Activism, Climate Justice, and Human Rights with Marta Schaaf

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Activism, Climate Justice, and Human Rights with Marta Schaaf
About The Episode Transcript

This week on the She Geeks Out podcast, we chat with Marta Schaaf, Director of the Amnesty International Program on Climate, Economic, and Social Justice. We discuss her awe-inspiring background in advocacy work, her current work on climate change (both locally and globally), and the importance of corporate responsibility. Spoiler alert - corporations can make a heckuva lot more impact on climate action than we can by recycling or quitting plastic straws. Her passion for the work is clear, and we were moved. We bet you will be, too!

[00:02:28] Student demonstrations for divestment.

[00:07:07] Privilege and College Protests.

[00:10:55] Two-state solution debate.

[00:11:39] Toxicity in alumni groups.

[00:13:37] Interview with Marta starts.

[00:18:07] Climate justice.

[00:21:34] Fatal Fuels.

[00:25:55] Plastic straw movement and activism.

[00:29:30] Activism and climate change.

[00:31:03] Access to Power and Hope.

[00:36:11] Getting involved at a local level.

[00:41:26] Political engagement and activism

[00:43:22] Corporate Responsibilities and Regulations.

[00:49:01] Labor leader's impactful statement.

[00:50:33] Colonizing space is a distraction.

[00:54:46] Geeking out about national parks.

[00:57:41] Becoming an abortion activist.

Links mentioned:

(00:06 - 00:16) Felicia Jadczak: Hi, and welcome to the She Geeks Out podcast, where we geek out about workplace inclusion and talk with brilliant humans doing great work, making the world a better and brighter place. I'm Felicia.

(00:16 - 00:50) Rachel Murray: And I'm Rachel. And this week, we chat with Marta Schaaf, the Director of the Program on Climate, Economic and Social Justice and Corporate Accountability, Climate Families New York City Organizer and Principal Visiting Fellow at United Nations University. NBD, she's kind of an awesome human. She also happens to be one of my oldest friends. I mean that in the amount of time I've known her, not in her actual age. As we met a billion years ago as interns at the JFK Library, we're both nerds.

(00:51 - 01:40) Felicia Jadczak: in the best possible way. You know it. Well, before we get into our interview, before we get into our little pre-interview chat, I would love to just say and ask people, if you don't know, we have a ton of resources available online and you should go check them out. Yes, we do. I know it's a shocker, but we do. You can go to and learn more. And if you want to learn about ways to mitigate bias in the workplace and in the world, we have got you covered. So go ahead and sign up for our mailing list at forward slash podcast for free access to one of our many courses. And you can learn more about what else we have to offer. Spoiler alert, it's a lot. So check that out. All right, let's get into it. So what are we going to talk about today? There's so much to get into, but we're going to narrow down to

(01:40 - 01:46) Rachel Murray: Well, what's fun about this, actually, is I know I know what you want to talk about, because we just I don't know what you're going to say about it.

(01:46 - 01:47) Felicia Jadczak: Spoiler alert.

(01:47 - 01:56) Rachel Murray: We had pre prepped a little bit, but I have no idea what either of us will say on the matter. But what is a fun fact is Marta actually worked at Columbia University.

(01:56 - 03:52) Felicia Jadczak: Oh, well, that's a great segue, because what we want to talk about and what we haven't even talked about ourselves. So I'm curious to see where we will go with it. is currently we're recording this at the end of April 2024. I feel like you just have to say the year because what is time? 2020 version 4.4 is what I call it. And there is just a lot that has been happening in the world. And one of the big, I think, issues or movement that's been going on right now has been really around the country and beyond. There have been a lot of demonstrations primarily put forward by students at various higher ed institutions, including Columbia, which has been one of the most focused upon in the news, at least, where they're really trying to push their universities to divest from Israel, from weapons manufacturers, from organizations and companies that are providing munitions and weapons to fund global wars. And it's becoming a huge hotbed around the country just because there's been a lot of different places where there's been violence. Cops are coming out. We're already seeing a difference in how law enforcement is treating peaceful protesters and peaceful students and faculty and staff. And there's also counter demonstrations where law enforcement are not actually beating up people who are marching for like white supremacy. So that's been a whole issue. And then there's also, at least in the activist space that I had been following a whole really interesting conversation around is are these movements hurting or helping the cause of Palestine, for example? So is it taking attention away from Gaza or is it actually helping the cause? So that's kind of the landscape. So, yeah. Do you have any thoughts to start us off with, Rachel, or should I just keep talking and figuring out what I want to say?

(03:52 - 05:31) Rachel Murray: No, thank you for providing that context. And yes, I have been following along and and thinking a lot about this as well. And I just I love that this is happening, honestly. I love that there are protests that are happening in our higher education institutions. I have to say, I've had a lot of lack of faith in our higher education institutions over the past many years because it just felt like it was just increasing inequality in this country in many ways. So to see this It reminds me of the 60s. It reminds me of the protests against Vietnam. It reminds me so much of like, you know, this, there are parallels. And the one that is to me the most obvious is, I was talking with my husband about this the other day, is, you know, with Vietnam, it was protesting a war where we are in this space, this, you know, that is very questionable about why, you know, what our motives are for being in this space. causing incredible harm. And so it's really kind of cool to see that there are academic institutions that are I don't know that they're happy about it, and I think that that is changing according to the news today. We'll see how much longer the protests will be able to exist there. But for now, it's been really cool to see that and to see the passion that folks have and that we're not just completely numb and blind and deaf to everything that is going on around us.

