Meteorologist, Explorer and Educator
Sven Sundgaard grew up ski jumping, which made him pay attention to the weather and declining snow levels.
He learned to be curious about the world around him from his father, and his curiosity drove him to pursue science and meteorology.
As a broadcaster, Sven works to help people better understand weather and climate and what it means to live sustainably.
Sven believes if we understand our connection to the planet, humans will still make the right decisions for a better future.
IVAN STEGIC: Hi there! You’re listening to ONE OF 8 BILLION, a podcast about all of us! I’m your host, Ivan Stegic. This podcast is supported by TEN7, a technology studio whose mission is to Make Things That Matter. Online at ten7.com
We all have a story, don’t we? We’ve all had successes and failures, joy and disappointment, love and sadness. And yet, we’ve all made it to here… to right now! Our stories are one amongst eight billion others… eight billion other stories, each of them unique, each of them grand in their own way, and each of them a window into the humanity that connects us all. ONE OF 8 BILLION tells the life stories of people from around the world… let’s listen!
Our story today is about Sven Sundgaard, a meteorologist, educator, and advocate for sustainable lifestyles to combat climate change.
Sven is driven by curiosity and connection. From an early age he wanted to understand the science behind the weather, and he has dedicated his life to using knowledge to make a positive impact on the world.
IVAN: Welcome to ONE OF 8 BILLION, would you please introduce yourself.
SVEN SUNDGAARD: I'm Sven Sundgaard. My full name, if you really want to know, is Sven Olaf Sundgaard. Everybody under the age of 15 thinks that I was named after Frozen characters. [laughing] but sad to say I am 40 and a half years old, I'm definitely the original thing. I’m a meteorologist. I’ve been a meteorologist for about two decades. And that's led me into climate change work, conservation. I love traveling around the world and I'm pretty passionate about conservation issues. And it's a no brainer, overlap with climate change, which is the existential crisis of our time that we're trying to deal with. I've also been teaching part time middle school, Earth Science, which was fun. I do real estate now. Kind of wearing several different hats, a jack of all trades of sorts, or a Sven Olaf of all trades.
IVAN: [laughing] Yes. Where do you live in the world?
SVEN: I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
IVAN: And what do you love about Minneapolis?
SVEN: What I love about Minneapolis is, we have a really good airport hub connection to other places, because winter gets long, and I need to get out. But otherwise, I'm born and raised a Minnesotan and I really do like the area because we always rank high on all those lists in terms of livability. I always joke that they either don't factor in winter, or they don't give it enough, maybe points. But to quote my dad, he always said, “It kept the riff raff out.” I don't know if he meant invasive species, or also different types of people. But I think it is just to an extent, if you could imagine if we had the climate of Los Angeles, that everything else considered, we would be probably one of the largest cities in the country, if not the largest. But I like outdoor space. Minneapolis, thank heavens for Theo Wirth. People who aren't from or ever been in Minneapolis, wouldn't know but he had this vision over a century ago to set aside land to make this first class park system, public lands available to people. And so, Minneapolis has this great system of parks, with old forests in them and everything, old original forests. And so, no matter where you are in the city, you can get to a great Park within walking distance. And that was his original vision. So, we have that. And while winters are too long, I do like the change of seasons and it's fun to be in a place where it's so drastically different at different times of the year and it gives you an opportunity to look at a place in a different perspective, four times a year. You can't get bored of a park, for example, if you go to it, and it's for different seasons, you're going to see something different.
IVAN: Every time. I agree with you. That's one of the things I loved about Minneapolis when I first immigrated here was the different seasons. South Africa is great and all, and the climates mostly temperate the whole year through but there's just something about snow and the change from fall to snow and back to spring. It's just wonderful to see. Have you always had this love of weather and climate since you were a child? Or is that something that you kind of grew into?
