Deep Dive Episode 134 – It Can Be Done Live: The Future of Our Seas
The creators of the award-winning documentary, They Say It Can’t Be Done, in partnership with the Federalist Society’s Regulatory Transparency Project, present It Can Be Done Live – a conversation between entrepreneurs, regulatory experts, and noted academics around creative and bipartisan solutions to global challenges to our shared future. The first of four panel events, It Can Be Done Live: The Future of Our Seas, took place on September 10th, 2020.
Our oceans are changing rapidly and not for the better. Ocean acidification, rising sea levels, plastic waste, and overfishing are contributing to an unsustainable and unhealthy ecosystem in our seas. Can we find a way to reverse the damage? The panelists explored the potential of human ingenuity to solve these problems and the conditions necessary to make those solutions a reality. We say it can be done.
Although this transcript is largely accurate, in some cases it could be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Nate Kaczmarek: Hi, everyone. We are so pleased to welcome you to “It Can Be Done Live.” My name is Nate Kaczmarek. I am Vice President and Director of the Regulatory Transparency Project at The Federalist Society.
This special virtual panel is the first in a four-part series of movie premier panels for the great new film They Say It Can’t Be Done. I hope you’ve all had a chance to watch the movie, you’ve liked it, and you’ve recommended it to your family and friends. All these movie premier panels, tonight and the next three Thursdays, are co-sponsored by RTP and the creators of the movie, Just Add Firewater.
Tonight, we’re excited to be talking about the future of our seas. We’ve gathered a great group to discuss important topics raised by the film and explore many aspects of safety, innovation, and policy around the future of our oceans. I’m pleased to introduce tonight our moderator. Her name is Kim Hermann.
Kim is General Counsel for Southeastern Legal Foundation, an Atlanta-based constitutional public interest law firm and policy center. SLF advocates for individual liberty, rule of law, and government accountability in the courts of law and public opinion. Kim earned her B.S. and Master’s in accounting with Wake Forest University and her JD from Georgia State College of Law. I’m also happy to say that Kim is very involved in RTP’s state and local working group, and we’re grateful for all that she does for us.
In a moment, I’ll turn it over to Kim who will introduce our speakers and guide this program. Once our panel has had ample time for discussion, we’ll go to audience Q&A. So please think of the questions you’d like to ask and send them along via the chat function on your screen. With that, Kim, everyone, thank you very much. I turn it over to you.
Kimberly Hermann: Thanks, Nate. What we’re going to do tonight is first I’m going to go ahead and introduce our panel. We’ve got an amazing lineup here tonight. And then I’m going to give them a chance just to kind of give you each an introduction to themselves and their involvement in the film. I hope you’ve all had a chance to watch it. And if so, you’re familiar with all of their faces and their work on the film.
So let’s kick it off right now. First, we’ve got Scotty Schmidt. He is the co-founder and CEO of Primary Ocean Providers. He is featured in the film, as is Primary Ocean. It is a public benefit corporation that is working to reverse climate change through seaweed cultivation and commercialization.
Primary Ocean is farming the oceans for seaweed and taking seaweed to farms to draw down CO2, regenerate eroded soils, and increase food crop production. Scotty graduated from Texas A&M, and he has extensive startup operating, financial, and managerial experience. He’s also helped to found numerous other companies in a range of industries.
Next up we’ve got Julie Friedman Steele. She is the CEO and Board Chair of the World Future Society. It is an organization recognized as the largest, most influential, and longest running community of future thinkers in the world. With a background in education, artificial intelligence and technology, entertainment, science, and child advocacy, Julie is working to realize the vision that utilizing a futurist mindset in education will change the world. She studied at Boston University, Berkeley College of Music, and Stanford University.
Next up we will have Professor Tom Bell. Tom is a professor, a consultant, a scholar, and practicing attorney. Told you our lineup was pretty amazing. He joined the faculty of Fowler Law School at Chapman University in 1998 where he specializes in high-tech legal issues and has written a variety of work on intellectual property and internet law. He’s also the academic director of the Institute for Competitive Governance and works to promote a better way to government. He received his JD from University of Chicago Law School, and after he practiced law in Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., as well as serving as policy director at the Cato Institute.
Finally, not least, we have Patrick Reasonover. He is with Just Add Firewater Films, and he is the lead producer on They Say It Can’t Be Done. He graduated from Emory University here in Atlanta, where I am broadcasting live from, and he has been developing film and television projects and writing to produce more than 300 live action documentary and animated content for corporations, industry, and nonprofits over the last ten years.
So with that, I am going to go ahead and pass it over to Scotty if he wants to give a little bit more of an introduction and his initial take on the film.
Scotty Schmidt: Sure. Thank you, Kim, and thank you to the Firewater team and Federalist Society and all the panelists tonight and everybody who’s joining us out in cyberspace. Before I introduce myself further and our company and get into the big question of the night — what’s the future of our seas and oceans? — I thought I’d take the time to actually introduce our global ocean. I thought it might be a good foundational starting point for our conversation to take a look at the ocean as an entity itself. And what is it and what does it mean to us?
And the ocean, essentially, it’s our planet — or 70 percent of it anyway — including 90 percent of all the planet’s habitable space. It’s our lungs. The ocean generates 50 percent of our oxygen on the planet. It’s our thermostat and our climate regulator. The ocean absorbs 30 percent of all human caused CO2 and 90 percent of the heat from the sun.
It’s our food source. It supplies more than 25 percent of the world’s protein. It’s our commerce highway. 95 percent of global trade is in shipping lanes and ocean lanes, as well as ecommerce, as we’ve got thousands and tens of thousands of miles of internet cables below it. It’s a global economy. If the ocean were an economy itself, it’d be the seventh largest economy in the world.
It’s our frontier. Only 5 to 10 percent of the ocean has been explored. And of 2 million estimated species in the oceans, only 10 percent of those have been scientifically identified. So we don’t know what kind of pharmaceutical compounds, metals, or other discoveries are waiting out their for us.
Unfortunately, it’s also our dump. The ocean, as I mentioned, absorbs 30 percent of our anthropogenic CO2. Our agrichemicals, fertilizers, pesticides end up in the oceans. And 8 million tons of our plastics end up in the oceans. So it’s our friend. We haven’t treated it well, but I think here tonight we’re here to talk about solutions and what is the future of our ocean.
And for me, I think the future is adaptive resource and environmental management. And that’s where Primary Ocean comes in. Primary Ocean is a member of the Macrocystis U.S. Department of Energy team researching offshore seaweed cultivation systems for biofuels. Our specific role is technology to market contractor.
We’re looking for the most viable markets, economically and environmentally, for our seaweed resource. At the moment, we’re working, as Kim mentioned, on agricultural inputs, converting our seaweed into fertilizers to stop the ills of agrichemicals. But the use cases go on and on, and we’ll safe some of that for the discussion later.
Kimberly Hermann: Great. Thanks, Scotty. Next, I’m going to go ahead and pass it on over to Julie if you want to give us a little bit more on your role on the film and what it is that you do exactly.
Julie Friedman Steele: Yeah. This was a very interesting film to work on because I got to work with, as you said, Firewater in the beginning when they were doing their research and talking to them about the future of whatever it may be as it relates to innovation versus regulation. And what we were seeing was such a fast pace in innovation and a lag of regulation. And I remember talking to them in the very beginning about what this would be like and how this would look and what are the things to take a look at.
And I really enjoyed the entire Just Add Firewater team, and I was really kind of taken aback by The Federalist Society, not really knowing a ton about them but then really realizing, oh, wow. They’re really thinking big here. And this is really important. And the fact that they underwrote this was a huge deal because it wasn’t something that I would have expected and the freedom that it gave to Just Add Firewater to create a film such as this one.
And if you watch the film—and I hope everybody has seen the film, and if not, I hope you watch it tonight after this crowdcast or at whatever convenient time it is for you to watch—it was one of the most well done films as it relates to all of these different innovations and regulations. I’m excited to be a part of the ocean conversation because I completely agree with Scotty on everything he said as it relates to what role this ocean plays in our world. And a lot of times we don’t think about it.
When you think about the blue planet, what is the blue planet? It’s because you see the ocean, not because you see land. You see an ocean, and that’s why the Earth is called the blue planet. So when we think of what is the ocean capable of and what is it turning into and how can we utilize it and what is it going to become, these are all unbelievable questions that are happening right now.
