Cover art for podcast What on Earth is Going on?

What on Earth is Going on?

100 EpisodesProduced by Ben CharlandWebsite

Your weekly podcast for a world in flux.Globalization and climate change. The rise of social media and the decline and fall of Blockbuster Video. AI and VR. Donald Trump and Flat Earthers. The world is changing so fast that we can't get a grip on how we got here, let alone where we're headed.Join Be… read more

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...after 99 Episodes (Ep. 100)

September 4th, 2020


It's been over two years since host Ben Charland kicked off this podcast in a basement in Kingston, Ontario. After nearly 100 fascinating conversations about everything from the mafia to the water supply, from science …

...with Changing Cities (Ep. 99)

August 21st, 2020


The one thing that doesn't change about cities is the fact that they are constantly changing. Most people now live in cities, transforming them with …

...with Creativity, Music and Politics during COVID-19 (Ep. 98)

August 7th, 2020


The coronavirus pandemic is altering our lives in ways we cannot yet comprehend, and in decades we will marvel at this transformative time. COVID-19 is not just accelerating trends that were in place beforehand, but it …

...with Kingston WritersFest (Ep. 97)

July 24th, 2020


What makes a book interesting? Beautiful? Provocative? Necessary? Is reading still the best way to get a message across and tell a good story, and …

...with Disability (Ep. 96)

July 10th, 2020


We will all encounter disability in our lives, either ourselves or someone we know and love. What is our responsibility when that happens? What role …

...with Rebuilding Democracy (Ep. 95)

June 26th, 2020


What if being a Member of Parliament or Congress had nothing to do with an election, but rather worked like jury duty? What if our officials were seated randomly in a legislature? What if we innovated the very idea of …

...with Writing Biography (Ep. 94)

June 12th, 2020


Rosemary Sullivan is an acclaimed Canadian poet and biographer. She has written definitive biographies about Elizabeth Smart and Gwendolyn MacEwen as …

...with Politics and its Future (Ep. 93)

May 29th, 2020


Kent Hehr is a former federal Liberal cabinet minister and member of parliament for Calgary Centre. As a so-called "recovering politician" with …

...with Acting, Gaming and Creativity (Ep. 92)

May 15th, 2020


Aurora Browne is one of Canada's national treasures. Best known as one of the cast members of the Baroness von Sketch Show and as co-host of the Great Canadian Baking Show, Aurora has been creating daring, funny and …

...with the Writing Process, Genre, and the Rise of Stupid (Ep. 91)

May 1st, 2020


What does it take to write a novel? What about genre? How does marketing define the books we read before we even open the first page? What does it …

...with Writing Novels (Ep. 90)

April 17th, 2020


Elizabeth Hay is a Giller Prize-winning author of novels such as Late Nights on Air, His Whole Life, and Alone in the Classroom. Most recently, she …

...with Generations and the Ethical Choice to Have Children (Ep. 89)

April 3rd, 2020


Is dividing people up by their generation (Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, etc.) unhelpful and even harmful? Is it a form of ageism, along the same …

...with Polling in Politics (Ep. 88)

March 20th, 2020


One of the key features of the democratic process is opinion polling, whether it is leader likability or attitudes on various issues. But do these …

...with the Power of Names (Ep. 87)

March 6th, 2020


Do our names shape our destiny? What does it mean to live life as Don as opposed to Donald or Donnie? What prejudices do we carry with our names and the names of others, and what about those who change theirs? When we …

...with Political Philosophy (Ep. 86)

February 21st, 2020


Humans are living longer, delaying disease and decay later and later. It's conceivable that we could eradicate the big killers and attain a certain …

...with The Reality Bubble (Ep. 85)

February 7th, 2020


Ziya Tong is "one of the world's most engaging science journalists" and after co-hosting Discovery Canada's Daily Planet television program for ten years, she wrote her first book, The Reality Bubble. It's a …

...with Guy Gavriel Kay (Ep. 84)

January 24th, 2020


Guy Gavriel Kay is a bestselling, world-renowned author whose works have been translated into over 30 languages. Originally from western Canada, Guy practiced law, developed a radio series with the CBC, and even …

...according to the novel, Ducks, Newburyport (Ep. 83)

January 10th, 2020


Lucy Ellmann's groundbreaking and award-winning novel, "Ducks, Newburyport", consists of a single sentence broken up only by the small bits of a …

