Future39 #1 … Futurist Nikolas Badminton: we’re too late to stop climate change (and smart drugs and the future of food)

Welcome to the VERY FIRST EPISODE of future39, the podcast in which we peek at one of our infinite possible futures, every episode.

In this episode, we spend 30 minutes with futurist Nik Badminton on smart drugs, smart food, and the coming “year of resiliency,” in which we start to learn to live with higher temperatures … and all their consequences.

Here’s the full transcript:

John Koetsier: Welcome to future 39, the podcast where every episode we’ll take a shared peak at one of the infinite possible futures that await.

My name is John Koetsier. I write for Forbes, consult with tech companies, and I’m writing Insights From the Future, a book of future news.

We are perhaps the first culture defined by the future of the future. Fear of the future, desire for the future. We can’t stop thinking about the future. It’s exploding into our lives every day in new technology, new wonders and new horrors. Name an area: climate, politics, war, food, culture, art, sports, biology, anything … technology is reinventing our world. This is F-39 number one.

I’m going to introduce our guest today.

Our guest is a futurist and he’s a speaker from Vancouver, Canada. He runs the Exponential Minds podcast. He was programming and hacking computer games at 10, he has a degree in psychology and computer science, a single combined degree. Very interesting. He’s also run conferences like Cyborg Camp, from Now, Future Camp and Dark Futures. He’s written for everything from the BBC to Techcrunch, and he’s spoken to more than 200,000 people at more than 300 events. Nikolas Badminton. Thank you for being our guest.

Nikolas Badminton: Hi John. How are you?

John Koetsier: Doing really, really well. Doing better now that I’m chatting with you! We go back a ways, actually … I mean, we’ve known each other for about a decade.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, I was, I was working over at DDB and you are working at a company and you were actually my client and then that company disappeared. And, uh, and then, you know, it was, it was around about eight years ago, I started really leaning into talking about design and futures and human computer interaction and tapping into sort of the subculture of bio hacking and all these things.

Back then, you know, people were kind of thinking we were all a bit strange to be so excited about these areas, and today it’s like a completely viable business.

John Koetsier: It’s wonderful, and you’re doing amazing. And one of the big projects that you have recently, I want to dive into. It’s in and around biohacking and smart drugs, nootropics.

I loved, I don’t know you must’ve seen it as well, the Limitless movie with Bradley Cooper. It’s now on Amazon prime. I think you mentioned iTunes, Google. Talk to me about the project you did and how you got into that.

Nikolas Badminton: [Yeah. So around, about like two years ago, I was approached through some friends. It came at me through two angles. One was through an agent I was working with. Another was through an online tech publication called Betakit. And these documentary producers were looking for a biohacker in Canada that was willing to experiment.

And everyone was saying, go and chat to Nik Badminton. So I ended up chatting to a producer called Anne Shin, and she’s an award winning documentary producer, and she’s a fabulous individual. They said, we’ve got this documentary we’ll want to do on smart drugs. We want to work with someone that knows the area around transhumanism and whatever to help us one shape the documentary too, to take part in the documentary, to host it, to try out the different things that we find.

So that’s what we did. So I sat down and I worked with the producers and directors and we worked out who we’re going to talk to. What was important, what wasn’t important, and then we go on a plane, went to San Francisco and a bunch of other places and met the people doing it. And uh, yeah, I tried a whole bunch of different things to help her.

John Koetsier: Did you have to insert anything under your skin? Anything metallic? Anything with wifi or Bluetooth technology?

Nikolas Badminton: No, I did that on my own a few years before. One of my conferences from now, I actually go to Amaal Graaftra put an RFID chip under my skin.

He runs a company called DangerousThings.com, and he’s been working in implantables for awhile. Anyway, this was very much about the things that you can ingest or the things you can do to your body. Everything from a nootropics. You know, the supplements that give you more focus and attention and stamina in certain cases, uh, all the way through to like a Wim Hof method therapy, you know, breathing a cold water therapy through to, uh, oxygen sitting in a.

