105. Why Dale Vince is a Successful Serial Climate Entrepreneur
With the G7 Summit happening in just a few days, things are looking good for it being a big moment for climate. Foreign Ministers have noted the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable, Health Ministers have made the link between health and the environment, Finance Ministers have supported mandating climate related disclosures…the momentum is real. But we’ve been here before with the same words and no action, so what is different this time around?
Later on in the episode we speak with serial climate entrepreneur, Dale Vince. Dale is a tireless force of nature. So far he’s founded a successful Green Energy company, Ecotricity; he’s Chairman of Forest Green Rovers, the world’s first all vegan, carbon neutral football team; and his company Skydiamond makes precious gems from carbon capture. We hear what underlies Dale’s motivation and how his determined, stubborn optimism has made his ventures successful in demonstrating what we can still do to solve challenges posed by the climate crisis. And…is there a possible future for him in politics?
And finally, we hear a stirring spoken word piece titled, “Air” by Mel Chanté.
Thanks for joining us!
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Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:01:56] Hello and welcome to Outrage and Optimism, I’m Tom Rivett-Carnac,
Christiana Figueres: [00:01:59] I’m Christiana Figueres.
Paul Dickinson: [00:02:01] And I’m Paul Dickenson.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:02:02] This week we discussed the upcoming G-7 Heads of Government summit. We speak to Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity. Plus, we have poetry from Mel Chante. Thanks for being here.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:02:30] OK, so this is a big week, I live in the southwest of England and I can attest that some beautiful spring weather will be awaiting the G-7 heads of government when they arrive just around the corner in Cornwall in a few days. The heads of government of the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US, and the head of the Council of the EU will all be in Cornwall in a few days’ time. And it is looking positive that this will be a big moment for climate already in the pre-meetings of ministers that always happen in the run-up to these things, there’s been some good signs. The foreign ministers have noted the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable. The health ministers have acknowledged the link between health, environment, and climate change. The trade ministers have agreed that addressing climate change needs coordination. The finance ministers have supported mandating climate-related financial disclosures and reaffirmed a commitment to 100 billion dollars in finance for developing countries and the environment ministers have committed to transitioning away from coal and ending international financing of coal power plants.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:32] Now, that’s all good stuff. And of course, it comes within the context of a global deal on a minimum tax threshold that will theoretically add much-needed revenue to all public coffers and help governments deal with thorny issues like climate change. However, we’ve been here before and we should be cautious. A previous G-7 communique said that heads of state would, and I quote, urgently reduce our dependence on imported energy through conservation and the development of clean alternative sources. And I wonder, would either of my co-host like to guess the year that was part of it?
Paul Dickinson: [00:04:08] 1973?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:04:08] Pretty good. Pretty good. It’s not, but only because that was not a G-7 in 1973. The first G7 was 1975, and that was from the original G-7 communique in 1975. So the question we have to ask.
Paul Dickinson: [00:04:20] That was a test to see if you knew when the G7 started.
Christiana Figueres: [00:04:24] Your point is we haven’t moved.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:04:27] Well, the point is, is this going to be any different? Or will people be sitting here in another 45 years and reflecting on the fact that there were good words but no action? What do we think?
Paul Dickinson: [00:04:39] I mean, there’s an even bigger problem, Tom, which is that basically you’ve said all the things I wanted to say and I’ve been preparing for a couple of days. Sorry, Christiana, you were about to say.
Christiana Figueres: [00:04:47] I was going to say if in 45 years we come around and still I’m asking this question, we will all be glug, glug, glug, glug, glug underwater.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:04:56] Well, there’s that. Exactly. But seriously, I mean, the G-7 is an interesting mechanism, right? It’s the richest countries. Not necessary the richest. Rich, democratic developed countries. They have a moral responsibility to lead. This is a key moment and we cannot have a successful COP26 at the end of the year unless the G-7 goes well. First of all, do you agree with that assessment? And secondly, how do you think it’s going to go?
Paul Dickinson: [00:05:19] Yeah, no, I mean, look, it’s fabulous news, isn’t it, that governments are all coming together like this. Couldn’t be happier. The communique from the finance ministers read absolutely superbly, nothing to really not like they’re at all. A task force on nature-related financial disclosure. How exciting is that? And this recommitment to the hundred billion now? Yeah, I also did read some article in The Guardian talking about biodiversity, saying the world has failed to meet a single target to stem the destruction of wildlife in the last decade, according to the UN. So, yeah, we are in danger of announcing ourselves into a state of relaxation. It is the time to turn, you know, these proclamations into action before we, you know, collapse.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:06:06] Well, but I mean, proclamations aren’t enough, but they are important, right. And they do move us forward to a certain degree. What do you think, Christiana?
Christiana Figueres: [00:06:12] Thank you for reading that out from the 1975 statement, Tom. It really does raise a very important question and that is what is different between 1975 and the year 2021. And I would say what I think is different and I don’t know if this is just because I’m such a stubborn optimist, is that there is that 1975 statement I think is a flag that was raised without and maybe to waffle in the wind without much ground under it. My sense is that the same flag basically being raised now is raised on much firmer ground. And it is ground that is enriched both by the understanding of the science, as well as much more awareness of the impacts, but also, and most importantly, a very, very quickly growing realization that we’re actually better off by doing this. I mean, will we stop this doom and gloom thing because it is driving me nuts. We have to move and we are moving over toward understanding that it is simply a better world. It is a safer world. It is better for everyone. We have better jobs, better air, better energy. On and on and on and on. Better land use. And we have to finally get over that hump in order to ensure that this flag that will hopefully be raised again by the G-7 really stands on such firm land that it will not falter.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:08:06] I’m sure we all agree to make these unprecedented changes in our societies. There’s no turning back now and we have to have reached a point of no return. And all the closed doors have to open. And anyone that tries to stand in the way of that must be told. What was that phrase used? Cristiana, I can’t handle the negativity anymore. We’ve got to get rid of it.
