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High Flying Above The Walls

Bertrand Piccard is the founder of the Solar Impulse Foundation and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions.

En français sur UP’ Magazine.

Bertrand Piccard was a guest speaker at Movin’On, a global event on sustainable mobility held last June in Montreal and produced by Michelin in partnership with C2 Montreal. The topic of his talk was: “How to achieve the impossible, how to invent, how to innovate, how to create, how to get out of one’s comfort zone, how to get rid of one’s certitudes and beliefs to be free to think about new ways forward.”

Bertrand is the founder and pilot of Solar Impulse, the first round-the-world solar flight. We had previously met in Paris during the COP21 negotiations on climate change mitigation in 2015.

Together, we listened to a speech by Sylvia Earle, an American marine biologist who was the first female chief scientist of NAOO. In 1988, Sylvia Earle was named “Hero for the Planet” by Time Magazine. She reminded us of this:

“Resentment won’t serve us. We need to be grateful for the fossil fuel economy. Humanity made progress and developed so far thanks to the oil, gas,

and coal industries. When we embarked on the fossil fuel journey, we were not aware of the externalities. But now, we know. The time has come for humanity to move beyond fossil fuel”.

Bertrand was only halfway through his Solar Impulse challenge, and the outcome of COP21 was uncertain.

The Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation was adopted by consensus by 196 countries on December 12, 2015. Bertrand and his partner André Borschberg completed their flight around the world on July 26, 2016. Later that year, Donald Trump was elected 45th President of the United States with a promise to build a wall between Mexico and the USA. On June 1st, he announced that the USA would cease all participation in the Paris Agreement.

Below are some edited transcripts of our conversation, which started with an update on Solar Impulse but went far beyond.

Bertrand Piccard: “When we last met, it was before the success of the flight around the world with Solar Impulse. We were halfway through and it was quite a stressful moment. After having invested so much time and effort, we did not know if we would succeed. It’s nice to see you again after the success.”

Dominique Bel: “Likewise, Bertrand, it’s nice to see you again. In hindsight, it is inspiring to realize how you could communicate a sense of calm and confidence while you were in the midst of such a stressful challenge. What’s keeping you busy these days?”

BP: “The first step of the Solar Impulse project — going around the world with no fuel — is finished. Now, the second phase is on. I am launching the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions, connecting all individuals, start-ups, companies, associations, or organizations with ideas, processes, products, or clean technologies to protect the environment profitably. Solutions must be profitable to gain support by both the private and public sectors.”

DB: “What comes to mind as one of the significant challenges of this new project?

BP: “We have to identify 1000 profitable solutions for the environment by the end of 2018. It’s a lot of work. I know they exist. Even though everybody speaks of problems, there are lots of solutions; this is what I want to show.”

DB: “Yes, time for solutions! I want to ask you for advice about a project that is very dear to my heart. Donald Trump promised to build a wall between Mexico and the USA. I recently joined the MADE collective (Mexican and American Designers and Engineers). The MADE collective designed and proposed an alternative to the wall: Otra nation. Otra Nation made the headlines when the collective submitted it to both the American and Mexican governments earlier in March.

Otra Nation is a regenerative territory open to citizens of both Mexico and the United States that is co-maintained by both governments.

Otra Nation is a regenerative territory open to both Mexico and the United States that is co-maintained by both governments. It is the world’s first continental bi-national socio-ecotone, with an expected economic output in the range of 1 trillion dollars.

Part of Otra Nation’s vision: a Hyperloop transportation network to link the Pacific coast to the Gulf of Mexico, with links to major cities North and South. Distressed people cross borders illegally to escape poverty. Otra Nation tackles the issue at its roots and aims to become a hospitable and abundant territory thanks to renewable energy and regenerative agriculture.

Did you know about the Otra Nation proposal, and what do you think of it?”

BP: “No, I did not know about this project. My immediate reaction when I see something that looks difficult is to admire it. I hate the people who say: “it’s not possible, it doesn’t work, don’t try, it’s too difficult.”

So, first: congratulations! Follow your dreams and do it!

What comes to mind next is that the technology is already available. We need to push the state of mind far enough to implement new technology on a large scale. I once flew with a motor glider over the border between Mexico and California. North of the border in California, it was completely green, with trees and agriculture. On the Mexican side, it was an absolute desert. People's state of mind makes all the difference. Poverty in a country results from lousy organization, bad politics, corruption problems, and lack of respect. We have to push hard to change the state of mind and not believe that everybody has the spirit to fulfill it when we have a beautiful dream. Otherwise, it would also be green on the Mexican side of the Californian border."