So there’s a couple of things that I’m more passionate about than others, but there’s nothing that I’m not passionate about. I mean, if there’s something to do with the ocean or there’s something to do with the future of humanity, I’m a part of it. I’m super interested in what we become and how we’re going to utilize this based on the facts, the known knowns and the known unknowns as it relates to the future of humanity.
And so there’s a couple of things that I think are really interesting. One is that the movie covered — which was agriculture in the ocean and looking at agriculture as not only something that feeds humans but also creates additional oxygen and takes out carbon dioxide. So I thought that was extremely interesting that the film covered as it relates to food sources.
And in terms of what’s occurring on land as food sources, we have unbelievable factory farms that are cruel beyond belief, and that is what we’re having issues with as it relates to pandemics and jumping in terms of zoonotic diseases on land. Not so much if we’re looking at kelp as a food source. If you look at fishing and fisheries and netting, that’s a very different form of using the ocean and depleting it of all of its resources.
The other two areas that I think are really interesting as it relates to the ocean is base metals. We think about every electronic we have — the fact that you are even tuned in today is because you’re using base metals. And that is because of mining, and mining is extremely interesting, as we’ve strip mined a lot of our planet.
So we look at, well, what do we do next? How do we address this issue? Well, the ocean happens to have a floor of base metals that is unbelievably rich, and this is a hot topic as it relates to is this okay to go and get the metals? Is it okay to mine the ocean for metals? And who’s in charge of it? We don’t know. Is it the UN? Is it each nation? Is it nations together when there’s no regulatory aspect to the ocean floor? This is a huge deal.
And the batteries of big electric car news all the time, well, where are those base metals coming from in electric cars? And that is going to be the ocean. Otherwise, you’re looking at strip mining the planet again, or you’re going to asteroids. And I got to say I don’t know how easy it’s going to be to go to an asteroid, get the metals off of it, and bring it back to the planet. That’s not the lowest hanging fruit. I think the ocean is the lowest hanging fruit of what’s next, and it provides a huge opportunity for us.
Lastly, I want to say we have this issue as it relates to sea level rise. It’s affecting many millions of people today, and it’s happening in Amsterdam. And Amsterdam knows it’s occurring. They’ve got sinkholes all over the place, and they just do this thing, like, “Oh, hopefully it’ll be okay.” There’s no futureproofing.
If you look at Miami, we know that’s not working. And we have New Orleans; it’s below sea level. Like really? Are we going to build this again? No, you can’t build this again. The land is gone. There’s no shortage of history that shows us the erosion of our lands. So what are we going to do?
And I think that there’s a significant amount of how are we going to live when our land disappears and how do we use the ocean as a place to build habitable environments and not just think about it as boating. This is a whole other land in which we are doing this. Again, I see, Mary, a great comment on Houston is a swamp. And when we see a storm surge, we’re like 30 miles in on storm surge. Oh, my god. That’s like all these — I can’t tell you how many people, millions and millions of people without their homes because of sea level rise.
And so the ocean is only growing in this extent. And I think that what we’re looking at is so many different aspects that the sea cannot only destroy but also provide. And it’s both. Both are true, and I’d like to look at both of them as it relates to all aspects of the future of humanity and utilizing our oceans to advance ourselves versus destroy ourselves.
Kimberly Hermann: Great. That was — gives us a lot of information to talk about, and I think we’re going to touch on a lot of those topics, Julie. So I’m glad that you’ve introduced them. Thank you. You did a lot of my work for me as we get into the discussion. So that was great.
Julie Friedman Steele: I’ve got your back.
Kimberly Hermann: Thank you. Leave it to the experts. Speaking of, let me pass it on over to Tom, and he was also in the movie. So your take on being involved in the movie and whatever introduction you’d like to give our watchers today.
Tom Bell: Thank you, Kim. I want to follow Scotty’s lead in saying thank you to The Federalist Society. And I’m really happy to see my old friend Patrick—he’s an old buddy—working with my new friend Nathan at The Federalist Society. It’s just great to see Just Add Firewater and The Federalist Society, two great organizations, doing great work. So if you haven’t seen the film, go watch the film.
The thing I’m happy about personally is a lot of the time when I’m talking they’re doing these really cool cartoony things. It’s kind of like stop motion photography, kind of like Claymation. It’s just really fun. I don’t usually with academic stuff get to have cartoons. So it’s a fun film, very well done. Wow. It’s artistic and technically very well done. So go see it.
And I want to share with you some thoughts that I had about the film, both in the production and then afterwards watching it and then talking with my colleagues here. First is I want you to understand that, although the film has a critical take on the effects of regulation on innovation, at sea and elsewhere, it doesn’t end happily. I think the ultimate ending will be happy. But the film, because it has to work with government time, can’t end happily in the story about people trying to innovate at sea to create new foodstuffs and better protections to the environment, all the stuff my colleagues have been talking about here.
And the government — the people aren’t evil, and they’re not really dumb. But it’s like a big robot that is viewing the world through tubes and has these big clumsy fingers. And that’s what the government is like when it gets into these areas where you’ve got to be nimble, you’ve got to be creative. Red tape and creativity don’t mix. So the lesson is not government bad. The lesson is kind of government unintentionally is kind of not well fitted, not well sized for the problems that innovators face.
And they have a lot of problems, technical problems, sure, but just all over the place. They’ve got to get financing, for example. Targeted financing when you’re an innovator, people kind of say it’s a new thing. I don’t want to bet on that. All kinds of problems, they don’t need red tape, too. So what can we do?
The film offers some ideas in that area. One thing certainly is we’ve got to be more creative generally in governance. We’ve got to be able to try new things. I want to say something the film doesn’t get into but hopefully gets you interested in these topics. And that is to say in a lot of these cases property rights work. Property rights will make things better.
One of the reasons I think innovators in California off our coast — I’m looking at the ocean right now. I heard this praise about how much we love the ocean. Okay. I don’t mean to go you one better, but I love the ocean. Okay? I love the ocean. In fact, I’ve got a thing. I don’t know if you saw the guitars. I take my guitar down to the ocean if it’s a nice day and the sun is setting and it’s not raining. And I play on the beach trail as the sun is setting, and I’m looking at the ocean. So I love the ocean.
And I’m not afraid of innovators screwing it up if — I’m not saying what they do should be unregulated — but if they’re free to innovate within parameters. So the film doesn’t get into solutions. It says, “Oh, man. Regulation doesn’t work. Well, innovators are suffering.” Let’s talk a little bit about what might be done.
So one of my kind of second jobs is working on special jurisdictions, and I talk about it in this book. And in fact, I am also a legal advisor — I think I’m the only one they talk to much because I hear from a lot, too — the Seasteading Institute. The Seasteading Institute is a California organization that seeks to get people living on the ocean. And I worked with my friend there, the president, Joe Quirk. We’ve been to French Polynesia, been there a couple of times — more recently Panama. And things are working in Panama.
So one thing we can do to increase innovation is create new legal and regulatory environments that will allow innovators the freedom they need. And I’ll tell you. I know more actually probably about aquatic innovation in Panama because of my business there than I do off our California cost because I’ve been to the site in Panama on the north coast of Ocean Blue, which runs the largest open water fish farms– big, big floating subsea cages, literally cages.
They have to be because they come up, and sharks will gnaw on them. I’ve seen what the sharks can do. They had some out in the work area. And they put cobia in there. And how can they do that? Why aren’t they here? Panama said to them, “You know, here’s a concession area.” The Panamanian government was willing to invite in this innovation.
And yes, there are parameters they’ve got to work within, but they didn’t just come out of the gate saying, “Prove to us that you have a good idea, that it won’t do anything wrong. And oh, yeah. You should have some tests. I don’t know where. Good luck.” It’s just not easy to work with the U.S. government.
And the last thing I’ll say is that we can do more of that at home. So I want you to understand I think the message of the film is we can do better — it’s mostly about America. We can do better here in America. We should do better here in America. It’s a little sad that the best story I have for you about innovation at sea comes from another country. So I think we can end this with — what more can we do? I say I think we can learn from places like Panama or other places I’ve worked in the book — that I talk about in the book.
Oh, by the way, there’s a new audio version coming out tomorrow, as soon as they approve the new art. And the audio version has updates about the Panamanian situation and also in Honduras. So I think special jurisdictions abroad are going to create competition for Americans at home, and that will make our government step up its game, not regulate innovators out of existence. Thank you, Kim.
