In Episode 92, we're headed off to climate school!
Our guest is Anshuman Bapna, the creator (and headmaster) of Terra.do, which is like Hogwarts but for fixing the broken Earth. Of course, unlike Dumbledore, you can trust this headmaster won’t abandon you in your time of need.
It seems so obvious that there should be a central (online) location where people can learn about climate change and how they can actually make a difference… but, until we learned about Terra.do, we didn’t even think about the fact that it didn’t exist. Luckily, now it does, and it has a strong bias towards taking participants from being interested in the topic to taking action to solve the problem — and it’s that critical DOING step that we need more people to take before we can hope to heal our planet and address some of the global inequities caused by industrialization and colonization.
Have feedback or questions? Tweet us, or send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org
Trump’s Book Club:
- "The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable" by Amitav Ghosh
- Apply now: www.terra.do
- Twitter: @bapnaa
Connect with us:
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- Intro/outro by Tim Blane: timblane.com
Important, Not Important is produced by Crate Media
Quinn: Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett.
Brian: And my name is Brian Colbert Kennedy.
Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's what he tells us.
Brian: That's what I'm telling you.
Quinn: There you go.
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Quinn: Even a reverend. Yup.
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Brian: On this week's episode-
Quinn: That's right.
Brian: We're headed off to climate school.
Quinn: That's right. We got our owls-
Brian: Oh god.
Quinn: We're headed off to climate school.
Quinn: And our guest today, Brian.
Quinn: He's like Dumbledore-
Brian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Quinn: ... but for climate. And also, unlike Dumbledore, he won't abandon you in your time of need-
Brian: Oh good.
Quinn: ... over and over. I know that's complicated; I get it. He had a plan from the start. It would have just been helpful to fill Harry in a little bit.
Brian: Oh my god.
Quinn: Anyways, different episode. Different conversation.
Quinn: Anyways, Anshuman Bapna is here. And he's to talk about his new venture with climate school and how you can get involved. Truly one of the most eloquent speakers on this that I think we've talked to. His perspective is truly something else and I think will help a lot of people identify with ways that they can get into this thing if they've been searching for how that might be.
Brian: Absolutely. What a great combo, and just like you said, yeah, I could just listen to him all day.
Quinn: Yeah, we basically kept him here all day. Anyways, let's go talk to Anshuman.
Brian: Okay, bye.
Quinn: All right, bye-bye.
Quinn: Our guest today is Anshuman Bapna. And together we're going to talk about how to teach climate change. Anshuman, welcome.
Anshuman Bapna: Thank you, Quinn. Glad to be on the podcast.
Brian: Yes, this is going to be fantastic. Anshuman, can you give our listeners just a brief introduction, just who you are and what you do.
Anshuman Bapna: Sure. So I've been an internet entrepreneur most of my life, but just like half of the planet now thinking about climate for some time now. Then over the past year, just pitched everything that I've been working on, trying to figure out what's important but not so important way of approaching this problem, and finally found that there were many, many more people like me who were trying to get into climate and not knowing where to begin. So I thought might as well solve the problem for myself and for everyone else, and ended up building this new company called Terra.do. Do as in doing. Just an online climate school trying to get lots and lots of people like me to learn about climate and get working.
Brian: I love it.
Quinn: I love it, and it seems so obvious that it's something we should be doing. And yet it's crazy that it's just been all ad hoc for now, no real systematized way of doing it, which is something I'm really excited to get into because I've got beef with a lot of people about it.
Brian: Yeah, is there a way that we can force everybody to attend your school?
Quinn: Yeah. Hey, Anshuman, could you just spend a couple minutes telling us how you get there? You've had a pretty... and I loved hearing about, in our offline conversations, the 10 years or so that preceded your decision to do this. Going back and forth to India and working in business and things like that, and how that led up to this. I think that's something that will be compelling to folks as they decide how they can make their dent, including getting educated at terra.do.
Anshuman Bapna: Sure. So I grew up in small-town India and small-town in India is still a big town in the rest of the world, at least in terms of people. So all kinds of interesting things happening around me; agriculture, in the social sector, both my parents were doctors but working in the hinterlands, and so a very different kind of world altogether that I grew up in. Then went to undergrad in the big, glitzy city of Bombay, Bollywood, glamor, all that stuff, however, in a very boring place, which was an engineering college [inaudible 00:05:18] Bombay.
Anshuman Bapna: Turned out to be much more interesting than I thought because that was around the time when the first boom and bust of the internet was happening. That big wave that started out in 1996 with Netscape's IPO and then crashed into the massive NASDAQ crash in 2000; I was very much in the middle of that. And as an undergrad, ended up starting my own company while I was still in college with two more of more my friends. One of them is my co-founder again, so clearly I did not dissuade him enough to stay away from me forever. We raised money literally a couple of weeks before the NASDAQ crash, and then, of course, everything burned down to the ground around us [inaudible 00:06:03] one year. We managed to somehow come out of that unscathed and sold the company, then decided to come to the last refuge of the scoundrel, which is to go to business school when you can't figure out what to do with your life. And ended up here in sunny California at Stanford, which was really fun because you suddenly come into a place where you have so many different types of people from all different disciplines trying to solve often similar things.
Anshuman Bapna: And so all this whole cross-disciplinary stuff really stuck with me, and ended up going a ton of procuring, going to Vietnam for the summer trying to sell solar lights to poor farmers who had much better things to do with their money than to buy what I was selling them. Or working with a nonprofit pharmaceutical firm here in San Francisco, which is an oxymoron but a fantastic idea. Then, in order to pay off my tuition, so ended up in consulting for a couple of years in the [inaudible 00:07:03]. This didn't seem like the right place for someone like me, who was trying to convince someone else to start a company with me here in New York. And instantly convinced me to join Google, and Google was really much more fun, the food was terrific, so I [inaudible 00:07:19] put on lots of pounds.
Quinn: Food was terrific.
Anshuman Bapna: I also realized how much of everything around you can be questioned if you were to ask from first principles. And I saw tons of examples of that while I was at Google, so that was quite enlightening.
Anshuman Bapna: While all of this was happening, and I had married my childhood sweetheart, there was a third life I was living which was I was running a nonprofit in India at the same time, where I had worked with a politician for a summer. India's political system is very unusual. Things have changed a little bit, but typically you would not find professionals or people who don't have political ambitions working in politics at all in India. And that was one of the things that I realized, that there was this massive gap. If you just brought people who had done some business thinking and who were just much more organized about getting stuff done, you could be working with someone who was running a constituency of four to five million people. It's literally [inaudible 00:08:25] what more impact your could have in a very short period of time. And of course, there's a flip side of that, too, is that if you don't get it right and you're experimenting with what you're doing, then you also have that many guinea pigs. And that's unfortunately the story of Indian democracy. But I ran that for about eight years and worked with some really interesting legislation, including one of the most famous ones called Right To Information, which completely changed how citizens had access to holding governments accountable in India.
Anshuman Bapna: So while all of this was going on, and we were loving New York, New York's such a beautiful, fantastic place, still my favorite city in the world, and our daughter was born, and paradoxically within a month of that I had a light bulb moment go off. I thought, "You know what, my daughter doesn't care which part of the world we live in, how much money we make." And because I'd done a startup, I knew that startups suck out a lot of your time, but they also give you incredible flexibility with what you do with that remaining time. And I wanted to have control over that, so my wife and I both quit our jobs, moved back to India, incorporated a new company that I was going to start just on the way to the airport, on the way to JFK.
