2024

The Power List: Climate

These Canadians refuse to leave environmental issues out in the cold
Photo illustrations by Anna Minzhulina
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April 1, 2024

Sophia

1. Sophia Mathur | Activist

Governments are dragging their heels on emissions cuts. In Ontario, this 17-year-old activist is suing over it.
Sophia Mathur has been showing up for the environment since she was quite literally in the womb—her mother, Cathy Orlando, was pregnant when she was protesting Big Fossil Fuel in the 2000s. Mathur grew up in Sudbury, Ontario. At seven years old, she was tagging along with her mother to MPs’ offices and Parliament and, at age nine, to Capitol Hill, politely refusing diversionary trips to local zoos with her dad. “At the time, I was obsessed with big cats, and I thought, If we were more on track to solve the climate crisis, these animals would be saved!” Mathur remembers.

2. Ang

2. Mark Ang | CEO and co-founder, GoBolt

His EV-powered logistics company is making revolutionary moves
Mark Ang tiptoed into the logistics industry during his University of Toronto years, when he and friend Heindrik Bernabe launched a business that picked up students’ stuff at the end of the school year, stored it and brought it back in September. After graduation, the pair stretched the model and made GoBolt, an urban-delivery company powered by electric vehicles. Its climate-friendly angle is a game changer, as demand for last-mile deliveries will increase by 78 per cent globally by 2030. Innovation also fuels their success: their fleet and routes are managed by GoBolt’s proprietary AI-powered software. In 2023, the company executed over 175,000 EV deliveries for big names like IKEA, Zara, Rove Concepts and Frank and Oak and now has fulfillment centres in nine of North America’s largest cities. And Ang keeps on delivering: Forbes recently named him to its 30 Under 30 List.

3. Guilbeault

3. Steven Guilbeault | Minister of environment and climate change

For holding water against conservative premiers
To keep Canada on pace to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, Steven Guilbeault is going to have to get a lot done, most of it against the will of conservative premiers. Last year, he issued a carbon-tax break on heating oil—but not other forms of heating like natural gas—resulting in blowback from Western provinces and Premier Scott Moe holding back Saskatchewan’s carbon-tax payments in February. Guilbeault later raised the ire of Alberta Premier Danielle Smith after unveiling his plan for a cap-and-trade system next year to reduce oil and gas emissions. And, for good measure, he provoked Doug Ford—who wants to build a new highway north of Toronto—by saying there’ll be no more federal investment in large road projects.

4. Vaillant

4. John Vaillant | Author

He’s putting out books to put out wildfires
When Fire Weather, John Vaillant’s book about the 2016 Fort McMurray blaze, hit shelves in May of 2023, Canada was in the midst of its worst wildfire season ever. The book may have seemed prophetic but, as Vaillant explains, fierce forest fires have been a long time coming, stoked for decades by the fossil-fuel industry. The message struck a chord with readers, and the New York Times named the book as one of the top 10 books of 2023. In October, Parliament asked Vaillant to speak at a committee about Canada’s energy sector. With the same searing, urgent language he uses in his writing, he described how the 500° C Fort McMurray wildfires, which travelled at the speed of light, turned houses into ash in five minutes. And he asked MPs: why do we still rely on oil, a 19th-century energy source, in the 21st century?

5. Tutic

5. Dragan Tutic | CEO and co-founder, Oneka Technologies

For cleaning up freshwater production
As the Earth warms and rivers dry up, thirsty coastal populations are turning to the ocean. In 2018, around 16,000 desalination plants were operating in 177 countries. While that solves one problem, it creates another: the process has a huge carbon footprint. Seeking a cleaner fix, mechanical engineer Dragan Tutic founded Oneka Technologies in 2015, using the ocean’s natural wave power to create potable water. The Quebec company now has a 6.5-metre-wide buoy that collects ocean water, desalinates it and delivers 50,000 litres per day. That’s only enough for 250 people, but using multiple buoys can scale up production—and Oneka’s working on a much larger unit that can provide water for an entire city.

