Science·What on Earth?

These 2 Canadians are using TikTok to talk up climate action

In this week's issue of our environment newsletter, we look at how two Canadians are using TikTok to engage with others on climate action and why some people are skeptical about the efficacy of the UN's COP27 climate summit.

Also: Skepticism about COP27

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(Sködt McNalty/CBC)

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This week:

  • These 2 Canadians are using TikTok to talk up climate action
  • COP27 is coming, but some are skeptical about its importance
  • A Māori community used a customized game to explore the effects of climate change

These 2 Canadians are using TikTok to talk up climate action

Karishma Porwal and Hazel Thayer are Canadian TikTok creators
(@karishmaclimategirl/TikTok, @hazelisonline/TikTok)

In early 2022, 26-year-old Hazel Thayer (above, right) started posting punchy, colourful videos about climate change on TikTok. She thought it was a quick, easy way to spread the word about the need for action.

"Talking about it in an accessible way is super important," Thayer told What On Earth host Laura Lynch. 

Thayer, who lives in Victoria, is one of a number of TikTok creators using the platform to communicate about climate change — something that research has shown can help build support for climate action

Thayer's TikToks often explore the connection between economics and climate change — everything from carbon taxes to green growth to sustainable development. She uses humour to show people that such subjects don't have to be dismal or sanctimonious. 

"I feel like economics, and specifically environmental economics, should have the same treatment that science and climate science have had lately … people to make it fun and interesting," she said. 

Thayer has found particular success with posts about times in history when policy actually led to progress on environmental crises, such as the Montreal Protocol, a 1987 pact that banned a number of ozone-depleting substances. "We have been able to come together globally to solve a huge climate crisis before and we can absolutely do it again."

Having amassed tens of thousands of followers, Thayer sees TikTok as a way to engage and educate young people. 

Karishma Porwal agrees. Porwal, 25, lives in Waterloo, Ont., and is working towards a master's degree in sustainability leadership. Her TikToks cover a wide variety of climate-related subjects, from fashion to pop culture to gardening to current events.

"I think climate isn't talked about enough in so many different spaces," said Porwal (above photo, left). What she's doing is "inserting myself into conversations where people aren't talking about climate and making it relevant." 

One of those conversations is around fashion — Porwal often speaks out against shopping "haul" TikToks, in which creators show off piles of new clothing and accessories purchased from fast fashion brands. 

Porwal said she's found that TikToks with advice about action individuals can take often get the most attention. "[That approach] makes people feel like they can make a difference in the climate crisis, which I 100 per cent believe that they can." 

Porwal also explores how culture intersects with the climate crisis, with solutions that can come from Asian and Indigenous cultures — for example, mindful consumption and care for the natural world.

"I think a lot of these cultures had got it right for a long time," she said, citing her grandmother's worldview, focused on sustainability and conscientious living. "This way of thinking should be shared with the rest of the world. And I think that diversity is the only way to approach the climate crisis, because of course it affects everybody." 

Porwal and Thayer say engagement on the platform can be unpredictable, but find that impassioned, off-the-cuff videos gain more traction when it comes to views, comments and likes.

"When I'm so fired up about something that I just read that I need to record [a TikTok] immediately, those are always the ones that blow up," said Thayer.

With posts that can potentially attract hundreds of thousands of views, both women have experienced comments that veer into abuse or climate change denial. 

"When I first started out on TikTok, I thought I had to respond to all of these comments," said Porwal. "I soon learned that that was probably a waste of my time."

These days, Porwal and Thayer tend to simply hit the block button when it comes to hateful comments, and spend their time dispelling misconceptions and engaging with followers who are looking for ways to take action. 

Said Thayer, "When people ask me in comments what they can do … the thing that I say over and over again is, 'Learn about the solutions, talk about them and demand them.'"

— Rachel Sanders

Reader feedback

Last week, Jaela Bernstien wrote about the efficacy of recent climate protests, which include the controversial soup-throwing incident at the National Gallery in London.

Peter Zimmerman:

"The flaw in these protesters' logic is that climate change is already very much on politicians' and the public's radar. It is not that climate change has insufficient profile, it's the lack of political will and/or public support to make the BIG changes that will be required. So some brazen act of public and silly mischief that has no connection to the issue only serves to discredit themselves and the cause. (What possible connection is there between throwing mash spuds on Monet and climate change?)

"Protests should connect the dots in some way — an act that would draw attention to the causes, consequences or required solutions. These acts have only served to embarrass [the protesters] and are not likely to move the needle on public opinion, except in the wrong direction."

Jim Rooney:

"The term 'masterpieces' was used to refer to the targeted artworks. The activists are analogizing the spoilage of the real masterpiece, our environment, by the soup of pollutants thrown by the greed and hubris of our own way of living."

Write us at

Old issues of What on Earth? are right here.

CBC News has a dedicated climate page, which can be found here.

Also, check out our radio show and podcast. Can you put a price on a park? Delegates from around the world are gathering in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, this month for the United Nations climate talks, COP27. In Canada, we hear from people hopeful for action: from reparations for loss and damage to a just transition for energy workers. What On Earth now airs on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET, 11:30 a.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. Subscribe on your favourite podcast app or hear it on demand at CBC Listen.