Kimberly Hermann: Thank you so much for that. Patrick, let me pass it over to you.
Patrick Reasonover: Thanks, guys, and it’s wonderful to hear everybody’s thoughts. It’s wonderful to see all of you because I remember when we had those first calls describing what we were trying to do, and Julie, Tom, Scotty were all very involved in helping us even figure out the direction for how we should attack something that is so big as this tension between innovation and regulation and the stakes — so the future where this is going to take place. So like the other panelists, I just want to start by thanking everyone in the audience who is watching this and also who has taken the time to watch our movie.
It’s incredibly gratifying as a film maker. It’s the most gratifying thing, in fact, when someone is willing to give over their time and watch something that you created. So on behalf of everybody who was behind the camera, who’s faces that you wouldn’t have seen, I want to say thank you. And also thank you to everyone who was behind the camera on the film, director Michael Ozias, producer Andrea Fuller, Victoria Hill, Ben Gaskell. There were just a bunch of people who worked to make this happen, and it was a fantastic experience. And I’m really proud of the movie.
The main thing I want to focus on here is the theme, which for us really was optimism versus pessimism. So the “they” in the They Say It Can’t Be Done isn’t a regulator or government or crony capitalist or us — just individual, consumer, not in my backyard. It could be anyone who is basically embracing the part of themselves — because we’re all optimists, and we’re all pessimists to a certain extent. We can be those.
So when you’re embracing the pessimistic part of you when it comes to the future, there’s dangers and there’s costs to that. And it can lead to inaction. It can lead to setting up systems that become really locked in, and they’ll just break when you try to modify them, not just modify and grow. And so we wanted to — and our whole approach to the film and our approach to this panel and working with these guys is really focused on let’s look at these problems, but then let’s see what are solutions.
We have Scotty in the film, but we talked to a lot of people across all of these industries who have innovative solutions to problems that they’re just not able to bring to market. And part of that reasons is because there’s not a regulatory framework. There isn’t a property rights to the sea. It’s a dump. It’s a tragedy of the commons. Same thing for the air.
In many cases we’re regulating things that are not leading to the outcomes that we want. Often regulators are — they don’t have the powers that they need because they’re receiving mandates from Congress that maybe are having them focus even on the wrong things. And they’re not empowered to necessarily refocus to that.
And so it’s really — I think there is this pessimistic theme that we can be on where we look out at the problems and we think, “Oh, everything is terrible. We need to stop. Let’s just stop.” Or we can look at innovators and people with imagination who have totally made amazing things happen in our lives that we see around us everyday and think, “There’s a problem, and I bet that someone out there is working on it. And maybe I can find out who they are, and maybe I can help them because I’m concerned about this problem.”
And if we empower people who are able to bring their imaginations and resources to the sea, to health, to food, we can have faith that good things will happen and the problems will be solved because that is our nature as human beings. So that was something very important to us that really guided the whole framework of the movie. And it was just fantastic to work with so many people who are in the film, like these guys, who shared that vision. Thank you.
Kimberly Hermann: Well, the optimism absolutely came through. I can tell you I litigate against administrative agencies most of the time, so I’m always complaining about overregulation. And the idea and the concept of the lack of regulation and how that stifles innovation embarrassingly was new to me when I got involved in this panel and through RTP and Federalist Society. And the optimism really did come through, so you guys did a phenomenal job with getting that message out. Okay.
So know that we’ve kind of gotten our introductions and our initial statements out of the way, I thought we could jump into some questions that I’ve got. And then, like I said, please type your questions into the chat as we’re going through this. And Nate will pop back on later and read those questions, and we’ll try to get to as many of them as we can.
So the first question — and I would love all of you to chime in and answer these. I might direct them to one person initially and then, please, again, chime in. Let’s make this a discussion. So the first one is for Scotty. Innovation and especially industry innovation, it arises, as we’ve talked about, because there’s a problem that needs to be fixed. And it can be small. It can be big. Sometimes it’s a combination.
And before watching this film, I personally did not know anything about the aquaculture industry. So a question that I have is how did you identify the problems that are out there, and what is the actual problem that you all are looking to fix and to solve? You mentioned a few of them in your intro, but maybe you can go into them in a little bit more detail for our listeners.
Scotty Schmidt: Sure. Yeah. It’s interesting. The problem we initially identified is no longer the problem we’re looking to solve, but it did open the doorway to this incredible opportunity in this rapidly growing industry. But before I talk about how we go there, I wanted to address a little bit about what Patrick and Tom were talking about: regulation. And regulation, it’s a double-edged sword.
Regulation can not only stifle innovation, but it also can create the framework to create innovation. If you don’t have certain types of regulation, than oftentimes there’s no need to innovate because people will fall back on the status quo. And oftentimes the status quo in our world may not be best processes.
So regulation needs to — it’s a thin line that needs to be addressed appropriately. It needs to do both. It needs to not stifle innovation but also incentivize innovation on both sides. In addition to that, however, Tom, you mentioned that in Panama we have offshore aquaculture and aquaculture happening right before our eyes. And we don’t have that in our country because of an onerous regulatory environment.
And oftentimes the regulators think that they’re saving the environment or saving certain stakeholders, but that’s a very narrow view. Really what they’re doing is outsourcing that innovation or that industry to another area that may not have some of the same standards that we would have in the United States. And when you take the globalist view as opposed to just a localist view, you start to recognize that loosening up on some of the regulation and bringing some of this industry home actually is better for the environment as a whole as opposed to just locally because you’re not outsourcing it to countries with no oversight. It’s better to have the industry here with appropriate oversight so that we have the right controls of our environmental impact versus sending it to countries that don’t have those controls.
I digress. Kim, I think you asked about what is a solution that we aimed to provide. Originally, we were inspired by some research that indicated that a certain species of seaweed when fed to ruminants or cattle would reduce methane emissions by up to 99 percent. We were actually blown away by that statistic. Greenhouse gases, specifically methane from cattle, account for nearly 20 percent of global warming greenhouse gases.
And my partners and I in Primary Ocean thought this is a way to make real impact right away. If we could feed every cattle this seaweed on the planet, you could literally reverse the clock to pre-industrialization on greenhouse gases. And that is truly saving the world.
And we looked at the industry and said, “Where can we make an impact?” And we realized that in order to feed every cow this seaweed you’re going to have to have a hell of a lot of seaweed. And where are we going to get the seaweed? Maybe we can grow it. There’s a lot of ocean out there. Maybe we could figure that out.
We quickly realized that we were not marine biologists or marine permaculturists or vicologists by any nature but decided to preserver and started looking at the environment in the U.S. of actually how do you get this done. As entrepreneurs, we didn’t really need to focus on the science right away. We needed to focus on the how. And the how led us to our first hurdle and our first challenge, which was the regulatory environment.
We realized — we came to learn very quickly that it was nearly impossible to get an aquaculture permit in the United States. At the time—and this is in 2017—it was generally expected that it would take you three to seven years to get an aquaculture permit. And as Tom had mentioned, as a startup or as an entrepreneur looking to raise capital to have a tremendous impact, nobody’s going to give you money if they say, “Oh, I might be able to get this done in three to seven years.”
So you stop right there. Your innovation or your concept is dead on arrival because the opportunity’s not available. We actually surveyed the aquaculture industry. We found a company, Catalina Sea Ranch, who’s featured in the documentary with Primary Ocean. At the time, they had the only existing U.S. federal aquaculture permit, and they were allowed to cultivate mussels and macroalgae.
We approached that CEO and indicated our interest in growing seaweed because they were not utilizing that part of their permit—they were only growing mussels—and through a small equity invest acquired those seaweed rights to cultivate on their permit, which we thought was very clever. It accelerated our timeline to market by three to seven years. It got us involved in the industry with a partner with significant assets and experience.
And our journey kind of took on a new life as we realized that the methane mitigating species of seaweed is very difficult to grow. And there are other seaweeds that have better short-term opportunity. So we pivoted our approach from this cattle feed approach to look at what resource we had available to us. And that was macrocystis pyrifera. It’s giant kelp. It’s this really elegant ecosystem. The kelp forest you see under the oceans, it’s the fastest growing seaweed on the planet. And it has a lot of use cases.