SVEN: I grew into it in my childhood, I've always had a natural curiosity, which I think is the common thread in any scientist. You have to be naturally curious about why does that happen that way? Or why did it happen not the way that I thought it might because I've seen it do it this other way many times before, which is even better, because then you have to dive even deeper into a problem. I grew up on a small farm, a hobby farm we call it, so it wasn't a working farm. My parents had full time jobs away, but we had animals and we had land, and so, I think that just naturally makes you a little more in tune with the weather, the change of seasons that we were just talking about, but also nature. And I think that's one thing that scares me about a lot of kids in, especially the U.S. today and in the urban U.S., not being connected enough to nature and all the different species that are in it. And, if you're not connected, if you don't know much about it, you're not going to appreciate it and want to protect it. And so yeah, I started by wanting to be a vet, when I was about six or seven and then I realized I don't like blood and I also didn't want to have to put down animals, even if they needed to, I couldn't do it. And then I wanted to be a marine biologist. I had several aquariums at one point, to the point where my mom made me move them all to the basement because it was too much for my bedroom. And I wanted to be a marine biologist and hearing all my relatives say, “Well you can't be marine biologists in Minnesota, we're nowhere near the ocean.” And nobody told me Oh, you can move. I was nine or 10 year old, I'm like, Oh, I guess that's out for me. And then I got into weather by about the age of 12, specifically. So, we all grew up ski jumping in my family, my dad was in the ‘76 Winter Olympics for ski jumping. So, another little fun fact.
SVEN: So, yeah, me and my brother and my sister all ski jumped. The early nineties were the first now of what became a new normal of mild winters with very undependable snow. And so that got me thinking, Well, why are we not having snow, because as a kid in the eighties, if you're from Minnesota, we had some just mega snow years, and then all of a sudden, the snow faucet was just turned off, and it was very mild. And it's been like that, as I said, overall, since then. But it got me into getting excited, Oh, the weatherman is talking about the next snowstorm maybe in five days, and then it wouldn't happen, or it would miss us, and that really just led me into this, Well, how did that happen? How did they forecast something, and then it didn't pan out the way they thought it would? What all goes into all that. So that's what really led me into it. A lot of meteorologists have some exciting story about seeing a tornado or something. It wasn't anything like that. It was really a climate change thing. I didn't know it at the time, but now looking back, it was climate change that got me into weather.
IVAN: That's really interesting to think about it like that. I've always been frustrated with weather, personally, because I never felt like you could predict it enough in advance. And for some reason, when I was a kid in South Africa, I wanted to know what the next week was going to look like, and I wanted to know with certainty. I'm sure that a lot of people are like that. And people get frustrated watching meteorologists on TV predict 10 days out, seven days out. Does that frustrate you as well?
SVEN: It does, but in a good way. You can't get bored in this field. That's what I think is so great. [laughing]. But I guess what science field have we figured everything out, and then you can just be like, Well, that's done. Let's move on to the next thing. There's always something. But, I think weather specifically and the reason why people love to talk about it everywhere in the world, is that it's the great ancient thing that we're always trying to control and want to get ahead of, like you were just saying. As soon as humans stepped out of hunter gatherer agriculture, weather was everything, make or break. It wasn't for planning vacations; it was about a matter of life or death. And we've always wanted to control everything. That's human nature. We want to control everything around us in our environment and we just can't control the weather and it drives us nuts. So, the best thing we can do is to try to forecast it better, to be prepared for it. But I think it's this ancient rivalry that keeps people just fascinated by it. And they secretly love when something completely unexpected happens, which thankfully is rare, but it keeps us humble, I think, as a species.
IVAN: It certainly does. Now, you talked about growing up on a hobby farm and you mentioned your dad and your siblings. Was that hobby farm around the Twin Cities? Where in Minnesota was it?
SVEN: It was in Cottage Grove, a southeastern suburb at the time. I don't know that you'd really consider it a suburb, but it certainly is now. Because both my parents were from St. Paul proper, and I was there till the age of three. I'm the oldest and once my sister was born, my parents made this decision that they wanted their kids to grow up in the country. And at that time, 1984, that was Cottage Grove. And so yeah, that's what led us out there.
