My Climate Journey

Ep 63: Jason Jacobs, MCJ Host (Guest Host = MCJ Listener Remy Evard)

Episode Summary

Today’s guest is Jason Jacobs, host of this podcast! That's right. Enough people were asking me to do an episode where someone interviews me to summarize where I am on the journey, that I finally but the bullet and did it. And it wasn’t even planned! I was having coffee with an avid MCJ listener, Remy Evard, and he said “you should really do an episode where someone interviews you”, so, with about 5 minutes of prep, we grabbed the microphones and did an episode right on the spot! Hope you find this little behind-the-scenes episode helpful. Enjoy the show!

Episode Notes

Today’s guest is Jason Jacobs, host of this podcast!

That's right. Enough people were asking me to do an episode where someone interviews me to summarize where I am on the journey, that I finally but the bullet and did it. And it wasn’t even planned! I was having coffee with an avid MCJ listener, Remy Evard, and he said “you should really do an episode where someone interviews you”, so, with about 5 minutes of prep, we grabbed the microphones and did an episode right on the spot!

It is a brief discussion relative to the normal longform episodes, but it won’t be the last time you hear from me in  this way (like it or not, haha!).

Let me know your feedback, in terms of whether this kind of episode is helpful, and how I can make them more helpful going forward.

Enjoy the show!

Episode Transcription

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 episode is a little different. Today's guest is Remy Evard, the Chief Information and Digital Officer at Flagship Pioneering. And prior to that was the CIO of Novartis Research, where he had more than 500 person team under his purview, and spent several years at Argonne National Laboratory before that.

Jason Jacobs:                But Remy was introduced to me first and foremost as a My Climate Journey Podcast listener. And he said during our meeting, that he wished that I would have someone interview me to talk about where I am in my thinking, now that I'm a year into the journey. And enough people had requested the same, that I finally pulled the trigger and got out the microphones and had Remy interview me. It wasn't much prep that went into it, actually none, and it was pretty short. So it doesn't claim to be comprehensive, but it's the first stab at me maybe sharing more of my thoughts along the way, in addition to continuing to bring on a number of outside guests. So without further ado, Remy Evard, welcome to the show.

Remy Evard:                 It is so great to be here Jason.

Jason Jacobs:                This is actually hilarious, so, you are an avid, My Climate Journey listener.

Remy Evard:                 Absolutely.

Jason Jacobs:                And we were introduced through our mutual friend Nathan. And we got to talking here in the kitchen of my co-working office here. And you told me what so many other listeners have said recently, which is, that I should really have someone interview me after a year that I've been on this climate journey. To take stock of where I'm at, and how I'm thinking about things. And I said, "You know, enough people have said that, and we're sitting here right now. We both have the time." And so we did like five minutes of prep, came into this conference room, put the mics on, and here we are.

Remy Evard:                 We're going to see where it goes.

Jason Jacobs:                We'll see where it goes. So with that, I should turn it over because I am not the host, you are the host.

Remy Evard:                 Well, just to say a little bit, it's fantastic to meet you in person. Like most of your listeners, I've been listening to you for a while now, and really have been impressed with what you've been able to bring forth and help us learn and bring you along on your journey. And in meeting you in person, first it was weird to meet somebody who I know what you sound like, but I really wanted to know what drove you to do this, and where are you going with it? And you talked about that a little bit. So here we are. Right? So my first question for you is really, why did you start this? What happened that led you to launch this?

Jason Jacobs:                Climate change is just... It's always been something that I cared about growing up. And it's never really been something that I've been mobilized on with my time, but it's always been in the back of my head with my attention. And after selling a company that I started and built over many years, I both found myself in a position where I had some flexibility to be selective about what I did next. But also where, I think I almost had survivor guilt where, we had a bumpy ride with the company but it had a happy ending. And it definitely, I mean it could have very easily gone a different way. So I felt a duty with my new found good fortune to work on something that was important for the world.