As part of our role at Department of Energy grant program, we’re tasked with identifying the highest and best use of our seaweed and have identified our first best use as organic fertilizers, soon to be called biostimulants. It turns out when you extract certain compounds from our seaweeds and you apply these in terrestrial agriculture, well, the crops have a profound growth enhancing effect. Our seaweed is rich in phytohormones.
When you put those hormones on these crops, it increases their health, their resiliency. It reduces their stress, ultimately providing more food from an organic solution and more profits for farmers. So our solution went from saving the planet from cow burps and cow farts to generating more organic food and profits for farmers.
Kimberly Hermann: Follow up question on that I have for Julie actually, how frequently, when you’re working with innovators, do you see this pivot — do you see them having to pivot because of regulatory hurdles that they may be coming up against?
Julie Friedman Steele: That’s an interesting question because what I see happening is innovators don’t think about regulations until actually they get stopped and the funding stops and the ability to continue stops. Their vision and their dreams for what can happen isn’t started with a regulatory idea. They’re usually just envisioning some possible future that they think it’s going to be an additive aspect for humanity.
And then all of a sudden, they hit a brick wall of regulatory. And then they’re like, “Oh, I can’t continue my work, or I can’t do this. Or I can’t do that,” specifically due to regulations. So I see, in terms of your question, what’s occurring as it relates to CEOs who are innovating and regulation is that the innovation is just happening so fast that the regulators really don’t know what’s going on because they have this subject matter expertise.
And in the futurist field or future thinking — anybody can be future thinking. It’s not some special ability. But if you think about the future, you may envision something that the regulators haven’t even thought of or the ability to understand what you’re thinking about.
So a lot of the work that I do is help with — and many of the members at the World Future Society help with these CEOs who are unbelievable visionaries who are coming up with these great ideas and kind of helping to communicate why this is important and why this needs to happen now and why, if you wait, it’s going to be more difficult to get these things through. So what I see mostly is a difference in speed between this innovation and the regulation. And what’s also interesting about this is that, depending on what country you’re from — because right now the world is made up of nation-states.
You go up into the outer space and you look back at the planet — as I said, the blue planet, you don’t see lines. You have no idea what the nation-states are if you were to come from some other place and see nation-states. We don’t know what nation-states are. But here, in this world, in this time, in this reality, we’ve created imaginary borders in which those areas control something.
And what we’ve found is that we’re in a globalized world. So it wasn’t so much a localized issue as it is a globalized issue. And the global world isn’t connected. We don’t make these decisions together. We make separate decisions.
So you may see one nation-state decide to move forward and another nation-state halt everything. So the one that moves forward, did they make the right decision about moving forward and the other one make the wrong decision by halting? Or did the one that move forward make the wrong decision by moving forward and the halting one was the one that was the right one because it would have cause this significant amount of damage?
So I think what we’re seeing now isn’t a globalized world. It isn’t about the nation-state because the nation-state doesn’t control the whole world. So now we’ve got all of these nation-states, whether they be — as well as corporations and as well as family offices that are bigger than nation-states at the $200 billion level now having to make these decisions, as well as the bottom up of all of the people in the world. And so a decision of one nation-state may affect the entire world.
And as a global supply chain, we are seeing that one country affects another country, which affects another country. And you can’t just be kind of on your own anymore, especially as it relates to the seas. You can get an agreement from the United Nations to operate within the seas, but that doesn’t mean that the nation-states actually have to agree with you. They can disagree with you. There’s no rule and order to the sea.
So a lot of times you’ll see one nation-state say no and another one go, “We’re going all in on this, full gas pedal, no brake, we’re in,” and the other one go, “Oh, wait a second. We didn’t realize you were going to go forward because then maybe we’d move it faster because we’re not a part of this game anymore because we stopped it.” So we don’t really know who’s actually in control when different nation-states are in control of the different innovators.
So Scotty is an incredible innovator, but is he a part of every nation-state? Is there another Scotty in each nation-state that’s supporting him more than the one he’s in? I don’t know. It’s possible. But what I’m seeing right now is unbelievable visionary CEOs from different countries, as I say nation-states, depending on how you refer to it—I’m referring to it as nation-states—allowing their innovators to move forward. And some are holding them back.
And as I said, that could be a great thing. It could be a horrible thing. And I think that maybe another question I’d love to talk about later in the conversation is what makes something amazing and what makes something horrible. And because we are a segregated world and not a unified world yet, that’s something we need to become because we’re all under the same atmosphere.
And we’re also on the same planet, so the lines don’t make sense sometimes anymore when we talk about the ocean. And that’s exactly what’s happening to the ocean is we do not know how to regulate because we don’t control it. It’s not the land, and we’ve never had this before. So it’s super interesting and a great space.
So I do think that the innovators are moving way faster than the regulators, and I am concerned about some of the countries, the nation-states, that do not regulate anything and are going to move forward on things that other places are being more thoughtful about. So it’s both. Both are true and that’s what futurists call dialectics. You can have more than one thing as true at the same time. So I hope that answers your question, Kim.
Kimberly Hermann: Yeah. That’s extremely helpful, and it also leads us into another point that I wanted to address. And maybe Tom can start us off with this, but I’d love to hear all of your thoughts on it. You mentioned the ocean and how there’s no lines and there’s no property lines. And in the movie, Tom, you talk too about so many miles out states regulate it, then federal waters, then you’re into the open ocean.
So when we talk about not just Primary Ocean and not just the aquaculture but the other potential industries that are out there and the other potential innovation, how is that going to work? Who’s going to regulate it? Where do these companies even start?
Tom Bell: Thanks for asking. I’ll give a shot at that. It’s not an easy question. You remind me of a lot of my clients, to whom I say, “Not only does nobody know the answer to that, nobody has asked that question before.”
Kimberly Hermann: It depends.
Tom Bell: It depends, yes. The correct answer, audience, to every legal question is — this is an inside joke with lawyers — “It depends.” And then you say a bunch of other words. Well, I’ll try to not say too many words.
I will say a couple of things, two big points. One is I keep hearing regulation coming up. I think we know what that is, but I want to introduce another aspect to regulation. When we think of regulation, most of us—I do—we think of the stuff that comes out of the EPA or whatever the Coast Guard says about how many life preservers you have to have on board. It’s written down, and somebody with a badge at the end of the day — she might not have a badge. Maybe she has a clipboard and a hard helmet.
But at the end of the day, there’s somebody with a badge over there who will come and bust your chops if you don’t do what they say. They’ll shut you down, probably assess a fine. You could even end up in jail. That’s risky.
But there’s another kind of regulation, which I characterize as distributed regulation — distributed. That’s centralized regulation. But why is it when I walk down the street I don’t slap people in the face? Did I need the EPA or whoever that would be — I don’t know, the FBI or the local equivalent of the FBI to tell me not to do that? There probably is a rule, but I don’t use a rule to know not to slap people in the face because more or less I’m civilized, as are all of you, I’m sure.
And so there’s another way of regulating society that actually is — I don’t want to say it’s always better than centralized regulation. You do want to have a rule about which side of the road to drive on, maybe. Sure. Okay. Although, I think that would evolve in a free society as well. But the point is we could have a regular, safe, clean environment and society without necessarily having a regulator.
Instead, we have regulators, plural. And this is what I tried to allude to when I said the way to handle some of these regulatory problems our innovators face is, well, in the first place, to go back to what Scotty said, you’ve got to at least not shut them out. The greatest virtue of the Panamanian approach to aquaculture is they let you do it.
And I’m sure they don’t have everything figured out, but, hey, haven’t a lot of the Norwegian countries — the Scandinavian countries kind of screwed up salmon farming as well? We’re all learning this. They gave it a try. You couldn’t even get a permit in the United States. So the first thing is let people do things.
And the second thing is, instead of telling them they’ve got to do it this way, it has to be this many fish. Oh, your fish are too short, too big — you say here’s what you can’t have. You can’t have your excess urea content in the water exceed this level or whatever. The turbidity in the water has to be this. You use specifications and you let the innovators figure out how to solve the problem, but you’ve got to tell them what the problem is first. All right.
Last thing I’ll say, and this is the kind of first point, is about this whole thing about the ocean being unregulated. No, I won’t say that. It is true that the claims of nation-states stop more or less at about 28 nautical miles offshore. It’s a little more complicated. It’s actually kind of super complicated.
