Hey folks, in today's episode of the Climate Confident podcast I had the pleasure of sitting down (again!) with Steve Willis to talk in a little more depth about the idea of the ocean as a nation - which he mentioned briefly on last week's instalment of the show.
Steve's concept is a fascinating one, and we spent the whole episode discussing the potential benefits and challenges of such an idea. We talked about the steps that would need to be taken to turn this vision into a reality, and how we could start building a public discussion around it.
In addition to discussing the idea itself, we also talked about the potential for turning it into a Netflix series and how storytelling can play a role in raising awareness and inspiring action.
Overall, it was a thought-provoking episode and I hope you'll enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed recording it!
Here are the links that Steve mentioned during the episode:
Thanks for tuning in and I hope you'll join us for the next episode!
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Music credits - Intro by Joseph McDade, and Outro music for this podcast was composed, played, and produced by my daughter Luna Juniper
And we will approach, the easy beachhead customers to start with and get a little bit money to do that, and then be able to reach a bit further in order to be able to collect more money from the other companies that have made net zero promises. And then when there is some money in the bank, you could say, okay, now we will, speak to the people, obviously who have contributed, and we will choose a number of key critical projects to just pay forTom Raftery:
Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you are in the world. This is the Climate Confident podcast. The number one podcast, showcasing best practices in climate emission, reductions and removals. And I'm your host, Tom Raftery. Don't forget to click follow on this podcast in your podcast app of choice, to be sure you don't miss any episodes. Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Climate Confident podcast. My name is Tom Raftery. And before we start, I would just like to take a second to thank the supporters of this podcast for their generous support of the podcast. And also to remind you, if you'd like to become a supporter of this podcast to help me continue creating informative and engaging episodes on the podcast, just simply click on the support link in the show notes of this episode of every episode. And you can make a small donation starting just three euros. That's less than the cost of a cup of coffee, but it would really help me with this podcast. Okay. Without out of the way with me on the show today, I have Steve. Steve welcome back to the podcast. You were on the podcast last week with Denise and we had a fascinating conversation about the Climate Stories book that came out just before Christmas. And one of the stories within that actually a couple of the stories within that referred to the idea of the ocean as a nation. And I, I thought that was a weird, interesting, fascinating idea. An unusual concept that I hadn't come across before. And I wanted to dig into it a little bit. So hence, I've invited you back, but before we dig into that, for people who may have missed last week's episode, shame on you.. Would you like to introduce yourself?Steve Willis:
Yep. Thank you Tom. And, uh, it's good to be back. Yeah. I'm Steve Willis. I'm a chemical engineer and we've been working, for some years seeking out large scale climate solutions. So multimillion ton methods of capturing, avoiding, disposing, or sequestering. Millions of tons of co2. So we've been doing that. we have a couple of startups going, or one big startup related to sequestration, and we assist some other guys with bio, which is another, a very interesting route. So, it's, uh, A very demanding little sector, as you can imagine. Yeah, so we were looking at, ways of exploring, fixing large parts of the climate crisis and using, uh, fiction as a means of doing that. So it's really interesting tool. It's like being on the holodeck with the safeties off and you can, change as many things as you like and go back and change it again, and change it again. And as we were developing these stories, I was reminded of a an idea that I was given by a guy, uh, back in, 2018. So I, in 2018, I went to the World Ocean Summit that is run by the, uh, economist and, uh, it was run in Mexico and it's a three day conference. And of course like all these things, it's super depressing, you know, so it was bad news here. Bad news was there. And, uh, I was sat at lunch next to an American gentleman, and I asked him, how would you fix it then, how would you fix the climate crisis and the ocean problem? And, he, he really surprised me. So he was the, um, sustainability director for a large American bank, and he said, America only became great when it, became independent from its colonial power and by extension. The ocean can only solve its problems when it throws off the colonial powers that are exploiting its resources for free. And he solely planted the seed and we, we talked about it for five minutes and, as we'll discuss in a few more minutes, it's not trivially simple, but it's really inspired idea, you know, so, what we know, the ocean has a lot of problems, but it's very poorly represented. You know, it's, it doesn't have a voice that speaks for it on its own behalf. You know, it has, a UN UNCLOS and, uh, I M O. And they are related to the ocean, but they are not the ocean speaking for the ocean's own interests. So, that idea was planted, four years ago and when we were coming around these stories again, so well, you know, how, can we develop that in more detail? So there are actually four stories in the anthology that explore it. So the first is the, uh, the Climate Gamers