IVAN: Who was an influence in your life early on that made you think about the world the way you do?
SVEN: I would have to put that on my father. People who get to know me and friends and new friends say “Well, you know a little bit about everything.” I get that from my father. You can teach curiosity. Humans by nature are curious, but you need somebody to set it off and for me, that was my dad. We grew up watching PBS all the time, every nature show, watching all the animals in places like South Africa. So, it was fascinating watching Nova and Frontline and all these documentaries. And so, I think that's where it came from. We'd go outside and he knew the name of every tree species. He knew the name of every bug and we’d see a fox and he’d tell me some facts about fox. And so, he's a history teacher by education, but he had a natural curiosity in everything. And that's totally where that comes from. My mother was very smart. Second in her graduating high school class, but the definite geeky scientist, just wants to know everything, comes from my dad.
IVAN: Do you remember High School and the version of you that was in high school?
SVEN: [laughing] Do I remember high school?
IVAN: Well, I know you remember High School, you're not all that. What I mean is what do you remember about high school that was influential to you to decide, Yes, I'm going to go to college and I'm going to study science.
SVEN: I remember just wanting to be done with high school, really. Whereas a lot of people look back at it, you know, in America, especially, we go a little overboard, prom, and all these things that are completely separate from education. By 12, 13 years old, this obsession with weather happened quickly and I knew that's what I was going to do. I had already by 13 or 14 researched what schools can I go to, and St. Cloud was the closest. So being young, you think that's the most logical choice. And it worked out. My sister later went to grad school in Madison, which has a great meteorology program. And I thought, Wow, this would have been fun, but I wouldn't have gotten anything done, because I'm also easily distracted. So, St. Cloud was a great place to study because there's not much else to do. But me in high school, I wanted to get it over with. I was a nerd, but I don't think everybody viewed me that way, they just viewed me as a quiet, like, We don't know where to put him. I had friends who were in the popular group, and I had friends who were in the nerdy math team; you couldn't really categorize me. It'd be interesting for me to actually ask the people I went to high school with how they'd categorize me, I think you'd get all sorts of different answers. But mostly, I was just bored of high school. I wanted to get done with it and move on to college. The math, I was like, Okay, can we move on to Calculus now, and stuff that I'm going to need to know? I was impatient, basically.
IVAN: So, you went to St. Cloud, you studied science, you studied meteorology. When did you know you wanted to be on TV? Or maybe I should rephrase that. Did you know you wanted to be on TV? Is that what you wanted to do? Or were you looking at some other avenue? How did that happen?
SVEN: No, I didn't actually. What people don't tend to realize is meteorology is a very broad field. Everybody thinks of their TV weathercaster, but that's actually a small part of the field. And at least historically, it's gotten a little better. Historically, most of them weren't even meteorologists. Now, it's maybe 50/50. It’s gotten much better. But, I knew I was going to get a meteorology degree, that's what I was going to do. I was so excited once I was fully immersed in my meteorology classes, even though they were very tough. But yeah, I had my first internship by chance my sophomore year. Most of the science fields, you're not going to really get into an internship until your junior or senior years just because they want you to be useful and you're not going to be useful unless you've had a minimum amount of education under your belt in the field. But I got an internship working for a private company that does forecasting. I don't even know what they're called now, I think it's Meteorologic, it used to be Cavorous. They are locally based in Burnsville, and they do stuff from smaller airlines, most large airlines have their own meteorology department like Delta, and for some utility companies and just all sorts of stuff. And so, I interned there, and then my junior year I applied for two internships. One at the National Weather Service, which is part of the big federal agency that does all the official forecasting, and they're very competitive and they are paid, which is unheard of. There were almost no paid internships in meteorology, then [laughing], and yeah, so this is 2002. It paid $11 an hour. And we accrued leave time, so many hours per pay period. It was just