Since 1984, the nonprofit organisation TED has been devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks that cover topics ranging from science and business to global issues in more than 100 languages. In recent years, several speakers – from Al Gore and Allan Savory to Greta Thunberg and Naomi Klein – have started covering topics around global warming and the environment to spread awareness on some of the biggest issues of our times. Read on for a list of the most powerful and thought-provoking Ted Talks on climate change.
1. How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change – by Allan Savory
With more than 8 million views, this 2013 speech on desertification is by far the most popular Ted Talk on climate change on our list. A Zimbabwean scientist and livestock farmer, Allan Savory made a significant breakthrough in understanding the degradation and desertification of grassland ecosystems and spends his time promoting holistic management of grasslands around the world.
In his 22-minute talk, he discusses the dangers of desertification, a phenomenon that affects almost two-thirds of the world. He talks about the two main methods currently used to prevent desertification and the problems that arise from them. One way is by facilitating the natural movement of herds, a way to enable periodical and biological decay of grassland and allowing new growth each year. Another method is the burning of dead material as a way to allow grass to regrow. Especially the second one releases huge quantities of pollutants, proving that it is indeed an inefficient way of tackling desertification. His solution to this is what he describes as “holistic planned grazing”, a method through which enough carbon can be taken out of the atmosphere and stored in the grassland soils to take us back to pre-industrial levels of CO2. Check out his speech to find out about how this innovative solution could help us shape a better future.
2. Your Kids Might Live on Mars. Here’s How They’ll Survive – by Stephen Petranek
Held in March 2015, Petranek’s Ted Talk discusses the reasons why we should invest in explorations of other planets and specifically Mars, believed to be the most liveable place inside our solar system aside from Earth.
Petranek is a journalist and technology forecaster who untangles emerging technologies to predict which will become fixtures of our future lives and which could potentially save us as our planet becomes more inhospitable. The journalist is profoundly convinced that within 20 years, humans will live on Mars. “Humans will survive no matter what happens on Earth,” Petranek says in his provocative talk. “We will never be the last of our kind.”
3. The Disarming Case to Act Right Now on Climate Change – by Greta Thunberg
In November 2018, the world’s most popular climate activist held a memorable speech at Stockholm’s Ted Talk on climate change. Because of her efforts in leading a global movement of young activists – Fridays for Future – in 2019 she was named Person of the Year as well as one of the world’s 100 most influential people by TIME magazine.
In her talk, Greta Thunberg discusses why climate change is one of the biggest threats to our existence, making her point on why it is crucial that global leaders rise up to the challenge and start taking action to stop global warming. The young activist is profoundly convinced that rich nations are responsible for climate change and need to be held accountable for their reckless actions that are destroying our planet. While hope is an important factor in our fight against global warming, the one thing we need more than hope is action: “Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.” – she says.
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4. This Country Isn’t Just Carbon Neutral: It’s Carbon Negative – by Tshering Tobgay
Between 2013 and 2018, Tshering Tobgay was the President of the People’s Democratic Party in Bhutan – the planet’s first carbon-negative country – and an advocate of the holistic approach to development known as Gross National Happiness.
In his 2016 Ted Talk on climate change, Tobgay perfectly describes the reasons behind the happiness of Bhutan’s population and the reasons why people there are thriving: “Our enlightened monarchs have worked tirelessly to develop our country, balancing economic growth carefully with social development, environmental sustainability, and cultural preservation, all within the framework of good governance.” – he says. Despite being one of the world’s smallest economies, the nation is a leader in sustainable development and an example to follow for all countries. The former president stresses the importance of forests, explaining that Bhutan’s constitution demands that a minimum of 60% of the country’s total land shall remain under forest cover for all time. Forests there sequester more than three times the amount of carbon the country produces, making it in fact the world’s first carbon-negative nation. Tobgay ends his memorable speech by highlighting the issue of climate injustice: “My country and my people have done nothing to contribute to global warming, but we are already bearing the brunt of its consequences.”
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5. What’s Hidden Under the Greenland Ice Sheet? – by Kristin Poinar
Researcher at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and expert on ice sheet modelling, Kristin Poinar uses remote sensing and numerical models to study the interaction of meltwater with ice flow, especially on the Greenland Ice Sheet.