But the quick version is a territorial sovereign, like the United States, claims territorial waters up to 14 nautical miles offshore. And that includes rocks that stay above the mean high tide line. And countries really milk that for as far as they can get. And then another 14 nautical miles is just like another margin, and, yes, there’s complications and places were two countries are on the edge of a gulf. Let’s not get into that. This is the general approach. It depends.
Another 14 miles is the contiguous zone. And there, a nation-state can police the area to prevent people from escaping from the territorial waters if they did something naughty there. They’re smuggling, running drugs, illegal fishing. Or they can go out there and stop somebody from coming in. Not really. It’s not their territory, but especially if you’re the United States you act like it is. In fact, the United States basically acts like the whole world’s oceans is its territory, but that’s another story.
Now, we’re 28 nautical miles out. I’m really almost done, Kim. 28 nautical miles out and let’s not get into the exclusive economic zone, which goes up to 200 nautical miles on some continental shelves underwater. Maybe we don’t need to get into that. But 28 nautical miles out is the open ocean.
Open ocean does not mean it’s not regulated. There is no one sovereign, setting aside the United States and its really kind of awesome Coast Guard and Navy — it’s really kind of impressive, but that doesn’t really give them the right to do what they do. Really, any nation-state is given access. But as my seasteading friends off the coast of Thailand discovered — go to the Seasteading Institute’s website and you can click through that or go on YouTube and search for the first seasteaders, a story put together by my friend Joe Quirk.
And it tells a story about my friends who went offshore off of Thailand and created a seastead. And they were in it, but they didn’t get a flag from a terrestrial sovereign. They didn’t talk to me first. I’m actually kind of ticked, but not everybody listens. But the point is, they didn’t have a flag.
So here’s the way they regulate the open ocean. You’ve got to have a flag. If you don’t have a flag, the U.S. Coast Guard or the coast guard of Panama or any sovereign nation will come up and say, “What the heck is this piece of junk floating around out here?” And once you get a flag, you get other obligations. It varies from country to country, from flag to flag.
But I will not agree that the open oceans are lawless or anarchical. I think they’re actually regulated but in kind of a distributed way. And it more or less works. There are problems, but don’t tell me there aren’t problems with centralized regulation, right? There are cities in America burning right now because the central authorities can’t figure out how to not have things be burnt up. I’ll stop there. Thank you, Kim.
Kimberly Hermann: No, thank you for giving us that framework there. Patrick, one question that I have for you — I’m jumping into kind of the movie creation piece here. In one of the Q&As, you mentioned that, even though you don’t want to pick one of your babies and one of the industries, the aquaculture portion of the movie really spoke to you, and it really captured you as a filmmaker. Can you give us a little more context as to why that is and how that integrates into kind of some of the lack of regulation or overregulation that we’ve talked about?
Patrick Reasonover: Sure. Thank you for that question. And I’d also love to hear what the other guys think about—Scotty, being here aside—your favorite story. I find one of the things that we found that was really fascinating just in terms of storytelling is definitely it was sort of put on by Julie is what is this future look like? How incredible visually is it?
So if companies like Just Inc, who we featured in the film, who create a cell cultured lab grown meat where they take a single cell from any animal and grow it in a lab without antibiotics, and they can make meat that is exactly like meat. It’s not like meat; it is meat. It’s literally chicken that you’re eating — and steak or whatever. Then suddenly think of the change that is.
When two-thirds of arable land, I believe, is used to feed these animals and you think of the pollution there — and you think of the labor, all the people who spend their time around the globe doing this and could be doing something else, and yet they have the protein that they would need. So that vision of almost like the buffalo coming back down the Great Plains — or with Scotty, the vision of these oases out in the Pacific where, yes, there’s life out there. But there’s life in the Sahara Desert — but to the extent where you could have these kelp farms or even living communities surrounding kelp farms in the open sea with whales and animal life, sharks, all going below that wouldn’t have been there, but now there is a primary food source, kind of rainforest if you will.
So it creates this place for there to be more life. So just as a filmmaker, visually, speaking for myself though—I think probably a lot of folks on the team would have agreed—that just kind of thing where you’re, like Julie was saying, looking down on the planet. And maybe we just start seeing cities or vast green farms on our blue ocean, incredible — and incredible thing. And the amount of problems that can be solved that Scotty was referencing earlier, pulling CO2, sequestering, healing the ocean, creating more life, feeding our population, it’s incredible. It’s amazing. Incredible to visualize, and that’s what attracted me to it so much.
Kimberly Hermann: Does anyone else want to chime in on that? I’d love to here your — Julie and Tom — obviously, Scotty, of course we know you’re very interested in this, but I’d love to here maybe why you’re so passionate about this issue.
Julie Friedman Steele: Scotty, I’m going to go first, and then I’ll let you take over as a subject matter expert in the field that you’re in. But just at a macrolevel, at a civilization scale and the future of humanity scale, is what is it that we’re trying to do? What is it that we’re trying to become? What is it that we’re trying to create? These are questions that kind of we didn’t have to deal with in a single lifetime.
Now, all of us are in a single lifetime having to grapple with issues that are at an existential threat issue. And I noticed in our side convo existential threats being brought up, the first one being nuclear proliferation and saying okay. We’ve created something now that we can actually kill ourselves will. And now we have more and more and more of this. So it’s like okay. Well, let’s futureproof against those. Okay.
So we’ve got climate change. We’ve got this one. We’ve got this one. Okay. That’s not a life worth living. All we do is prevent ourselves from dying? I mean, how fun is that? That’s scary. Every kid has to be born to know that you’re just going to work to prevent your own extinction. I mean, what else is there?
So I think we’re coming to a point in humanity in which we’re trying to relook at what is human purpose and what are we trying to do and what is worth it and what is a part of it? And I think it couldn’t be more of an exciting time. Certainly, there’s a lot of people who are scared of innovation and of new technologies and of new ideas and of new things that are different.
We have religion that is about — the majority of them — based on an agricultural time. Then we have governments and education, which are based on an industrial time. And now we’re in a new time, but we haven’t caught up to the new time. So it’s like, well, what are we going to do with this new time?
So I think part of the issue isn’t just about did I create a company that’s going to be successful financially for my investors or did I create something approved by regulation, but what is it that humans want to create? What is it that the world’s going to become? What is it that we want to cocreate and do as a collective journey into the future?
Because that is always missing. You always hear this kind of term from these companies that are in the visionary space that we want to create a better world. And I always hold them accountable, and I say what is the definition of “better world”? I want to know what “better world” is because no one’s brave enough to state the better world. I would like to hear what better world looks like, and let’s cocreate that. But I need to know. And I couldn’t agree with you more, and I’m going to read your book, Tom. But yes.
Tom Bell: It’s got the answer.
Julie Friedman Steele: But yes, all of these ideas. And we’re cocreating this world. And is it government? Is it corporation? Is it nonprofit? Is it families? What is it? Like who — is it all of us? Who gets to play the part in architecting the future? And there’s no better time to architect the future than right now.
And I think this takes advanced collaboration and advanced relationships because we, as a species, don’t do well in relating to each other. We fight. We argue. We can barely relate to our friends or our spouse or whatever it may be. We need to advance.
And I think if we look at Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek — and I don’t mean to sound like a Trekkie for a second, but Gene Roddenberry did come up with a lot of his ideas through the World Future Society. And you look at Star Trek: Next Generation, and you see these characters who are advanced humans, who want to do better, who say that our goal as humanity is to advance ourselves and the rest of us. It’s not who gets the bigger piece of the pie or a zero-sum game.
And I think right now we’re living in a zero-sum game mentality that is going to kill us, and we have to come up with a better idea here. There’s a new — I get asked a lot by new sci-fi movies to comment or question on their technology. And I said, “Look. Your technology is great. Your vision of technology is great. However, the humanity did not evolve. We devolved. We’re still punching each other in the face with advanced technology.” What’s wrong with us?
Do we have the ability to advance relationally and the ability to have self-awareness as to ourselves and what are we going to become? Because without that, it doesn’t matter what technology you have, and it doesn’t matter what regulation you have. If we cannot advance ourselves, all we’re going to do is police the people that can’t advance. And I think that there’s an aspect to this that is really integral to who we are as individuals and who we are as a macroscale — as a single organism or as a species.
So those are the kinds of different things that I look at and I think you can feel through how I speak I’m extremely passionate about because it doesn’t matter if there’s no vision for the future. If it’s just to get through the short term, who cares? We’re not going to make it. I want to see a vision for this future, and I want to hear what a better world is.
