British Columbia

Nature lovers at TED 2022 in Vancouver hope to keep people grounded for solutions to world problems

The TED 2022 conference in Vancouver has presented some out-of-this-world ideas to address Earth's most pressing problems, but some at the conference want to keep attendees grounded by inspiring an awe and wonder for the world still functioning around them.

TED 2022 big on ambitious solutions to solve world’s crises, but may be missing what’s right here, some say

Alexis Nikole Nelson speaks about foraging for food at TED 2022: A New Era, which runs from April 10-14, 2022 in Vancouver, B.C. (Stacie McChesney / TED )

How to build liveable colonies on Mars, exist in video game metaverses, and develop synthetic biology to make disease-resistant organisms have all been topics presented at the TED 2022 conference in Vancouver to help solve some of the planet's most pressing problems, such as climate change.

But while new, emerging and even years-away technologies are catching people's attention with their novelty and flash, there are some at the conference who want to keep attendees grounded by inspiring an awe and wonder for the world still functioning around them.

One of the most engaging presentations so far at TED 2022, which is the first time the event has been back in person at Vancouver's Convention Centre since 2019, was by Alexis Nikole Nelson.

The self-described food forager whose broad smile and delivery, at times in song, conveys her exuberance for the edible plants she seeks in the cracks of sidewalks in Columbus, Ohio, where she lives, or in Vancouver's intertidal zones.


"When my mom told me there was a bunch of free food hanging out in lawns and sidewalks, my mind was blown," she said during her talk, where she made a snack from bull kelp she foraged while in Vancouver.

Nelson has a significant following online for her energy and enthusiasm about the plants she seeks out and educates people about. Her goal is to inspire others to take up lifestyle changes that are more sustainable and friendly to the planet's ecosystems.

The message has been a central theme of this year's TED conference, which features more than 100 speakers who deliver short speeches about forward-thinking ideas, technologies, art and design.

With the theme 'A New Era,' the conference seeks to outline the changes needed to deal with the current pandemic and climate change.

'Vital for your own sanity'

On Wednesday, former U.S. vice president and climate activist Al Gore made an impassioned speech about the desperate need for leaders in government and financial institutions to stop investing in fossil fuel projects, and turn their attention instead to deploying a myriad of technological advances, such as solar and wind power, to meet climate targets.

Al Gore, pictured here speaking at a session at TED 2022: A New Era, said leaders in government and financial institutions need to stop investing in fossil fuel projects and instead turn their attention to deploying technological advances to meet climate targets. (Gilberto Tadday / TED )

Conservationists at the conference, however, don't want people to lose sight of the importance of finding ways to connect to nature like Nelson does — to find ways to be inspired by it and thus more motivated to help protect it.

"I think sometimes in the fervour to create these novel items and maybe even rocket ourselves off the planet we sometimes lose sight that we are carbon-based beings and nothing without the life that surrounds us," said Tierney Thys, a marine biologist with the California Academy of Sciences.

Thys has done several TED talks since 2003 and studied the importance of nature to human well-being. Like several speakers at the conference who presented solutions to help a growing number of people suffering from anxiety, depression or fear due to the pandemic or the current war in Ukraine, Thys offered one as well.

"Correlations are just becoming so blatantly obvious that time outside is not only critical in reconnecting people to the natural world, it's just vital for your own sanity," she said.

A Venn diagram distributed at the TED 2022 conference by speaker Ayana Elizabeth Johnson in Vancouver on Wednesday, April 13, 2022 to motivate people to find ways they can help combat climate change. (Chad Pawson/CBC News)

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, TED stalwart and climate policy expert Ayana Elizabeth Johnson offered an inspiring call to action over climate change that seeks to meet people where they are.

She had a Venn diagram card distributed to attendees and had them spend time filling out circles that asked "What brings you joy?", "What are you good at?" and "What needs doing?" as a way to bring their own skillsets and passions to the climate change fight.

She said people need to find ways to take collective action, such as restoring habitat, electing climate-focused politicians or funding organizations, in addition to smaller individual actions to achieve meaningful change.

"Join something," she said. "Find your role if you haven't already."

Our planet is changing. So is our journalism. This story is part of Our Changing Planet, a CBC News initiative to show and explain the effects of climate change and what is being done about it.


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