106. Warren East of Rolls-Royce says Nature is the Best Engineer
This week, we take a look at the latest pledges to arise from the G7 heads of government, who met over the weekend in Cornwall. Are these announcements indicative that the seven biggest western economies are really showing up to achieve a 1.5 world? Can this close the Gigatons gap in the run up to COP26? Can the Group of Seven offer developing countries funding alternatives to Beijing’s so-called ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative? Christiana, Tom, and Paul help us sort out this mixed bag of a weekend for climate.
Our special guest this week is Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, an engineer by training and now leading a business in one of the hardest sectors to decarbonise: Aviation.
Aviation accounts for a significant 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions today, and growing. As the sector starts to recover from huge losses as a result of the pandemic, how does Rolls-Royce see the future for the sector and beyond the pandemic and into the climate crisis? We’ll hear from Warren on how the historic innovation of Rolls-Royce has the potential to lead us into a cleaner, more sustainable future of flight.
And stick around ’til the end because our music this week is from Asher Monroe! He’ll be performing live for us his single, ‘Midnight Masquerade’.
Thanks for joining us!
Christiana + Tom’s book ‘The Future We Choose’ is available now!
Subscribe to our Climate Action Newsletter: Signals Amidst The Noise
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:12] Hello and welcome to Outrage and Optimism, I’m Tom Rivett-Carnac.
Christiana Figueres: [00:00:16] I’m Christiana Figueres.
Paul Dickinson: [00:00:17] And I’m Paul Dickinson.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:19] This week we pick up the pieces on the G-7 commitments and ask what was achieved in Cornwall. We speak to Warren East, CEO of Rolls-Royce, and we have music from Asher Monroe. Thanks for being here.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:00:46] So last week on this podcast, we presaged the G7 summit in sunny Cornwall and now on what is effectively the morning after we can pick up the pieces. And it was a mixed bag, in all honesty. On one side, a firm commitment to end coal in G7 countries and a 2.8 billion dollar fund to help developing countries do the same. Obviously not sufficient financing for the whole task, but an interesting signal. There was also some clarity on net-zero roadmap, something the U.K. has been criticized for not doing. And the communique stated that G7 countries will now commit to setting out long-term plans and concrete pathways. There was also the G7 nature compact, which has a whole bunch of stuff in it about biodiversity negotiations. But critically, it commits G7 countries to supporting the goal of protection of 30 percent land and ocean by 2030. That last bit was expected, but they also clearly stated, interestingly, that this should not be an excuse for them or others to hold back on decarbonization. So that’s all pretty good stuff. On the other side, we saw no more details on the commitment that rich nations will provide 100 billion a year in financing to help developing countries. That was recommitted to. But honestly, that’s pretty weak at this point. And there was a whole bunch of noise about the G7 alternative to the Chinese Belt and Road initiative, an attempt to come together and finance green infrastructure around the world. But as the BBC reported rather wonderfully, this new Marshall Plan appears to have been invented at the last minute and without even the most basic of details. So aside from scallops on the beach and tea with the queen, there was also a bunch of other stuff that we’ll get into. But let’s start there, Christiana. How did you read this G7 in Cornwall? Were you pleased with what came out of it?
Christiana Figueres: [00:02:26] Well, I’m impressed that you are so enthusiastic about it, Tom. I think we had higher hopes for this coming out of the ministerials, various ministerials that we had had, which were much more specific and in detail. Now, one has to understand that once all of these issues go up to heads of state level, by definition they lose part of their sharpness and definition in detail. But I thought this was pretty tepid commitments on everything. I was glad that they recommitted to one point five degrees. Let’s remember, that would not have happened a couple of years ago. So that’s a very good thing, as well as the other list of issues that you have mentioned. But, you know, I thought, well, this is a statement that in its depth, in its commitment, in its determination, in its, quote-unquote, stubbornness, to use our stubborn-optimistic definition, its actually pretty weak for a moment that is as definitional as the moment that we are living. I was actually hoping for much more grit.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:03:59] Paul?
Paul Dickinson: [00:04:00] A very fair comment, Christiana, and you’ve kind of taken the wind out of myself because I was very excited about something, but it’s not that I disagree with you because I don’t. Because you’re right. But I wanted to tell you that I got excited about something a bit different. I get excited by very, very grand narratives and I don’t get put off when I tried to sell this concept to the secretary-general of NATO and he batted it off. I just come back again like a bouncy ball. So here’s the thing. I can see the outlines of an absolutely massive competition between different ideologies, and I think that’s really exciting. What am I talking about? On the 31st of May, President Biden said the mission falls to each of us each and every day. Democracy is in peril here at home and around the world. Now, here’s what the G-7 communique said. It said: “we will harness the power of democracy, freedom, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights to answer the biggest questions and overcome the greatest challenges”.
Paul Dickinson: [00:05:12] Now, what am I talking about? Why am I referencing this?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:05:15] That’s a great question.
