Johan Ernst Nilson started his career as an explorer and motivational speaker 20 years ago. He is one of the world’s leading explorers and his dream is to motivate people to follow their dreams and inspire them to reach their goals. Johan is one of the keynote speakers at Green Connections this year and the focus of his inspirational talk will be on his personal stand on climate related issues through his carbon-neutral expeditions, which has given him the title Environmental Explorer. We are very much looking forward to having Johan here at Green Connections!
For how long have you been an explorer?
I started 20 years ago. I celebrate the 20th anniversary as an explorer the 1st of May 2014.
You and others call yourself an ”Environmental Explorer” what does it mean?
First of all I think it’s something that should be the basic in everything you do. You should think of the environment in everything you do, it shouldn’t be anything strange or different. The options to take and decisions you make, has to be environmental options or decisions. I started a few years ago in 1997 and that year I started to do expeditions to the polar regions with the Swedish Polar Research Institute and I started doing interviews with professors in Glaciology. This is when I understood the severeness of the environmental problems in glaciology. This made me ask people, especially TV stations, if they were interested in interviews and films from an environmental perspective, but no one were interested. Around that time environmental issues weren’t as trendy as they are today. Then it just said ”boom” and everybody was suddenly interested in the environment, as if there wasn’t a problem before! That was pretty awkward to experience, in just two years everything turned 100 percent environmental. The year I started as an explorer, 1997, could be described as a war between me and the media; I brought up the question of the environmental but nobody was interested in listening. In order to make a change I started to do my expeditions climate neutral: I did expeditions to the Northern Passage and worked with Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel to do films about climate change.
Your interest for animals and nature is strong, has it always been like this?
I think it started when I was down in Antarctica where my interest in climate change grew, because of the big differences between Sweden and Antarctica. Throughout my life I have also been interested in the beauty of nature.
What is, in your opinion, the most important aspect of your job?
First of all I think that a lot of people are skeptical to what I do since I’m not a scientist or a politician, and that’s true. I’m not a scientist and I can’t proof any figures like a scientist can do, and I can’t change anything in the terms of politics. But I’m a window, meaning that I go to places where no one else goes. I go to areas where most scientists never reach, and I go places and meet cultures that most politicians will never know. If I can work through the knowledge of a the scientist, the power of the media, and the reason of a politician, maybe we can together help getting people to open up their eyes for the problems that we all face.
Tell me about your latest expedition.
Well, the latest one was a short one but it was really powerful. It was a guy in a wheelchair that I helped up to the summit of Sweden. He wasn’t really sure that it would be possible, and he was lacking motivation so I told him that I’ll help him through it. We did the expedition in three days and we actually reached the summit of Sweden. Before that I did my Pole-to-Pole expedition which was a 18 months and a 525 days long expedition from the North Pole to the South Pole.
What inspires you?
People who are swimming against the tide. People who are doing the impossible possible, people who have been living with the mantra ”this is not possible and you can’t do it” and then they do it anyway. That’s inspiring.
How do you view Sweden vs USA’s commitment to the environment? Do you have any experience?
Sweden is really in the front of studies and scientific research in climate change, I think that USA has a lot to learn from us. For example president Obama has just been to Sweden to discuss these matters. I think we can learn a lot from each other, that’s a lot of things we in Sweden can learn from the USA too. So I think a collaboration is always the best, team building and working together.
What’s your relationship with San Diego?
I used to live in LA for two years so I went to San Diego a lot. I have a good friend who’s living there, Deepak Chopra. I go there often to meet him to discuss motivation, inspiration, and determination.
What is the next challenge?
The next big one coming up is actually working with motivation and dreams for children in school all over Sweden. I do a tour around Sweden in terms of lectures. After that I’ll do a lecture on motivation and environment in Russia, with the prime minister of Russia. Then I’ll do three expeditions to Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, with different groups. And I’m also doing a trip to the amazon in May and after that I’m going to swim in the channel between France and England in September next year.
You talk a lot about dreams, what are your dreams and goals?
I think that my dreams are helping other people find their dreams, I think that reaching a goal and a dream in life is not the hard part. The complicated part is to know what your dream is since a lot of people keep running around saying I want this and I want that, but they forget to focus on one thing. That’s the most difficult part today, because we have so many things to choose from. Through my lectures I want to give people a wake-up call, I want to plant a seed that might grow into a flower. I want to help people find their dreams in life.
What is your motivation strategy? How do you motivate yourself?
I think that people don’t really believe they can do things in life. It’s a big difference between goals and dreams, goals are reachable and something that’s not to far away, is not a too big of an effort either. So a goal is something you go for, a dream on the other hand is something that ”other people” do. A dream is something that isn’t really achievable, so you talk about the dream as if it’s something you would never do but you would love to do it. When I was younger I had goals and I wanted to do them, and now I have dreams. Dreams are like goals but they’re further away. So the strategy is to believe that everything is possible, the impossible just takes more time.
Impossible becomes possible by doing. For example, for many years ago it was impossible to run faster than 10 seconds in one hundred meters, and why would anyone even try? It’s impossible! But then somebody tried and it worked, he moved the line for what is possible. If you would show an iPhone in the 13th Century people would probably burn you alive while saying that you’re a wizard because this is impossible, but now it’s possible. So never say that anything is impossible, it’s just because we don’t know how to do it.
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