Hyperbolic hyperbaric chambers, oxygenate the blood to do whatever. And I’ve gone even further now. I’ve done really deep breath work and I, I do, uh, a therapy called, uh, psychological kinesiology now, which is about belief systems. And, uh, yeah, it’s been fascinating.

John Koetsier: It’s super interesting.

I have a confession to make. I got contacted by a company in SF that was doing nootropics and they sent me a sample and I had the sample, I agreed to do the sample and I checked it out. I thought, you know, what is in this? I have no clue. This is not FDA approved. This is, who knows what’s in this thing.

So you took a bunch of drugs, talk to us a little bit about what those drugs were and what they did for you.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah, I mean, FDA approved and all this is, I literally, I was, I was trying, I tried like hooky, hooky Indian, Modafinil off of the black market, you know, you know, I was really willing to like push the boundary.

So Modafinil was one. Obviously, that’s a prescription drug. I was given some that weren’t my prescription. Probably the best for focus. And a lot of entrepreneurs have told me that. It’s amazing for focus in sitting down, writing strategy, you know, doing long stretches of development and whatever.

And then I tried a number of other nootropics. like Piracetam. And Piracetam was actually originally developed in Russia and used on the space program by cosmonauts. And it just gave more focus, attention … sort of oxygenated that brain. And, uh, yeah, that, that was really rock and roll.

I really love that. I, I played around with some nootropics before, like alpha brain, alpha brain or whatever, a few years before, and it just kinda gives you really funky nightmares. Oh, shoot. Yeah. So it’s, it’s not great to take a lot of this, but I really stepped forward and tried out a whole bunch of different things.

I ended up being able to get more done in my days and uh, you know, has it fundamentally changed my life? I don’t think so. But has it shown me that the balance can be achieved by using supplements? Absolutely. It has so I still delve into it once in a while.

John Koetsier: So, so that’s interesting. I mean, like, you know, I want to know when the drug comes out that makes me Bradley Cooper, right. That I can focus and I can, you know, expand my mind … that’d be amazing.

So you don’t use them regularly anymore, but you do do some other things that you learned some, some physical, mental things.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. So it was just, it was just really something that, that sort of kickstarted a whole sort of Renaissance with me of, of looking at how things can change. And I, I’d sort of looked at a bunch of it, different areas before and as I stepped into this, this wider world, I started to think, okay.

If there’s some opportunities to use, you know, natural remedies cause all these smart drugs and natural Modafinil is not, it’s a pharmaceutical. But if you can use things like Piracetam or whatever, and you can use a variously CoQ10 and various other sort of over the counter supplements to help really hack how your body works and even using life food as well.

Uh, and, and exercise. Then this is something that we need to unlock. And you know, I’ve, I really struggle with a whole bunch of things like good nutrition and good fitness and whatever. Cause I spend so much time on airplanes and in hotels and speaking on stage of whatever by have to, I have to have a, a balance.

So. Yes. I don’t necessarily, yeah, I don’t necessarily, you know, have a raft of tablets I take everywhere. For example, fenal Piracetam is banned in the UK … is actually a banned substance by the Olympics, so I can’t go flying into the UK with it, so, so you have to still be quite careful because there’s a lot of considerations country by country.

But, um, yeah. I lean on a bunch of different things now to help me really manage how life is. It’s sort of, I’m on sort of version 2.0 of everything.

John Koetsier: Let’s jump to the future of food because it’s a related topic and it’s something that you’re working on recently as well, right?

And there’s so many changes coming on with food. We see the impossible burger. We see, we see meat that isn’t meat, right? We see, um, differences in how we’re producing food with vertical farms that. You’ve got one acre and it produces as much as maybe a 10 acre traditional farm or even more, and you see how important that is it as we lose a land arable land.

Right. Talk to me a little bit about what you’re working on there, what you’re seeing there.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. So I’ve worked with, so I grew up in a farming community. Uh, so I grew up in a 5,000 person village in the Southwest of England, in Somerset, and we had a slaughterhouse in the center of the village.