Anshuman Bapna: [inaudible 00:09:40] India, we thought we'll be back in a year's time after setting up a team. We even put our stuff in storage in New York. And then one year became 10 years, so just how these things typically play out. And then I ran [crosstalk 00:09:53] that company, typical internet company building some really cool planning products. Again, then eventually ended up selling this company to India's largest online travel company called Make My Trip, which was a publicly listed company, so I was part of the leadership team there. It was really fun because every quarter you had to go back to Wall Street analysts and convince them that you're the best thing since sliced bread. But while all of this was happening, 2016 happened.
Anshuman Bapna: 2016 was my moment of a lot of this coming together, where Trump got elected, Brexit happened. My kids... We were at the Great Barrier Reef. I had an older daughter who could snorkel and see how amazing the reef was, but my son was too young to see that. And that year was the first of the years in which mass bleachings happened, and 30% of the coral reef died that year. And suddenly inside me there was this moment where I said, "Look, I've been kind of taking this for granted that the world will obviously be a better place for my kids when that may not be true. Borders might close, which they have, by the way. We just might destroy half the planet, which we are. And there just might be lot more warfare, hunger and disease that unfortunately looks like we're heading in that direction." Lots of gloom and doom.
Anshuman Bapna: I could not sit back and just wait for all of that to happen while my kids are growing up, so that was my aha moment, and then last year we decided to ditch all of that, all my entire career in the internet space, or at least bring those skills to try to solve for climate as opposed to just sit it out and wait for things to happen to us. Fortunately for me, my wife decided to do a PhD as well, and she ended up at Stanford again. So 15 years later, we're back in student housing, back with creaky walls. And in fact, back with my favorite pastime from 15 years ago, which was a mouse had infested our house, and every night there's a battle of wits that happens [crosstalk 00:12:03], and I'm not winning. But yeah, here we are.
Quinn: I have discovered that... I have had multiple... like a trilogy of sagas against mice and rats in my house. And I have never won. There is no defeating Sauron in my house, it's just devastation constantly. I just basically end up moving, was the answer.
Brian: How's the food at Stanford versus Google?
Anshuman Bapna: Oh, Stanford is really good, actually.
Brian: Okay, all right. Cool. I want to make sure you're happy over there.
Anshuman Bapna: Yeah, not complaining.
Quinn: Yeah, I appreciate you sharing that. I think, again, for so many people who bounce around to different things and bounce around to live in different places and especially right now are looking out and going, "What's next for me? Am I going to keep doing the same thing?" whether they've got a job or not or they're trying to find some way to contribute, I think it's always helpful to hear from successful, endeavoring people such as yourself who have done a bunch of different things, and that informs how they're able to contribute later. So excited to dig into that.
Anshuman Bapna: Yes, absolutely.
Brian: Yes, very much. What a journey already.
Anshuman Bapna: I don't know about the successful part but yeah, absolutely. [crosstalk 00:13:13].
Quinn: Easy, don't... Sh-sh-sh-shh. We don't have to... We'll get into it. It's fine.
Brian: All right. Yeah, let's do this. We're going to, Anshuman, just so you know, provide some quick context about our topic today. And then we're going to, like Quinn said, get into action-oriented questions and actions that we can all do to learn about what's going on and help fix it.
Anshuman Bapna: Sure, Brian. [crosstalk 00:13:37].
Quinn: Anshuman, we do start with one important question to set the tone for this whole thing, and I'm going to adapt it a little bit today because it's I think it's time to do that. But instead of saying tell us your life story, we'd like to ask: Anshuman, why are you vital to the survival of the planet as we know it?
Anshuman Bapna: Let me start with the answer that I discovered when I had my midlife crisis and I'll get to more [crosstalk 00:14:05]. The midlife crisis answer was basic, which was that none of this matters; just the belief that you're important is obviously illusion. But the good part about that realization is that it frees you up and liberates you to then do what really gets you going right now as opposed to something that's driven by legacy or by impact or by success and so on.
Anshuman Bapna: Having said that, what I've realized is that climate is a classic example of something that touches everything under the sun, no pun intended. It touches energy, agriculture, manufacturing; that's on the industrial side. But it also touches social justice, it touches just the belief of how we live our day-to-day lives and how much we consume, how much we take from the planet and how much we give back. So it's both very humanistic at one level, it's very deeply ecological at another. There are fundamental, psychological ways but also economic ways of thinking about climate.
Anshuman Bapna: But one thing which I've realized is that each of these has become big silos by themselves. So, for example, if you are an economics person, then you might believe that carbon tax will solve all the problems. That's it, there's nothing else that needs to be done. You just put the right number out there, get all the governments to accept it and lo and behold climate will be solved. If you are an [inaudible 00:15:38] social justice, environmental justice person, you might see it from a completely different lens which is, this is fundamentally a global north versus global south divide. It's an example of hundreds of years of perpetuating the inequity that developed countries have done on developing countries and on civilizations, native civilizations all across the planet. And today [inaudible 00:16:04] this massive wealth transfer from the global north to the global south through some mechanism, that is all [inaudible 00:16:13]. You might be here, somebody sitting in Silicon Valley, the land of innovation, and you might believe that, "Look, it's... 200 years ago, Malthus was also talking about how overpopulation will starve the entire planet and we all die, and look where we are, it's the land of abundance, we have more food than we have ever produced per capita, so it's just a question of technology; it's just a question of innovation. You just invent the right thing and these problems will go away."
Anshuman Bapna: Now, obviously the reality is that all of these things are true and untrue at the same time. And what I felt was personally my role was that I have been very cross-disciplinary in my thinking. Maybe the small contribution that I could make was to build something that would bring all of these different kinds of thinkings in one single place. Let people see each other, hear each other, work with each other to solve the same end goal, and really that's my reason for being on this planet.
Quinn: Well, it sounds very modest at best. No, it's so well considered. And it seems like you might be the perfect person to run this Hogwarts for climate school, so I'm excited to dig into that a little more. Thank you for that.
Quinn: So digging into that a little bit, just some context for folks. I assume, Anshuman, you get some of the same questions that Brian and I do, which is the most common of those of us involved in this climate fight, at least from a podcast or a newsletter or whatever, is: Hey man, what do I do? Right? And that can come from anybody. And there's often some confusion, some angst, some frustration involved. Sometimes hope. Not usually, which is kind of understandable at this point. But depending on who's asking, your parents, your kids, your friends, your Uber driver, a business colleague, someone you're giving a keynote to, a mortal enemy, whatever.
Quinn: For those of us that have some context and some grounding in this, the answer for each person should probably be different because everybody's got different skills and different priorities. And that's when we're trying to answer that question literally, which is, "What do I do?" But if we back that up, at least as far as America is concerned, and Anshuman, we'll dig into India, too, because you had some really interesting thoughts on that and we've talked about that a little bit here but I want to go deeper, but again, at least with regard to America, we're failing to even educate the next generation in the most efficient and practical way possible.
Quinn: So beyond like, "What can I do?" there's not an understanding there, literally a factual understanding. States are fighting over the science, which is insane, and grade school curriculums and textbooks are all over the place, universities still have majors built around these mostly archaic verticals that don't recognize that problems of today are opportunities for interdisciplinary training and approaches. But again, the point is that we have to start with an education. We have to start with a context that's up to date and dynamic and founded on interdisciplinary facts.
Quinn: So that's talking about our youth, but, again, everyone else... Again, if we haven't made it clear over almost a hundred episodes of these conversations that are sometimes directly about climate change and sometimes not: It's all one system. And fighting the good fight is going to require all these people with different skills and endeavors, and business and ideas, the kitchen sink, but we have to start with education. And the question then becomes: What is the best version of that? Are there different versions of that? How do we arm them with this education in the most actionable way forward? And that's where I'm excited that this idea of climate school comes in.
