Suzuki: a healthy environment is a right

A first-hand account of this week’s Blue Dot event

A tiny blue dot. A speck in the infinite cold darkness of space. All we have to live, all we need to live comes from this little rock to which we’re anchored. What would we do without it?

If there is no air for three minutes, you’re dead. If there is no water for three days, you’re dead.

We can all agree that we need these elements of life, these essential resources. And that is the message David Suzuki’s Blue Dot Tour is bringing to Canada.

The sun shone unobstructed, and a crisp autumn wind blew. Trees with leaves of orange, gold-green, and umber framed the stage as musicians played. French folk music flowed through an enthusiastic crowd of more than 2,000. Artists performing included Les Cowboys Fringants, Lisa Leblanc, Paul Piché, Gilles Vigneault, Eléanore Lagacé and Ian Kelly.

Children and parents. The young and the old. Students and retirees. There were at least four  generations out for fun. With everyone smiling and milling around, food trucks sold snacks off in the background.

Montreal throws thousands of concerts in a year. Actually it’s likely closer to hundreds of thousands. But last Sunday wasn’t for culture, or dancing, or alcoholism. It was a social  movement.

Or at least that’s what Suzuki is trying to start. Suzuki is travelling across Canada bringing people together and asking a pretty simple question: isn’t it about time to enshrine the fundamental human right to a healthy environment in our constitution?

At first I was a bit… well, not dismissive, I guess I’d call it cynical. Achieving a constitutional amendment is one of the most difficult political tasks. And that’s something of an understatement! The bare minimum requires an agreement between seven provinces representing at least 50 per cent of the country’s population. Our last federal election couldn’t even muster 40 per cent for a single party, and only 61 per cent of us even bothered to show up.

But that is starting from the end. That sunny Sunday afternoon was all about beginnings.

From Sept. 24 to Nov. 9 Suzuki is crisscrossing Canada putting on free concerts, fundraising benefits, and political soirées. The theme of the tour is bringing together all generations of Canadians to sing and dance and laugh and listen — listen to ourselves, the

citizens of this nation who overwhelmingly agree that a healthy environment is essential to our lives.

“85 per cent of Canadians in polls say [they want] to enshrine the right to a healthy environment in the constitution,” Suzuki said on stage.

He urged anyone interested to visit the website where there’s a petition for  Canadians to sign, as well as a video that elucidates the three step, bottom-up method of action the tour is advocating. Starting at the municipal level, he urges every one of us to pressure our representatives to make declarations recognizing a healthy environment as a fundamental human right. The next progression is for cities across Canada to use their declarations as a model and pressure their provincial assemblies to pass an environmental bill of rights. Finally, and this is realistically a long way down the road, the goal is to amend the Charter of Rights to recognize the fundamental human right to a healthy environment.

It’s not an overnight solution. It’s not a quick fix. Suzuki, the Kyoto crusader, worked long and hard to convince nations across the world to sign the Kyoto Accord. Now he’s focusing on his home, our home.

There are many more stops on the Blue Dot Tour, the next one being Wednesday, Oct. 15 at the Corona Theatre right here in Montreal. It’s a fundraiser with an impressive list of talent: Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw from Metric, Montreal’s own Half Moon Run and Patrick Watson, and many more.

When I saw Suzuki walk out on stage full of enthusiasm and vitality it was hard to believe  he’s already 78 years old. He’s been a champion for the environment for over 50 years and hopefully for more still to come. But he’s just one man and that’s why he’s trying to start a movement. It takes all of us to spur on real action, not just a few. And it won’t come from one  person or one group, we all need to have a conversation about what is really important in the long run and the short. Our economy doesn’t have to suffer, it needs to be redirected.

“But this is the challenge, I believe. That we have to come together as human beings and map  out what are our most fundamental needs, and THEN build an economy and a way of living on top of that,” said Suzuki. “Surely a healthy environment should be a fundamental right of all Canadians. It should be in our constitution!”

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