(05:32 - 08:13) Felicia Jadczak: Yeah, it's been it's been a really interesting play out of things like privilege, for example, right? Because certainly not all the students who are protesting are super privileged, but they all are at you know, they attend these colleges, they attend these universities. And you said it yourself, like, It's a privilege to be there because the financial burden is huge. I think it's like $70,000 on average a year to attend some of these colleges now, which is just wild. I don't know how anyone affords it. But it's also the faculty members. I've been really moved just seeing a lot of videos and posts where faculty are like, we have to protect our students and they have a right to push back. That's what college is all about. It's about figuring out your voice and using it. That's been really powerful to see that. It's been heart-wrenching to see violence. In Massachusetts and Boston, cops are marching on Northeastern University. I used to work there. It was wild to watch videos of that. Boston University, Emerson, all of these colleges. My brother went to Columbia. I I was telling my husband, I was like, I've stood in the green where people are getting beat up right now and where they're setting up tents and things like that. You know, I think it's just also a really interesting conversation that's developing out of this, which I'd love to hear more of your thoughts on, which is around that privilege piece. These students are paying these colleges to attend. If you think about the voice of the customer, these students are not just students, they're customers. The colleges are giving them a service and they're paying for it. Then to have the college or university turn around and basically crack down like this, what does that say about this exchange of money? Because that's what it's all about. It's about the money. Who gives it? Where does it go? How does it flow? How does that, you know, how transparent is it? And I'm really interested, and maybe this is kind of, I don't know, off the grid for me, but I am really interested with some of these colleges where you know that these students are so privileged, like they come from rich families, they come from families who are influential, like who have power of their own in all these different spaces. I'm like, I want to see these parents and the caregivers who are watching their kids and they're like, hey, I just wrote you a check for hundreds of thousands of dollars and you're beating up my kid and putting him in jail. I want to see that conversation start playing out a lot at higher levels and see how that comes out. But that's me. What about you?

(08:13 - 08:44) Rachel Murray: Well, I think there are a lot. I don't know what the percentage is, but it is very high, I will say, of people who do go to these colleges and get a tremendous amount of money, whether it's grants and loans and all that, yes, whether it's federal financial aid. And I don't know what the breakdown is. I'd be really curious to know of who is actually protesting on campus. are, is it the people that are incredibly wealthy that are there or is it?

(08:44 - 08:47) Felicia Jadczak: It's probably a mix, but it'd be interesting to know.

(08:47 - 09:18) Rachel Murray: I don't know. Yeah, I don't know. I would imagine that if it were people who were of high stature, there would probably be more press around those particular people getting Getting, yes, arrested and beat up or whatever is happening. I think they would probably be more in the public eye. I think you ask a really interesting question around who is the customer with universities because I actually don't know that students are the customer. I think that donors are the customer in many ways.

(09:18 - 09:30) Felicia Jadczak: Like the board and, you know, the stakeholders. But again, like it's being like it's a business, right? It's a business. And so this is part of the stakeholder population.

(09:30 - 10:03) Rachel Murray: And that's why I think it has changed. I would say not that there were I mean, there was institutional money, of course, forever. I think certainly with the Ivy Leagues. But when you think about comparing it to the 60s versus now, it'll just be interesting to see how it all plays out because there was I mean, I remember. So I went to Brandeis and I remember in the 60s, you know, it was at the time when Angela Davis was there, Abby Hoffman. People took over the student towers like it was. Yeah. Yeah. And it was really challenging.

(10:03 - 10:11) Felicia Jadczak: And there's Kent State and there was just I know I was like, we haven't even mentioned Kent State yet, which I feel like we're just hurtling for another Kent State. Yeah.

(10:11 - 10:55) Rachel Murray: So it'll be interesting to see how it plays out. By the time this actually gets published, who knows? Who knows? But I am grateful for, and I don't think that it is taking away at all from what is happening. And I will just also say that all of this that is happening, there is still no place and no space for any sort of intolerance, any antisemitism. That is not what this is about. And I think Switching that conversation to that has been something that I have seen as a deflection in many cases. Absolutely. Not to take away the pain and the devastation. No, no. And it's like two things can exist, right, at the same time. Exactly. You can be pro-Palestine and pro-Israel. I mean, you can, you actually can be.

(10:55 - 13:14) Felicia Jadczak: It's that, I think that's the question, though. And I think that's what a lot of people are asking, which is, can you criticize Israel? And is that anti-Semitic? Because I think it's a conflation. And, you know, so I went to Haverford College, to my knowledge, as of today, I don't believe that they have students occupying or protesting in the same ways that we've been describing, but there's been a very, very intense and lively conversation existing for months now. And there's been some really, I don't want to call it interesting discussions, but a lot of deep discussions in some alumni groups that I'm in. And I'll be really honest, it's gotten very toxic. It's to the point where I'm like, these are not people that I recognize in the sense of having shared values. In Haverford, one of Haverford's students was one of the three Palestinian men who got attacked in Maine and was shot. There's a very personal connection, obviously, but it's gotten very toxic. The level of vitriol that's being shared, And that's, you know, I always thought of this as like a little Quaker school that everyone peace and love right and you know and it's been interesting. The other thing I really want to mention very quickly too was that I am. I do like that a lot of these students are. they're using coalitions, they're coming together, they're putting out demands, they're putting out statements of what they're looking for, which I think is really important. And what I've seen commented on, which I find fascinating, is that these are students who, and I'm laughing, it's not funny, but there are students who have grown up under the threat of being attacked in school. And so they are used to being dealing with violence. They're used to thinking about how to protect themselves. They, in the state of Cal State Polyhumble, they took over a building and they barricaded it. And people are like, they know how to barricade the building because they were taught how to do this in school. Right. And I hate that that's something that we, that we know, but that is a whole different element that has never existed before. And I'm really fascinated to see how that is impacting things too, because That's a dynamic where, you know, when we talk about Ken State, for example, that was not a dynamic that really existed at that point in time. Or maybe it did in different ways. Right. But that's another element that I'm finding really I'm following that pretty closely.