...with Rebalancing Society (Ep. 82)

December 27th, 2019


Do the problems we face today -- political gridlock, climate change, social upheaval, accelerating economic inequality -- stem from fundamental …

...with Poetry (Ep. 81)

December 13th, 2019


Do music and poetry share the same roots? How do you write poetry that embraces complexity, history, beauty and atrocity? How can literature confront …

...with Polygraphs, Technology and the Music of Plants (Ep. 80)

November 29th, 2019


What is the future of technology, and what does it take to be a real lifelong innovator at the ground level? Ben's guest is James Brown, a serial …

...with Theatre (Ep. 79)

November 15th, 2019


Live theatre is one of the oldest art forms, but rather than fade away in the face of easy social media and instant entertainment, it is experiencing …

...with Politics in the US and Canada (Ep. 78)

November 1st, 2019


Rampant and increasing polarization of our politics? The turn to populism as a result of economic inequality? The growing, scarcely regulated …

...with Gambling (Ep. 77)

October 25th, 2019


We can't seem to talk about gambling without reference to its very real, very serious social problems -- whether it's the association with organized crime, the addictiveness, or the ruination of many people's lives. But …

...with Elections (Ep. 76)

October 11th, 2019


What makes an election work? Is it the technology aggregates our preferences? Is it trust that our choices will be fairly counted, that they have an …

...with Being and Becoming Indigenous (Ep. 75)

October 4th, 2019


Some argue that all of humanity today faces an identity crisis, as we struggle with rapid change and a deteriorating habitat -- and that the …

...with Gamification (Ep. 74)

September 27th, 2019


We often see video games as a form of consumer entertainment—an escape from reality, not that different from watching TV or reading a book. But the structure of games are perhaps fundamental to what it means to be …

...with Philosophy (Ep. 73)

September 20th, 2019


What is consciousness? Where does the mind reside? Can we create artificial intelligence that can fake intelligence, or maybe just have it? What happened in 17th century Europe that led to such a fascinating time for …

...with Luck and Probability (Ep. 72)

September 13th, 2019


It's Friday 13th! What does that mean? Is it an unlucky day? According to science—no, it means absolutely nothing. But there is one exception: the …

...with Democracy, Conversation and the Walrus (Ep. 71)

September 6th, 2019


What does it mean to have a good conversation about politics, democracy, our place in the world, Donald Trump and sports? How do we bring disparate …

...with Power, Colonialism and the San People (Ep. 70)

August 30th, 2019


Is colonialism ongoing in the Kalahari Desert? What do the struggles of the San peoples tell us about democracy, tradition, adaptation to the …

...with the Inside of Politics (Ep. 69)

August 23rd, 2019


What is social media doing to our politics from the inside? Are politicians themselves getting along, or are the deep partisan divisions in our …

...with Higher Education (Ep. 68)

August 16th, 2019


What is the future of the university and higher education? Will the local, broad-scope, brick-and-mortar campuses that form a critical part of our society give way to a fragmented system of hyper-focused online learning …

...with Gender (Ep. 67)

August 9th, 2019


How do we understand and engage in today's conversation about gender? What on earth is going on with gender and identity politics, and what is the …

...with Acting and Storytelling (Ep. 66)

August 1st, 2019


What does it mean to be a storyteller? What happens when we look into the mirror after a long day, let the masks drop, and come face to face with who we really are? What does ownership mean in the arts, and what can …

...with Travel, Story and Vulnerability (Ep. 65)

July 26th, 2019


How important is culture to the long-term success of an organization? What role does being vulnerable play in leadership? How does story help weave …

...according to the novel, 1984 (Ep. 64)

July 19th, 2019


George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1984) is a touchstone of 20th-century English literature and a key piece of modern political thought and …

...according to the book, Quiet (Ep. 63)

July 12th, 2019


What does it mean to be an introvert, and is it harder in our society to keep to oneself? Is there a pressure to conform to an Extrovert Ideal? How do introverts assert themselves in education, the workplace and daily …

...with Creativity and Acting (Ep. 62)

July 5th, 2019


What does it mean to be creative? Where does creative expression lie: in the individual, in the shared experience, or in the coming together of public and private? How can an actor be more than just an interpreter, but …

...with Making Art in a Noisy World (Ep. 61)

June 28th, 2019


Denise Clarke is one of Canada's most respected performing artists, perhaps best known for her work with One Yellow Rabbit. Since 1997 she has opened up the company's process with the Summer Lab Intensive. She recently …

...according to the book, Thank You For Being Late (Ep. 60)

June 21st, 2019


Thomas Friedman has been explaining the modern predicament as an author and New York Times columnist for decades. With Thank You For Being Late, he …

...with City Planning in Toronto (Ep. 59)

June 14th, 2019


What are the challenges and pressures that face growing cities like Toronto? How do we make housing affordable in such places? And what does the future of the city look like?

