On Friday night I had the rare opportunity to see Dr. David Suzuki speak at the University of Toronto. Since it was my first-time watching Suzuki speak live, I figured I’d share my perspective on this wise and inspirational man. In the speech, entitled “Biosphere Crisis: How Did We Get Here and Where Are We Going?”, Suzuki pointed out how the population in the world has gone from around 1.6 billion in 1900 to about 6 billion in just 100 years, and that our lifestyles as we know it are psychotic and utterly unsustainable (He even calls it suicidal).
His view on the environment is that we are the environment. We live and breathe the environment; everything we do affects the earth, and the path we’re taking is in no uncertain terms ruining the earth as we know it.
Suzuki made a lot of good points that really stuck in my mind. The first of which was his view on critics. The first thing he does when he encounters a critic is he checks who’s paying the critic’s pay cheque. Like Al Gore, Suzuki found that many of the Global Warming naysayers and critics are the same people who were lobbying for the Tobacco companies during their battle against government regulation. Suzuki feels that kids are the most effective lobbyists for the environment because they don’t have an ulterior motive; they don’t have a big oil company paying them to say what the oil company wants them to say. This is the reason Suzuki has spent much of his life teaching kids about the “Nature of Things”. If you get a chance, watch Suzuki’s daugher Severn Suzuki speak at the UN Earth Summit in 1992 when she was only 12 years old.
Another good point that Suzuki pointed out is how hypocritical it is for Canadians and Americans to justify their pollution by complaining that China is the world’s largest polluter and Canada or the U.S. shouldn’t have to reduce emissions until China is ready to join and reduce their emissions as well. Suzuki points out that Canada is a rich nation, and if we can’t get it right with all our wealth, then how do we expect China to get it right even while it’s developing? The major point about China is that on a per-capita basis, they are far below Canada and the U.S. So for us to excuse ourselves from reducing our emissions simply because China has surpassed the U.S. for the largest polluter is ludicrous.
I can say from my experience in China, the average person in China is doing a lot more to reduce their carbon footprint than most people I’ve seen in Canada. They walk, they bike, they motorcycle, they hang up their clothes; they take buses. I’m not trying to say that everyone in China is a bunch of environmentalists; many of them do these things because of financial constraints, but they are in the habit of doing these things so it will be easier for them to continue doing it. They also have no choice because there isn’t enough room on the road for everyone to own a car, so they will continue to bike, walk, and take public transit even as it becomes a developed and rich nation. A big problem is that we Canadians and Americans are so used to what I will call “freedom and laziness”, that it is very difficult for people to change their routines.
Suzuki points out that people often put the economy before the environment, that it’s somehow more important for a big oil company to maintain its profits than it is to sustain our earth. This actually sounds like an article I wrote in 2005 entitled “Economy over environment“. Suzuki’s solution is to include the “environmental cost” when calculating any sort of economic decision. He points out that the GDP doesn’t allow any subtraction, so governments and corporations being motivated by profit and GDP is depleting the very resources that helped these corporations make money in the first place.
When I took MacroEconomics 101 last year, I felt exactly how Suzuki felt. The professor explained that Economics is “a study of the efficient use of scarce resources to produce goods and services with maximum satisfaction and how the society distributes these goods and services among its members”. The definition itself, as Suzuki points out has a fundamental flaw. It doesn’t account for the longer-term effects that our actions have on the earth. To simplify the definition, it talks only about “making a profit by utilizing scarce resources in the most efficient way”. In all measures of one’s economy, there is no indication as to the effect that a country’s actions have had on the earth itself, it only measures how much it has produced.
Last but not least, Suzuki had stated that we are at a very exciting time right now. He feels that people are really starting to take the issues seriously, and he feels that now is the time for us to make drastic changes to our lifestyle in order to avoid the inevitable. I urge you to join the David Suzuki nature challenge, where you will find a list of priority actions for Canadian Households that will help reduce the environmental impact of the average Canadian household:
- Find ways to reduce your home heating & electricity use by 10% this year.
- Replace chemical pesticides on your lawn, garden, & houseplants with non-toxic alternatives
- Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances. Check to see if homes meet R-2000 standards and appliances are Energy Star approved.
- Choose at least one day a week to eat meat-free meals in your household
- Prepare your meals with food from local farmers and producers for one month this year
- Check the Canadian Government’s Auto Smart ratings for the next car you intend to buy to make sure it’s fuel-efficient and low polluting
- Walk, bike, carpool, or use transit to get to one of your regular destinations each week.
- If you are moving, choose a home within a 30-minute bike, walk, or transit ride from your daily destinations
- Support alternatives to the car. Contact your local media or government, urging improved public transit and bike paths.
- Learn more about conserving nature and share what you’ve learned with family & friends
Also, Suzuki points out that the airline industry contributes significantly to the problem, so if you have to fly, here are some tips:
- Try to minimize the number of flights you take by combining trips. For example, book more than one meeting in your destination city, so you don’t need to fly there several times.
- Fly during the daytime, because studies have shown that flights taken at night have a greater impact on the climate.
- Fly economy, because more people per plane means fewer emissions per person.
- Pack light, because lighter planes mean less fuel is burned.
- Purchase carbon offsets to account for the emissions from your flight. See our carbon neutral webpage for more information. If the airline or travel agent you are using doesn’t currently offer its customers the option of offsetting their flights, ask them to consider it.
I’ve been on board the environmental boat for several years now, so I’m already doing many of the items in the above lists. So I figure the best thing I can do to help is to help educate and make people aware that each one of us has a direct impact on the earth, and then to encourage everyone to do their part in reducing that impact (Hence this long-winded article). Happy conservation and moderation!