20 of the Best TED Talks About the Environment

Published On October 15, 2015

If you haven’t encountered a TED Talk yet, you’re missing out on a great source of innovative thinking and new ideas. TED stands for Technology Entertainment and Design and they are a series of video talks held by a diverse range of people from all over the world, about every topic imaginable.

Created by a non-profit organisation, TED is devoted to ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’, and since the arrival of video streaming on the Internet, it has grown into a huge site, with a gigantic database of video talks, all of which are free to watch.

Many TED Talks are concerned with the environment and what we can do to make a positive impact on it, and this article looks at twenty of the best environmental TED Talks, presented by some of the world’s most innovative thinkers.

  1. Charles Moore (@CapnMoore): Seas of Plastic

    In this compelling presentation, Captain Charles Moore shows us the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a gigantic wasteland of plastic which he found floating in the middle of the ocean. He calls on all of us to stop our disposable mentality and take steps to keeping plastic out of the seas.
  2. John Doerr (@johndoerr): Salvation (and profit) in greentech (embed Youtube video)

    Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr delivers a personal call from the heart for investors and large companies to consider clean energy and start making the little changes now that can add up over time. Doerr was motivated to turn his focus to clean, green energy after his 15-year old daughter accused his generation of ruining the planet.
  3. Vicki Arroyo (@vickiaarroyo): Let’s prepare for our new climate (embed Youtube video)

    Environmental policy influencer Vicki Arroyo calls on her background in biology, ecology and environmental law to argue the case for accepting that global climate change is inevitable and preparing now for what lies ahead. She illustrates her argument with projects around the world, where policy makers are starting to plan for what’s to come.
  4. Dianna Cohen: Tough Truths About Plastic Pollution (embed Youtube video)

    As an artist, Dianna Cohen has been working with plastic bags for 20 years, creating artwork by cutting it up and sewing it back together. This has taught her much about plastic, which she shares in this talk, along with some thoughts about how to free ourselves from our reliance on plastic.
  5. James Hansen (@hansenjames): Why I must speak out about climate change (embed Youtube video)

    Climatologist James Hansen feels morally compelled to speak out about the signs of global warming he sees every day in his work. In this presentation he explains why climate change is happening and calls on us to start reversing it now before it’s too late.
  6. David Keith: A critical look at geoengineering against climate change (embed Youtube video)

    Rather than bemoaning the fact that climate change is coming, environmental scientist David Keith shares an unusual idea for fixing the problem. In this fascinating presentation he poses the question ‘What if we were to inject a huge cloud of ash into the atmosphere to deflect sunlight and heat?’. 
  7. Cesar Harada(@cesarharada): A novel idea for cleaning up oil spills (embed Youtube video)

    Another thinker offering solutions rather than problems, environmentalist and inventor Cesar Harada talks about his latest invention; a highly manoeuvrable boat that can clean up large tracts of oil quickly. He was inspired after the catastrophic BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
  8. James Balog: Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss (embed Youtube video)

    In this graphic presentation, photographer James Balog shares time-lapse photographs that clearly demonstrate glaciers receding and show how quickly our polar ice is disappearing.
  9. Brian Greene (@bgreene): Making sense of string theory (embed Youtube video)

    This 20 minute presentation could change the way you think about the environment forever. Physicist Brian Greene explains the little-known Superstring Theory of science, the theory that tiny strands of energy vibrating in eleven different dimensions create every particle and force in the universe. It’s heavy going but highly intriguing.
  10. Brian Cox (@ProfBrianCox) CERN’s supercollider (embed Youtube video)

    Rock star physicist Brian Cox talks about his work on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. During this presentation, he takes you on a tour of this huge project and explains how the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator works. A fascinating 15 minutes.
  11. Martin Rees: Is this our final century? (embed Youtube video)

    In this thought-provoking presentation, professor of cosmology and astrophysics Sir Martin Rees poses the question ‘Is humanity in its last century on earth?’. He uses images to look at earth and its future from a cosmic perspective and offers a possible plan of action to prevent impending catastrophe.
  12. Jane Goodall (@JaneGoodallInst): How humans and animals can live together (embed Youtube video)

    Chimpanzee researcher and passionate conservationist, Jane Goodall talks about her community projects helping people in Africa live side-by-side with threatened animal species. Dubbed ‘the woman who redefined man’, she will change your mind about how you perceive the relationship between primates and man. 
  13. Paul Stamets (@PaulStamets): 6 ways mushrooms can save the world (embed Youtube video)

    Mycologist Paul Stamets believes mycelium fungus can save the environment in six different ways, including cleaning polluted soil, making insecticides and treating smallpox and flu viruses. Learn how the humble mushroom can save our lives, restore our ecosystems and transform other worlds in this fascinating presentation.
  14. Ray Kurzweil: The accelerating power of technology (embed Youtube video)

    Engineer Ray Kurzweil has pioneered radical advances in speech, text, and audio technology and in this compelling presentation he explains why by the 2020s, mankind will have reverse-engineered the human brain and nanobots (microscopic machines) will be running our consciousness.
  15. Michael Pritchard (@michaelprit): How to make filthy water drinkable (embed Youtube video)

    Access to clean drinking water is a huge problem in developing and disaster-prone countries and engineer Michael Pritchard has used ground-breaking nanotechnology to do something about it. In this amazing presentation, he demonstrates his Lifesaver filter, which can make the filthiest and most revolting water drinkable in just a few seconds.
  16. William Kamkwamba (@wkamkwamba): How I harnessed the wind (embed Youtube video)

    This presentation by Malawian William Kamkwamba tells the inspiring story of how he borrowed a book from a library and built a windmill from an old bicycle frame, a tractor fan blade and some trees to provide power and water for his family during a famine. He has since moved on to bigger projects including a larger windmill to irrigate the crops in his village, and his story is both inspiring and truly uplifting.
  17. William McDonough: Cradle to cradle design (embed Youtube video)

    In this presentation, forward-thinking architect William McDonough argues that our current method of making, using and discarding things is fundamentally flawed. We can and should be striving for infinite recyclability, with everything we make designed with its full life cycle in mind.
  18. Bill Gates (@BillGates): Innovating to zero

    In this captivating presentation, legendary computer scientist and philanthropist Bill Gates explains why it is vital that we reduce the cost of energy as the most effective way of aiding the poor. According to Gates, the necessary goal we need to achieve is zero carbon emissions globally by the year 2050.
  19. Pam Warhurst: How we can eat our landscapes (embed Youtube video)

    Food activist Pam Warhurst talks about her initiative to turn all unused public and private land in her Northern England community into food gardens. Thanks to her and a band of volunteers, the town has greened its public spaces, created new jobs and changed the way its citizens interact with food and the food industry. Truly inspiring stuff.
  20. Al Gore (@algore): New thinking on the climate crisis

    A follow up to his ground-breaking documentary ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, in this TED Talk former Vice President Al Gore lists 15 ways we can do something about climate change right now. He includes everything from buying a hybrid vehicle to inventing a better name for global warming.