story, which imagines in effect, uh, civilization six with a climate solutions extension pack screwed on the end, where you get an eSport competition and a bunch of, uh, you know, top quality gamers trying to solve the climate crisis. So that's the, uh, scenario of that story and one of the solutions that the winning team eventually use is, The ocean becomes an independent nation and as it becomes an independent nation, it solves a lot more of the ocean related problems cause they know that's what the ocean wants to do. And it does it in collaboration with the surrounding nations. And because of that you've got large international cooperation, which is interesting. So I spin off for it. So, so it's interesting to, run it in a fictional simulator in effect. So that's the first story. The second story is called Blue Nation, and it explores the first, push by campaigners against the media moguls of the, you know, fictional media mogul of that timeline, where the, the fictional, campaigners catch the lady on the beach and, you know, force her into a bit of a corner. Turns out she's the, uh, the wife of one of the presidents who's turned up for the future COP Conference. And, they successfully persuaded her that, that she is going to support them. So, uh, she's going to support them. And because of that, you are using the power of the media to spread this idea. So, the story was, uh, seeded by me, written by, uh, Rasha Barrage, who's, has a legal background. So the whole story's got much a legal, uh, tilt to it. It's quite interesting, really. The third story's, called Oasis and explores, a floating town, that has developed as, uh, the ocean has already become a nation. And you've got people who are out and about and they're, setting up, these seasteading communities. So, you know, it's a very fictional, uh, scenario, but they become part of a trading web and handling refugees and, handling the big sequestration projects. And as the story develops, there's some conflict and the resolved conflict and there's bigger collaboration coming outta that. So again, another interesting thought experiment about how it would work. And then the, the final one is, um, about Fairhaven. So Fairhaven is this, future city and it's a city where climate adaptation has been taken to the full hilt. So, uh, a location where it was going to be completely lost. And they decided before sea level rise that they would put in the big dykes and in the protected area they would build a brand new city. So Fairhaven becomes one of the, uh, capital cities of the ocean. And, the fourth story in the collection is a guide around Fairhaven, explaining some of the history of the city, explaining, how the city came to help refugees. And, looking at some of the larger things that have happened in the world as the world has adapted to the climate crisis. So it assumes by then that, you know, there's a good two meters of sea level rise and there's another six to come. And, how all of that is being adapted to, and, it's a more collaborative future. The issue of the, refugees have been accepted and people are being moved from one location. There are small communities to another location where they support one another and they contribute a lot more. So you're not splitting individual people off their communities and throwing them through to the wind, via the people smugglers. You're saying, you know, here's a group of two or 300 people and we're moving them from this place, which is no longer to going to exist to this new place where we need to build a new community.Tom Raftery:
Yeah. So in, in Fairhaven, you have things like New Amsterdam and different regions of Fairhaven, you know, based off presumably lost cities that had had their populations relocated or something similar.Steve Willis:
Yeah. So, uh, well it, it was a lot of fun. Sort of like imagining what Fair Haven would be. You know, you have a, architect's dream and a clean piece of paper and, you know, you're gonna put 10 million people in a new place. What's that gonna be like? You know? And, many of the cities in Asia have a Chinatown and a Little India and so on, and you could say, well, in a future world where tourism is going to be more difficult, where, you know, assume that airlines are gonna be, uh, struggling to find the necessary fuel and people are all traveling by train. So you end up where people would come to a place and ensure the opportunity to visit districts within the town that have got an entirely different feel, you know, so you've got, an Amsterdam quarter and the Japanese quarter and you've got, uh, you know, Eastern European destinations andTom Raftery:
and an AmishSteve Willis:
America and yes, yes indeed, which is right next to, uh, far more racy parts, you know, so , so yeah. Other complications to deal with.Tom Raftery:
But, but getting back to this idea of the ocean as a nation, I mean, I think it's a fascinating idea. I'm, I come originally from Ireland. Ireland was a country that was colonized for many centuries, and as a result was extremely impoverished for a long time because much of the earnings that Ireland would've had were taken by its colonizer, which helped make the colonizing company more wealthy, but impoverished Ireland for a long time. And it was only when Ireland got its independence in the 1920s that it started to, it started on its path towards becoming a modern, wealthy independent nation. And you could say similarly for other colonized countries, India, for example, achieved its independence in 49, if I remember correctly, and is now starting on that road as well. It had been impoverished for a long time. Uh, so I can see how that idea makes sense for the ocean. We have been squandering the resources of the ocean for millennia, really, but only at an industrial scale since the start of the industrial era. But this idea of the ocean as a nation kind of is, it's counterintuitive, it's out there, but it's also, I think, hard for people to digest just given the fact that our idea of a nation is bounded by things like people, I mean, every nation, every country we can think of. One of the immediate things you think of when you think of a country is, well, how many people are there? You know, there are 5 million people in Ireland. There are 45 million in the uk. There are, you know, et cetera, et cetera, 320 in America, there's no one in the ocean. It doesn't have a population. How does an entity, that doesn't have a population, become a nation?Steve Willis:
Yeah, it, it's interesting, isn't it? And the reason that we're having this discussion is in order to encourage more people to discuss the topic. It's not, an ultimatum and it's a fun idea to puzzle with. And I think a lot of people will you know, hopefully contribute to this in the, months and years to come. And eventually we'll get there, you know.Tom Raftery:
I went to the recent World Ocean Summit in, uh, Singapore at the end of last year. And, just to like, try out the idea. It's like here's some people who really care about the ocean. Have they heard of it? What's their immediate reaction? And I was, a bit surprised that nobody had ever heard of it or thought about it before, which is like, oh, well that's good news and bad news, you know? So it, it's an opportunity, but it's started from a blank sheet, you know? So, uh, there's not been very much done on it before, but it was very positively received, and, you know, if people are talking about. The ocean is struggling from all of these problems. And in terms of an elevator pitch, if you like you know, it's been the simplest one I've ever used. And the elevator pitch is the ocean becomes an independent nation and then you stop speaking and people think about it and go, ah, ah, yeah, uh, yeah. And then you have a conversation about it and they come at it from lots of different directions. And one of the, key points of course is, you know, if an ocean is to establish as a nation, what is its income? What is its status if you like? And, in between nations, there are governments obviously, but most of the, uh, interactions between countries are commercial. There's companies dealing with, companies in other countries, you know, guided by, by the law. And, following that example, for a moment, if you took a, a train from, Edinburgh to Amsterdam, you would come through the railway system and you buy your ticket and it's on your app and the, and you paid for your ticket and it gets you a seat, and pays the, the driver and the staff and for the fuel and for the, maintenance of the carriages and for the know the, a little bit of profit for the company, and it also pays for the maintenance of the railway tracks mostly. They, at least in Britain these days, they're separate companies and a portion of that money goes to maintain the railway tracks. And obviously you want that to occur because you want a safe railway. But if you came back in the opposite direction by ferry, you'd buy a ticket and you you have your ticket on the app and you've paid your money and it pays for the fuel and the crew and for the ship and so on. But there is no equivalent maintenance of the ocean. And when you sort of think of it in those terms, you think that's bit odd cuz clearly we're using it as a method of carriage and we all know that damage has been done in numerous different ways. And if the ocean, were to be receiving some of that money, it would be able to sort out some of its problems. So it within the, uh, the fictional stories, cuz again, the fiction is a super powerful tool for choosing whatever you want and seeing if it works or not. The ocean doesn't say I am an independent nation, you'll comply. It sets up an administration with the objective of eventually becoming a nation. You know, so it might have observer status or something like that to start with. So it's not a nation to start with, but it has an administration which says, These are the fees that are associated with these different activities, you know, so, it would probably charge initially for ship miles and fish tons and for CO2 adsorb from the atmosphere. And all of those three things are clearly recorded by, uh, companies and, uh, countries of course. So there's a nice, clear number to say, you know, this shipping company has done this many miles and the administration, of the ocean would send a bill, you know, so this is the bill associated with the activities that you've been doing. And of course, initially a load of people aren't gonna pay. But many of these companies have now made a net zero commitment, and acknowledging the fact that they have been making these emissions and they do need to do something about it. And the ocean is just saying, We're taking that today. We'd like you to pay for the maintenance, please. And it's a thought experiment and obviously it's gonna take a little bit of time to get there, but as a, a thing that might start, you can imagine, finding a couple of companies, in the forward-looking companies who've got their own, message to deliver, saying, yes, we'll pay for that and we'll do it publicly and you know, we'll make it quite clear that we want to support the ocean going forward and then incrementally, you know, hopefully it will growTom Raftery:
and where would this administration come from and, and how would it make itself be taken seriously?Steve Willis:
