In this third episode of the JancisRobinson.com Podcast, Elaine Chukan Brown talks climate-change activism with sustainability scientist Kimberly Nicholas.
Two women who care passionately about our changing climate, wine writer Elaine Chukan Brown and sustainability scientist Professor Kimberly Nicholas, discuss what we as individuals can do in the face of our rapidly warming planet. They look at the bigger picture but also how climate change affects wine production and how wine lovers might play their part in reducing carbon emissions. ‘Wine is a fingerprint or a taste of climate change,’ says Nicholas, whose PhD topic was the effect of climate change on the wine industry in her native California.
She identifies the three areas in which we can have greatest personal effect, and actually quantifies a wine-bottle carbon emission equivalent of a round-trip flight between London and New York. (It’s many more than you might think!) They also discuss how apparently small decisions such as wine packaging can have a considerable effect – something we’ve been going on about for some time now. Listen in for more advice and thought-provoking discussion on Spotify, Apple, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever else you listen to your podcasts.
Photo of Kimberly Nicholas (above) by Simon Charles Florian Rose.
Transcript of Episode 3 – On climate change with Elaine Chukan Brown and Kimberly Nicholas
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: So Dr. Kimberly Nicholas, you are a global sustainability scientist and a climate scientist, and one of the things I so admire about your work is your ability to do deep-dive research on these topics and then come out of that research and make it understandable, so thank you for that. Your book Under The Sky We Make has been such an incredible insight for me and one of the things that really impressed me was that it talks about honestly painful, difficult, scary topics and then finds ways to make it hopeful. And at the same time make me feel there's something I can do. So I was hoping we could start there – in the face of climate change, so much is scary, so much is just confusing and trying to figure out what me as one person can do is so hard. So, what is it we need to know about climate change?
KIM NICHOLAS: Thank you, Elaine. Thank you so much for having me and for convening this conversation and your kind words. It means a lot to me, because I really love how you write about wine and how you open up that black box for lots of people too.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Thank you.
KIM NICHOLAS: I would say what we need to know about climate change we can boil down to almost a haiku. It's warming, it's us. We are sure it's bad, we can fix it. And what I try to do in my work is to link facts, feelings and action. As a scientist, I can help share and boil down the facts so that we are pointed in the right direction, that we're looking at the things that really matter. As a human, I've had to cope with knowledge of and living with the climate crisis for quite a long time. Things that many people are maybe now, or more recently, waking up to or experiencing first hand, scientists have seen coming or been experiencing for a long time.
So maybe we have some insight to share from that, or can at least empathize and understand that experience. Where I really focus my work on now is on action. What is it that's meaningful and high impact that each of us can do? And how can we tailor that to our own gifts and skills so that we're doing something that we can sustain, that we can enjoy, that we can find purpose and meaning in and link it to the rest of our lives, so it doesn't feel one more thing on our to-do list, but it's actually a part of the life we want to live of lining up our actions and values?
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: It's so important. Right. Sometimes it's easy to get overwhelmed by the topic as big as climate change and then try to change everything at once to fix it, but we actually have to be able to sustain the change and as you put it, make it part of our lifestyle. So what are some things we can do?
KIM NICHOLAS: What our research and others have shown is that the biggest thing we can do in terms of our personal carbon footprint is to look at our flying, driving and meat consumption. Those are the three areas that for those of us who have high emissions, higher than the global average or higher than the average in our country, we do actually need to take a look in the mirror and figure out how to and find ways to reduce our own emissions. And that's a journey I've been on as well. For people who have high emissions, most of them come from travel. So if you fly, that is almost certainly the biggest part of your personal emissions. So reducing every flight that you can makes a huge difference. Next if you drive, that's second to flying, or first for most Americans, because most Americans actually do not fly. So finding ways to reduce driving as much as possible, going car-free if that's possible and reducing meat consumption to a sustainable level. And I know that you have experience with hunting and wild animal and fish consumption, which is a much more climate-friendly way of doing things, but for most people in this sort of industrialized food system, it's really essential to reduce meat consumption a lot lower than current industrialized Western diets, to be both healthy and sustainable.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Right. So I grew up in Alaska and my family's indigenous to that area, so we were often in remote parts of the state where to have adequate food, you do need to be gathering from the land and hunting from the land, fishing from the land, but most of us can't eat that way. And right now I'm in California, so I don't have that option. At the same time I have a health condition where if I go too long without meat protein, I start to have other issues, so for those of us this is maybe one of these things would be really hard to change. Some people their job depends on driving, or their job depends on flying. How do we reset the balance when, because of the larger situation, like the way transportation happens in whatever country we happen to live in, for example, or in my case my health demands I have some meat protein, how do we make that balance happen even with these constraints we might have personally?