unheard of to me. I'm getting ahead of myself. So, I applied for that and then I applied for an internship at a local TV station in the Twin Cities, thinking, if I'm lucky, I might get one of these, fingers crossed? Well, I was offered both. And I thought, Oh great how am I going to make this work? The Weather Service one was obviously a priority because it paid. And, if anyone was familiar with federal government work, the earlier you can get in the better because it's a point system way of moving up into positions, and we earn points by being a paid intern. So, I was able to work it out with both entities, the TV station understood that that was a big deal and so I would go to the weather service from 6 AM to 2 PM most days, and then drive over to the TV station and work there. No TV station internships paid then so it was all pretty much whatever you wanted to get out of it. So, I spent three, four hours in the evening there, which worked out because I got to see severe weather from both sides. A lot of the severe weather in Minnesota happens in the evening hours and I would once in a while switch shifts so that if I was missing too much severe weather on the weather service side, I wanted to be there for that. But it was really cool that summer, actually. I think it's unique. I don't think most people ever even, deep into their career as an adult, has an experience where in the same day, you're at the place that issues the warnings for severe weather, and then at the place that has to disseminate that and broadcast that out to the public, and dealing with producers and news directors who all want to hound you about what's going to happen, where should we send a crew? Media, big surprise, always wants to blow everything out of proportion, and so they always want to do that. And so, seeing all sides of it in one summer was really fascinating, but it didn't help me understand what I wanted to do. The reason I applied for the TV internship was I really wanted to try internships in as many broad areas of meteorology as I could, that would help me decide. And at the end of the summer, I saw equal pros and cons of both. So, I was just even more indecisive. And so, the way I got into TV was, it was the first job offer I had out of college. And I said, “Well, I need to start paying back loans and we'll see where this goes.” So that's how that happened.
IVAN: And that was not at Kare 11 where you ended up spending more than a decade? That was up in Duluth, if I'm not mistaken?
SVEN: Yeah. So, in the broadcast field, you start out in a small market, because we're all pretty bad out of college. Anybody who travels around the country, turn on your local news. It’s always funny, if you're in a small market, it is pretty hilarious to see the very green talent. If you live in a large city, you take for granted that you have the top people in your field there. So, I was there for just a little over two years in Duluth. And then I got the job offer at Kare. At the time, I was 25, which was unheard of. It was the number 13 market out of 212 TV markets in the country, so big market. Just did not hire 25 year old’s then; you were 30 minimum. So, it was the beginning of what's become a trend of cheaper hires, and if you can find somebody who's talented, young and cheap, that's even better. But I was really, I guess, a trailblazer in that way, which is weird. Everybody there called me a kid and I was the youngest person by far, really in the building. So, it was sort of unreal. And now you look at it, you'll go in there and it’s full of twenties and early thirties. The business model of local TV news has just completely changed in 10, 15 years.
IVAN: I know how you feel to some extent, I was always the youngest in the room as well in the early aughts. And I always felt like the kid and they [laughing] used to laugh at the fact that I wore sneakers to work. And that was somewhat humbling. Do you remember your first time broadcasting? Were you nervous? Was that something that you even thought about?
SVEN: Absolutely and after being in it for two years in Duluth, I didn't have those jitters anymore. But my first time being in the Twin Cities was like starting it all over again. But you were skilled enough at that point to be able to contain it. But I think most people who were watching could tell that even though I was a little nervous. But there I was in my home market, so all my family was watching and friends and people I grew up with, and people I couldn't even think of that would instantly recognize me then. So that’s what was most daunting actually, rather than, 100,000 strangers will be watching you, would be less nerve wracking to me, [laughing] because I didn't want to disappoint people who knew and loved me, well and hated me too. maybe.
IVAN: [laughing] What do you think the biggest thing was you learned while working at Kare 11?
