Our Top 15 TED Talks on Health and the Environment

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Talk is cheap, or so they say. But this certainly isn’t the case with TED Talks.

Whilst many like to talk a good game about the environment yet do nothing to help solve urgent problems about it (yes, politicians, we mean you!), these 15 TED talkers put their money where their mouths are, as it were. All 15 have made strides in their own ways to improve our health and that of the planet, and share their experiences with us via these short videos to inspire us to do the same.

What are TED Talks, you may be asking? They were initially created by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas Worth Spreading”  in 1984 as a one-off event, with talks focusing on issues of interest to those working in Silicon Valley. After all, TED stood for Technology, Entertainment and Design.

Today,  the main TED conference is held annually in Vancouver, but TED events are also held throughout North America and in Europe and Asia, including  TEDx, which are independent TED-like events which can be organised by anyone who obtains a free license from TED, agreeing to follow certain principles. We love these talks because not only are they highly informative and educational, they also  bring people together to give a voice to exceptional speakers on important issues that pertain to all of us.

In the spirit of ‘ideas worth spreading’, we share Eluxe’s Top 15 TED Talks on Health and the Environment, and hope they inspire you as much as they did us.

1. Alyson McGregor: Why Pharma Meds Hurt Women

You might not know this: Many of the medicines we take — common drugs like Ambien and everyday aspirin — were only ever tested on men. And the unknown side effects for women can be dangerous, even deadly. Alyson McGregor studies the differences between male and female patients; in this fascinating talk she explains how the male model became our framework for medical research … and what women and men need to ask their doctors to get the right care for their bodies. Personally, we’d rather skip the pharma meds altogether and go holistic instead!

2. Rachel Parent: Why Must  Know What’s in Our Food

Our dearly loved fifteen-year-old activist Rachel Parent has been on a steadfast mission to force corporations to label foods that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for years already.  Why? In quite simple terms, she strongly believes that the use of these chemicals is negatively affecting our health.

It all started when she was only 12 and did a school project about GMOs. Rachel was alarmed by what she learned, and this pushed her to  fight for GMO labels to become a law in Canada. At 14, she had a heated TV debate with TV host Kevin O’Leary, which instantly went viral. Now a veteran of the media public speaking circuit, Rachel is part of the United Nations Youth Leaders Education program and founder of Kids Right to Know, an organization created to inform the public, especially the youth, about food safety.


3. Maya Penn: Young Entrepreneurs and the Environment

This girl is definitely one to watch! When she was only 8, Maya Penn started her first company. She didn’t know much about business, but she knew one thing about for sure–she wanted Maya’s Ideas to be sustainable.  Today, she thinks deeply about how to be responsible both to her customers and to the planet. Here, she shares passion for the environment in this charming talk about young entrepreneurship.

4. Leyla Acaroglu: We Need To Think Differently About Sustainability

Leyla Acaroglu is a sustainability strategist, founder and director of Eco Innovators  who finds innovative and inspiring ways of catalysing change. Her work spans a range of fields and projects including the development of one of the first online life cycle assessment tools ‘Greenfly’, and sustainability education project The Secret Life of Things. In her humorous and compelling talk, Leyla, begins with her childhood shock in discovering the fatal consequences of CFCs and what lead her in adulthood in triggering people to rethink sustainability as a catalyst for innovation.


5. Redressing the Fashion Industry: Orsola de Castro

Eco icon Orsola de Castro was one of the first to bring awareness about sustainability to the fashion industry. She strongly believes  that turning ‘waste to fashion’ is the way forward for consumer fashion cycles, and she proves it herself with her own original clothing line, From Somewhere. She and her partner, Filippo Ricci also later launched Esthetica under the British Fashion Council  to nurture young designers to build their brands sustainably. Recently, Orsola created Reclaim To Wear, ‘ a collaborative arm of her label’ that has resulted in collaborations with retail giants like ASOS and Topshop.

6. Ernesto Sirolli: Truly Sustainable Economic Development

Ernesto Sirolli is of Italian noble descent and spent his childhood between Abruzzi and Libya, where his father was physician chief radiologist. This affected Ernesto’s choice of working in NGOs as an adult. He began doing aid work in Africa in the 70’s and quickly realised how ineffective it was. In this amusing, challenging and passionate talk, Sirolli shares his deep insights into sustainable economic development, and how entrepreneurs can be truly supported to live their passions.

