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Continued from Part 1 and Part 2....

Sue And what do you hope your legacy might be for your family, given that you are maintaining the family history that’s gone before you?  What do you hope to leave for them with your experience that you’ve been inspiring them with?

Bertrand:  Well, a journalist once asked my three daughters, ‘What is the scientific heritage you got from your father?’  And they looked at him and said, ‘It’s not a scientific heritage, it’s a philosophical heritage.’  And I think this is really important because it allows them to understand life in another way.  And today it’s what we need.  There was a time in exploration when it was new continents, then it was new planets.  Now, it’s really how to live better on this planet, how to protect our planet, how to improve the quality of life, how to find new solutions.  So you don’t really require a lot of physical strength.  You need to find a mental endurance to go through the obstacles, through the people who tell you it’s impossible, and keep faith that life is something that is worth living well.

Sue That’s an important subtlety, the philosophical perspective and not just the scientific perspective of life.  Just turning our attention to your everyday activities, could you give us some examples of what you do?

Bertrand:   I earn my [livelihood] by giving speeches.  This takes about 25% of my time, and three-quarters of my time I give for free to my Solar Impulse Foundation to promote the solutions that can protect the environment.  So, basically, it’s a lot of political meetings, a lot of speeches to political assemblies, a lot of press conferences, speaking to clean tech associations, environmentalists.  And each time it must be another speech.  Each time it’s another way to present things.  And each time I try to do better in my connection with the audience.  So, it’s never boring.  It’s always something new and it’s really the spirit of exploration.  How can you change the world, basically?  Or, to be a little bit more humble, how can you contribute to changing the world?

Sue:   And do you ever wake up and think, ‘I don’t want to do that today, I’ll have a day off’?

Bertrand:   Yes, absolutely!  There are moments when I just like to stay, to meditate, to rest, to think.  I love to write.  I’m writing a new book now.  It will be my seventh book.  And nevertheless, I have two more adventures that I’m preparing because I’m too young at 65 to be retired as an explorer.  So I’m working now on a solar zeppelin and a hydrogen aeroplane.  The hydrogen aeroplane is a two-seater that should fly around the world non-stop.  And it will be absolutely with no CO2, because it will [run on] green hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water, thanks to solar energy.  So yes, it’s still interesting and still challenging!

Sue:   Well, I’m glad that some days you want to just have a rest!   A more recent initiative that you have been involved in is Prêt à Voter.  Is that correct?

Bertrand:  Yes, Prêt à Voter, ready to vote.  This is an action that we have run in France.  We’re running it now in Switzerland and we are ready to do it a bit everywhere.  It [involves] legislative recommendations in order to push some solutions that are blocked by old legal frameworks.  There are so many things you can do much better, much more cleanly, much more efficiently.  But the law is not ready for that because the legal framework is as outdated as the old energies that we are still using.  So we produce these recommendations that we bring to the parliamentarians, to the senators, to the heads of state and so on. 

And we also made a solutions guide for cities.  This is really important because there are cities that have tried one solution, some that have tried another, and it works.  But they don’t have the general vision of it.  So we have gathered all the solutions that work well, and we have put this in the solution guide for cities, and we bring them to the mayors, we bring them to governments, and show them all the success stories that could be globalised and that could be used in their city.  

And you know how all this started:  it started thanks to Scotland, because that was in the Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland - COP24.  Nicola Sturgeon wanted to support us.  We worked together with Scotland, and with the support of Scotland, we could get the first hundreds of solutions. So it really started in connection with the support that Scotland gave us.  At COP26 in Glasgow, we could bring to Nicola Sturgeon, we could bring to the Scottish government, a special guide for Scotland that we edited specially, with all the solutions that make sense for your country.

Sue:  Well, I’m glad Scotland can be helping and supporting in the pioneering activities that are happening there.  For our listeners - we have listeners in over 25 countries - what would be your message to them if they were thinking, wow, this is inspiring, what can I do in my country?  What would you recommend that they take away as an action from our conversation today?