(13:14 - 13:27) Rachel Murray: Yeah, really, really interesting. What a mess. Well, we didn't solve the Middle East crisis piece. We didn't do it this time. But, you know, maybe we're going to be talking about climate justice, too.

(13:27 - 13:29) Felicia Jadczak: And spoiler alert, we didn't solve that problem either.

(13:29 - 13:52) Rachel Murray: No, we didn't. No, we didn't talk about it. We tried. We did. We did. We did. There's so much work to be done. And we are so excited to hear from Marta because she has a lot of wisdom to share. Hello, hello, hello, hello, Felicia. Hello. Hello, Marta. I am so excited.

(13:52 - 13:54) Marta Schaaf: Hi there, happy to be here.

(13:54 - 14:11) Rachel Murray: Happy to have you. I was just saying to Felicia and for those of you who are listening, so excited. Marta, we met 4 million years ago as interns at the JFK Library. Wow, huh? We did. Should I say what year it was? No, I'm not going to even say what year it was.

(14:11 - 14:15) Felicia Jadczak: Well, you already said it was 4 million years ago. freaks of nature.

(14:15 - 14:39) Rachel Murray: It was as the kids call today, the late 20th century God, the late 1900s. I can't handle that. I know it's wild. But we just want to get into so many questions for you. You've had such an incredible life and you do such great work. So let's start out with your origin stories where we love to start. How'd you get to doing the good work you're doing today?

(14:39 - 16:13) Marta Schaaf: Um, it's a good question. I think I was a big reader as an adolescent and tween. And like many thoughtful readers, I was really interested in the Holocaust because there were so many kind of young adult novels available. And so I read basically everything I could get my hands on, sort of memoirs, fictionalized accounts. And I kept thinking if I were this person or that person or in this situation or in that situation, what would I do? Right. Would I really be brave enough? Would I? Where would I fall on the spectrum of people willing to resist and being sort of self-critical about that? And so my parents were also quite involved in local politics in the Boston area where I grew up. And then when the war in Yugoslavia started, when I was in college, it was sort of the first war that I knew about. Right. That was visible and highly visible in our press. And so I became an activist around that war and tried to think about, OK, what do I think should happen? Who is being the most harmed? And so I started working on the rights of Roma populations, which is a large minority population in Eastern Europe. And I continued on from there. So after I finished undergrad, I worked on Roma rights in the Balkans, in the former Yugoslavia. got into public health and global health and continued working for NGOs for a decade before moving into academia. So it makes it's a straight line that makes sense in my brain.

(16:13 - 16:25) Rachel Murray: I mean, honestly, well, but it was always there was always a lens of justice. Yeah. And thoughtfulness. And now you're at Amnesty International. Correct. Can you talk a bit about your your role?

(16:25 - 17:07) Marta Schaaf: Sure. So I work for the International Secretariat of Amnesty International, which is based in London. So Amnesty is a global movement of over 10 million members. So we have Amnesty sections all over the world. So there's an Amnesty USA, there's an Amnesty South Africa, an Amnesty Nepal, et cetera. And what we do as a secretariat is to produce a lot of the research and advocacy and campaigning strategies that sections then adapt for their own context and of course add their own research on top of. So my role at the Secretariat is I am the Director of the Program on Climate, Economic and Social Justice, and Corporate Accountability. So there's three different teams there.

(17:07 - 18:07) Felicia Jadczak: So really interesting. You said it was a straight line, but I mean, there's still deviations all over the place here. Let's talk a little bit more about your current work. And I think there's a lot of parallels because I think to what you just said, a lot of what we talk about with justice and with the state of the world and the environment and climate, it can be translated through different lenses. I just think of the classic right-wing approach to saying, well, what's wrong with the climate? It's snowing and we have so much snow here. That's obviously not the case. It's not the truth of it. We're talking right now during Earth Month, but this episode is not going to come out until early May. I'm pretty sure we're not going to fix all the problems in the space of time between now and when this episode comes out. So we'll probably still have a lot of relevancy to this conversation. But can you talk a little bit more about what exactly climate justice is and why Amnesty International is focusing on it to start off with?

(18:07 - 21:17) Marta Schaaf: So climate justice uses a justice lens to understand climate change. And what that means is that we look at who's perpetrating the harms, who's going to be harmed the most, And who is going to be asked to pay the most in the transition, the inevitable transition to renewable energy? So, for example, we have what are called historic emitter countries that have contributed the most to global carbon emissions, the United States being number one. And we have China now currently as number two. But in terms of total emissions, the US is still far ahead of China. We have if we think about who's being harmed by the climate change that's already here, right? We're already at about 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming. We can think about what are called environmental justice communities in the US, right? Communities that are already disproportionately suffering from the pollution associated with fossil fuel extraction, such as those along Cancer Alley or in the Houston shift channel. We can think about communities that are most vulnerable to flooding. So, for example, when there are extreme rains in New York City last year and some people drowned in their basement apartments, right, these are folks that have little access to safe apartments, legal apartments in some cases, and to ways of getting out. Maybe some of them are folks living with disabilities, etc. And then, of course, there's the global distribution of harm. So, communities where they're experiencing extreme drought, famine, heat deaths, high rain, are often in lower income countries. Some of this is just an accident of geography. Some of it has to do with infrastructure that's already there and how vulnerable they already were. And at the same time, it is in many cases these same communities that are being asked to bear the burden of large renewable infrastructure projects or what's sometimes called green colonialism, where we have examples of indigenous communities in particular being kicked off their land for some conservation organization to then build a fence around their land and protect it and in some cases sell the rights to the carbon that's being sunk into that forest. So someone's making money all in the name of fighting climate change and or the transition to renewable energy. So that lens is really important to making this focusing our attention on the harms to people rather than what has been criticized as more of a white supremacist approach, where you're saying climate change is here, people are suffering, it's urgent, we need to do something right now and I don't care who has to pay or what the damage is. Or focusing our efforts on stopping climate change rather than also addressing the harm that's already happening, right? It's already here for so many people, and we can't ignore that and just focus on stopping greenhouse gas emissions. Even if we were to stop burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, there's still an enormous amount of damage already baked into the climate system.

