Taking place from the 14th century to the 17th century, the Renaissance was a fruitful period of great cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages. This spirit of curiosity and great civility coincided with the Scientific Revolution traditionally assumed to have started with 1543’s Copernican Revolution. It’s perhaps an act of historical irony that now, more so than any other time in Antiquity, that there are a growing number of humans who believe that the world is flat.
In the face of growing income gap, a contagious plague and a new breed of capitalist aristocracy, Aaron Olivera stands a beacon on the ever darkening horizon. Even as governments hoard vaccines and political parties debate the science of climate change, the 42-year-old Gibraltar native wants to build a high-tech nuclear-powered ship equipped with state-of-the-art technology to explore not the final frontier, but the one that remains on our planet’s backyard.
Ironically more than eighty percent of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored; the Earth 300 with its liquid metal walls and advanced robotics is Olivera’s dream given form. At the cost of US$700 million, the 300 metre-long mega yacht all be home to 160 of the brightest minds on the planet, working in a “science sphere” of 22 laboratories. With the backing of Martin Yates, Dell Technologies’ chief technology officer for international smart digital cities, think of Earth 300 as an seafaring Starship Enterprise, a vessel dedicated to science and exploration with 20 “experts in residence” spanning across different fields, over 160 support staff and of course, students – the next generation of scientists.
Is Aaron Olivera’s Earth 300 our last best hope against climate change?
Diving off the coast of his resort development in 2015, Olivera saw the bleached coral reef in the Maldives (editor’s note: 800-kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef died over the course of 2016 due to bleaching resulting from climate change), triggering his next project, and perhaps humanity’s best hope.
Describe your perspective of Earth, are we missing an opportunity to use the pandemic to reset how capitalism functions?
I have tremendous faith in humanity, I believe that given the chance, we would all rather be constructive, and not destructive; be open and friendly rather than closed and hostile. It is often our circumstances, and not always choice, make us who we are.
For the first time in human history, Covid-19 is allowing the world to truly experience an existential global problem together. We have seen how international trade and travel have been affected and we have all come to realise that “sustainability” is something as important as the air we breathe. Capitalism need to factor in the environment as you cannot do business on a dead planet, it is insanity to continue to pursue ROI without factoring in the environment – the very life support system that allows us to perform. Health as the great Emerson said, is the first wealth. And so without the health of the planet nothing else matters.
It is often argued that capitalism is a change driver when it comes to adopting new, sustainable technologies, are we on track or could we go a little faster?
When it comes to sustainability I believe we need to go exponentially faster, in 2018 the United Nations Inter-Governmental Panel for Climate Change published a report that stated that we had 12 years to transform civilisation, if we were to avert warming of up to 1.5 degrees. The Kyoto and Paris accords have achieved practically nothing, obviously the Trump Administration did not help when they pulled out of the Paris Accords but we are way too slow, we need rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented solutions to be rolled out as the top priority.
When the pandemic happened, society came to the realisation that we valued vapid celebrities like the Kardashians more than our scientists, how do you think we got here?
Warren Buffet said that you can swim naked as long as the tide is high, and I believe that is what has been happening, we have been swimming naked enjoying the benefits that society has given us, only to realise that we have been doing so unsustainably. I love artists and musicians and actors, they provide us with an ample fountain of inspiration and because they have been in movies and on the radio, in the limelight, we have been able to celebrate them. I believe it is now time to spawn a new breed of celebrity, celebrity scientists who can promote the benefits of sustainable living, and with todays technology we truly are living in the golden age of science.
What life experiences have built Aaron Olivera up to conceive of the vision of Earth 300?
I have always been a thinker, I have always asked “why”, and I have always gravitated towards things that are high quality. This led me to obtain two psychology degrees in UK and also to later on in life delve into the world of luxury, where the you find the highest quality products.
Its actually fascinating, when you buy a Rolls Royce you are actually, for the quality, getting a bargain, and when you buy a Toyota you are getting short-changed. Expensive therefore, thinking systemically and long term, becomes cheap.
Back in 2015 I delved into the ultra high end luxury hotel industry where I had a chance to work on a resort development project in the Maldives with a group of very seasoned real estate individuals. When I was there I went on a dive, expecting to find rainbows under the Maldivian sea but instead I found unattractive, greyish white bleached corals. I asked why and I learnt that this was dude to excess carbon that is absorbed by the oceans to protect the atmosphere and as a result starts to kill off its own marine life.
I also learnt that global ecosystems are all connected and work together as a symphony and that the climate crises was really a water crises as warm water causes more evaporation and more rain clouds and so on and so forth. So a whole new universe opened up to me where I went “whats the purpose of building another luxury resort”?
I started to dream about using the ultra high end industry to advance the cause of science by marrying science and technology and adventure, with entertainment and hospitality and art. I had always been inspired by the voyages of Jacques Cousteau on Calypso and said to myself, why not bring the smartest and brightest scientists and explorers and place them all on a futuristic vessel equipped with a level of technology that would have been unprecedented 20 or 100 years ago but possible today. And thats how Earth 300 was born. It was the culmination of many of my life experiences blended together.
Chernobyl and Fukushima are what comes to mind when the term “nuclear power” is mentioned, that tends to muddy the waters on sustainable power sources, is there a way rationality can rise above the “heart issues” surrounding this discussion?
The truth is that people are not wired to be rational. The part of the brain that is equipped with decision making powers is the lymbic system. This primal brain is also the emotional centre of the brain, so what we are doing is baking rationality into an incredibly exciting and emotional experience – by making science sexy and attractive.