The Big Picture: Questioning COP

Every year, the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP) is touted as crucial to the worldwide effort to combat climate change. While the 2015 version gave us the Paris Agreement — a historic deal that focused minds on the need to keep global warming below 1.5 C — COP is seen by many as increasingly inconsequential: big on pronouncements but short on the level of action and commitment necessary to bring worldwide emissions to heel in a timely fashion.

COP27 is being held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, this year, and runs Nov. 6-18. As a sign of the general malaise surrounding the event, Swedish activist Greta Thunberg has dismissed these summits as "an opportunity for leaders and people in power to get attention, using many different kinds of greenwashing." Thunberg will not be attending this year (she also cited concern about the safety of protest in Egypt). Meanwhile in Great Britain — which hosted last year's COP in Glasgow — former prime minister Liz Truss reportedly talked King Charles (a noted environmentalist) out of attending; new Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he would also not go, only for ousted prime minister (and serial chaos agent) Boris Johnson to announce that he would be there. Sunak will, in fact, be going to COP — but this waffling does not reflect well on Britain or the vitality of the conference.

Some observers have pointed out that while getting major political and business leaders together to hash out responses to the climate crisis can be beneficial, some of the most consequential action can happen outside of the purview of COP. As seen in the tweet below, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's triumph in the recent Brazilian election is seen as a massive win for the planet — largely because Lula has pledged to curtail development of the Amazon rainforest, which is essential in regulating the planet's climate.


Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • Anxiety over the availability of natural gas in France this winter has led to "energy sobriety," i.e. an awareness of ways to reduce energy use and coping with the cold by other means. Political leaders, including President Emmanuel Macron, have been modelling this behaviour by wearing more sweaters (notably, turtlenecks) in public.

  • CBC business columnist Don Pittis wrote about the polarizing issue of nuclear power, which is seen by many as a necessary step in decarbonizing the electrical grid but is also considerably more expensive (and potentially toxic) than wind and solar power.

A Māori community used a customized game to explore the effects of climate change

(Jackie Colliar)

As the impacts of climate change become more prominent, some communities are faced with the life-changing decision about where to live. 

That's exactly what happened to a local Māori community in Hawke's Bay, New Zealand. Their marae, or ancestral meeting place, Tangoio Marae, is the centre point for gatherings, funerals and celebrations. It is also located in one of the country's worst flood zones.

Tania Hopmans, chair of the Maungaharuru-Tangitū Trust, is someone with ancestral connections to the land. Every year, her whānau, or family, is faced with the decision to either protect the marae or leave forever and move to a new location.

"It was hugely polarizing," Hopmans told What On Earth host Laura Lynch. "Generations [and] hundreds of years of history on that spot. My mother was born [and] raised there, her brothers and sisters live there, my grandparents were raised there. So it has an immense cultural and emotional connection."

Some whānau argued they should stay and protect the marae while others did not want future generations to deal with a legacy of flooding that had been handed down after years of tense interactions with the Crown. 

"Part of the problem is historical," Hopmans said. "We lost most of our lands through confiscation and dubious purchases by the Crown. The bit of land that the Crown wasn't interested in is this valley. And of course that's where our whānau … ended up."

After years of exploring options, the community approached the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) in Auckland, where they met principal environmental scientist Paula Blackett. After the meeting, Blackett took the unusual step of creating a game to help the Māori community explore various scenarios. 

The game uses historical flood frequency data to model future flood risk in Hawke's Bay and where the community needs to make decisions regarding the safety and longevity of the marae. Blackett ended up calling the game Marae-opoly.

Similar to Monopoly, the whānau were split into teams. On each turn, the climate model would present a potential flood scenario. The teams would use diverse views and different levels of knowledge to negotiate, plan and use game money in accordance with their decisions.

"The game ended up being a device that we used to bring all of the different pieces of information together," Blackett said. It was a way for people to "just try some things and fail safely or succeed boastfully in some cases and … use that then to reflect back on the real world."

Marae-opoly ultimately demonstrated the pros and cons of each possible solution, the complexity of climate adaptation, the difficulty in execution and, most importantly, the unpredictability of extreme weather. 

Hopmans said despite its seemingly lighthearted approach, the game dispels the notion that climate change won't affect us all. 

"Even though we've got all this legacy and history of flooding, there was still this hope that it won't happen again or it won't happen to us. What Marae-opoly did was show those that weren't prepared to do anything, they do that at their peril."

In the end, the whānau explored building stopbanks to keep the water from entering the marae, but found that the size of these embankments, coupled with the resulting environmental impacts, would severely impinge on the area of the marae

For now, the whānau are moving to a piece of land farther up the road on higher ground. Hopmans recognizes that this is only a temporary fix to a long-term problem, but remains hopeful that her community will find a permanent home eventually.

"As whānau, you can work through it — you just need to take a deep breath," Hopmans said. "And that's what the game did … it allowed people to take a step back, have a little bit of fun, but also debate the issues and debate what to do."

Dannielle Piper

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Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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