When David Suzuki talks about climate change everyone listens. No one should be surprised. In the last 20 years Suzuki has brought much attention to the environment through his popular television series The Nature of Things and has used other media to focus the world’s attention on the environment and the damage that humans are causing.
Even when he paints a dark picture about the climate crisis, it is somehow encouraging. This is what Suzuki does. He brings to light the problem and then sets us along a path to discovery.
“This is the challenge of our lives and if we don’t do something we are going to be in very serious trouble,” Suzuki said in an interview with The Concordian. “It’s an urgent time but all things are coming together. We know that we have a problem and finally people are beginning to understand this.”
Even the Conservative government softened its rigid stance on the International Kyoto Protocol, pledging to deliver mandatory emission regulations for Canadian industries. The government also decided to honour its commitment under Kyoto to financially aid less developed countries to help fight climate change.
But Suzuki warns we haven’t even begun to put in the kind of creative energy needed to tackle the problem. “When you look at the amount of money that is being spent on the military or on the development of weapons . . . we put a pittance into researching alternative energy or technologies for cleaning up water or any of the issues that we confront.”
And energy is one of the problems he says that is absolutely at the heart of what we’re facing. “It’s the way we use energy and the quantity of energy that we are using that is overwhelming the biosphere. We should be ashamed of the fact that we are so wasteful. We can probably in most areas of our activity reduce energy use by 60 to 80 per cent. That would help the planet replenish itself at a sustainable level.”
And on World Water Day he’s outraged that Canada, a country with more fresh water per capita than any other country in the world, has to bottle it because we now don’t trust our water supply. “And we are willing to pay more for bottled water than we pay for gasoline? And nobody is yelling about this? I think every Canadian should be up in arms and saying ‘What’s going on . . . what kind of stewards of this precious resource are we?'”
For Suzuki and others like him it’s a good time to be an environmentalist. Recent reports have brought unprecedented attention to climate change and global warming issues. Impact of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services, a report by Boris Worm of Dalhousie University, states if the long-term trend of over fishing continues, all fish and seafood species are projected to collapse by 2048.
In early 2007 a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that global temperatures may rise by as much as 6.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Droughts, heat waves, arctic ice break ups and floods could be the norm by 2100.
“All these things are changing and we’ve got to act now on climate change,” Suzuki said. “We don’t have time . . . this is now an urgent crisis and all things are coming together at one time.”
One of the most frequent questions asked of Suzuki is ‘what can an individual do?’
“We all have to do our little bit,” he said. “That’s why we have ‘the nature challenge’, which is the 10 most effective things an individual can do. It focuses on what you eat, how you move and where you live and they are very simple and very effective things if we can get enough people to do it.” Trying to get people to change their behaviour is difficult, especially for adults, he admitted. “Adults are so hard to get to change. They go to university and then get married and find a job and then have kids. Then along comes environmentalists saying you have to change. Well they just get pissed off. They don’t want to be told that. They put in all that effort to get to where they are comfortable.”
Suzuki’s frustration over people’s unwillingness to change stems from his belief that we cannot wait for our children to grow up and replace us. “We just don’t have time,” he said. Nevertheless, half of his books have been written for children. “That’s because if a child goes and tells a parent that he or she is worried then the parents have no choice but to change,” he explained.
It isn’t the first time the environment was the top concern for Canadians. In 1988, the Canadian government’s chance to tackle climate change took a back seat to government cutbacks. “We didn’t act then,” said Suzuki. “Our challenge now is to not let this moment slide to the back burner and disappear.”