Tom Heap courtesy of the BBC
This autumn, Society Fellow, reporter and presenter, Tom Heap, is touring the UK with a talk that explores 39 ideas that could address climate change. We caught up with Tom to discuss his interest in environmental issues, the inspiration behind his new book and BBC Radio 4 series, 39 Ways to Save the Planet, and what audiences can expect from his talk.
Tell us a bit about your background – have you always been interested in environmental and climate issues?
Looking back, I guess my interest in the environment had two early drivers. From a young age I was always interested in outdoor adventures in wilder parts of the world – Iceland, Nunavut, Himalayas, the Amazon – and my dad spent his working life protecting the environment and governance of the Antarctic. But my professional life started in the rough and tumble of frontline news as a soundman in a news crew for Sky, a producer on the Today Programme and a live events reporter for BBC News 24. From 2000 onwards, I managed to bring these threads together as Environment and Science Correspondent for BBC News and then Rural Affairs Correspondent. For the last decade I have been working on longer current affairs shows on both TV and Radio – CountryFile, Panorama and Costing the Earth – focused on food, farming, energy and environment.
What inspired the idea behind the book, radio series and podcast 39 Ways to Save the Planet?
A feeling that the brilliant people who were successfully helping us to reduce our climate impact were not getting the audience they deserved - they deliver great personal tales of triumph over adversity. Overall, it is a tale of redemption for the human race – without hearing of these and other achievements, people can often feel the task is hopeless. Despair is the partner of denial, belief is the partner of action.
You present 39 ideas to relieve the stress that climate change is exerting on the planet. What was the process for choosing the 39 ways? Did you come across anything surprising or unexpected?
Stories were chosen on merit, based on being interesting and important. A core duty with any documentary is to tell people something they didn’t know – revelation is a key ingredient. But we also didn’t want to ignore existing solutions that have huge potential for growth – like wind and solar – so here we had to find fascinating developments and focus on those in the context of the broader potential. Passionate people are gold for radio and books.
We also looked for the unexpected – for example that trees in the Arctic are bad, fridge gas canisters are climate ‘WMDs’ (weapons of mass destruction), wind turbines can kill bats without touching them, girls’ schools can save the world, barnacles are a climate culprit, we should treat CO2 like sewage.
And the scale of the fringe benefits amazed me: all of these ‘ways’ are not just good for the climate but help society, economy or nature in other ways too.
Are there any stories which have stood out for you?
Plenty! The potential of building much more with wood and much less with steel and cement would cut carbon emissions steeply. Charcoal is a climate saving miracle. Seaweed farms combined with aquaculture could provide food for us, homes for fish, materials for industry and reduce climate change. We should end paddy-grown rice – it can grow perfectly well in ‘normal’ fields.
From what you have learnt writing your book and presenting the radio show, have you made any changes to your day-to-day life?
39 ways is not primarily aimed at lifestyle change but if you want a few: I’ve had an electric car charger fitted, eat less meat and try to use more wood and less concrete in building projects.
If someone is feeling disheartened and overwhelmed by the climate crisis we are currently facing and has a spare 15 minutes, which episodes would you recommend listening too?
I can’t choose between my babies! Besides if you are that engaged you’ll find more than 15 minutes! I didn’t make this series just for those already engaged, I made it to interest anyone and everyone with revelation, human ingenuity, and optimism.
What can audiences expect from your talk?
They can expect to leave with a smile on their face having discovered hope and why it’s merited.
Is there a take home message that you would like audiences to come away with?
When it comes to saving the planet, no single solution will deliver, be quick to embrace and slow to condemn ideas, ‘and’ is better than ‘or’. We have the ways – we must find the will.
Tom’s talk, 39 Ways to Save the Planet, is part of the Society’s Regional Theatres Programme. Book your seat now to hear more of his revelations.
19 October, Turner Sims, University of Southampton. Book now.
22 October, King’s Lynn. Book now.
28 October, Huntingdon Hall, Worcester. Book now.
Find out more about 39 Ways to Save the Planet
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Join us at this year’s Great Exhibition Road Festival to explore how art and science can help inspire a greener future for the planet we all share.
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