You spent a lot of time looking down at the planet. How did that change the way you thought about climate change?
It didn’t change my thinking. The climate always changes. We live in a place that had two miles of ice 15,000 years ago, right here. The real key is what is currently causing the changes, how much of an impact people are having, how deleterious is it and what we should do about it.
We’re not threatening the health of the planet. The planet has been around for four-and-half billion years. The moon was torn out of the Earth in an impact billions of years ago. The dinosaurs were rendered extinct by a huge impact millions of years ago, and the world recovered fine. The real question is: What is the impact on us? And which “us” are we talking about? Are we talking about people in Toronto, or people in sub-Saharan Africa, where a tiny change in the annual rainfall can cause a natural genocide?
We have to try and somehow solve these problems and not just cast recriminations. We can’t just say that the government needs to do something. We are the government. We vote our government in, and governments only last a few years. Why would it be to our current government’s advantage to do something that has an effect 30 years from now?
But that’s so cynical.
No, it’s not cynical at all; it is realistic. People say, Why doesn’t the government do something? Why don’t you do something?
But you can’t deny that some sort of stick would stimulate a bit of innovation. And no private enterprise seems willing to take the risk at scale.
I agree. It requires leadership and vision, and it requires a feeling of individual responsibility. I spoke at We Day this year—that’s two brothers from Toronto who are inspiring young Canadians to work both locally and globally on projects that are good for the world. Nobody told them they had to do it. They aren’t government, and they aren’t big business, but they are a big influence. So what’s to stop everybody from doing something like that?
Do you feel a sense of responsibility because you have this platform now?
I’ve always felt a sense of responsibility. But I don’t want to just add to the noise. That’s the opposite of actual action—getting a bigger and bigger megaphone. I want to say something that is worth listening to. In my book, I talk about being a minus one, a zero or a plus one. It’s really easy for me to come in here thinking I’m a plus one right now and, in fact, be a minus one. And if I start jumping on a bandwagon where I haven’t actually done the research, then I’m a minus one. Right now, I am absolutely aiming for zero, until I can get my act together.
This interview has been edited and condensed.