Dr. David Suzuki is a leading scientist, one of the world’s most influential environmentalists, and an award-winning broadcaster with 27 honourary degrees and more than 50 books under his belt. He also happens to be speaking to a sold-out audience in Invermere on June 1.
Presented by Wildsight as part of the organization’s 25th anniversary, Suzuki’s upcoming local presentation came about as a personal favour to Juri Peepre, a resident of Windermere and former chair of the Wildsight regional board. Peepre and his wife, Sarah Locke — formerly long term residents of the Yukon — met Suzuki on an awareness-raising canoe trip for protection of the Yukon’s Peel Watershed last summer.
“He is an amazing, energetic, wonderful warm person,” Peepre told The Valley Echo.
He invited Suzuki to the Columbia Valley on the condition he would have to give a talk.
“We feel really privileged he would come to a small town like Invermere,” Peepre said. “We’re all thrilled.”
On June 1, the Invermere Community Hall will be at maximum capacity — 500 people — to hear Suzuki talk about the global impacts of the current economic paradigm in his presentation entitled: The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Bottomline. Clearly, there is strong local interest in what Suzuki has to say. The Valley Echo immediately requested an interview with the man himself and the following Q&A is the transcript of that conversation, edited only for length [Editor’s note: Dr. David Suzuki’s views are his own and not the opinion of Black Press or The Valley Echo].
NT: What is the problem with the economic paradigm as you see it?
DS: It’s predicated on two fundamental flaws. The first is that it doesn’t have any kind of consideration of the fact that nature itself, the web of living things around the world, performs enormous services that keep the planet inhabitable for an animal like us. We’re a top predator, we’re at the top of the food chain and we are every bit as dependant on air… yet when we argue about the value of a forest the role that the forest plays in exchanging carbon for oxygen, doesn’t factor into the economic equation. Pollination, we can’t replace that, but it has no value in our economic system. What would it cost us to filter water so that can drink it? So you start asking all these fundamental questions and it turns out that to replace what we could by human technology, would cost us twice as much at least as the sum of all annual GDPs of every country on the planet.
NT: How do you put a price on what nature offers us?
DS: It’s just what is the replacement value for what you’re losing… What’s been found in New York is, New York faced a need for a whole new water filtration system because of the growth of the city, so they reckoned that to build a plant to carry out that capacity would cost at least $5 billion, and then someone said, ‘Hey wait a minute, what if we bought up all of the land that belongs to the various watersheds we get our water from.’ Well, it turned out that it’s something like $3 billion, and you let nature do the filtration for you, and that’s what they decided to do.
NT: If we are the top predator, how did we get it so wrong?
DS: 99.9999, four decimal points, per cent of all species that have ever lived are extinct, so extinction is normal but usually a species lasts two to four million years before they go extinct. Humans have been around 150,000 years and we’re already making it very, very highly probable that we will go extinct within, well, within a very short time. The eminent astronomer in the United Kingdom, Sir Martin Rees, was asked on BBC recently, ‘What are the chances human beings will survive as a species to the end of this century.’ And his answer was, ‘50/50.’
NT: Would you say, therefore, the fight is not so much for the earth, but more for the survival of the human species?
DS: The earth will do fine with or without human beings. Indeed, if you read a book like The World Without Us, it’s clear that if humans disappeared tonight, the world would rebound in terms of biodiversity. The planet, even if we destroy all of the species on the planet, the planet will do fine. Earth will just keep spinning around the sun and doing its thing. For a lot of people, the early part of the environmental movement was [wanting] to have wild places for the beauty and our spiritual resuscitation and stuff like that. It’s not that anymore. It’s about the survival of human beings… it’s a very, very simple thing. If you have a planet that has been spewed with, covered with toxic chemicals, how can we have healthy species? Our medical costs are going to continue to climb because Mother Earth is being polluted so heavily, so it’s about human quality of life and survival.
NT: What trends in Canadian politics do you find positive and promising?
DS: Well, there isn’t a hell of a lot that’s positive. I mean our federal government has been following very closely the George Bush strategy, demonizing people like environmentalists as obstructions to economic growth, putting all the emphasis on the economy, and this is the other part of the flaw in our economic system. Nothing in a finite world can grow forever. But economists are so out of sync with the real world, they think the economy can, which it cannot, grow forever, which would be absolutely devastating if it did, so they’re not asking the important questions like, ‘How much is enough?’… We’ve got to degrow our society, not keep pushing, but look at what our federal government’s talking, listen to Christy Clark in B.C. It’s all about keeping the old economy growing — growth, growth, growth has become the very definition of whether we’re doing well. Nobody ever asks, ‘How much is enough? Are there no limits? Are we happier with all this stuff?’ We’re not asking the important questions. We’ve blindly got on this crazy treadmill that we’ve just got to keep the economy growing. We don’t ask, ‘What’s an economy for?’
