Between pandemics and outbreaks, wildfires and floods, and food and water insecurity, it can feel like the world is in a downward spiral. But beyond the headlines there is hope: scientists and entrepreneurs are working to solve the greatest problems facing our species and our planet — and Canadian innovators are leading the way.
The first season of Solve for X introduced listeners to the Canadians who are tackling the climate crisis, bringing new ideas to the table on everything from rethinking food waste and power grids to the politics of greenwashing and decarbonization.
In season two — which starts on October 5 — journalist and host Manjula Selvarajah broadens her focus. “We still talk about climate change solutions, but we’ve expanded our lens to other topics like food and freshwater security — problems that also affect people the world over.”
Selvarajah goes in search of answers to questions like whether we can predict the next pandemic. Can we geoengineer the oceans to save the planet? And could robots help preserve wildlife? “If you’re someone who is looking for hope and wants to discover how innovators think, or want to actually work solving some of these problems, then this is the podcast for you.”
Below, Salvarajah shares her thoughts on season two of Solve for X, and why the solutions being developed today have her hopeful for the future.
What should listeners know about you?
I’ve always loved science and tech. When I was a kid, my dad showed me how to build a battery-operated motor. I remember seeing the parts inside turn and thinking it was a miracle. Later, I decided to go to engineering school, and then I worked at a Toronto startup which was eventually sold to Oracle. Along the way I fell in love with the Canadian innovation ecosystem.
Why is it important to focus on solutions?
So much of tech focuses on trivial problems. “How can I hitch a ride across the city?” “How can I get food to my door faster?” I’m glad I can get from A to B, and I’m glad I can order dinner to my doorstep, but it’s time tech steps up to address the larger problems. There are really smart people in Canada and around the world, so let’s get their brains together. And if there’s solutions coming out of that, let’s shine a light on them, let’s critique them, and get the experts to weigh in. That’s why I’m drawn to this podcast.
What kinds of solutions are you exploring in this second season?
I could record a whole podcast episode of me reflecting on all the things we explore in this new season. We talk to experts who are changing the chemistry of oceans so these bodies of water can actually capture carbon from our atmosphere. We also talk to a wastewater treatment expert who monitors what goes down the drain and talks about how to make sure the water coming out of our tap is safe and clean to drink. His kids lovingly refer to him as ‘Dr. Poop’. And we talk about the impact of meat consumption on the climate, and what it would take to change global eating habits. One of the solutions is sourcing protein from insects, and the Solve for X team got the chance to visit a cricket farm and taste some. It’s such a scientific, yet philosophical episode. You’ll hear the cultural themes emerge as we look closely at problems and solutions.
What do crickets taste like?
I’m not going to say chicken. Crickets are very crispy and crunchy and they absorb the flavour of whatever they’re cooked in — if it’s cayenne spices, that’s what it’s going to taste like. The producers and I were given a few samples and we fought over who got to take them home.
Which interview has stuck with you the most?
It’s hard to choose, but one that really resonated with me was with Kamran Khan from BlueDot. He’s using AI to predict when and where the next infectious disease outbreak could occur. There’s a moment when we talk about how quickly disease travels. Our grandparents and ancestors before them barely left the parts of the world they were born in. Now, you can travel multiple times a year and visit different continents in a matter of hours. And you understand why this worries Dr. Khan. It’s a very revealing conversation.
What about this podcast hits home for you?
My family is building a little deck, and we decided to put a time capsule underneath for someone to find years down the road. We put in photos, an old iPhone, and my husband and I asked our daughter to write a letter. She introduces herself and our cat. And then, without any inducement from us, she writes about her anxiety about climate change. I didn’t even realize she was anxious about it. I can’t figure out if it’s because it’s a topic in school or if it’s because we listen to the news a lot, but there is a whole generation concerned about the future of our planet. It affects their entire lives, their jobs, everything depends on it. It’s why this podcast is soothing for me, and I hope it’s soothing for others, too. Because we talk about the extent of the problem but we also talk about the solutions. We bring you the characters who, from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep, are focused on the idea of being able to solve this problem… being able to Solve for X.
The new season of Solve for X arrives October 5, with new episodes dropping every second Thursday. Subscribe to Solve for X today.
Photography: Courtesy of Manjula Selvarajah