Quinn: So that's the question I want to get in today is: How do we teach about climate change so that people are armed with the right information going forward?
Anshuman Bapna: Yeah, that's a very important question. And maybe even before I jump into that, let me point out two principles that I think definitely apply to me but also to everyone else regardless of skills, background, where they live on this planet and so on that are relevant to the climate fight.
Anshuman Bapna: And the two principles are: One, to understand that things are bad enough that no matter how much you do or people around you do or governments around you do, we stay dissatisfied. And this is all hands on deck. Therefore don't switch out of plastic bags and think that you're done; don't solve a specific problem or vote for a certain candidate, and think that you're done. There's much, much, much more that needs to be done. So principle number one, stay dissatisfied.
Anshuman Bapna: Second principle, which has been very helpful for me, not sure it applies to everyone on the planet, is to listen to your kids. One thing that I have realized is, and I'll merely share an anecdote here which is: My daughter, who was almost nine at the time when I told her that I was going to quit and start another company, which she was totally blasé about because that's what she'd seen, me start companies all the time, when I told her that I was going to be working on climate change, her eyes lit up and she said, "Good for you." And I said, "Aren't you surprised? Because I don't really have any background in climate." Her reaction was priceless, and that's what I implore everyone to keep thinking about, she said, "Well, what else would you work on? What else is worth working on?"
Anshuman Bapna: So that sense of obligation that we have to our kids, and I think Greta Thunberg, the teenage activist from Sweden, she exemplifies it so well, where she keeps saying, "How dare you?" And I think kids have this right of ownership on us and on our time that nothing else can. Our publishers cannot. Our patriotism cannot. So listen to your kids and when they say that this is the most important problem for you to be thinking about working on.
Anshuman Bapna: So let's start there. If you have these two principles in mind, I think the next step is to get into understanding what's really happening all around you. I think the key thing that I realized is that people will come at it from different angles. If you are a high school kid, then I don't need to tell you how important this problem is because you understand this even better than I do. What I need to give you is the right learning and doing opportunities so that you can start working on those problems while you are in high school. And the most important and the most effective ones that I think personally that high school kids could be working on is to understand what community organizing is all about.
Anshuman Bapna: Now, if you look at everything from the local impact of what climate and, in general, environmental [inaudible 00:23:48] do in your community and pick up a piece there, learn why it's important, where it all fits into the grand scheme of things, and then get your peers and your teachers and your parents and your neighbors involved in solving that. That multiplied by a million times can become something truly big. More importantly, it'll start informing the political conversations around climate that your parents are seeing and that the local politicians are seeing. So that's at one end, which is high school.
Anshuman Bapna: At the complete opposite end, let me give the worst possible example of opposite of a high school kid, would be a Goldman Sachs trader, a trader who couldn't care less about any of this stuff. And yet when they go back and look at ways to do their jobs better, one thing that they're going to recognize is that climate risk is built into their portfolio right now. Everything that they touch, whether it's real estate, assets that they own, agricultural commodities, companies that they own stocks in, industrials, energy, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You would very soon realize that your portfolio is going to get massively hurt by climate unless you start understanding and learning what's happening in this ecosystem, what the science says right now.
Anshuman Bapna: And the interesting part about the science is that we only see... First of all, 30 to 40 years of climate science has been surprisingly accurate. Back in 1979, when James Hansen talked about this, to now, the predictions have tracked really, really well with what climate scientists said. So if the past is some indicator of the future, the chances are that what they're talking about the next 10 years, the next 20 years, are also going to be fairly true unless we change our ways in a very dramatic way. What that means is that your Miami coastal real estate has underpriced the flooding risk, sea level rise risk in a massive way. Your agricultural commodities have not really priced in how much the weather patterns will change, and entire tracts of land will either become unfarmable or will require a very different process altogether, and companies do not care to do that.
Anshuman Bapna: So even as a Goldman Sachs trader, I would say that your career and maybe even your survival depends on understanding climate risk. So therefore these are two extreme ends, and I don't think what we're trying to do with Terra is going to solve all of these or even 3% of these problems. In fact, our vision is that can we build something that allows educators to then build their own mini-schools on top of Terra. Because you need all kinds of educators to come on board and start to teach all kinds of different people all across the planet. So that's our vision for this.
Brian: Yeah, that sounds awesome and perfect, because I want to get into Terra more, your online climate school. Can you tell us a bit about how the process goes for applicants and who's applying? What are their jobs, what are their interests, what are their education levels?
Anshuman Bapna: Sure. So what we've built is a 12-week online crash course or a boot camp in climate. So people that we'll see, and we haven't graduated [inaudible 00:27:14]. It's just literally our first cohort that graduated about 10 days ago, and we're very thrilled about how that went. The kind of people who first of all, who applied for the program are particularly mid-career, but mid-career from all walks of life. Just to give you a sample of what kind of people were there, we had someone who was a partner at Techstars, the world's largest technology accelerator and graduates thousands of startups every year. And his reason for joining the program was to figure out how to get Techstars to think a lot more in terms of climate tech investing, in terms of sustainable investing. So this is a way for him to get better at his job and rope in a climate understanding to make sure that Techstars promotes those kind of startups in the future.
Anshuman Bapna: That's one end. We would also have on the other end, a woman who has been an investigative journalist in India for 15 years, has been reporting for CNN, worked at Facebook and so on, and realized that a lot of the stories that she was writing had this environmental degradation [inaudible 00:28:19], and she wanted to just zoom out and say, well, "What the hell is going on here? How come I run into these issues and they seem intractable, both from an economic standpoint, from a social standpoint, and yet I don't fully understand them. What's the best way to get there?" So we have these very diverse set of people, so we had roughly 40% folks from the US, 40% from India and 20% from the rest of the world, all online and often mid-career, and all congregating together over this nine-week period.
Anshuman Bapna: And the program itself is very intimate, so to speak. Which is, yes, you have the standard videos that you can watch and assignments that they finish, but the real fun part is an online community that they built where people hang out for office hours twice every week. Those office hours are, we have a teaching assistant who has been a PhD in botany who meets them. Ostensibly the purpose is like any other office hours in any other university, which is solve assignments, but in reality, it turns very quickly into a social gathering because people come in, and all these people have strong opinions about their work and what skills they can bring to it, and therefore they start chatting about projects that they're working on, the ideas that they have for climate. And it turns into this almost peer- to-peer learning format that happens every week [inaudible 00:29:43].
Anshuman Bapna: We also have experts who come in. Now, experts on one end could be someone who runs one of the largest climate [inaudible 00:29:53] funds. They look at everything from nuclear fusion to really big technologies in all aspects of climate. That's one kind of a setup. And you could sit down with them almost in a virtual fireside chat. And because it's a small class, you can talk to them, you can pepper them with questions and so on. On the other end, it's like almost the very next week, we had someone come in who was a [inaudible 00:30:15] award winner, which is like an [inaudible 00:30:18] Nobel prize, and he was the pioneer in everything solar. And his whole angle is not peak technology, but his whole angle is [inaudible 00:30:29]. He thinks, "Well, how do you get people who earn less than two dollars a day to not worry about at least energy poverty?" So clearly diverse sets.
Anshuman Bapna: And that I think is the beauty of the program, which is if you look at climate you need to have almost a split mind where on one side you are worried about mitigating, less carbon and where the carbon exists in the air out there, sucking it out. That's one part. But the other part, which is at one level sadder, is adaptation. Which is the realization that we are so far already, that it's so far along, that a massive set of impacts of climate are already here and are unavoidable for almost two billion people on this planet. How do you make systems that allow these two billion people to cope with climate change in a slightly better way? That's something that you also have to understand.