Paul Dickinson: [00:05:15] And I’m not going to tell you until next week, so just tune back. Now I’ll tell you why this is important. I think one of the reasons why capitalism was successful but not abusive prior to 1990 was that there was an ideological competition with communism that caused capitalists to behave themselves to some degree and to communicate that they needed to architect a better society. We were in that competition and then after the Berlin Wall fell, it was just like, right, capitalism is now going to demolish, you know, the workers in every country. And that’s been happening a little bit. And I think reframing the decarbonization of our societies as a part of a defense and a living of our principles and our beliefs could be very, very healthy and could accelerate action. That’s my hope. I got one nod out of Cristiana, and Tom just looking.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:06:20] I’m wondering how to respond to that. I mean, Christiana, go ahead.
Christiana Figueres: [00:06:24] I’m wondering how to respond to that also.
Paul Dickinson: [00:06:26] I think I might have missed my target then.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:06:29] No, no it’s a beautiful narrative. I think the problem is, though, that, you know what? The truth is that what we wanted at the G7 was something crunchy and specific. This is an emergency. We’ve got a decarbonize. We’ve got a few years. And what you just pointed to, which is a beautiful narrative, is part of the problem. Right? There was flowery language around coming together and improving the future, but there was very little in terms of dollars. Here’s what’s happening. Here’s the progress. Here’s how we’re going to decarbonize. So yes and no.
Christiana Figueres: [00:06:56] So I very seldom put things in war and peace language. Right, because I don’t like the concept of war, but to make an exception to my own rule, I think the statement from the G7 is a peacetime statement and we’re not at peace right now. We have got to be at war with carbon. And so that’s my problem. That is my problem. Right. It is just such a, you know, politically correct. Nice statement. I agree with everything that is being done. Thank you to all stakeholders who are doing a good job. I mean, come on.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:07:38] Yeah. And I mean if you looked at the images that came out of it, but the one that really got me and it got a bit pick up on social media was all the world leaders kind of standing together, sipping champagne and eating scallops, watching the red arrows. For those who aren’t familiar is the sort of group of sort of Air Force fighter jets that fly in formation over the U.K. I mean, I know it’s probably not that much carbon in and of itself, but just the symbolism of trying to negotiate climate change while watching this slightly frivolous display, burning tons of carbon up in the air did look a bit weird.
Paul Dickinson: [00:08:07] But I’m going to take my hats off to the G7 leaders in as much as they stick themselves out in front of the cameras and the media and people criticize them and there’s an open and public debate and, you know, they are standing for elected office in a few years time. And all of that are part of the checks and balances that are important. And I believe systems are being tested here. And I would encourage the government of China to push forward faster with their climate change efforts to show the validity of their system.
Paul Dickinson: [00:08:36] And I think we need to, on a war footing, Cristiana, move forward with our democratic systems to show that we can decarbonize faster because there is a kind of challenge, an existential challenge, not in some Zero-Sum game between nations, but in a collaborative effort, all win, all lose. And I do think that you nailed it perfectly, as Christiana was saying, the sense of palpable, not panic, but commitment to action was absent.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:09:07] So do we think that it was enough to stay on track to a good outcome at COP 26? Do we feel like, because we said very clearly last week that there couldn’t be a successful COP 26 without a G7 that kept momentum moving in that direction? I think we’ve all agreed from this conversation and if you look at the media, otherwise, it wasn’t knocked out of the park in terms of a positive outcome. But it also, I would argue, wasn’t a disaster. So was it good enough to keep an ambitious COP 26 on the table?
Christiana Figueres: [00:09:34] Well, as you said, it wasn’t a handbrake, but it also was no acceleration.
Paul Dickinson: [00:09:38] The famous phrase “damned by faint praise”.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:09:46] You know, the bit which I actually thought was most indicative in a way, that in a manner that was unfortunate in terms of the overall intention here, was actually not from the G7 and it was from, I don’t know if listeners noticed this, but 24 hours after signing the G7 tax, which was pledging to accelerate climate action, the British prime minister went on and agreed a trade deal with Australia. Now, Australia is, of course, a carbon-intensive economy that has no net-zero strategy. And the PM, the British prime minister, imposed no corporate carbon border adjustment tariffs, granted access to a hugely high-impact agricultural sector in the form of Australia. And I thought that was an indication that this is not yet in the bones of government decision-making for all of the narrative, because they are also desperate. And this is a UK story for trade deals, and that appears to have come ahead of any desire to actually, in a meaningful way, integrate climate strategy into trade policy.
Paul Dickinson: [00:10:49] I think that the reason why the governments are not behaving quite with the same sort of strength that we hope is that a parallel political architecture has grown up in the world and it’s got very big and powerful. We’ve got these parallel architectures that run our world, investors, corporations. And so starting to get disclosure formalized on nature-related financial solutions offers up this parallel force so our governments, our corporations, our investors, and increasingly our cities can act in unison to achieve these goals rather than just simply waiting for a sort of a national government to solve this problem on its own, which, of course, we realize it can’t. And that’s also why organizations like the United Nations are so important and indeed the OECD.
Christiana Figueres: [00:11:41] Yeah, I take the point, Paul. Yes, definitely. You know, private sector and civil society have a role to play, as we have discussed many a time on this podcast. But this was the moment for government leadership. That’s the point. And, you know, this was the moment for them to step forward with two feet.