6. Vichie

6. Trent Vichie | CEO and founder, EverWind Fuels

He’s blowing away the energy sector
Hydrogen could power much of our technology—cars, electrical grids, home heating systems, you name it—if it weren’t so carbon-intensive to extract. Enter Vichie, an Australian who co-founded the green-focused private-equity firm Stonepeak. He has since exited the company but remains a big fan of renewable energy: in 2021 he started EverWind Fuels and, two years after, purchased three wind farms in Nova Scotia, with plans to develop them into Canada’s first green hydrogen and ammonia plant. EverWind will put $1 billion into the project, and the federal government announced in November it would loan Vichie’s company US$125 million. Once operational in 2025, the plant will produce 200,000 tonnes of green ammonia each year, powering electrical grids and bringing thousands of jobs to the province.

7. Redfern

7. John Redfern | CEO and president, Eavor Technologies Inc.

He’s making geothermal energy the next hot thing
We’ve long considered geothermal energy as a source of clean power, but no one has cracked the code on harnessing it at a large scale. As a result, it only accounts for 0.5 per cent of the world’s energy. But John Redfern’s team at the Calgary-based Eavor has big plans for Earth’s not-so-secret power potential: they are building two laterally interconnected wells in Bavaria, Germany, that will allow heat to circulate through a closed-loop system—a “massive subsurface radiator,” in Redfern’s words. And it’s 100 per cent clean, since it’s only powered by heat. With the $325-million project set to be completed in October of 2024, when the first set of two loops is done, Redfern wants to show people that geothermal energy can be a core solution to our energy woes.

8. Sinha

8. Apoorv Sinha | CEO and founder, Carbon Upcycling Technologies

He’s building the way to cleaner concrete
Last fall, Adidas made a splash by releasing 400,000 pairs of shoes with ink made with captured carbon material. Behind that collab is Calgary-based Carbon Upcycling Technologies, led by Sinha, who wanted to get consumer buy-in for a more important, if less sexy, part of his business: eco-friendly concrete. In 2015, as a master’s student at the University of Calgary, Sinha found that captured carbon emissions can be used to reinforce concrete instead of plastics. By the end of 2024, his company, which recently raised US$26 million in Series A funding, will throw itself in the mix with cement giants CRH Canada and Cemex UK. Sinha’s process may reduce these plants’ carbon footprints by double digits—and improve the strength of the concrete.

9. Corey Alida

9. Alida Burke and Corey Ellis | Founders, Growcer

Their hyper-local farming solution is growing up
Bringing fresh produce to the far North is pricey, and those costs trickle down to consumers. A bag of carrots, for instance, costs three times more in Iqaluit than the national average. But during a trip there in 2015, University of Ottawa students Burke and Ellis had a brainwave: year-round, on-site hydroponic farming. Several years and 25 angel investors later, the duo’s company Growcer has 30 staff, and its vertical farms, housed in 40-foot shipping containers, are operating in more than 55 locations across Canada—from Churchill in the far north of Manitoba, to locations further south, like the Squamish Nation of Xwemelch’stn in North Vancouver and Muskoka in Ontario. So far, they’ve farmed dozens of varieties of leafy greens and reduced produce costs by as much as 50 per cent. Their next mission is a sweet one: strawberries.

10. Howardjpg

10. Courtney Howard | Physician and clean-air advocate

She wants Canadians to breathe easy
In 2014, Yellowknife doctor Courtney Howard became an instant climate health advocate when her city was smothered by almost three months of wildfire smoke. Horrified, she used hospital, clinic, pharmacy and environmental data—and interviews with locals—to examine the effects of those fumes. The results were alarming: ER visits for asthma doubled, and for pneumonia by 50 per cent. Howard has since taken on leadership roles at the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment and the Global Climate and Health Alliance. One of her biggest priorities: to help municipalities design clean-air shelters—in community centres, libraries and other public buildings—that will be open to all when air quality goes bad.


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This story appears in the May issue of Maclean’s. You can buy the issue here or subscribe to the magazine here.