Quick Questions: Tom Heap

Ahead of his RGS-IBG talk, 39 Ways to Save the Planet, on Tuesday 19 October, BBC presenter Tom Heap talks to us about his background, his experience, and climate change…

TS: Tell us a bit about your background – have you always been interested in the environmental and climate issues?

TM: 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, 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.

TS: What inspired the idea behind 39 Ways to Save the Planet?

TM: 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 and without hearing of achievements people feel the task is hopeless. Despair is the partner of denial, belief is the partner of action.

TS: In your book and podcast, 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?

TM: Stories were chosen on merit of 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.

Unexpected – Trees in the Arctic are bad, fridge gas canisters are climate ‘WMDs’, 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.

TS: In your podcast you interviewed a range of experts and discussed a variety of topics – are there any stories which have stood out for you?

TM: The potential of building much more with wood and much less with steel and cement has 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.

TS: From what you have learnt writing your book and presenting the podcast, have you made any changes to your day-to-day life?

TM: 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.

TS: If someone is feeling disheartened and overwhelmed by the climate crisis we are currently facing and has a spare 15 minutes, which podcast episodes would you recommend listening too?

TM: I can’t choose between my babies. If you are that engaged you’ll find more than 15 minutes! And 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.

TS: What can audiences expect from your talk?

TM: They can expect to leave with a smile on their face having discovered hope and why it’s merited.

TS: Raising awareness about environmental issues is clearly something you are very passionate about- is there a take home message that you would like audiences to come away with?

TM: 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.

RGS-IBG: Tom Heap | 39 Ways To Save The Planet comes to Turner Sims on Tuesday 19 October. Book your ticket

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