I’m not saying we have the answer, but it’s time to cocreate and go on this collective journey because we have the technology. And we have the ability, and we can do this. So I think we’re going to pull this off. And as Patrick said, it’s about optimism versus pessimism. And the optimist aspect of this makes it fun. The pessimist aspect of this makes me want to not get up in the morning.
Scotty Schmidt: I can comment to that. Rather than talk about what is the better world, I’d prefer to talk about how to get to a better world. And how do you get to a better world? I would think it’s incremental improvements in various systems and hopefully some giant leaps along the way.
And those systems are various. It’s food production systems. It’s political systems. It’s energy production systems. But how we get to the better world is technological innovation or conceptual innovation across these various systems. So that’s what gets me excited.
Kim, I think your question was what gets me excited, and it’s that incremental innovation and systems to get to a better world. We all have our own definition of what that better world is, but it’s all our own responsibility to spend every day making those incremental improvements whether there’s just an incremental improvement in your own life that you can control or it’s an incremental improvement in your company, which has incremental improvements on a scale of its customers. Or it’s improvements in much larger organizations such as churches or state or political systems, which have even more impact across larger population subsets.
So that’s really what gets us up in the morning is making these improvements. We’re focused on food at the moment. We’re paid by the U.S. Department of Energy to innovate for energy conversion. But we believe our technology is to have more of an impact on food production.
The world’s going to need 70 percent more food by 2050. The oceans, as I mentioned, aren’t going to provide that. We need to come up with better solutions. And macroalgae farming is a tremendous solution that takes a lot of the stress off of our terrestrial production systems.
I don’t remember who was talking about it, but when we were talking about farming for cattle forage or energy crops, we’re talking about tens of millions of acres in the United States that are just for biofuels and other tens of millions of acres that are just for cattle forage. If we can move that production into the oceans, we don’t need those 60 million acres of land. We won’t use trillions of gallons of water. We won’t pollute our riparian systems and aquafers with pesticides and fertilizers, and we can now use those 60 million acres on more productive food crops to help feed the world.
Meanwhile, now we’re farming macroalgae in the ocean. We’re not using the land. We’re not using fertilizers. We’re not using pesticides. We’re drawing down CO2 on par with the production of — the primary production of rainforests. And back to what Patrick was mentioning, some of what got him excited about the ocean aquaculture, we’re also converting some lower productive habitats — a lot of phytoplankton into more productive habitats, macrolevel habitats, starting with macroalgae as the basis of that ecosystem, then drawing in large species, like fish, eventually mammals, other things.
So you’re creating productivity regions in ocean space where there’s generally not productivity regions. Patrick, you mentioned it’s like a rainforest. Our great partner is Ocean Rainforest. And their CEO, Olavur Gregersen, also coined a term that you mentioned — as an oasis. And what we aim to build are oases in the ocean for this macroscopic life that are very productive, turning what is a nonproductive area—and there’s lots of it in the ocean—into a productive area, not only for human food but for ecosystem thriving of more wild fisheries. And of course, you can stack on energy production and other biproducts of the macroalgae or fish or mussel aquaculture that you’re really developing in these areas.
Julie Friedman Steele: Kim, I know you mentioned you wanted it to be a conversation, so I’m going to try to step in here with just what Scotty had mentioned — is just that there’s this idea that he’s mentioning as it relates to how many people on the planet we need to feed. And that’s a status quo linear thinking of future. And I want to make sure that everybody understands that the future is multiple futures.
It’s not a single future. So there is an aspect of this where we could have — for $400 you can print a virus that could take out the world tomorrow. So Scotty’s vision of the future with all these people may be gone. We all know this now because we’ve experienced a global pandemic in our lifetimes. There’s many different other aspects that also change the trajectory of the future. So if you want to say this is the future, I say, well, what are the other futures that are possible? Let’s scenario plan all of them because you can’t really scenario plan for a single future.
Tom Bell: Hold on. Scenario plan all the futures. That’s too much. It’ll take too much time. Before we run out of time, let me just actually answer the question that Kim asked. I want to get the question before us.
Nate Kaczmarek: Tom, I think we are going another half hour.
Tom Bell: Well, we’re going to have to — I’ll give it back to you then. But you want us to plan out every future. I don’t know how we’re going to that.
Julie Friedman Steele: No, I don’t. Hold on one second. So the futures are like this, and just helpful — it’s a guiding post. I’m not saying unlimited — to infinity. I’m saying there’s the possible futures. There’s probable futures. There’s plausible futures. There’s preferred futures. These are the different kind of looks that, when you look at the future, you look at.
So it’s not you have to do every single one of them. I’m just saying the status quo future of just a trajectory of a linear line is actually not how the future works. So I just want to make sure that when we talk about the future we’re looking at the fact that there is more than one. And that’s all I’m saying. You don’t have to do millions and billions. I’m saying what is preferred? What’s plausible? What’s probably? What isn’t possible at all? What would be freakish?
Tom Bell: I didn’t hear Scotty saying he thought things were all planned out and it was going to go down one track. I don’t know. Maybe I misunderstood. I would agree with you —
Julie Friedman Steele: No, he said there would be a certain number of people on this planet, and I’m saying —
Tom Bell: Well, there are now. I hope they hang around. They could disappear. We all know that’s possible. It would be sad. I don’t think it’s too likely actually. Humans are pretty tough.
Julie Friedman Steele: Well, the pandemic is occurring.
Patrick Reasonover: One thing before we go to audience questions that just I — because it’s funny because when you’re creating a movie you get to kind of tie some of these threads together. That’s sort of our job. And so one of the things that Julie said that I thought was very interesting related to it’s the linear versus nonlinear is this idea that we can look at time as linear and think we know what the future is going to be. Or it’s nonlinear, and there’s a bunch of different possibilities.
And in some ways, the regulator is put in the position of trying to figure out a system devised that, kind of like Tom you do in your book or you’re doing with your — generating new regulatory models or legal regimes, which allows for many possible futures. It doesn’t determine linearly what the future should be. It’s a set of rules that nominally are — they facilitate incremental change, like the kind Scotty was talking about.
And they’re, in some ways — the way I look at it, anyway, is we’re going on a journey of discovery. Even the regulator is going on a journey of discovery in a sense. Like how do we divide a commons into the proper property rights? How do we — we have a system that evolves through time. That’s not the command and control regulation like you were bringing up earlier, Tom.
And I think — so that to me is where all these things coalesce and at least thematically is referring to the other in the film is this idea that, if there is a better way, we have to discover it. And in some ways, we know it will be universal when we discover it. But the way we find it is through incremental attempts and mistakes. And then there’s lessons learned, and then we carry it forward as traditions or institutions.
But I think right now one of the things that we were focused on in the film is we’ve kind of abandoned that for this very linear, “you will do this, you won’t do that” view, not one that’s centered around markets and innovation and believing that we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen. We have to wait on people with imaginations to try stuff.
Kimberly Hermann: Quick question, how does that play into when we don’t have regulation? So when we have a new industry that isn’t regulated, how does that play in? Because what we’ve been talking about here is there are rules, and you can’t do this or you can do this. But how is it — I guess maybe Tom can start this.
Tom Bell: I’ll start out by saying I don’t think industry is not regulated if they are, say, in the United States, if they’re in any civilized country and even if they’re on the open ocean because they’ll be flying the flag of a terrestrial sovereign. And the law of the terrestrial sovereign applies on board. And by that, I mean, look, suppose I tomorrow came up with an innovation that was a new kind of pencil. I’m holding a pencil here.
And the colors of the lead change as you write. I figure out a way to do that. It’s kind of cool. It’s not going to save any lives. And I put it on the market, but it turns out it’s poisonous. I’m going to get in trouble. Was there a pencil — a colored pencil regulation? And I hope not. There might actually be one, but I don’t think there is one.
So I’m not going to actually sell this. I’m going to know what’s in those colors. And if lead’s in there, I’m going to say great idea, but it’s not going to work. So I’m regulated. We are all regulated. And that’s a good thing, but it’s distributed regulation. We don’t have to have somebody sitting at a desk write out exactly what we can and can’t do for people to be free, to go out and innovate, to actually not kill each other.
That should not be the presumption — or even hurt each other. Why? Because, like them or not, there’s a ton of attorneys over there who are going to come and sue you if you hurt their clients. And they’re going to do it under tort law or contract law. They’re going to use standard warranties. There’s already plenty on the books. That’s my answer.