Paul Dickinson: [00:12:03] Christiana, let me just push you a little bit on that. Let’s say that there was the commitment in the room that there needed to be and you had your finger on the pen of the communique. What would it have said?
Christiana Figueres: [00:12:14] I think it would have been much more definitional, I want to use that word again, on the hundred billion. We know that that’s a problem, not just to recognize that yes, well, we’re committing to that. It’s like where is this going to come from? It would have been much more definitional on halving emissions. If you look at the language to 2030, it’s you know, it’s I mean, you know, Tom and I worked with language a lot under the U.N. so we understand that there is very often a need for creative ambiguity as we used to call it at the U.N. There’s just too much creative ambiguity in this language. If the G7 are not of one mind and cannot be much clearer about their intentions, especially over the next nine years, then what hope do we have for the G20?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:13:18] Yeah, this is the forum that can be most ambitious, should be the forum that can be most ambitious. It’s all industrialized countries, massive historical emissions, plenty of resources and revenue. They should be blazing a trail, making this possible, demonstrating it. So I think there was some good bits and pieces in there, but it was kind of a bit of a mixed bag here in there. So I think disappointing.
Paul Dickinson: [00:13:38] So let’s assume that there are, you know, 10 or 100000 British civil servants working at the highest levels globally on this. Let’s assume there are 50 to 100 political leaders working closely with the British government. Let’s assume there are other almost unimaginable resources. What advice have you, Tom, and especially you, Christiana, got for those people between now and the COP to make it right?
Christiana Figueres: [00:14:02] I think overall, Paul, much more of a sense of urgency.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:14:08] And priority.
Christiana Figueres: [00:14:09] Priority. You know, I would really like to see them operating, thinking, committing to something that really is an emergency. This statement to me reads like a business as usual statement. It does not read to me as a statement of a planet in a state of emergency.
Paul Dickinson: [00:14:35] Well, I can see the world leaders’ advice. Thank you, Christiana and Tom. Now on to other matters. I’d just like to reference a little bit of listener engagement, if I may. And we’re seeking 10 specific reviews in the next week if we possibly can. I don’t know if this price there ought to be. This one is from Apple podcast.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:14:58] That’s what makes the biggest difference in the podcast. It is the review and the rating on Apple podcast. Thank you for everyone who does it.
Paul Dickinson: [00:15:05] But this week’s news is that #ClayCrush continues to gather steam. Sarah B, 22, via Apple Podcast Great Britain has said: I love Outrage and Optimism podcast. Always informative, educational, inspiring, hilariously funny, brackets, I’m living for Paul singing. Exclamation mark. That’s opening up a whole new possible doorway of amazing that you said that quite close to talking about it being hilariously funny, whereas I think there is a pretty serious aspect to my singing, but I actually have to take up a lot of time here. So just to conclude this review, I haven’t got time to read it all but the guest and everything is completely blowing my mind this week, Sarah says, I had the collision of my two favorite climate change podcast with your interview with Dale Vince. And I can’t agree more with ClayCrush. Great work, girls. Thank you, Sarah, for noticing me trying to extinguish this guy’s thing. It’s girls and it’s good. Girls Good.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:16:01] All right. Thank you very much. Really appreciate that. Really appreciate all the ratings, all the reviews. Makes a huge difference. OK, so this week we have a fantastic conversation for you with Warren East, who is the chief executive of Rolls-Royce PLC. Now, Rolls-Royce PLC is the aerospace part of Rolls-Royce. They produce jet engines and many of the planes that we fly on, or used to fly on before COVID, he’s not head of the car company. Those are now separate, but nevertheless, Rolls-Royce, of course, this tremendous history of engineering excellence and have created one of the best internal combustion engines the world has ever seen. Now he is charged with taking Rolls-Royce into the future. And with a future, there’s going to be very different from the past. We’re just going to kick this interview off now. Christiana provides a great introduction right at the Top End in terms of the context of what we’re going to be talking about. So here we go and we will see you on the other side as ever. Here’s Warren East.
Christiana Figueres: [00:16:57] Warren, thank you. Thank you so much for joining us here on Outrage and Optimism. I have to say, I don’t think we have ever interviewed an organ-playing, top-performing world engineer. It is quite the combination. And we are really quite excited about a very interesting conversation with you today about the future of aviation and how over history we see over and over again how Rolls-Royce has really been there, pioneering, from an engineering perspective, so many groundbreaking technologies to start with the eco engine design by Royce, way back in 1914 as a major contribution to the First World War. Then one of your engines was the first direct transatlantic flight and the first flight from England to Australia. The world’s first Concorde flight was made using a Rolls-Royce engine. On and on and on. So quite a few record-breaking contributions there to flight. And I would love to hear how do you assess whether climate change and the need to decarbonize all sectors, including aviation, is it also going to be a pathway to innovation for Rolls-Royce? We hear that you are launching a bid for the world record of the fastest flight with an electric aircraft. How did that come about? And does that actually signify your commitment to take your company, but also the sector, toward electric aviation?
