The Well Said Podcast

The Well Said Podcast by Indigo connects you to the trusted voices in well-being to help you live with purpose and intention. Hosted by Indigo CEO and Chief Booklover Heather Reisman and journalist Shivani Persad, Well Said invites you into meaningful conversations about the art and science of living well. Episodes feature experts, authors, and thought leaders who offer a wellspring of ideas and insights for everyday life. Whether you want to sleep better, cultivate calm, or live more sustainably, you can create the life you want today. Listen, learn, live well.

Ep. 013 | April 21

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Transcript

Heather Reisman:
Hi. I’m Heather Reisman, and this is Well Said, a podcast on the art and science of living well. This podcast is brought to you by Indigo.

That global warming is real, and a true threat to our planet and humanity, is no longer in question. All that remains to be resolved is whether we, the custodians of this planet, will act. Will we move, and quickly enough, to change our individual and collective behaviour to heal the life-threatening damage we have created for our entire ecosystem?

To discuss this today, I would like to introduce two special guests: renowned journalist, documentary maker, and television hall of famer Katie Couric; and Laurie David, longtime environmentalist, Academy Award-winning executive producer of An Inconvenient Truth, and my co-author on Imagine it!: A Handbook for a Happier Planet.

And now, it is my pleasure to turn my mic over to Katie and join Laurie in the guest chairs as we discuss our new book.

Katie Couric:
Hi, everyone. I’m Katie Couric. And I am delighted to be the guest host of Well Said to talk with my good friends Laurie David and Heather Reisman about their new book. It’s called, Imagine it!: A Handbook for a Happier Planet. It is great to see you both. And we haven’t been together, virtually or in reality, for a very long time. So it’s kind of like old-home week here, ladies.

Heather Reisman:
It’s so much fun to be back together. And yes, we are due for a visit—for sure.

Katie Couric:
I feel like I’ve been keeping up with both of you, but I’m really excited about this new book. And I love that it’s such a fantastic how-to guide. Because I think we hear about these issues over and over again, we get sort of the macrocosmic big picture. And I think it leaves so many of us feeling powerless and helpless, like what can one person really do to make a difference? And Heather, I’m just curious, why did you decide now was the time to write about climate and climate justice?

Heather Reisman:
Well, Katie, let me explain how the book came about. A few months pre the pandemic, Laurie and I were taking a walk. And as often happens when we are walking, the subject of climate came up. And Laurie, as usual, was expressing frustration at how slowly we are all moving to address this very clear and present danger. To which I responded, “I actually think a lot of people want to do more, but often we aren’t sure quite where to start or even if our individual actions can make a difference.”

Katie Couric:
Before we talk about things that people can do, and more about how you broke down the issues in the book, I’m curious to hear your take on why people aren’t treating this issue with a greater sense of urgency. Laurie, is it that they’re too busy, that there are too many priorities? Is it because it’s not right in front of their noses?

Laurie David:
Well, this is a great question that actually requires a multi-level answer. First, I do want to say that I think we’re, in fact, inching towards it, but we need to be racing towards it—giving it everything we have as individuals, and at the government and corporate level. And I think that the reason we aren’t acting with greater urgency is a combination of things, including many years of purposeful misinformation that was put out into the public for a very long time, by the oil industry and fossil fuel industry. That’s one thing.

I think the topic, itself—understanding the science behind global warming is challenging to explain, and also to understand. And also, for a long time, we thought the impacts were decades away; but now we know they’re already upon us. And now let’s toss in—wait, there’s more to toss in there. The day-to-day stresses of life and all the things that people have to deal with. And that’s now been amped up by this pandemic, which I think is paralyzing for a lot of people. All these reasons is exactly why we decided to write this book, and give people easily absorbable information and action items to empower them to do more.

Katie Couric:
The book offers lifestyle shifts that people can implement to make a difference. And walk us through, Heather, the philosophy behind making these small shifts that can result in big changes.

Heather Reisman:
So Katie, I have to give you a two-part answer here, because I hear two questions in what you’re asking. First, can individual action drive big, impactful change? And the answer here is absolutely, “yes,” and here is why. Each of us, as individuals, taking real action to change our individual planet-hurting habits will add up to all of us taking action. And that is what will drive and inspire change at the government level and the corporate level—which is exactly what we need. We need climate-positive regulation, and we need big-time innovation in the way companies are creating their products.

