Activist discussed prioritization of economics over environment
“It’s a test tube full of food for bacteria … and I’m going to put one bacterium in the test tube … and it’s going to go through exponential growth and double every minute … at 60 minutes, that test tube is completely packed with bacteria and there’s no food left.”
It’s with this analogy world-renowned environmental activist and academic David Suzuki drove home the need for immediate action in changing societal values and rethinking the way we live.
“Every scientist I’ve talked to says we’re at the 59th minute,” he told the packed conference hall at the Palais des congrès de Montreal on Monday night. “All of this stuff about, ‘we’ve gotta have growth, we’ve gotta have more,’ is saying that we have to accelerate what is a suicidal path.”
Suzuki was speaking as part of the fifth Montreal Summit on Innovation put on by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal. There, he spoke about how environmentalism has struggled to make any progress. He brought up individual successes of direct action, such as his work stopping dams in Canada and Brazil, successfully preventing drilling in sensitive areas including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, off the West Coast and preventing American oil tankards from driving from Alaska to Seattle through B.C.
“These are hailed as great successes of the environmental movement, and yet 35 years later we’re fighting exactly the same battles that we fought in the ‘70s and ‘80s,” said Suzuki. “So I’ve been saying for a number of years: environmentalism has failed. We have failed fundamentally to use these great battles and victories to show people why we have to look at the world in a different way.”
Suzuki also highlighted problems caused by placing economic security above ecological security, saying that without changing the paradigm in which we are operating that these same struggles will continue to repeat.
“The way we see the world, the values and beliefs through which we look at the world, shape the way that we treat that world,” he said. “Right now, we are driven by an economic imperative that seems to have taken over the way the see the world.”
Instead, he advocated for the creation of a common stance: it makes more sense, he argued, to work within the parameters of the laws of physics instead of the old ways of thinking.
After his speech, Suzuki sat down with Andrée-Lise Mét hot, founder and managing partner of Cycle Capital Management, to discuss how businesses can play into this change and even benefit from it.
“The fastest-growing sector in society today is the clean tech sector, it’s exploded,” Suzuki said, “but that’s crazy—all tech should be clean tech. There shouldn’t be a technology that’s going to affect air, water, soil, biodiversity—it shouldn’t be allowed, it’s as simple as that.”
“A hell of a lot of technology has got to go out of business because there’s no way to keep it clean,” he added, specifically singling out the fossil fuel industry. “We cannot continue to dig it up and burn it.”
Méthot asked Suzuki how big companies can make a difference in moving towards cleaner technology. His suggestion: biomimicry.
“We already screwed up the planet, and we think we’re so smart that we’re going to invent technology to prevent the natural process of global warming—and this is the ultimate hubris of our species,” Suzuki said. “I believe we need a lot of technology, but the basis of that technology should be not how clever we are, but how clever nature is … if we were a bit more humble, we might go to nature and say, ‘how the hell do you do it?’ And maybe we could learn something.”