SVEN: Oh, boy. Wow, that's a good question. I've never been asked that before. Biggest thing? That's a really good question. I think the biggest thing, and it's not specific to Kare 11, it’s working in that field of TV news, the fascinating element of teamwork that goes into that, because you have meteorologists who are scientists. You have producers who are writers. You have people on the technical side who make the broadcast happen. There aren't many collaborations, I don't think like that where people from different disciplines come together to put on a show. And so, I think what's interesting about that is, everybody's learning all the time. You have to be open to constantly learning. And I know that that's true in every science field, but this is more broader than just even learning science, you’re constantly learning more about how to make a show, really.
IVAN: Yeah, you're a scientist at heart but at the same time, you're trying to deliver this science to people in a way that doesn't make them feel dumb. That gives them the right information cleanly, clearly. And you also turn into a local celebrity, a TV personality, like there's other things that are almost polluting the science to a certain extent. Maybe it's hard to get that science through with all these other things that you have to deal with as well.
SVEN: Yeah, so maybe another thing you learn, you have to stay true to the science. And that's again, where if you have that natural curiosity that will keep it going. I've seen many people, some that I worked with, who were in that broadcasting field too long, where they got farther and farther away from the science and more and more into the sort of entertainment broadcast side of what they're doing. And that can be a little bit of a problem once it comes to, all of a sudden there's a tornado again. So, you do have to keep yourself grounded into what your original purpose for all was.
IVAN: Did you have people that you mentored when you were at Kare 11 who you helped the next generation with?
SVEN: Oh, yeah. For most of the 14 years I was there, I was in charge of our interns. So, we would have interns every summer. We collaboratively as a team made the decision on who we would ultimately hire, but I would really organize their schedules and what we were going to teach them and who they're going to work with, and that sort of thing. And I also taught at my alma mater several times. There's a broadcast meteorology course, part of the meteorology major as an elective for those who do want to go into broadcasting. And I taught that class, I think three or four times, from about 2008 through 2015 I think was the last time I taught it. I did a lot with actually shaping and molding some of the future people in the field.
IVAN: It's important. I think that's such an amazing thing to be doing, to be giving back to science, to be giving back to the community, to make sure that we have those young scientists and young people coming up that are able to continue the torch and bring those new ideas and new perspectives. It’s wonderful to see you doing that.
SVEN: And what I loved about it, too, is you learned along the way too, because if you're having to explain what you're doing and how and why to somebody, you understand better [laughing] why you're doing it, frankly.
IVAN: Wasn't it Fineman that said something like, You don't really understand something until you can explain it to someone else.
SVEN: Yeah. I think I've heard of a five year old or something which is, if you can't simplify it to that extent, you don't truly understand it. That always really resonated with me. If I can't explain something in meteorology to my four year old nephew, for example, then I truly am not going to be able to convey that to maybe a lot of people.
IVAN: Yeah. And what are you doing now? You're no longer at Kare? I see you online everywhere.
SVEN: I am more on digital platforms than ever before. So, I'm a meteorologist for bringing the news, which is a digital news platform. They've decided in the last couple of years to really invest in their weather, and not just be a new site that just sort of links to the weather service or something but actually provides, and this is what I've told people as TV news is changing, that model of a meteorologist explaining the forecast to you, whatever that will look like, is never going away. Because a lot of people still find a lot of value in explaining the weather and the forecast. We all, I hope, at least most people learned by now, that if you just look at the app on your phone, it's garbage, usually, especially when there's actual weather happening. On a day like the next several, where we're sitting here, and it's all sunny and eighties, yeah, okay, that's good enough. But when there's something actually happening, people really value that extra information. What I found, too, which is encouraging to me, especially in this era of what seems to be an attack on science, a lot of people value learning something too. Don’t just tell me that this storm is going through, but explain why. What are the ingredients that led to this? You hear a lot of people say, “Well, it's hot and humid. Why didn't it storm today?” So, you explain what a cap is, and all these other things, and they find that fascinating. And then that way, if the forecast is blown, they at least have heard some logic go into it and they're like, Well, it must have been because this didn't happen, instead of just looking into the app and saying, “Well, there was a lightning bolt there, and there was no lightning. So, what happened?”
