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26 July 2018

As the global climate overheats, politicians are warming up to eco-podcasts

Two new podcasts - one from the former President of Ireland and another from Mary Creagh MP - are taking on the environmental crisis. Are they any good?

By India Bourke

The former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, has a new catchphrase: “Although climate change may be a man-made problem, it has a wonderfully feminist solution,” she says in the introduction to her new podcast, Mothers of Invention, which she co-hosts with the Irish comedian Maeve Higgins.

Over the course of the series, launched this week, Robinson and Higgins will interview an array of female figures who are battling the climate challenge – from the women behind Kenya’s ban on plastic bags, to the world-renowned environmental activist, Dr Vandana Shiva.

The polished and playful show leans heavily on the rapport between the two presenters, and the first episode opens with the revelation that Higgins is overwhelmed to be in the same room as her former president. But while their chatter is warm and inclusive, their subject matter is anything but light-weight: these presenters are not just here to create a podcast, but to help build a movement.

“Having worked too much in the inner circle of the UN and climate conference, I wanted to get out particularly to women of all ages, north and south, in developing countries and developed countries – because I have a sense of urgency that we are not on course for a safe world,” Robinson told the New Statesman.

They won’t be talking to anyone promoting fossil fuels, because “life’s too short”, says Robinson. Yet they will invite on industry representatives who are working towards a more sustainable model. “We want to talk [to them] about transition and how they too can be part of the climate justice movement,” she adds.

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As so often with environmental storytelling, Mothers of Invention will have to battle against the air of sermonizing that hangs over its cause. It must also ensure that in building a cosy, consensual space for the environmental movement to talk to itself, it doesn’t downplay the need to engage with those outside it. There are moments, for instance, when you wish it would delve a little deeper into some of the opposing positions – such as why national or international bodies are not joining cities in prosecuting fossil fuel companies over climate change.  

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There are also qualities you can’t help but miss from a production with such a lengthy list of credits: a more investigative structure, where issues are unfolded with a greater sense of suspense could help lift the show to another level (as often done to great effect in Radiolab’s science podcast).

Nevertheless, in a summer of global heatwaves, such subject matter is as needed as a dip in cool water – and Mothers of Invention is perfect listening while drying off after a bracing swim.

And if you are then ready to dive even deeper into the world of environmental politics, another new podcast from the chair of the UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh MP, takes you behind the scenes of environmental politics in action.

The title, Emergency on Planet Earth, is a reference to the 1990s band Jamiroquai, and sets the tone for the show’s wonderfully direct access to Creagh’s life and mind.

Cycling up the Lee Valley estuary in the first episode, it appears that Creagh has recorded the entire first episode herself, using a portable microphone. She even gives a real-time description of the moment she falls off her bike: “I have got blood dropping down my leg – I’m absolutely fine but it’s a bit of a shock to the system. So I’ve got off, had another drinkie, got a tissue out, and I’m going to get back on the horse: that’s the best thing to do. Eight miles to go.”

Her no-nonsense reaction stands as a good metaphor for tackling environmental challenges – and soon sees Creagh arrive at her destination, the Amwell Magna Fishery. Here, she meets with the appropriately named Feargal Sharkey, the former lead singer of the pop punk band, The Undertones, who helps clean up her knee and discusses the river’s problems with crayfish and brown trout.

The rest of the series promises to explore other issues facing Britain’s natural spaces, and take “a glimpse inside the world” of Creagh’s parliamentary work. The second episode, released yesterday, does exactly this; featuring an all-female line-up of experts for an interrogation of the government’s proposals for a new green post-Brexit watchdog.

Creagh’s podcast may not yet have the funding or production values of Mothers of Invention, but it adds a similarly ardent voice to the growing conversation around green issues. Together they will hopefully push more stories from the natural world into podcasting – and politics.


Doc Society’s new podcast series Mothers of Invention will launch from the 24th July until 17th September. To Listen to the Trailer and Subscribe to the ‘Mothers of Invention’ Podcast visit their website or twitter pages, and you can support the podcast here.

Mary Creagh’s Emergency on Planet Earth is an ongoing series, which you can listen and subscribe to via soundcloud, itunes and her website.