Paul Dickinson: [00:08:29] I sense, Christiana, with that reflection back on 1975, I know you well enough to know that slightly depressed you, which I think is understandable. And to just dig a bit further into your analysis there, it’s tricky, right? Because I do believe that this moment is different and that we can actually precipitate more breakthroughs now because of the work that’s gone on in the intervening years between then and now to establish the transformation of economics, to establish the alternatives, et cetera. But the interesting thing, based on what you just said, is it was always true that we’d be better off if we did this. Energy independence was the thing in those days, and it was true even then that the US and EU and other places would have been better off being independent from the sources of fossil fuels and all of the problems that that’s created in the intervening years. And it wasn’t enough to make that transformation. It’s taken those intervening years to actually create the structures and the pathways to now mean that we have a real shot, because it’s true that in 1975 it was kind of hot air. All of our futures depend on whether this is hot air or whether it’s real this time.
Christiana Figueres: [00:09:37] Yeah, I mean, it was always true. But honestly, did we understand that it was true? No. I think, you know, if you had polled even, you know, highly educated people, I think the poll results would have told you, well, you know, it’s a huge cost. It’s a huge responsibility. But we would not have had the benefits, which are now even core benefits, the core, not coal, core benefits understood, until very recently Tom. Very recently. And I would actually argue these are even post Paris understandings that we have now been gathering. The other thing that is fundamentally different is we were not standing at the precipice in 1975 and now we are. We are staring down the precipice and we have to make up our mind. Are we going to jump or are we actually going to build a bridge? And the choice is very clear. We have totally run out of time. We had a much, much more lax sense of timing in 1975. It’s just not there. That whole elasticity of choice has been totally removed.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:10:56] Paul, I’m really curious because one of the things that’s in this G-7 communique, I think stronger than any before, is about disclosure. Taskforce on climate-related financial disclosures is central. What do you think? You’ve worked on disclosure of corporate climate risk for decades. It feels like it’s an idea that’s coming of age.
Paul Dickinson: [00:11:18] I’m going to tell you a story, are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Paul Dickinson: [00:11:32] Well, it was more than 20 years ago when myself and Tessa and others we began disclosure, it used to be carbon then, not climate. But we built it up and Paul and Jeremy and others. And we all spent years and years and years. And then and then Mr. Miliband gave us some money for Climate Disclosure Standards Board and then lovely Mr. Carney coming from the Bank of England and made the task force. And now look it. All the biggest governments have come together, brings tears to my eyes to know that it’s all turned out right in the end. It gives me real confidence for us to be able to do things if we work together to achieve.
Paul Dickinson: [00:12:24] I can see tears just rolling down the eyes of Tom and Christina. They are in a state. So I’m going to just pull us back for a second after that kind of quite heartwarming story, actually. A bit of a personal story that. Tears running down my own cheeks, in fact. You know, that moment of realization that you talked about.
Christiana Figueres: [00:12:45] You know Paul, just to be clear, I sometimes tear up because of my passion about climate change, but I also tear up when I am laughing so hard as I’m now.
Paul Dickinson: [00:12:57] You can use that if it’s easier for you, Christiana. But I know when a soul’s been changed.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:13:03] Christiana is famously afraid of showing her emotions.
Paul Dickinson: [00:13:06] The power of a story, just a simple story, of people with laptops and intention. You know the insects. I know it’s a kind of a ridiculous thing, but I just want to mention it. The terrible things about the insects dying. I was at a conference and the novelist Vandana Shiva just sort of looked at us all and said insecticide. And we were like. Oh, yeah, of course, if you use insecticides, you will kill all the insects, and it’s like I think we’re at a moment like that about the climate. We’ve just realized, like, I loved what you said, Cristiana, we’re at the precipice and we either just, like, jump off or build a bridge. It’s the perfect metaphor. Very special moment in the history of the world.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:13:55] So you do feel, and we’ll move on to other things, but you do feel like this is a moment of inflection and maybe just explain for the listener quite what is happening in disclosure. Just give us a couple of minutes on why this is important.
Christiana Figueres: [00:14:06] If you can. If you can. If you can muster it.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:14:10] This is a test. What have you learned in 25 years of working on this issue?
Paul Dickinson: [00:14:14] Do you want me to talk fast or slow? It’s your choice. I can talk at an incredible speed or slowly. You know, it’s just a choice. Which would you prefer?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:14:21] I think I’m going to go for medium, not being quite sure of what either extreme consists of.
Paul Dickinson: [00:14:25] We’ll broadly speaking, myself and others started an NGO called the Carbon Disclosure Project back in the year 2001 and we work to get companies to disclose to their investors. Because investors are very interested in how companies perform and also to their customers. And it grew over time. But accounting standards bodies got involved from about 2007, 2008, the distinguished work of Lois Guthrie and others bringing together the big four accountants. And they built up guidance for how companies should report. And then the genius of Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, was to broaden that out into an industry wide intergovernmental coalition that came up with the TCFD, the task force on climate-related financial disclosure. And now, with many thousands of companies reporting against the task force’s guidelines on how companies should report in their annual reports to their regulators about their greenhouse gas emissions and their strategy on climate change. With all of that happening primarily out of groups of central bankers and others. National governments have said, right, it is time that we use the power of our parliaments, of our laws, to make sure that companies across the whole world report formally on their greenhouse gas emissions strategy, on climate change, and critically how they are decarbonizing to keep us below two degrees or indeed one and a half degrees, which is critical for the global business system to operate within planetary boundaries. Hurrah for the governments.