Jason Jacobs:                And I actually had a false start, where I was looking at climate, and I took a look for a little bit when I was trying to figure out what to do and said, "Gosh, I really don't understand this area. I don't really know how my skills can help, and I don't really know how effective I'll be, or how much fun it will be, or how lucrative it will be." And I'm a young guy, I learned a lot building my last company, it was the first company I ever started. Maybe I should just go build another consumer company and hit it out of the park, and then have a bunch of resources and be philanthropic. And I got a few months down the path trying to start one of those companies. And it was during those few months where the IPCC report came out. It was during those few months where Trump took steps to withdraw us from Paris. And here I was feeling like just a total mercenary and it felt all wrong.

Jason Jacobs:                And so back in December I finally said, "Gosh, I just can't do this." And I took all the money that we had raised. We still had more than 90% of it in the bank, and just gave it back and came back around to climate change. But with a vengeance, where I still had all the same concerns about how my skills could help. But I said, let me just put me aside and just start learning more about the problem, and I'll do that as a first step.

Remy Evard:                 So you just decided to learn. What led you to podcast, and to share this experience with people?

Jason Jacobs:                Well when I started learning, I was just having a number of discussions with people, that were far more knowledgeable about this topic than me, hitting it from a bunch of different angles. And I think they probably found some excitement that there was some new blood coming in, and some amusement at this different kind of cat, that was running around the climate space. And so what I was hearing a lot was, keep me posted, I really want to see where you end up on your journey. And let me know how I can be helpful. So I started this newsletter via email every month, essentially just as a way to keep those people that I was talking to, and people from my old life, Silicon Valley life, posted on how I was making out of my climate journey.

Jason Jacobs:                And it was healthy for me because it was a lonely journey as a sole practitioner. I mean, it wasn't a business, it was just me running around. So it was forced accountability. It was like someone to answer to, or report on my progress, which was healthy in a way to synthesize my thoughts. But also created this nice virtuous cycle where the more every month, when I set it out, I would say, "Here's the kinds of people I talked to, and what I learned in the last month, and here's the area I'm looking to tackle next."

Jason Jacobs:                And then I would get flooded with introductions for people in that area. And then all those people would get added to the newsletter as well. So that was how it started. But I got a few months into that and another thing started happening, which is that, people from my old Silicon Valley life started reaching out and saying, "Hey, I've been following your journey and I feel like you do. Where do I start? What do I do? What do I read? Where do I go?" And I said, "I don't have a great answer for you, because I don't have a great answer for me. Which is why I'm going on this journey that I am. But I'm having all these great discussions all day, every day. It's a shame that you can't hear from all these experts that I'm talking to and all these great discussions."

Jason Jacobs:                So that's when I've realized maybe I should build a podcast, to essentially start spreading a knowledge repository, and having all the same discussions I was already having with all the same experts, but with microphones in our hands. So that's what I did about, I think it was six or seven months ago at this point.

Remy Evard:                 Did the microphones in the hands, change the nature of the conversations?

Jason Jacobs:                Certainly early on for me, I think it's like reality TV, where probably I'm guessing early in the season, and like The Real World or The Bachelorette or any of those shows, where it's like all the cameras around leads to different behavior. But I think you get a little bit in, and you forget that they're there. Right? I've had a similar experience with podcasting where, when I first started I think I was more self conscious and timid, and things like that. And I mean, not that I'm... I don't feel those things now. But I think, just through muscle memory I'm certainly feeling more comfortable. I notice less of the microphones on our hands and just have a real discussion.

Jason Jacobs:                I think from my guest standpoint it's all over the map. Some guests feel really comfortable with it. Some guests maybe get a little spooked, but what I try to do, is not make the time we hit record be the first time I'm talking to the guests. I want to talk to them a little bit for... We do a prep call, get to know each other, talk about the types of topics we'll put on the show. I give every guest veto power, that if they hate the episode it's not going to share. Episode's there's no word or anything gets published that they're not comfortable with. So I think that goes a long way to help them build trust, and comfort so that we can have real discussions.