NT: How do people balance feeding their families and job security with their concern for the environment?
DS: Our problem is that we have now given over the economic agenda to corporations. Corporations are not people. Corporations don’t give a damn about employment, a corporation — not to survive but to be more profitable — will lay off a thousand people if they can hire or build machines to do it. We don’t have any emphasis in our system on the absolute essential aspect of creating jobs. All we care about is creating more corporate profit. This is totally screwed up. But corporations are now setting the agenda, and so, in the name of efficiency, it makes more corporate sense to have fishermen concentrated in a few gigantic boats that can take vast amounts of fish out of the ocean, and abandon the thousands and thousands of small boats that employ three or four people… We are told that the way for economic salvation is globalization, reduction of barriers, and so on. So what does that mean? Globalization gives corporations greater profit margins but it sure doesn’t do anything to assure security of jobs because globalization means companies go to where you have the lowest, the lowest salaries, the lowest environmental requirements, the lowest medical support, the lowest of everything because that’s how you make more money!
NT: About the urbanization that you say is undermining our species and the big city living…
DS: No, I don’t say it’s that that’s undermining it, it’s the mindset in an urban setting that is our problem. In a city, you live in a human created environment, where you can easily think, ‘Well as long as we have parks out there somewhere for us to camp and play in, who needs nature, we create our own habitat.’ If you live in a city, your highest priority is your job, because you need your job to buy the things that you want, and so in a city the economy becomes the most obvious priority because our connection to nature becomes much less… Our kids today in the cities are spending the least amount of time outdoors of any generation in human history. So for a child like that, nature becomes something scary and you don’t value it then.
NT: How do people in more rural areas, like the Columbia Valley, have an advantage over people in the city?
DS: Well, for one thing, you’re a lot closer to nature than we are in the city. Farmers know very well that seasons, weather, climate, winter snow and the summer moisture and the soil, insects and pollination, they know about that stuff and they know damn well that nature affects whether or not you’re going to survive from one year to the next. But in a city… I have a friend who lives in the northern end of Toronto, who lives in a high rise apartment, fully air conditioned. He drives to his office downtown in an air conditioned car, that office is air conditioned and connected through tunnels to shopping malls and food markets. He told me he doesn’t have to go outside for weeks. So who needs nature when you live in that kind of a world? So the people who live out in less populated areas should have a closer connection to nature. Unfortunately, they’re also caught up with the need to have iPods and computers and Nike boots and all that same stuff, they need an income to live in those areas even though they may be more connected to nature. And my question is this, why is it that people, for example the natives that live on Haida Gwaii, have seen billions and billions of dollars of fish and trees go out of their islands and yet they are among the poorest people in our society? What the hell is going on? The reality is that the people who live in the area of resources that are going into the cities should be the people that benefit tremendously from that but they don’t. I think the way we’ve got to turn this now is, we’ve got to put a price on nature and people that live out in more isolated areas should become the guardians of nature and should get an income from it.
NT: That people in more rural areas are presented with the challenge of fewer jobs is very much the pro argument in support of the Jumbo Glacier Resort development in the Jumbo Valley, a key wildlife corridor and grizzly habitat…
DS: Let me say this. Every bit of nature that still exists is priceless. Stop all development on this planet for human beings. It’s as simple as that. We’ve destroyed 80 per cent of the forests on the planet, the oceans are an absolute mess, the land has been filled with toxic compounds of our industrial might. Stop it! …let’s get off of eliminating nature to service these little human needs, it’s crazy.
NT: An authorized deer cull in Invermere has proven to be extremely controversial within the community. What’s your take on it?
DS: The idea of a cull is the most crude thought or way of trying to manage the rest of the natural world… we’re in their territory! But we want these animals to conform to what we want and so we’ll cull them or manage them or transport them out of the way and we just haven’t learned that we are now the most numerous mammalian species on the planet, no other species of mammal has ever spread to the extent that we have, we’re taking over the entire planet…. All over this country, I’m getting letters from people saying, ‘There’s this development going on, they’re going to build a Wal Mart and they’re going to drain this pond.’ It’s happening all across the country and I’m not going to get into the details of each of these issues that are going to have to be fought locally, but look at the bigger picture and see what is driving us on that destructiveness. It’s because we’ve got an economic system that is completely out of sync with the real world within which we exist and is predicated on an impossible notion of steady growth forever.
NT: What can people do in their own lives to make that change?
DS: I would say that the two most important things you have to do now — get out of your car, and number two is start being active in our democratic process and start becoming politically active. We’ve had five years of a government that is unbelievably hostile to the environment and is being driven increasingly by a corporate agenda. Let’s register the fact that we want a future for our children that is bright with opportunity, not the one we’re headed for now.