Christiana Figueres: [00:15:49] Wait a second, do I say amen or genuflect?
Paul Dickinson: [00:15:53] You could do either. Both would be ideal, you know.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:15:58] All right, so this is the moment I would say. So, basically what you’re saying is if you’re an investor and climate change is going to have a material impact on the companies you put your money into, we’re now getting to the point where those companies are going to consistently disclose all the information you need and that is going to change how money is invested and that is going to change the world.
Paul Dickinson: [00:16:16] Well, I hope so. I mean, what would really change how money is invested is if we can tax carbon. And actually, I do want to bring up the fact that the G-7 communiqué of finance ministers said that they would use the optimal range of policy levers to price carbon. So the point is, there’s no point in measuring it if there’s no price for it. But if there’s a price for it and you measure it, then financial markets can do what they do very, very well, which is change everything at speed.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:16:40] Cool. All right. Well, we’re going to move on to our interview in a second. Anything either of you’d like to raise before we do so?
Paul Dickinson: [00:16:47] I actually wanted to read out from James Miller, age 19, from Glasgow in the UK, who sent this request via email. He said, at the moment it’s looking unlikely that we will close the gap between current 2030 pledges and where we need to be. So what happens next? If the ratchet mechanism means that it takes another few years before governments will go through another round of ambition raising? How can we get everyone’s policies and plans aligned with one and a half degrees in place with all the urgency that is needed to implement the actual changes by 2030? Good question. I guess that would be a question for you, Christiana.
Christiana Figueres: [00:17:17] A question for me, OK. Very important question. The fact is that some governments, let’s say the EU, the United States, to begin with, but some others as well, have actually already put up their 2030 pledges that are in line with a halving of emissions. But it’s not good enough to just have a few. We have to have global emissions go down to one-half. So that is the work from here to Glasgow. And in the event that all countries come forward, we do have to remember that what is materially important is that the large countries, the large economies, do it because emission levels will mostly depend on them. There is no guarantee that this is going to happen. But because there is self enlightened interest here of governments, of corporations, of financial institutions, there is likely to be a movement toward accelerating these mitigation commitments over the next few years. So are we pinning our hopes on a leaf that is floating down the river, maybe. But, we have the market and the economics on our side, and last time I looked, the dollar was actually quite powerful. Sadly so, because I wouldn’t want to say this whole thing depends on capitalism. But right now, it could be aided by capitalism until we have an alternative to capitalism. And before we move on to other things, a shout out to the very same James Miller, who has been involved in a countdown clock that is now live in Glasgow. So this clock is actually going to be counting down the time until we overrun our carbon budget for one point five degrees. And it’s going to be counting up the percentage of world energy generated by renewables. So a very interesting visual of outrage and optimism. And we will put it in the show notes so that you can take a look and follow James’s clock.
Paul Dickinson: [00:19:34] That’s brilliant. Outrage and optimism by the numbers. Well done, James.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:19:39] I’m actually going to read a very short one and you’ll understand why in a minute. This is from Tatizi Abuzer in Australia. And she said so, so, so, so, so very good and inspiring. Thank you. #ClayCrush. So I’m hoping we get that trending.
Clay Carnill: [00:19:57] It’s a movement.
Paul Dickinson: [00:20:00] It’s a movement. It’s not a moment. It’s a movement. Maybe I’ve got one, you know?
Clay Carnill: [00:20:05] It’s going worldwide, from Yorkshire, now Australia.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:20:09] The hashtag people is #ClayCrush.
Clay Carnill: [00:20:10] Yes. And it’s growing. Our movement is growing stronger every day.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:20:16] Ok, so this week we have an incredible conversation for you with the tenacious and innovative Dale Vince. Now, Dale is a remarkable force of nature. He founded Ecotricity, who will be known to many UK listeners as the first one hundred percent clean energy electricity provider, Green Energy Company. He’s also the chairman of Forest Green Rovers, the world’s first plant-based carbon-neutral football, or soccer, team. And his company, SkyDiamond, makes precious gems from carbon capture. His next adventure may well be in UK politics. This great interview that Christiana and I did, sadly, Paul couldn’t make it, we hear what underlies Dale’s motivation and how his determined and stubborn optimism has made his venture successful in demonstrating what we can do to solve the challenges posed by the climate crisis. You’re going to really enjoy this. This is Dale Vince. We’ll see you on the other side.
Christiana Figueres: [00:21:14] Dale, thanks so much for taking the time to join us on a day in which your team is playing. So you must be sitting on the edge of your seat.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:21:22] He’s not missing the match, we should point out. His commitment is not high to the podcast.
Christiana Figueres: [00:21:25] We will make sure that we release Dale. We will make sure that we release you.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:21:34] Are you in the stadium?
Dale Vince: [00:21:36] Oh, absolutely. I’ll show you the views.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:21:40] Oh, fantastic.
Christiana Figueres: [00:21:41] Oh, wow.
Dale Vince: [00:21:42] So I’m looking out the window.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:21:44] So, listeners, we’re looking at a pitch that’s currently empty. But I’m very sorry that we’re not. I think maybe we’ll stay with you live stream the game.