R Remy Evard:              So, take me back though before this, what is it about climate? When did you learn that this was such a problem? How long was it sitting there for you, I'm not sure what to do about this? Do you remember?

Jason Jacobs:                Well, I remember growing up in first or second grade or whatever, hearing about the hole in the ozone layer and being pretty freaked out about that. My wife jokes that people get anxiety from different places, and for her, her anxiety is, did I remember to send the kids out with a warm enough jacket on? Or, did I remember to put the apple sauce in their lunch? Or, things like that. Where my anxiety is more of like, is the world ending? Or, are we on the brink of the next huge health epidemic? It's much more the big systemic things that are outside of my control. And so this is obviously that. And so I think over time it's just been an area where, it's almost like what blood tests used to be for me. I could get shots all day long, but the minute you talk about drawing blood, I get queasy. Right?

Jason Jacobs:                Climate was that for me, where it's like, "Oh man, that's scary." And that's anxiety inducing him, I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to think about that. Right? Which I think is where a lot of people are. What I'm actually finding though, is that now that I have made the decision to put it front and center, and spend all day every day focused on the area, my anxiety is actually way lower. Because I feel a lot like, it's better control freak thing. Maybe my efforts aren't doing anything, but just knowing that I'm trying and focused on it, rather than knowing that it's there and ignoring it, makes me more at peace.

Remy Evard:                 So what is a day in a podcasters life like, at this point? What are you doing?

Jason Jacobs:                Well, I don't really consider myself a podcaster, even though podcasting has been a high percentage of how I spent my days over the last several months. I mean, I'm doing all kinds of different things, because the way I've described it to people is that, the journey is a priority, the podcast is not the priority. It's not even a business. That the goal is just to piece together this system's problem, and get to know the key people focused on it from different areas. And start to build and pressure test my evolving worldview on how to get out of this pickle. And then start to figure out how to marshal resources and get things mobilized, to actually move towards solving the problem.

Jason Jacobs:                And so I said the newsletter and the podcast are a way to make that a public journey. But that's the journey that's the priority and the podcast is just the subset. It makes sense to share publicly as a leave behind for those that come after me. But it ends up for the last several months, obviously there's been a lot of recording as well, but it's talking to people and then where it makes sense setting up for episodes. Or, there's a lot of grant work involved in a podcast, and I've had no team because I have no budget. I pay for some things like freelance editor, for some hosting software, for the flights to travel when I do, some of them have been in person, some of them have been remote, or any conferences or hotels. That's all coming out of pocket, which does add up. But it's just been me. So, writing of the blog posts, doing the show notes, submitting the transcript to the automated service that puts that together. Queuing up the episode for being published, getting approvals from the guests, coordinating with the editor.

Jason Jacobs:                But then it's also getting to know other people. And then I get a lot of inbound as well, from people trying to figure it out. And I don't talk to everybody, but I try to talk to as many as I can because I want to pay it forward, because we need more people in the fight. And then it's also thinking about, how do you do that more systemically and more efficiently, so that my bandwidth scales. So that all the people that need help can get help. So it's that, I've been writing some angel checks in companies, just more as a tool to learn in climate focus companies. And then working with those founders, and advising them and being helpful when I can. It's evaluating new potential investments. And then it's figuring out what else I might do in the longer term to add value in the fight. And where the podcast and other media efforts fit in. So it's a mess.

Remy Evard:                 You've talked to so many people, brought so many of us along on this journey with you. I feel like I've learned a ton listening to you. And I'm curious as you've gone through this journey so far, are there any particularly interesting points or learnings that you characterize as, that was an interesting point?