And we’re surrounded by dairy farms. When I left school, I didn’t have much in terms of qualifications. Um, I was good at computers, but I didn’t get a chance to sit any of those exams. Um, because the educational system is broken. Uh, yeah. And so I ended up working in dairy farms and whatever.

Then went back to university, um, back into computers, AI and the …

John Koetsier: I never would have picked you for a farmer boy, that is amazing. This is insight.

Nikolas Badminton: I know. Yeah, no, absolutely. But like, yeah, I grew up in a, in a community. I worked in a dairy. I used to deliver milk around the village.

I was a milk man. I was a milkman for a number of years after university, and sorry, after, sorry. After

John Koetsier: school and

Nikolas Badminton: university. Um, but you know, now, over the last four or five years since I’ve been doing way more sort of public speaking. Um, it’s a lot of, it’s been with farmers and it’s been with, uh, people that work in the agriculture industry.

And I’ve worked with everyone from like Dow agricultural or, um, you know, Dow pharmaceuticals all the way through to, um, real agriculture, which an online sort of news platform all the way through to, uh, you know, I worked with Bayer. Yeah. That the event earlier this year. And you know what, if you really want to understand the fundamentals of delivering food, speak to farmers, they are hugely technological.

They’ve always been really advanced. Um, the technology world has been hugely skeptical of that at the beginning. Even people like Bill Gates said, I can’t imagine how any farmer would need a personal computer at home. Meanwhile, we’re now in a world where farmers can utilize artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data, drones, satellite technology.

And I had a, uh, like a 70 year old couple that still worked on their farm, obviously with their kids. Um, and the woman got out her smartphone, and she was showing me how she opened and closed the lids on her grain bins. Wonderful. And this is it. This is to me as a revolution … farmers actually find a practical application for technology.

They’re not going to say, yeah, we’re going to buy this. We’re going to buy that. We’re going to buy this, and suddenly our world’s going to be better. Like many big companies can just buy software. For farmers. It’s like, if I’m going to spend $200,000 on this particular thing, say it’s a sensor, that’s going to deliver more than $200,000 worth of value in the next two to three years.

Right? Ideally in the first year. So farmers are very practical about this. Food supply, um, is going to be hugely important in, you know, by 2050 there’s going to be more than 9 billion people on the planet, and the UN thinks that we’re gonna need about 60% more food grown. So food yields, new ways of producing food, vertical farming in cities to reduce the amount of distance that food has to travel.

Um. All sorts of areas that are really being invested in. And you know, you do have the funky things like robotics and AI and whatever, but it does also go back to chemicals and also new ways of actually growing food where you don’t need to rely on fungicides and herbicides, pesticides, much water because water is going to be in, in limited supply going forward. Right.

John Koetsier: It’s super, super interesting. I was just in Bermuda and there’s kind of a preview of the future of food there in some sense, from a consumer point of view, because it’s a tiny Island, 65,000 people, tiny Island. You see the farms there and it looks like somebody’s backyard … that small and I did not see any vertical farms there.

Yeah, and I think that’s a huge opportunity for Island nations like that. But I also, uh, when I went to the, I went to the supermarket and a couple of flowers, $5, right? A cucumber a is $3 or something like that. Right? And it’s super expensive. But if we can implement some of these new technologies, some of these ways of growing food smarter, faster, or just more intensive on the same amount of land.

That’s huge for those places, but that also speaks to where cities might need to go in the future.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, I was just in Grand Cayman last year and they pretty much never, they don’t grow their own food. They’ve got some sort of smaller farms, just like you say, like it was backyards.

I’m not sure if Bermuda is the same. You’ve got places like grand Cayman that’s got a huge amount of agricultural potential, but because of the modern world, they fly everything in from Miami. That’s why it’s like $5 for a cucumber. And it’s kind of backwards. I mean, we’ve kind of got it wrong. The modern food supply system of scale, grow food at scale and distribute supply chain is kind of gone wrong because there’s been lots of sort of, you know, shaking hands and deals made to distribute.