7. Andrew Patterson: Rebuilding Architecture From The Ground Up

Patterson is rated as New Zealand’s most international innovator and his firm was named by World Architecture News as one of five companies  “whose work is set to shape Global Architecture in the 21st century.” Patterson’s work has always explored relationships between people and landscape to create a sense of belonging,   since the medium of architecture is nature, and “we are part of our environment just as our environment is part of us.”


8. Sylvia Earle: Save the Oceans, Save the Planet

Legendary ocean researcher Sylvia Earle won the TED Prize for her speech on her lifelong passion: the wonders of the oceans. Here, she shares astonishing images of the ocean — and shocking stats about its rapid decline — as she makes her TED Prize wish: that we will join her in protecting the vital blue heart of the planet.

9. Geoff Lawton: What is Permaculture?

Geoff Lawton is an internationally renowned permaculture educator, consultant and practitioner, who follows a movement of agricultural and social design principles centred around simulating or using directly patterns and features observed in natural ecosystems. Since 1985, Geoff has designed and implemented permaculture projects in 30 countries for private individuals and groups, communities, governments, aid organisations, and multinational corporations. In his talk he explains the achievements gained by using the holistic environmental design science of permaculture.

10. Jonathon Porritt: How to Have Sustainability for All

Jonathon Porrit is an eminent writer, broadcaster and commentator on sustainable development. In addition to all that, he is Co-Founder of Forum for the Future, the UK’s leading sustainable development charity. He explains how a brilliantly, genuinely sustainable way of life is still available to all of us and how we must join forces to achieve this by 2050, when the Earth will be populated by an astonishing nine million people.

11. Sam ‘Ohu Gon III: Lessons from 1000 Years of Sustainability

Biologist and cultural practitioner Dr. Samuel ‘Ohukani‘Ã… hi‘a Gon has circled the globe in his quest to blend culture and conservation, acre by acre. As a kahuna kÄ kalaleo, practitioner of Hawaiian chant and protocol, he serves as a Kahuna Pule (prayer master) at the heiau (temple) of PuÊ »u KoholÄ  at Kawaihae. In the Maui Ted Talk Sam Ohu Gon III shares the story of the salvation of the world by unveiling the true Hawaii, a place much more than beaches and mai tais. In these islands, there is a message for the world, epitomised by their Aloha greeting, which means “empathetic compassion.”

12. Steven Wise: Why Chimps Should Have Rights

Chimpanzees are people too, you know. Okay, not exactly. But lawyer Steven Wise has spent the last 30 years working to change these animals’ status from “things” to “persons.” It’s not a matter of legal semantics; as he describes in this fascinating talk, recognizing that animals like chimps have extraordinary cognitive capabilities and rethinking the way we treat them — legally — is no less than a moral duty.

13. John Robinson: Sustainability– Are We The Monsters?

John Robinson is an illustrious Professor of Sustainability at the University of British Columbia, and was named Environmental Scientist of 2012 by Canadian Geographic magazine. He contributed to several reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with Al Gore. According to Robinson the solution is not to stop human activity because it’s evil, human activity has to switch gears and become regenerative. In his talk he explains how regenerative sustainability is the unique potential for universities to become living_labaratories to pursue eco-innovations and transform commuter campuses to living communities, like Utown.

14. Allan Savory: Green The World’s Deserts & Reverse Climate Change

When it comes to taking environmental action, Allan Redin Savory – a Zimbabwean ecologist, farmer, and president and co-founder of The Savory   Institute – knows what he’s about. The originator of holistic management begins his Ted Talk by saying “Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert.” This opens a harrowing Pandora box on the ill-fated consequences related to climate change. Savory believes (and has devoted his life to this) that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert: use livestock and plan grazing in a predator friendly manner.

15. Johan Rockstrom: Let the Environment Guide Development

This  internationally recognised scientist on global sustainability issues and Professor in Environmental Science led the development of the new Planetary Boundaries framework for human development in the current era of rapid global change. In his speech, Rockstrom interacts with a replica of our planet to remind us how human growth has strained the Earth’s resources. Today we possess the science to recognise this and change behaviour and do something about it, which is lucky because we are facing the largest and fastest transformation in the history of humanity.

Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
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