Ben is in Toronto to chat with a panel of …

...with Filmmaking (Ep. 58)

June 7th, 2019


Making films is often about balance: between the singular vision of the script and director and the ideas and impulses of the team; between getting …

...with Protesting (Ep. 57)

May 31st, 2019


People take to the streets to change the world. Sometimes regimes fall and power shifts, yet too often nothing much happens -- it's business-as-usual the next day. But are we missing the spirit of activism? Are mass …

...with Men and Gender Equality (Ep. 56)

May 24th, 2019


Michael Kaufman's newest book, The Time Has Come: Why Men Must Join the Gender Equality Revolution, is a stirring call for men to step up for women's …

...with Alberta Politics (Ep. 55)

May 17th, 2019


In April 2019, Jason Kenney returned the Conservatives to power in Alberta. Is this a return to normal in Alberta politics, where one party usually …

...with the Renaissance (Ep. 54)

May 10th, 2019


What does it mean to be human? Is the world a mirror or a window? Should our experience of reality be mediated, and if so, who should be the …

...with Women (Ep. 53)

May 3rd, 2019


Sally Armstrong has been to some of the most dangerous places to speak with, learn about and report on women and girls in conflict zones. Countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia have been her beat for decades, and …

...with Science (Ep. 52)

April 26th, 2019


Bob McDonald is one of Canada's most recognizable voices. An author, science journalist and chief science correspondent for the CBC, Bob has been hosting Quirks & Quarks (a weekly radio show about science) since …

...according to The New Yorker's Profile of Yan Lianke (Ep. 51)

April 19th, 2019


Yan Lianke is one of China's most influential living writers. His often-satirical works have earned him an international readership. He has been touted for the Nobel Prize in Literature. And yet, most of Yan's books are …

...with the Promise of Artificial Intelligence (Ep. 50)

April 12th, 2019


What is the optimal emotional state of eSports players to increase their win rate? Can the range of emotions displayed in movies determine which are …

...with the News (Ep. 49)

April 5th, 2019


If there is one industry that exemplifies the extraordinary disruption and change we have undergone over the past couple decades, it might just be the news. The way we produce, deliver and receive the news is changing …

LIVE EPISODE: ...with Our Possession of the Classical Past (Ep. 48)

March 29th, 2019


Should the artifacts of history be owned by any country, or should they be shared as common human heritage? If ancient Greek and Roman civilizations …

...with the Drama of Politics (Ep. 47)

March 22nd, 2019


Terry Fallis is a celebrated Canadian author of novels such as Up and Down (2012) and One Brother Shy (2017). Before writing the hit 2008 novel, The Best Laid Plans—about a man who must run a seemingly hopeless …

...with Prisons and Justice in Canada (Ep. 46)

March 15th, 2019


Before she was appointed as an independent Senator in 2016, Kim Pate was already a powerful and outspoken voice for marginalized people in Canada, …

...with Marketing and Human Nature (Ep. 45)

March 8th, 2019


Terry O'Reilly is the host of CBC's Under the Influence (formerly The Age of Persuasion), and he joins Ben this week on the podcast. They discuss Terry's advertising career, his book This I Know: Marketing Lessons from …

...with the Economics of Going Green (Ep. 44)

March 1st, 2019


Climate change could be the greatest crisis we have ever faced. Is it possible to deal with it under the economic frameworks that gird our society -- …

...with Music, Learning and Podcasting (Ep. 43)

February 22nd, 2019


There are countless resources about personal development, and they all express a similar theme: summon the will and make things happen. Whether intrinsically or because of years of practice, Logan Brown lives what he …

LIVE EPISODE: ...with Live Performance in the Digital Age (Ep. 42)

February 15th, 2019


Watch the video of this episode.