You know food. I mean, I was in the supermarket just yesterday and there’s, there’s, there’s garlic from China and those garlic from Ontario. Yes. And it’s like, well, I’m going to buy to go from Ontario even though it’s more expensive. And it’s like, you need, you mean to tell me that garlic is traveled all the way from China to the supermarket.

To me that that fundamentally means that there’s a problem with how we’re growing and sharing food. I mean, who knows how old that garlic is? I mean, the average age of an apple on the shelf in the supermarket is like, what, nine months?

Maybe even more than that.

John Koetsier: Wow.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah. Wow. So I actually think that there’s a huge potential to sort of bring it closer to home to, to grow the food that we need. And this is why things like cellular meat and plant-based diets and whatever are starting to gain a lot more, um, sort of credence in the conversations happening in the world.

Because, uh, it just reduces that supply chain between the producer and the, the end consumer.

John Koetsier: Well, what’s super interesting to me is that with these new technologies and more intensive agriculture on limited spaces, we can reinvent what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So, yeah. We see in cities that the architecture is growing towards more of a live work type of scenario.

We see some innovations there. What if in the future we looked at cities and we said, Hey, the architecture we’re going to build, we’re going to build spaces for people to live spaces for people to work. You know what? We’re going to build spaces for greenery right into that and the farm is all around us.

And wouldn’t that be amazing for sustainability, for the, for the environment, for how we would feel emotionally about the places that we live in? There’s such huge potential there. Uh, just like in, in energy production, which is going to get decentralized.

Nikolas Badminton: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I, as I look out from my apartment, I’m in Toronto at the moment and I look out over when, when it’s not snowing, you’ve got rooftops and you’ve got roofs that you can literally go through … I’ve got friend Arlene who runs the rooftop farm at Ryerson, and she’s got a doctorate in agriculture and food production. And, uh, so she, she’s looking at how you can use these spaces in new ways. And I completely agree. We, we’ve dehumanized. The city is literally places that it’s easy to get from B to B in a, in a vehicle, rather than actually having a good human experience on the streets. You know, these rooftops are just one step in the right direction of being able to grow food, but it’s still like a very small amount of rooftops in, in Toronto, probably only about in the whole of Toronto. And it’s actually got that kind of a thing going on.

And even though it’s quite sensible and it’s because, you know, we, we saw forgotten the importance of growing our own food and we don’t reward the people that do right.

John Koetsier: Right, right. It’s almost like we planned this. We didn’t actually, but you know, there’s a great segue here because we want to talk a little bit about climate change as well.

And, and climate change is probably one of the bigger, if not the biggest, uh, challenges facing us right now. And yet. A technology which has in in a very large sense, caused this problem, enabled us to grow to a staggering numbers, enabled us to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Technology also promises potentially the ability to slow it down. Maybe even reverse it. Talk a little bit about some of the things you’re seeing.

Nikolas Badminton: I mean, we were actually in this a situation where we’re never going to be able to reverse it. We’re never going to get cooler as a planet and that sort of there are a lot of people are saying, Oh, you know, we can do geo engineering and we can, we can bring CO2 out of the atmosphere and that’d be great.

That’s not going to happen on a scale that’s going to be actually useful for reducing climate is going to be part and parcel of the solution and an overall everything from like planting trees to geoengineering to um, sustainable practices, running businesses and transportation is going to lead to a future that’s a little bit more stable versus getting warmer and warmer and warmer.

And causing all sorts of catastrophes like, um, the Arctic ice melting and never coming back or, you know, tundra fires and whatever. But over the last 250 years, the industrial revolutions that have shaped our modern world, right through communication, energy, and transportation, and all of that was enabled by fossil fuels. Right?

Um, the early days of, of, of driving cars, you know, the early cars, the best early cars are electric. Their battery technology was just terrible. And then you had the, uh, you know, oligarchs coming in and saying, actually, we’ve got an abundance of oil and we’re going to use combustion engines.

