in the foot.
David Heinemeier Hansson: Well, you at least have to start with been enough, which starts with like, what are you doing is having some impact, right? So when we talk about offsets, for example, there's clearly demonstrably a bunch of these offset programs that are worth less than nothing, in some cases doing net negative and other cases too, they just don't do anything.
That to me, is not a solid ground to build on. That doesn't mean it's all that. It doesn't mean that there's a, that, like for example, planting trees has no sort of impact on it, but I'm very wary of letting any of these things serve as essentially indulgences where we think, Oh, I've signed up to plant, I don't know, x number of trees that in 50 years is going to filter, kind of specked out speculative carbon sequestration. And that means I don't have to change my flying habits. You know what, I don't think that that's the, uh, I don't think that's the path. Um, so in some ways, um, I think as we talked about, like what is it that actually inspires people to real action?
I think it's like what's happening in Australia right now. I think Australia right now is going to be a really interesting case because here you have, I thought, I saw one stat that said like, half of all Australians have been directly impacted by the fires either by literally being like in flames or their community being in flames or by the immense amount of smog and whatever.
Right? Then if that doesn't change the political equation in Australia, I mean, yeah, then we're truly all fucked because here you have an entire country that's been affected. Or at least I'm sort of rich Western scale effected the most, and they have an absolutely atrocious political approach to climate change.
I mean, the current city government, it's blaming, what was it like exploding a cow poop or something like that was the reason for the fires, I thought was one of the excuses and essentially heavy backers of the coal industry and so forth. So if that amount of trauma inflicted on an entire country over that long period of time.
If that can't change anything. Yeah, I think, I think we're doomed.
Jason Jacobs: So so given that context, what do you think then about a authoritarianism, for example, versus democracy in terms of ability to get big stuff done quickly without friction?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Yeah. This is a great topic. Um, one of my favorite books is a book called, um, do you order of, uh, "Political Order and Political Decay," which basically details sort of the 5,000 year history of, uh, political order and political decay. And political decay is defined as the inability for the ruling class and the government to address the pressing needs of society. And I think we are in extreme political decay right now as it comes to, um, as it comes to climate change. And, uh, like what's the answer to that? Um, I think there's, there's obviously hard question, but I think if you look back on some of the things like the, uh.
What was it like late seventies early eighties there was a whole Freon thing that we're creating a hole in the ozone layer and on that topic. Did sort of democratic world kind of came together and said like, Oh, maybe our fridges and so on shouldn't just be releasing all this freon a is creating a hole in the ozone layer.
That's not a good thing. Let's ban the substances that then led to that and that happened anyway, like, wow, that's actually kind of amazing that the entire sort of international community came together and made that happen. But first of all, I think that that time. It was an easier time to enact those things.
I think, uh, the, the, uh, the, um, uh, what do you call it? The antagonism that's currently present in a lot of Western political systems, um, is that all time record highs? Depolarizations are an all time record highs. Like we're so much worse off in terms of the democratic fundamentals, uh, today to enact those big changes.
Then we were in the seventies and eighties where they had to deal with a comparatively speaking, much smaller problem of just Freon, creating holes in the ozone layer. Um. But then you look at like, Oh, well, can, is China the hope, right? Like, can you just sort of have an authoritarian regime enact this, I don't have a whole lot of hope there either.
I mean, China is dealing with some of the main severe impacts of smog and so on. I, for for a long time, I went to Shanghai once a year and like, there were times when I went there where it wouldn't see the sun at any point. And the reason was not because it was cloudy. Just the smoke was so heavy you could barely see in front of you.
So here you have an entire society that's heavily deal with this, tons of deaths from it, right? Like they essentially, you could say half the power to just do something by decree, and yet they're building more coal plants than, than ever. And their emissions are still under fast rise. So I don't necessarily see a lot of promise there either.
But I do see, actually that's not entirely fair. I do see that. Should things get so bad that it essentially feels like we're at the end of the world that we are in this post apocalyptic environment. There's going to be a great appeal for a strong man. To come up, right? So this is one of those dangers.
The longer we fail as modern democracies to address this existential threat, um, the more we essentially sort of lining up and getting ready for it to get so bad that people are going to go like, yeah, democracy is broken. Um, we want something else. And, and now we're truly at the end of the world.
