The Nature of Things·Point of View

How to put 'positive' and 'climate change' in the same sentence

After decades of covering climate change, I suddenly realized that there is a positive story there.

After decades of covering climate change, I suddenly realized that there is a positive story there

After decades of covering climate change, I suddenly realized that there is a positive story there. (Infield Fly Productions)

Now streaming on CBC Gem.

By Dugald Maudsley, producer of Curb Your Carbon

I've covered a lot of climate change stories in the last 30 years — a lot. I did my first back in 1990 when I worked for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. It's kind of depressing to realize that. But it's fitting, since until recently, that's exactly what the topic of climate change had become for me — depressing!

That all changed when I was faced with a challenge. Sue Dando, executive in charge of production for The Nature of Things, wanted our team at Infield Fly Productions to produce a climate change documentary that was "positive." Seriously, that's what she said. I wasn't even sure you could put "positive" and "climate change" in the same sentence.

But I was wrong.

As we began digging, we started to uncover why. Clearly, we rely on governments and companies to make big CO2 cuts. But that wasn't the whole story. For us, the big revelation was that individuals — you and me — could also make a massive difference.

The formula was simple: small personal changes multiplied millions of times. And it became the driving force behind Curb Your Carbon, a documentary for The Nature of Things.

An eye-opening look at ourselves

Here's how the formula works: Worldwide, the livestock sector creates more than 7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases every year. That's nearly 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity. But according to our calculations, if half of us ate just one fewer serving of beef each week, we could cut emissions by 1.5 billion tonnes a year — one tonne for every cow on the planet.

That discovery — our power to have a big impact — was an eye-opener.

And so was this one: I had no idea we wasted so much food. And when I say "we," I'm not talking about big grocery chains or farmers; I mean you and me.

Every single day, in Canada alone, families waste the equivalent of one million cups of milk, three-quarters of a million loaves of bread and more than half a million bananas. In a year, Canadians throw away 2.2 billion kilograms of perfectly good, perfectly edible food. Producing that food creates CO2 — tonnes of it.

If food waste were its own country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, after China and the United States.

Canadians waste a LOT of food - and these garbage-stealing ninjas prove it | Curb Your Carbon

5 months ago
Duration 1:17
With the help of a garbage-stealing ninja family, we get a look at what the average Canadian throws out every day. And the amount of waste is incredible.

Ways we can all address climate change

And there it was: our positive story.

Rather than the same debilitating tale about flooding rivers and haywire weather, Curb Your Carbon could be about empowerment.

Instead of a depressing litany of sinking countries and growing deserts, we could offer an inspiring list of ways to cut CO2 emissions. We could all do something — make a lot of small changes and the numbers would add up.

Already, we were a million miles from the kind of climate change story I'd done my entire career.

Finding the perfect host

So we decided to keep pushing. Why not try something we'd never seen before — tackling climate change with humour: instead of melting glaciers and burning forests, how about crazy stunts and hilarious animations? Ever seen garbage-stealing ninjas or a racecar driver who never steps on the gas? You will.

And why not ask one of the funniest guys around — a Canadian known for his impeccable environmental credentials — to narrate the doc? Luckily, Ryan Reynolds thought this was a great idea, and Curb Your Carbon was on its way.

"I grew up watching David Suzuki and his show," Reynolds told us. "I'm no David Suzuki, but it was an honour to do this. I really appreciate being asked."

So, let's make some magic!

Montreal artist Benjamin Von Wong also believes that small steps can create big changes when fighting our climate crisis, which is why we wanted to include him in the documentary. Von Wong is an environmental activist who hates plastic and has made it his medium, turning it into extraordinary art to convince us to stop using the stuff.

"I think we need to realize the massive difference that can happen over time when you decide to make one shift in your behaviour and it accumulates over a lifetime," Von Wong told us. "If you can find those little things that you can really stick to and champion, and get others to do the same, then magic can happen."

Benjamin Von Wong hates plastic, and turns plastic waste into impactful art to convince us to stop using the stuff. (Infield Fly Productions)

He's right. Climate change may be depressing. It may even seem insurmountable, undefeatable and inexorable.

But it isn't.

And, contrary to what I believed when I started making Curb Your Carbon, you and I do have the power to fight it — one individual act at a time.

Watch Curb Your Carbon now on CBC Gem.

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