In her 2017 Ted Talk, the glaciologist describes the consequences of the rapid melting of Greenland’s ice sheet, which humans would have never thought could lose mass into the ocean this quickly. While the amount of ice that Greenland has lost since 2002 is just a small fraction of what that ice sheet holds, the consequences of this phenomenon are unimaginable. In the next 80 years, scientists predict that the melting of glaciers around the world will lead to global sea levels rising at least 20 centimetres to as much as one meter, and maybe more. This would have catastrophic consequences on coastal communities, with hundreds of cities at risk of flooding and millions of lives at stake.
6. The Most Important Thing You Can Do to Fight Climate Change: Talk About It – by Katharine Hayhoe
Katharine Hayhoe is a climate scientist, a professor at Texas Tech University, and chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy. Hayhoe is a strong believer in the power of actively discussing an issue. For her, conversations are the best way to spark change. Even though 70% of Americans agree that the climate is changing, less than one-third talk about it. Yet, she believes that we do not have to be scientists to talk about climate change. The best way to initiate change is not by uttering data and facts that scientists have been uttering for the last 150 years. Instead, we should focus on connecting over shared values like family, community, and religion and prompting people to realise that they already care about a changing climate. The reluctance to accept our responsibility has nothing to do with the scientific basis, but with our ideology and identity – Hayhoe argues in her thought-provoking Ted Talk.
7. Averting the Climate Crisis – by Al Gore
Al Gore is an American politician and environmentalist who served as the 45th Vice President of the United States from 1993 to 2001 under president Bill Clinton. He is also the co-founder and chairman of Generation Investment Management and the founder and chairman of The Climate Reality Project, a nonprofit devoted to solving the climate crisis.
Deeply devoted to spreading awareness about climate change, in February 2006 he held a powerful Ted Talk discussing different ways that individuals can address climate change immediately. In his 15-minute speech, the former vice president presented some effective solutions to slowing down global warming, from switching to hybrid cars and rethinking the transportation system around the world to switching to green electricity and becoming better consumers. He also outlined the idea of offsetting carbon, pushing organisations and individuals to compensate for the climate impact of their greenhouse gas emissions by supporting projects that reduce or store carbon emissions.
8. A New Way to Remove CO2 From the Atmosphere – by Jennifer Wilcox
If you want to learn more about the topic of carbon removal, you cannot miss Jennifer Wilcox’s Ted Talk. The work of the renowned Professor of Chemical Engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute focuses on minimising the negative impacts of humankind on our natural environment by testing methods of carbon capture, one of the most efficient ways we have to mitigate the effects of fossil fuels on our planet.
In her inspiring speech, the engineer presents an amazing technology that would allow us to scrub carbon from the atmosphere by using chemical reactions that capture and reuse CO2 in much the same way trees do, just on a much larger scale. She also highlights the importance of scaling up carbon capture technologies in a bid to reduce the still very high costs associated with their development and suggests that more regulations and subsidies as well as the introduction of a carbon tax would help alleviate one of the biggest environmental challenges of our times.
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9. Climate Change Will Displace Millions. Here’s How We Prepare – by Colette Pichon Battle
Millions of people are expected to be displaced by the climate crisis due to rising sea levels and swaths of agricultural land rendered useless because of erosion, land disputes and droughts, among others. It is estimated that nearly 180 million people in South Asia, Latin America, and Sub-Saharan Africa could become climate refugees by the end of the century.
In an emotional Ted Talk, Louisiana native Colette Pichon Battle discusses this often overlooked topic. She covers the issues related to the term “refugees”, often wrongly used to depict exclusively those crossing international borders, thus preventing social integration of those left out. The disaster recovery lawyer also highlights the need to reframe our understanding of the problem: Climate change – she says – is not the problem but a symptom of a failed economic system of extraction benefiting few. Therefore, if we want to survive the next phase of our human existence, we will need to restructure our social and economic systems to develop our collective resilience.
10. How to Transform Apocalypse Fatigue Into Action on Global Warming – by Per Espen Stoknes
Next on our list of Ted Talks on climate change is Per Espen Stoknes’ speech on the importance of climate action. The Norwegian psychologist and politician weaves together psychology and economics in imaginative ways, often revolving around our human relationships with the natural world and each other.
