My significant other gave me new sunglasses for my birthday. My Oakley’s were worn down and I really liked them. Ray-ban would have been nice too. But she had something else in mind: The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses, made from floating plastics retrieved from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. They are an expression of her relentless optimism for a better tomorrow. For our children and the generations beyond them.
It’s astonishing how much optimism is required to believe in a world that’s better than today’s, say, 30 years from now. Of course, this very much depends on your definition of ‘better’. If you like heat & extreme weather, then we are fine. But if you prefer a mild climate, great biodiversity, rainforests and coral reefs, then despair becomes the more accessible emotion. Or indifference, as a human life is dwarfed by the sheer size of these problems, and, you know, ‘What can I do that will have any measurable impact on a problem of this size?‘.
There are many of them, people who default to indifference. Let’s call them the ‘never-minders’. And we can be confident that they are not going to solve the problem, because they won’t even start. The never-minders have it easy, because they will be proven right by their own inaction.
And then there are the relentless optimists. The people who just get started, even though the chances are slim that we will save the day and overcome the challenges ahead of us. They buy second hand clothing, switch to vegan diets, reduce their flying, and yes, they buy The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses as birthday presents.
Admittedly, I love the story of The Ocean Cleanup and Boyan Slat, who happens to come from my university city Delft. At the age of 18 he committed to solving the floating plastics problem and he’s been at it for years, despite never ending stream of criticism of the never-minders. I particularly respect his come-back after the failed launch of System 001 (‘Wilson’); the headlines were excruciating, but Boyan doesn’t give a sh*t (as visible on the outside; I’m sure he cried a little bit on the inside on that day). He just keeps going and now takes on rivers too.
The criticism typically revolves around the challenge being too big and the dumping plastics in the oceans being too ingrained in our habits. In other words, just another version of ‘What can I do that will have any measurable impact on a problem of this size?‘. Well, you get to it. As per your mom’s: The junk isn’t going to clean up itself.
Just like my significant other I am a relentless optimist. I think most people who start companies are, because you have to be. When cash runs out in 3 months and sales are slow, it is helpful to have a natural focus on the silver linings. And there is no shortage of people who will doubt the feasibility of what you are doing. They will ask you ‘Does this really have a future?’ or ‘Shouldn’t you just find a job with a reliable pay check?’. The never-minders are everywhere, but you can’t have too many of them in your team. There’s a balance and it has to be net-positive.
The same applies to our global climate challenges. We need to be net-positive on the optimism scale and relentless optimists like Boyan Slat make all the difference. They tilt the scale and pull in lots of optimism in their wake.
I will admit it took some adjustment, but now I realize The Ocean Cleanup sunglasses were the perfect gift: They are sunglasses for relentless optimists. I suspect they also block the gaze of the never-minders.