Over his 30-year career, David Suzuki has gone from geneticist to human rights activist to passionate environmentalist. At 72 years of age, Suzuki is still pushing the envelope, trying to educate the public about science and mobilize youth to demand justice from his generation – a generation that failed to address the environmental crises now threatening their children’s planet.
Activism isn’t usually considered a prestigious career, but over the years Suzuki has been awarded an array of honours: a UNESCO prize for science, a United Nations environmental program medal, 26 honourary doctorates from Canadian, American, and Australia universities, he has been made a companion of the Order of Canada and has authored over 43 books.
Suzuki spoke to The Concordian before he took the stage April 3 to speak on The Generations Pact, a student-driven initiative to make Quebec universities become leaders in sustainable practices. (see NEWS page 3).
You’ve spoken out a lot against consumerism and over-consumption, yet a lot of the sustainable initiatives the CSU has been proposing seem to involve buying more stuff, like Tupperware containers and plastic mugs that we aren’t really sure students are going to use. Is this really going to help or is it part of the problem?
Well, I think consumption is the heart of the problem, and we’ve just got to stop this hyper-consumption of stuff that doesn’t matter, in terms of whether we can live or the quality of our lives. It is just stuff. But I think over and above that, the kind of things that we do use, if we’re going to bring our lunches to school, we really ought to have garbage-free lunches. That is, what ever you bring, you wash out and use again. In order to make that transition there is going to have to be the purchase of stuff. So, this is part of what the transition strategy is I think.
On your website you talk about carbon neutrality, and buying carbon credits, where you are supporting sustainable energy, like wind farms. Is that really addressing the problem?
No. Carbon credits are not the solution. We’ve got to reduce our emissions. Period. Some of us find that we can still justify doing things like flying. I rationalize it. You know you can rationalize a lot. I mean Hitler rationalized killing six million Jews. But I’ve tried as best I can to rationalize the amount of flying I’ve done. I’ve cut it in half last year. I said next year, only videoconference, I’m just not going to fly. But some of us still continue to rationalize flying. When we do that, at the very least, if we can then try to put some money into putting green energy on the grid somewhere, that’s at least like paying a tax to encourage the right thing.
I understand that what I’m doing is very polluting, but in order to partially offset that I put green energy on the grid.
But I’m surprised you haven’t raised the most important issue, which is that our political system has a way of holding politicians accountable every three or four years. It’s called an election. But many of the things that they do or do not do really have repercussions 15, 20 years from now . . . but we have no means of holding them accountable. If you have people in office today, who are being advised by the best scientists, “we’ve got a problem, humans are causing global warming, this is what you’ve got to do.” If you have the top economist saying, “If you don’t do something about global warming, you’re going to wreck the economy,” and our leaders fail to do anything, surely to God they ought to be penalized, 10 years from now for doing that, for not doing that.
What youth has to do is say “there’s another input that you need in your system.” It’s not enough to say “Oh, well, if we don’t like you, three years from now we can vote you out of office.” We want to be able to say “wait a minute, 10 years from now when I’m a parent, I want to be able say ‘that son of a bitch didn’t do the right thing. All the advice he got, and he didn’t do it! Now that guy should be held up for criminal activity. It’s a crime against my generation.”
But at the same time, politicians have to be able to take risks, and sometimes those risks pay off, and sometimes they don’t.
On the issue of climate, it’s been over 20 years. The world’s leading scientific institutions have been saying this is the most serious issue we’ve got to address. So the advice has come in from the scientific community, and instead, all of these other interests have derailed our politicians, and prevented them from acting. Now I happen to think, they didn’t lack for information. Up until last year Harper denied the reality of climate change. Now, goddammit, I think that there is something wrong with that, that we would elect a guy to be Prime Minister, that says his information is better than the information from the scientific community from around the world.
The people who voted him in are the ones who should be responsible, but they don’t necessarily understand the science. Isn’t that the fundamental communication.
Okay, I’m going to go out and slit my throat, because I’ve fucked up and failed.
I just mean it seems like problem of communication between the scientific community and the general public.
Is what I said real? Is it an inter-generational problem that we have? Surely to God your generation should be jumping up and saying “Hey, we’ve got a role to play here now, these guys aren’t doing a thing about the future for us.” Now, goddammit if that isn’t a cause for young people to get involved in, I can’t think of anything more intense than that.
No, I definitely think that.
Then why blame me then? [Laughs] I’m sorry, I fucked up!
I think there is a real opportunity for youth to get involved on an issue, and the thing that has excited me is that there is precedent for having the input of the next generation. Sweden, when they pass a piece of legislation, they first ask “What will be the effect of this on our children?” Well goddammit, what a great thing to do. Finland has a Committee for the Future.
Any government that gets in office, within two years has to submit to the Committee for the Future, their program that they are going to put into place. I just found out about this last week. The Committee for the Future vets the government plans from the standpoint of “what are the implications of this beyond the next election?”
Jesus, I think that students ought to be just up at the ramparts saying, “this is what we need!” Everybody in Ottawa now, you know there is not a single politician thinking beyond “when is the next election?” That’s all they are thinking about. Meanwhile, we are going right down the chute!