Well-known Canadian environmentalist and biologist David Suzuki brought his Canadian tour titled “If you were Prime Minister. . .” to a packed hall in Westmount’s El-emmanuel synagogue Feb. 7. Kicking off his speech, Suzuki pointed out that humans are alive for one reason: the development of foresight. He stressed that the ability to see ahead is “the very definition of what it is to be human.”
To Suzuki, human foresight today means immediate action. “We can choose, today, a path that will try to avoid the dangers and take the opportunities,” said Suzuki. Foresight can help us see ahead to prevent our own destruction by mapping out timelines to reduce greenhouse emissions and installing universal environmentally-healthy practices.
Quoting his daughter, Suzuki pointed out that, “decisions will be made, or not made, which will determine the future of all human kind – so this is the defining moment.”
Suzuki called humans “a superspecie,” meaning that we are capable of making the largest ecological footprints that can alter the physical properties of earth. “Our sheer numbers, our technological muscle power, our consumptive appetite and our global economy have become a new kind of force that has never existed before,” said Suzuki. “Never in the 3.8 billion years before that life has existed, has a single species been able to alter the chemical, physical and biological features of the planet as we are doing today.”
He applauded Quebec’s concern for the environment, going back to the Kyoto Protocol conference of 1997 when many Canadian provinces and the U.S. were rallying against the protocol. “The only province that came to our booth and said ‘we’re on site to support you’ was Quebec,” he said, pointing out that Quebec is one of the only provinces to have a green plan and a “commitment to reducing emissions.”
According to Suzuki, if the planet wants to re-establish an environmentally sustainable system, end global warming and slow meltdown of the globe, humans will have to cut 90 per cent of their emissions. He cited Nicholas Stern’s research, a British economist for the World Bank, whose report stated that countries would have to contribute one per cent of their annual GDP in order to reduce emissions to a manageable level. But the alternative is even more grim: according to Stern, the only other option is a spiraling economy leading eventually to a bottomless economic depression. Most business-owners and corporations who are thinking in terms of economics, not ecology, would have to take a massive cut in profits.
Suzuki explained what it means “to put the ‘eco’ back into economics.” He said that unlike business economics, which expect that a healthy business’s profits to grow indefinitely ad infinitum, the ecological biosphere has a limit on its resources. We need to recognize that we need to take a lesson from the environment on how to use ‘waste’ effectively.
Since the 1980s, Suzuki has been pushing individuals, economists and politicians to acknowledge the imminent need for global climate change reform. He reminisced about an interview with Lucien Bouchard in 1988, when Bouchard said the most critical issue facing the world was global warming, but politicians have yet to act on the environmental agenda.
Suzuki blamed politicans’ lack of action on an unconcern for future generations. “The problem with this is children don’t vote, so no politician is going to waste time talking or even thinking about what kind of a world we are creating for our children.”
“It would be folly for a politician to be worried about future generations when they’re not even going to be around to harvest the rewards of whatever they do for future generations,” said Suzuki. “It’s up to us now to get the attention of politicians and to demand that our concern for our children be a part of the political agenda with whoever is elected to office in the next election.”
Suzuki’s cross-country trip is focused on gathering votes from Canadian citizens for concrete legislative action to bring to Ottawa March 2. Suzuki sees this as the prime time to put pressure on provincial and federal governments for action. “We can [now] make legislation because we don’t pay a political price,” he said.
Titling a part of this movement “sustainability within the generation”, Suzuki’s aim is for all new legislation to have an environmentally-friendly target and that new policies aim at reducing greenhouse emissions. This plan delineates a common umbrella under which everyone can act together towards sustainability.
“We’re no longer fighting, we’re all on the same side,” said Suzuki, holding all Canadians responsible for pushing the government for the sake of human survival. “We have signed onto it and we are part of an international community.”
Log onto www.davidsuzuki.org and check out the Nature Challenge.