KIM NICHOLAS: I think that's so important because we all do have different conditions and strengths, and other factors in our lives, family circumstances that we need to take into account. And so certainly if you have a medical condition that needs to take priority, if you need something to make a living, if you need to feed your family, that has to have a place at the table. What I've found from my experience is it's important to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
I was a frequent flyer. In 2010 I took 15 round-trip flights. That puts me in this very small group, it's about 1% of the global population who are frequent flyers. That group causes about half of all climate pollution from flying. And when you consider that flying causes about as much climate pollution as Germany and that humans have to completely stop adding carbon to the atmosphere in order to stop global warming, we have to get all the way down to zero and completely stop burning fossil fuels, that made me really responsible, and a lot of those flights were ones that I didn't need to take. That I didn't miss, or that I found other ways of having adventure and seeing friends and family and continuing a productive career that didn't require flying.
So I think for me it was being inspired by a conversation with a friend who had stopped flying within Europe. We both live in Europe and we were actually at a climate conference where I had flown and he had taken the train about the same distance, and I realized I just had this wake up moment at this conference where, this was back in 2012 and I was in a room full of scientists who were presenting our findings on how serious the climate crisis is, how bad the impacts already were back then, how much worse they were going to get until we actually make this fast and fair transition to a fossil free world that we need to do, and yet I was reflecting that, well, I flew here, I think most of my colleagues flew here. I feel like I'm in a room full of doctors puffing on cigarettes and telling our patients to stop smoking. This just doesn't work.
So I finally confronted that cognitive dissonance and was able to say, there is a lot of flying I can stop doing. Because I wasn't able or willing to completely give up flying, since I live in Sweden and my family's in California, I didn't see a feasible alternative, having that in mind that there's one flight I can't imagine giving up right now it was stopping me from thinking of all the flying that I could reduce and actually didn't miss, and actually led to some romance and adventure and good things in my life that I wouldn't have foreseen at that time.
So I guess it's about looking at where we are in our circumstances and doing what we can and also expanding our view of ourselves. So beyond this consumer role we also have roles to play as citizens, as role models in our professional lives through our work, and as investors, how we spend our time and money. So there's a lot we can be doing in those other roles that can complement and scale up and expand the way that we live and leading by example in that way.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: I love that point that you're making, that our decisions can come from different types of identity we think we have. And it's so easy to assume we can only choose as a consumer, but we can choose as an investor, we can choose as a community partner, we can choose as a citizen, as you said. Some of us even might imagine being a steward of our community, caretakers for the future. And so what would the best choice there be? This is a little touchy-feely, but the truth is that climate change and the kinds of decisions to change our own behaviour for the sake of the community can also include grief or despair for what we have to let go of, and fear for the future. How do we navigate those difficult feelings, so that we can honour that it's hard and yet also be productive in the choices we're making?
KIM NICHOLAS: That is definitely not something that my graduate studies prepared me for. I thought I was getting into this career because I loved being outside and hiking in the mountains, and it has gradually been revealed to me or the world has sort of shown me that actually this is not what we have in store for you. A lot of my career and that of colleagues who got into this work because we love a particular place or an ecosystem and want to take care of it and see it live, thrive into the future, I mean, sometimes it feels our careers are these decades long funerals. I have a colleague who said that half of the wildlife in Africa has died on his watch.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Wow.