(21:18 - 21:34) Rachel Murray: That's beautifully articulated, Marta. Thank you for that. I really appreciate that. And as a follow up, I know that one of the projects that you're working on programs is called Fatal Fuels. And I was hoping you could talk a little bit about that and what you're hoping to achieve.

(21:34 - 23:11) Marta Schaaf: Sure. So the last COP, which is the Conference of Parties on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. So we hear about a COP every year. The most recent one was in UAE. Most widely agreed priority of the global climate justice community was to demand the fast, fair, funded and feminist phase out of fossil fuels. It's a lot of sounds. And so we wanted to do our part by looking at existing amnesty research and the ways that fossil fuel companies harm communities. So that includes looking at the harm to their right to health, the harm to their water, to their land, et cetera, that happens when you live near fossil fuel extraction. Shell in Nigeria is one notorious example that we've done research on. Their contributions to climate change and the ways that they are also contributing to or complicit in or benefiting from the increasing criminalization of protest all over the world. So there are a lot of countries passing laws, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, targeting the strategies that climate protesters use. So what we're hoping to achieve was to do a sort of 360 analysis of fossil fuels and human rights, right? It's not just about their contributions to climate change. It's all the ways in which they are directly or indirectly contributing to human rights harms around the world. galvanizing our members to demand that their governments do more to phase out fossil fuels.

(23:11 - 23:20) Felicia Jadczak: Now, are you finding that you're able to hold leaders, I guess I'm thinking, especially corporations accountable in this work at all? Or has that been a struggle?

(23:20 - 25:44) Marta Schaaf: I think human rights offers so much promise. And it's it's a way to talk about legal obligations, and to ground our activism in a framework that countries all over the world have endorsed, and based on the notion that all the human rights are universal, right? So it brings all of these advantages. And there have been many wins. These are all incremental. So for example, there was the recent case in Montana, where the youth used this was a legal approach, to hold the government of Montana to account for their failure to do more on climate change. In the context of specific corporations, I think what's effective is trying to chip away at their social license to operate. In other words, they, to some extent, rely on the notion that they are bringing good to a community. They're bringing jobs, they're bringing economic development, and they're trying to minimize the harm caused by their operations. And insofar as amnesty or other research or legal cases demonstrate that that isn't the case, and there's a subsequent uproar and demands that the government do more to ensure that laws complied with or pass stronger laws, then yes, there is a steady chipping away. That being said, if you kind of step back, right, and zoom out, corporations have a lot of power right now, and more than they did, arguably, 30 years ago, where it's more visible, or it's something we're talking about more, and there's certainly terrible corporate capture of the processes that are intended to address climate change. So at COP29 and UAE, there were 2,453 fossil fuel lobbyists. I don't know how many meat lobbyists. At the same time as folks, as climate activists, are being criminalized, they are being carefully negotiating their access to power and to spaces at COP. And so the message that is heard the most comes from those fossil fuel lobbyists, right? And there's ongoing issues with their capture of other types of regulatory processes, too, which we can see right here.

(25:44 - 27:02) Felicia Jadczak: Yeah, thank you for outlining that a little bit further, because I was thinking, and I know it's sort of a very minor or, you know, specific example, but I was just thinking of that big movement a few years ago where it was basically asking individuals to stop using plastic straws. I can see you're nodding. I know you know that movement. Of course, there was a lot of pushback from disability activism or activists, rather, for disability rights. Also, the biggest argument against that was that an individual person recycling and throwing away their plastic or stopping use of plastic straws is not even a drop in the bucket compared to the corporations, the companies, the fossil fuels, all that. It's setting up this false narrative that we can change these, you know, terrible things that are happening in our environment if we just stop using straws, right? So it is, you know, interesting to hear that dynamic because there's so much power, as you said, with lobbyists and with some of these organizations and industries. And so it feels almost like from the individual standpoint, there's like we want to do something, but it doesn't really necessarily make a huge difference. So that's why I was that's what I was thinking of when you were answering that.