Jason Jacobs: Well, you mentioned the green new deal.
And it's interesting because the green new deal seems to say everything's interrelated. So if we don't solve everything, we'll solve nothing. Right. But I mean, growing up as a, as a long time, you know, kind of scrappy from zero entrepreneur operating in a world of extreme constraints. I was always taught that like you focus on one thing and you nail it, and the thinner that focus, the better you can do the job.
And then you expand from there from a position of strength versus, you know, trying to be a little bit too, a lot of people. So how do you think about that in a context of this problem?
David Heinemeier Hansson: I think it's too big for that kind of thinking. I think the green new deal has the right answer here that it is intersectional, it is interrelated.
It is coupled in all these ways that we can't just go like, Oh, it's just one thing. Or if we can just reduce, uh, driving cars, like, let's just raise the price of gasoline to a point where that number of miles driven in the U S plummet. Right? You could say like, that's a narrow. Quote unquote solution, but I'm not sure addressing the issues of, well, what happens to two people who still need to drive to get the work right?
Then you may very well just be, um, sort of making things worse as has happened in a lot of sort of regimes where they just were like, well, let's just raise the price of, of gas, and then. Like poor people just going to have to deal with that. You know what? Poor people, I'm just going to deal with that.
They're going to fuck with rebel. They're going to revolt. Um, and like, how are you going to fix things during that, right? Like a yellow vest movement in, in Frances is sort of one example of this that unless you're addressing all these issues at the same time. Um, it's very possible that it's not, that you can't unlock any of them, that you can't unlock these, you can't untangle it in isolation.
Especially seeing that these are so large. Right. Like I said, we've just talking about, even when you take something as large as air travel, which is a huge contributor to global warming, it's still only two to 4%. Right? So we can't just say like, let's say we solved air travel. Yeah. The earth is still going to burn.
Right? Like, we can't, and we don't have the time. That's the other part. Like let's say w we do this, this whole thing where we solve their travel over the next 30 years. Right. And that was the one thing we were focused on. Yeah time's up. It's, it's three degrees Celsius, warmer outside game over. So I do think you need this radical, um, thinking.
And I think that's also why they're borrowing the language of the new deal. If you look back on American history. And what the new deal was. It was a time of things at the same time, it wasn't just this narrow one off solution that's going to sort of allow us to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. No, it was a really comprehensive overhaul of a ton of things.
At the same time, to address root cause issues that didn't yield to a scalpel. Right. Like they needed a fucking sledgehammer to, to fix it.
Jason Jacobs: I mean, what I'm hearing from you is that policy is important and it needs to be bold policy in order to make a meaningful sense. Do you believe that are also needs to have a bipartisan support in order to be durable?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Mmm. Well in the sense that like you have to be able to enact legislation. So not really actually, let's say that, um, one party sits with, with a majority and they can enforce legislation to come through.
That's really what you need. So I mean, in that sense, you need bipartisanship if that's what the political situation is, but you would also imagine a different political situation. It's certainly been true in America from time to time where a single party or correlation has sat with sort of just a majority or super majority, and then all of a sudden you can do things right.
Um, I mean, in fact, you look at the UK right now and you look at what's going on with Brexit and you ha, do you know what? They just did an election and they just, the, the populace just awarded, uh, the sitting government, a clear majority, and they're pushing Brexit through and it's happening. I mean, I'm not, not cheering here, I'm just stating fact.
Um, so what do you need is people in power to have power and the willingness to wield that power. Um, that's how you make changes. If, if, if you have a, um, a government with the power, with the mandate tomorrow, to say, for example, what we're going to do all of it, right? Like we're going to raise gas prices, but we're going to build, um, public transportation networks.
We're going to sort of subsidize people who are hit by this. We're going to do all these things. We're going to do the whole interconnected solution. And they, they put it out there like that would be the fact, right? Like it looks like the world has always changed, looks impossible until it's done. And I do believe in that.
I, right now, I just don't have a whole lot of faith that that's going to happen because it's going to require a majority to believe in partially personal sacrifice, partially a rejig of their lifestyle. And I just don't think there's, in the U S at least, I don't think a majority of people are interested in that.
Jason Jacobs: So one of the things that's come up on my climate journey is that, uh, uh, is that one of the reasons that cope, you know, a lot of what we've talked about today has been from a Western perspective, uh, yet there's still over a billion people in the world that don't have access to even basic electricity.