KIM NICHOLAS: And it's really tough to take that in. I mean, of course he chose that path to be a biodiversity and conservation scientist because he loves those animals, he loves that place, he wants it to continue to thrive and it's really tough to see things going in the wrong direction in a lot of cases. So I think we do have to acknowledge those losses. And what I've found is that making space for that grief, honouring what we have lost, or are afraid of losing, is really empowering because it reminds us what we care about. It's what we love that we grieve the loss of. And that love I think can be so powerful in orienting us to do what's necessary and giving us purpose and really meaning to our actions.
So, I think it's about finding and creating and building supportive communities where we help each other through these tough times and having practices to take care of ourselves, both physically, mentally being as healthy and strong as we can be to cope with difficulty, and finding joy in all of the small moments and realizing grief is definitely a part of the losses we're seeing already from climate change. But there also are, and it doesn't invalidate the grief to also make space for joy, creativity, these moments of beauty. I mean, this morning I was having a coffee on my balcony with my husband and watching this spider spin a web right next to me, and it's such a small thing but, actually, just being present where you are and paying attention and appreciating what's there in this moment also is a part of acknowledging what we love.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: I love that point though, making space for being honest about what's hard actually becomes empowering. It can change our perspective, help us be more present with what's real in the moment and show us new ways of doing things and having that new perspective. So we've been talking about climate change, what we need to know and what we can do as individuals, but this is also a wine-related podcast, so what on earth does any of this have to do with wine?
KIM NICHOLAS: Well, for me, I mean as you know, I grew up in Sonoma where you live now and my family is still there. Of course, the landscape and economy and culture of that place is deeply shaped and entwined with wine growing and wine making. That was what I studied for my PhD, the impacts of climate change on the California wine industry. And it's something close to my heart. I'm also a wine lover. It's a little bit tougher from Sweden than in California. I don't have friends here who are making amazing wines like I do up in Sonoma. Nonetheless, I think wine for me is an essence of a time and place. It's a message in a bottle from a particular season and a particular place and the people who took care of that place, and who made that wine from the conditions that they had at that moment.
So it is a fingerprint or a taste of climate change, the taste of wine is changing because of climate change and wine lovers are concerned about and worried about climate change, partly because they know that it's having an effect on the places and this product that they love. So for me, that was the reason I chose to study that for my PhD was I wanted something that people could relate to, that they might have on their dinner table that didn't feel so distant and far away as the stereotypical images, at least in the past, of climate change maybe has been a polar bear or melting ice. And for many, maybe for you that might be more meaningful because you have this connection to Alaska, but many people don't have a glacier that they're familiar with.
But many more folks can relate to the wine on their dinner table. So their wine is really a signal of a world in trouble, because of climate change and also has a lot of messages for us I think from our research, for example, about how to use diversity to cope with and thrive through change and how important it is to preserve diversity, to have options in a changing climate, so I think wine is a great microcosm of climate change.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Well, and so from the wine grower/producer side, those people can be thinking about how they're farming, what farming changes need to happen, where they're farming, what they're planting to grow, in order to capture that diversity piece that can bring greater resilience. But for the wine lover, are there things that the wine lover can do to support right action from producers with the wine industry? What kinds of choices can we make as wine lovers to help foster positive change around climate?
KIM NICHOLAS: One thing that's gotten a lot of attention recently is the climate impact of packaging. Wine is traditionally packaged in heavy glass bottles. Glass is essentially sand that you melt at 3,000 degrees, which takes a lot of energy, and then glass is heavy, so transporting it takes more energy. And right now most of the world's energy comes from burning the fossil fuels which cause climate change. So lighter packaging and shorter transport distances for wine can be significant for reducing the climate impact of that bottle of wine. But it's also important to put in a bigger perspective, I mean, what I've calculated is that you can drink 1,250 bottles of wine.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: That's a lot.
KIM NICHOLAS: That's a lot. That would take me quite some time. I don't know about you. That's more than a year-
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: A lot.
