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Why we can’t lose hope: Dr. David Suzuki speaks out

  • Suzuki on hope: “I can certainly see that people in the environmental movement are being disheartened… [but] we’ve all got to do our little bit… Actually doing something invigorates you.”
  • On politics: “In many ways, the election of Trump was dismaying, but it has galvanized Americans to oppose him and to get on with reducing carbon emissions.”
  • The big problem: “[T]he values and beliefs we cling to are driving our destructive path… You can’t change the rules of Nature. Our chemistry and biology dictate the way we have to live.”
  • The solutions: “We need to enshrine environmental protection in our Constitution… [A]s consumers, we’ve got a big role to play, [and] we’ve also got to be… much more active in the political process.”
Dr. David Suzuki: “We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit… We must reinvent a future free of blinders so that we can choose from real options.” Photo courtesy of David Suzuki

To many who grew up with the environmental movement, Dr. David Suzuki is a legend. He has always been there — a guiding light. A pragmatic scientist, he has never sugar coated the difficult truths regarding carrying capacity, tipping points, climate change, over-consumption, population, and pollution. But he has also never been a doomsayer.

Suzuki, a Canadian geneticist and biologist, has always been about solutions, both societal and individual. And though he became an icon of television, radio, the lecture circuit, and the Internet, and has written more than fifty books, he isn’t just a talker. As co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation he seems to be everywhere: meeting with First Nation leaders, surrounded by children or by performers like Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot as he promotes the Blue Dot Movement and seeks to enshrine the right to a protected environment in the Canadian Constitution.

Dr. Suzuki is over 80 years old now, but shows no sign of slowing his advocacy for the Earth or his zest for life. If anything, he has become more frank, more outspoken, in the face of the world’s deepening environmental crisis. Recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology, Suzuki is the recipient of UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for Science, and the United Nations Environment Program Medal, and in 2009 won the Right Livelihood Award — considered the Alternative Nobel Prize.

In this exclusive Mongabay interview, Dr. Suzuki speaks his mind, clearly defines the big problems we face, offers up the big solutions we urgently need to pursue, and tells us why we must have hope.

David Suzuki arrives by canoe at Porteau Cove, British Columbia, November 2014 to celebrate an environmental victory. Photo by Lisa Wilcox, Squamish Nation


Glenn Scherer for Mongabay: You’ve seen a lot of ecological damage in your 80+ years on the planet, what can you say to those who are losing heart?

David Suzuki: Yes, I think it’s a very depressing time; especially when you look at the record of our coming to see that there are problems decades ago, and our inaction. It was in 1988 that environmental issues had really risen to the top. I remind you, there was an election in 1988, and a candidate said “if you vote for me, I will be an environmental president.” Do you know who that was?

Mongabay: I don’t.

David Suzuki: It was George H.W. Bush. There wasn’t a green bone in his body, but he said it because Americans had put the environment at the top of its agenda. And Margaret Thatcher, in 1988, was filmed picking up litter in London, and she turned to the camera and said: “I’m a greenie, too!” The environment had reached great heights in the late 80’s, but then there came a slight recession and immediately, whenever it’s a matter of the economy and the environment, the environment loses every time. So the environment “protectors” disappeared, and we saw the right wing think tanks, and people like the Koch brothers, begin to pour tens of millions of dollars into a campaign of disinformation. So the result is that while Americans, in 1988, were very concerned about the environment, today the concern about the environment is much less.

The denial of climate change, for example, is still a significant part of North American society. So I can certainly see that people in the environmental movement are being disheartened, because we’re going in a very depressing direction.

My answer to that is twofold: one is: you have no choice! What is the alternative to the situation, do you give up? I think it’s hard to give in to despair, but there are a lot of people who are despairing. The other thing is: we’ve all got to do our little bit, whatever it is. Actually doing something invigorates you, it makes you feel better to be doing something.

So yes, these are discouraging times. I look at the Trump election, for example, with dismay. But at the same time, I lived in the United States for eight years, going to university, and I was really impressed that when Americans get something into their minds that they want to do something, they REALLY do something.