Uh, and so I think those are the regions where, for example, uh, you know, there's the, they'll dealt with coal cause it's the only thing they can afford. And then when we come in and say, no, no, you can't because we have this carbon problem. And they're like, you know, they, they look at you as like eight or me as a white American male.
And they're like, dude, you have never lived in our shoes. And if you did, you wouldn't be, you wouldn't be saying it that way. You would understand. And yeah...
David Heinemeier Hansson: They would be right.
Jason Jacobs: But we have a carbon problem and deep adaptation. Right. And so, so given as pessimistic as you are about the overall problem, how do you, how do you balance that with an issue like energy poverty, for example?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Yeah. yeah. I mean, this is a, I'm also a big fan of Jason Hickle who wrote, uh, "The Divide," which talks about the global North and the global South, and he's linked that, um, and, and so does the conversation is in the uninhabitable earth with the fact that it's the global North that's really crossing these issues.
Right. But the global North is feeling a minority slice of the consequences. It's the global South that's. Yeah, the majority slice of the consequences. And yet they are the ones who've done the least on a per capita basis to, to cause the problem. So this is absolutely a core, um, reflection of the global inequities that, that are ongoing.
And, um, it is completely ridiculous for the global North to say like, Hey, you guys can't build coal plants because like, we have a carbon problem, while at the same time essentially having a build up their entire economies based on those same tools and be continuing to release 10,000 times as much CO2 per capita as a, as someone in the global South.
Uh, I think this is why I am pessimistic. Because in which ways have the global North ever tried to make real amends to the global South on any of these inequities? Never. And that was an easier time where you could say like, Oh, well we wanted to correct some of the evils of colonialism or whatever. Now not a whole lot of interest in that.
Right. In fact, it's the opposite that the global North continues an absolute economic assault on global South. Uh, the book, the divide by Jason Hickle is a great primer on, on what's going on. So given that be the context, like climate change is going to be the thing that the changes that equation?
I don't think so.
Jason Jacobs: So I know we're running up on time. I have a few final questions if I can sort of squeeze them in. One is just that given how pessimistic you are, you talked about your personal carbon budget and, and you know, trying to minimize your flying and that kind of thing. I mean, is that. Uh, is that it in terms of, in terms of your, the, the steps you'll personally take to try to address the problem?
Or are you thinking broader than your personal footprint?
David Heinemeier Hansson: Um, it's a good question. And, and I, one of the reasons why I am so pessimistic is because it's like I look at my own sort of carbon footprint, right? And um, we try to do some things around the edges, but I also just realized, do you know what, as a rich person living in a Western, industrialized country, like our existence is unsustainable at like a core level.
Doesn't mean we can't sort of improve. It just means that like the improvements that we need. If you were to have an equitable carbon budget, let's say a carbon budget per person, like a global carbon budget, right? It would be so low as to like, yeah, I'm not going to get there on an individual level.
I just, I'm not going to live in the hut. I'm doing the things that need to be done to do that and that, that's part of the kind of pessimism and the existential threat there is that like even when you think like, ah, I know I have at least a basic awareness of the issue. Right. And like, for me to get to the personal sacrifice of, um, of, of being at the carbon budget that would sort of be a global budget per capita.
Yeah. I think I can also just be realistic and say like, that's just not going to happen. Uh, and part of that is, is this feeling of like, well, you're not going to be the only sucker. Sort of essentially living in a completely aesthetic, um, uh, life. The same sense of when, when I asked for like, Hey, you know what?
We should raise taxes somewhat, right? People often retort. Well, you can just send a check to the, um, to the federal government, right? Like, if you love paying taxes so much. Yeah, I could, I could just give all my money. Uh, right now to the federal government, and it would change absolutely nothing. So this is why I'm, I'm so down on the issue because even on my personal balance, it just, yeah.
Jason Jacobs: But everything I hear is about your personal footprint and whether it's gonna matter. And if I have one plead, we bind with you. And if this means my normal question that I ask, I'm fine with that. Because what I want to say to you is that you are a smart guy who's done a lot with a lot of experience and a lot of connections that our brand and a platform and your personal footprint.