IVAN: You know, you're right about the apps being trash. They're all trash. But there was one that wasn't half bad. Do you know about Dark Sky? I'm sure you do.
SVEN: I don’t think I do actually.
IVAN: Dark Sky used to be this great app, and Apple gobbled it up. It wasn't based on the data that comes from the sensors that, as I understand it, there's basically one source of data and one source of information, and that's the National Weather Service, and that uses the IBM network, I think. Somehow this app had a different network and that's why its data was apparently more accurate. Does that sound like junk to you what I just said? [laughing] This is all stuff I heard and thought, and I've kind of absorbed and I have no idea whether that was accurate.
SVEN: I can't say definitively one way or the other. But what I can say in defense of apps, is, part of why we have an app on our phone is to make something simple, quick and easy, right? And weather just isn't always simple, quick and easy. And it's also really hard to have a good forecast done for every zip code in the country, right? So, for example, the app on most people's iPhones comes from the weather channel and it's basically an average of computer model data that’s over a grid. And so, if you're in this point on the grid, that's what you get. You just sort of have to have a huge number of meteorologists to actually make a good, accurate, thoughtful forecast for each spot. And so, that's actually one of the things I'm working on right now, you'll see on Twitter, occasionally, it's called Currently. So, Eric Holthaus is a Climatologist who has over a million followers, I think, on Twitter. And he garnered a lot of attention during Hurricane Sandy, a number of years ago, by explaining the science of what was happening. How a hurricane could hit New York, but also putting it in a climate change context and saying, we can expect more of this more frequently in the future. And he got tons of followers during all that. So, he's worked with Twitter with Twitter's blessing and investment, so what we're doing is in each so far larger market in the country, going to what’s seen as the go to meteorologist in that area, like the trusted source for weather, and having them do a daily forecast discussion. That’s in an email form right now but we're launching a text service where you can ask questions about the forecast and that meteorologist will answer it. And really getting back to this, instead of just broad brush, let's just take an average, which is what the app does, you're actually getting the trusted meteorologist in your market, giving you information. And so, he chose me in the Minneapolis St. Paul market, and then there's somebody in New York. But also, there's some in Mumbai, India, and then, in addition to that, providing context in terms of climate change, and some social and environmental justice issues that all go out in this email. But people want to have a conversation with somebody about whether. Through TV, it's always been one way, we just talk to you and that's what's been fun about expanding and doing all my forecasts digitally, is I'm much more in tune with my viewers and get more feedback. And it's more interactive, which I find actually really rewarding for me too, because it keeps it more exciting.
IVAN: How do I get at that newsletter? How do I get it?
SVEN: That's a good question. I think if you go to Twitter, @currently, they have the link, it's @currently hq.Com, and you can sign up for the newsletter in your area. So, like today, I didn't talk about the boring forecast that had I can say that in one sentence, hey, it's going to be sunny, average temperatures, low humidity, enjoy it, it won't last for long until next week, but hey, let's dive into one more measurement of how hot this summer has been. It’s one thing to look at average temperature and how many nineties we've had. But what's also remarkable about the summer, just another way to measure how hot it's been, is how little we've had in the way of cool nights, which is what makes Minnesota usually so much more comfortable of a climate in the summer, then areas of the south as it does cool off at night usually. And so, I dove into the stats that to date, meteorological summer, June 1 to August 12, we should have 23 nights that are below 60 degrees, even in Minneapolis, where we have an urban heat island. But we've only had seven. So, it's another measurement of, we just haven't been cooling off at night, this summer. So that's one of many reasons why your AC has been running more.
IVAN: I was going to ask you what the most important thing we're not doing as a species. But I suspect it’s something to do with clients, and maybe climates at the top there. So, what is the most important thing we're not doing? And mostly the follow up question is, how can we change that?
