Louisa Tholstrup – the explorer: Looking after Extreme E’s legacy
This is one of a series of interviews with women in key roles in Extreme E, the new electric off-road championship with a stated commitment to equality as well as the environment.
Louisa Tholstrup was the first person to be employed by founder Alejandro Agag, in 2019, after encountering him at the Cannes Film Festival. After doing the initial recce of race locations, her main role as Legacy Programme Leader is to manage the process of choosing and overseeing local projects that Extreme E is supporting at its race sites, with the aim of leaving behind a legacy with a sustainable social and environmental impact.
What does your job involve?
There are three aspects. Firstly, I’m the ‘Extreme E explorer’ which means I find the locations for the races, which are focused on five different themes of climate change: desertification, deforestation, melting glaciers, melting icecaps and rising oceans. I am the first one to go out and identify the sites. I always keep in mind that if take a photograph now and then after the race, would it have been impacted in terms of the terrain and from a social and environmental point of view? It’s quite intuitive, but also we are talking to people in those communities from the get-go.
Secondly, we thought it was really important to have the backing of a scientific committee, so I put that together with experts for each of the locations.
The third aspect is the legacy programme.
Will you travel to the races?
Yes. For the first, in Saudi, I’ll be there quite a long time beforehand, to spend a few days on the boat and unveil the Red Sea conservation legacy project we have there. The drivers, some journalists and scientists will be coming on board – we’ll have a two-day workshop, discussing our project and going to visit the beach where the activity is focused.
How did you get into this job?
I studied biology and then went to work in biotech, for a venture capital fund in the US, investing in agriculture technologies and biotechnologies with a climate change focus. I met Alejandro when he was receiving an award at Cannes for a film they made where they raced a Formula E car against a cheetah.
When Trump came along my visa situation became more complicated so I came back to the UK ‘briefly’. I started doing this with Alejandro who saw it as a three-month experiment to see if it went anywhere. And here we are!
What do you know about motorsports?
I know nothing at all and I don’t really drive! All I knew was that lithium-ion batteries are very bad because of the cobalt mining and I was a bit sceptical about the world going down that route – but certainly electric cars are much, much better than fossil fuel-dependent combustion engines. I still have concerns about where we’re extracting these minerals from – hopefully technology will find another solution.
What legacy programmes have been set up?
We have one legacy project per location; on each the Scientific Committee has the final say.
We have confirmed a project in Senegal, with local NGO Oceanium, to plant one million mangrove trees; a five-year Red Sea turtle conservation partnership programme in Saudi Arabia; a partnership with the Nature Conservancy in the Brazilian Amazon, who work with farmers to encourage them to grow cocoa trees, instead of cutting down trees to make room for maize or cows. In Greenland we’re working with UNICEF to ensure that climate change is on the curriculum for all children in every school. I’m heading to Argentina now to work on our fifth race location and legacy programme.
Have you faced many challenges?
We’re navigating different environmental, political and social situations. Each location varies. Greenland was the most straightforward negotiation and then there are ones like Brazil, which has taken 18 months to organise because it’s so vast and the political system is so complicated.
But I think Covid has overshadowed any other type of challenge. For example, originally in season one we were going to Nepal, in this incredibly remote location in the foothills of the Himalayas. We have this amazing ops team led by a guy called Carlos who can make the impossible possible, but even Carlos wasn’t able to overcome all that in the face of the pandemic.
Follow Extreme E :
Photo credit: Extreme E