Christiana Figueres: [00:21:53] Very exciting, but we will make sure that we release you before that starts. But Dale that actually is a very nice place to start. You have had such a, I would say, colorful life with so many different completely different components. Right. From New Age traveler to the founder of Ecotricity to. Honestly, Dale, so many things that you bring together that for most people actually belong in completely different silos. Right?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:22:24] We haven’t even gotten to the sky diamonds yet.
Christiana Figueres: [00:22:26] Yeah, I know, we’ll get to the diamonds. But we would love you to give us. And sadly, it has to be an executive summary of how did you end up with the idea of: A, buying a football team, B, making them fully vegan and how do you keep them vegan and, what happens if somebody is caught eating a huge beefsteak on Sunday night? But how did this idea come about and what is your current experience of it?
Dale Vince: [00:23:01] Yeah, so it’s a pretty straightforward story. I never planned to buy a football club, never expected to be involved in football. It began ten years ago, really just as a rescue mission of our local football club. So it’s like, I don’t know, fifteen minutes down the road from where I live, the guys were in trouble. I’d read about it in the local papers. I came to see them and they said a little bit of cash to help us get through the summer and we’re OK. So I did that. The Club was 120 years old. It seemed important, big part of its local community. And then at the end of the summer, they said, look, actually our troubles are bigger than that and you need to kind of take over. Be responsible. I am a bit busy for that I don’t think I want to, but it was a stark choice.
Christiana Figueres: [00:23:42] With all of your experience in that field, of course.
Dale Vince: [00:23:46] That’s right. I don’t think they didn’t care about that. They just want somebody to take responsibility and save it. And so without thinking it through, which is my favorite way to do things, really, because, you know, thinking it through can just get in the way. I thought, well, let’s do it. You know, 120 years old. How hard can it be to run a football club? And that began the journey, the adventure, really. And I immediately bumped into things that we needed to change. I think it was day one or day two. And I saw that we were serving a beef lasagna to our players in the stadium here, training day food. And I was horrified because actually, that made me part of the meat trade and I couldn’t do that. So I sat down with the coach and the chef straight away and said, look, we have to change that. And they said, yeah, no problem, we can do that. Then we sat down with the players and we said, look, red meat is not a diet choice for serious athletes. It will impede your performance and the players were like fine, we’re up for that. So we immediately took red meat off the menu.
Christiana Figueres: [00:24:43] Seriously. That was that was easy? I can’t believe that it was that easy.
Dale Vince: [00:24:47] It was that easy.
Christiana Figueres: [00:24:49] Come on. Come on.
Dale Vince: [00:24:50] I’m a willful person, and that may have had an impact.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:24:57] It wasn’t presented as an option, I’m sensing.
Dale Vince: [00:25:00] Well, I guess. I mean, for me, it wasn’t an option. If somebody had said to me, you can’t do this, that’s not possible or you’re not allowed to do it or whatever. I would not have stayed part of the football club because that was the choice I was not going to make. I wasn’t going to be a part of the meat trade for anybody or anything. And The Sun newspaper called it the red meat ban. They made us national news and that gave us a platform to talk about why we were doing it. And really, the whole journey began there because we just kept bumping into things about the club that were wrong, that we have to change according to our principles. And I realized fairly quickly that we were going to have to, in effect, build a green football club. Something that hadn’t been done before, and that we would be talking to an audience of people that really hadn’t been talked to about these issues before. Sustainability, football fans, you know, they don’t kind of go together. And that’s what’s given us the most incredible media coverage around the world. This improbable combination that we’ve pulled off. You know, we’ve made it work.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:25:59] So are we right in saying that all the players, if they’ve played for Forest Green Rovers, are required to be totally plant-based at the stadium, at home? How does that work? How do you police it? Or is that not right?
Dale Vince: [00:26:11] Not right. What we do is we don’t tell anybody what to do. But when we take responsibility for something, so say food, then we do it according to our principles. So it’s not just for players, but it’s also for our fans and our staff and everybody that comes to the stadium. So the food that we prepare for other people is vegan. And our principles are about sustainability and ethics, as well. So it goes beyond food. But food is the issue that gets all of the attention. Even now, 10 years later, it’s all about the food, which is amazing to me. And, you know, veganism is more normal now. You know, it’s quite a well-understood theory.
Christiana Figueres: [00:26:48] But wasn’t ten years ago.
Dale Vince: [00:26:50] No, it wasn’t. You’re right. Which, you know, life moves on, doesn’t it? You know? And our players actually have taken it into their own lives. Every year, two or three players go vegan completely because they feel the benefits. And it’s a lovely story every time it happens. Our fans have gone veggie and vegan. They buy electric cars and solar panels. You know, our fans have embraced and tolerated it. It’s amazing. And what we’ve found is, we came into it thinking we won’t be preaching to the choir. This could be difficult, which made it more appealing to me. And we’ve come out of it and said, you know what, football fans, just like ordinary people, you put this information in front of them. You tell them, why are you doing the things that you do and you let them understand that and take that away with them. And they will make changes in their own lives,
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:27:32] Any vegan-based chants in the stadium. And I used to go to quite a lot of football matches and the chants are often quite colorful.
