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David Suzuki

David Suzuki's picture
Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author, and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. He is Companion to the Order of Canada and a recipient of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for science, the United Nations Environment Program medal, the 2009 Right Livelihood Award, and Global 500. Dr. Suzuki is Professor Emeritus at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver and holds 26 honorary degrees from universities around the world. He is familiar to television audiences as host of the long-running CBC television program The Nature of Things, and to radio audiences as the original host of CBC Radio's Quirks and Quarks, as well as the acclaimed series It's a Matter of Survival and From Naked Ape to Superspecies. His written work includes more than 52 books, 19 of them for children. Dr. Suzuki lives with his wife, Dr. Tara Cullis, and family in Vancouver, B.C.

The fundamental failure of environmentalism

| May 2, 2012

Environmentalism has failed. Over the past 50 years, environmentalists have succeeded in raising awareness, changing logging practices, stopping mega-dams and offshore drilling, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But we were so focused on battling opponents and seeking public support that we failed to realize these battles reflect fundamentally different ways of seeing our place in the world. And it is our deep underlying worldview that determines the way we treat our surroundings.

We have not, as a species, come to grips with the explosive events that have changed our relationship with the planet. For most of human existence, we lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers whose impact on nature could be absorbed by the resilience of the biosphere. Even after the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago, farming continued to dominate our lives. We cared for nature. People who live close to the land understand that seasons, climate, weather, pollinating insects, and plants are critical to our well-being. 

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the environmental movement. In 1962, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, which documented the terrible, unanticipated consequences of what had, until then, been considered one of science's great inventions, DDT. Paul Mueller, who demonstrated the effects of the pesticide, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1948. In the economic boom after the Second World War, technology held out the promise of unending innovation, progress, and prosperity. Rachel Carson pointed out that technology has costs. 

Carson's book appeared when no government had an environment department or ministry. Millions around the world were soon swept up in what we now recognize as the environmental movement. Within 10 years, the United Nations Environment Programme was created and the first global environmental conference was held in Stockholm, Sweden.

With increasing catastrophes like oil and chemical spills and nuclear accidents, as well as issues such as species extinction, ozone depletion, deforestation, acid rain, and global warming, environmentalists pressed for laws to protect air, water, farmland, and endangered species. Millions of hectares of land were protected as parks and reserves around the world. 

Thirty years later, in 1992, the largest gathering of heads of state in history met at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The event was meant to signal that economic activity could not proceed without considering ecological consequences. But, aided by recessions, popped financial bubbles, and tens of millions of dollars from corporations and wealthy neoconservatives to support a cacophony of denial from right-wing pundits and think tanks, environmental protection came to be portrayed as an impediment to economic expansion. 

This emphasis of economy over environment, and indeed, the separation of the two, comes as humanity is undergoing dramatic changes. During the 20th century, our numbers increased fourfold to six billion (now up to seven billion), we moved from rural areas to cities, developed virtually all of the technology we take for granted today, and our consumptive appetite, fed by a global economy, exploded. We have become a new force that is altering the physical, chemical, and biological properties of the planet on a geological scale. 

In creating dedicated departments, we made the environment another special interest, like education, health, and agriculture. The environment subsumes every aspect of our activities, but we failed to make the point that our lives, health, and livelihoods absolutely depend on the biosphere -- air, water, soil, sunlight, and biodiversity. Without them, we sicken and die. This perspective is reflected in spiritual practices that understand that everything is interconnected, as well as traditional societies that revere "Mother Earth" as the source of all that matters in life. 

When we believe the entire world is filled with unlimited "resources" provided for our use, we act accordingly. This "anthropocentric" view envisions the world revolving around us. So we create departments of forests, fisheries and oceans, and environment whose ministers are less concerned with the health and well-being of forests, fish, oceans, or the environment than with resources and the economies that depend on them. 

It's almost a cliché to refer to a "paradigm shift," but that is what we need to meet the challenge of the environmental crisis our species has created. That means adopting a "biocentric" view that recognizes we are part of and dependent on the web of life that keeps the planet habitable for a demanding animal like us.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.



thanks to Ray Clark for a posting bit of our Neil ... Leonard and his "I've seen the future brother, it is murder," is more like it.

Is Suzuki finally having a political epiphany after all these years?

One can only hope.

P.S.   And isn't it interesting that instead of GNP or the newer GDP, the real "practical" measure of the national economy is in the number of housing starts.

I mean, How perverse do industry, governments and religions become?

...I guess it is more subtle than napalm and nuclear weapons

and a longer, better ride for those with greased palms.


Calgary: 450,000 when I was in high school in '71-72.

Over 1.2 million today.


"Don't Let It Bring You Down" - Neil Young, solo 1971


"Here! Here! David," right on!


Of my own short version (as a hopeful contribution);


"Personal and Corporate greed, growth and wealth. Our education system, world wide, preaching the necessity for growth. 'There is no stagnation without regression,' and then the fallacy that the only real growth is in numbers. Corporate religion, corporate governments, corporate industry; numbers of people and numbers of 'dollars.'

'Dollars' (monetary units) being the medium, theoretically representing production and productivity.

As a six, seven and eight year old listening to my older siblings talking high school current affairs at the diner table in the very early 60's, I can remember - at the height of the Cold War - The UN warning that the worlds greatest future threat was over population. That the consumption of natural resources and the pollution of our global environment were just symptoms - not the problem.

Contrary to the modern smear campaign, President John F. Kennedy inspired not only a nation but the world. Not only for civil rights and world peace but for a unified goal; that being the pursuit of science, education and the betterment of the species. Space exploration was the banner, the new symbolic endeavor for all of human growth.

At that time the UN and JFK instilled such great global optimism for our own problem solving, yet since October 1963 - in spite of all our technical advancements - I think the human species has been in regression.

I agree, a new philosophy needs to evolve, or re-evolve.

Attitudes and focus have to change."


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