KIM NICHOLAS:... for the same climate impact of one round-trip flight. So paying attention to, rather than agonizing over which bottle of wine should I have tonight, maybe you spend 10 minutes comparing labels in the store, you should much better spend that 10 minutes or even a 1,000 times more that reconsidering how can I reduce my flying? How could I live closer to work? How could I simplify my life so that my family is nearby or my kids can walk up to school? Or where are the places that I'm flying and driving, and how can I combine those or reduce those? Because that's going to have such a bare impact for the climate than the kind of wine bottle that you have. If you're a wine producer it's really important to look at these system changes for the whole wine industry, but as a consumer you have so much more power to reduce emissions from travel than wine.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Thank you so much for that. Just that reminder, let's keep things in perspective. Which choices that we can make have actual impact, which bottle of wine is that we purchase is a very small impact compared to these bigger things like do I want to go to Europe this summer, or do I want to fly to New Zealand for a quick trip? That's a huge impact rather than compared to the single bottle that I might buy. And that number, could you say again? So one round trip is roughly comparable to how many bottles of wine?
KIM NICHOLAS: So one round-trip flight, which would be say from New York to London - so it's about 16 hours of flying – that's equivalent to 1,250 bottles of wine.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: That's a great way to put in perspective the kinds of choices we're talking about. So one of the other things though that you've talked about, and so beautifully put, and it relates to what we were talking about earlier too, just wine is this insight or fingerprint, it's a microcosm into this question. It becomes a way for us to communicate, and so for me personally as a wine communicator, wine writer, I can think of wine as a means to share the import of this situation with others. Are there other ways that we can just be talking with each other again, maybe in relation to wine, but just in general too, to help each other better understand these issues?
KIM NICHOLAS: So I like to think of these five superpowers that we all have for climate, and that's our role as consumers, investors, role models, professionals and citizens. And so for you both as a professional and a role model, you do reach people through your work with wine and through the chance to share your story about wine, through your talks and social media and writing and the ways that you reach people. And you have a bigger platform than many others might. But, actually all of us do really affect the people around us. And what we know from research is that people's behaviour is really most strongly affected by the people that they know and that they see every day. For example, the behaviour of getting solar panels on roofs is contagious, we can see that when your neighbour gets a solar panel, you're much more likely to get one.
And that neighbour doesn't have to have a ton of social media followers or whatever, it's people in our day-to-day environment. So all of us do have some people that we interact with and are part of our communities. It can be our families, our neighbours, faith communities or other groups that we're a part of. Work, of course. We really do affect those people around us, both by our behaviour and by what we choose to talk about. I mean, one thing that's really striking is that most Americans rarely or never talk about climate change. And that was me until pretty recently, even though I was working on climate change, so my professional life was very much dedicated to climate change. I really didn't have those conversations with my closest friends, and I know that it can be tough to find ways to make that connection.
So I think that wine, I mean for this audience, wine is a great way to do that because it's enough to say I love Carneros Pinot Noir, in my case. And for me, I'm really worried that the taste is changing, that that wine might not exist in the future, because it's on the border of being too warm to really express the same character that I grew up with and that I treasure. And that can open conversations. I think a lot of people are intimidated by feeling like, oh, I need to know all the facts and I have to read all the scientific studies. And if you want to please do so, I certainly am not discouraging you from doing that, but you don't have to be a climate expert to care about climate change and to talk about climate change. And expressing what your experience of it is, or what your concerns are, is enough to have those conversations. And it's probably more effective to express those feelings, to ask open-ended questions, to really listen to what others have to say. That's how you build community and compassion and actually start to change hearts and minds and galvanize people. And everyone has the capacity to do that.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Yeah, so, some of our listeners are in other parts of the world and jancisrobinson.com is a global website based in the UK of course. Being here in the United States I absolutely see what you're talking about, that there's not a lot of interpersonal conversation about climate change. It's almost seen as rude to bring up. But I do speak with wine groups and wine professionals all over the world, and what I've seen is that basically any other country that I have conversations with, it's just understood climate change is real. I think here in the States, because we talk about it so little, it's easier to overlook that it's real. But at the beginning, in your climate change haiku you mentioned we know for sure, we do know for sure. So we need to talk about it from that perspective, we know for sure. Are there hopeful insights you could share?
Again, it can get heavy really quickly. We have to be honest that this is a serious situation, but at the same time that we're honest, we need to also know, no, we really can make a difference. So is there a hopeful insight you can share for us?