Anshuman Bapna: And therefore for us in Terra, it's very important to bring these two different worlds together. And that's why we have a very diverse, very global class from day one. And that's the intent, to keep that going forward.
Quinn: I love that, and I want to hang out with these people for a few reasons but mostly because... I'm sure you run into this, and I imagine Brian does, too, which is I find that I'm the bummer in most conversations.
Brian: People love me in conversations. This is you.
Quinn: When people are like, "It's a nice day." And I'm like, "Don't get used to it." They're like, "Oh, it's really hot out." I'm like, "Get used to it." It's hard, and you want to be a realist with everybody, but it would be nice to talk to people whose eyes don't glaze over like a shark every time I respond to them. My wife doesn't take me anywhere anymore. I'm the worst.
Quinn: So I love the focus on your students, and I want to talk briefly about what it's like to have kids right now and be taking action. I want to reach back a little further. You filled us in a little bit about your family life and your business to get to where you are today. But is there a specific relationship or moment you can point to that was a catalyst for you to eventually do this. I guess if you look back and review, was there a teacher or a parent or a moment or something like that, that made you go, "Maybe this is the way I can do it to effectively become an educator."
Anshuman Bapna: No, I never thought I would get into education in any way. And it turns out I'm... My reason for not getting into education was quite simple, which is I'm a very hard-wired internet entrepreneur. And the beauty of being [inaudible 00:33:16] is that feedback loops are instant. You suck one day and you'll find out; you do something great one day, and you'll find out that very day. And to me education felt like, "My god, it will be decades before I find out that there's any impact." And even then there will be so many compounding factors. Maybe the weather changed, maybe Trump was reelected, maybe coronavirus happened. God knows what. So I never liked education such as a business, as a way of thinking about [inaudible 00:33:48] in the world. And lo and behold, just this last one year has completely changed my outlook. My brother, who... He runs Khan Academy for India, and his whole perspective-
Quinn: Oh wow. Hold on, talk about having some influence. Holy shit!
Anshuman Bapna: No, it's incredible. And to see what Sal Khan has done with Khan Academy and to see how well that translates from both Mountain View, California, to Mumbai, India, has just been remarkable. And I can see that in my brother's journey, in taking that idea of having world-class education for everyone. That's on one side. I think the other aspect was that, with coronavirus happening and schools all shut down, I started getting a little bit more antsy about how well my kids were actually thinking about the rest of the world and what they were learning about it, so I started...
Anshuman Bapna: I didn't want to do the whole boring curriculum [inaudible 00:34:51]. So I started running a small class for my daughter and her two friends, which was take up a topic that they really were keen on, and I would do the research and then work with them on assignments and we'd discuss all kinds of different things. That ballooned into this very interesting setup because obviously, I mean, these are 10 year-old-girls, right? They don't come up with topics which are the ones that I would have [inaudible 00:35:16] they were fascinated by by was crimes and murders, and assassinations and mysteries. And my feedback rating for every class that I would do with them would depend on how grisly ad gory the crime was, so I would reach back further and further into all kinds of stuff. But just the idea that you don't have to wait for years and years to see that impact, you can actually see that impact in the quality of the conversation that you're having with the student right there and then.
Anshuman Bapna: And everything... Just like in nature and climate, we can put a dollar value on so many different things, but we still don't know, even though we've tried, how to put a dollar value on forests and clean air and a strong social community. That's the same thing with education, which is you can see somebody's life changing just by them [inaudible 00:36:08] in that one conversation or one interaction that you had with them. You can't sum it up into some dollar number or some conversion number that [inaudible 00:36:17] like. But is it just as impactful, even more? Oh, by far. That's definitely the case. So that's what converted me into thinking about education in a big way. My co-founder, by the way-
Anshuman Bapna: Sorry.
Quinn: No, no, no. Sorry to interrupt. We've talked about this. I've got some kids too, and I've also got Brian, who's kind of the same thing.
Brian: Like a kid.
Quinn: One of our most popular conversations, one of my favorite, was with an author who's now the opinions editor for The Boston Globe, Bina Venkataraman, who talks in her fantastic book about being a better ancestor. And that phrase-
Anshuman Bapna: I love that line.
Quinn: Yeah. It finally and so perfectly encapsulated this modus operandi that I'd been trying to hone in for a while and has now has become such a guiding and more specific value for my everyday actions and bigger life decisions. It seems like that's how you talked a little bit about trying to pay it forward, as the right thing to do. As your daughter said, effectively, what else are you going to do that matters? And that's so fascinating to come from a young girl who's seen her dad start and sell a couple companies, and was raised in India and in America, which both have huge opportunities and huge problems that are endemic and systematized. To me, it seems like that is going to be really helpful as you ingrain that in, again, like being a headmaster of a school, effectively.
Anshuman Bapna: Right. Also to put the ball back on the other side, expect your kids to be completely thankless about everything that you're doing. This is at best what you can expect is to pay it forward; none of that is going to come back. Just in your old age when you're ruing the fact that your kids are not loving you as much as they should have with all that you've done for them, just remember what I said.
Quinn: That sounds about right. They'll ask me about my day or my job, and I'll be, "Oh, thank god." And I'll talk for six minutes about it and at the end all I just hear is like, "Yeah, but can I get sprinkles on my ice cream, or is this one of those times I'm not allowed to do sprinkles?" I'm like, "Did you listen to anything? I poured my heart out to you." And they just-
Brian: Sprinkles are important.
Anshuman Bapna: That rings so true.
Quinn: Let's talk a little bit about framing these massive interconnected existential problems that we've made for ourselves as opportunities. How do you frame the tone and the content of your curriculum to imply timeliness but not send people down some very sad spirals. Because this cliff analogy metaphor that everyone uses can be inspiring and actionable or really depressing, so I imagine in trying to codify that through a curriculum has got to be a bit of a fine line.
Anshuman Bapna: Absolutely. In fact, we're realizing how important that is because the deeper you get into looking at the climate science and the action, or the lack of it, that we have had in the past 30, 40 years, it gets you to go down some really depressing dark holes and if the other parts of your life haven't given you enough fortitude to be able to traverse that and still get into action, it can suck you in. So we're realizing that, and that's part of our program now; we also do this mental wellness class on how to think about climate as a positive force of action as opposed to something that is just sucking you in. Maybe I'll give you an intellectual answer and then an emotional answer.
Anshuman Bapna: The intellectual answer is this, which is: How do you think massive social change happens? What's your theory of change about that? What I have suddenly, and the more I've looked at these movements and tried to figure out, suddenly it seems like nothing has changed for years and years and years, often decades. And then it seems like almost in the blink of an historical eye, everything transforms. The equation just completely turn. My thinking on that is that what usually happens is that moments of crisis like COVID are a time of incredible opportunity.
Anshuman Bapna: And this is one of my professors here at Stanford who I remember, who unfortunately passed away some years back, a very well-known climate scientist called Stephen Schneider, and he gave this talk on climate and this was during the Bush administration, which is... well, no way compared to what the Trump administration is doing. People were all doom and gloom about how the administration would never get round to actually doing and enacting some great climate policies. And the question to him was, "How do you get up in the morning to do the work every single day with the same level of energy and enthusiasm?"