(27:03 - 29:30) Marta Schaaf: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's an excellent point. And I'm really happy that you've made it for me. I think this is something that we have tried to, at Amnesty, have engaged head on in saying, just rewrote our website on the web page on climate, for example. It says something like, they told you recycling was going to be enough. They told you to do this. And they were protecting their bottom line. That's not right. I'm also involved with a group, a local grassroots activist group called Climate Families NYC. And so we are trying to leverage the parent identity in order to have an impact on climate policy in New York City, New York State, and sometimes at the federal level, as well as on Wall Street, to use the disarming honesty of children and the fact that children are inevitably de-escalate a situation, right? When you bring kids to a protest, it's a little bit, a little bit awkward to call the police or that interaction is going to be a little bit different. And one of the ways that we've been organizing is to make very clearly the point that all of our kids schools have these like sustainability clubs and recycling clubs. And so many of the actions targeting children are about a neighborhood cleanup or beach cleanup. And I get it. Like my kids love to do those things. It feels like you're contributing. And that's really helpful psychologically to a child. And I'm happy to engage in those. But at the same time, That's not the struggle that we're in. The fight we're not in is not about getting more people to clean up more plastic on beaches that fossil fuel companies produced as part of their plan B to protect their bottom line in the face of the inevitable energy transition, right? The fight that we're in is to get them to stop making the plastic, to stop providing so few options to consumers that it is incredibly difficult. Only people with privilege and time to try to minimize their plastic purchases can actually do this. So this is about demanding that companies behave differently, demanding that our states and our cities pass different laws and that we have concerted political collective action on climate. So what we do in the activist group is to try to create opportunities for families to plug in, for kids to learn about activism and to feel like they're able to take action targeting the structural drivers of climate change in a way that helps them to feel empowered rather than like consumers making choices.

(29:30 - 30:11) Rachel Murray: Yes. Reach. Thank you for that. Because yeah, you just articulated everything that goes on in my head that I rail about. This is why we know each other for so long. So it's great. I wanted to jump a little bit ahead, actually, to ask this question that's just like burning in my brain, because it does seem a little bit like a Sisyphus situation. You know, how do you continue to do this work? And do you feel optimistic given the amount of power that corporations have and continue to have, especially because leadership is allowing that to happen politically. How are you feeling?

(30:11 - 32:12) Marta Schaaf: I mean, I feel like shit, but I think that Rebecca Solnit says something like, I'm going to paraphrase it, but hope is an ax that you use to break a door or break the doors down in an emergency. That's how I feel. I don't have any other choice. I have a kid. I have the privilege of being able to work on things that I think are important, of having access to a free press to let me know what's going on, of having access to power. I mean, this climate families group I talked about, We're here in New York City. Wall Street is here. The Senate majority leader is in my neighborhood. The minority leader is 20 blocks away. We have a powerful economy in the state, right? It would be the 10th largest economy in the world. Amnesty has 10 million members. Not everyone gets the opportunity to be part of those structures. I have that opportunity. I have to try to keep going. Yes, it means we need to protect space for our mental health and that of my kid, right, who He and I were listening to a podcast about a funeral for a glacier the other day, or where they mentioned that. And he just started crying. And I turned it off. I don't need to expose him to all of this nonstop. But I think also that crisis sometimes creates openings. And I don't want to overstate that. But there are conversations happening about climate, but also about racial injustice, and about many things that weren't happening 10 or 12 years ago. And so we have to look at that as a sign of potential progress, right? Of a door that we can break down with hope. And I know sometimes it feels easy to talk about hope because folks with privilege get to do that, right? If I were 10 years old, I might be really angry at someone who's 46 talking about hope. But it's something that I use to help me do the work that I need to do and get through the day.

(32:13 - 32:58) Felicia Jadczak: That is beautifully said. And I appreciate you mentioning the balance of it, because there's just so much injustice in every space across the world that it can be a lot to hold. And it's important to not shy away from it either. And in terms of your work overall, it's really always been about human rights in some way. And there's a lot of different directions that you've taken and that one could take. And so I'm curious what advice you would give to someone, maybe one of our listeners or just someone in general, who might be looking to focus their work in this space? Because even within the realm of climate justice, there's probably a wide array of ways to get into this. And so how would you suggest someone start out if they are just starting out?

(32:58 - 35:19) Marta Schaaf: Yeah, that's a good question. And I think it's a tough time, right? And it's a tough time for NGOs right now. The weather report is not good in terms of funding. I think there was an enormous growth in international NGOs after the end of the Cold War. And there's some readjustments there in size. I also think there's readjustments in power. So a lot of the large NGOs have been based in high-income countries. And there's more and more recognition that so much of the funding should be directed directly to organizers in lower income countries. So the landscape is changing. I think in terms of more general advice, one thing I would say is to follow your gut. I sort of worked in NGOs for a decade and then moved to academia because I felt like I wanted to be more propositional, right? I was tired of kind of criticizing and I wanted to have skills where I felt like here's what I can offer. Here's how I can work with you. I have something to offer. And then it seemed like the right time to criticize again, or that the landscape had changed. So I think being clear about what you feel comfortable with and following your gut insofar as you have the luxury to do so is really important. I also think one thing that is happening more and more is this notion of glocalization, right? So the climate families group I've mentioned is one of my main outlets for for showing up at protests and yelling, but also for feeling like I can the impact is right there in front of me. I can see it. And my knowledge of the global policy space that I gained through my work really helps informs my thinking about local level stuff. And I think as organizing global organizing becomes more and more about solidarity rather than about professionalized NGOs, I think looking at at your local or state as a entry point for NGO work, for human rights work, is something that is becoming increasingly important in terms of the quilt of activism that's forming. I'm sorry, that was very poorly said.

(35:19 - 36:49) Felicia Jadczak: No, no, no, no, not at all. I actually do have a follow up question based on what you just said. So because, you know, kind of going back to the whole like the straw discussion we just had as well. I'm also a really big believer that If you're thinking about change and activism from a personal perspective, you should start local first because there's only so much an individual person can do when these problems are global and huge and massive. I've always thought that, especially with regards to politics, and in the last couple of years especially, I think that's proven to be really true where we've seen the swell of people getting involved in their communities. It's like, OK, well, maybe we can't change what's happening at the national or international levels. in terms of US policies or whatnot or who's in charge. But we can control who's in charge on a very personal, local level. So with what you just said about getting involved at a local level through the climate lens, I'm curious because you had mentioned local NGOs. And would you go even more local to the standpoint of you mentioned families cleaning up their neighborhoods or things like that? Do you think that's also a valid entry point if someone really is truly starting from maybe just listening to this podcast and having done nothing? Or would you suggest that the NGOs, the groups, the organization, maybe even policy groups, are those the ways that you think it makes more sense to get into when you're talking about the local level?