KIM NICHOLAS: Yes, absolutely. But I first want to share something that makes me really angry, which I was reminded by something that you said. So you mentioned that in the US it can feel like people don't even acknowledge the reality that humans are warming the climate, and the good news is that actually more than 90% of Americans are in the group that understands this. Basically, it's less than 10% who dismiss or deny the reality that humans burning fossil fuels causes climate change.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: I think it's important to emphasize what you just said, only 10% of Americans actually deny climate change.
KIM NICHOLAS: But boy are they loud.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: It feels it's a lot more than that. Yeah, thank you for saying that.
KIM NICHOLAS: Yes, and I mean the other reason that in the US in particular it can feel like such an uphill battle is that unfortunately there's been a really well organized disinformation campaign for many decades. And that's been documented by investigative journalists and by Naomi Oreskes for example, who's a historian at Harvard, and many others by now, who've really uncovered these links between unfortunately fossil fuel industry and lobbying against climate action.
So we have really clear evidence now that there's just this really well organized campaign to discredit science and scientists and to prevent meaningful climate action. So it's not just that there's a small group that is unsure, there's also a really well organized campaign with the explicit goal of sewing and expanding that group and feeding misinformation. For example, there's a study showing that Exxon scientists and internal communications very early on clearly acknowledged and understood and agreed the scientific reality that humans are warming the climate, but their external communications, including their paid advertising in places like the New York Times were saying, "Oh, the science isn't settled. Let's do more research. We don't actually know if this is even happening."
And that was directly in conflict with their own findings. So there are a lot of infuriating stories like that. And I think it's just that's something that, well, gives me a lot of energy because it does make me really mad. And I mean there's just been more than a generation wasted because of these campaigns. So there are reasons why this is a difficult conversation. There are people who benefit from it being a difficult conversation. And one of the best ways to use our power as a role model is to break down those barriers and to enable these conversations, because it is unfortunately a polarized topic. I mean, studies show now that climate change in the US is a more polarized topic politically than abortion or gun rights, which have traditionally been, those are ideological questions, but belief in a scientific question has become a political issue. And that's really unfortunate, so I think the more we can do to have conversations, the better.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Okay. So there's a lot to be angry about. It's also a good reminder that being angry can be useful because it gets us riled up, which gives us the energy to tackle something. And again, let's go back, what's a hopeful take away? What are some hopeful insights, ways we can move forward?
KIM NICHOLAS: Okay, now I'll give you your hope. You've earned it.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Okay, thank you. It's important to be honest first. Okay.
KIM NICHOLAS: I mean what I find is that hope follows action. I think a lot of people, it's easy to get overwhelmed and to feel despair. What keeps me going and what gets me out of bed in the morning is, from where I sit, I can see how many people are working so hard in all these ways, from artists to bankers, to activists, to scientists, to wine lovers in these different roles, in these different ways people are really putting all they have into this work. And the problem is often those stories don't get told, or they don't get lifted up and people don't know where to find each other or to connect.
We also know from research that in order to act, people have to feel that their actions make a difference and that they're effective, that they're doing the right thing. So basically knowing what is it that's effective and finding others, and what is it that I personally find fulfilling and rewarding and makes sense for me in these five different roles we've been talking about, that's what helps move people and that's what actually starts making systems change. And we know that tipping points can happen when you get a small, committed group together. And so we see that starting to happen and we've seen some big changes from that organizing and community building, so we know that it works.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: One of the things that is happening in Sweden too is wine purchasing in Sweden all goes through one central group, the wine monopoly there. And one of the things they've been doing to help shift consumer behaviour by shifting what's available, is actually choosing wine packaging, choosing wine purchases, to bring into the country that do have reduced emissions, or are coming from positive farming, like regenerative viticulture or organics. Are there comments you can make about how that's been received? Or also the positive impact that's having for the country on reducing emissions and helping make a change in regards to climate?
KIM NICHOLAS: Yeah, I think it's a great example of how people can act in this professional role, because I mean basically we need every job to be a climate job. So if you want to help with climate change, you don't have to quit your job. If you like your job, you can turn the time that you spend at your job a little bit towards taking climate action. And that can be what's really effective, as you mentioned, is having industry standards and sharing and spreading those. So the fact that a large entity that buys a lot of wine says, "Okay, we want to have wine in this lightweight packaging. Or we want to have wine that meets these organic standards or other standards>" That does start to shift the market and that does start to perpetuate down the chain. And maybe once you have leaders who are doing that, others tend to follow.