What does it mean to be live? Can a hologram be considered performance? Is going to the theatre a private or …

...with Chemistry (Ep. 41)

February 8th, 2019


Chemistry is often considered the 'central science', because it serves as a bridge between so many disciplines: physics, biology, engineering, …

...with The Beaverton (Ep. 40)

February 1st, 2019


Alex Huntley is a writer and editor for The Beaverton, Canada's foremost source of satirical news, as well as co-author of The Beaverton Presents Glorious and/or Free: The True History of Canada.

Alex joins Ben for a …

...with Truth, Uncertainty and Theatre (Ep. 39)

January 25th, 2019


Uncertainty and doubt are central to the human experience. Yet in the 'post-truth' era, when you can curate your own experience of the world, our democracy seems under threat from such relativism. And making things …

...with the Mafia (Ep. 38)

January 18th, 2019


The Mafia is one of the most successful threads of pop culture—so successful that many real mobsters take their cues from it. The Godfather, The …

...with US Politics: Women, Polarization and the Media (Ep. 37)

January 11th, 2019


The 2018 US midterm elections were historic: increase in voter turnout (50%), victory for the Democrats (40 seats), and the 'Pink Wave' (a record 127 women elected to Congress). Other firsts, such as the youngest woman …

...according to the novel, The Three-Body Problem (Ep. 36)

January 4th, 2019


Cixin Liu's novel, The Three-Body Problem, is a hallmark of modern Chinese writing. When it was first published in 2006, it took readers, critics and even scientists by storm. And when it was finally translated into …

...with Public Policy in Canada (Ep. 35)

December 28th, 2018


Despite the constant flux and disruption of politics, the wheels of government continue to turn. And the professionals who keep those wheels greased …

...according to the book, The People vs. Democracy (Ep. 34)

December 21st, 2018


The subtitle of Yascha Mounk's powerful and chilling book is, "Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It". Mounk describes populism and the …

...with Creativity and Digital Entrepreneurship (Ep. 33)

December 14th, 2018


People don't just get their news, entertainment and friend fixes from social media. In the digital age, there are whole universes in which to learn, …

...with Oil and World Politics (Ep. 32)

December 7th, 2018


Whether it's energy for electricity, gas for cars or ships or militaries, fuel for heating, or plastics pretty much everywhere -- petroleum is the …

...with Fairness for First Nations (Ep. 31)

November 30th, 2018


In Canada, a sophisticated and prosperous first world country, there are whole communities living in third world conditions. Many First Nations …

...with Economic Inequality (Ep. 30)

November 23rd, 2018


You've heard the statistics. Income inequality in the west is at its highest level in half a century. The three richest people are worth more than the poorest 48 countries in the world, combined. The top 1% of the …

...with Public Art (Ep. 29)

November 16th, 2018


Public art can make cities beautiful, inviting, inspiring and thought-provoking. It can bind communities together not just in what the art …

...with the Erosion of Empathy (Ep. 28)

November 9th, 2018


In his acclaimed thriller, Butcher, Canadian playwright Nicolas Billon asks, how do we punish the unpunishable? How can there be true justice when …

...with Wheelchair Fencing & the 'Appeal' (Ep. 27)

November 2nd, 2018


Disability can change everything, and many of us have a hard time understanding what it means for a curb to be too high, or an electrical socket too low. For Rossana Pasquino, who has spent most of her life in a …

...with Racism (Ep. 26)

October 26th, 2018


Complete show notes are below the description.

Racism has been a sad part of the human story for a long time. After slavery was finally abolished in …

...with Water (Ep. 25)

October 19th, 2018


Water is foundational to human life. Many of us live in places where it is clean, cheap and flows freely from the tap, and where it can be taken for granted. But a billion people go without adequate access to clean …

...according to the book, The Knowledge Illusion (Ep. 24)

October 12th, 2018


“How is it possible that people can simultaneously bowl us over with their ingenuity and disappoint us with their ignorance? How have we mastered so …

...with the Decline of American Soft Power (Ep. 23)

October 5th, 2018


We all know hard power: tanks, planes, guns, even cyberwarfare units. But since the end of the Second World War, the normal method for a country to achieve its goals has been through openness, dialogue and mutual …

...with City Planning and Design (Ep. 22)

September 28th, 2018


Cities are the principal engines of growth and innovation, not just in the west but all over the world. Crowded and sprawling, manic and beautiful, …