Dale Vince: [00:27:39] I’m going to give you two. My favorite is when we played Bath. Very early on, we were a couple of years in and we were winning four nil. It was my birthday, I remember it. So they were four nil down and they sang this song to the tune of an old 60s’ number “Where’s your mama gone?” And they were singing “Where’s your burger van? Where’s your burger van?” Just taunting us which was so sweet and funny. I love that. That was a classic, but less, less, less humorous. A couple of years ago we played Tranmere and one of our guys fell over and laid on the ground for a little while and they shouted out something like. You’ll probably won’t want this. You’ll edit it. But I’ll tell you anyway, they shout out: “The dirty vegan bastard, he’s eating our grass”.
Christiana Figueres: [00:28:22] But you know what is fascinating to me, Dale, is that it really, are two very powerful stories of what you speak about in your book about green populism and the importance of actually just telling stories, changing the narrative with your own life, with your own experience, as opposed to reciting a whole bunch of numbers and complicated graphs to people and just making this human. Humanizing it, making it as normal as your kitchen table or as normal as what you and your family eat. And it’s just such a different approach that honestly, I wish we would all follow much more that example.
Dale Vince: [00:29:09] Understood. We like to share by doing. For me, it’s the most important thing. I’ve been in renewable energy nearly 25 years now, which is like forever. And I’ve tried to use business as a tool to bring sustainability into the world to prove that sustainability is a business issue, that it’s not a worthy cause just. But it’s actually where the jobs and the economy of the future are. And I’ve done it in energy, transport and food. And football is a place where we bring all three together. And what we like to say is, that living this green lifestyle isn’t about giving stuff up. We can have burgers, cars, footballs and even, football sorry, and even diamonds now. It’s about doing things differently. There’s a better, other, way to do everything. And we can have a great life, but with a much lower impact. And that’s what we were about, trying to show people.
Christiana Figueres: [00:29:55] So do we have to go into the diamonds now?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:30:00] Can I just ask you one question before we go there? Because we spend a lot of time talking to business leaders who run large companies. They want to transform them. And there’s a lot of, you know, there’s a lot of leadership now, but there’s a lot of foot-dragging as well. And until recently, there’s been a lot of like, well, we can’t do this until we get that kind of regulation and we need this thing to change. And there’s a lot of barriers. And I just want to like, you know, you’ve been running a renewable energy business since 1996 when most school strikers who are changing the world now probably weren’t born and you haven’t waited for these other elements of society to move forward. So I’m just wondering how come you were able to do that? And is it just a question of conviction, determination, jumping in? And do you think that many of these other things could be moved forward if people were a bit more front foot with their convictions? Or do you think some of these arguments about structural barriers to progress are real?
Dale Vince: [00:30:54] If I was to give you a one-word answer, I’d say, yes. All you have to do is have the will.
Christiana Figueres: [00:31:00] To which many questions?
Dale Vince: [00:31:03] The first one, the first one. It is just about the will to do it. It is just about the will. So that’s what I found. And like I said before, I’m a very willful person and I’m not interested in reasons that something can’t be done, only in how to find a way to do things. And often you hear about big companies with CSR plans and targets after 2050 and stuff like that. And I think because if you really want to do something, you can do it. People say to me how do you do it in that sort of football club, just do it. It’s the most important thing. Structural problems, they exist, but they are not reasons not to get cracking. They’re really not. We need governments of the world to change the playing field. At the moment it’s uneven. It’s tilted in favour of fossil fuels and animal farming. The two big things driving all of the crises affecting us. And so we need to change the subsidies, the taxes, and the regulations. Absolutely. But look, it’s happening. People want this stuff. They want electric cars, plant-based food, and that kind of stuff. Businesses are delivering it. It could happen faster if governments get involved, but it’s happening anyway.
Christiana Figueres: [00:32:05] And do people want a different kind of diamond?
Dale Vince: [00:32:08] I think they do. I think they do.
Christiana Figueres: [00:32:10] And what is that?
Dale Vince: [00:32:11] So, SkyDiamonds is an idea I came up with quite a while ago, first, probably ten years ago, and then we started working on it seven years ago and I was daydreaming about geoengineering. I had to take carbon into the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis because after we reduce emissions to zero, we still got too much carbon in the atmosphere. And I realized that was only half the job. We actually had to lock it up into an enduring form of carbon. It was a quick skip from there to realize that the most enduring form we know of is a diamond. And I wondered it, wouldn’t it be amazing if we could take atmospheric carbon, which we have too much of, and use it to make diamonds, which we quite like to have? And so we worked on the process for about five years. What I love about it is this 21st-century technology is not low carbon, it’s not zero-carbon, it’s negative carbon. And that’s exactly the kind of process that we need. Our ingredient list is the wind, the sun, the rain, and atmospheric carbon. That’s it. Nothing more. It’s probably the cleanest industrial process ever created because the air that we put back into the atmosphere is cleaner than the air that we take out. And so I love everything about it. And then we looked at the diamond mining industry and the impact of that. And these guys, they dig eleven hundred tons of rock and stone to make a fifth of a gram carat of diamond. Eleven hundred tons for a fifth of a gram. They use 4000 litres of water and create a half a tonne of greenhouse gas emissions for that fifth of a gram. And so it’s an enormous impact before you get into the social.
Christiana Figueres: [00:33:43] To say nothing about labor conditions, Dale, right? To say nothing about the labor conditions there, in addition to.
Dale Vince: [00:33:50] There’s nothing good about diamond mining. So when we launched the idea in November last year, we at the same time, rather ambitiously, called for the end of diamond mining. But we do think that it’s on the cards. You know, our argument is that we don’t need to mine the Earth because we can now mine the sky to make the very same thing we like to call it: the bling without the sting.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:34:12] Bling without the sting. That’s our episode title for sure, right there.
