David Suzuki: No Sacrifice Needed
Pushing the Limits Interview with David Suzuki.
A sustainable world requires an attitude shift away from consumerism but without sacrificing quality of life. David Takayoshi Suzuki is to the Canadian environment what Wayne Gretzky is to hockey—when he was a player, not an owner. Suzuki has authored more than 30 books and is the long-time host of the CBC programme, The Nature of Things. At nearly 70 years old, Suzuki reportedly sports six-pack abs and is full of an inherited spirit he describes as “cantankerous, opinionated and narrow-minded.” Late this past year, Corporate Knights caught up with Dr. Suzuki at the CBC studios in Toronto.
What have been the greatest successes of the environmental movement during the past 50 years?
I guess the biggest thing was getting the environment on the political agenda. For me it began with [ecologist] Rachel Carson’s publication of Silent Spring in 1962. Before that time, there wasn’t a single minister of the environment—the environment was not an issue that anyone understood. Carson sounded the first alarm that our “great progress” had a cost, which really started the whole environmental movement.
In terms of what was done, the Montreal Protocol in ’89 [year it came into effect] was significant. There was a clear cause and effect shown between CFCs and ozone depletion, and at the same time there were clear alternatives to the cause of the problem. The ozone accord was really quite an achievement, and there are a lot of small battles that have been won too. We stopped clear-cut logging in Canada; we won the battle against logging in Haida Gwaii and the Queen Charlotte Islands.
But in terms of the overall direction we are going, we are losing big time. The image I use is that it is like we are in a giant car going 100 kilometres an hour at a brick wall and we are arguing over who wants to drive. Someone has got to put the brakes on and turn the wheel. There are little successes here and there, but basically we are driving toward a brick wall.
Do you feel capitalism in its current form will be sustainable over the long-term?
In 1990 the World Watch Institute said the 1990s would be the turnaround decade—they said if we didn’t turn things around in the 1990s we’d be toast. So I got swept up with this idea. Well, the decade came and went. I think it is dangerous to use actual time limits because nobody knows. We’ve already hit limits! We’re going beyond the limits now, and the way we are doing it is by the illusion that everything is fine. We’re logging forests and damming rivers and polluting the air, water and soil as if this is all fine, as if the environment can absorb it and this is sustainable. Well, it is absolutely not.
You only have to go to Newfoundland now to see what happens when you hit limits. In 1992 John Crosbie, the Minister for Fisheries and Oceans, declared a moratorium on northern cod fishing. It was supposed to be a two-year moratorium. That moratorium came long after it should have been imposed, and fishermen knew the fish were gone. Here we are 14 years later with every indication that the fish are in worse shape now than they were in 1992. So as far as I am concerned the province of Newfoundland hit the wall decades ago, and it is not going to come back. All over the world we are doing this and we think everything is fine, but the reality is that you cannot use up your biological capital and not ultimately have a downfall. We have the illusion that things can carry on, but we have already passed the limits.