Anshuman Bapna: And he said, "Look, what's going to happen is that one day, things will suddenly change because of some external shock." And that external shock could be anything. Could be the oil crisis back in the day, could be some future energy crisis, could be..." And he obviously did not know coronavirus, but something like this in the future. "And what will happen is that suddenly you see half of humanity changing the way they live on a dime." And that's what happened with COVID, right? We have changed so much of our social norms, of what we consider acceptable versus unacceptable and so on, in this case in a few months. "That window will remain open for just a few months or a few years, when everyone will be open to something radical, something new. And at that time, the political leaders will look at their bookshelf, they'll find the section which says Crisis XYZ, and they will pick that book which is lying on the top of that shelf which has the solution to that problem. They'll pick it up and they'll start implementing it. Now, I want my book to be on the top of that shelf. That's why I keep going to work every day to make sure that I have the latest, most updated information about climate science out there so that whenever [inaudible 00:42:42] wakes up, or whoever wakes up, realizes that this is the right way to go about doing things."
Anshuman Bapna: I feel the same way about COVID right now, which is... I come from India, so for me what's happening in the U.S. political system is nothing short of astonishing. If you had asked me in 2016 that in the 2020 elections there would be this fierce debate between the Democrats and the Republicans about who has the better Green New Deal, I would have laughed in your face. I would have said, "No way, that's not happening." But look at last three years, political entrepreneurs like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others have managed to shift the debate into saying that, "Look, you can have development and jobs and climate action. In fact, they go so beautifully well together, that they build that narrative." There are many holes to be filled out, but the fact that somebody was plodding away at it for years and years and years without seeing any impact of that, but when the right moment came, now there's a future in all of that that the Democrats have; maybe Republicans will come up with something ambitious as well. Europe has definitely done that.
Anshuman Bapna: Therefore, this entire world has shifted a little bit in the right direction, in my hopeful belief. I'm a big fan of [inaudible 00:44:09]. I keep wondering, if somebody had... A couple Scandinavian countries tried UBI a little bit, but not really with their entire heart. Alaska did to a certain extent but more of a compulsion than a ideological way of doing it. But imagine if somebody had been plugging away at UBI for the past many, many, many years, built up a little bit of a community, small movement around that, and then suddenly COVID happened. In a way, the thousand-dollar checks that we're writing, they are at the beginning of a UBI, actually. And these could have [crosstalk 00:44:45] done, if only we had examples, if only we had sufficient depth of thinking already built out on that.
Anshuman Bapna: So to me it feels like if you are trying to do social change, you have to bide your time. The moment of crisis is the one when you have to be ready with your little movement, your little ideology, and that's how things change. Therefore, to me it's a very hopeful message to get up every morning and just get slightly better at my messaging, at what we do and so on.
Quinn: Yeah, I think it makes sense. It's practical; it's pragmatic. We've talked about this before and I've talked about it to plenty of folks offline and online, that nobody wanted COVID, nobody wanted Trump to win, but if we're going to take something from them, it should be a lesson and the time to react and rebuild and to rearm ourselves to go, "Okay, all of these incredible voting rights groups have popped up, and groups to follow in the footsteps of places like EMILY's List that have been around forever, Run for Something and Swing Left and 314 Action to put scientists in office. All of these places that wouldn't have existed if Trump hadn't won."
Quinn: And it's hard to see someone like AOC winning if the environment wasn't what it was. And now we have someone, like you said, who's helped pushed us so far left that not only are we having these conversations and writing legislations with people like Rihanna Gunn-Wright that includes Black farmers and clean jobs for Black Americans in Georgia, all of these things.
Quinn: But we also have, because we have the term limits and terms that people are in office, we knew, "Okay, we got three years to get our shit together so that on January 20th or whatever the date is at 12:01 PM, the debate has already been happening for years, and the crafting of the legislation and the conversations and the understanding, we can be so much further along so that at that moment we're able to enact things that have been long in planning and much better understood than they were in the previous years." So it's kind of a benefit. Obviously, it's been a total disaster on just about every other front, but we have to frame things as opportunities if we're going to move forward and if we're going to make progress to get away from where we are now.
Anshuman Bapna: That's exactly right. I think the emotion part of the argument is exactly what you said, which is that we have to be better ancestors. Ancestors and stewards; ancestors to our children and stewards to this planet. Once you [inaudible 00:47:25] turns out that this is such a much more enriching and meaningful way of living your day-to-day life as well, so why would you not do that?
Brian: Good question. Thanks for being so positive and optimistic. My God, you're the best.
Quinn: I know. I feel like I'd need Anshuman to record me a little phone message for every morning.
Brian: Would you do that for us, please? Thank you.
Quinn: For a week or two, I read Michelle Obama's book by listening to the audio book because she recorded it herself, so the first thing I listened to every morning was her and she was the last thing I heard before I went to bed. And let me tell you, it's a game changer.
Brian: It sounds beautiful.
Anshuman Bapna: That's fascinating. I've got to do that.
Brian: We can talk about it more offline. We've had a few conversations, Anshuman, on the podcast about what's happening in India, most recently concerning the monsoon and the heat in the North, and what all that is doing to subsistence farmers. I guess my question is how can we all and most specifically, I guess, Americans, do a better job of taking just a more holistic view of what's already happening across the globe.
Anshuman Bapna: Yeah, and that's a tough one. Just to give you a sense of what's happening in India, I think it's happening at a couple of different levels. One is that you have roughly 200 million people living on the coast lines. The sea levels are rising, and the way they live their lives, the fisheries, et cetera, are all being decimated. There are some 400 million farmers who are still reliant on the monsoons, and the monsoons are getting disrupted due to climate change. So you have, in a country like India, the problem of taking half a billion people and reemploying them in a completely different sector. Unfortunately, at the same time, the Indian economy hasn't really done well. So therefore, there is this whole... and this is even pre-COVID. And post-COVID, again, there is a fork in the road.
Anshuman Bapna: For example, if the Green New Deal had existed in India, even politically as an option before COVID happened, maybe we would have gone down that path. But the path that we're on right now, it is the worst possible, from both a climate standpoint and from an agrarian standpoint. So even though coal is no longer an energy source that makes any economic sense in any part of the world, India does have [inaudible 00:50:00] coal deposits, not very good ones, but they're all out there. And the Indian government has taken the stance that to bootstrap the economy, they will just go down in the coal plants, they'll set up new coal plants and [inaudible 00:50:15] online and just focus on coal. This despite the fact that India has one of the most stunning success stories in renewables for the past five to six years. So there's this whole this problem with this dissonance in what the mind thinks and what the heart wants in India, which is quite bad.
Anshuman Bapna: And I think the thing that I worry more about India and in other countries like India, like Bangladesh and so on, is that their citizen movements haven't really coalesced into political movements yet. There are no green parties in India or in Bangladesh or in Vietnam, et cetera, in countries that have been affected by this, which have... They're not even on the margins. They don't even exist right now. So to me feels like the call to action in India, if you live in India or if you care about how countries like India do on climate action and inequity, is to go out and build incredible level of mass awareness and a political movement around better stewardship of the climate and of the communities that depend on climate being normal.
Anshuman Bapna: For example, at Terra, as I said, our whole ambition is to allow educators to pop up in any part of the world to teach the thing that makes sense for that community. One of the things that we're thinking about and hopefully will build out is a journalism school for India, a climate journalism school. Because in India, I think one of the challenges that we have is that mass of the public hasn't really connected the dots on what is climate and what is structural poverty.
Anshuman Bapna: An example I was giving Quinn earlier was that India has this very sad story of farmer suicides, thousands of them that happen every year in Maharajah and other parts of India. And every time the stories about them get reported, they get reported as stories of structural poverty, of debt, rural lack of development and so on. But in reality, climate has been a primary driver for all of that all along, all these many, many years. There's a very interesting Stanford study that showed that India's GDP is already a third lower because of climate change in the past 30 years, leaving what's going to happen [crosstalk 00:52:48]-
Quinn: Did you say, I'm sorry, did you say a third lower?