Warren East: [00:18:54] Thank you for that, Christiana. For us, flight has been part of Rolls-Royce for the last hundred years. And we very much see it as as a good thing for society, people and goods being able to travel around the world. But it does cause damage to the environment. And it’s one of the hardest sectors of all to decarbonize simply because you can think of an aeroplane as a kind of 21st century equivalent of a steam train. A steam train was a great sort of liberating thing when it happened. And the source of fuel, the coal, went along with the steam train. Now we can decarbonize lots of fossil-based activities in the world today because we don’t have to cart the fuel around. It’s a bit harder where you have to carry the fuel around. And so in the world of automotive and again, rail, for example, it’s harder than in a purely stationary application, but it’s much easier than the air because you don’t have to lift this heavy weight up into the air.
Christiana Figueres: [00:20:10] It’s a double challenge.
Warren East: [00:20:11] It is indeed a double challenge, but it’s one that we have our heads around and we’ve made commitments that we’re going to achieve net-zero by 2050 and we can see a way to do it. And in different ways, depending on the type of aircraft, the number of people, the load the aircraft is going to be taking and how far the journey is. So you mentioned electric aviation and we think that’s a great answer for relatively small aircraft traveling a relatively short distance because the amount of energy that you need for that mission is small enough to put in a battery and so we can have it and lift it up and so we can have a purely electric flight. And that’s great. Now, if we want to do zero carbon for a longer distance, then we have to store the energy in another way in a more dense way because otherwise we just can’t do it because the airplane’s too heavy. And that’s where you get into alternative forms of storage like synthetic fuel. Hydrogen will probably play a role somewhere in between as well. But it’s going to be very much horses for courses. However, providing you can get the energy into a stored form in a zero-carbon way, then we can achieve net-zero carbon.
Christiana Figueres: [00:21:49] Can you take us one level further in, how does that look? How would we store that energy in a zero-carbon way? What are your, right now? And obviously, you have to try some out and discard some. But right now, which are the most promising technologies that you’re looking at and investing in.
Warren East: [00:22:10] So for short distances, as I say, we are investing in pure electric. Its battery technology. Obviously, it’s much more challenging than in the world of automotive because of the weight issue. And also, dare I say it because safety is such an important factor in the air. Over the last 30, 40 years, air travel has become some 10 times safer in terms of just statistics. Mankind doesn’t go backwards on that sort of thing. If you extract energy very quickly from the battery, i.e. a lot of power, which is what is required to lift an aircraft into the air, then the battery does get very hot. And you know that would be one of the factors involved in battery technology. And that’s why we’re using the ACCEL program that you’ve heard about, where we’re breaking this forth, aiming to break the speed record. We’re learning a huge amount from that project, which we will then apply into a more commercial world later on.
Paul Dickinson: [00:23:16] I’m pretty sure that your computers are so good that you know you’re going to beat that speed record.
Warren East: [00:23:22] Well, we are we’re relatively confident, it must be said. But, you know, it’s an important step on the journey, as I say. And part of it is marketing. And it’s harking back to the hundred years ago of Rolls-Royce speed records and so on. But you need to bring the people along with you. And so when we do this speed record, we’re going to take 100 or so of our younger employees and they will, you know, not quite a raffle, but there’s been some kind of a process to choose who gets to go along to watch because it is going to be an inspirational event.
Christiana Figueres: [00:24:02] Very cool, and you said it’s going to happen within the next two months?
Warren East: [00:24:06] Well, we don’t want to be flying into the teeth of a roaring gale or doing it in storms or anything. And we have, for safety reasons, a very rigorous flight test program that leads up to it. And so we have to fit all that in weather windows. And the test pilot who’s going to do it is very enthusiastic. He loves this stuff. He’s a big advocate of electric flight, and he’s very much looking forward to it.
Christiana Figueres: [00:24:38] Very exciting. Bet he can’t wait to get up there. Are you going to be on?
Warren East: [00:24:43] Unfortunately, this is a single season and I’m not qualified to fly. Apart from that, yeah.
Christiana Figueres: [00:24:50] Yeah, OK. Well, very exciting.
Warren East: [00:24:54] But that’s one end of the spectrum. Other end of the spectrum is how do you take three hundred and fifty-four hundred people across the Atlantic. The stored energy there, we think, is going to have to be a synthetic form of hydrocarbon because we just have to get the energy density right up. Much, much greater than what we can achieve in a battery today. And nature is probably the world’s best engineer and nature invented hydrocarbons. Now, we have to be a little bit smart about it and make a synthetic version of a hydrocarbon so that we capture the carbon from the atmosphere in the first place, so that when we put it back into the atmosphere, we haven’t actually added carbon to the atmosphere.
Paul Dickinson: [00:25:45] Synthetic fuels are a sort of a fantastic intermediate technology. But can I just conclude on this electric airplane thing? Impossible question for you, Warren. When do you think our listeners will first fly short-haul on an electric plane?
Warren East: [00:26:02] Well, we announced a design earlier this year with a Norwegian company. And they’re hoping to be transporting passengers in the middle part of the current decade. Tiny commuter-type planes with passengers. And then a lot of commercial applications of things like the ACCEL will be in the so-called urban air mobility. These are essentially flying taxis, I think, helicopters. But I think now about basically turning a helicopter into a very big drone that you see flying around. And we believe that the people will pay for that. And compared with mechanical helicopters, there are advantages, as well as just the environmental advantage. There’s there are advantages in terms of cost and additional safety as well.