...with the Movies (Ep. 21)

September 21st, 2018


The #MeToo movement struck hard and fast in the film industry, capturing international attention for much more than a few news cycles. It exposed some of the men who abuse their power, and highlighted what women have …

...with Social Change (Ep. 20)

September 14th, 2018


Institutions and norms, both written and unwritten, underpin our rule-of-law, human rights-respecting democracies. Some of these have evolved to …

...according to the book, Mindset by Carol Dweck (Ep. 19)

September 7th, 2018


“Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better? Why hide deficiencies instead of overcoming them? Why look …

...with Women in Leadership (Ep. 18)

August 31st, 2018


Glass ceilings are being shattered everywhere. Women now shape the world in every field and discipline. The archetype of leadership is less and less …

...with Classical Music (Ep. 17)

August 24th, 2018


Gustav Mahler once said that a symphony must be like the world, in that it must contain everything. But when it comes to classical music, is that …

...with Education (Ep. 16)

August 17th, 2018


Is education the closest thing we have to a silver bullet for the ills and ailments of our society, even if it takes generations to have a real …

...according to the book, The Retreat of Western Liberalism (Ep. 15)

August 10th, 2018


"Since the turn of the millennium, and particularly over the last decade, no fewer than twenty-five democracies have failed around the world, three …

...with Terrorism (Ep. 14)

August 3rd, 2018


On July 22 a lone gunman opened fire on pedestrians and crowded restaurants on Danforth Avenue in the Greektown District of Toronto. He killed two …

...with the Division of Political Power (Ep. 13)

July 27th, 2018


What is the nature of political power and how is it distributed? What are the pros and cons of a federal system like Canada's, where power is shared …

...with the Role the Arts Play (Ep. 12)

July 20th, 2018


What is the role of art and music in our society? Is art supposed to effect change or simply represent it after the fact? Is all good art subversive, …

...according to the book, Selfie by Will Storr (Ep. 11)

July 13th, 2018


"We live in the age of the individual. Every day, we're bombarded with depictions of the beautiful, successful, slim, socially conscious, and …

...with History, and a little Jazz (Ep. 10)

July 6th, 2018


What can we learn from the trials, tribulations and shipwrecks of our collective human past? How does that past shape the human story today? How can …

...with Artificial Intelligence in Business (Ep. 9)

June 29th, 2018


Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is going to change everything. From self-driving cars to deliveries to your online retailers that can predict and deliver your order before you make it, businesses are already cashing in …

...with Renewable Energy (Ep. 8)

June 22nd, 2018


There is a pressing need to rethink how we produce, consume and transmit energy, to diversify our energy sources, and to reorder our daily lives as well as the larger structures of our economies. These shifts, whether …

...with Free Trade & NAFTA (Ep. 7)

June 15th, 2018


Are we on the verge of a trade war, or already in the midst of one? Is NAFTA doomed to the same fate as the Iran Nuclear Deal? What is behind the US …

...with Climate Change & Science Literacy (Ep. 6)

June 8th, 2018


Climate change is real, and we are causing it. At least, that’s the consensus among scientists around the world. A tiny handful of academics …

...with Taxes (Ep. 5)

June 1st, 2018


There's an election coming up in Ontario, and as always, one of the big dividers is taxes. Cut them, raise them, change them, fix them. A lot of the arguments are weary (Doug Ford's PCs want to make gas and beer …

...with Karl Marx, Part II (Ep. 4)

May 25th, 2018


Part 2 of 2.

For his bicentennial in May 2018, it's a good a time as any to re-evaluate the life, work and ideas of one of the most influential …

...with Karl Marx, Part I (Ep. 3)

May 18th, 2018


Part 1 of 2.

May 5 was the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx's birth. Over the past few years there has been a surge of interest in the 19th century philosopher and economist, who challenged capitalism and predicted that …

...with the Digital Age (Ep. 2)

May 11th, 2018


In the Digital Age, the Internet and social media have utterly transformed the way we live and perceive the world, and there is certainly more to come. But when we started upending norms in the media less than a …

...with Populism (Ep. 1)

May 4th, 2018


Donald Trump is in power in America. Doug Ford is headed that way in Ontario. The alt-right seems ascendant everywhere, while liberal democracy is in crisis. Journalists are being demonized as "fake news" at best and …

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