And then was like, Oh, no, that’s absolutely fine. Now we’re in today where you’ve got a hundred of the world’s largest companies make their money by, you know, pumping oil, like getting gas out of the ground or whatever, and distributing that, and they’re causing a huge amount of trouble in industry.

Um, and because we’re still burning it for industrial transportation, like shipping and flying, uh, for personal transportation, whatever, and, um, big changes haven’t happened and they’re not happening yet. Not that I can see. Um. I call 2020 the year of resiliency because we need to work out how we’re going to survive a world where we’re going to be warmer, where there is going to be more adverse weather conditions where you know, our children might have higher incidences of, uh, of, of asthma and eczema and all sorts of things that can be caused by lower quality of air. I mean, if you look at the pictures, I think it’s Delhi right now.

John Koetsier: Yeah. It’s just horrific.

Nikolas Badminton: I mean, back in the 1950s, uh, there, there was also London, there was choked by the similar sort of thing, um, for four days. And like 50 plus people died there in India and hundreds, maybe thousands of people are dying because we’ve absolutely choked the earth.

The inconvenient truth is that the earth is becoming an inhospitable place to live, and as things get warmer, you’re going to say goodbye to places like potentially Grand Cayman and Bermuda because the water is going to be rising.

You know, places like Bangladesh just aren’t going to exist in a hundred years time. If we don’t start taking some action today.

John Koetsier: Yes, yes, yes. Well, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re doing. You’re working with some of the largest investment firms in the world, a luxury brands, advertising.

What are you telling these people? What are you giving these people? What are you helping these companies with?

Nikolas Badminton: So over the past few years, I’ve sort of taken, I spent the majority of my career working in technology strategy and then business strategy. So I’ve sort of beefed that up. And now with what I’ve been doing in terms of looking out five, 10, 20 years is I’ve developed a lot of foresight practices and I, I’ve got an associate consultancy.

So I’ve got a bunch of people. I talk to everyone from experts in cyber crime to impact, to, uh, to other futurists as well, that they’re specialized in certain areas. And what we do is, um, typically I get clients coming to me. They’re saying, okay. We realized that our quarterly by quarterly view or our 18-month view isn’t really delivering enough inspiration into our organization to get people to care about what the future is going to be.

And typically it starts with organizations wanting to ignite their own employees, but it typically ends with an idea of creating foresight programs, very much like innovation was touted as something being important in organization. Foresight is being touted as well. Now innovation practices a bit have been established and innovation mindset has been put in place.

The same thing’s happening with foresight. So being able to help people look into the future and forecast, you know, based on a product or based on a consumer change and whatever, what the world would be like in five, 10 20 years. Helps them work out how they can create a resilient business.

John Koetsier: This is amazing. I mean, it’s really amazing because, uh, we’re not far from a time. In fact, we’re still in a time where most companies, uh, are quarterly focused. What’s happening next quarter? Are we meeting the numbers this quarter? Are we set up well for next quarter? And in a climate change world, a rapidly evolving technological world … isn’t one where you can just look at the next quarter.

You’ve got gotta look a few years out, you gotta look at a decade out. You’ve got to see how are we going to be relevant in a world that is fundamentally changing. So that’s super interesting.

Nikolas Badminton: We have to listen to the warnings that are coming. About a month and a half ago, over 130 banks at the United nations in New York city came together. And you know these, these are banks that have got assets under management around about $47 trillion. Trillion with a T.

John Koetsier: So they’re the small banks of the world …

Nikolas Badminton: These are the people that are controlling the flow of what’s happening globally and everything from trade to GDP or whatever.

And, and they’re saying we know that the climate warming is going to be bad for business. And by the way, if you’re in our portfolio, and many of the fossil fuel companies are, it’s like we’re going to divest away from you. They’re taking brave steps towards that.

New York city investment funds are taking steps, uh, away from that as well. So that was one warning.