Christiana Figueres: [00:34:16] Totally, bling without the sting. I love it. And well, sorry, we’re like tripping over each other because we’re so fascinated about this. Dale, and what kind of reaction are you getting from potential or actually even actual clients for these sky diamonds?
Dale Vince: [00:34:35] The first reaction we’ve had is incredulity, I would say. Like what did you just say? Like, are you being serious? You know, I’ve been talking about the idea. I mean, I’ve been working on it for, like, almost seven years. And the handful of people I’ve mentioned to have just looked at me like I’ve just gone and lost it. You know, they’re like, what does this guy? So we’re making top quality. The quality of the stones we make are amongst the top one percent of all mined diamonds in the world in terms of clarity and color. So they’re you know, they’re absolutely up there but they come with no sting, no environmental sting.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:35:17] And scale? I mean, you could presumably scale this up and produce, there’s no shortage of carbon in the air, as we know for other problems. You can scale it up and produce as many as we need. Is that true?
Dale Vince: [00:35:26] Yeah, absolutely. So the moment we can make, by the summer, we’ll be able to make about 200 carats a month, which is a drop in the ocean. But within a year we should be about a thousand, which is still a drop in the ocean. But, you know, we have ambitions to go further because the more we can make, the less mining happens. And I think it’s again, kind of the way the world is moving, you know, particularly amongst younger people. They’re very conscious of these issues. And there’s a whole movement away from mine, diamonds already. You know, I think last year, 600 million pounds or dollars worth of man-made diamonds were sold in the American market alone. So it’s a kind of trend that we’re hoping to help accelerate with this very special kind of man-made diamond made from the sky.
Christiana Figueres: [00:36:09] And what about price point, Dale? At what point, I imagine the more you make, the more the price drops. At what point will you be at cost parity with, and a similar type quality mined diamond.
Dale Vince: [00:36:23] Now.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:36:25] Now?
Dale Vince: [00:36:26] Right now. Right now. Absolutely. So that’s how we launch and as we make more we’ll make them cheaper. We want to make them more accessible. When I started with the idea, I thought, wouldn’t it be really cool to be able to deliver at the end of a year to a company its entire carbon footprint in the form of a sack full of diamonds? So they can give to their employees, you know, wouldn’t that be amazing?
Christiana Figueres: [00:36:51] I love that.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:36:54] I love the topic of sky diamonds. I’ve got lots of questions. There’s something you said earlier that really fascinated me, so Christiana, you only got more sky diamonds questions? Or, can I take us back instead?
Christiana Figueres: [00:37:01] Well, go ahead. Go ahead. Well, because remember, he needs to go for the game.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:37:07] We can’t keep you too long. So you said a fascinating thing earlier, which was about when you were talking about going vegan with the football team and you said you got picked up by The Sun and they kind of slightly ridiculed it. Now, most football teams, most businesses are terrified of ridicule from the tabloids. But what you said was we got picked up by the Sun and that gave us a platform for transformation. Can you talk a bit about how you can, you know, that’s not how most people think about that type of coverage. Can you take us inside that and how you use that kind of media coverage for change?
Dale Vince: [00:37:43] Absolutely. I think it is an attitude thing. I’m not afraid of adverse arguments or coverage or stuff like that. I mean, in the case of The Sun they sensationalized, what was a very straightforward story about which we had no angst or shame or concern, and they gave us a platform for it. And, you know, the irony is that about a year ago, The Sun’s sport correspondent came to our club, tried our matchday burger and loved it, and wrote a glowing report about it. He’s a big fan of our food now. It was just a bit shocking back in the day. But I’m the kind of person that’s not afraid of publicity, you know, I do see it as a chance to communicate. And if somebody begins that with a controversy or making something sound controversial, when I don’t really think it is. That doesn’t matter to me. You know, I guess we’re just not shy of speaking out and being who we are because it’s an opportunity to communicate, which is what we look for. You know, a lot of people look to manage reputation by not engaging with the media and not sticking their heads up above the parapet, you know, but we’re the other way around. We’re not trying to manage reputation here. We’re trying to start conversations.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:38:52] I love that. That’s amazing.
Christiana Figueres: [00:38:53] That’s another one-liner as title of the episode.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:38:59] Dale, I have to ask you, just because I’m so fascinated, I mean, if you look at the arc of this conversation where Christiana started, you know, Ecotricity, EVs, Forest Green Rovers, SkyDiamonds, a book, what’s next? What are you going to do next?
Dale Vince: [00:39:13] Maybe politics actually. It has crossed my mind.
Christiana Figueres: [00:39:17] Ok. Tell us about that.
Dale Vince: [00:39:19] Well, yeah. It’s where I think we’re lacking. In my analysis, we have the technology. We know that it’s more economic. We have the imperative to act. It’s in our interest not just from the climate crisis perspective, but the human health crisis caused by our diets, the loss of habitat, and wildlife. Even the pandemic is related to our diet because it comes from the animal farming industry. Three-quarters of all zoonotic viruses come from factory farming, for example. So we have the imperative. People increasingly want to see that happen. Businesses are making that possible. And that’s a great kind of combination that’s going places. And where we’re lacking most is politicians, governments to get it. To actually get it and can make the changes, the very small changes that are needed. In Britain we spend 12 billion pounds a year supporting fossil fuels in a world where we know we’ve got to fight the climate crisis. How does that make any sense? We at least need to stop doing things like that. Here we pay 20 percent VAT for solar panels to put on your house. But if you burn coal, you pay five percent VAT. We have to end these anomalies to make it easier to do the right thing. And, yes, I look at it. I think politics is possibly where I could have the most impact now. I’ve been pioneering renewable energy for 25 years, electric vehicles, plant based food. I’ve shown as a business case for all of this. And maybe now there’s a need to get into politics and pull some levers that way. I don’t know.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:40:47] That is very exciting. Okay, I look forward. I’m not going to press you on which party it will be unless you want to tell us.