(36:49 - 38:56) Marta Schaaf: I think all points of entry should be considered, right? We're all doing things that we think are going to have an impact, but that we also like doing. I sometimes force myself to canvas. Honestly, I hate doing that. But mostly I do stuff that I want to do. And I think everyone should do that because that's the only way that it's sustainable. And sometimes I have found that what I'm willing to tolerate in terms of being yelled at or criticized is much higher than it was when I was younger. But I got there. I got there by doing more and more. I started somewhere and everyone should start somewhere. where they feel safe, where they feel like they're meeting other people who share their concerns, and whether that be through mutual aid, or whether it be through legislative advocacy with Planned Parenthood, or whether it be through beach cleanup. I mean, I don't wanna poo-poo everything, right? They're all points of entry to understanding more how things work and to feeling safe to having a learning journey and to having an impact, right? None of it's bad. I think beach cleanup is bad if you're doing it because Shell Oil told you to. Carbon footprint, by the way, was an invention of the oil and gas industry, that notion, right? So if they're able to direct all of us to do that, I think that's bad. But I don't deny anyone the right to participate in what can be really fun as a way of learning more. And of course, I mean, we saw with COVID all of the flowering of mutual aid. And I'm living here in Brooklyn. I'm pretty involved in local politics and local organizing around climate, but also around abortion, around voting rights, around housing and seeing how many people became involved because Trump was elected president. because of their engagement in mutual aid. I mean, these are all ways, processes that help us to meet other people to learn more what's going on and to feel less intimidated and like we can be part of it.

(38:56 - 39:00) Rachel Murray: Can you talk a little bit about for those who don't know what mutual aid is?

(39:00 - 39:46) Marta Schaaf: So mutual aid is it's been around forever, right? It's a name that we gave to a way that humans have behaved for since for at least 4 million years since, you know, when you and I met. But I think that it became a thing during COVID. And it was about organizing, self-organization at the very, at the hyper-local level to ensure that folks had to use the resources that were available at that hyper-local level to try to meet the needs, whether that be for food, for toilet paper, for, um, picking up prescription drugs, or mailing letters, or getting people groceries, whatever it was, that it was a way of coordinating that and looking after your neighbors.

(39:47 - 40:12) Rachel Murray: Thank you for that. I'm curious, you mentioned the pandemic kind of kicked off a lot of desire to do a lot more of this work and people are a lot more interested and they're more engaged in what's happening in the world. Have you seen a backtrack, a backlash, a slowing down of interest to sort of people maybe getting more inward or do you still see that people are engaged? Is there a fatigue in your space?

(40:13 - 41:14) Marta Schaaf: At the local level, to some extent, yes. And that happened after the 2020 election. But that's also, it's not great, but I also think it's to be expected, right? It's human nature. We can't all, you know, I was spending 20 hours a week on outside of work activism when Trump was president. I can't do that for the rest of my life. So I'm going to spend 10 now, and that's already a lot. So I think, yes, there was some crawling back. I think it's hard to diagnose anything right now. We're in this weird situation, right, where like unemployment is down and all the metrics by which we assess what people are thinking and how they're doing are being scrambled. And so I think it's the same for political engagement. There's just, in the US, right, there's a lot of unknown. and people and lack of trust in institutions, which is totally not surprising.

(41:14 - 41:15) Rachel Murray: Agreed. Go ahead, Felicia.

(41:15 - 43:09) Felicia Jadczak: Yeah, I just I am so appreciative of this conversation. And I'm thinking back to a comment you made just now, which was earlier, which was about, you know, with the beach cleanup, if shell oil is telling us to do it, it's bad. And I believe I agree. And I believe that as well. And I'm this is where I sort of get hung up on. And that's where I'm curious to hear maybe what how amnesty is thinking about this, because with these companies, these, you know, fossil fuel burning companies, these organizations that are so deeply entrenched and they have so much power and that historical legacy and a lot of people really working very, very hard to keep them in these positions of power. And these are finite resources, they're running out, they're destructive, we know all the things that are going on. To me, it's sort of this like, dilemma of how do we deal with it? To deal with it is to basically ask these companies to put themselves out of business and they're not going to do that. Is it like is the answer saying, well, the devil you know, shell oil telling us to clean up the beach even while they're polluting, it's better than nothing? Or should we just really be focusing on saying, we have to undo these reliances, these companies? I'm saying this as someone – I have some dear friends of mine who have I have this one friend who has a spouse who works for a very large oil company. I have fundamental problems with it, but I love this person and they're doing interesting work. They're working in chemistry, but it's such a dichotomy to me. I'm just curious to wrap up my question here because I'm going off on a tangent. I'm curious how Amnesty or how you think about this dilemma in terms of how do we deal with these companies that are doing all this right now?

(43:10 - 43:15) Marta Schaaf: This question has come up elsewhere in my life and I kept meaning to like write a response.

(43:15 - 43:17) Rachel Murray: We'll get the transcript for you.

(43:17 - 43:22) Felicia Jadczak: I was going to look up some things because I was writing it, but I want to say a few things.