Another warning that came in was Mark Carney, the governor of the bank of England turned around and said if you work in a business and you do not take sustainability seriously, you do not take, um, the, the effects of climate change seriously … and you do not change.

You risk become obsolete and ultimately bankrupt as a business. So when you start to hear these players coming in and giving these warnings, you’ve got CEOs starting to pay a lot of attention. And every single one of my keynotes, I start with this. Um. I was in Halifax last week to a small group of private companies and doing it with a, with a, with a consultancy partner of mine.

And I’ve been to, you know, 300, 400 conferences and, and I start with we have to take this seriously. And four years ago, people were literally laughing at me. And even at the beginning of this year, I did a private group. I can’t, can’t say too much about it because it’s under Chatham house rules, but it was a private group.

And I was talking about seriously, about, you know, electricity supply and sustainability, the fact that we have to remove a move to renewables and how the, the end is knife for fossil fuels. And there were, there was a table of people. They were from a certain part of North America that will remain unnamed.

John Koetsier: It’s a large part …

Nikolas Badminton: They were just literally talking in the background and it’s like there are some people that literally have got their heads in the sand and think it isn’t a problem. And fundamentally, you know, these are the people that will be out of jobs. And I don’t know why people deny information and science and you know, perpetuating ideas.

I spoke at a conference full of oil and gas workers just two months ago. And, uh, there were a large union or oil and gas workers, and the deputy secretary stood up and said, um, yeah, we want to get out of fossil fuels. We want, we want to see these companies step up and be part of, you know, a solution towards resiliency.

We want them to step into renewables and we want them to hire us. And I gave my presentation and I was quite worried because it’s like these people rely on oil and gas for their salary. And they stood up and gave me a round of applause.

And I was like, this is wild. And it’s because it’s all making sense to all people today except for the people in absolute denial.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that’s a wonderful thing. And I mean, those of us in the world of technology and who keep up with the news and all that know, for instance, there’s more people employed in the solar industry than in the coal industry in the US and I know that’s the unnamed nation.

I’m thinking that’s the unnamed nation. You’d do not need to confirm or deny that.

Nikolas Badminton: Look at China for where the big changes are happening. Yeah, yeah. Typically they were generating electricity from coal, then are shutting down tons of, excuse me. pardon the pun … tons of coal factories are slowing down and they’re opening huge amounts of, of, of solar generation, uh, ability through wind and through solar in both China and Mongolia.

And they’re starting to look at initiatives like the Asian super grid to connect up like Russia and Korea, Japan, Taiwan to unlimited cheap electricity generated by wind and solar, and they’re now deploying the full infrastructure in their cities. They’re deploying about 6,000 electric buses every, every five or six weeks in their cities to replace all of the internal combustion engine vehicles that are there.

John Koetsier: It’s amazing.

Nikolas Badminton: It is amazing. They can do it because there’s one guy in charge of the country that says, do it and everyone does it right. And fundamentally, they’re, they’re the people that are gonna really own the new world infrastructure. Um, North America is actually in a risk position where they could be potentially annexed out of a global energy, a renewable energies grid.

But yeah, that’s a few years away. But yes, I’m very much an advocate for stepping up and thinking about renewable energy. I talk about it again in every presentation to farmers, to big banks, to consumer product companies. And we all have to have a responsibility to do the best for the planet as we go forward.

John Koetsier: Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, Nick, I just want to thank you for spending a half an hour with us. I want to thank you for sharing what you’ve learned and what you’re seeing and also what you’re hearing from your clients and sharing that with us. I really appreciate your time.

Nikolas Badminton: I appreciate the conversation, John. Always a pleasure.

John Koetsier: Thank you so much for spending some time with Future 39. If you enjoyed this podcast, please do take a moment to go to iTunes, go to Podcasts, go to Spotify, wherever you pick this podcast up, and give it a like, give it a rating, and give it a review. Give it a thumbs up. Thank you so much and have a wonderful day.

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John Koetsier