Nicolas Plain, an École Polytechnique graduate between heaven and earth
In 2015, 28-year-old Nicolas Plain (X2011) founded the association "En l'Air pour la Terre" (Fly for the Earth), to raise awareness among different actors and leaders in the field by flying them over the Alps, one of the regions most affected by global warming, in a two-seater paraglider which is also a veritable flying science laboratory.
It was undoubtedly in his native village of Saint-Paul-de-Varces, south of Grenoble, in the foothills of the Vercors massif, that Nicolas Plain gradually became aware that the natural setting in which he had grown up was in danger. "As a child, I often went on family hikes. Year after year, I saw the landscapes change. Something was upsetting this nature that I thought was so powerful and unchanging."
Nicolas Plain was to experience this power of nature again when he discovered his passion for flying and, in particular, for paragliding. But here again, "from above, the shifts in the various valleys, the spectacular retreat of the glaciers, were becoming increasingly apparent."
"From above, the shifts in the various valleys,
the spectacular retreat of the glaciers,
were becoming increasingly apparent."
After completing his studies entirely in the Grenoble region, Nicolas Plain joined École Polytechnique in 2011. For the in-depth programme in year three, he chose the option in "Science for Environmental Challenges" and it was a revelation. "The interdisciplinary training provided by École Polytechnique is exactly what the world needs to tackle the climate challenge. We must make a transition that is akin to a revolution. We will only succeed if we have the interdisciplinary skills to produce effective solutions quickly. The interdisciplinary approach of École Polytechnique is truly the key to understanding the world and changing it."
He subsequently sought to implement this conviction by joining the Corps des Ponts which has a strong regulatory power, before starting a thesis on access to renewable energy in Southern countries thanks to an industrial research training agreement signed with Schneider Electric, a world leader in electricity management products.
"The training through research, from which I had already benefitted during my time at l'X, is excellent. This makes it possible to forge state-of-the-art knowledge and to be armed with compelling arguments to propose solutions that will be examined by the entire scientific community specialising in the subject."
In 2015, he founded "En l'Air pour la Terre" to raise awareness among various actors and leaders in the field by flying them over the Alps, one of the regions most affected by global warming, in a two-seater paraglider which is equipped with sensors and is a veritable flying science laboratory. The videos of these interviews between heaven and earth enjoy great success on social networks, multiplying the impact of the message.
"We are interested in proposing solutions
and positive, not punitive ecology."
After professionalising the project, it became "Il faut sauver les Alpes!" (We Must Save the Alps!), named after the 52-minute pilot documentary to which he is currently putting the final touches with filmmaker Laurent Lichtenstein, already known for directing the "Échappées Belles" magazine programme on France 5 TV. This science and discovery documentary will be presented in November on Ushuaia TV, prior to the Cannes Film Festival in May 2020, and there will undoubtedly be an offshoot of the project in other regions threatened by climate change.
"We are not interested in exaggerating but in proposing solutions and positive, not punitive ecology. My greatest reward would be if, after seeing the film, viewers pick one or other of the proposed solutions in order to implement them in their personal, professional or community lives, because each one of us can take concrete action at several levels."
And among these viewers, undoubtedly some young boys and girls who, like Nicolas Plain, will also want to equip themselves intellectually to understand and change the world for the better.