Anshuman Bapna: Yeah. A third lower.
Quinn: Holy shit.
Anshuman Bapna: And a third lower basically means life and death for a few hundred million people in India [crosstalk 00:52:59] party alliances [inaudible 00:53:01] or not. So that is the cost that we're already paying. Now, the action on that, therefore, to me is not to build out necessarily [inaudible 00:53:09] new technology or to try build Tesla's competitor in India. I mean that's fine, sure, I think it has one place. But to me, the much more important thing is to get both mass awareness and political action started.
Quinn: And I want to pause you there because this is exactly where I wanted to get. We talked offline about this kitchen sink and how your school and education is a start, but obviously school alone isn't going to cut it for everybody. We can't stop there. It's great, but I think this is perfect because you are explaining, inadvertently or not, how this process should work. You're walking the walk, effectively.
Quinn: Again, you're illuminating for folks maybe unexpected ways or previously unexpected ways that after they get educated, that they can get into climate work or whatever it might be in a variety of different ways. And like you said, you never thought you'd be an educator, and you're not a farmer and you're not a journalist, but you've taken this education, this platform and now you've found a way specifically that you understand better than someone else to apply it. I think this is a great example of that. So please continue, but I just want to help folks understand, this is exactly the thing we're talking about, which is get the education and then find the way that you can have an impact that might be unexpected to you and might be unexpected to the community but could just have an enormous, enormous impact. Please continue.
Anshuman Bapna: Absolutely. And in fact, that is the beauty of climate action, which is that because it touches everything, it needs every single skill out there. So no matter you've done in your life, there is a place for that in solving for climate.
Anshuman Bapna: And even in that specific example that I gave of the climate journalism school. Now, when we think of a journalism school, we think of people who want to be journalists to be going into that school. But in reality what online allows you to do is that if your passion is to communicate about climate, then you could come at it from very different walks of life.
Anshuman Bapna: So for example, even in India, maybe mainstream media is not really the place to target; it's barking up the wrong tree. What you need to do instead is to get scientists who are sitting, for example, in their own colleges, doing research and haven't really had the chance to communicate what they're learning about climate in India, being able to do that and having the tools to be able to do that. You could be in an engineering college. You could be a machine-learning data scientist and you could start looking at a lot of satellite data that is coming in and is pouring in about India and start talking about how pollution is spreading all across the country, what kinds of effects it has had on crop land, on [inaudible 00:56:05] land and so on. And you could be a designer, and you might collaborate with that scientist or that data scientist who has tons of data and try to convert that into a visual format that anyone who picks up a newspaper can understand.
Anshuman Bapna: So there are all these beautiful collaborations that are possible with people with very different walks of life in that single microcosm of India alone. And now expand that across the planet. You could have, for example, one of my favorite organizations, there's this nonprofit that is run off the coast of Cape Cod. It's called GreenWave, and it's this fisherman who has figured out this amazing technique for taking a small board, a 30 foot by 30 foot by 30 foot board that he drops into the cold ocean currents and a kelp forest grows in it. Kelp is one of the fastest-growing sources of protein on the planet. The kelp forest then creates a lot more sea life, all the way from the top to the bottom, and he can harvest that board every three months and feed an entire village from that, which is so far, so good.
Anshuman Bapna: This is where a lot of good ideas come to die, which is you do it in your own local neighborhood and it works for you but by the time it gets to the rest of the planet, it's too late. But what's amazing about GreenWave and this entrepreneur is that they're trying to figure out how to get more and more people involved. In fact the sense of urgency is that half of the American coastline should be doing it yesterday, and there is about 10 to 12% of the world's coastline that can have this approach to aquaculture happening today. Just significantly stable and so on. So how do you...
Anshuman Bapna: Now, you're a fisherman, and you want a fisherman or an entrepreneur sitting in India to be able to pick up this idea, "license it" or open source it and [inaudible 00:57:57] that, and build it out along the Indian coastline. How does that happen? So for that, that is what Terra is trying to do, is that can we get people of all walks of life to come in and teach? But then not just to teach but to watch and do. So that the GreenWave idea can very naturally transfer to someone sitting in India, someone sitting in Ghana, someone sitting in South Korea, and they build out their own businesses that are all affiliated with GreenWave in some way or get it from an open source movement.
Anshuman Bapna: So that's the vision of trying to get everyone on the planet to solve for this as opposed to it's just a few of us sitting in Silicon Valley, a few of us sitting in Cambridge, Boston and so on.
Brian: Didn't we have... GreenWave, you said, right?
Anshuman Bapna: That's right. GreenWave.
Brian: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. We had-
Quinn: We had on Brandon Smith, the founder.
Brian: Brandon Smith on, yeah.
Anshuman Bapna: Oh, you did. Oh, fantastic. Good for you.
Quinn: Yeah. It's great.
Brian: It's fantastic.
Quinn: And my... Since then and apropos of a few other things, one of my brothers has also started to get into becoming effectively a middle-man for the future of the sustainable farming industry, so he's working with Bren on that stuff, too, it's-
Anshuman Bapna: Oh, there you go.
Quinn: There's a whole, just, world to be... When he explained the job to me, as someone who literally talks about this shit every day, I was like, "Wow. That would never have occurred to me." And also like, "Of course that's necessary." You know? So yeah, I love it.
Anshuman Bapna: [crosstalk 00:59:19]. That's incredible. I'm glad that this is already happening.
Brian: So awesome. And yeah, what you just talked about is so perfect because I do want to get into the point of our whole thing, which is: How do we help? How do our listeners ask the right questions and take the right action steps to support you and the planet?
Brian: So let's do that. Can we start with our listeners and what they can do with their voice? What are some big, actionable questions that we can all be asking of our government representatives?
Anshuman Bapna: I think... I see this almost as a three-layered cake.
Quinn: Please, we love cake.
Brian: I love cake.
Anshuman Bapna: But this is a cake where you could start anywhere. You could build the top layer first. It's a very... It defies all laws of physics, if you can pardon me that. But the bottom layer of the cake is your own personal action, and I won't pain you to death on this one, but just make sensible choices. And sensible choices, a lot of them we're already familiar with, which are eat less meat, see if you can use renewable energy for your electricity supply, et cetera, et cetera. Some of the slightly less usual ones are, for example, just consume less fashion. And in general just consume less. That's one part of it.
Anshuman Bapna: The idea is not just to... If you do the math on your own [inaudible 01:00:54] multiplied by a few million people, unfortunately it does not add up to much. But that's not the whole point of this. The whole point is that once you start doing this, it has this viral effect. I'm sorry for... that's probably a bad analogy to use in these times. But it has this effect on people around you, that gets them to start doing something similar, and what it does is not the denominations, the number comes down dramatically, what it does is that you now start building a political voice, which is starting at the community level but then starts [inaudible 01:01:25] up at more of the city and regional level after that.
Anshuman Bapna: So that's the second thing, which is that you... The second layer of the cake is to hold people in power accountable. And people in power are just politicians, they are also your media, for example. And so that the different estates, the fourth estate, the third estate, and so on, these are all people who should be accountable to you. So are they doing enough stories? Are they doing enough local stories? When, for example, you have reelection coming up at that time, is climate action, and where I say climate action, you can boil it down to a local level as well.