And the second part is a little bit on this idea of shifts. The book explains, as I mentioned before, how we have inadvertently developed habits that are wasteful of our precious resources. By taking action in a number of areas of how we live—including what we eat, our approach to clothing, our transportation choices, etc.—we really can have a positive impact on our own health and the health of our planet.

Katie Couric:
For years, everybody has been repeating, “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” But we need to do more. Recycling is fine but it’s not going to solve the problem of plastic. So first help us understand why it’s so important to be aware. And then give us some important tips to reduce the amount of plastic you use on a daily basis.

Laurie David:
OK. So first of all, 90 per cent of the world’s plastic is not recycled. So recycling is not working, as it relates to plastics. That’s important to know. This is one of my favourite topics, actually, because this is a change people can make today and it will make a difference. OK? So first of all, people don’t connect that plastic is a by-product of petroleum. It’s oil. And it’s something that the industry can make very cheaply, and so there’s tons of it. Right? And we’ve even gotten to the point where we have this attitude that it’s something we can toss; we could use it once and throw it away.

Let’s just a take a moment to think about the insanity of that concept. OK, here’s a product that so much greenhouse gases are the result of manufacturing it, and excavating it, and shipping it. It’s bad for the planet; it’s bad for the air. It leaches—the plastic, itself, leaches chemicals into the food we’re eating. I mean, there’s a crazy stat in this book that the NRDC gave us—which I had to check like five times because I couldn’t believe it was true—that we are actually ingesting about 2,000 micro-plastic particles of plastic each week. Which is equivalent—if you need an image, here’s one—to a credit card. It is making a gigantic environmental mess. And the best thing that we can all do, as individuals, is to develop an allergy to it.

Katie Couric:
I mean, I couldn’t agree more. As you were talking about that, I imagined my bathroom. I imagined all the shampoo bottles I have in my shower, and the containers for creams and, you know, ointments, and all the stuff that I buy and never use. But what do we do about these containers that are ubiquitous in our homes?

Laurie David:
So we have to take an honest look at this. This is something individuals can have a huge impact. We’re the customers—the stuff is being made, we’re buying it. And go through every room in your house. And this is a great family activity. And really go through, and not just go through every room in your house—and don’t forget your bathroom, and don’t forget where you do laundry, and the kitchen which is one of the biggest offenders—but also your day when you leave your house. How much plastic are you buying? What’s your drink coming in? You know, what’s your takeout food coming in?

The good news—and there is some good news—is that there’s a booming business for companies tackling this problem and bringing us alternatives. And we list a ton of them in the book. But one of my personal favourites is that there is now all kinds of bar shampoos and conditioners. And this is an easy swap everyone can start making, and start eliminating these huge plastic bottles out of our landfills.

Katie Couric:
You also talk about the impact of food—both the food we eat and the food we waste—on the environment. What’s your beef with beef, Heather?

Heather Reisman:
So my beef is with cows. And now I’ve learned that there’s female cows and steers, we’re talking about all cows. I was stunned, when I read a few years ago in The Washington Post, that if cows were their own country, they’d be the third-biggest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. What we do know is that cows contribute about 15 per cent of greenhouse gases. So basically, if we want to tackle global warming, we need to cut back on our beef and dairy consumption. Interestingly, there is a win-win here. There’s clear evidence that being careful about the amount of meat and dairy we eat is actually beneficial to our health. Which isn’t to say, by the way, that we all have to be vegetarians. It’s just about eating less meat and dairy.

Katie Couric:
And I guess, Laurie, when you think about the fact that the average family wastes $1,800 on groceries every year, they can shop smarter and healthier. Right?

Laurie David:
Food waste has become a big problem. This may surprise you—it kind of surprised me—but the largest amount of food waste is not from restaurants or what’s left in the farms fields but rather what’s wasted in our own homes.

Katie Couric:
Well, explain. That’s hard for me to conceive.

Laurie David:
It’s hard for me to conceive it, too. But it’s true. So there’s so many things we can do. And they’re actually easy things. For example, how you load your refrigerator leads to food waste. Because when you go shopping and you shove everything in, you’re going to forget stuff. Things are going to get pushed to the back, and by the time you find it, it’s mouldy or unattractive and you don’t want to eat it anymore. So if you load your refrigerator, when you bring in new groceries, with the new stuff towards the back and the older stuff towards the front, when you open it that’s what you’re going to see.