Jason Jacobs:                Coming in it felt like, how screwed are we? And how bad are things going to get? And is there even anything we can do? And so, it was more I think, helplessness. What I'm actually finding though is that, I might feel a similar degree of helpless, but a very different form of helpless. Because there's actually a lot more that we can do, than I realized coming in. There's a lot more that's within our control. So that part I actually feel much better about. I think what I feel worse about is, society or human's ability to get out of our own way and actually do those things. But that, although it's a daunting problem, it also feels like a solvable problem. And I mean, maybe this is morbid, but also the worst things get, the more solvable it becomes. In terms of doing the things we need to do in an urgent manner, to fix it.

Jason Jacobs:                So that's one takeaway, is that toggle has shifted. I think another takeaway is just how interconnected everything is. So there's no one breakthrough technology that's going to save the day. There's no one policy initiative that's going to save the day. Everything's complicated. It's not what, sure put a price on carbon that's going to help a lot, but it can't be the only policy initiative that we do. And then that's way over my pay grade, figuring out what the right mix of those things are, and all the nuances and concerns and ways you need to tune it to get the mix quite right. And to also forget about, just what the right thing is, but also the realities of how do you get something over the line in this polarized climate. And then that's just the US, what about developing countries? So it's super complicated.

Jason Jacobs:                But then, same thing on the innovation side. Same thing with consumer behavior. Same thing was getting corporations to clean up their act. Same thing with getting more funding in the space, and getting the right financial instruments in place. And what about the insurance industry? And what about even having the data to inform all the different models? And on and on and on and on. So it's like a complicated mess. That's the bad news. The good news is that, because it's a complicated mess, it means there is no one thing that needs to go from a zero to a 100 miles an hour. So we look and we say, how are we ever going to get there? Because innovation has so far to go. And consumer behavior has so far to go.

Jason Jacobs:                But what gives me optimism is that, there's so much happening in each space, and just like there's negative feedback loops, there's positive feedback loops. So each thing can feed each other. And so as consumers get more awakened, they're going to care more what elected officials are in office. And as more of the right elected officials get in office, then more of the right legislation's going to get passed. And as more of the right legislation gets passed, there's more incentive for capital to flow into innovation, and more capital that flows into innovation, the more innovation proliferates and et cetera, et cetera. And I think that might be another reason why I'm inclined to focus more at the systems level, than on any one specific thing.

Remy Evard:                 So what's next for My Climate Journey? I know you have a ton of people to talk to, but do you have any ideas? How long does this go?

Jason Jacobs:                I don't really see an end date, at least not today. I mean, maybe I'll wake up in three months and say, "I'm done." But I really don't see that happening. It's fun. It's really intellectually stimulating. It feels like very purposeful work. I call it work. I mean there's no income from it, but it is actually hard work. And that it actually, it feels like it's helping. I mean, I get anecdotal feedback every single day, from people like yourself that are really glad that it's here. And those are people who tend to swing a big bat in whatever it is that they do, and who really want to help but there's a gap between their intent, and actually practically knowing where to plant themselves and what to do. And so to the extent that learning in public is helping, I think that feels really good. And then strategically, selfishly, having a growing set of relationships and knowledge and audience and brands. It feels like I can swing a bigger and bigger bat as I go.

Jason Jacobs:                And so, it's why other than just feeding my family, which is of course a concern. Just from what will I ultimately end up doing, I'm not necessarily in a rush to go do... There's a tension. I'll answer that before you ask me about the tension. The tension is I need to make it sustainable. In order to be sustainable, there needs to be some livelihood attached to it. But at the same time, once there's a livelihood, there's expectations that I'm serving another master than just mission. And right now I can be wholly focused on mission, which is one of the reasons why I've been able to be so effective, in such a small period of time. If I don't figure out the livelihood then it's not sustainable. But as soon as I figure out the livelihood, then my impact is going to be watered down on a day to day basis. So, unless I can find a livelihood that can amplify my impact, which is the dream. If you know what that looks like, let me know I don't.