And those who have, the producers who've met those standards might find, "Oh, this wasn't as hard as they thought or there were these other benefits I didn't realize." They tell their neighbours and it spreads that way. International Wineries for Climate Action is one group that I think is doing really good work, that they're following the science-based targets approach. So they're trying to measure and reduce their emissions in line with the Paris Agreement basically. So doing their fair share for climate justice, of stabilizing the climate, and I think they're trying to make tools and information that makes it easier for a lot more wineries to follow suit.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: So you've talked about choices we can make as a consumer, choices we can make from our professional lives, also from the perspective of a role model. But you also mentioned two other roles or superpowers that we can keep in mind. One was investor, and I have to admit I don't remember the fifth. Could you remind me?
KIM NICHOLAS: Citizen.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: It's from a citizen's perspective, so what are choices that we can make in regards to climate from the perspective of an investor and from the perspective of a citizen?
KIM NICHOLAS: So as investors, as a normal person, one of the biggest things to look at is where you bank. I realized from reading this banking on climate crisis report that basically all of the big banks, both in the US and really around the world, are still investing in expanding fossil fuel infrastructure.
So they're funding pipelines and arctic drilling, and oil and gas expansion. And we know from science that we're just out of time to continue to expand those reserves. And actually we need to be doing the opposite. We need to be shutting down existing reserves and making this transition to renewable energy and shifting jobs and incentives in those directions. And of course when we have our money in a bank, the bank is lending out some of that money to others, including these big oil companies that are not following the science. So it felt really good for me to take my money out of Bank of America, to write a letter explaining why, which I have available from my newsletter from We Can Fix It. Others are welcome to copy.
There's also now a campaign that Bill McKibben and others are organizing, which is to really put pressure on the banks and make some specific demands that if they haven't complied with by the end of this year, 2022, that people in a big organized group will shift their money. And those are the kind of things that are really powerful. So shifting from fossil banks to credit unions, shifting any investments that you might have from pensions or funds or stocks, looking at the carbon footprint of those and shifting to fossil free investments.
And then if you're in a financial position where you can donate money or time, giving some of that to organizations who are working for climate justice, it's really a very low number of much less than 10% of Americans, for example, again, I keep coming back to Americans because that's where we have the best data from or I know off the top of my head, who actually donate to those organizations. So they're really scrappy, they're doing a lot of work with not a lot of money. And even $5 a month donation can make a big difference for climate organizations. So taking your money out of doing bad and actively investing it and doing good makes a really big difference.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Right. So we should clarify, the things we're talking about are relevant all around the world, but it happens that a lot of climate data or studies on consumer behaviours related to climate are done on the United States. And part of that is because the population, as I understand it, in Canada and the United States actually has the biggest impact on carbon emissions in the world. Is that right?
KIM NICHOLAS: Well, the US is about 5% of the global population, and has caused about a quarter of existing climate pollution. And that trend is not just seen in the US, it's basically correlated with income. So in my work I really focus on this group of the top 10% of earners globally. And people are often surprised to learn, they might think, oh it's wasteful for Kylie Jenner to fly a jet for a 15-minute flight, or whatever it was in the news recently. Those are the rich people who are the problem. But actually if you earn more than 38,000 US dollars per year, you're among the 10% of richest people on earth.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: It's so important to highlight that, because essentially anyone listening to this podcast is in the top 10% of the richest people on earth, and you just said that that top 10% also has the biggest impact on climate emissions, right?
KIM NICHOLAS: Exactly. That top 10% causes 50% of household climate pollution. And I myself am in that group, and I guess the reason I focus on this group is because we actually have so much power as individuals that we don't realize. I mean, we've talked about these roles as consumers, but coming to investors, if you have money in a bank or if you have stocks, certainly you have a lot of financial power there. If you have a job where you have some kind of influence or power, control, even if you're not the person at the very top, but you're able to influence your division, your group, your team, make suggestions, form committees, push things, that can make a big difference. And these are options that aren't available to everyone.