Christiana Figueres: [00:26:59] I think what you’re saying is, the competition between short-haul electric and trains that might be, and this is actually a question to you, do you think that trains are going to win out short-haul transport for the masses of people, but then you will still have short-haul electric for, let’s call it, much more privileged people? Or do you see those two very different in cost and therefore differentiating the customers?
Warren East: [00:27:38] Well, I think probably both will coexist. Some of our electric hybrid activity is in trains right now. So we have a hybrid design where we’re setting fire to some hydrocarbons. But don’t forget, they could be synthetic hydrocarbons. And we’re using electric propulsion. So we’re turning that energy and we’re moving it to the propulsive unit in the form of electricity. From a commercial application point of view, there are many other players in the mix. And so, exactly which one wins would depend on legislation. Governments will make policy decisions. You’ve seen the French government make some announcements very recently about rail. And, now I think policy is a good tool for forcing some of these things to happen that need to happen. And then industry comes along with innovation and find solutions.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:28:40] So can I just ask you about how you see your role in all of this? Because I think this is so fascinating to see the sort of technological innovation that facilitates what’s possible for this next phase of human evolution. Where we’re dealing with, this issue of climate change and we would agree with you. I mean, the world should be very grateful for the benefits and the intercultural benefits that flight has provided. And it might well be that we can now crack some of these profound technological challenges to make flights, individual flights, in certain cases, zero carbon, short-haul flights with electric. Long haul with synthetic fuels or hydrogen, as you said. But the net effect for the whole of society and we’ve gotten to a point now, before COVID, there was something in the order of four and a half billion passenger journeys taken on jets. People going to Benidorm for the weekend or flying to Cancun or whatever it is. And that sort of availability of flight has facilitated the kind of mindset that we can travel in a way that is different from the past. It’s not like long journeys. It’s quick drums here and there with enormous costs of energy. Do you really think if you go forward 20, 30 years, that we can replicate that? We should replicate that. I mean, shouldn’t we be creating a world where there’s a technological change that values energy more and crack some of these problems, but also that we value travel in a different way? And we don’t travel as much. We maybe travel further. It kind of goes along with broader cultural changes, because if we just switch out the fossil fuel jets and put in electric or hydrogen, but just keep flying more and more all the time, that feels to me like that’s another dead end that’s going to lead to all sorts of additional problems in the future. Would you agree with that?
Warren East: [00:30:18] Well, I’m not sure I totally agree. I think it is very hard for us to predict. And I’m sure that the normal sort of course of evolution of society and norms will follow. A good example might be, say, smoking, where, you know, if you go back 50, 60 years, then aspirational thing. Everybody had to smoke. And then we discovered that actually that’s not too good for people’s health. And now it’s become, you know, not really that fashionable. Now, people may decide that hopping off to the weekends, hopping off for the weekend to a holiday destination, they just get bored with it and decide that you know, maybe it’s not so good after all. So I wouldn’t sort of venture to predict how society’s going to change its mind, but as an engineer running an engineering company, I think that it’s up to us to make sure that if people want to do that, then they have a means of doing it in a way that doesn’t trash the environment as we’ve been doing with flight for the last hundred years.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:31:39] That’s a really good answer. But what I mean is like, does it not trash the environment at scale as well? I mean, you can fly the odd electric fly or hydrogen fly or whatever, and it’s very low carbon. But if we replicate the current aviation industry at the scale that it currently exists with those solutions, is that still as good for the environment? Or do we reach a point where actually we just need to fly less?
Warren East: [00:32:02] Well, providing we can achieve what we believe we can achieve, which is net-zero flight. So, you know, you get on an airplane, go from A to B. The other bits of the system have to be joined up as well. So when you travel to the airport, you have to be able to do that in a way that doesn’t trash the environment as well. When we come to flight, we shouldn’t just be talking about people going off on holiday, right. We should be talking about how flight is used. I mean, even in the depths of covid as we are at the moment, passengers are not getting on and off airplanes as they were in any way at all. It’s completely trashed from a business point of view. But actually, there is still quite a large number of airplanes out there flying around because they are carrying goods around the world and they’re carrying food around the world. And right now, if somebody purports to say, oh, you know, I’m going to make less of an impact on the environment, I’m going to give up eating meat. But they continue eating avocados by the dozen in London where avocados don’t really grow.
Paul Dickinson: [00:33:11] At least not yet.
Warren East: [00:33:12] No. Not yet. But, you know, even where avocados do grow, I mean, look how much water they use to. So it isn’t just about carbon and, you know, it’s about use of resources generally. And, you know, looking after the planet’s resources in the wider scheme. And all I’m saying is we’re attending to a tiny little piece of it with with decarbonizing flight. There’s going to be lots of other pieces to the jigsaw as well. And I think that now is the time for society to get its head around having all the benefits that we’ve sort of grown to love over the last several hundreds of years. But I have them in a way that doesn’t trash the environment.