Remy Evard:                 Yeah, I don't know yet. But I think any of us listening to you should come back for you with ideas on that.

Jason Jacobs:                I would love that. I would love that.

Remy Evard:                 Because the power that you have of sharing this information is really impressive. Are you at a point where you have advice for people on their own climate journey?

Jason Jacobs:                That's a hard one because I think, I mean, the only playbook I have is the one I've been following, and most people can't follow it because they need to, like hello, they need to pay their bills and write. And I feel, I mean, I can't do this forever, but because I'm in a fortunate position where I have some flexibility I feel a duty to do it. Because it's like, if I'm not going to do it, then who's going to do it? Because, most people can't do it. So actually one of the things I'm thinking through, is how to build better bridges and on-ramps for people that want to do things. So I think, I'm doing an episode tonight with, BJ Fogg. I mean, he's an interesting example because he's at the top of his game with... He's one of the world's foremost experts in behavior change. And he's a climate newbie.

Jason Jacobs:                He doesn't really understand the problem, but he is growing more and more concerned. To the point where he can't imagine not doing what he can help for his kids, for future generations, et cetera. But he doesn't know where to start. So he's going to take what he's learned with behavior change, and start training people that are trying to change behavior as it relates to climate change, and apply it and train them for free. Right? And so that's an example of how you can take your skill set. And so I'm an example, what do I... I have this weird skill set, whatever it is. Well, you wouldn't think that there'd be a place for me, but just by learning in public, it's been helping. Right? So, I think it requires some creativity and maybe some experimentation. But I think there's a place for everybody, even regardless of your constraints.

Jason Jacobs:                If you have constraints, there are things you can do. You can vote. You can make better food choices. You can make better choices as it relates to transportation. You might not be able to do all these things, there might be constraints. And your constraints are going to look different than the person to your left, and is going to look different than the person to your right. Don't compare yourself to them. Just do what you can, and feel good about it.

Remy Evard:                 Yeah, that's great advice. So you ask this question a lot. I'm wondering if you're starting to form an opinion on it, which is if you had $100 billion to use the best possible way to impact climate change, are you getting a sense of where that would go?

Jason Jacobs:                That's a good turnaround because, I just sit there in awkward silence and like turn the dagger into guests that don't have a great answer on that. But it's never been turned around on me and I didn't do any prep. Even after all the times I've asked these questions.

Remy Evard:                 Most of your guests have pretty good answers to that.

Jason Jacobs:                I know. And look at me, I'm the schmo that, it's easy to sit on that side of the desk. But yeah, let me just give that a minute of thought. We need more of everything is the reality, and that's a cut out answer. But it really is the truth that when people say, "I just don't know, should I be an activist? Or should I work on fixing our elections? Or should I give money to nonprofits, or shit?"

Jason Jacobs:                It's like, it all helps. So, I mean, one of the things I've been thinking about is that, if you had to pick one metric to measure that can have the biggest impact, it might actually not be, is it innovation or is it R&D? Or is it policy or...? And it might actually be just the percentage of people or corporations or governments or whatever, the percentage of time and money that is being allocated towards helping in any way. And so I think what I would do then, with that 100 billion as we're talking through here is awareness.

Remy Evard:                 Okay. I'm convinced on that. So on behalf of your community, I'd just like to thank you for what you're doing. You're making a huge impact. You're bringing a lot of us along with you and I think it's helping get a lot of us started as well. Thanks.

Jason Jacobs:                Well Remy, thanks for being a listener, and thanks so much for this fun experiment. I think we're actually going to ship this. I think it's above the bar.

Remy Evard:                 Two thumbs up.

Jason Jacobs:                Thanks. 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 the .com, but right now, .co. You can also find me on Twitter at JayJacobs22, 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 enjoy the show, please share an episode with a friend or consider leaving a review on iTunes. The lawyers made me say that. Thank you.