And the thing we haven't talked about yet is as a citizen, but it's only about 18% of countries that meet the democratic standard of countries like the US or the UK. So most people on earth do not live in a functioning democracy. And of course those of us who are lucky enough to do that realize we have to keep putting in the work to keep it functioning. But I mean, we need to take advantage of and exercise the rights that others have fought so hard for us to have, to express our voice as citizens, to be a part of the political process, to vote, to call and write our representatives and tell them what we want, to be part of organizations that are working for climate justice. Because those options aren't available to everyone and they actually have so much power.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: I think just like you were saying a few minutes ago, that sometimes we blame the very rich. I know a lot of us often will try to blame other countries, oh it's them that's doing it. But what we've been describing is, again, actually all of us are really involved in this problem. And what you're pointing out is if we're in that top 10%, which again essentially all of us listening are, part of the point of that is we actually are also the group that has more choices that we can make that can have a positive impact. So as a citizen you mentioned these different things like we can write letters, we can vote, these are examples of choices citizens can make, but if there's a most effective thing that a citizen can do, that we as citizens can do to try to create positive change on this, is there something you most strongly recommend?
KIM NICHOLAS: The top of the list is to vote, to make sure that you are registered to and exercise your right to vote, that you help others to do the same. Studies have shown that voting for women, and voting for politicians with a good climate or an environment score, actually works to reduce emissions statistically. There's actually a group that's working to enfranchise people who really care about the environment and have not historically voted. So that's a really effective action to take to organize and empower people who haven't been exercising their right, or have been kept from voting, to make their will known. Because politics will more closely reflect the actual will of the people. So top of the list is to vote.
A second, and this ranking comes from a study of members of parliament in Europe as to what actually influenced them in making policy decisions. So number one is they want to keep their jobs and they want to know that their constituents who they represent really care about climate. So it's also super important that we as citizens have some kind of relationship or communication with our representatives, and there what studies have shown is actually picking up the phone and making a phone call and saying, "Hi, I'm a constituent. I live in this district and I really care about this and I want you to put it up on your agenda." And you don't need to be completely specific about, you're not dictating their policy choices, but you're saying that this is something you care about and will vote on. Because politicians hear a lot from lobbyists who are saying the opposite and they really need to hear more from their citizens who they represent, that you do care about climate, and you'll vote accordingly.
And then I would say organizing, being a part of groups, either political parties or climate organizations that are working on climate issues is really powerful. That's how we go from not being just alone as individuals, but part of broader campaigns. And some people are great at organizing and being out on the streets. Some people are great behind the scenes at making sure everybody's fed and making sure the meetings run smoothly and taking care of all those logistics and everything in between. Those are all really important and needed skills. So, you don't have to be an extrovert to be involved there. There's really a role for everybody.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Well, in the phone call you mentioned, you can take a couple minutes in a day to make a phone call to one of your representatives and that can have a strong positive impact, like you're saying. So it's important for us to remember, little choices, little bits of time can make a difference too. How did you put it? Don't let the perfect be an enemy of the good.
KIM NICHOLAS: Exactly. Yeah.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Yeah. So I want to know, because you did grow up in Sonoma, you did your doctoral research on the wine industry here in Sonoma, you live in Sweden now, so what are some of the wines you just go to every day, love to drink?
KIM NICHOLAS: Ooh, I'm still experimenting with that to be honest. Because as you mentioned, we have this alcohol monopoly and I'm trying to get better about ordering the more interesting and exciting wines. I would say, I mean some of my favourite wines, I love New Zealand, Sauvignon Blancs, just the minerality of it and this freshness. So that's probably my favourite white wine. And right now it's quite hot.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: They're so energetic too.
KIM NICHOLAS: Yeah. I know this isn't so big in the US, but here in Scandinavia, natural wines are really big and that's been interesting for me to learn more about and experiment with. There's a wine bar in my town here in Lund that focuses a lot on natural wines and I really enjoyed trying those. And I think in general I'm quite a fan of cool-climate wine, so Austrian reds are something that I usually enjoy. Yeah.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: I love that reminder too for Austrian reds, so much good wine coming out of Austria and it's changed so much in the last ten years, so that there are a lot more reds that are really exciting. Natural wine though really I think is growing worldwide. It's been increasing, actually here in California there's a really strong natural-wine community. A lot more natural wines being made here in California now. I was in Copenhagen in May and had a lot of fun actually checking out some wine bars there, and there was definitely just a really strong push for natural wine there too, not too far from you.
