Keynote speakers the futurenauts - Ed Gillespie and Mark Stevenson

Exclusive interview with ‘the Futurenauts’

Renowned Futurologist Mark Stevenson, author of ‘We do Things Differently’ and Futerra’s Co-Founder Ed Gillespie, author of ‘Only Planet – a flightfree adventure around the world’, created ‘the Futurenauts’.

They will provoke, inspire and advise the world on the main issues we face, such as energy, food, medicine and how we might best navigate the disruptive transition to come. Intrigued about this new project, we asked them a few questions:

What inspired you both to create the Futurenauts podcast and how was the name coined?

We created the podcast as part of our multi-pronged attempts to ‘hack culture’. Mark was approached after speaking at an ‘Escape the City’ event by our excellent podcast producer Martin Boyle. He was interested in creating some sort of progressive, future-looking content – and asked us if we’d be interested in collaborating. We all met up. Clicked instantly and as we’re all ‘do-ers’ by nature we just dived in and started recording!

The name ‘Futurenauts’ comes from a conflation of ‘Future’ and ‘Naut’ (which comes from the Ancient Greek ‘nautes’ for ‘sailor’ and is generally used as an English suffix to mean ‘voyager’ or ‘tripper’). So we are aiming to be ‘Future Voyagers’, sailing close to the winds of change and reading the tempestuous seas of today to chart a better course for tomorrow. Or Future ‘Trippers’. But that has slightly different more psychedelic connotations!

What is the purpose of Futurenauts?

‘The Futurenauts’ is a creative project that through provocation, inspiration and excitement seeks to get people pragmatically positive and optimistic about better futures for everyone. We write books, give speeches and talks, run workshops and perform live shows which are a mix of challenge, comedy and solutions. We’re trying to inspire a mass audience to sit up and get motivated by the real choices we face, and how the future can be more equitable, sustainable, humane and just for all of humanity if we all work together.

How do you both determine the subjects that you discuss on Futurenauts?

Well we usually start with the topicality of current events, and what we’ve been up to since our previous podcast – adventures we’ve all been having into the future! Or whether Mark has been to a Black Sabbath gig lately – although it’s clear Ozzy Osbourn knows something about survival against the odds and sustainability!

We also do interviews with future pioneers – this week on International Women’s Day we spoke with renewable energy pioneer Juliet Davenport founder of Good Energy for instance. And we have interviews coming up with Dr Tim Fox of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers and awesome environmental journalist Gabrielle Walker. We usually ask them what motivates them to be future innovators and campaigners, and what gives them real, practical hope.

Plus we have regular features such as ‘Pointless Futures’ in which we scathingly review ‘future-stupid’ ideas and products such as this ‘smart’ hairbrush.

What are the key challenges for sustainability?

Where do you want us to begin?! There are the obvious massive global environmental challenges such as climate change, loss of nature and wildlife and air quality to name but three. And there are many equally pressing social challenges such as population growth, notions of identity and division. Our economic challenges underpin these: employment, financial inequality and economic investment.

But we believe in a fairer, smarter tomorrow and that actually we largely have the technologies we need to solve our problems (e.g. the combination of renewable energy technologies to build a clean new sustainable energy system that allows both us and the planet to breathe again and tackle climate change). We also have enough money to fund these required changes – although inevitably there will be some winners and losers in these transitions. Our biggest barriers are cultural, political and social – we have stopped believing that tomorrow can be better. We have no idea where to go next. And that’s why we focus on the cultural shifts as much as the kit involved.

What would you say is the most promising recent innovation that could influence how sustainable our future is?

We get very excited by the concept of the ‘Enernet’ – the energy internet. In fact it’s no longer a concept at all, it’s a practical reality and Open Utility, a UK energy platform innovation business, ran a successful trial of the principle last year and has now launched a business version called ‘Piclo’. Similar projects are under way in the Netherlands and China.

This will revolutionise and democratise access to energy, for both generators and customers, in the same way the internet did for information. It will ultimately create a live, dynamic and fluid market for energy in real time, dramatically scaling up the capacity and potential of renewable energy produced by everyone from individual house-holders – perhaps with Tesla’s new solar roof tiles – to massive infrastructure like the proposed Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon.

We could revamp our dirty, centralised and polluting fossil-fuel based energy system into one built on clean, renewable energy largely owned by the people faster than many people might imagine. It’s inspiring people to these types of exciting potential – that bring environmental, social AND economic dividends that keeps us going!

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