Beyond Climate: An interview with David Suzuki, filmmaker Ian Mauro

Scene from the film Beyond Climate

This Friday, renowned Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki joins filmmaker Ian Mauro at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto for the world premiere of Beyond Climate. The film lays bear the devastating impacts of forest fires, crop failures, pine beetle infestations and ocean acidification in communities in British Columbia, an area described as Canada’s “sentinel province” for climate change.

The documentary film is part of the 2018 Planet in Focus Film Festival, running from October 25 to 28. Beyond Climate explores the impacts of climate change in areas of B.C. like Haida Gwaii, Whistler Blackcomb and the Okanagan Valley, and the wide-ranging hardships the changes due to climate are having on all aspects of daily life for people, living and working in a region known for its rich ecosystems and biological diversity.

Earlier this month, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report calling to limit global warming to 1.5°C on climate change. The report revealed that greater than 99 per cent of coral would be lost with 2°C as opposed to an anticipated 70-90 per cent with global warming of 1.5°C. Similarly, the IPCC warned that a failure to maintain a 1.5°C limit could increase the likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer from once per century to once per decade.

For many people, the report’s prognoses -- a choice between 70-90-per-cent coral loss or complete loss -- have come as a stark reminder of the urgency of our situation. For Mauro, the reports findings are consistent with what he and Suzuki have seen in British Columbia.

“One of the things that David and I agreed upon very early is that B.C. is a sentinel province for climate change. It is really showing us what kind of future is going to unfold across Canada and across the world.”

“The film shows what’s happened with a degree of warming since industrialization. With one degree of warming, where we’re at right now, we’re already seeing the visual impacts across the landscape, lived impacts across the landscapes, the economic impacts.”

Suzuki expands upon Mauro’s comments noting that IPCC reports are vetted by several oil-producing governments. As such, the actual window for reducing emissions is likely much narrower that IPCC timelines suggest.

“What you find throughout the entire history of the IPCC reports is that they have always been very, very conservative. They’re predictions of what’s going to happening in the next five years have always -- always -- fallen short of the reality.” 

He added, “I was struck by the fact that even though we have this document vetted by Saudi Arabia and other countries, the reality is that they have now set a very short timeframe. David Schindler, one of the leading scientists in Canada, says this report is already three years behind what the data are telling us.”

Despite the magnitude and urgency of climate change, Canada continues to stray from its emissions targets, routinely seeking to expand oil and gas production. Canada has the second-worst mining record in the world, according to a 2017 UN report and, in Ontario, under the newly-elected Progressive Conservative government, cap-and-trade emissions controls have been repealed.

For Suzuki, this kind of decision-making reflects the fact that governments and people still treat the environment as a special issue that is secondary to the economy, rather than the defining issue.

“When I hear (Environment Minister Catherine) McKenna say ‘Well, oh yeah, we’re doing our best. We’re doing this and that,’ while justifying the investment of billions of dollars in a new pipeline, which is going to have to stay busy for another 30 or 40 years to recoup that money, when I see Canada’s investment in a $40-billion liquefied fracked gas plant, you can’t say that we’re serious about meeting the Paris target. I think that before the next election we’ve got to make a massive movement to get our elected representatives to get what we need done.”

This is short-sighted thinking that, according to Suzuki, requires the public to put pressure on their elected officials.

When asked directly about Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Suzuki said “the fact of Doug Ford’s election is staggering to me, but shows that we aren’t focused on the really important issues --and that’s what we’ve got to do. Then, I believe that the Doug Fords will either have to come in and say ‘You’re right, this is the highest priority,’ or they’re not going to get elected, period.”

At a time when many are still reeling from the IPCC report, Mauro and Suzuki have issued an important call to action through a beautiful film that is sobering in its urgency and yet cautiously hopeful.

“I have three kids and I do not want to make disaster movies,” Mauro said, adding “I don’t want to paint my kids or anybody else’s kids into a corner, saying ‘We don’t have a chance. We don’t have hope.’ Beyond Climate asks the questions: ‘How do we get beyond climate? How do we actually respond to this in a way that doesn’t ball-and-chain us to a damned future?’”

For information on the Planet in Focus Film Festival, running October 25-28 in Toronto, visit planetinfocus.org

Phillip Dwight Morgan is a Toronto-based journalist and writer. He is the inaugural rabble.ca Jack Layton Journalism Fellow.

Photo: Beyond Climate

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