(43:22 - 47:18) Marta Schaaf: Number one, companies can't do whatever they want, right? You can imagine a scenario where they could go in and they have in the past, right? The Dutch East India Company, where they said, we're going to remove this population. because we'll be able to make more money if this population isn't here. They can't do that. Right. They won't do that now. But they'll do a lot of other bad things that they're not supposed to be doing per their human rights responsibilities, per the and per the regulatory law in so many countries in which they're working. Right. They break the law all the time. You don't get to do whatever you want. You don't get to use the roads that the government built, employ the people, get all the incredible tax breaks that they're getting. and do whatever you want. So that's, I mean, I think that's response number one. And fossil fuel companies benefit from huge subsidies. I mean, the IMF just came out with the report. I'm not going to remember the number, it's very high. And there's, this is all public money, right? The Canadian government, I'll bet you didn't know this, is the number one public funder of fossil fuels in the world, right? We, all these things have to stop. This is companies don't get carte blanche to do whatever they want to make as much money. Second is to say that it wasn't always thus, right? The notion that they have some fiduciary responsibility to maximize shareholder earnings in the short term. This is relatively recent. The privileging of that above all else and looking so much at short term versus longer term. It was not always the way that business was done, right? Think about when people are nostalgic for the 1950s, and I'm not endorsing this view, but companies had some sort of social obligation to employ people to protect them. And those expected norms have eroded, right? So it's not as if this is carved in stone and the situation can never change. There was a labor leader at one of the early climate conferences who said there are no jobs on a dead planet, right? This is a problem we have. And so, of course, holding corporations as the sole actor who need to take action is wrong because it's a problem that's much bigger than them. And it's one that governments have allowed them to make bigger and bigger by letting them capture the regulatory processes. We have to find a way out of it. Because there are no jobs on a dead planet. There are no people on a dead planet. There are no trees on it. There are no animals on it. And so we can sleepwalk our way into three degrees of warming, which is where we're headed, or we can take action. And governments have power. They can use that. Does it mean that people who work in the fossil fuel industry will lose their jobs? Yes. Does it mean that we should ignore that and make promises that we aren't going to follow through on? as happened with NAFTA and other free trade agreements? No, it doesn't. So at Amnesty, for example, we have a line of work on social protection, the importance of universal social protection and applying that to people who are employed in the fossil fuel economy or who are going to be affected by the reallocation, right? There will be new economies that build up. I understand it's not some magic formula where people who are trained to work in fossil fuels are now going to be working in mining for critical minerals, which is going to be somewhere different and will come with its own host of human rights and environmental concerns. But we've gone through other transitions. We can go through this one, too. We don't have any choice. And just to say, lastly, Amnesty just did a report on the petrochemical industry in Texas. They are violating state law and EPA regulations every day as the cost of doing business.

(47:19 - 48:07) Rachel Murray: We can't let them do that. I agree. Well said. And I have a follow up question to that is. And this is this may be tough. I'm not sure. So you mentioned historically that companies weren't given this just carte blanche to do really whatever they want and then pay a fine and then they're fine. They just that's just the cost of doing business. And but this is how capitalism has devolved, essentially. So my question is, like, do you think that capitalism can reform or do you think that this capitalistic way of going is a way of doing business? Do you think it's sustainable? I know it has to evolve. Can it evolve? Or do you think it needs to be something completely separate? And by the way, this question was definitely not sanctioned and a lot. So.

(48:07 - 48:49) Marta Schaaf: So amnesty doesn't have a stance on capitalism. I, Marta, and reading about degrowth and other things. I'm also not an economic historian. But I would recommend to you both, if you're interested, this book that I read recently on the history of McKinsey. And it gets into some of this in the early chapters where they talk about how McKinsey universally recommended executive compensation increases after they were hired by the executives. And so executives liked them and how much they would point to and how much they pushed the the stock profit sharing as a way of increasing efficiency and productivity and what that's meant for some of the issues we're discussing.

(48:49 - 48:51) Rachel Murray: That's great. Thank you for indulging.

(48:51 - 49:51) Felicia Jadczak: Well, I have another unsanctioned question. We are really off of our list of pre-discussed questions, but it's a good conversation, so thanks for indulging us. I was thinking, you know, what you shared, that line that I think you said the labor leader had shared at an early conference, which was the no jobs on a dead planet, so powerful. That's definitely going to stick with me for a very long time. And what that made me think of, and I'm just laughing because I feel like this topic has come up in some of our other podcast episodes recently. So why not ask you the same question, which is so do you feel like, or I guess maybe My question is, what do you think about people like Elon Musk, who are these billionaires who want to leave this planet and colonize Mars and just are spending money on not trying to fix the problems that we have on Earth, but are looking to peace out to the stars? Does that come up at all in this discussion around climate justice or not?

(49:51 - 51:30) Marta Schaaf: I mean, it's not central to the discussion about climate justice because this is this is these are a few people. There's the question of billionaires and their consumption, right, which is huge. Like if we're talking about we discussed earlier individual consumption, it's it's not a good target of climate activism or action for the most part. I mean, I have an electric car. I have solar panels on my roof. I have an induction oven. Yes, I'm doing things. And I think others who can should also. But that's not where we're going to really tip the scales. Billionaires are another matter. So in terms of their private jets, their flights, all of these things, then it is meaningful. It's not a drop in the bucket. It's a much higher volume of water in the bucket. In terms of the colonizing space, it's a total distraction. I mean, this is the privilege of the incredibly elite I'm not a scientist. It doesn't seem feasible to me. And I think it's a vanity. This is kind of a vanity project for people who bear enormous personal responsibility. And I don't mean that in a legal sense, but in a moral sense for what's happening right now. So, yeah, my personal take is that it's a total distraction. And I think for that reason, not a huge focus of the climate justice community. And just yet another way that their personal consumptive practices are undermining the progress that we need to make.