Bertrand:  They can go to our website, and they can first take a look at the Solutions Explorer, which is the search engine for solutions.  They can put in keywords according to what they are looking for, and they will find the solutions for that.  Now, of course, what we want to do is to go further and to do the Solar Impulse Academy.  So all the people who are running a city, a community, or a country, could identify one person whom we would train in order to identify the solutions that are specifically relevant for them.  Either they could come to the Foundation in Switzerland or we could do it online, and we would just train them to look at all the solutions that are relevant to that specific situation.  I think it’s a huge step that they will be able to make with the new solutions.

You know, when we speak of solutions, it’s important to understand that most of the time it’s not high-tech solutions, it’s common sense.  It’s a way to recover the heat lost in factory chimneys and give it back to the factory.  It’s a way to reduce the energy that you need to run a data centre.  It’s a way to reduce the pollution made by a thermal engine.  It’s a way to connect an electric car to your house to discharge the battery when there is a peak of demand.  All these things, you know, it’s just clever.  It’s a way to use steel staples instead of big iron armatures to make concrete.  It’s a way to run all the heating and the lighting systems of a building in an electronic way in order to save 20 or 30 percent of energy. 

All these types of things are available, and according to which country we’re speaking about, one solution will be more relevant than another one, and so on.  And each time it allows us to be more efficient - that means that it allows us to do better, with less need of energy, less need of resources, less waste, and therefore it is profitable.  It’s profitable for the company that is producing the solution as well as for the client who is using the solution.

Sue:   So it’s a win-win all round, by the sound of it, and making it appealing for those who might be looking up those solutions for their relevant country.

Bertrand Absolutely.  It has to be a win-win because if it is an economical handicap to protect the environment, nobody will do it.

Sue:   In the past, when new inventions were taken on board at scale, it was often about making something fashionable.  My sense is that what you’re trying to do here is to make caring for the climate something fashionable, something appealing to people.

Bertrand:   Absolutely.  You’re absolutely right because far too often we still hear that ecology,  or protection of the environment, is something sacrificial, something expensive, something boring, requiring from us less mobility, less comfort, less economic development, and almost nobody wants that.  And this is why, after 50 years of ecology, we have more CO2 in the atmosphere, more plastic in the ocean, more pollution in the air.  What’s the progress?  We have not gone in the right direction because the narrative created a lot of resistance, created a lot of oppositions and now we have to stop that and change it completely.  Drop the ballast of the old narrative, change altitude, like in the balloon, take another layer of wind which has another direction and a much better speed.  And this is the language of profitable solutions that allow us to develop the economy, create jobs and at the same time protect the environment.

Sue:   That’s so important in terms of the message that is being conveyed.  Finally, it also strikes me from what you’ve said today there’s something about going high to get perspective.  You’ve done it in your aviation activities to get perspective on the world from a new place. I’m just wondering whether that’s also an important part for the listener of this podcast to think about how they get to a different place of perspective to get some new insight.  Do you think that’s important?

Bertrand:   It’s vital, it’s crucial - we absolutely have to do it, and there is a really interesting exercise that everybody can do.  Each time we feel absolutely certain of something, each time we’re absolutely sure it cannot be something else, we have to stop and say, wow, here I’m stuck in my certitudes!  What else could it be?  What would other people think about it?  And just try to destroy a few of our certitudes and our beliefs.  If we are clever enough to do that, we will learn a lot of new things.

Sue:   That’s a powerful message to conclude with.  It’s been a real privilege to speak with you.  How can listeners and readers find out more about the work that you and the Solar Impulse Foundation are doing?   You’ve mentioned the website already…

Bertrand:  They can write directly to Solar Impulse if they would like specific help for their cities, for their governments, for their factories.  We’re more than willing to try to help.

Sue Wonderful.  Thank you again for your time today, and for the important messages that you shared with us.

Bertrand  It was a pleasure to speak with you, and because you’re also an explorer, as the first British woman to ski to the Magnetic North Pole, you know about exploration and you’re asking the right questions.  I really enjoyed it.  Thank you very much.


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Podcast credits:

Sound Editor:  Matias de Ezcurra
Producer:  Sue Stockdale