Anshuman Bapna: Is that something they talk about? Are their points of view on that at least to find out how well they're inclined to move in that direction if there's a national policy or a state-level policy on that. So asking those questions in town halls, asking those questions by writing in to them, all of those are actions that I think have meaning, precisely for this reason, which is: It's not that one email multiplied by 100 other is going to suddenly change policy, but that if you look at social movements, you'll realize that a lot of power comes from being in the face of politicians long enough big enough and harassing enough long enough that they realize that... I think they start feeling that this is an issue that a lot many more people in their constituency care about. So do that; that's the second layer of the cake.
Anshuman Bapna: And the third layer is that, just going back to personal action at some level, which is that all of us have acquired skills our entire lives that are useful in the work that we do. They can be soft skills, they can be hard skills, they can be learned in trade school and so on. The great thing about climate is that all of them are applicable to solving that. And if you want an analogy of how this could potentially work, look at what's happening on the coronavirus. Coronavirus threw up a bunch of these different sites where, by definition, all them remote so they could not meet each other, and yet these websites were collaborating massive projects which had hundreds, sometimes even thousands of volunteers working using their skills to solve for them.
Anshuman Bapna: It might be that someone is a software programmer and therefore they're writing this complicated contact-tracing app, but at the other end, you could be a designer and work with a scientist to take the latest research of what has come out and been published about coronavirus and working that into an infographic that can now travel much more widely over your social media.
Anshuman Bapna: You could be picking up the phone and because you've done sales, you could be figuring out what the different PPE manufacturers all across the country and build a big directory that anyone can reach out to in case they need a restock of any PPE.
Anshuman Bapna: So there are all these n number of different ways that you could figure out how to solve for COVID. I think climate is like the mother of all COVID. COVID is in some ways [inaudible 01:04:34]. Unfortunately, unlike COVID, which I hope will be the worst is over, we will find a vaccine for it, but there is no vaccine for a climate crisis.
Quinn: Yeah. Exactly.
Anshuman Bapna: But is all-encompassing and therefore using your skills, finding your skills and use them to solve for ways [inaudible 01:04:49] this big problem, which goes beyond just needing two hands and two feet. And just being [inaudible 01:04:55]. You have skills you can use.
Anshuman Bapna: That's my message on, and this is what we're trying to build with Terra. There's a reason why Terra is not called Terra.learn or Terra.edu. It's called Terra.do because the idea is to learn so that you can start doing stuff on climate. And that's [inaudible 01:05:16].
Brian: I love that. Terra.do. That just lines up with our ideals over here, is to fucking take action.
Anshuman Bapna: Yup.
Quinn: Anshuman, can you tell us about signing up for Terra? What do our listeners need to do? When should they sign up? Any info?
Anshuman Bapna: Yeah, thanks for asking that. We are starting our next cohort on August 17th, and we would love to have people sign up and apply for the program. You just have to go to the website, which is T-E-R-R-A dot do, and you should see a big button there that says Apply. Just click on that and tell us maybe in 10, 15 minutes just a little bit about who you are and why do you think a program like this might help you, and we would love to have you as part of the program. And just maybe when you're also filling out the application, please mention that you heard us on this podcast, and we'll make sure that we can make it financially viable for you as well because I know these are not easy times, and we want to make sure that all of us a chance to be part of this program.
Anshuman Bapna: So please go to Terra.do and apply.
Quinn: Absolutely. I love that. Thank you. And just so we're specific with people, the new cohort starts on August 17th and this is going to come out on Monday, August 10th. Usually our shows aren't intended to be super timely, but the one that came out today and this specific one are. What is the deadline for signing up?
Anshuman Bapna: [crosstalk 01:06:54].
Quinn: For this cohort.
Anshuman Bapna: So what we've done is that for this podcast, we just want to make sure that people have sufficient time to sign up, so they're going to be taking in people all the way till August 15th, from this podcast.
Anshuman Bapna: So please come by.
Quinn: Great. And folks, as Anshuman very kindly pointed out and truthfully, it is tough times for so many folks, but the climate clock is ticking and we need you. If this is something that you would like to participate in and you cannot afford to do so at this moment, let us know and Anshuman and I will work it out and we'll get you in there because we need you.
Anshuman Bapna: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Quinn: Awesome. Well, Anshuman, we don't want to keep you too much longer-
Brian: Anshuman, yeah, it's been over an hour. How much longer do you want to hang out with us?
Quinn: Yeah. Need another couple hours? I'm sure your kids aren't banging down the door.
Anshuman Bapna: They are.
Brian: Seriously, this has been really, really, really wonderful, and we cannot thank you enough for hanging out with us. We have a few more questions, and we'd love honestly if you'd have any recommendations for other world-changing humans like yourself, people that maybe inspire you or that are just out there fighting for a better future for all of us, please let us know. It can be now if you've got names on the top of your head, or you can just message us later.
Anshuman Bapna: You know, it's so funny, I was going mention Bren, and I'm just so thrilled that you already had him on the program.
Quinn: Yeah, I'll send you the link to the conversation.
Brian: That was a great conversation. Yeah.
Quinn: It was a favorite. And it also included a gentleman named Tom Ford-
Quinn: ... who's doing something somewhat similar out on the West Coast with the Bay Foundation, and it was a great conversation. Those two are doing pretty exceptional work in an industry that's really just both misunderstood and has incredible opportunity in front of it and is really just getting started.
Quinn: Anshuman, last couple questions: When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful?
Anshuman Bapna: Maybe it's... It might sound a little late in life, but it was during my undergrad years. I'll give you the backstory of that. India's education system is very strait-jacketed, right? And I ended up going to an engineering college which is often the wet dream of most parents in India, at least back in the day. So it was pretty clear what direction my life was going to look like from that point on. And remember, I was only 18 at that time. So who I was going to marry, where I was going to live, what I was going to do for the next 50 years of my life, how many kids I was going to have, all of that was set in stone already.
Anshuman Bapna: And then in my second year, one of my seniors asked me point-blank and said, "Well, these are the four choices that you have. What are you going to do? Are you going to go emigrate to the US and do your master's there? Are you going to work for a large multinational corporation here? Are you going to do your MBA here?" And some such boring options.
Anshuman Bapna: And for a lark, I said, "No, I'm going to start my own company." And this guy laughed at me and said, "Of course not, that's ridiculous." And by the way, there was no [inaudible 01:10:10] starting up during that time, [inaudible 01:10:15] talking about in India. So I... To prove him wrong, I started missing all my classes and taking a train ride to all parts of India to find the earliest people who were teaching entrepreneurship, earliest people who had started investing in companies, and trying to bring them on campus and getting them to give a talk to people like me.
Anshuman Bapna: One thing led to another... The funniest example was there was this guy who had just sold his company to Amazon for hundreds of millions of dollars was the poster boy for the Indian internet scene, US citizen who had just moved back to... who was visiting India, and I woke up in the morning and I saw it on the [inaudible 01:10:59] said, [Rakeesh 01:10:59], his name was Rakish, is going to be visiting the campus to meet with the director. There was no other details.
Anshuman Bapna: So I called the director's office and said, "Can meet with him?" And they chewed me out. So what I did instead was, I just put up posters of him all over campus, booked a 500-seat auditorium for him to give a talk, and then just waited outside the office for hours, and then finally when he got out of the office, I told him that he had to come and give a talk to all the students. And he said, "But I have a plane to catch." And I showed him the poster and I said, "But you can't. Unfortunately, you'll have to miss that plane."