In his informative Ted Talk, he describes five inner defences that prevent people from actively engaging with climate change: distance, doom, cognitive dissonance, denial, and our own identity. He then goes on to present ways in which we can move beyond them and toward a more brain-friendly type of climate communication that can help us make caring for our planet feel personable, doable, and empowering.
11. We Need to Track the World’s Water Like We Track the Weather – by Sonaar Luthra
Sonaar Luthra is the founder and CEO of Water Canary, a company that measures climate-related water risk and helps implement solutions for organisations and communities facing 21st-century water security challenges.
Given his expertise, it comes as no surprise that the entrepreneur used his speech to raise awareness about the need to fund the development of weather services for water to solve one of the biggest environmental issues of our lifetime: water scarcity. By allowing us to forecast water shortages and risks, these systems can help us implement rationing before reservoirs run dry. Addressing water shortages is extremely important, considering that some 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to water, and by 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population may face water shortages.
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12. Can Seaweed Help Curb Global Warming? – by Tim Flannery
Have you ever thought that seaweed could help us fight global warming? In 2019, the co-founder of the Australian Climate Council Tim Flannery held an eye-opening Ted Talk to explain how oceangoing seaweed farms created on a massive scale could help us trap all the carbon we emit into the atmosphere.
The environmentalist is convinced that if we covered 9% of the world’s ocean in seaweed farms, we could draw down the equivalent of all of the greenhouse gases we put up in any one year, equivalent to more than 50 gigatons. Check out his Ted Talk to learn more about this potentially planet-saving solution – and the work that is still needed to get there.
13. Why Bees Are Disappearing – by Marla Spivak
The huge range of topics that the Ted Talks on climate change covered in this article helps us realise that global warming comes with a myriad of consequences, some of which are too often overlooked. Marla Spivak has researched bees’ behaviour and biology for years in an effort to preserve this threatened, but ecologically essential, insect.
In her highly informative speech, Spivak explains that more than one-third of the world’s crop production is dependent on bee pollination. In parts of the world where there are no bees, people are paid to do the business of pollination by hand. While bees have been dying at impressive rates over the last 50 years as a consequence of reckless human actions such as the use of synthetic fertilisers and herbicides, losing them would have tragic consequences on humans, threatening food security around the world. Check out this Ted Talk to learn more about what is threatening bees and how we can help preserve this crucial species.
14. How to Shift Your Mindset and Choose Your Future – by Tom Rivett-Carnac
In his 2020 Ted Talk, political strategist Tom Rivett-Carnac made the case for adopting a mindset of “stubborn optimist” to confront climate change or any other crisis we are presented with. While there are some aspects of our lives that we feel we have no power to control, the reality is different.
Most of the time, our mind tricks us into believing that we are not powerful enough to make a change. Yet, we are stronger than we might think. As Rivett-Carnac puts it in his speech, it all comes down to shifting our mindset away from fear and trepidation and instead taking action with determination and optimism. The two together, he argues, can help us transform an entire issue and change the world.
15. Climate Action Should Focus on Communities, Not Just Carbon – by Jade Begay
Jade Begay is the director of policy and advocacy at NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led organisation dedicated to building Indigenous power. She works with Indigenous communities from the Arctic to the Amazon, which are among the communities most affected by the climate crisis. In this inspiring Ted Talk, she calls for an alignment of climate action with the needs of those on the frontlines. She offers two starting points to understand how climate change impacts these communities and how their expertise could guide sustainable solutions built on trust.
16. How Shocking Events Can Spark Positive Change – by Naomi Klein
Last but not least on our list of powerful Ted Talks on climate change is Naomi Klein’s speech. The public intellectual, journalist, and activist is committed to highlighting the dangers of the takeover of public life by global brands and corporations.
In her 2017 Ted Talk in New York, she focusses on how anti-democratic forces are pushing societies backward, leading them to become more unequal and unstable. However, she claims that history shows that it is possible for complex societies to rapidly transform themselves in the face of a collective threat from migration waves and record-breaking storms to deadly terror attacks and the rise of supremacist movements. Klein urges all societies to respond with the urgency that these overlapping crises demand from us. “The shocking events that fill us with dread today can transform us, and they can transform the world for the better,” the journalist says. “But first we need to picture the world that we’re fighting for. And we have to dream it up together.”
Featured Image: Maria Spivak’s Ted Talk, photo by James Duncan Davidson
Research for this article was conducted by Earth.Org research contributor Anjella Klaiber
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