Ideas·Ideas Afternoon

Our planet's future: Are we doomed or is there hope?

In Paul Kennedy's final week at IDEAS, he looked back at his four decades with the program. This episode was inspired by the Muskoka Summit on the Environment, an event Paul has moderated since 2010. He invited three guests to join him onstage at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto to answer two basic questions about our collective future: are we doomed? And what inspires hope?

'As a Native person, I'd say: yes, we are doomed. However, we can get out of it,' says Henry Lickers

Host Paul Kennedy speaks to panelists Henry Lickers, Nadia Mykytczuk and Ed Burtynsky at a live event in Toronto's Glenn Gould studio. He asks them two questions about the climate crisis: are we doomed? What inspires hope? (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)
Listen to the full episode53:58

** This episode was originally published on June 24, 219.

In Paul Kennedy's final week at IDEAS, he looked back at his four decades with the program. He began the series with an episode inspired by the Muskoka Summit on the Environment, an event Paul has moderated since 2010.

Paul has long had a passion for stories about the environment. Having grown up in St. Catharines, Ontario. he saw firsthand the impact of industry on the surrounding landscape.

For this program, Paul invited three guests to join him on stage for a live event at the Glenn Gould — photographer Ed Burtynsky, microbiologist Nadia Mykytczuk, and Henry Lickers, Environmental Science Officer for the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne. 

Paul asked the panel two basic questions about our collective future: are we doomed? And what inspires hope?

Oil Bunkering #4 Niger Delta, 2016. (© Edward Burtynsky, All Rights Reserved)

Ed Burtynsky on an untenable situation

"What's happened now is that the energy department [energy industry] of this large enterprise of humans on this planet is now kind of calling the shots. And as long as they are calling the shots, we're in trouble. Within the whole constellation of all the different sciences and all the different engineers, and the thinking that's there, we have the solutions. 

"They're all around us, whether it's solar, whether it's sustainable farming — all these things are within our grasp, and we know where they are. But it seems that this powerful group that has a lot of the resources — the energy department (whether it's coal, oil, natural gas) — that's really at the core of the existential threat."

Nickel Tailings #34, Sudbury, Ontario Canada 1996. (© Edward Burtynsky, All Rights Reserved)

"I would say the number one existential threat to humans is all-out nuclear war. And the second one is what we're doing to the planet and losing control of the planet — and moving into an untenable situation."

Nadia Mykytczuk on advocating for hope

"I have become a staunch advocate for telling stories of hope. And have come by that honestly, in learning Sudbury's story… the bigger part of the recipe was that all of the people who needed to be at the table, industry, government, academia, and individuals, regular citizens all sat at the same table and decided not to point the finger, and just lay blame everywhere else on other people.

This image of Sudbury taken in the early '70s is included in an educational film by microbiologist Nadia Mykytczuk. (Nadia Mykytczuk)
'Much of Sudbury now looks like a green landscape. So it went from a moonscape to a green escape and yes it's taken 40 years,' says Nadia Myktczuk. This photo was taken at the same spot from the one above. (Nadia Mykytczuk)

"They all agreed to share a vision, and that vision was, yes, to find the scientific solutions, to find a way to regreen a landscape that was beyond repair. But then to carry that vision over 40 years… and actually carry forward and get something done."

Henry Lickers on looking at the world we want

"As a Seneca and Haudenosaunee, most of our people are really fatalistic: so yes, we are doomed! That's it: may as well go home and go to sleep; it's not going to do any good! However, I look at the world around me, and I see my great-grandmother. When she was born and grew up, she had to fight in Canada to be recognized as a human being. And yet here I am, sitting on this stage, talking to you, and you're listening to me... We've progressed a long way. Yes, we are doomed."

The Haudenesonee were a very war-like people, says Henry Lickers. 'And so what we had to do was concentrate on peace.' (Sinisa Jolic/CBC)

"As a Native person, I'd say: yes, we are doomed. However, we can get out of it. We can, by collectively bringing our thinking together and start to look at the world we want, and the world we live in, to start doing those things that will get us out of that doom.

"And why do I say that? Within the history of the Haudenesonee, we've watched societies and civilizations collapse. During the last Ice Age, we were here. And we watched those societies in South America and North America completely fall apart. As we saw them collapse, we saw different things happening to the society and the environment around us. And what it taught us was some of those survival traits, how can we survive."

Paul Kennedy on why he invited these guests to join him on stage: 

Edward Burtynsky: "Although he's without question one of the foremost photographers in the world today, Ed grew up right across Dorothy Street, from my boyhood home in St. Catharines, Ontario. We made an IDEAS show about that experience earlier this year, which is when I asked him to be part of this panel discussion for my final week as host."

Nadia  Mykytczuk: "Nadia was the final person to be interviewed for my documentary about the "Sudbury miracle." I was absolutely astounded by her confident eloquence in describing how the remediation of carbon (which is critical to any solution for global warming) is not unlike earlier efforts to combat the sulfur dioxide emissions that caused acid rain. Since Nadia was also obviously younger than either Henry, or Ed (or me!), she was a logical addition to this panel."

Henry Lickers: "Henry was one of the keynote speakers (along with David Schindler and Maude Barlow) at the very first Muskoka Summit on the Environment, back in 2010. To say that he stole the show would be an understatement. Henry is a force of nature, and should be on everybody's list when it comes to any discussion about our environment, or our future. The irony is that when I asked him to be on this panel, he responded that I'd made his day!"
 



** This episode was recorded onstage at the Glenn Gould studio in Toronto, and was produced by Paul Kennedy.