Sustainababble: a Podcast with a British Sense of Humor

Ol and Dave, the voices behind Sustainababble.

Ol and Dave, the voices behind Sustainababble.

By Lisa Biehle Files

Dave and Ol are two Brits who work for environmental charities. Each week, they digest the latest environmental news stories, speak with experts, and spout their own opinions in their 30- to 40-minute, light comedy podcast, Sustainababble, which has as its motto: “Trying to be cheery in the face of impending ecological disaster.” Blimey.

Dave and Ol do not use their last names in an effort to disassociate their podcast from their workaday and personal lives. As lifelong friends, they came up with the idea for Sustainababble after a drink or two at a local pub.

In an email, Dave wrote: “We started the podcast because, frankly, we couldn't see anyone else who was talking about environmental issues in a way that wasn't a bit dreary, or filled you with despair. We wanted to talk about the things that most interest us and admit that it's all complicated. Who the heck knows what the green thing to do is all the time, and how much difference does it make anyway? We wanted to make people laugh and think and get a kind of shared sense of not really knowing what to do, but all hopefully pushing in roughly the right direction.”

Recently, I listened to a few podcasts from among the more than 100 they’ve produced in the past three years. Though they remain upbeat throughout, the news is often bleak. Because of their playful banter, they succeed in getting more people interested, involved and listening to the climate change conversation. The proof: 300,000 people have downloaded their podcast since 2015.

Strong language may be used occasionally.

#92 Insects

In October 2017, an article from The Guardian warned that the world is on the edge of “Ecological Armageddon” because of the dramatic decline in the number of insects. The number of flying insects, in particular, has plunged 75 percent over the past 25 years.

These numbers were based on a methodical German study, weighing flying insects in protected nature preserves over the past 27 years.

Dave and Ol believe the use of pesticides in farming may be the culprit and talk about how interconnected and foundational insects are to the web of life, quoting Professor Dave Goulson from the article, “If we lose the insects, then everything is going to collapse.”

Dave and Ol suggest a mass direct action movement is needed to stop using chemicals on farms.

At this point, they veer into how wasteful animal agriculture can be and then play a portion of a bawdy “militant Vegan” song.

To finish on a happy note, they decide to talk about penguins. But the story turns dark when they mention a recent story from The Independent, which describes 18,000 baby penguins dying in Antarctica because of changing weather conditions.

#99 Ocean Plastic

Blue Planet II, a British documentary series about marine life, narrated by naturalist David Attenborough, aired in the U.K., Europe, Nordic regions, and Asia in late 2017. (It also aired in the USA early this year).

The series focused on how microplastics and pollution threaten marine life and ecosystems. Dave and Ol talk about how, thanks to this series, plastic pollution has finally become an important topic of conversation.

Since the airing, there have been promises for more drinking fountains to help reduce plastic waste, a protected coastal region, a fee for single use plastics, and more.

Dave and Ol mention that China used to recycle the world’s plastics but, beginning in January, the country stopped. This has caused a major backup of plastics ready for recycling without a destination.

“We used to send it to China and chuck a few in the sea along the way,” they say. “Either countries will have to pay more to do their own recycling, pay more to have someone else do it, or we won’t recycle anymore plastic.”

More topics: Dave and Ol switch to talking about Bitcoin and its energy demands. Bitcoin is a digital currency created in 2009 by someone using the alias Satoshi Nakamoto. Transactions can be made without middle men or banks. People “mine” bitcoins with computers, which need more and more power for complex calculations. Projected estimates of future energy consumption for Bitcoin are nearly apocalyptic.

“A made-up currency might be trashing the planet,” they say. “Hipsters are getting excited about this, but it’s buggering out the planet.”

Dave and Ol finish by talking about how Patagonia is suing President Trump for withdrawing protected status from 2 million acres of land in Utah, including Bears Ears National Monument, which has some of the best rock climbing in America.

(One Earth Film Fest/Green Community Connections screened a short film about this topic. More here.)

#109 Neoliberalism

Dave and Ol interview Christine Berry, a freelance researcher, writer, consultant and Ph.D. student at the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute.

Christine helps them understand neoliberalism and how this economic philosophy has made it difficult to protect the environment.

The ideas of Friedrich von Hayek emerged after World War II and were espoused by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Von Hayek thought free markets would be better at allocating resources than the government and that government intervention created a slippery slope toward Fascism.

Christine helps explain the difference between capitalism and neoliberalism by using a computer analogy. “Capitalism is the hardware and neoliberalism is the software. Capitalism is the institutions that create structure, private property, and finance. Neoliberalism is the software: a set of rules for how you should run capitalism. Both systems are capitalist systems but different ways of running them.”

Christine thinks that pursuing this course has led us to where we are now with the environment. “If we are going to address climate change, we need to look at the markets and do something different. . . . Neoliberalism concentrates power into Big Oil, Big Banks,” she says. “It’s not in the interests of BP or Shell to tackle climate change.”

Dave and Ol end by saying it might be time to rethink neoliberalism and vote accordingly.