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TEDxToronto 2019: Andrew Reeves, Environmental Journalist

An award-winning environmental journalist, Andrew’s work has appeared in The Walrus and The Globe and Mail for his reporting on environmental issues and innovations. Recently, Andrew published his book titled Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian Carp Crisis which focuses on the devastating effects of the invasive fish, Asian carp, throughout North America.

(To see Andrew live on the TEDxToronto stage on October 26th, purchase your tickets here.)

What was your first “million-dollar idea”?
I could say marrying my wife, Courtney. Or I could point out an amazing idea I had for a fifth-grade science project, in which I proposed that all cars be outfitted with built-in vacuum cleaners that would reverse how an A/C unit blows air out to suck air back in. To be clear I am NOT an automotive engineer and have zero confidence that this idea would actually work. But for some reason this idea has stuck with through the years, so I must at some point have thought the idea was worth a million bucks. Smart money would be on me marrying Courtney, though.

What’s the wildest idea you had to sell somebody on? How did you do it?
Going back to school for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Non-fiction. I was working a (not-especially-well-paying) job in journalism that I wanted to leave in order to pursue a dream of writing a book, something I had always wanted to do since my childhood—I was the kid who always got books for any special occasion. But selling my wife on leaving my job to go back to school to learn how to write a book could have been a tough sell. Yet, since she’s amazing, and knew what it would mean to me, she said yes. How did I do it? Ultimately, it was timing. We could afford it, and we didn’t have kids yet.

Name a big idea in your lifetime that you can’t believe never took off?
Carbon pricing. Companies that profit from resource extraction and can easily afford to offset some of the money they make to minimize the socio-economic and environment damages they are responsible for have fought the idea from the very beginning. And yet, many have built these costs into their future projections in secret, banking (correctly, it turns out) on our inability to ever hold them to account.

Name one thing, as a society, we aren’t spending enough time thinking about? What would be a good first step?
Teaching men how to be comfortable with their emotions. Issues of violence against women, spousal abuse, pervasive misogyny, male suicide—all are connected to our inability to talk openly about feelings. In many cases, the issue is that most cultures do not spend enough time talking to young men about their emotions: how to process, talk about, and handle their emotions, especially negative feelings. A good first step would be to rethink a lot of the behaviour we display towards boys, how fathers and other male role models can model effective processing of feelings and discard any thinking that supports a ‘boys will be boys’ mentality.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your day-to-day work? How do you take it on?
Finding appropriate ways to tell a complex story. Too often a lot of sharp narratives are numbed by storytelling that buries readers in facts or dumb the language down to a point where it’s effectively meaningless. Most people can follow a complex storyline or dive into the weeds with you about an intricate idea or theory, they just need to have the right scaffolding put in place—and not feel as if they’re being talked down to.

Where do you look for inspiration?
Volunteers and journalists. I just read something the other day about a retired man in northern England who has used his own interest in conservation and technology to set up camera traps to capture the images of animals moving through a former industrial site that has been reclaimed by nature. Through his unpaid work, he has taken 75,000+ images, some of which have revealed that endangered species live in the area for the first time in centuries. This work has now led to discussions about setting the space aside as a wildlife refuge. But just doing that work alone often isn’t sufficient to effect change. Journalists are another source of inspiration, especially those writing on the environment, not only for the dangers they pose in writing about corruption in dangerous countries, but for the tireless way they will report on issues, big and small, hoping they make a difference, but never knowing if they will.

If you could achieve one goal in the next 18 months what would it be? And why?
Increase student access to science communication. A big part of the reason why we have seen such extensive fighting over the science of global warming is because of a growing disconnect between the sciences and humanities. My goal would be to work towards creating more programs in universities and colleges that help science and humanities students better learn the language and ways of seeing common ground with the ultimate goal of helping science students understand the importance of communicating their work in an engaging and relatable way, and for humanities students to not be afraid of science and better connect with what it can teach society.

(To see Andrew live on the TEDxToronto stage on October 26th, purchase your tickets here.)

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