By making the Earth 300 resemble the future, I believe we will be able to allow people to learn that the nuclear technology we are pursuing is new, advanced, super clean and super safe. We’ve learned to embrace cars because it was a necessary tool but when you stop to think about the highly flammable and explosive nature of gasoline, it doesn’t sound so safe anymore. (Editor’s note: In the United States alone, there were around 189,500 highway vehicle fires in 2019. In Singapore, there’s an average of 200 car fires each year. Conversely, over six decades of continuously operating nuclear facilities totalling over 18,500 cumulative reactor-years, there have been two incidents: Chernobyl and Fukushima).
Tech billionaires tend to think that by escaping to another planet like Mars, we won’t recreate the same mistakes there. Why did you decide to focus on planet earth?
I think there are benefits of going to Mars, remember that a lot of the technology we enjoy today came out of the Space programs but indeed, it sounds like insanity to me to not take care of our own planet before even going to others. Our planet is the biological pinnacle of the galaxy, we have an indescribably beautiful planet that we are privileged to call home, its really a perfect planet so I believe we first need to conquer our own and learn to live in harmony with before perhaps we deserve to get a second one? Think of buying a bicycle for your son, who trashes it, would you want to buy him a new one?
Earth 300 will be built on new technology called the Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) being championed by a few companies like Bill Gate’s Terrapower, Thorcon and Moltex in the UK, what are some of the challenges and how does this technology differ from traditional atomics?
This technology represents a much more advanced version of atomics, it also presents a radical departure from traditional atomic energy. The MSR uses almost 100% of its fuel with little to no waste, whereas traditional nuclear has 1% fuel efficiency and 99% is waste. The MSR doesn’t use pressurised steam so it can’t cannot explode or diffuse, it cannot even spread as it is liquid, not gaseous and actually solidifies when it leaks. And because it doesn’t use pressurised steam it can be much smaller, it is the size of a 40 ft container, so it is something that will be able to be produced on an assembly line. This also means it is dramatically cheaper, since it doesn’t require tons of building material.
Are non nuclear-alternatives (i.e. wind, solar, geothermal) better investments?
Once again I would say that we need to look at the full lifecycle – how sustainable are they cradle to cradle? How is it made, how is it maintained, how is it transported, stored and recycled? For large machinery and assets wind, solar and geothermal can’t practically provide enough energy. Nuclear, is the holy grail, remember it is what powers the sun.
Robert W. Howarth, professor of ecology and environmental biology at Cornell University believes that better alternatives than nuclear are around the corner, is he wrong?
He could be right! We don’t know what we don’t know. I am sure that the next infinitely renewable energy source is under our noses and we therefore need the Earth 300 to explore and discover.
What’s the concept behind the design of the ship?
The concept involves the creation of a global multidisciplinary crucible of science, cultural intelligence and art, fusing them together in a way that has never been done before – taking the apex of science with the apex of technology and education and spinning it together at a very high level, in the same ways that diamonds form under pressure – creating a confluence of brilliance where the worlds most wonderful ideas can be birthed and rolled up with catalytic solutions to the worlds greatest problems. At the same time we are democratising this experience by allowing the private community to come along for the experience, you get a situation where intellectuals are meeting excitement and consumers are becoming contributors – your’e under the tree with Newton when the apple falls! Your’e taking flight with the Wright brothers when they take the first plane to the air! You’re in the lab with Edison holding electrodes! Your’e making history!
What can we expect from the Earth 300? Can we imagine something out of Seaquest DSV or the Starship Enterprise?
Absolutely! Earth 300 is not about luxury in the traditional sense of the word. Earth 300 is about the future, and of course in many ways the future resembles luxury, but here it will not be about having billionaires in bathtubs sipping champagne, you won’t see marble or crystal on board, we will use intelligent luxury where we will 3D print incredible surfaces and use inventive new but sustainable materials that will blow peoples minds. With Earth 300 we want to showcase the future, a future that is clean, safe and sustainable.
The interiors will be designed to be whimsical, mystical and magical, they will be designed to inspire peoples imaginations and allow them to learn again about the world anew. The ship will be built as a laboratory of scientific wonders, imagine Avatar, Transformers, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, James Bond, Men in Black and Murder on the Orient Express all put together, where we have this incredible environment of intrigue, inspiration and imagination, we want to build Earth 300 as a world with no limits, a world where anything is possible.
The vision for Earth 300 is for it to become known as the olympic torch of science, as a universal emblem that represents the best that humanity has to offer, a beacon of light for the future of our world, one that is beautiful and kind and clean.
Tell us about the open source platform for science.
Earth 300 will adopt an open science and open innovation platform that will make all of its discoveries and research open and available to the public in real time – we want to collaborate with the entire world as that is the only way to dramatically accelerate solutions to market. All of the learnings on board will also be provided on an open platform, our ship will have no less than a million sensors and the most advanced computing capabilities (AI and Quantum) on board so there is no reason why we cannot share it all with the world.
Do you really believe the well-heeled are ready to support Earth 300?
100%. And there are many reasons for this. Firstly we are glamorising science and placing scientists on a pedestal, if we are to survive the future we need to respect, elevate and celebrate science, look at the events of last week where Chancellor Merkel allowed the Turkish vaccine scientists to walk infront of her saying that science should lead the way. Secondly, never before has the well-heeled had a chance to contribute to good causes and participate in an incredible adventure at the same time, with Earth 300 they can have their cake and eat it.
Thirdly, 80% of profits generated from the project will be channeled back into science, so this is a self sustainable business model. Fourthly they will be helping the world learn about real science and sustainability in real time as this will be a ship that will beam all of its activities and findings around the globe so it can inspire waves of bold new thinking, inventors, scientists and explorers who will help ensure the survival of humanity for generations to come.