Thursday, January 14, 2010

Profile in the National Post

From animated TV to ecological geography; Cleo Paskal
Farquharson, Vanessa. National Post [Don Mills, Ont] 14 Jan 2010: AL.4.

She's allergic to alcohol and her television is broken, so it goes without saying that Cleo Paskal gets a lot of work done in life -- whether it's a BBCRadio documentary series on the world's smallest countries or her latest book, Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map.
For the book, Paskal opted to approach the subject of climate change from a new angle, investigating the connections between politics and the environment.
"There's that old expression, 'Geography makes history,' but now it seems that environmental change is remaking geography," she says. "I wanted to look at what happens to the geo-strategic potential of a country when it disappears or when its borders are affected by a natural disaster."
During the research process, Paskal inter vie wed everyone from glaciologists in India to agricultural experts in Winnipeg.
Of course, the irony of flying around the world, emitting thousands of tonnes of CO2, in order to write about global warming isn't lost on Paskal. The author admits to having mixed feelings about how the current environmental debate is transpiring, particularly in the case of carbon.
"I think climate change is more complicated," she says. "I may fly a lot, but I'm also vegetarian and don't have any children -- so how do you calculate all that?"
Paskal herself has a more nuanced background and career history than your average current affairs writer.
Born and raised in the Laurentians, she initially took an interest in broadcast media and was hired, at just 13 years old, to be a correspondent for the CBC-Radio show Anybody Home? A child actor, she also played the role of Cleo in the Oscar-nominated film Lies My Father Told Me and did voice work for the animated TV series Adventures of the Little Koala.
In her late teens, she studied history at McGill and cofounded the satirical student magazine The Red Herring, then some years later ended up at the BBC in London hosting a show about the smallest countries in the world.
A few twists and turns later, she became a travel writer for the National Post before leaving to freelance and contribute work to publications ranging from The Economist to the Weekly World News. Paskal also used her writing talents to help create a 13-part reality series about the Cirque du Soleil, which beat Da Ali G Show for an Emmy in 2003.
Now, she still writes travel columns but is also an associate fellow for a think tank in London called Chatham House, a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy and an adjunct professor at two universities in India.
"I live in a very cheap place in Montreal," Paskal says, "so I have the luxury of deciding what interests me and figuring out how to get somebody to pay me to look into it. I wanted to go visit Tonga, for instance, and no think tank was interested in that place, but travel editors are, so I pitched a story and went."
Most recently, she was in Copenhagen for the second week of the climate negotiations, speaking on a panel about climate change and security alongside a Bangladeshi general and a policy planner from NATO.
"The actual negotiations weren't a critical element for me," she says. "What happened at the end of the conference was a tectonic shift in this area -- I mean, if India, China, Brazil and South Africa stick together, that's a whole new ball game."

- Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map is published by Key Porter ($32.95). Paskal will appear at an event this Saturday called "Copenhagen Hangover" at the Rivoli in Toronto. She also speaks at the University of Waterloo today.

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