I agree. It's like, you know what? You should not take steps because it would be hypocritical and because you need to align kind of everything with your values. Right? But like. You could sworn a much bigger bat focusing on this at the systems level, and you're in a great position to do so. And nothing I'm hearing you talk about is about the things that you're going to do to help the system when it's you actually pointing yourself in that direction and got serious about it. I think you'd be surprised at what kind of impact you could have. And I know that firsthand because of the experience I've been having over the last 12 months. And I'm far less accomplished than you.
David Heinemeier Hansson: I, I don't think that those two things are no position. So one of the things we're doing at Basecamp right now, inspired as you say by an example by what Toby is doing at Shopify, is to go like, do you know what?
We're a small company. We should be carbon neutral. What do we have to do to get there? And part of my pessimism is what that road has led me down a sort of looking at like, what do these offsets look like? And then you look into what they really are and you're like, yeah, that looks shit. Um, but I mean, I can, I can hold both ideas in my head at the same time.
I can hold the idea that like, I'm going to change how our personal carbon footprint is going to be, I'm going to talk about that as I've done extensively. I'm going to highlight, um, sort of the impacts as they happened and, and shine light of that. I'm going to, uh, point Basecamp towards a direction where we go carbon neutral.
And I can still believe that even if we do all those things, by far, the better odds is that as a planet we're going to fail.
Jason Jacobs: Couldn't you do a lot more if you focused on it more directly though? I mean, you may choose not to and that's fine, but...
David Heinemeier Hansson: I, I, that that is what it is, right? Like I think the odds in fact are so poor that I'm not going to, um, and you can say like that's a personal failing and it is in to some extent, but I'm not going to stop the rest of my life to essentially, um, focus blindly just on this or not blindly, solely just on this issue. Um, cause I think the odds are so poor. So if, if we are to, uh, run out and we're the last generation to enjoy a habitable earth, um, yeah. I mean, that was the run. Like, I mean it, I know it's shitty to end on such a pessimistic note. And I know this is why all the sort of the books don't do that, including the uninhabitable earth kind of tries to end on like the positive. No. If we really get it together and we do it, then, then we can change it. Yeah. I, I, I'd love to believe that, but I don't, I, I think we're going to say I like this.
Jason Jacobs: Whether that's true or not, I can't live my life that way.
I'm going to leave it all on the field and I'm going to die being able to look in the mirror knowing that I did everything I could and and to be fatalist in that way, like even if you're right, I just don't think that we have anything to gain by anybody having that attitude.
David Heinemeier Hansson: I agree. And this is one of the other sort of cognitive dissonance is you have to hold in your head that like at an intellectual level, I can look at the situation and assess the odds and think, "yeah. I think we're fucked. I think by far the overwhelming evidence on everything is that we're fucked." Or that by the time it gets to realization that we don't want to be fucked or the earth is going to be uninhabitable for very large number of people and the world is going to be very different. So I'm in part sort of going the stoic way here and preparing myself for the fact that, in my lifetime, I'm going to live on an earth that is uninhabitable in a large variety of ways. Um, and, and I can believe that, and I could still try to do my own part, and I can still sort of cheer people on who are doing it. I can still boost messages that I'm doing. I can hold those two things in my head at the same time, both having a, an intense pessimism about the odds that we're really gonna do this. Like essentially, I think there's zero chance that we're going to stay at two degrees, right? Like, it's not happening. Like you look at just the amount of data, the trajectory we're on, the changes that are currently happening. We're not staying in to two of the groups, right?
I mean, that's not even a controversial statement. There's plenty of estimates that are already showing us we're going to be well in advance of two degrees. So given that that's happening, like the world after two degrees, change is already a very different world. Um. I'm readying myself personally for the fact that like, Hey, we're probably not going to stop at two degrees.
It's probably going to be three, maybe four, and like, yeah, that's going to be very different from what it is now. These things are not in a position to the fact that like, I want to do something, I'm going to change some things. I'm going to hope to provoke some change and I could be wrong. Right? Like that's, I surely as hell hope I am.
And I hope that like we are going to have this epiphany, and maybe the epiphany is simply generational. Maybe the epiphany simply is you have a bunch of people who currently vote and aren't willing to make dramatic changes who sit on a lot of sort of accumulated privilege in their life of assets or otherwise, and they don't want to change your life.