(51:30 - 51:51) Rachel Murray: I agree. Okay. One more question. So what, almost, almost one more question. What about you? What is, what is, what is for future, future you, what does the future look like for you? What are your goals? What are your hopes and dreams in relation to your work? Um, or anything else that moves you?

(51:51 - 54:25) Marta Schaaf: Um, you did tell me you were going to ask this one and I'm ill prepared for it. I think that, you know, I have lots of goals for amnesty, right. In terms of growing the climate program, um, climate is one of six strategic objectives that the Amnesty movement, which is a democratic process made up of members and sections all over the world, have identified. And there's a lot coming out on the climate comm side in terms of science and what we understand, communication science and what we understand moves people to action, right? So sitting where I sit, it's very stimulating to think about how to engage members in historic emitter countries when we know that most people are concerned about climate. Most people don't know what to do. Most people think that others aren't concerned about climate. And there are ways that we can productively engage in all of those spaces to change the behavior of individuals to support collective action. And amnesty does now have a policy on civil disobedience, for example. that is increasingly a tactic of the climate justice community and climate protesters. In terms of beyond amnesty, I think I've really come to recognize the role that my individual or my out-of-work activism plays in helping me to keep my finger on the pulse and also helping me to feel sane, even though it takes a lot of time. I will, when I die, feel like I tried as hard as I could. And I'm leaving my son behind in a world where I tried as hard as I could. And he'll never come to me and say, how come you didn't do more? And if he does, I'll be really mad at him. Exactly. I think professionally, especially with this election looming, everything feels really uncertain. And so I think I have a doctorate in public health. I'm working in climate. Eventually, I'd love to marry those two more closely, although I am already, to some extent, doing that. But I'm just thinking about the next year and getting there. I think, like a lot of people, there's a lot of uncertainty about the economy. It's hard for me, at least, to think big. And distracting myself with planning vacations and supporting my son with his homework

(54:26 - 54:46) Felicia Jadczak: Plus one to everything you just said. And I think it's a really nice segue into our final question, which is, what are you geeking out about currently? And this can't be climate justice or anything on that front that we've really been chatting about. And you mentioned vacations, but I know there's got to be some other stuff that you're geeking out about.

(54:46 - 55:36) Marta Schaaf: Geeking out about, well, I have to say I'm geeking out about national parks. We went to the Grand Canyon with my son a couple weeks ago, and that was really special. It was one of those things where we were looking at him to see how he reacted, and I loved being in the National Park. Everybody, there's so many people there from all over the world, and it made me feel good about the U.S. It made me feel good about the federal government, and my son loved these Junior Ranger programs, and we visited several of them, and since we've come back, I visited the African National Burial Ground, which is in lower Manhattan, and started making a list of the ones near here. So I think that's something that I've used. When you have this energy, this frantic energy to do something, and you don't want to spend time learning about stuff that's stressing you out, that's something I've really been geeking out on.

(55:36 - 56:12) Rachel Murray: That's fantastic. And I agree with you. That's actually been on my bucket list. But I love that the folks that work for the National Parks are so passionate that I have met. They're so passionate and genuine about the parks. It definitely feels like just a wonderful place to be that restores your faith in humanity a bit. I love that. Before we say goodbye, is there anything else you'd like to share or promote? Any projects, events, resources, websites we can link to other than

(56:12 - 56:16) Felicia Jadczak: Or where can people find you if they want to reach out and learn more?

(56:16 - 57:55) Marta Schaaf: I'm easily findable on Google. I think, yeah, I mean, I think Amnesty, I would check out the work of wherever you're listening from, of the Amnesty section, so AIUSA or wherever. There are some really active members who are engaging on climate and on corporate accountability, right? Longtime volunteers who bring a lot of expertise to the table. I just went to a meeting on the energy transition in Europe and there were volunteers from all over. It was amazing to meet these people who've been amnesty volunteers for 20 years who really know what's going on. Also, the activist group I mentioned is Climate Families NYC. just urge folks to find a local activist group for climate or whatever your passion is. There's a lot of people in New York City working on housing, working on educational justice and education and a host of other issues. It's been so inspiring for me to find community to work together and to try to create opportunities for activism that are accessible to parents and families and that that help us to feel better about our role in the world. So I would urge everyone to do that, especially as we have such a pivotal election in the United States coming up. And if it means meeting with folks at a coffee shop and writing postcards or canvassing or raising funds, that there's lots of ways, or issue-based advocacy, there's lots of ways to get engaged. There's so much happening on abortion, depending where you live in the US. I would urge everyone to become an activist.

(57:55 - 58:02) Rachel Murray: I love that. What a wonderful way to end this fantastic conversation. Thank you so much, Marta, for taking the time to talk with us.

(58:02 - 58:03) Marta Schaaf: Thank you, Rachel and Felicia.

(58:03 - 58:04) Rachel Murray: Yeah, thank you so much.

(58:07 - 58:17) Felicia Jadczak: All right, we did it. We hope that you enjoyed listening to our interview with Marta as much as we enjoyed the conversation and as much as I enjoyed meeting Rachel's oldest friend.

(58:17 - 58:36) Rachel Murray: Yay. Thank you so much for listening. Please don't forget to rate, share and subscribe. It makes a massive difference in the reach of this podcast and by extension, this work. Visit us on YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and to stay updated on all things SGO.

(58:36 - 58:44) Felicia Jadczak: And do you still want to learn more? Make sure you sign up for our mailing list and don't forget to grab that free code for one of our mini courses. See you next time. Bye.