“It feels like we’re stuck on this sinking boat,” says the podcast presenter Tai Poole. “The planet’s heating up with no way to stop it. Maybe we need to travel to Mars or something.” The final episode of Tai Asks Why, the mini-series from Canada’s CBC network which has been tackling life’s big questions, focuses on climate change. Baffled by the inertia of the older generation, our host consults Anthony Del Genio, researcher with the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, to assess humanity’s chances of halting global warming. Or, if all else fails, decamping to another planet.
Tai, who made his podcasting debut in the problem-solving series Sleepover earlier this year, is 11 years old. This not only makes him an impossibly engaging host — and, possibly, podcasting’s first child star — it also allows him to cut to the core of an issue in a way that his adult peers mostly cannot. “It really feels like businessmen and politicians and company CEOs, they’re just too selfish,” he reflects. “They’re going to wait for the other guy to do it because they just want to save money. And nothing gets done.” While Del Genio explains how colonisation of other planets is a pipe dream, Abreu gives Tai more cause for optimism, outlining the ways in which ordinary citizens take action, from managing their households sustainably to putting pressure on local politicians.
Elsewhere in the series Tai grapples with other questions including “What is love?”, “Should we trust our gut?”, “What happens after we die?” and “Why do we dream?” In each instalment, he consults assorted experts alongside friends and family to help him wrap his head around often thorny concepts. The episode on dreaming sees him taking his younger brother to a sleep clinic to study his brain waves while, in investigating what happens after death, he looks at the theories posited by different religions. A fresh take on the ubiquitous “explainer” podcast, Tai Asks Why is a series characterised by wide-eyed curiosity and common-sense questioning and has the capacity to make us all a little bit wiser.
Attempting to answer big questions, or even banal ones, is a common theme in podcasting. Where Tai Asks Why is documentary in style, Answer Me This! is a discussion programme hosted by Helen Zaltzman and Olly Mann, of The Allusionist and The Modern Mann respectively. Having been in existence since 2007, it is, in podcasting terms, roughly as old as Stonehenge, but remains among the best of its kind, its questions veering between the complex, the entirely reasonable and the absurd. Recent inquiries sent in by listeners include how many meatballs Ikea serves in its restaurants every year, how fast the Popemobile can go and what to do when you hate other people’s pets.
Listen to the FT’s fortnightly culture podcast ‘Everything Else’ for lively discussion and star guests, including Jude Law, Sally Rooney, Nish Kumar, Kate Tempest and John Cooper Clarke
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