A conversation with Bertrand Piccard, the scientist-adventurer currently on the American leg of his global solar flight on the Solar Impulse 2, on the view from 28,000 feet, how we nearly turned our ocean into a dump for nuclear waste and win-win solutions for a healthy planet. We spoke on the eve of World Oceans Day.
The following has been edited for clarity and length.
Highlights • The potential of innovation • A critique of the environmental movement • People have put plastics into our ocean • An almost radioactive ocean
Andreas Merkl: I’m curious. When you’re up there flying, is it a perfectly quiet experience? Or is it the rumble that you get in a typical soaring airplane?
Bertrand Piccard: You have a little whistle of the electrical motors. The carbon fiber makes a little bit of cracks here and there. You feel a little bit of vibrations. But compared to a normal airplane, it’s really quiet. When I fly this plane, I have the impression to be in a story of science fiction. I look at the sun and I know it’s my only source of power, and it’s coming down to leave me energy to continue the flight. Each time I look outside and I say, “It’s really magical.” And I look the propellers turning, I see these huge wings on my left and my right, and I think, “I’m crossing oceans.” It’s reality, actually. It’s not science fiction. It’s magical. It’s like a fairy tale.
Calling all ocean lovers: In honor of World Ocean’s Day, we’re celebrating all things ocean conservation. Join us next Wednesday, June 8th to hear insights from marine enthusiasts around the world, including our own Chief Scientist George Leonard, and contribute your own thoughts, too. Tune in Wednesday as we share questions throughout the day about reasons to love the ocean and what we can do to protect it.
Charlie Enright, a Rhode Island native, is skipper of Team Alvimedica, the youngest of the seven international teams in the 2014-2015 Volvo Ocean Race which began last October and recently completed Leg 7 (out of nine) in Lisbon, Portugal. The Volvo Ocean Race is the world’s premier offshore race, an exceptional test of sailing prowess and human endeavor, which began over 40 years ago. At 30, Enright has already accumulated thousands of offshore miles and inshore racing results—including a Transatlantic and Rolex Fastnet Race in 2011. Before dedicating himself full time to the Volvo Race campaign, he worked at North Sails Rhode Island and managed multiple sailing campaigns for All American Ocean Racing. Charlie is an Ambassador for 11th Hour Racing, a program of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which establishes strategic partnerships within the sailing and marine communities to promote collaborative systemic change for the health of our coastal, offshore, and freshwater environments.
Andreas Merkl is in his third year as CEO of Ocean Conservancy, a D.C.-based nonprofit dedicated to the health and productivity of the ocean that covers over 70 percent of the planet. Merkl is an experienced strategist with a lifelong commitment to environmental causes. Prior to taking the helm at Ocean Conservancy, Merkl served as a principal at California Environmental Associates, a San Francisco-based think tank and consultancy focused on the management of the natural resource commons. Earlier in his career, he was a founding member of McKinsey & Company’s Environmental Practice and vice president and co-founder of the CH2M HILL Strategy Group, a leading provider of environmental management consulting worldwide. Andreas is on Twitter as @andreasmerkl.
Enright and Merkl: While one of us is a native of Rhode Island and part of the Millennial Generation and the other hails from Germany and came of age in the 1970s, we share one thing in common – a great passion for the ocean.
Enright: As a sailor, I race through the ocean’s surface on some of the fastest sailboats in the world. The ocean is my home, and it is everyone’s backyard. When I’m not sailing, I try to get home to the Ocean State, Rhode Island, where I’m from and where my family – including my wife and soon-to-be-born son – make our home. Having grown up here, the sailing and the sea are in my DNA.
The U.N. partnered with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to develop the stamps, which showcase the timeless characters of Dr. Seuss’ book, “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.” Celebrating our connection with the ocean, the stamps remind us of how important it is to protect it.
The stamps—issued in three different currencies: U.S. dollars, Swiss francs and euros—are a further representation of the central role the ocean plays in our lives, regardless of what city, state or country we call home. “From near to far, from here to there,” as the stamps say, our ocean is everywhere.