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Canadian entrepreneur-turned-activist walking London to Istanbul to call out CO2 emissions

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Canadian entrepreneur Craig Cohon is on an epic guilt trip that’s already cost him $1 million and taken him across Europe, not as the jet-setter he once was, but by walking up to 40 kilometres a day, for six months, until he reaches Istanbul.

Cohon is doing the reverse route of climate refugees to talk about CO2 emissions.

“They usually walk from Istanbul to London, I wanted to go the opposite way,” he told CTV News, while making his way through southern Bulgaria on day 137 of his journey.

Indeed, Cohon is reversing in more ways than one. He’s done what no other private citizen has publicly done before: he went back in time and calculated his carbon footprint. And it’s a big one.

As a former executive who launched Coca Cola in Russia and then co-owned the Cirque du Soleil in that country, he says he flew to and from Moscow at least 250 times. There were also holidays in Palm Beach, Ethiopia, Stockholm, Paris, Argentina, and the list goes on.

“This issue around CO2, I didn't understand it until two years ago,” he said.

“I was wondering how much damage I personally have done and then a journalist said, ‘Well why don't you remove your lifetime carbon footprint Craig?’ And I said, ‘You know what? I'm going to do that.’”

Cohon didn’t just count the executive air miles, he also counted the childhood Big Macs. Twice a week, he would eat at McDonald’s where his father worked, a routine that lasted years. Add it all up and you’ve got a carbon footprint 28 times bigger than the average Canadian’s, which Cohon decided to offset by draining his pension fund. 

“I took my pension fund of a million dollars and figured out how to remove my historic footprint, not my future footprint, by sucking carbon out of the environment,” he said.

He says he enjoyed all the all the trappings of consumerism and consumption until he understood the unintended consequences. He’s now going from town to town, to speak to European mayors, “trying to get some action on this issue about removing two trillion tons of carbon.”

In a promotional video, Cohon’s friend, writer-producer Leonard Dick said “you could call this ‘Entitled rich guy walks across Europe’ but to Craig's credit, he owns it, he realises the life he has led.”

Cohon is not sleeping in five star hotels during this journey. His nights are spent in a 15-square-metre container he’s occasionally shared with CEOs of big corporations “to make them uncomfortable and shift their minds,” he said.

During a cost-of-living crisis, the unlikely activist admits this is a privileged problem, “therefor it’s my problem to solve” he told CTV News.

Cohon is scheduled to complete his journey in Istanbul on June 5.

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