Kimberly Hermann: And thank you for that, and I think that’s a great point and one that I was hoping that you would make, knowing your writings and your scholarly work. So I appreciate that. I think at this point I know we have a lot of questions that have come in. I want to at least get to some of them, and then I do have one or two wrap up questions. But I know we want to try to stick to our time tonight. So Nate, do you want to maybe ask a few of the audience questions?
Nate Kaczmarek: Sure. I’ve been doing my best here to listen to the conversation and also jot down the questions as they’ve been coming in through the chat. There’s been a good conversation going back and forth through the chat. One thing that I did want to answer that a couple of people have asked is, if you haven’t received a link to the film, it’s in the chat. So you can watch the film that way, and the information’s there. And also, after this we will be sending you another email with the movie, in case you haven’t watched the movie yet.
I wanted to ask — there was a question early on — there was a statistic thrown out that how do we know that only 30 percent of our CO2 is absorbed by the ocean? And I’m not sure if that was early on if anyone has the background on that or the information to back that up. How’s that measured and understood?
Scotty Schmidt: Yeah. I can take a stab at that. I don’t know exactly. It’s tracked by several organizations, NOAA being one of them. You can look at dissolved CO2 in the ocean. And actually, the oceans have surprised us recently. We’ve anticipated as — or scientists rather have anticipated that as we continue to pump CO2 in the atmosphere that the oceans would reach some absorption limits. And we’ve been pleasantly surprised in not a good way, but the oceans have continued to absorb at about 30 percent rate. So it’s doing its job as our climate regulator.
That CO2 is generally cycled to the depths of the deep seas, but it has the negative effect of ocean synthification. Ocean synthification then has compounding effects across sea life. It’s degenerative to calcium, meaning mussel shells, which are a feed source. It’s degenerative to coral reefs, which are a significant portion of the planet’s biodiversity and a significant portion of the ecosystems in the ocean. So how do we know that? We measure it by dissolved CO2. Government agencies are generally monitoring that. And we just —
Nate Kaczmarek: Okay. Very good. It’s collected by the government and they keep it. I follow.
Scotty Schmidt: And other agencies. Universities, government, yeah. Many.
Nate Kaczmarek: Excellent. So another question from the audience, I think I’ve heard from others—and this is true of myself—when we’re inspired by innovations we see going on in the ocean, and they want to know more about where we can find out about the best projects that are going on, besides watching the movie. Are there places that you all can point to that you’re aware of that people can track new projects or get interested in, that sort of thing?
Scotty Schmidt: So with that macroalgae research — in the Western Hemisphere anyway, Europe in 2020 started a grant program called Horizon 2020 and kickstarted significant macroalgae cultivation research in their region. The U.S. Department of Energy followed up with the MARINER program, which is the program we’re a part of. If you go to those websites, you can find those awardees, participants, researchers and kind of follow the breadcrumb trail to find their specific companies and projects.
Undercurrent News is a wonderful aquaculture news outlet that’s going to talk significantly about mussel farming, fish farming, seaweed aquaculture around the globe. The Grist is a great resource for environmental news, green news. That’s G-R-I-S-T. I would say those are the best resources to find out — discover new companies and technologies in our sector.
Nate Kaczmarek: Great. And I’m — go ahead, Tom, sorry.
Tom Bell: I want to put in a plug for the Seasteading Institute. They cover not just the specific issues of macroalgae but the wider issues of getting people on the open ocean. So Seasteading Institute, I gave link in the chat.
Nate Kaczmarek: Excellent. Thank you. Another question was has anyone tasted beef that came from cattle that has been reared on seaweed? Has anyone done that? Someone was interested in what the result is?
Scotty Schmidt: I saw that question. I’m glad you brought it back. I have not tasted cattle that’s been feed seaweed, but cattle have been fed seaweed for thousands of years. They’ve been eating washed up seaweed on the shores of Ireland and the shores of Nova Scotia for a long time.
Seaweed’s a great dietary resource for cattle, not just for its anti-methanogenic properties but also its omega-3s. It meets a lot of the veterinary feed directives. It’s a natural antiviral, a natural antibacterial. It actually helps reduce the antibiotics and antivirals that are oftentimes required or administered on farms.
The leading research for feeding macroalgae to cattle is being performed by CSIRO. It’s an Australian government organization. Dr. Rob Kinley kind of made the discovery of the anti-methanogenic, as well as UC Davis in California where they’ve been doing in vivo trials of feeding cattle certain percentages of different macroalgae. And they actually have done taste tests. And from what I hear, it tastes like a pretty good hamburger.
Tom Bell: That’s good to hear.
Julie Friedman Steele: I just want to mention I just quickly put up a link — I don’t mean to put up a link to another documentary. But it’s called The Game Changers. And I haven’t eaten meat since I was 11. My daughter has never had meat. There is a huge movement towards a plant-based diet. I’m sure you’ll see it on menus. You’ll see McDonald’s has added it. You’ll see Burger King has added it. This is growing so fast. It’s one of the fastest growing industries is the plant-based diet.
So it’s just something to look at as another piece of information so that you can get all of the data and all of the signals before you make a decision on what trajectory we’re going into. So I wanted to just give an example of one that is different. Yes, is it cows who’ve had kelp? No. But is it something else? Yeah. So I just wanted to give another option as it relates to eating as well as cell agriculture that is covered in the movie They Say It Can’t Be Done.
Nate Kaczmarek: Very good. Tom, I’ll throw this question from the audience to you. It just came in. I don’t know if you saw it. It’s about how would you speak to the decisionmakers and agencies, and how would you help them to set up a socially and ecologically sustainable balance between aquaculture and wild marine ecosystems? So we’re putting you in control. How are you directing the regulatory authorities?
Tom Bell: Wow. Thanks for that vast grant of power and the big unsolvable problem that’s doomed to failure. Sure. Happy to take that on. Well, seriously, I would say this to my regulator friends. Actually both my father and my brother worked in government for many happy years. Happy for them. I think they did good things. No, they did.
The point is I would say to my regulator friends, “Give me specs. And if you don’t have specs, why don’t you? How can you regulate if you don’t have measurements? Isn’t that kind of the idea of objective regulations you actually can see the needle’s in the wrong place?” Because if it’s just you come out and cross your arms and say, “I don’t like the look of this” and you can’t tell me what to fix, that’s not a good way to regulate. So give me specs.
And then let’s talk about just having you conform to the specs, or even better, tagging some kind of fine to where the specifications are. So if I go over the limit just for a week — it was new technology. The gasket broke. We got that fixed — I just pay. And you smile. I smile, and you don’t shove me down. I’ve got too much capital invested. I need to reassure my investors you’re not going to walk in with the red tape machine and shut down my industry.
So regulators need to give specifications instead of edicts, not command and control regulation, but performance-based regulation, if they have to regulate. Of course, the first thing should be do you really need to regulate this? There are tort suits out there, you know.
But setting aside that — and the second thing I’d say is and don’t give hard lines because — unless — Scotty might say sometimes there’s a tipping point. If there’s too much phosphate, boom. Everything — you know, maybe you need a hard line here or there. Or if you want to drop plutonium in the water, no, you can’t do that. But for a lot of things, it’s a graduated curve. So if you go over the line, we learn from that, and we kind of reel it back in. And I pay for it and sorry. So there’s some ideas.
Nate Kaczmarek: Okay. Very good. We’re moving quickly because we’re running out of time. Let me just squeeze in one last one and see if anyone wants to take a stab at it. And then I will hand it back to Kim. I’ll combine two questions. One was specifically about the current administration and trying — how do we reverse the current administration’s environmental regulations? And I would broaden it since we’re very fair minded here at The Federalist Society.
I would say, if you object to the prior administration’s environmental regs, how would you address it or try to work on it? And if you object to the current ones, how would you recommend? And then combining that with — that’s maybe too compound a question. But there was a question about so much of our population lives close to the ocean and how that impacts how we regulate the ocean.
Is there a difference in the way people in fly over country feel about these topics versus people who are maybe more in control on coasts? I know that’s combining a couple of things there, but I’m just trying to wrap up the rest of the audience’s questions.
