Gunter Pauli: we are sleeping with our eyes wide open 

Gunter Pauli: we are sleeping with our eyes wide open 
Published: 5. April 2023
Categories: Interview

Gunter Pauli is an environmental thinker and visionary on a grand scale, he is behind the Blue Economy business model and author of a myriad of books, including inspiring stories for the youngest of generations. But most importantly, he makes things happen. We talked about the mindset of modern people, how to affect it, and the paradox of producing energy. Read more below. 

When travelling the world, which are the most efficient and noteworthy Blue Economy examples you have come across?

A great example is when people drink coffee and they suddenly realize that it’s only 0.2% that goes into their mouth and 99.8% is wasted as coffee ground. They feel like: ‘Oh, what have I been doing!’ Or, should the question be instead: ‘What have I not been doing?’. When you can offer a solution to people, then you will have an impact. Impact is generated by doing, not by acting. Acting is the first step but you have to be doing things.

I think we also need to take the guilt out of the whole thing. So many people are saying: ‘You’re guilty, you are doing bad things, look at the environment, see how many people are suffering.’ No-one is guilty. We all share responsibility for improving the situation, and if you start with a cup of coffee and it helps, or a big new project which is the diaper, it’s all good. I’m a father of six children, I know the mess we are making with the diapers and when I come to Tallinn, I will show you the pictures of the diapers that were hanging on our balcony. 

Why do you think it is so difficult for people to adapt to an environmentally-friendly lifestyle? 

There are two ways when people need to change. First is of course saying you are going to die, you got cancer, you better stop smoking. Interestingly, most of the people who have cancer will stop smoking. Or, instead, you say: ‘Gosh, look at this incredible opportunity to have the freshest mushrooms every day thanks to your coffee.’ Do we have to scare people, to create fear, and monger fear? Or, should we show people the hundreds of opportunities around them they are currently not seeing and using? I think this is the approach we need to take. 

Secondly, I work a lot with young people and we have to realize that our competitor is called TikTok, it is VR games, etc. If you don’t package your portfolio of solutions in a way that makes it much more interesting, they are going to go back to watching TikTok. In order to make an impact, we need to have an approach that brings back the challenge and the joy. 

So, be full of love and joy and be certain that what you are proposing makes sense. There are too many engineers talking over the heads of people like you and me, I’m not an engineer, I need to understand that I’m engaging myself. Science is important but it can’t just be science. 

Why are we not using all of the opportunities in front of us? 

We are overwhelmed with Netflix, TikTok, Youtube, etc. We live in a very interesting time we have never had before. People are basically drunk on it. Intellectually and culturally drunk. So, what do we need to do? Sometimes you need to have a little KITA (kick in the ass) to start seeing the opportunities. My role and responsibility is very often to wake people up. Because we are sleeping with our eyes wide open. 

Also, when I’m in front of a class of 30-40 children, one child will realize that the whale can make a lot of electricity by pumping a thousand liters of blood through its heart, and it’s the same amount the kids need for a Gameboy. The whale is super efficient in making power. Or, let’s take a lemon, a banana peel and an egg shell and make as much power as the whale does. Surprise: it works. 

We as humans are very dumb in producing electricity. If we want to make these leapfrogs forward, we don’t need to study to be a PhD. Sometimes the answers are embarrassingly easy. We have been told change is difficult. And, behind are so many commercial interests. I had a big debate a few days ago (interview was on 17 March) about nuclear power. Which private insurance company is ready to insure the risk of operating a nuclear power plant? Not one insurance company is willing to do that. Why? The answer is simple: the risk is just too big. So, why do governments force their citizens to pay for the risk? Every nuclear plant built in Europe will be insured by taxpayers money. That means we are taking liability for a hundred years in the future. That is insane. The risks taken need to be calculated, measurable and reasonable. 

What will happen to the world in 100 years?

We are doing things in a way that is causing fundamental change. Life has always been built from the smallest up. We don’t like to talk about it but viruses are the basis of life. I mean, in the sea there are ten times more viruses than bacteria. Then, as people, someone has put into our minds that we need to kill them. It’s not going to work for a simple reason that they have been around for 3.5 billion years and have more resilience than we do. We need to realize that life at the core is not changing. The big mammals will die, then, we are causing the death of many plants, species, fauna and flora. But, the mushrooms, the microalgae, bacteria and viruses – they are going to thrive, they are going to be so happy. 

What is your weapon of choice for energy and power?

My love affair is with the wind that we can capture at 200-300 meters altitude. It is unlimited and available day and night. Another option is hydrogen. It’s very easy to produce today. Why do we fill every car with batteries that require more and more mining? I understand if you are a lithium dealer, then turning mobility into lithium batteries is the greatest business deal of modern times on earth. Lithium is not the future, it’s an interim phase and we should keep it as short as possible.

So, I am convinced that the long term solution is hydrogen. I know it first hand since my boat Porrima produces it from seawater using sun power. And since we need a mix, the second power source is wind caught at – at least – 200 meters altitude with a kite. Then round off the mix, let us have a little bit of solar and you’ll go very far.

Interviewer: Kerttu Kongas

Gunter Pauli will share his thoughts on Blue Economy opportunities during the Impact Day 2023 festival on 5-6 October in Tallinn.

The project is supported by ESTDEV – Estonian Centre for International Development

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