Dale Vince: [00:40:52] For me, there would only one party that makes sense. That would be the Labor Party.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:40:58] Ok, Ok, love it. Dale, thank you so much.
Christiana Figueres: [00:41:02] I’m not going to press you at what level of politics you want to participate. But if you want to tell us, that’s also good.
Dale Vince: [00:41:09] I’m thinking there’s a general election that looks like it’s two years away now because it’s going to be brought forward. And I thought we were going to lose the first half of this vital decade to a duff government. But they’re going to bring the election forward, I think, to 2023. So maybe as an MP to try to get into parliament, hopefully, to get into government and bring some of these ideas and make them happen.
Christiana Figueres: [00:41:29] Very exciting. Very exciting Dale.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:41:33] Now, I kind like feel like our last question, which is our traditional last question, is kind of not needed for you, Dale. But we have to ask it because we always do. The podcast is called Outrage and Optimism. We think both are needed at this most critical moment. So where do you fall on that spectrum between outraged and optimistic? Are you all of both?
Dale Vince: [00:41:51] I think I’m predominantly optimistic. You know, I don’t waste any emotional time being angry. I’ve been busy instead. And what I can see is leading me to be only optimistic. You know, as I say, we’ve got the technology. We have the imperative. People want it. We can do this. So I’m optimistic.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:42:12] Love it, thank you so much.
Christiana Figueres: [00:42:13] Brilliant. Dale, what a pleasure to talk to someone of that level of optimism and creativity. And also, what a delight to know that you would be willing to put your time and energy into policy and public service. Much, much more difficult, much more frustrating than private sector engagement. So thank you in advance for that. Thank you for your willingness to do that.
Dale Vince: [00:42:41] Thank you. Thank you for saying that. And guys, I’ve had a lovely time here chatting to you, so it’s been a top pleasure.
Christiana Figueres: [00:42:47] Yeah, but we can hear the noise of the warmup. We can hear the noise of the warmup game. So we better let you go.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:42:54] Oh, here it is. Oh, it’s filling up, look at that.
Christiana Figueres: [00:42:59] Warming up. Thank you, Dale. Thank you so much.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:43:11] Great. So how fantastic, we got to sit down with Dale and have a conversation about all the things that have motivated him. As you heard, he was in the stadium watching his football team play as we talk to him. What did you both leave that discussion with?
Christiana Figueres: [00:43:24] What a Renaissance guy, right? He goes from renewable energy company, solar company to building his own sports car to buying a fledgling stadium and turning it completely green and vegan to Devil’s Kitchen, the vegan canteen, to producing diamonds that capture CO2 from rainwater. I mean. What is the common thread around all of this, the common thread is his concern on CO2 concentrations right in the atmosphere. But I just love the way that he doesn’t go at it in just, from one path, from one way of thinking. But he’s actually looking at so many different approaches to this. He’s sort of kaleidoscopic.
Paul Dickinson: [00:44:21] I mean, he’s just amazing. I’ve had the pleasure to meet him before. What a dynamic individual, his head office is in Stroud, which is this little sleepy town in the west of England. And it’s all kind covered with different kind of Ecotricity buildings and just amazing what he’s done. And what I particularly loved, you may have picked up on this, but talking about The Sun newspaper, making fun of him with the football team and him saying, we’re not trying to manage reputation, but we’re trying to start a conversation. What a genius, entrepreneurial way of looking at it and then building out from that. And then, you know what I really loved? He told the story about how football fans, you know, they were like really kind of crazy. They’re like shouting at each other. And his club is all known as the Vegans now. And one of the players goes down on the ground after scoring a penalty and they start shouting: “the vegans are eating the grass”. I love that. You know, it’s just like, it’s such fun in a way, you know what I mean? But actually, you know, maybe this is the start of vegans becoming extremely cool.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:45:25] Yeah, I totally agree. That was the bit that really struck me as well, Paul. And we picked it up in the interview that actually, you know, he sort of said this offhand comment. Oh, they covered really bad news. They gave us this terrible, sensationalist, negative press and that was a platform, so we used that. You know, and it was just this very practical sense of how do you change the world? What are the tools you have available? He seems he’s a very instinctive communicator. I also love the bling without the sting as a description of the diamonds. It’s just genius. And I can see why he’s been so successful in bringing people along with his ideas because he’s very big tent, he’s very ambitious, he’s very entrepreneurial, and he’s very willing to just go with the tools he has available. I thought it was a very inspiring conversation.
Christiana Figueres: [00:46:08] You know, Tom, I don’t know if you. No, I don’t think you had joined at the secretariat yet. When I was newly arrived there and I was offered. No, I was told that I was going to get media training in order to deal with journalists that wanted to condemn the process every day. And one of the things for anyone who’s done media training and one of the things the basic 101 that they teach you is how do you pivot a question? How do you pivot a question or comment that comes at you from one direction? And then you intentionally pivoted to the message that you really want to talk about. The fact that you’re not answering the question is completely irrelevant, but pivoting is really key in getting your message out. And I just think this man does this pivoting not just, you know, in press conferences, but he pivots, he pivots everything that is thrown at him negatively. All the messages, criticisms, he just pivots them so brilliantly to make a much, much better story. So he doesn’t go into the defensive about eating grass or, you know, whatever. He just pivots it to the message that he really wants to put out. And it’s just so brilliant to see him do that as a corporate strategy, not just as a media tool.