Paul Dickinson: [00:33:58] So Warren, thank you for that excellent explanation and your technology, Christiana, was talking about the long history. I know that the famous Spitfire plane with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, I remember I was talking to a very influential individual who runs an airline, and I mentioned, oh, you’ve got the same name as the Merlin engine. And he said, yes, I’m named after the engine. But your technology has clearly had a pretty big role in giving us an incredible world. Can I ask you as a, you know, in the extraordinary position you’re in as we decarbonise the world, how do you see the role of things like the International Civil Aviation Authority and national governments and and the international governmental system? How can they best support you to make the changes you need?
Warren East: [00:34:48] I think they can play a huge role. And, you know, I think policy helps us a lot to make these changes. If I take long-haul flight for a moment where synthetic fuels are going to be more expensive than digging out of the ground at the moment. So actually people aren’t going to use synthetic fuels unless they have an economic incentive to do so, as well as, what we say is, if you like, a sort of moral imperative. Governments have to establish some policy that says we have to clean up. And then the regulatory authorities in the world of aviation need to say. OK, so that means the proportion of synthetic fuel that you’re going to use has to transition from what it is at the moment to one hundred percent in a given period of time. And then I think they can probably go a little bit further as well. And notice, I continually using the word synthetic rather than sustainable. Right now you can be a business aviation customer and fill your plane up with sustainable aviation fuel. And now a bunch of crops have been grown to source the carbon and crops have been used to extract the carbon from the atmosphere, which is fine for the scale of synthetic fuels that are used today. But if we’re really going to use sustainable fuels at scale, they have to be synthetic because otherwise, we’re going to need too much land to extract the carbon from the atmosphere.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:36:24] Can you just describe exactly what you mean by synthetic, because maybe not all listeners are familiar with that term?
Warren East: [00:36:29] So what I mean by that is photosynthesis to capture the carbon from the atmosphere and then industrial chemical processes to take plant material, biomass or waste plant material, and turn it into synthetic fuel. What I mean by purely synthetic is capture the carbon from the atmosphere with direct carbon capture and then use that to create the fuel. So we’re not using plant matter to do the actual capturing of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Christiana Figueres: [00:37:08] So Warren, we would love to hear from you in this spectrum between being outraged at the fact that we are still so trapped in our traditional hydrocarbons and being optimistic about the fact that we can really revolutionize this. But from your conversation, I’m going to ask you to position yourself in that range. But I want to know how outraged or optimistic do you feel that we will be able to successfully pursue the revolution that you’re describing within the time frame that is necessary from a monetary perspective at a cost that is reasonable, to use the word that you just used for reasonable, and at a scale that industry can actually offer society. Within those three constraints, how optimistic are you?
Warren East: [00:38:08] Goodness. I am inherently optimistic about this. I’ve been engaged in technology engineering forever. That’s the career I chose. I’m sort of scientific background and always been fascinated by nature. And, you know, engineering is about taming nature for the benefit of society, thats my sort of tagline for it. And so that makes me inherently optimistic that the positive power of technology to transform our society is there. And we’ve seen it time and time again. And I don’t see why we won’t achieve it this time. And, you know, we’re already making great strides and hopefully when we set this electric air speed record in in a couple of months. Time, weather-dependent. We’ll have to see what the English summer brings, then, you know, we’ll have a little proof point that that we’re on the way. I just wish I was 20 years younger so that I could sort of see a bit more of it through.
Christiana Figueres: [00:39:19] Well, we’re not younger than we are, and we have to do this within our lifetime Warren. So here’s to accelerating this as much as possible. Thank you so much, Warren. Thank you for joining us. Thank you for the efforts that you’re putting into the acceleration of this transformation.
Warren East: [00:39:36] Great. Thank you very much.
Paul Dickinson: [00:39:38] Thank you.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:39:39] Thank you, Warren.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:39:45] What a privilege to get to speak to such a range of different people on this podcast who are doing such remarkable things to change the world, some of them controversial, some of them less so. But this was a really interesting discussion about what the future might look like. What did both of you leave that conversation with?
Christiana Figueres: [00:40:01] I want to go back to what Paul clarified right at the beginning. Right. Because most people, as Paul mentioned, think of Rolls Royce as a car manufacturing company, which it was originally, way back in last century, but they split up cars from engines basically in the First World War. And that’s what I think is so fascinating about this company and about Warren’s leadership, that it was because of World War One necessity to manufacture air engines, that they basically carved out a completely new space and went straight to the top leadership of engineering in the airline industry. And because we talked about right at the beginning of this episode about we’re actually at a wartime moment with carbon, I just think it’s so fascinating that they have now basically come back to their commitment of stepping up and truly being at the front lines of technological innovation because of the moment that we’re in. So it’s just so wonderful to see a company go back to its historical roots. But looking into the future and assuming a responsibility to totally disrupt the airline industry for the kind of industry that we’re going to need very soon.