So I think that it's steadily growing into a global phenomenon. One of the things that struck me too, looking at how you describe your work, your research, we talk about climate science, but you're actually also a sustainability scientist and have done research on how to help food systems be sustainable and then of course what's going to help sustain the wine industry. And one of the descriptions I read that you had made about your work was that you study the intersection of land, climate and people.
And it struck me that that same intersection is the root of wine's notion of terroir. It's the place that it's planted, the sky in which it grows and the people that are growing it. I love that synchronicity that this work you're doing, helping us to better understand sustainability, what will sustain our lives, as well as our food systems and the wine industry, that's really a parallel with what makes us love wine to this expression of place. The place that we love, the wines that we love. So for people that are wanting to learn more with you, and again, I so appreciate how deft you are at bringing these really complex subjects and making them tangible, making them really understandable, but you have a newsletter that you send through email. That again, you so often offer really clear takeaways, really clear tips and things to do, could you tell us how do we find your newsletter?
KIM NICHOLAS: Yeah. Thank you. It's at, wecanfixit.substack.com and free to sign up, the archives now go back almost two years. So each month I focus on linking facts, feelings, and actions. So I'll have a short summary from a new study or a takeaway, something surprising. This month I think I'll be writing about food miles impact, which is actually bigger than previously measured, but still the takeaways still hold of you know, eating more plants is basically the highest impact thing we can do food wise for the climate. And then the feelings part is a lot of the things we've been talking about, the climate grief, also how to build community and then action. Last month was about climate action and leadership in the wine industry actually. So that's July 2022. If people want to start there, that might be a good spot for these listeners.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: That's great. And you have a website too where people can read some interviews with you, find out more about your book?
KIM NICHOLAS: Yeah, my website is kimnicholas.com and that's K-I-M-N-I-C-H-O-L-A-S.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: And so Under The Sky We Make, we can find out more about it on your website, but also one of the things I want to point out that I love you did this, and it would be amazing for more books to do this, but the writing itself is very readable, really understandable, but even so at the very back of the book, you have this brilliant section called TLDR, Too Long Didn't Read It. And you literally outline every chapter giving us the key takeaways, the core insights and things we need to know from every chapter of the entire book, so that if we have to do the quick read version, that's available too. So thank you for that. It always makes me laugh.
KIM NICHOLAS: It's a reality, right?
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: It's just real. Again, let's start with being honest and then go from there. So Under The Sky We Make is your book. Thank you so much for being with us. We've covered so much information though, so just in closing, what do you want to be sure people take away? What's the core thing, the most important thing to remember for those of us trying to tackle this?
KIM NICHOLAS: I think a really key message is to know that you actually really matter. And I think a lot of people get stuck on feeling like, well I cannot single-handedly solve climate change, which is true for all of us. None of us have that power. But we all really do have a role to play and team climate really needs you.
So I really hope that you found somewhere to get started, or to overcome some of the overwhelm, or not knowing where to start that many people feel, and have something that you can start working on. And whatever of these five roles that we talked about resonates for you, that's a great place to get started. And I think the most important thing is to get started, to build it in a way that is sustainable, that fits with your values and your priorities, and helps lead you towards the meaning and purpose that will make it feel fun and rewarding and sustainable. But really getting started is so important, and all of us doing what we can and maybe even a little more, because we've a lot of work to do is really huge. But yeah, I think people have so much more power than they realize, and I would love to see people using that power to stop climate change and save the wines that we love.
ELAINE CHUKAN BROWN: Thank you for that. And thank you so much for making time. It's always great to talk to you. I learn so much every time and I really am grateful to be able to share your insights with others as well, so thank you.
KIM NICHOLAS: Thank you, Elaine. Thanks for all you're doing, and I can't wait to listen to more of this podcast.