Expiration dates are another thing that’s driving food waste. My daughter, when she sees an expiration date, she says, “We can’t eat it, we can’t eat it.” Like she gets panicked by it. This is just an arbitrary number. Use your nose; use your tongue. Your food is probably good for a lot longer than whatever that expiration date is.

And use your freezer. When you have leftovers, cut them up into individual portions. You’re not going to want to eat it again tomorrow maybe, put it in the freezer. Your freezer is your friend.

And it’s a great value to teach your kids, too. Like this is again a family thing. The whole family should be participating with it.

Katie Couric:
And it’s something that I was taught by my mom, you know, who grew up during The Depression, who hated wasting food. And I still hate wasting food. I just think it’s so criminal.

Laurie David:
It is. And you know what you should be doing? Every week, at the end of your week, you should be making soup—with all those wobbly carrots, all the stuff in your fridge that doesn’t look good anymore, or the leftover broccoli. Like toss it into a pot with onions and make soup. And then you could freeze that for another meal.

Katie Couric:
You also have something called “The Dirty Dozen,” which I think is really helpful. I’m excited to use this when I grow grocery shopping. They’re the 12 foods the Environmental Working Group deems to be the most affected by pesticides and chemicals. But can you run through the list, Heather, of the things we really should be buying organic? And this will help me when I go grocery shopping.

Heather Reisman:
So, here are the dirty dozen. Kale, believe it or not; strawberries; spinach; nectarines; peaches; tomatoes; apples; grapes; pears; cherries; celery; and potatoes. And the way to think about this is these are fruits and vegetables with very thin skin—which means if pesticides have been sprayed on them, they are absorbed. And the problem with pesticides is: very bad for us; very bad for the creatures who are in and around these plants. Bees are being just killed by these pesticides. Bees, who are responsible for one out of every three bites of food we eat!

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Katie Couric:
I also think that climate injustice and social injustice go hand-in-hand—and that’s one of the things that you address in this book, as well, Laurie—because climate change really disproportionately affects people of colour. Can you explain that?

Laurie David:
One really big lightbulb moment for me this year was seeing the disproportionate amount of deaths from COVID-19 of people of colour. It was shocking. And why was this? Because Black people are exposed to more pollutants than White people. That is a fact. Seventy-four million people of colour in the United States live in communities affected by air pollution. They live near coal-fired power plants and highways, and petrochemical plants, and landfills, and the list goes on and on. And as a result they have higher rates of asthma and lung disease. And as goes our environment, so goes our health. And because the impacts of our environmental problems are not shared equally, we can no longer talk about the environment and not talk about racial injustice.

Katie Couric:
Heather, you’re a CEO, yourself. And in the book, you suggest writing letters to CEOs. Now people might think, “That’s ridiculous. They’re never going to pay attention to me.” But it can be really effective. Why?

Heather Reisman:
I love this question, Katie, because the answer is an emphatic, “yes.” By the way, I think good CEOs always listened to what customers had to say, but today customers have a new kind of power. They have megaphones in their hands, with the way they use social media—whether their own or a company platform. So if a customer writes to a CEO, and also uses their ability to express opinions on social media, really customers can have a huge impact. Without a doubt.

Katie Couric:
Laurie, I know that both your daughters are big environmentalists. Mine too. And you have some advice on how to raise an environmental child.

Laurie David:
Well, congrats to you, Katie, for succeeding on this front too. I really believe one of the most powerful things we can do as parents is to raise our kids with a love and respect for nature, and all our precious resources. Which is why we devoted a whole chapter to raising an environmentalist. It’s funny, I didn’t consider myself an environmentalist until the moment I became pregnant with my first daughter. Then my concern for what I was eating and what chemicals I was exposed to became of paramount importance. Again once you connect those dots, you never see things the same again. I know if you ask my daughters, they would say maybe I hammered home too much activism while they were growing up. But I get a real joy when I hear something I might say coming out of their mouths, that I taught them.

Katie Couric:
I loved your suggestion of taking the book to the dinner table and talking about these things with your kids. It revives the art of a family dinner—which I know you believe in, Laurie, too—but it also is a great opportunity to educate each other and to talk about these issues.