Well. it's a good question and I think a lot of these things need to be puzzled out as you go along. So, the initial team is gonna be 10 people in an office block in Croyden or wherever , you know, so it's not going to be, a big setup to start with, almost like startup company. We have established ourselves to do this thing. There'll be a small amount of, the revenue will be taken to run the administration. The purpose is to run, like a little tax office to collect the money that is due the ocean. And we will approach, the easy beachhead customers to start with and get a little bit money to do that, and then be able to reach a bit further in order to be able to collect more money from the other companies that have made net zero promises. And then when there is some money in the bank, you could say, okay, now we will, you know, speak to the people, obviously who have contributed, and we will choose a number of key critical projects to just pay for, you know, and that might be, Madagascar desperately needs the mangroves rebuilding and it's 200 million dollars and by this time the ocean has collected more than that. And so, okay, we're gonna pay for three quarters of the project on Madagascar or whatever it turns out to be, and come to these big problems with the money to solve it. And it's the, the land country, Madagascar in this country, uh, case wants the problem solving. The ocean wants the problem solving, you know, cause it improves habitat and, blue carbon, all those things. So it's a great collaboration for both sides and they work together to make it so. And as more money comes in from other sources, the ocean gets in a much involved in a much wider selection of things, which would be difficult for the existing, structures to deal with. So one of the other topics that appears in the, fictional collection is the determined effort to refreeze the Arctic. Now, there are a couple of groups that are looking at what can be done to refreeze the Arctic. They've got no money, and those of you been following it we'll know that the Arctic is, uh, warming at least four times faster than the rest of the world. The Arctic ice is in rapid retreat. The albedo on the, in the north is diminishing rapidly. AndTom Raftery:
a negative feedback loop.Steve Willis:
What are we gonna do about that? And if the ocean were a nation, or the administration had collected, say a couple of billion dollars by this stage, they'd say, okay, we're gonna do this. You know, we are going to put a billion dollars into a concerted effort to find a thing out of the possible collection, find some things that work. And then as more revenue comes in, they work with the, Arctic Nations to collaborate better and have a long-term concerted push, uh, refreezing the Arctic because how are we going to do that otherwise, you know, and one of the joys of a fictional world is, you know, we are looking at 50 years hence. And, the ocean is a fully fledged nation. You are suddenly in a position where it's done a lot of things and contributed to a lot of things like refreezing the Arctic and then you like, look, well, well, how could that have happened if the ocean wasn't there?, who would've done that? And you know, nobody, and who, who would go out and make a great effort to do all of the Blue Carbon projects that could possibly done. There are NGOs and so on who have started that work, but do they have billions of dollars to throw out at them? You know? No. And if the ocean is able to, um, secure some of the railway maintenance equivalent fees, it does have the money to do those projects. And those projects aren't gonna be done any other way. And for a team looking at radical climate solutions, it's not a climate solution in, in the way that a machine is. It's not a device, it's not a process. It's not a mechanism for this kind of carbon credit, but it's a space which allows all of those things to exist, and it's hard for those things to exist without it.Tom Raftery:
Right. And it's interesting as well because when we think of the ocean, we generally think of the one that's closest to us. So for example, I would naturally think of the Atlantic as being the ocean, whereas people in California would think of the Pacific as the ocean. But in fact, and you've got the Indian Ocean and the Arctic Ocean and the Antarctic Ocean, but in fact it's all one ocean. I mean, America, Australia, Europe, Asia are all separate and distinct from one another, and to travel from one to the other, you have to go by boat or by plane. But the ocean is all one. The, the divisions between Atlantic and Pacific are completely artificial and manmade. They're, they're not actually physically, distinct from one another, right?Steve Willis:
Yeah. Yeah absolutely. And the, the heart of the oceans, are international waters and, as a result, they're being vigorously and, uh, brutally, overfished, you know. So there, there's a number of, uh, Yeah. Well, indeed. Is it International Plastic Storage Unit? There's a charge for that, by the way. One, one of the, uh, things we've, they've got written into the stories is that obviously there's a, there's a graded interest in jurisdictions, you know, so for international waters, the ocean would say, you know, we, we will control a hundred percent of this space in collaboration with everybody else who wants to use this space. And 50% of the EZs and 25% of coastal waters. So the ocean still has an interest in those mangroves in Madagascar, because that's where all the little fish breed and all of the blue carbon and so on is captured. So absolutely the ocean wants to contribute to that in full collaboration with whoever is on the other side. And the purpose of the ocean is not to say, um, you know, go away. You're not coming because there's no enforcement anyway. You're gonna come, you're gonna come. It's like we're coming, we're gonna collaborate on the best way to operate win this in the longer term. And by the way, here's your bill. And you wanna use it as a, a self-evident charge associated with that, which for whatever reason, we've never paid, you know,Tom Raftery:
You never paid your railway maintenance. How did that happen?Tom Raftery:
What would be next steps, or first steps, I guess, to get from where we are today to starting to create this idea or this nationhood for the ocean.Steve Willis:
It's a good question and I think the. It leads public discussion, if you like, which is why we've started doing this together. And in a couple of weeks time, there's a World Ocean Summit again in Lisbon, which is the, the international one. And it would be lovely if people there were listening to this podcast and talking about this, and considering how it would work, you know, what, the benefits are on one hand and, how to share those benefits. Know how to describe those benefits and what the problems are and how to overcome them. If we assume for a moment we're gonna try and make it go, what are the issues that need to be addressed and dealt with? And then, not this conference, but some future conference. It becomes one of the threads that is, uh, routinely discussed. And, 18 months down the road, someone with a magic wand comes and says, now, we'd like to set up that first office, you know, so here, here's your seed fund. Here's your team of 10 people. Good luck, See if you can make it go, and start from that position. And one of the other things we, you know, within fiction, you can assume all of these things, but one of the engineering tools that we use is called TRIZ, which is, the theory of inventive problem solving, which is really clever process. We talk about that another day day Tom and it encourages you to imagine the ideal outcome. You know, what is the best possible, greatest thing that could happen, and how are you gonna get there? You know, and like you say, what are those first steps? You know, we get, uh, some public discussion about it and it gradually works its way, into reality, you know? So, a related thing, if you like, is, larger public awareness. So one of the reasons we wrote the positive outcome climate fiction short stories was to encourage people to imagine that there was a future where we could fix the climate crisis, not just the Mad Max sequel and that they wanted to work in that and become involved in it. So you bring thousands of new, enthusiastic, dedicated people into it, but also that we can take those stories and make them into TV programs so that you meet a much larger audience now see it. You remember the uh Don't Look Up that was on Netflix last year. You know, it got a huge following and it was a beautiful analogy, but they failed. They all dieTom Raftery:
Unfortunate outcome.. No, not wanting to spoil it for anybody, you know, but you know, it's, uh, a non optimum outcome. And what we'd like to do is put out some stories out there, you know, on Netflix and BBC or whoever, and build a narrative where, yeah, it's gonna be big and it's gonna be tough and it's gonna be hard work. And we're gonna do it and we're gonna get there. And get people to say, you know, when they're talking about it with their grumpy uncle who's still denying climate change. So, well, have you seen this, you know, climate Black Mirror episode or whatever, and watch it , you know? And you can see a group of determined people fixing an impossible problem. And then another one, you know, and that's the kind of mindset we believe is necessary to work through the scale of the problem in order to get to the solution to the other side and, and to the other side, you know?Tom Raftery:
So a Netflix series, we could call it Blue Mirror.Steve Willis:
Yeah. Yeah. It's had several, uh, penciled in names. Yes.. Yeah. The green black mirror or something.Tom Raftery:
We're coming towards the end of the podcast now, Steve, is there any question I haven't asked you that you wish I had, or is there any aspect of this that we haven't touched on that you think it's important for people to think about?Steve Willis:
I suppose just to reiterate the point, this isn't, a huge push to unilaterally declare independence. This is a invitation to join a conversation if you like. What are the answers? I dunno them all. Can we think of some? Of course we can. Can we have fun exploring and expanding the narrative? Uh, I'm sure we will. And does it have a feel of a really powerful potential solution? I think it does. And you know, we should embrace that.Tom Raftery:
Okay, superb. And if people want to know more about yourself or the idea of the ocean as a nation or any of the things we discussed in the podcast today, where would you have me direct them?Steve Willis:
Well I'm on LinkedIn. As we said last time, being an engineer, I still haven't worked out of Twitter works and uh, by the time I get round to it, there'll be something else. So, but nevermind. And the other one is the green stories link that, Denise gave you last week. So on that particular link, there's a subset of the ocean stories. So the, uh, the first page of each of the stories is there and, a technical summary of some of the topics that have been explored. So, um, there's lots of good resources in that And there's also a recording of some of the stories on the SoundCloud that was made for the resilience pavilion at COP 27.Tom Raftery:
Perfect. I'll put those links in the show notes so everyone has access to them. Brilliant. Steve, that's been fantastic. Thanks a million for coming on the podcast today.Steve Willis:
Thank you very much, Tom. See you again soon.Tom Raftery:
Okay, we've come to the end of the show. Thanks everyone for listening. If you'd like to know more about the Climate Confident podcast, feel free to drop me an email to Tom firstname.lastname@example.org. Or message me on LinkedIn or Twitter. If you like the show, please, don't forget to click follow on it in your podcast application of choice to get new episodes as soon as they're published. Also, please don't forget to rate and review the podcast. It really does help new people to find the show. Thanks, catch you all next time.