Restoring our relationship with nature from lake beds to treetops

IDEAS host Paul Kennedy moderates the fifth Muskoka Summit on the Environment, a panel discussion about "Restoring our Relationship with the Natural World." Six guests join Kennedy in a discussion about the environment.
The sun shines through the canopy of leaves of beech trees growing in a forest south of Hanover, northern Germany, on July 2, 2013. (Julian Stratenschulte/AFP/Getty Images)

The Muskoka Summit on the Environment 

The very first Muskoka Summit on the Environment was held in Bracebridge, Ontario in 2010. At that time, leaders from the G8 industrial nations were meeting at Deerhurst Resort outside of Huntsville, Ontario. And nearby, some of Canada's leading conservationists talked about the critical need for clean, fresh water. They drafted a communiqué about environmental policy that was later presented to the G8 politicians.

The Muskoka Summit has been convened every two years since then and is dedicated to the health of our environment, and ultimately, the survival of the planet itself.

The topic for the 2018 summit was "Restoring our Relationship with the Natural World." Paul Kennedy moderated the plenary session (as he has on all previous occasions) and prepared this episode for IDEAS.

Paul Kennedy reflects back on the Muskoka Summits

"For me, nearing the end of my 19th season as host of IDEAS, and already beginning to contemplate the general shape of a 20th season, my continuing connection with The Muskoka Summit is something that I hope will become part of any legacy I leave behind," said Paul Kennedy.

"The first one, back in 2010, was intended by the organizers to be not much more than a public presentation of some sobering advice for Vladimir Putin, Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, Silvio Berlusconi and the their likes, who were meeting just up Highway 11 in Huntsville, to talk about almost anything but water.

"Nobody expected much. But after two days of talking, and thinking — discussing the acute difficulties of a critical situation, and imagining a future that could be as clear and beautiful as the waters of the Muskoka Lakes, it was obvious that this forum (or something very like it) shouldn't be just an one-off event.

"So, the organizers set to work with even more sense of a mission and convened the second summit in 2012. That's when it occurred to me, that Muskoka was becoming for the environment something similar to what Pugwash became in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1960s. These biennial summits were important events. It's difficult to believe that this was the fifth, but may there be many more!" said Kennedy.

From left to right: Meg Lowman, John Smol, Dan Longboat (Carlton Ward Jr., Barry Kaplan, Trent University/Youtube)


Meg Lowman

Meg Lowman climbs trees for a living. Over the past three decades, "Canopy Meg" has earned an international reputation as one of the world's first arbornauts, pioneering the field of forest canopy science. National Geographic dubbed her "the Real-life Lorax" and the Wall Street Journal labelled her "the Einstein of the treetops." She has devised innovative methods – including walkways, ropes and slingshots, and hot air balloons – to explore this "eighth continent," home to about half of life on earth. Equipped with degrees in biology, ecology, executive management, and botany, Meg transformed her childhood passion of trees and building tree forts into mapping canopy biodiversity worldwide and spearheading the construction of the world's first canopy walkway. Throughout her career, she has passionately linked girls to science in the many developing countries where she works: Ethiopia, Mozambique, India, and most recently, Malaysia.

John Smol

Dr. Smol's key research topics include climate change, nutrient enrichment, contaminant transport and the environmental legacies of acid rain. A large part of his research program is centered on Arctic and alpine ecosystems. Professor Smol's work has been informing policy discussions and decisions nationally and internationally for many years. His research has enabled policy makers to make knowledgeable, proactive decisions in areas such as agricultural runoff, clear cutting, protection of fish habitats, and air pollution control. 

We have the power of our actions. If anything needs to be changed, it's our complacency.- John Smol

Dan Longboat

Dr. Dan Longboat – Roronhiakewen ("He Clears the Sky") – is an Associate Professor in the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies, Founding Director of the Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences Program (IESS) and the Director of the Indigenous Environmental Institute (IEI) at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont.  The IESS program is the first and only accredited university level program for Indigenous Environmental Studies and Sciences in North America. The Program is founded upon Indigenous Knowledge(s), which serves to support research and development of culturally based courses and integrated environmental science programs.

From left to right: Stephen Scharper, James Gordon, Terry Chapin. (University of Toronto, Trina Koster, Swarthmore College.)

Stephen Scharper

Dr. Scharper's research and teaching are in the areas of environmental ethics, world views and ecology, liberation theology, as well as nature and the city. His most recent book, For Earth's Sake: Toward a Compassionate Ecology, explores the notion of how we are being called to develop an affective relationship with the natural world in light of contemporary ecological challenges. His other books include The Natural City: Re-envisioning Human Settlements, The Green Bible — co-written with his spouse, Hilary Cunningham — and Redeeming the Time: A Political Theology of the Environment.

There are obviously different perspectives. But we must have a common vision, and that vision must be to work for the continuation of life."- Dan Longboat

James Gordon

James Gordon has had a remarkably diverse 30-year career in the Canadian entertainment business. As a solo singer-songwriter and with the ground-breaking trio Tamarack, he has released over 35 albums and has toured extensively around the world. Gordon has written for symphony orchestras, musical theatre and dance works, film scores — and for more than 10 years — was heard on CBC radio as songwriter-in-residence for the Basic Black and Ontario Morning programs. He is well known for his songs about social justice, heritage and environmental issues. In 2014, he was elected a member of Guelph City Council.

Terry Chapin

Dr. Chapin is an ecosystem ecologist whose research addresses the sustainability of ecosystems and human communities in a rapidly changing planet. His work emphasizes the impacts of climate change on Alaskan ecology, subsistence resources, and Indigenous communities as a basis for developing climate change adaptation plans. The central focus of his research is the study of the resilience of regional systems in the face of directional changes in climate, economics and culture.

Listen to episodes from the previous Muskoka Summits:

**This episode was produced by Paul Kennedy.