Laurie David:
You know I’m a big believer in family dinners. Or even family breakfasts, if that’s what works better for your family. The important thing is all sitting down together—with no screens—and talking. And this is the place to bring a book like this to inspire debate and discussion. And it’s my hope that your copy is going to be dog-eared and have Post-its sticking out of the whole thing.

Let your kids pick the chapter or the discussion, on any particular night. And take turns. And this is going to develop so much empathy and compassion for the environment. I’m just excited to see it happen.

Katie Couric:
Well finally, in closing, are you guys feeling optimistic? How do you kind of keep your spirits up and feel that things can actually change?

Laurie David:
I am optimistic. Because we have a new administration, in the United States, that’s prioritizing the climate crisis. So I’m very, very happy about that. And I see so much new energy coming from the business sector: reinventing the products they’re bringing to the market, and in particular the auto industry making real plans to finally electrify their fleets. And I believe individuals, the customers, will be excited to buy them and support them. So I can imagine it—a cleaner, greener, healthier future—if we all decide to participate and make it happen.

Katie Couric:
Heather, what about you? Do you feel heartened and encouraged?

Heather Reisman:
I’m with Laurie. I’m actually optimistic, too. I feel like we are nearing a tipping point in terms of action—particularly because younger people so seem to get it and, also, as Laurie mentioned, because you can see more and more companies really are beginning to work on big innovative solutions.

Laurie was talking about the cars. And I think it was very exciting when GM announced that not only will it produce an electric car but it’s going to retire the combustion engine in 2035. That is big. So innovation in lots of places. But I do think our progress is still dependent on each of us really understanding the issues and embracing our individual responsibility. And I think we’re ready for it.

[music]

Heather Reisman:
So Katie, and Laurie, one of the things we always do on this podcast, at the end, is I get to ask our guests a couple of questions that are just fun, on life in total. And so I’d like to do that today. I’d love to know, from both Katie and Laurie, what are you reading right now that’s inspiring you?

Katie Couric:
I’m reading a book called, Finding Freedom, by Erin French. It’s a memoir about a young woman who grew up in Maine and went through a lot of travails. It’s about family dynamics. It’s about living in Maine. It’s about a love and appreciation for food. And I’m going to try to turn it into a scripted series. But it’s just a really interesting, fun book. And when you read it, you can almost taste the food she describes. And TIME magazine featured her as a really important person. And her restaurant—she hires only women to work at the restaurant, and she teaches them. And she’s just super-cool. And that’s what I’m reading right now.

Heather Reisman:
Laurie, what are you reading?

Laurie David:
I’m reading Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy. And it is a new approach to conservation that begins in your yard. And I am finding it fascinating, and learning so much. So I’m very excited about it.

Heather Reisman:
And last question: Katie, what is intentional living, to you?

Katie Couric:
That’s a very hard question. I think intentional living is appreciating every day. You know, Annie Dillard says, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” So I think it’s trying to have a positive outlook. Trying to make the most of the time we have. I think I’ve experienced a lot of loss in my life. My husband Jay at 42. My sister Emily at 54. So it makes feel lucky and makes me want to make the most of the time I have.

Heather Reisman:
Laurie, what’s intentional living, for you?

Laurie David:
I’d say sharing what I know is part of intentional living, for me. Because I just have this thing in me that I can’t keep it for myself, I have to share it. And then I would say the other thing is growing your own food is intentional living. Like seeing the process of planting and nurturing, and then harvesting and eating, then sharing that with people at the table, that to me, if you’re able to do it, is the perfect intentional life.

Heather Reisman:
Katie, it’s such an honour to have you in this seat. You’ve been an inspiration to me in so many ways. And I think, for all of our listeners to have you, well, that’s just the best. So truly, with gratitude from me, and I know Laurie will say the same, thank you so, so much.

Katie Couric:
This was really fun, you guys. Thank you for including me. And it’s just fun to reconnect. And I’m inspired by both of you.

Laurie David:
Thank you, Katie.

[music]

Heather Reisman:
Thank you for tuning in to today’s conversation with Katie, Laurie, and me, Heather Reisman. For more ideas to help you live well, including the book featured on this episode, Imagine it!: A Handbook for a Happier Planet, visit indigo.ca/podcast.

If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a rating on Apple Podcasts. You can follow us wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Well Said was produced for Indigo Inc. by Vocal Fry Studios and is hosted by me, Heather Reisman.

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