The forward thinkers of Womad's World of Words

Tane Hunter researches cancer by day and then focuses on Future Crunch.
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Tane Hunter researches cancer by day and then focuses on Future Crunch.

Just when you thought the world was doomed, in swoop the superheroes of scientific, social and technological optimism – Future Crunch.

Cancer researcher Tane Hunter, who has New Zealand roots, and South African political economist Dr Angus "Gus" Hervey founded Future Crunch to deliver good news about the world.

Dr Angus Hervey is a political economist who works full-time for Future Crunch.
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Dr Angus Hervey is a political economist who works full-time for Future Crunch.

They are part of Womad NZ's new World of Words, supported by the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki. The fresh feature involves performers, writers and entrepreneurs who will be sharing their stories with festival folk in New Plymouth this weekend.

Hunter and Hervey, based in Australia, will have help from science and environmental educator and musician Will Tait.

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"We're going to tell you a story of the world that's based on the most leading and up-to-date research and data on the face of humanity and we're going to do it to live music," Hunter says.

"We're going to give you a bunch of silly gifts, make lots of jokes, be theatrical and make it lots of fun. We're going to tell you the story that we've learned after breaking out of our bubbles and really looking at the world on a more level playing field.

"We're pretty damn excited about the future," he says. "Hope is great, but hope backed by facts and data, that's a super power."

Hunter and Hervey came up with the idea for Future Crunch three years ago during a bike ride in rural Victoria in Australia.

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"We started talking about the environment, politics and all that kind of stuff, and doom and gloom," Hunter says.

They believed that people weren't getting the information they could be about the positive changes in the world, so they began a mission to change all that.

"We often get stuck in alternative facts and our echo chambers and bad news bubbles. The problem with that is it often distorts the way the world is, so we did some seriously intensive research and found out that the world is actually, by any measure you care to look at, better than it has been in human history."

Using the power of optimism backed by serious academic research they share what's happening in the frontiers of science and technology through fun and engaging stories, videos and presentations.

Their videos have must-watch taglines, including: "The future is eating insects", "Everything old is new again" and they also share one-line facts on Facebook like: "Sweden has committed to phasing out all carbon emissions by 2045."

"We want to engage people and inspire them to go out there and make their big positive change happen," Hunter says.

These days, Hervey works full-time on Future Crunch. The political environmental economist was the community manager of Random Hacks of Kindness, an international initiative that brings geeks and hackers who can code together with non-profit organisations.

Hunter has two full-time jobs. He spends 30 to 80 hours a week on Future Crunch and in the day does cancer research. "I use machine-learning and artificial intelligence to decode the genetic landscape of certain cancers to figure what's causing cancer," he says.

Then he identifies areas that can drive clinical decisions to fight cancer and to improve or lengthen lives and patient outcomes.

In 2004, Hunter won a US national cycling title and was heading for a professional sports career. But an injury in 2006 brought his cycling career to an end and he refocused on studying science.

The Future Crunch bunch believe that optimism is much easier to swallow than pessimism.

"We really feel that negativity leads to cynicism, apathy, hopelessness and even hate. While it does galvanise a few people into action, for the vast majority it really causes a retraction.

"We believe a much better way to inspire change is through optimism. We believe that's the best method and emotion to drive creative innovation and to build a better future."

But don't thing the Future Crunchers are naïve. "We are not saying the world is a perfect place. We still have massive issues with climate change, mass migration, Trump, Brexit, the rise of the alt-right, terrorism and Syria," Hunter says.

"But you have to hold two ideas in your head at once that the world is getting better and the world is not yet good enough. Our successors in the past should really give us hope as we move forward into the future."

Future Crunch will be on Te Paepae Stage at 2pm on Saturday, March 18.

The World of Words line-up includes Womad artist Archie Roach, who was one of Australia's "stolen children" and fellow festival artist Inna Modja from Mali, talking about women's rights.

Closer to home, there is "Ecoman" entrepreneur Malcolm Rands, founder of New Zealand's first eco-village and the megabrand Ecostore. Kiwi writers Elizabeth Knox, Paula Morris and Charlotte Grimshaw, plus children's author Tanya Batt will also share their words on stage, while MC, comedienne and social commentator Penny Ashton will lead Womad's first poetry slam.

 - Stuff

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