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“I actually don’t that often think about the details of how bad the scientific projections are and exactly what’s happening to ecosystems. I focus almost entirely on solutions.”

— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson (@ayanaeliza) is a marine biologist, policy expert, writer, and Brooklyn native. She is co-founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities, and co-creator of the Spotify/Gimlet podcast How to Save a Planet, on climate solutions. She co-edited the bestselling climate anthology All We Can Save and co-founded The All We Can Save Project.

Recently, she co-authored the Blue New Deal, a roadmap for including the ocean in climate policy. Previously, she was executive director of the Waitt Institute, developed policy at the EPA and NOAA, and taught as an adjunct professor at New York University. Dr. Johnson earned a BA in environmental science and public policy from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

She publishes widely, including in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Scientific American. She is on the 2021 TIME100 Next List and was named one of Elle‘s 27 Women Leading the Charge to Protect Our Environment. Outside magazine called her “the climate leader we need.”

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Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Musicor on your favorite podcast platform.

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#570: Marine Biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on How to Catalyze Change with Awe and Wonder, How to Save the Planet, Finding Your Unique Venn Diagram of Strength, and Seeking the Minimum Effective Dose

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with someone who’s working hard to save the planet? Listen to my conversation with Conservation International CEO M. Sanjayan in which we discuss monkey birthday cakes, storytelling as a way to rule the world, respect, common misconceptions about conservation, resources for becoming more informed about conservation issues, training to think more long-term, and much more.

#285: Overcoming Doubt, Battling the Busy Trap, and Enhancing Life — M. Sanjayan

  • Connect with Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson:

Website | Twitter | Instagram

  • Connect with Urban Ocean Lab:

Website | Twitter | Instagram

  • Connect with The All We Can Save Project:

Website | Twitter | Instagram


Note from the editor: timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Why is Ayana not doing much public-facing stuff right now, and why did she choose to make an exception for this conversation?
  • How did the members of Ayana’s formidable group text assemble?
  • When did Ayana know marine biology and conservation were in her blood, and that she could actually pursue a career that wove all of her dream jobs together?
  • What superpowers did Ayana inherit from her parents?
  • Why do snorkeling and scuba diving provide such a transformative experience for so many humans? How does this drive home the immediacy of our climate crisis in a way that can’t be ignored?
  • Why are Ayana’s parents the coolest?
  • How can we get people excited about course-correcting climate change from a perspective of awe and wonder instead of hopeless guilt?
  • Can Ayana guess which episode of her podcast I recently shared with my 5-Bully Friday readers and why?
  • Can Ayana guess which episodes of her podcast I might be hesitant to share?
  • On the need for linguistic jiu-jitsu mastery siding with climate solutions, and why Ayana’s been keen on using the word “transformation.”
  • How can we empower ourselves to make a difference against a never-ending number of environmental and societal catastrophes? What’s the right mindset for trying to solve problems that seem way bigger than us? How can we stay energized to fight the good fight without succumbing to apathy — or even just general disappointment in our fellow humans?
  • Thoughts on the promising technologies and companies vying to provide solutions to our environmental problems.
  • No matter who you are or what you do, there’s room for you to be part of the solution.
  • Could humor be the secret weapon against climate crisis?
  • How can we get both sides of the political spectrum to cooperate on legislation needed to fight environmental crises?
  • As a constituent, what’s the outsized cheat code you can use for ensuring your voice matters to your elected congresspeople?
  • What are the next actions we can take to goad politicians into taking more aggressive steps in stemming environmental crises?
  • What can someone who has a general aversion to politics do to get involved in changing policy?
  • How choosing not to eat shrimp is just one example of a small decision that makes a huge difference.
  • How Ayana came to be cool with her name.
  • Audience asks and parting thoughts.


“It doesn’t need to be a partisan issue. We can all care about maintaining a habitable planet.”
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

“People don’t think about the full spectrum of ways you can be a part of the solution. You can be a tycoon and do this. You can be a tech nerd and do this. You can be a technologist and do this. You can be a health nut and do this. Whatever is your thing, we need you.”
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

“There’s a lot of money to be made in green energy, in food system shifts, in huge transportation. All of it.”
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

“We need more climate media that is deploying humor, because humor, quantitatively we know, is a way to have people open their minds to new ideas. When you’re laughing, you’re not fighting. You’re able to listen. It helps you let your guard down. It helps you be in community with people in a different way.”
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

“The majority of Americans understand that climate change is a massive problem. It’s only nine percent of Americans who are full-blown climate science deniers.”
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

“I actually don’t that often think about the details of how bad the scientific projections are and exactly what’s happening to ecosystems. I focus almost entirely on solutions.”
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 700 million downloads. It has been selected for “Best of Apple Podcasts” three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it’s been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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