The most popular TEDTalks on the environment and sustainability

Protests at the lack of action over climate change have increased greatly over the past few years, with the School Strike for Climate, Extinction Rebellion and die ins (falling to the ground and feigning death to get government attention) among the most prominent examples. A recent poll has illustrated the prevalence of climate anxiety, particularly among young people.

2021’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted that the ‘climate crisis is widespread, rapid and intensifying’, but the scientists involved ‘stressed that humanity still has the ability to change course and avoid the worst consequences’.

TEDTalks offer a variety of expert views on the environment, pollution and climate change, and what we can do to tackle it. VBQ Speakers have analysed the TED website to find the most popular TEDTalks around environmental impact. 

The top twenty environment and sustainability TEDTalks

Unsurprisingly, Elon Musk’s TEDTalk ‘The future we’re building – and boring’ is light years ahead with an astounding 25 million views. In a league of his own in more ways than one, we have excluded Mr Musk from the top twenty.

Here are the top twenty speakers, based on views:

  1. Stephen Petranek, Your kids might live on Mars. Here’s how they’ll survive 6.9M
  2. Greta Thunberg, The disarming case to act right now on climate change, 5.8
  3. Suzanne Simard, How trees talk to each other, 4.9M (4,985,192)
  4. Mark Bittman, What’s wrong with what we eat, 4.9M (4,923,764)
  5. Tshering Tobgay, This country isn’t just carbon neutral — it’s carbon negative, 4.9M (4,913,277) 
  6. Kristin Poinar, What’s hidden under the Greenland ice sheet?, 4.8M
  7. Emma Bryce, What really happens to the plastic you throw away?, 4.5M (4,566,113)
  8. Wade Davis, Dreams from endangered cultures, 4.5M (4,527,286)
  9. Prosanta Chakrabarty, Four billion years of evolution in six minutes, 4.2M
  10. Kenneth Lacovara, Hunting for dinosaurs showed me our place in the universe, 4M
  11. Kamal Meattle , How to grow fresh air, 3.9M (3,920,554)
  12. Katharine Hayhoe, The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it, 3.9M (3,916,017)
  13. Camille Seaman, The Arctic vs. the Antarctic, 3.7M 
  14. Al Gore, Averting the climate crisis, 3.6M
  15. Jennifer Wilcox, A new way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, 3.5M (3,597,178)
  16. Shubhendu Sharma, How to grow a forest in your backyard, 3.5M (3,569,547)
  17. Kelsey Leonard, Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans, 3.2M (3,290,370)
  18. Colette Pichon, Battle Climate change will displace millions. Here’s how we prepare, 3.2M (3,283,649)
  19. Latif Nasser, You have no idea where camels really come from, 3.2M (3,278,715)
  20. Sonaar Luthra, We need to track the world’s water like we track the weather, 3.2M (3,211,766)

A closer look at the top ten

The most popular environment and sustainability TEDTalk is ‘Your kids might live on Mars. Here’s how they’ll survive’ by American writer and editor Stephen Petranek, with a viewing total of 6.9 million. Petranek has previously edited Discover and The Washington Post’s magazine, and is the author of ‘How we’ll live on Mars’ published in 2015.  

Following closely behind is Greta Thunberg with 5.8 million views. In her talk, ‘The disarming case to act right now on climate change’, the initiator of the school strike for climate passionately demands immediate change.

The third most popular with 4.9 million views is ‘How trees talk to each other’ presented by forest ecologist Suzanne Simard. Over three decades of research in Canadian forests, Simard discovered that trees talk over large distances and frequently. Simard shares insight into the complex social lives of trees which highlights a new perspective of the natural world.

Next is ‘What’s wrong with what we eat’ by Mark Bittman at 4.9 million views. This New York Times food writer has a strong opinion on what’s the matter with what we currently eat, and why eating too much meat and too few plants is putting the entire planet at risk. Bittman puts food into categories such as ‘unlimited foods’ like fruit and vegetables, ‘flexible foods’ like nuts, grains and beans, and ‘treats’ like meat, eggs and milk. A system he believes will take the pressure off our planet. 

Tshering Tobgay is the president of the People’s Democratic Party in Bhutan. The Kingdom of Bhutan lies on the border between China and India, deep in the Himalayas, and this remarkable country has pledged to remain carbon neutral. In his talk (4.8 million views) ‘This country isn’t just carbon neutral — it’s carbon negative’, Prime Minister Tobgay discusses Bhutan’s mission to prioritise happiness over economic growth and set a benchmark for preserving the environment. 

At fifth place with 4.8 million views is Kristin Poinar and her TEDTalk on ‘What’s hidden under the Greenland ice sheet?’. Poinar used remote sensing and numerical models to study how meltwater and ice flow interacts particularly in the Greenland ice sheet. Poinar’s talk educates viewers on how water got under the ice sheet, how much water there is and how climate change is affecting the whole system.  

‘What really happens to the plastic you throw away?’ claims sixth place with Emma Bryce’s 4.5 million views. Bryce tracks the life cycles of three different plastic bottles highlighting the dangerous impact that plastic can have on the planet. 

Next up is Wade Davis on ‘dreams from endangered species’ with 4.5 million views. Sharing a reel of spectacular photos and stories, National Geographic explorer Davis showcases the amazing diversity of the world’s indigenous cultures that are vanishing from the earth with unbelievable speed. 

The eighth spot belongs to paleontologist Kenneth Lacovara’s TEDTalk, ‘Hunting for dinosaurs showed me our place in the universe’, with 4 million views. Lacovara unearths the details of his discovery of Dreadnoughtus, a 77 million year old sauropod that was as tall as a two-storey house and the same weight as a jumbo jet. Lacovara celebrates the geological history of the planet and contemplates our current place in time.

‘How to grow fresh air’ by researcher Kamal Meattle has 3.9 million views to date and shows how an arrangement of three of the most common houseplants used in precise places within a home or office can produce much cleaner indoor air quality. 

The final spot goes to Katharine Hayhoe’s TEDTalk (3.9 million views) ‘The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: talk about it’. It’s an insightful talk that focuses on educating people on how to effectively connect the dots between the values they already have to defend the planet so that they have the tools to be part of the solution. 

The most popular videos were found by analysing all the videos on the TEDTalk website that included the following tags: ‘environment’, ‘pollution’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘climate change’. They were then ranked accordingly based on the number of views. 

The video views were correct as of Aug 2021.