Copyright © 1997. All Rights Reserved.
Interview with David Suzuki
By Richard Jagodzinski
David Suzuki's phone call came the same morning the Calgary Sun declared "Not Again!" in outrage at the possibility our energy industry would have to look at their markedly increased greenhouse gas emissions. His new book, The Sacred Balance (Greystone Books), could be called the Suzuki manifesto. A complete synthesis of his eco-philosophy, the book outlines what Suzuki believes we truly need and need to do to survive. He outlines our three major categories of needs - physical, psychological and (this comes as a surprise from anyone in the highly concrete sequential scientific community) spiritual.
Our conversation started out on a fairly tame note, but incendiaries flew when news hit his ear of Ty Lund's comment that Alberta will accept no binding restrictions on its emissions, made in response to Clinton's latest clean air initiative.
"Canada's action on global warming is absolutely reprehensible. You know, Ty Lund - Shmy Lund, these guys have got their heads up their ass - if you can possibly quote me on that. The reason is this: Who the hell are Ty Lund or Ralph Klein? They don't know a thing about science.
"September 30th, Al Gore received a statement that was signed by over half of all Nobel prize winners. It was signed by 1,600 senior scientists from around the world. The title of this document was World Scientists Call for Action at Kyoto. The bottom line was you only have one choice - act now. What they said was as scientists they know global warming is occurring, that human activity is a major contributor to the warming process and that if left unchecked, the consequences are going to be absolutely catastrophic. Now how dare Ty Lund, how dare the Alberta Government, how dare the oil industry say that the economic cost of doing something about greenhouse gas emission will be too great? We're talking about a future for our children and the leading scientists are telling us that.
"Not only that, my foundation... has got 300 economists from all across Canada to sign a document saying 'we accept that global warming is happening; the best scientists in the world are saying it is occurring; the economic consequences of not acting on it are immense; we must take immediate action on it.' How can the oil industry continue to say it will be economically disastrous to act on this?
"Finally, we have a signed statement by the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian College of Physicians and Surgeons, and Canadian Health Care Workers - representing over 200,000 medical doctors and health care workers - saying that the medical implications of global warming are immense and calling upon the government to make a 20-per-cent reduction in emissions. British Petroleum and Shell have both broken with the oil industry - they've both said we have to take global warming seriously. Shell, I've heard, has committed $700 million into alternate energy. I think the Canadian oilpatch is a bunch of dinosaurs. "
Suzuki was quick to place blame squarely on the shoulders of the developed nations.
"The problems that we face today are that the most destructive people are not the rapidly growing populations of Africa or Southeast Asia or South America. We tend to think 'overpopulation' and it's those underdeveloped countries that are breeding like rabbits. The fact is that the major problem on the planet is the people in the industrialized countries who are using so much more of everything than the people in the poor countries. We use 20 times as much per person than the average person in India or China. So to compare ourselves and our impact to India or China, we have to multiply 30 million by 20 to give 600 million Indian equivalents. We use 100 times as much as the average person in Somalia or Bangladesh. We actually have a population of three billion Somalian equivalents. So when you do that for the industrialized world, which is 1.2 billion people, you see that we are the major problem - our consumption is the major problem.
"The reason that we can't act on this is that we live in a world in which it is hard to see connections anymore. If I get in a car and drive three or four blocks, it's very difficult for me to see any implication of that act on the environment. Yet when you get all of Canadians driving cars, the sum total of that is that we're changing the atmosphere, and when you get all the people on the planet driving cars we have a major problem. However much the province of Alberta and the oil industry may fight against global warming and taking any action to reduce greenhouse gases, the fact is that we and especially automobiles are changing the atmosphere and it's having a huge impact. But most of us can't see it.
"So if we go in the middle of winter to Calgary or Edmonton and go to the store to buy fresh strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce, we just never even reflect on the fact that 'Gee, we're in Canada and it's winter - where the hell are these coming from?' They come from halfway around the world. There's a cost, an environmental cost, to delivering that and when we buy them we are contributing to a part of this degradation of the earth. When we go and buy any consumer item - a car or a shirt or a pair of shoes - that all has come from the earth. The planet has delivered that, but we're not aware of it. We think the economy has done that; not the earth."
Suzuki's observations of recent events indicate society's perhaps fatally short memory of recent tragedies.
"Why is it you can't go into an elementary school without seeing children carrying little puffers because they have asthma? Why is it that breast cancer in women is skyrocketing? Why is it that lymphoma rates are epidemic in numbers? The signs are all around us. Why, two summers ago, did 600 people die in Chicago from heat exposure? Have people already forgotten the catastrophic floods in Manitoba and Quebec? Have people forgotten the floods in Europe? Have people forgotten the fires in the boreal forest?"
Similarly, his thoughts on society are similarly frightening, enlightening and passionately divulged.
"It's like being in a huge car driving at a brick wall at 100 miles an hour and most of the people in the car are arguing about where they want to sit."
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