These in-their-own-words pieces are told to Patricia Lane and co-edited with input from the interviewee for the purpose of brevity.
Ashoke Mohanraj has a cool superhero.
In 2022, this 22-year-old was named one of Starfish Canada’s Top 25 Environmentalists under 25 in part for his authorship of a best-selling children’s book, Pollinator Man, aimed at helping boys become more engaged with their role in defending the non-human world.
Tell us about your project.
Pollinator Man is an eco-crime-fighting superhero. His special powers include pollination and the ability to talk to other animals. He meets villains like Charlie Climate Change, Doctor Disease and Pesticide Boy and while he tries valiantly, eventually he flounders. He realizes he cannot do this alone and calls readers to join him as Pollinator Protectors in interactive engaging “special missions” to help win the day.
I created Pollinator Man to inspire all children, especially young boys, to become more engaged and in tune with nature. As a boy, I was often picked on because sometimes being passionate about caring for the environment or participating in eco-friendly activities wasn't perceived as "masculine." Children should be free to pursue their passion without worrying about their identity. Pollinator Man shows how to be a male human in a way that also cares, collaborates with others and chases butterflies, too!
What people are reading
I made him a superhero of colour to include this group who are markedly underrepresented in environmental protection.
How did you get into this project?
Before the pandemic, I worked as an environmental impact analyst for a real estate developer helping meet his environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals. He was particularly interested in bees and we learned a lot about their precarious existence and how to protect and improve their habitat. I have always loved creative writing and really enjoyed being a summer camp counsellor, so when COVID-19 meant I was unemployed, I decided to use this knowledge in a children’s book. I was lucky enough to have a friend, Minha Aamir, who was in visual arts school and she brought him to life.
What is your work now?
I am an environmental analyst for the RCMP. As one of the largest landholders in Canada, they must evaluate the impacts of their land management decisions just as any other responsible group does. They have other resource management challenges, too, such as the lead they use in range practice, for example. One of my favourite assignments was to evaluate the impact of their horse manure on the City of Ottawa.
Next fall, I am headed for law school and hope to specialize in the legal regimes that manage the Poles.
How did you get involved in environmental work?
In university, I participated in a six-week summer program in the Arctic. I researched legal frameworks that ensure water is treated as a common resource and other students learned about other aspects of water use. We started at Cambridge Bay and travelled to Pond Inlet. It changed everything for me.
My parents immigrated here from Sri Lanka and in 2019, I went back with my mother shortly after a major tsunami. I learned first-hand the force of nature and how we must learn to work with it because we can never win against it.
What made writing the book hard?
Writing the book was not difficult but it was very hard work. Finding exactly the right way to say the things that need saying in as simple a way as possible and using as few words as possible was a significant challenge.
What keeps you awake at night?
The uncertainty of our time. I know we are at a pivotal point in the history of our species and what we do in the next decade or two matters so much. There are people giving their entire lives to help make the shifts. Yet, there is so much resistance to doing what we all know is needed.
What gives you hope?
I get to take Pollinator Man into classrooms sometimes. When I see young kids engaging with him as a cool model, I am so hopeful. I have even heard kids ask their parents to make them a Pollinator Man Halloween costume!
What do you see if we get this right?
We cannot solve the problem of global heating without also radically decreasing inequality, conserving what is left to save and lifting up Indigenous Peoples. If we have enough clean water, we will be healthier, our manufacturing processes will be more efficient, there will be much less pollution and toxicity and we will have designed new ownership and distribution systems that are much more fair.
What would you like to say to other young people?
Respect your passions enough to find people who support them. Engage with relationship as your goal rather than just transacting your business. Doors you never dreamed of will open.
What about older readers?
Change is coming. It is part of being a decent human to do your part to ensure the next generation is looked after. You can choose to help guide and support the change or you can get in the way. But you cannot stop it.