Julie Friedman Steele: I’ll answer specifically just to the people on the coast and sea level rise as an issue. There’s a company called ARKUP, and they built something that was revolutionary as innovators. And that basically — and it may be something that the Seasteading Institute is also familiar with. But what they did is they raised basically a home above the water, so you’re not like a houseboat who’s nauseated all the time, but one that pushes into the ground under the water and pushes up this home above the water. And it’s a really interesting idea as it relates to living above the water.
Now, in Miami, where they launched their first boat — or their first — it’s not even a boat. They didn’t even know what to call it. So they couldn’t even move it because no one would let it dock anywhere because it was considered a barge. And they’re like, “Well, we’re not a barge. We’re a this.” And they couldn’t figure that out either, so they had to call themselves a livable yacht because they couldn’t understand what they actually were because there was no word for it.
And so basically it was like, okay. Well, who’s the audience for it? They really wanted to help the city of Amsterdam where one of the chief architects came from, as well as the city of Miami. Miami has no plan whatsoever to deal with sea level rise because it’s too expensive. If they were to deal with it now and change all the buildings, it’s just too expensive. So they’re going to let it go under because there isn’t a plan.
And we met with him as well with ARKUP as it relates to what is the future plan for the city of Miami. What’s the future plan for the city of Amsterdam? And here were some options. But we couldn’t get anyone to understand what these innovators were building, which was a way in which you could live when sea level rise came up.
So they created something that was unbelievable and incredible. And it made the news recently that they never got beyond their first prototype, which was ARKUP1, because nobody understood what they were trying to do. And so it became this livable yacht for wealthy people when really it was a big vision for solving a big humanity problem.
So I just use that as an example as it relates to solving, okay, so how many people are on the sea — there? And I gave them an idea. I said, “Let’s get a warehouse and start building now because nobody’s looking into the future. And I promise you, and you know, we’re going to be facing sea level rise. And as soon as it’s there, we don’t have to call the Red Cross to come and save us. We already have it ready to go, and let’s do it.”
This was an idea that I gave to many investors as it relates so we know this. 100 percent this is going to occur. What is the solution? Let’s not be so reactive but be proactive. So where all these areas are, we have no proactive solution because nobody understood what the heck they were doing and had to call it a livable yacht or a barge that was not allowed to go into any docking station because it didn’t need to dock.
Anyway. I thought that was interesting as it relates to innovation and nobody being able to understand what they were doing. And they were super talented. And they still may succeed. I’m just saying what’s currently occurring.
Nate Kaczmarek: Very good. I think I have to cut it a little short on that question because we want to squeeze in one more, Kim?
Kimberly Hermann: Yeah. If I could, just one final question for Scotty is what’s next? What are we going to see next out of Primary Ocean? Is it going to be food? Is it going to be energy? Where do you think the next kind of big thing is? And then I’m going to also save one final question for Patrick after that, which is our we going to get a sequel? So if we can do it in that quick order and then I’ll pass it back to Nate to wrap up.
Scotty Schmidt: Sure. Quickly, I’ll address that previous question as well. I don’t know exactly the population percentage that lives on the coast, but I did mention in my intro that over 2 billion people rely on the ocean for its protein resource. So that’s nearly 30 percent of the world that rely on the ocean to provide its protein foods. So it’s a big, big number, and we’re going to have to increase the ocean production to continue to support these people’s foods needs going forward.
Fortunately, aquaculture is already producing 50 percent of the fish on the planet because our wild stocks can’t support it any longer. But we need more, and we need a lot more. It’s the farming of the future, both fish, bivalves, and macroalgae.
What’s next for Primary Ocean? Primary Ocean, along with most other entrepreneurs and companies in our macroalgae space are pursuing a fractionation technology strategy whereby we wanted to breakdown our seaweed resource into multiple constituent parts. There’s a lot of value inside the seaweed. There’s lipids. There’s polysaccharides that could be used as pharmaceutical compounds. There’s the hormones for agriculture.
Of course, the seaweed could be used just whole as a whole food. It can be used as a cattle forage. It can be used for biofuels. You’ve got to look at the value propositions from the value-based pyramid, what’s highest on the chart and what’s lowest on the chart. Lowest is biofuels. Highest is going to be food. As you work your way down, bioplastics is somewhere in there. Fertilizers is somewhere in there.
The goal is to identify viable markets. For us, of course, I mentioned that it’s in agriculture first. Our next market is most likely in human health supplements. My daughter loves seaweed. I’m not a huge seaweed fan. I don’t really see it catching on as a tremendous food source in the United States. But if you can extract the valuable health compounds from it, people, I believe, would be very happy to take it as a supplement.
You’ve got fucoidans, which are anticancer, antitumor. Fucoidan is a compound that’s derived from our species of seaweed. And in July, it was reported that in trials against COVID-19 it was more effective, ten times more effective, at blocking the COVID-19 virus than Remdesivir. Remdesivir, for those of you who don’t know, it’s the antiviral used for Ebola. It’s the most powerful antiviral we have on the marketplace.
An organic compound from our seaweed performed ten times better than Remdesivir in the lab. So we’re looking at that supplement. Of course, it’s relevant to our situation in today’s world. But beyond that, cosmetics, food, and ultimately, hopefully in 20 years, we’re farming enough of the ocean, drawing down enough carbon and have enough seaweed that we can convert it into biofuels and further reduce our carbon footprint on this planet.
Kimberly Hermann: Wow. That’s absolutely amazing. It really is truly amazing what you guys are doing. A note on the seaweed, my son’s best friend, seaweed is his favorite snack.
Patrick Reasonover: It’s good.
Kimberly Hermann: He brings it to school every single day. And my son has yet to try it, but we’re working on it. Final question for Patrick, is there going to be a sequel? How can we follow the four different innovative industries that you highlight in the movie and beyond, so many, I’m sure, that didn’t even get covered in the movie that you probably would have liked to?
Patrick Reasonover: Yes. So we definitely want there to be a sequel in some fashion, continuing to follow the entrepreneurs over time and see what happens. I think that’s one of the great things about the doc. In some ways, it’s this snapshot. So three years, five years, ten years into the future, how did the dialogue change? What’s happening to the people and what did they face?
And that in and of itself I think would be a very important tool for us to learn because I can say, to the early question that Nate brought up about the regulators, I did talk to Obama regulators. And I did talk to Trump regulators. And my overall sentiments were more you’re both wrong because the idea seems to be we need more command and control, or we don’t need to have the command and control. And the idea that we would have property rights and liberty and distributed regulation or standards, measurables — I don’t want to say paint with a broad brush. Because when we talked to Obama administration regulations, they definitely were using some of those tools.
So you would have thought, “Oh, well, they’re Democrats, so they don’t do that.” But in fact, they did use market walls and standards and was a part of their decision calculus. So I think in some ways when we hear this dialogue in the media, not like we had it in our film, it’s just really ideologically driven. And it’s easy to just kind of like — you’re just taking the wrong approach from the get-go. So what we tried to do is just set a new framework for you to look at the problem in without it being a journalistic, ideological warfare. So maybe we can have people who disagree collaborate together on what needs to be done.
Kimberly Hermann: Amazing concept in today’s society but a point very well taken and I think a great way to end this. So I’m going to pass it back to Nate and let him close us out. But I just would like to say personally thank you for letting me be a part of this. Thank you for making the movie and thank you for the talk today. So Nate, I’ll pass it back.
Nate Kaczmarek: Yes. My hat’s off to the Just Add Firewater team, as well to all of you, Kim, Patrick, Tom, Scotty, Julie. We are so grateful for your participation and your insights today. And certainly to our audience, we welcome your feedback any time. You can send it our way at RTP@regproject.org. That’s R-E-G-project.org. You can also check out what Reg Project is doing at that website, regproject.org. R-E-G-project.org.
And lastly, I’m trying to hurry. I apologize. Please tune in next week, Thursday the 17 at 7:00 for the future of our health panel. That panel will feature another dynamite group of speakers, Christina Sandefur from the Goldwater Institute; Julie Allickson from Wake Forest Institute, who was featured in the film; Makai Hay from the Committee to Reduce Infectious Deaths; and then two former FDA officials, Joshua Sharfstein and Dan Troy. Anyway. We’re out of time. Thank you all. Have a great evening.
Dale E. Fowler School of Law, Chapman University
They Say It Can’t be Done
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Primary Ocean Producers
CEO & Board Chair
World Future Society
Southeastern Legal Foundation
They Say It Can’t Be Done
It Can Be Done Live