SVEN: Well, that's the trillion dollar question, isn't it? Really? Climate change is huge, but I think it's this broader issue, and I would put climate change under the umbrella actually, which many may not, of broader conservation. So, it's how we view the planet we're on. Is it here for us to use? Or are we a part of it? We can't live without Earth, but Earth can certainly go on without us. Even if we trash it, it will still be a rock that's the Goldilocks zone of climate for planets, and nature in some form will come back. It doesn't need us. But we do need it. As advanced as we are, we have not found a way to live without the resources of planet Earth. You’ll hear climate deniers say, “Oh, well we can be on Mars,” and like, Yeah, we're a little ways off from colonizing Mars. And I don't want to live on Mars. I don't know about the rest of you, but if you've ever been in a wild place, whether it's South Africa, or woods in northern Minnesota, or deep in the Arctic, I've been several times, those places are so incredibly cool to be in and they're changing so fast. And we live in such a fast pace that I think a lot of people just don't have time to sit and think about it. Or when they do, they just see a gloom and doom story on the news and think Well, ah, okay, well, what can I do? And so, I think that we got to take the hopelessness out of the problem, first of all, because a lot of people feel hopeless about it. But we do have to really, as a species, think about, can we live differently? Living sustainably and sustainability gets used a lot, but in terms of conservation and climate change, it means living in a way where we're in harmony with the planet rather than destroying it. And that has to do with, and a lot of people have heard of this, choices in what we eat, you can't have a cheeseburger and steak every day. I love it too. But make it a special meal. Just the way we use land has to change and where we live has to change. One of the worst inventions ever that was made in the United States is suburbia. It’s such a destruction of land. So, there’s a lot of different avenues there. I guess I would summarize, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Dr. Jane Goodall a couple years ago. And what really even changed my mindset is here at the time she was 84 maybe, now she's, I think, 86 or 87. She was traveling the world still most days of the year, 200 something days a year, she's traveling to raise awareness, money for her Foundation, the Jane Goodall Institute, which one of the big things it does to combat climate change and conservation, is going into poor, less developed parts of the world and investing in those communities. She always said, “You can put up as many national parks and fences as you want, but if the local people are struggling to survive, it doesn't matter.” Poaching happens, because somebody is trying to survive. At the top of the chain, we can blame Chinese mafia or Vietnamese demand for traditional medicine, but they wouldn't have the person in South Africa, or Namibia, or Kenya, or wherever it would be that local person to do the poaching, if there wasn't somebody who had to feed their family.
IVAN: Right. So, invest in the places that you don't expect to invest, so that you can just make life better for everyone honestly.
SVEN: Yeah, and you teach them appreciation. I've done a lot of stuff with Save the Rhino Trust in Namibia and one of the things they do there locally, is teach the kids’ pride. “Hey, these are your rhinos. This is your country. Be proud of that.” And also, transforming the tourism industry in Namibia so that the people who are benefiting from it are the locals and so that Rhino is worth gold to your community, and much more so alive than dead.
IVAN: Yes, indeed. You've been down to Southern Africa, haven't you?
IVAN: How do you like it down there?
SVEN: I always tell people who say, “Oh I'd really love to do that trip that you did.” I've been to Botswana, South Africa, Namibia a few times, and Zimbabwe. And I tell people, I say, “Just be prepared. Once you go to Africa, you will fall in love. And you're going to have to go back.” It’s not a place that you can go to once. First of all, there's too much to see. [laughing] You can't do Africa in one trip.