Paul Dickinson: [00:41:46] Yeah, I found it very exciting to talk to Warren because the electrification of airplanes is kind of one of the biggest and most important challenges we’re going to face over the next 40 years, 30 years. You know, we’ve got to get it done by 2050 and it can be done. And you’re right about how important these engines really are. I remember when I first started, I half mentioned this story in the interview, but I shall tell you the whole story. When I first started work on climate change. I was thinking about like when we last faced a crisis in the UK and there were all these quotes. I read a book, a children’s book about Second World War. And he kept going on about how we had lots of time and we didn’t act. We had lots of time and we didn’t act. And then finally at the last minute, we acted and we built these planes, the Spitfire planes that kind of saved us from being invaded. And the point about the Spitfire plane is it had a big Rolls-Royce engine in it. And I was discussing this with a billionaire called Merlin Swire some years ago. I was hoping he would support my charity. And I told him the story about this and the Spitfire that saved us and its Rolls-Royce Merlin engine. And he leaned forward and said, yeah, I was named after that engine.
Paul Dickinson: [00:43:01] But I mean, the point I’m making is that this stuff’s really important. You know, there comes a point where there’s a sort of nexus of kind of engineering, a need, that sort of defines our capabilities as societies and will be remembered, you know, perhaps for 100000 years. So, you know, the stakes couldn’t be higher. And I hope that every ambitious physicist, chemist, engineer, designer, electrician is thinking about how we can transform this critical technology. And Warren’s got a very interesting job right at the heart at the nexus of that.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:43:41] Did you think, I’m curious to know your analysis I mean, I pushed him pretty hard on the idea that we can’t just swap out other types of fuel for fossil fuels and kind of carry on flying off to different places for the weekend, etc. And understandably, he sort of, I goaded him a little bit to agree with the fact that flying has got a limit. And we know. We also need some behavioral changes.
Paul Dickinson: [00:44:02] I actually hid when you asked him that question Tom, because it was so kind of like against the spirit of the interview, but I salute you for asking it.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:10] Well, I thought we had to ask it, and I thought he sort of ducked it. And I can understand why he ducks it. But I sort of also feel like it would almost give him more authority as a leader in the world if he was also honest about that fact. He was like, the future has to be different from the past and that probably involves less travel, that is more valued. And, you know, that’s, I don’t know. Do we think that that’s the role? Should he have said should he have agreed with that, do we think, in order to.
Paul Dickinson: [00:44:36] Let me ask you a question, Tom. Should we have less giant superyachts?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:42] Should we have less giant superyachts?
Paul Dickinson: [00:44:44] You heard me. Now you’re Warren East.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:47] Yeah, I think we probably should.
Paul Dickinson: [00:44:49] OK, same question, though, isn’t it?
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:54] No, it’s nothing to do with the second question.
Paul Dickinson: [00:44:57] No, it’s exactly the same.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:44:58] If I was manufacturing giant superyachts, then it would be an importantly difficult question. But that was a defining moment, right, for someone like him to be asked. It’s true that your product actually has created this problem. Do you think? I mean, Levi’s, and if you’ve seen the latest Levi’s advert, but it’s all about the fact we need to buy less. Yes, they need to make it more sustainable. But we also need to change our patterns of consumption and drive down the amount that we buy. Just buy and throw away. It strikes me that if someone like Warren wants to be a leader, he also needs to grapple with that issue. What do you think?
Christiana Figueres: [00:45:27] You know, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I want to think that he has been so focused on revolutionizing the engineering of flight that he hasn’t really thought about the frequency of flight. And, you know, we’ve told the story or I’ve told the story of this podcast of that amazing question that I got at the very beginning of my term at the Secretariat, Climate Change Secretariat, where someone said, do you think that a global agreement will ever be possible? And I blurted out, no, not in my lifetime. Well, that was the defining moment for me, right? Because I went right. That statement that I’ve just made has got to not be true. And we’re going to make it not true. I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt that he probably has not thought about that scenario. And it would be really interesting to get back in touch with him and say, did that question make you think differently about this? Because in any event, we’re going to need completely different airline industry and a completely different propulsion technology. Right? But in addition to that, because it doesn’t deny what he’s doing. In addition to that, did that question make him think differently about human behavior because he’s coming at this from an engineering perspective. And that’s his role. And that’s got to be married with human behavioral changes. And it’s actually the combination of the two that will get us to decarbonized economy. It’s not just technology and it’s definitely not just changed human behavior, it’s the combination of the two. So the fact that he hasn’t thought about the second is not surprising to me. I would be really interested whether he went back to his office going, Ha! What about those behavioral changes?
Paul Dickinson: [00:47:41] Hmm? I mean, this is just so fascinating, I hope we can revisit it over and over again. I do believe probably we may end up with forms of rationing whereby, you know, there’s so much energy involved in shifting people around the world that, even if it’s zero-carbon energy, there’s so much kind of, you know, steel technology, maybe there will have to be limited rights to do it. And those will be traded and people will be recompensed financially for not flying. I don’t know, because I think it’s easy to pose the question, Tom, but it’s incumbent upon us to also think what the solutions might be when we put those limits there.