Paul Dickinson: [00:47:34] I loved him talking about giving a company their carbon offsets at the end of the year in a little bag full of diamonds. It’s kind of an image when you get it in your head. And you know what? I was always into this idea twenty years ago of sustainability product marketing. What an awful phrase that is. Sustainability product marketing. I found this phrase from Dale Vince that says it so much better. He says: people want what they’re comfortable with, what they know, but business can shift the paradigm and introduce the new things that nobody wants yet, the new things. And he’s absolutely right. I’m going to give you one more little jewel, a little diamond from Dale Vince that I found. He said, government sets the framework, business adapts and people respond, but not necessarily in that order. What a gem, what a real gem, a diamond-making gem, a gem that makes diamonds, you got the idea.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:48:31] Awesome. All right. What fun this has been. So we now go and is there anything else?
Paul Dickinson: [00:48:36] Well, I have several lengthy stories, but I just don’t think you’re going to allow me to do them. I might do them on my own. Okay, so what happened many years ago…
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:48:46] So moving on, we have this week playing us out. We have a real treat for you. Mel Chanté is a poet and an author and an artist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her soothing voice combines spoken word, storytelling and melody into a rhythmic kind of ethereal experience. And today she’s performing her poem, Air. As ever, she is here to explain the art and the stories behind it. We’ll leave you with her. Thank you so much for joining us this week and we’ll see you next week.
Mel Chante: [00:49:17] My name is Mel Chante. And my poem, Air is inspired by the air that we breathe and the breath within us and how, sometimes some people want to take that breath away, especially as a minority, a black woman, a black person. This poem was kind of an ode to the breath that we carry and how valuable it is. How it gives us life and how we have given life to the land. I think it’s important for us to talk about social justice because we are all connected to each other and we are all sharing this earth, this land together. We are all humans. We are all feeling people that have families, that have friends that have feelings, and we are all equals. And I think the more that we talk about these things, the more we begin to see each other as equals and, you know, see the love, see that we are all feeling humans. And I think that will help us become more united and more harmonized. From the quality of the air we breathe to the quality of the water we drink, the pipes that we have in our homes, you know, hearing sirens as I’m walking home or someone is walking home. All these things kind of affect the person, you know, living in this type of environment. And I thought it was important to write a poem that embodied that.
Clay Carnill: [00:53:53] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage and Optimism. I’m Clay, producer of the podcast. How is it going? Are you doing OK? This is a friendly check-in. How are you doing? Is it time for a walk outside? It might be time for a walk outside. Mel Chante with the lyrics, sound design, vocal artistry, and poetry. That was that track called Air. It’s amazing. Like all of our artists on this podcast, Mel is really talented, and there’s so much more for you to check out. She has visuals you can go watch. She has a podcast. Shout-out to a fellow podcaster. It’s called The Daily Shine. She has a newsletter and last but not least, a killer EP titled Flo that is on all streaming services. You can check it out, stream it, share it, and enjoy. So Flo is really good. I’ve been spinning it in between editing the podcast today. It’s hip hop with some lo-fi boom-bap. And just on top of it is Mel’s lyrical mastery like icing on the cake, some really engaging lyrics about black empowerment, female empowerment and just loving yourself. So go spin it. It honestly made a weekday feel like a Saturday. Mel Chante. So have you seen Breaking Boundaries? It was amazing. You absolutely need to go check it out. Why? Because, well, A, it’s a great film. But two, B, two, B, we’re hosting a live event regarding the film with some people involved in the film on June 21st. And you got to register for that live event. You can do that at our website. globaloptimism.com. Sign up for the newsletter. You’ll get details right to your inbox. Did anybody else get kind of freaked out by those CGI people walking away from the earth? And it was like green and then it was yellow and then it was red and they were just like still walking?
Clay Carnill: [00:55:57] Yeah, that kind of freaked me out. Anyway, go watch the film. You’ll know what I’m talking about. Outrage and optimism is a global optimism production. Our executive producer is Sharon Johnson and our producer is Clay Carnill. Global optimism is Sara Law, Katie Bradford, Lara Richardson, Marina Monsilla Hermann, Freya Newman, Santiago Monge, Sarah Thomas, Sue Reed and John Ward. And our hosts are Christiana Figueres, Paul Dickinson and Tom Rivett-Carnac. Thank you to our guest this week, Dale Vince. I was thinking about it this week. And I think Dale Vince is the perfect combination of Tony Stark, who’s Iron Man from the Marvel Comics, Ted Lasso and Richard Branson. What I’m trying to say is he has the ambition, willpower, the indomitable onwardness that all sums up as stubborn optimism. Anyway. Ecotricity, Forest Green Rovers, SkyDiamonds and more. All in the show notes. Free to go check out. OK, yes. So #ClayCrush is absolutely sweeping the Internet, but let’s remember how we got here. If you love this podcast, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. We might just read what you have to say, live on the show. And @GlobalOptimism is how you stay up to date on what’s going on in the climate. So please give us a follow and message us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. OK, as always, lots for you to check out in the show notes and you can always go to globaloptimism.com to find everything that we mentioned in the show. Another episode coming next week. So hit subscribe and we’ll see you then.