SVEN: I think it’s in the soul of every human, we all originated there as a species, and I think just from the conservation standpoint, I call Africa the last of the megafauna. The planet used to be inhabited by lots of big animals. And really, that's the one continent left that has really numerous megafauna, big animals. We wiped out the bison in North America. It’s now understood that woolly mammoths, and a lot of the big ice age creatures died, as the first case of humans and a changing climate, destroying biodiversity. Now, then, the climate was changing, because we're coming out of the Ice Age, that was a stressor. But then you had this new species that was smart, and really good at hunting on the landscape, and that was the tipping point. And so, when I teach climate to middle schoolers, for example, I always start with the Ice Age, and talk about, this is that first case of humans on the scene, and a changing climate. I try to teach them that this is not the first time this has happened and this time we've both altered the climate and we are a species that are putting that extra stress on other species, and that's the tipping point. People always say, “Oh, the climates always changed. The polar bear can handle it.” And I'm like, “Yeah, and they're very well adaptable.” But this is different, and it's happening too fast, and we're responsible. And you can make the argument that, Well, we're a species on the planet so whatever we do is also a natural part of what happens on the planet. But I don't want to be personally responsible for this mass extinction crisis that we're in, and I think most people think the same.
IVAN: I agree with you. We're at a point now where it seems to be getting more dire by the day and I still believe that there is something we can do. The latest report that came out seems to indicate that it's still not too late, but we do have to change our behavior and do so quickly. And as individuals, we can do what we can, but it's really sweeping policy changes and sweeping changes by governments across the planet that are really going to fuel this kind of change that will get us to the other side in a more positive and happy way, I suppose.
SVEN: And that's the sad thing. I think our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, whatever, are going to look back shamefully the last few decades. We wasted so much time, so we are in the situation where we have to do big drastic things quickly, where we could have started tackling this when the scientists said we needed to. And I hope that's a lesson, whether it's for COVID, [laughing] or it's for climate change. I hope we learn. Humans, we do get better, even when we're in a slump. you look at humanity through time, like temperatures on a graph, the ups and downs, but the trend is upward, we always get better. There’s less slavery now [laughing] than there was 1000 years ago, luckily. We have more compassion I think, as much as there's killing in the world. Fewer people die in wars now than historically.
IVAN: Yes, that's a very important thing to do. And I think that's probably something we can end on. It's getting better is what you're saying.
SVEN: Yes. But it requires work.
IVAN: It does.
SVEN: We can't be lazy.
IVAN: No, we can't be lazy. Sven, I've enjoyed talking to you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your history, your story with us. It's been lovely to get to know you a little bit more and to learn that your father was in the ‘76 Olympics. What a wonderful thing to hear as well.
SVEN: Yeah. Pretty cool for a 19 year old, huh?
IVAN: Yeah. Wow. Wow. Yeah. Very cool. Very cool. Thank you very much for spending your time with me today.
SVEN: You're very welcome.
IVAN: I hope you’ll join us in the next episode of ONE OF 8 BILLION… when we hear from content strategy expert, and self-described “nerdy tech guy,” Jeff Eaton:
JEFF EATON: Two to three years ago I was diagnosed with adult ADHD, and I was very set in the traditional assumption that ADHD looks like a hyperactive kid running around in circles when he should be studying for class.
I start realizing like, oh no, actually that's that's a neurological thing. There's this thing called executive function. That is literally your brain taking an idea, like oh man, I should really do my taxes, and turning it into you standing up and going over and getting papers and a pencil and starting work on that.
The executive function is what actually does the work of making those tasks happen in your brain. And ADHD is a disorder that basically means you don't have a working executive function. If you've meet anybody, who's survived to adulthood without their life falling apart and has ADHD, you've met someone who's figured out how to weaponize anxiety as a substitute for executive function.
This has been ONE OF 8 BILLION, a podcast about all of us... online at 1of8b.com. Join us again next time as we listen to one of eight billion other stories!
This is Episode 131 of ONE OF 8 BILLION. It was recorded on August 12, 2021 and first published on April 13, 2022. Audio length is 43 minutes. Transcription by Roxanne Chumucas. Summary, highlights and editing by Brian Lucas. Music by Lexfunk. Produced by Jonathan Freed.