Tom Rivett-Carnac: [00:48:17] That’s absolutely right. I mean, if history is any guide, what will happen is flying will just become incredibly expensive, which, of course, is socially regressive and is not the positive scenario there. And you just described a different policy instrument where it actually somehow gets rationed or there’s tradeable quotas or something. But net overall, you know, there are solutions that might work for the individual airplane. But I think he’s an engineer and he’s solving his part of the problem. We tried to get our arms around the entirety. You can solve things for an individual airplane. You can move it through the air at high speeds. But it’s a different challenge to solve the entire sector because actually, that has different systemic impacts. So unless either of my co-hosts have anything to add, we will leave it there. And we will, as ever, of course, leave you with some music. So this week we have some beautiful music from Asher Monroe. Works out of Malibu, California, and he’s performing his powerful single Midnight Masquerade from his new album. Asher says this body of his work represents an awakening in his life. He says, I’ve been in my cockpit at nice cruise control. Now I’m ready to accelerate. You’ll hear from Asher, of course. We’re going to hand you over to him now. He’s going to introduce and explain the music. Thanks as ever, for joining us. Don’t forget to leave us a rating and a review on Apple podcast. We really appreciate all the posts on social media, but we also really need it on Apple podcast. Thank you so much. We’ll see you next week.
Asher Monroe: [00:49:40] I think I’ve always considered myself a pretty optimistic person. I mean, we all go through rough patches, but it’s usually the optimist who sees adversity as a challenge to overcome and not the final outcome. I honestly feel sorry for the ones who give up on themselves or their dreams. If we start to dissect the troubles of difficult times in our life and truly examine what’s the lesson here that we are supposed to learn to guide and propel us forward and realize it’s not a curse that we can’t fix, then we will always feel like the victim. We actually have a say in the matter and in the flip of a switch, we can take a positive course of action. Optimists always find the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, the inspiration for Midnight Masquerade was to shed light on the dark secrecy of our society, how a position of power is to be upheld with dignity, grace and honor, a voice of reason and mediates the hearts and minds of its people hearing the outcry of the damages made to our environment, ecosystem and social unrest. Instead, we have dictators who only relish in their own glory. Midnight Masquerade is about putting an end to the foolish and folly, narcissistic minds who care more about their political agenda than they actually do saving our planet.
Clay Carnill: [00:54:11] So there you go. Another episode of Outrage and Optimism, the track you just heard was a live performance of Midnight Masquerade by Asher Monroe. It’s a song coming out on his next album this summer, an album which has been praised by Sir Elton John. Have you heard of him? No, not that one. The other one. I’ve got a link to watch the two of them talk about the new album and links to Asher’s music and socials in the show notes, so go check it out. By the way, did you know that Asher got his start as Chip from Broadway’s first national tour of Beauty and the Beast when he was six years old? This next album is actually really influenced by his musical theater background. So if you like musical theater, this will be the album for you to check out. Thank you, Asher. OK, this upcoming Monday, June 21st, we are hosting a live recording of Breaking Boundaries, Post Growth and the Future We Choose. And it’s an exclusive event you need to sign up for. It’s not going to be on Facebook it’s not going be on Twitter. You’re not just going to stumble upon it. You got to sign up and register. So how do you sign up? There’s a link below for you. Go to globaloptimism.com and sign up for our newsletter. The invite link will come directly to your inbox so you can register for the event. We’ve had an incredible response so far, so please make sure you save your seat.
Clay Carnill: [00:55:40] It’s going to be a great event. There’s even going to be a Q&A section at the end. So our hosts, along with Johan Rockstrom and Tim Jackson, will be answering questions directly from you. And because it’s more fun when you know what’s going on, the link to watch Breaking Boundaries is in the show notes, too. So, hey, watch it this weekend before you tune in on Monday. 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 Mansilla Hermann, Freya Newman, Santiago Monge, Sarah Thomas, Sophie Baggott, Sue Reed and John Ward. And our hosts are Christiana Figueres, Paul Dickinson and Tom Rivett-Carnac. I think I need a name for the three of them, like the Three Climateers or the Trinity of Stubborn Optimism. Lightning coming from the sky, something. Anyway, if you have suggestions and I know you do, please shoot us a message. Find us online, send them our way. Thanks. Thank you to our guest this week, Warren East. Rolls Royce has email alerts for following their world record attempt. And we’re going to need those because as we heard from Warren earlier, even the CEO can’t control the weather. So click the link. I’ve added below to sign up for those updates. You’ll be the first to know.
Clay Carnill: [00:57:16] So another week, another #ClayCrush. Now, listen, it’s not easy being the center of attention, but while I’ve got you, please leave us a rating and review on Apple Podcasts. It takes a minute and lasts a lifetime. Five stars gets the word out. And we’ve been loving your comments and messages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, telling us how much you enjoy the podcast. But we need to channel them into Apple’s review system for them to count towards keeping our podcast growing. And just so you know, we read every single review, and sometimes we even read it on the show. So go leave a review right now and tune in next week because you might hear what you wrote. All right. Thanks for doing that. And @GlobalOptimism is how you can stay up to date on the climate. Please give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Thanks. Ok, that’s a wrap on the show notes. This weekend is Father’s Day, which I learned today is celebrated in over 100 countries. So if you’re a father, like me, take this Sunday when everyone has to do a little bit more of what you want to do and watch Breaking Boundaries together on Netflix. And of course, enjoy making some dad jokes as a running commentary because it’s the one day everyone has to laugh at your jokes, too. Best of luck. Next week, another episode. Hit Subscribe.
Clay Carnill: [00:58:40] We’ll see you then.