The All-American Canal at the US-Mexican border, by Franck Vogel photojournalist: “Today, Colorado no longer reaches the sea — all the remaining water is diverted through the All-American Canal to the Imperial Valley. Consequently, the worst affected are nature and poor areas like Indian reservations in Arizona. Moreover, large wetlands such as the Colorado Delta in Mexico and the Salton Sea in California, have received little to no water in recent decades, which has led to desertification and displacement of the population.” Credits: Franck Vogel photojournalist, Transbordary Rivers, published by Editions La Martinière.

DB: “What advice would you share with Otra Nation?”

BP: “First, it’s essential to be clear on your business model. Is it an investment with promising returns for investors? Or is it a project for the greater good that will benefit sponsors because of its positive message, its intrinsic qualities, and the values it promotes? Once you have your answer, you’ll know quite well in which direction to go. With Solar Impulse, it was evident that we were not looking for venture capital because we would not sell solar airplanes. I looked for sponsors and partners, and I raised 170 million US dollars in a few months.

Otra Nation reminds me of the Swiss Metro project: a tunnel between Geneva and Lausanne with a train moving through a vacuum at 60 km/h. In the end, authorities abandoned the project. I think the mistake was to plan to build the tunnel between Lausanne and Geneva in Switzerland's French-speaking part. The French-speaking part of Switzerland is very innovative, but it is not where the money is. The money is in the German part of Switzerland. Had the promoters proposed to build the Swiss Metro between Zurich and Basel, or between Zurich and Bern, they would have probably raised the financing.

Again: congratulations on Otra Nation. Let me invite the MADE collective to join the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions!"

Otra Nation. The worlds' first continental bi-national socio-ecotone, with an expected economic output in the range of 1 trillion dollars.

DB: "On behalf of Otra Nation: thank you for the invitation, this is quite a vote of confidence. Count us in, Bertrand!

Solar Impulse and Otra Nation are adventures into the unknown.

How transformed does one come back from an adventure into the unknown? Following your first Solar Impulse flight, did you land as a different person than when you took off?”

BP: "When I landed, I always had the impression to fall back in the past. Because flying with Solar Impulse with no fuel, no noise, no pollution gives you the impression that you are in a science fiction story. It gives you the impression that you are already in the future. This is wrong: we are in the present. Solar Impulse is what technology can do today. It is the rest of the world that is in the past. I would say that every landing was sad. It was really sad to return to the world of combustion engines, waste of energy, waste of natural resources, lack of respect, corruption, and bad governance. It was sad each and every time because when you are flying like André and me, you have the impression the world could be a beautiful place."

DB: "Indeed, our human world could become a beautiful place on this planet if it was shared in harmony with other beings. People sense the need to reconnect with passion, love, and purpose. What inspires me the most when I listen to you, Bertrand, is how much you seem to love what you do. What do you love so much about what you do?"

BP: "I love to step into the unknown. I love to do things nobody has ever dared to do and to show that the impossible is only in their head, not in reality. What is fantastic is to get rid of all beliefs that keep you a prisoner of the past so as to step into the future with new strategies and ways of thinking. This is so fascinating. This, I love."

DB: "What advice would you give to young adults who are going to face such a troubled world?"

BP: "I would tell them to identify what they have learned and what they believe, and then to try something else. Because our certainties — what we believe and what we have learned to believe — are terrible handicaps for creativity and for performance. Beliefs keep you a prisoner of the past and prevent you from finding new ways of thinking. We become prisoners of old paradigms and don't learn how to change them."

DB: "It's now time for your talk at Movin'On. Before I let you go, as Steve Jobs would put it, "one more thing": you are both inspired and inspiring. What's that major event in your life that made you break through to that sense of possibility?"

BP: "When I was between 10 and 12 years old, I was living with my family in Florida. It was during the American space program, between 1968 and 1970. I met Charles Lindbergh and most of the American astronauts and explorers. I met lots of people who showed me how fascinating it was to explore life. I witnessed the launch of Apollo 11 and still have, today, a vivid memory of that moment in time when I said to myself: this is the type of life I want to live.

What inspired me and set me in motion was meeting extraordinary people who left their comfort zones, who did not remain within the boundaries of old paradigms, and who did things that nobody thought were possible to do. The most inspiring individuals I met were explorers and astronauts. But I also met inspiring people who were on a spiritual or a personal development path, in psychiatry, in psychotherapy, or in politics.

I believe in the spiritual family: people who are on the same wavelength, with the same frequency of energy. They recognize each other immediately and don't need long conversations to understand that they look for the same things in life on earth."

#asksowhat |​ © Dominique Bel, 2020. All Rights Reserved in all Countries.


Delta of the Colorado River, Mexico. 10 years ago, with all of its water being diverted for intensive agriculture use in Valle Imperial in California, the Colorado River run dry at the US-Mexican border. Today, it no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez. Credits: Franck Vogel, “Transbordary Rivers”, Editions la Martinière.


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