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If I ruled the world

Gillian Burke, biologist and BBC Springwatch presenter, discusses why we need to shine a light on the invisible barriers to positive change
Gillian Burke

This article first appeared in our International Women’s Day issue of My Green Pod Magazine, published 08 March 2024. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Main image: Gillian Burke, photo credit Nina Constable

In the world of wildlife film-making, an idea we hold close is that if we show people the beauty of nature, they will fall in love with it, want to care for it and help protect it.

It’s a belief that has such good intention, but in the 30 years I’ve been doing this job, behind the camera and more recently as a presenter, I’ve started to question whether this mantra is enough.

Spotlight on positive change

After all the research and reporting it struck me that, across so many measures of pollution, biodiversity and habitat loss, rather than getting better many things have become exponentially worse.

Meanwhile, much of the burden of responsibility has been placed on ordinary people calculating their carbon footprint and making sweeping lifestyle changes to fix the environmental crisis.

Of course we can all do our bit, but without a system that supports us to make these changes there is only so much we can do.

To my mind, we shouldn’t even be in a position of having to choose the ‘lesser of two evils’ when thinking about what to eat, what to wear and how to travel.

All this sparked an idea for a podcast: its purpose would be to shine a light on the invisible, sprawling barriers to positive change that exist in the world. What really needs to change? Who are the real culprits? How do we bring about positive change?

With 8 billion people on the planet, there are probably 8 billion different versions of what positive change actually looks like. Buckle up! It’s going to be a long podcast!

Women working for radical change

As much as I love wildlife and nature, I’ve always been drawn to human stories that bring hope for the future.

The If I Ruled the World podcast seems like the perfect way to do both, seeking out the brilliant experts, scientists and campaigners that are making profound change happen.

On the podcast, I’ve been fortunate enough to speak to, and take inspiration from, some incredible women who have dedicated their lives to radical systems change.

I spoke to Candace Rondeaux, a distinguished investigative journalist and academic, about the intersection of the climate crisis and global politics, alongside the critical need for progressive and ethical leadership in the environmental sector.

The podcast also highlights the work of Jojo Mehta, CEO of Stop Ecocide International – an organisation she co-founded with the late Polly Higgins, barrister and legal pioneer.

Jojo’s work has revolved around supporting the establishment of ecocide – the mass damage and destruction of ecosystems – as a crime at the International Criminal Court.

This work helps shift the significance of severe environmental damage into the criminal sphere, holding people personally to account with criminal responsibility and creating a level of deterrence to destroying nature that regulation does not cover.

Hope for the future

Until I started the podcast, I bought into the idea that we need to ‘burn the house down’ and start again.

However, in researching each episode and speaking to my guests, I discovered that in many cases a lot of legislation already exists but is either being weakened or simply not enforced.

I find this really intriguing and all together more hopeful because, in other words, this isn’t our first rodeo and we can look to strengthening and evolving existing systems to tackle social and environmental injustice.

With every guest I speak to, I learn more about the tools we already have. We have the right expertise, mechanisms and frameworks in place to address the urgent needs of planet and people.

Of course, I ask every guest what they would do if they ruled the world. Everyone has a different version of what positive change looks like and how to get there. But for me, every answer helps me believe that there are incredible people out there – leaders in their field – who can help us get to where we need to be.

If I Ruled the World is available now on Apple, Spotify and all major streaming platforms. The podcast is being promoted and sponsored by Triodos Bank, which has been operating in the UK for nearly 30 years and serves to drive systems change through finance.

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