Creating Change Through Understanding
Sustainability Daily Planet co-hosts Ziya Tong and Dan Riskin share their thoughts on our changing Earth, and how you can make an impact by adapting daily routines.
Mediaplanet A number of provinces have reinvested in emissions-free energy generation. What is the importance of these commitments?
Ziya Tong: What’s currently at stake is life on earth. Scientists agree our planet is in a critical state of emergency today. Every province and nation has to put the brakes on the invisible CO2 accumulating in our atmosphere and our oceans.
That’s because while we often talk about the limit being two degrees of warming, we have to look at what we’re seeing around us. At just one degree, we’re seeing ice caps melting and glaciers retreating. At just one degree we’re seeing increasing droughts & flooding. And, at just one degree we’re seeing a 30 percent increase in the acidification of our oceans.
I applaud that the Premiers got together in March with the knowledge we must act now, and act fast.
Mediaplanet How will Daily Planet commemorate Earth Day on April, 22?
Dan Riskin: One of the things Daily Planet does so well is bring viewers up to date on the very latest science. So even though we know we’ll be looking at the state of the planet, it’s still too early to know exactly what we’ll be reporting. In a way, I think that’s the best way to celebrate the Earth — to be endlessly curious about it, and to constantly search it for treasures. That’s what Daily Planet does every day!
That said, I do know we’ve been working on a story about pigeons that will fit nicely for Earth Day. It takes place in London, England — a place known for its history, but also for its pigeons. A team of environmental engineers has put backpacks on some of those pigeons to monitor air pollution. As the pigeons fly around the city, they collect data on air quality, along with what time it is and where they are. Collectively, the pigeons provide a real-time profile of air quality in the city. Even better — the system is integrated with Twitter. You can tweet the pigeons @pigeonair to ask them about the air quality right where you are.
MP You encounter incredible innovation daily. Can you point to a memorable feature on a team working on a climate change solution?
ZT: I have to say that the Nordic countries are a lot of fun to profile because they’re always doing things in unusual ways. So for instance, in Sweden they collect commuter body heat and pump it out to other buildings as a form of energy! Another great example is how they now run a fleet of over 36,000 vehicles — including trucks and buses — all on organic waste that’s transformed into biogas. It’s remarkably clever and why the Swedes are on target to become the first fossil fuel-free nation on earth!
MP Why is now an important time for meaningful climate conversation in Canada?
DR: They say the best time to do something about climate change was 20 years ago. The second best time is right now. And, I think the best reason to talk about climate in Canada is that we’re actually poised to do something about it. We produce oil, we consume oil, we are ready to make the sweep to renewable resources, and we are in a position to push other countries through that transition along with us. With a democratically elected government, we decide how important the environment is to Canada. We can really create change. We have the power.
MP What actions can Canadians take to help mitigate climate change?
ZT: Okay, so here I’m not going to mince words because there is something we can all do, although it tends to be unpopular. That said, I’m on the board of WWF Canada, so it’s important to me I walk the talk. In doing so, I’ve chosen to no longer eat meat. You can halve your carbon emissions by making this one decision. Experts say giving up beef reduces environmental harm more than if you stop driving your car. Right now, huge tracts of wilderness are cleared for animal feed. The forests in the Amazon that act as the lungs of our planet — sucking up our CO2 — are cleared for animal feed. So yes, I’ll happily pay the price of not eating a hamburger, if it means saving the world.
MP Your book included a chapter on climate change. What initially motivated you to explore this topic?
DR: I wrote about it because I think it’s hugely important — especially now that I’m a parent.
My book, Mother Nature Is Trying to Kill You: A Lively Tour Through the Dark Side of the Natural World, focused on a lot of the misconceptions people have about nature. One is that because climate change is a natural part of the Earth’s history, it’s kind of okay it’s happening today. This example is part of a larger phenomenon, whereby some people believe “natural” is a synonym for good. One might argue that so long as we’re behaving naturally (i.e., selfishly, in our own best interests as individuals), we shouldn’t have to worry about the consequences.
In my book, I pointed out that we obviously don’t forgive murderers and rapists for acting on their natural urges, and I argued the ethics around climate change are similar. Just because ducks force copulations on one another does not make it okay for humans to do so, and just because photosynthetic algae have influenced global temperatures in the past does not give us the green light to do so now. We’re smarter than ducks and algae (…well, most of us are). Whether or not we choose to wipe out a third of the species with which we share this planet is a moral decision, and I think the right choice is pretty obvious. To do nothing — to sit back and hope the problem goes away — is the natural thing to do. I believe we have to act unnaturally, suffer some inconveniences with respect to everyday routines, and get this crisis under control.