And then you have new generations coming up who don't have any of those things, who in some ways have way less to lose in terms of the existing economic system. And they completely change the equation. And all of a sudden we have a voting public that goes, we're going to vote for dramatic consequential change, even though it will completely reshape society as we know it and like, I would be thrilled.
I seriously hope that that's going to happen.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I know we're running up on time. I feel like we could've spent a whole other hour at least, and uh, and, and kept going on this stuff. But, uh, I, I can't thank you enough for coming on. Before I let you go, any parting words for our listeners? Anything I didn't ask you that I should have.
David Heinemeier Hansson: Well, I'd say my parting word is like, I hope more listeners have your, um, outlook on things. I think probably, um, we are better off if there are more people who truly believe with wood or willfully choose to sort of deny the pessimism that I've put forward to here because, um, maybe that will help. I'm giving you my honest assessment here.
And, and that assessment is, um, it's not cheery. So I think maybe it's good. We're not going another hour because I'd end up too depressed at the end of another hour here. I think you need to see, we have to turn around.
Jason Jacobs: Well, we've captured this moment, and so whether it's six months or a year, or three years, or five years, so you and I and my friend are going to do this again at some point. And, and it's a, you'll call it a friendly wager. Uh, and, and it's, uh, and as I said, whether you're right or you're wrong, you might be right. But, uh, just personally, I, I, I'm going to choose to live my life as an optimist and try to recruit as many optimists as I can and to have the biggest impact that we can, whether we've got a shot or not, and then I can sleep better at night and do the best that I thought that I can.
And, uh, you know. Yeah. So, I'll leave it there.
David Heinemeier Hansson: I applaud you. I applaud you for that. Uh, I wish that I could do the same. I truly actually do that. Um, I, I wish I could just sort of deny the logical parts of my brain that look at patterns and form pessimistic, um, estimates and just go like, no, we're going to solve this. We're really going to do it.
Um, but Hey, I, I've been wrong on plenty of things, so maybe I'm also wrong here. And maybe like, uh, we, we talk again in three years and like, the, the curve at least has changed, right? Like until we at least tried to just like decrease the amount of CO2 we release every year, I will remain very pessimistic.
And right now we're just on an upward trend and it seems like there's, the catalysts for change always seem to be too far out, but anyway, thank you again for having me on and thanks for devoting your, um, advocacy to this. I think it's incredibly important. Like I'm, I'm not preventing or presenting the pessimistic outlook because like, I don't believe that change should happen or whatever.
It's, it's quite the opposite. It's that I wished that all these things would happen, but, um, but right now, um, I, I just don't see them doing so anyway.
Jason Jacobs: Here's a, here's a question for you and no pressure. Feel free to say no, but there is a, my climate journey Slack room that is filled with people that are focusing on his problem for him, a very wide range of backgrounds, from scientists to grassroots activists, to government officials, to CEOs and investors and uh, and policy makers, lobbyists, et cetera.
Um, and you want to take a spin around of there and chat with some people. I know they'd love to talk to you, but, uh, you can, you don't have to...
David Heinemeier Hansson: I'd be happy to. I'd be happy to join that; I'd be happy to be convinced, otherwise.
Jason Jacobs: Here's the thing, David, normally I have a rule with my climate journey that, um, that I'm focused on people that have already taken the red pill and are ready to help but don't know how or want to do some more effectively. For you, I'm willing to make an exception and I know you're like my little project.
David Heinemeier Hansson: I have taken the red pill.
The problem is I've just, it gave me a fucking hangover, right? Like, it's the fact that I have seen reality. I have seen. What is to come.
Jason Jacobs: Not red pill. That's not red pill. Red pill means I can't not think about this and I'm going to do everything in my power to help. Uh, you know, I can't not think about this and I'm going to try to plug my ears and pretend it didn't happen, because it's too depressing is not red pill. I can't accept it.
David Heinemeier Hansson: I applaud your definition of the red pill, and I hope that more people in the world do that and get that. I truly do.
Jason Jacobs: Well, I will see you and we'll, we'll make this an ongoing discussion. Thank you, sir.
David Heinemeier Hansson: Sounds good. Thanks.
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 my climate journey dot. C. O. Note that is dot C O not dot calm. Someday we'll get the.com but right now dot C O. 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 made me say that. Thank you.