Anshuman Bapna: So he laughed hysterically, he canceled his ticket, he came over to the auditorium, and it is still that talk that he gave, lit a fire on campus. It still... There's so many entrepreneurs who have come out of my college who talk about that galvanizing moment when they heard him. And I realized that this is all just like... It started out as just trying to prove someone wrong and then realizing that I can start believing in it quite a bit myself, and then realizing that if I just didn't care as much about what others thought, there was nothing more to be done there just by individual action. And of course the ways these things become more than just a moment in time is where you figure out how to build small institutions around them, ways of working.
Anshuman Bapna: And that's what happened. So this turned into an incubator at [inaudible 01:12:32] Bombay, and it turned out my company was the first company in that incubator. And that incubator has had hundreds of startup companies coming out of that in the past few years. So yeah, just, you never know what might snowball into something more interesting.
Quinn: That's fantastic, that is such a-
Quinn: That is such a baller move.
Quinn: I love it. Just vigilante doing good.
Quinn: Is always fantastic.
Brian: You're Bat Man.
Quinn: Anshuman, who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Anshuman Bapna: I would say there's an economist called Kate Raworth. She's at Oxford and she came up with this concept of doughnut economics. And I'll tell you what I've been struggling with all this while, which was that on one side you have growth is good. And growth is good not just in places, developed countries like the US, but even in places like India, which says you need the country to grow, the GDP to grow to get millions of people out of poverty. And yet at the same time, also this feeling, which left... A lot of this book was [inaudible 01:13:47] at the expense of the environment around us, the social relations that we have built and the structures and so on. And I just couldn't figure out how to reconcile these two different ideas.
Anshuman Bapna: And what Kate has done with her book that came out I think almost eight years ago, but I just came across a few months back for the first time, was marry these two concepts together into a single holistic framework thinking, where when she thinks of it as a doughnut, where the outside of the donut are the boundaries of the planet, so what the planet can support in terms of environment, like ecology, biodiversity and so on. So don't exceed that boundary. The inside boundary is one where humans have dignity, they have equality, they have gender justice and so on.
Anshuman Bapna: So the right sweet spot for us to live as a species is not in that hole, it's not outside the donut, it's in the middle, in the doughnut part of it, the yummy part of it. So to me to understand that this is how you think about growth as not good for its own sake; the purpose of growth is to let humans thrive, but thrive in an ecosystem which also takes into account nature and the planet that we live on, while I'd seen squishy versions of that, [crosstalk 01:15:21] or stuff like that, but never an economist's version of that, which made so much sense to me, so I'm quite indebted to Kate for her thinking on that.
Quinn: Yeah, it's a truly fantastic, ground-breaking, and such a compelling, intuitive model and book. I really enjoyed it. We're talking soon with a woman, a professor at Harvard, Rebecca Henderson, about her book, Rebuilding Capitalism in a World on Fire.
Anshuman Bapna: [crosstalk 01:15:50].
Quinn: And I think you'd really enjoy that as well.
Anshuman Bapna: Nice.
Quinn: Yeah, it's sort of similar, which is... We recognize that economies and capitalism and such are going to keep existing, but we do need to fundamentally rethink them, and there's some really interesting ways to do that, but they do have to be driven by purpose.
Anshuman Bapna: I'm going to check it out.
Quinn: Brian, take us home here.
Brian: Thank you for talking about cakes and donuts today, Anshuman. I just want to-
Quinn: I know-
Brian: ... I appreciate that, I love dessert.
Quinn: ... just a delight.
Brian: It makes me happy. Anshuman, what do you do when you feel overwhelmed? What is your self-care, your Anshuman time? We like to know what people are doing to take care of themselves when they're not taking care of the world.
Quinn: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Anshuman Bapna: Having kids. I'm definitely a kids kind of person, so if your kids are not your thing, then I feel sorry for you, but what I love about them is there's such a sense of immediacy to their lives.
Anshuman Bapna: We just had for example a tragic loss in our family and we were just so cut up about that, and my kids also were... They knew this individual of our family really well, and they're obviously distraught for a little while, but literally a few hours later while we were still moping, my son would walk in and say, "Okay, I know you're upset right now, but can we go out and play ball?"
Anshuman Bapna: And just that sense that, look, in all of this, maybe there's time for this play-timey blink of an eye, and it might feel that our life is bigger, more important, more essential to the planet than it is. And to me it feels like kids have that ability to live in the moment that just takes you out from all of these massive burdens that we end up carrying on our shoulders, and so just listen to them. Just to be the most fun thing to do is to just drop everything and go hang out, play, run, just do silly things with them. And yeah, that's the best antidote to the climate crisis as well.
Brian: Can you relate, Quinn?
Quinn: Yeah. Most of the time, it's the greatest thing in the world. It really is. It really is.
Brian: Anshuman, we have an incredible list of book recommendations from past guests on Bookshop, and listeners can find them all in our show notes, if you could add a book to that list, it's books that we would send to Donald Trump. What book would you recommend that Donald Trump read?
Anshuman Bapna: Interesting. Donald Trump. If... and it doesn't have to be a kindergarten book?
Brian: It doesn't have to be, but it can be.
Quinn: No, but it's understandable if it is.
Anshuman Bapna: Okay. There's a new book out by Indian author called Amitav Ghosh and it's called The Great Derangement.
Quinn: Ooh, it sounds good.
Anshuman Bapna: And it's this lovely book that he has written about, lo and behold, it's about the climate crisis, but I think unlike most of the other climate books out there, is... Amitav is a novelist, his job is not to try to harass you with facts and figures and so on, his job is to tell a story.
Anshuman Bapna: And one of the interesting things that was the motivation for him writing that book was that he said, "Look, why do we Americans love our cars so much? Is there a chance that just because Jack Kerouac wrote that book back in the, what, sixties or early seventies which had the romance of wind in your hair and gasoline in your nostrils and an open road in front of you. That's how we end up loving these tin cans. But who has written the definitive book in narrative fiction for climate? That [inaudible 01:19:59] believe about this individual identity and the future? So why don't I go out and write?"
Anshuman Bapna: It's a very personal story of what happened to him over the many, many years, which I thought was just a beautiful story, and of course, it underpins a lot of the great derangement that we all feel living in 2020 as humans on this planet.
Quinn: Well, that sounds lovely.
Brian: Yeah, that sounds incredible. We always talk on this show about how inspiring people and making changes not by telling just numbers and figures, it's sharing your story with them. It has such more of an effect.
Anshuman Bapna: That's right.
Quinn: Well, this has been fantastic, Anshuman. Really can't thank you enough for sharing your time and your story and your efforts with us. I'm truly so excited to see where this all goes. Where can our listeners follow you on the internet?
Anshuman Bapna: Twitter would be best. It's my... so the handle is bapnaa, and yeah. I hope to see a lot of you there.
Quinn: Awesome. We will be.
Brian: So great.
Quinn: That's all Brian does. Awesome. Well, thank you so much, we really appreciate it and look forward to talking with you soon.
Anshuman Bapna: No, thank you so much to both of you and Brian, you have such great questions and really appreciate what you're doing with the podcast.
Quinn: We're doing our best.
Quinn: Thanks to our incredible guest today, and thanks to all of you for tuning in. We hope this episode has made your commute or awesome workout or dishwashing or fucking dogwalking late at night that much more pleasant. As a reminder, please subscribe to our free email newsletter at importantnotimportant.com. It has all the news most vital to our survival as a species.
Brian: And you can follow us all over the internet, you can find us on Twitter at ImportantNotImp.
Quinn: Uh, just so weird.
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Brian: And you can find the show notes from today right in your little podcast player and at our website, importantnotimportant.com.
Quinn: Thanks to the very awesome Tim Blane for our jamming music, to all of you for listening, and finally, most importantly, to our moms for making us. Have a great day.
Brian: Thanks, guys.