10.5 Questions for Shalini Kantayya

Award-winning filmmaker Shalini Kantayya will be in Edmonton on January 30 for a two-part Race for a Clean Energy Future presentation. The events are part of the Change for Climate Community Series that lead up to the IPCC Cities and Climate Change Science Conference in Edmonton in March. Kantayya answered the questions from Transforming Edmonton (TE) over the phone from Brooklyn. Kantayya’s argument: the middle class, not just the planet, can benefit from measures to fight climate change.

TE: Are you optimistic about the future?

SK: Absolutely! Especially when I am talking to people in Canada. The reason is cities like Edmonton all over the world are making commitments to move toward a renewable energy future. And that points us in the direction of innovation and job creation and leadership in the future. I almost feel this will happen by market principles alone, sometimes largely with federal governments missing in action.

“We all have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future.   We all play a vital role as parts of an ecosystem and as integral parts of a democracy.”

TE: What will your message to Edmontonians be, and is it different than the message you bring when you speak to people in other parts of the world?

SK: What I’m excited about is the shift from extractive industries toward more future-gazing industries in clean technology. That gives me a lot of hope for the future. My message is really about the hope and economic opportunity that a clean energy future represents.

TE: What are you going to be listening for when you join us in Edmonton?

SK: Best practices. I want to know how Edmonton is becoming more resilient and more sustainable and commitments that local communities are making, and commitments that local politicians are making, local leadership is making. I love hearing what people are doing to be prepared to be innovative in this century.

Shalini Kantayya

TE: What is one question you wish just once you were asked in an interview like this? [Note: that’s the .5 question in 10.5 questions. 🙂 Ed.]

SK: Maybe, why I do this work?

TE: Okay, why do you do this work?

SK: I feel like a very unlikely environmentalist. A Brooklynite. But I think the reason I’ve become such an advocate for disruptive technology like solar is that I believe not only can we create a greener world, but we can create a fairer, more sustainable world. A fairer, more equitable world. And what I believe, and what I’ve seen in my work as a filmmaker, is the untold economic opportunities that a clean energy future represents. And that’s why I do this work. I think it’s good for the middle class. And I think it’s really good for working people. And I think that story has not been articulated to the public.

TE: What do people not know about hip Brooklyn?

SK: There are 47 languages in our public schools here. More than half of the kids speak a second language at home. It’s a very, very diverse community. I think that’s the beauty of it. And this is a moment where we have to celebrate the things that make democracy strong. I think clean energy and a strong ladder of opportunity for working people are part of this moment.

TE: How has your perspective on climate change changed in your work and travels and your reflections on your work and travels? What, maybe, didn’t you get right that you see clearer now? Or were you right right out of the chute?!

SK: If you watch my film Catching The Sun, it almost doesn’t speak about climate change. It really is forward-gazing about opportunities that are energy-efficient and innovative for the 21st century. I feel that the thing I learned is that there is a story missing from the gloom and doom scenarios of climate change and that is that it really is the largest economic opportunity of the century. And countries that innovate with these technologies of the future will literally be the countries that lead economically. That’s what I’ve learned. That this is really about national competitiveness in the industries of the future. The big takeaway that I learned making Catching The Sun is that often these polluting industries benefit a one percent. They benefit a small one-percent class and they create that because they concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few. And what I really learned is that distributive technologies, disruptive technologies, like solar energy, because they can be owned by the people who use them, because you can make energy where you use it, are so disruptive that they actually put power literally and figuratively in the hands of the people.

Watch the Catching The Sun trailer:

TE: What do people who look at the United States from Canada get wrong about what’s happening in the U.S.?

SK: Thank you for asking that question! I think that it’s easy to look at the news, it’s easy to look at the spectacle of the news and lose sight of what most Americans think. I am very sorry that the President stands against the world and we are not upholding the agreement we made in Paris. I hope that what Canadians won’t miss about the United States is that the vast majority of Americans want a clean-energy future, still believe the science of climate change, and want to innovate for the future and want to be more competitive with technologies of the future.

TE:  Later this year, Edmonton hosts the IPCC Cities And Climate Change Science Conference. What would you say to delegates?

SK: I would say that solutions to climate change really demand collaboration between disciplines, of politics, of entrepreneurship, of science, of communications. I hope we can work across disciplines to create innovative solutions where the people win and the planet wins.

TE: What would you say to the non-science set who are just doing what they do: working, raising families, managing rent and mortgages?

SK: We all have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future. We all play a vital role as parts of an ecosystem and as integral parts of a democracy. It is our right as citizens to enjoy our lakes and rivers and public parks and clean drinking water and clean air, things on which our economies and our futures are built, but that also comes with a responsibility to be stewards in some way of those natural resources and that future.

“The reason I’ve become such an advocate for disruptive technology like solar is that I believe not only can we create a greener world, but we can create a fairer, more sustainable world.”

TE:  That sounds pretty big. How do they start?

SK: Little things really make a difference. I can’t tell people what they can each do, because we each have a different set of talents and a different scope of influence, whether it’s the way we cast our vote, or I’m going to start composting, or I’m going to volunteer at this organization, we all have something to give. We all have to decide for ourselves what really matters to us and what could I give?

Here are Shalini Kantayya’s scheduled events on January 30 in Edmonton:

Event: Panel Discussion
Time: 12:05 – 12:55 p.m.
Location: Heritage Room, Edmonton City Hall
Registration: Free. No registration required

Event: The Race for a Clean Energy Future presentation
Time: 7 – 9 p.m.
Location: Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, Room 1-430, University of Alberta
Registration: Free (register to attend on Eventbrite)

The University of Alberta, MacEwan University and the City of Edmonton have partnered to bring these events to Edmonton. The sponsors are ATCO and Enmax.