For Session 5 of TED Countdown Summit 2023, seven speakers underscored the urgency for collective action, highlighting the growing frequency and severity of extreme weather events; insights on the electric vehicle revolution; the interconnectedness of deforestation, pandemics and climate change; the crucial role of leadership in climate justice and more.
The event: Talks from Session 5 of TED Countdown Summit 2023, hosted by TED’s Logan McClure Davda and journalist Orlando P. Bailey
When and where: Thursday, July 13, 2023, at the Fillmore Detroit in Detroit, Michigan
Speakers: Al Roker, Cynthia Williams, Neil Vora, Ludmila Rattis, Louise Mabulo, David Lammy, Justin J. Pearson
Music: Multidisciplinary artist, musician, creative producer and Flint, Michigan native Tunde Olaniran explores themes of identity, injustice and empowerment across the worlds of music, dance, film, literature and performance art. Joined on the TED Countdown stage by four incredible dancers, Olaniran smolders through a set of songs powered by experimental electronic beats.
Al Roker is known as “America’s weatherman,” and he’s been in the weather business for a long time, reporting live from some of recent history’s worst storms and natural disasters. All this has made one thing abundantly clear to him: extreme weather is increasing in frequency and severity, and the consequences will be devastating. Offering a comprehensive overview of the knock-on effects of extreme weather, Roker encourages all of us to take small collective actions and unite in our efforts to address climate change in order to create a more sustainable, hopeful future for all.
Cynthia Williams‘s family has long worked in the auto industry — her grandfather started with General Motors during the 1940s boom, followed by her father a generation later along with nearly all her uncles. They witnessed a total transformation in the era of transportation, and today, as a sustainability executive for Ford, Williams is seeing another: the electric vehicle revolution. She explains how the car industry is already advancing towards a sustainable future by building new carbon-neutral manufacturing plants and training hundreds of thousands of workers. They’re also investing in supportive infrastructure (making sure EV charging stations are as plentiful and convenient as gas stations) and developing products that consumers want. Electric vehicles are sustainable, says Williams; they should be desirable, too.
The first rule of physicians is to do no harm — and that extends to trees, says actor and activist Rainn Wilson as he introduces Neil Vora, who leads pandemic prevention at Conservation International. Having worked at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for more than a decade previously, Vora shares his unique journey of transitioning from treating patients to protecting forests and the species in them. Highlighting the importance of preventing pandemics (not just reacting to them), Vora exposes three crucial ways deforestation impacts human health: (1) Animals living alongside humans are more likely to carry germs that can infect us; (2) When people move into deforested areas, there is more exposure to new viruses; (3) And animals are more likely to spread illness when their homes are threatened. “We have solutions to address deforestation. And if we implement them wisely, we can prevent outbreaks and mitigate climate change,” Vora says.
Ecologist Ludmila Rattis reveals the surprisingly fruitful benefits of letting nature take care of business, sharing how the digestive habits of tapirs in Amazonia spread seeds throughout the region, regenerating the forest. As tapirs walk, they eat fruit, slowly digest them and then poop, transporting the fruit seeds to new land. In a single tapir dropping, Rattis’s lab found an average of 733 seeds belonging to up to 24 different species. Creatures like dung beetles help reduce the competition in this concentrated pile of life — spreading the seeds as they roll, tunnel and bury the poop — and show how the somewhat undignified parts of nature are intertwined with our planet’s future more than we realize.
Louise Mabulo grew up on seemingly strange advice from her parents and grandparents about planting toward a full moon or burying a rock under root crops for a better yield. While others tended to regard her family’s beliefs as superstitious, Mabulo has since discovered the profound wisdom in them. She works in restorative agroforestry, and through her initiative, The Cacao Project, which works to build sustainable and climate-resilient livelihoods for farmers, she’s seen even the most bizarre stories proven true. Crops planted during a full moon do bear more fruit; root crops do thrive when planted with rocks because rocks keep the soil loose enough for air pockets to form and encourage growth. Invisible knowledge, Mabulo says, might hold the key to helping us adapt our ecosystems to a changing climate. It also affirms our spiritual and cultural connection with nature and our place in it.
In a wide-ranging and inspirational interview, Tennessee state representative Justin J. Pearson and British MP David Lammy discuss the pressing issue of climate justice and the nuances of leadership within the movement. Pearson shares his journey in the movement that began with a fight against a pipeline project in Memphis, Tennessee, emphasizing the significance of empowering the most affected communities and acknowledging the interconnectedness of different social issues. Lammy explains the need for a collective focus on large-scale issues and the role of climate justice as a unifying objective that transcends identity politics. They collectively emphasize the necessity for unifying and authentic leadership — and the need to hold powerful nations accountable for environmental action.