Søren Riis is Dr Phil. and integrates the philosophy of technology with Science and Technology Studies (STS).
Søren is a member of the 14th climate partnership, an initiative led by Danish politician and former Danish Minister for Education and Research Tommy Ahlers, supported by The Danish Chamber of Commerce.
HelloScience invited Søren to this Q&A session just after the 14th climate partnership launched its report with a number of recommendations to make Denmark a leading green entrepreneurial country.
26 June, 2020
Q: Søren, tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you and what you stand for?
A: I’m a concerned citizen, an engaged individual and a philosopher of passion and profession.
Q: What is the 14th climate partnership all about, why is this agenda important?
A: The 14th climate partnership is about our common planet, preventing overhanging disasters, growing new ideas together and making the best of our place in history.
It is important to me for at least three reasons; 1) I feel a personal call to help the transition to a green and at the same time better way of living. 2) As co-founder of the car- and ridesharing platform, GoMore, I would like to bring my experience from this work and the start-up community in general in play, and through the 14th climate partnership help giving new green entrepreneurs the best possible environment to develop their ideas. 3) It is a personal kick for me to collaborate with inspiring and dedicated people.
Q: Why is it important to celebrate Moonshot technologies?
A: A moonshot technology literally often makes us look at the world, a problem, and ourselves in a different and very inspiring way. This makes “Moonshot” technologies very rewarding.
However, there are also a couple of paradoxes about “Moonshot” technologies. If you only look at the narrow gain from the “first” real moon shot technology – namely Apollo 11 – then it brought 21.5 kg lunar rock back to Earth. In a broader sense, however, going to the moon and “Moonshots” are about “reaching for the stars”, developing technologies that are out of this world, and making grand collaborative projects work.
Q: Søren, tell us about your ultimate Moonshot.
A: It is often good to gain some “altitude” in order to be able to look a bit beyond the current state of affairs. The history of technology is full of examples of dreamers and people breaking the status quo. When Matias Møl Dalsgaard and I first created GoMore, very few people thought that people would be willing to share cars and rides on a big scale – let alone with people they had never even met before. And this was just a bit more than 10 years ago, and today GoMore has more than 2 Million members in three countries.
However, over the last couple of years I have been thinking about what I like to call the “ultimate green transportation technology”. This technology is not the answer to transportation challenges, but it keeps fascinating me and I think it can be part of an attractive future. In one sense to me it represents a “Moonshot” technology, but in another sense, we have all the ingredients ready at hand to develop it, yet the perfect combination is still missing.
In short, the technology I am dreaming about is a combination of an airship and a solar farm: An airship does not use any energy to float in the air – and if this classic (almost disappeared) technology is combined with cutting-edge solar panels to propel the structure, then we have a fantastic green self-generating mode of transport. State of the art solar panels weigh very little and make enough energy to enable an airship to travel as fast as a train – but opposed to trains it needs very little infrastructure and travels on “starlight”. I do not see any reason why such airships could and should not be developed on a big scale. With this mode of transport, everybody could travel with a clean conscience, get a new perspective on travelling and see the earth floating by.
If anybody reading this also thinks it would be interesting supporting and experimenting with this “moonshot” technology, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org; I am already in touch with some engineering students at DTU Skylab, who want to help take the first steps …
Q: You also were the talent track lead in the 14th climate partnership. What was your key recommendation?
A: We recommend attracting talent to green Danish startups by giving them more visibility in Denmark and abroad – and a much better chance to organize and share insights and experiences. We advised that this could be achieved by establishing a dedicated online platform, helping the community of green startups in Denmark to connect and flourish.
First of all this platform would need to help the community get to know each other better and develop long term. In Denmark, many students work in pretty random places next to their studies, without so much progressive learning taking place. We would like the students from technical and natural science disciplines, as well as from the humanities find jobs in startup companies more easily. In addition, we also focused on the need to make it easier and more attractive for young talents to either work for or create their own startup.
Q: How can HelloScience play a part?
A: I very much hope that HelloScience can and will play a crucial part in this green community by connecting smart and engaged mentors of established companies with students and startups working on very concrete projects. It is my impression that this kind of collaboration and knowledge sharing across institutions and generations can prove to be very powerful. Many corporate employees miss the excitement and innovative power of startups and they often have a lot to offer. On the other hand, there is also great value for startups in having access to the deep, in-depth experience and established networks which Corporate mentors can bring to the table.
Q: How have the recommendations been received?
A: I am happy to see that the most ambitious recommendation with the highest impact probably is going to be implemented, namely the adoption of a CO2-tax. Although we are not the only ones suggesting this, I do believe that our work has had a positive influence on Danish politicians.