Trump has presented us with a really, really bad situation that will arouse people to rally people against him. If you look at what the mayors, and over 600 cities, in the United States, and others, like Governor Jerry Brown of California, are saying it is: “to hell with Trump, we’re going to go out and do our best to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

So, in many ways, the election of Trump was dismaying, but it has galvanized Americans to oppose him and to get on with reducing carbon emissions.

Suzuki is famous for his lectures, many of which are available on YouTube. Photo by Marie Cressell courtesy of David Suzuki

Mongabay: Relating to the political situation, you endured a lot of anti-environmentalism in Canada with Prime Minister Stephen Harper…

David Suzuki: Nine and a half terrible years.

Mongabay: Considering what we’re facing in the States with Donald Trump, and in places like Brazil with Michel Temer, and in India with Narendra Modi, what can you tell us about what you learned from the Harper experience?

David Suzuki: I think the big lesson for Canadians was that, we had been building a movement, ever since Rachel Carson, in 1962, when her book, Silent Spring came out. That was the galvanizing beginning of the environmental movement. We saw a huge growth in environmentalism then.

When Carson’s book came out, there wasn’t a single department of the environment in any government on the planet; but because of her book and the galvanizing of an environmental movement, we had the laws protecting air, water, soil and endangered species; millions of hectares of land was set aside as parks. It was a very, very powerful and successful movement in the early decades.

But all of that painstaking progress that we made in Canada, such as acid rain agreements with the United States, agreements to protect the Great Lakes, greater energy efficiency; all of that, when Harper was elected, went right out the window. He overturned decades of hard won action and legislation and Trump is doing the same now.

The thing that’s astonishing to me, now, is that the media is focused, primarily, on the Russian connection, which is a very important issue. But meanwhile, Trump is undermining the energy department, NOAA {the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], undermining science, undermining the Environmental Protection Agency. All these things are going on that are being ignored because the media is being overwhelmed with the issue of Russia.

So, terrible things are going on in America that went on in Canada, and it says to me that we need to enshrine environmental protection in our Constitution.

After years of campaigning, David visits the people of the Grassy Narrows and nearby Wabaseemoong (Whitedog) First Nations on the day the Ontario government promised $85 million to clean up the mercury-contaminated Wabigoon River. Photo courtesy of the Suzuki Foundation

For three years now, we’ve had what we call the Blue Dot Movement to raise public concern and to demand that our legislators enshrine the right to a healthy environment in our Constitution. In other words, as a Canadian, we believe it is our right to clean air, clean water, clean soil and biodiversity. Enshrining those rights in the Constitution means that any flyby political party that happens to get in power can’t just toss out those rights, in the way that we’ve seen. We’re putting a lot of focus, right now, on getting that into our government’s legislation, as a right.

The response from the public has been overwhelming. We’ve been traveling across Canada and recruited singers like Bruce Cockburn, Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and Tanya Tgaq, poet Shane Koyczan, and others who have joined us. We’ve got Margaret Atwood, the writer, and the Royal Canadian Ballet composed a piece to dance to.

We’ve made it into a popular movement to support the right to a healthy environment. We have 153 cities and municipalities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, that have now passed local legislation to a right to a healthy environment. We’re taking it, now, to the federal level, and trying to get federal government politicians to support it.

It’s been a very, very exciting thing. We can no longer tolerate the damage that George Bush and Dick Cheney, and Donald Trump and Stephen Harper have done.

Mongabay: What do you see as the most significant environmental challenge humanity must face in the next 10 years?

David Suzuki: People always ask me that, and if it’s not climate change, it’s species extinctions, or it’s the state of the oceans, or the loss of forests, or toxic pollution in our air, water and soil. There are a number of HUGE issues; any one of which can be catastrophic, ARE being catastrophic. But I see the biggest challenge being the values and beliefs we cling to that are driving our destructive path.

So to me, right now, the biggest enemy is capitalism and the concept of corporations that are now driving things. The ten biggest corporations are bigger than the vast majority of countries in the world. When you look at the amount of money they’re pouring into political campaigns in Canada and the United States, you realize that we elect people to run on a “corporate agenda.” Corporations exist for one reason, and one reason only: to make money. It may be that the way they make money is very beneficial or useful to society; but the reality is their driving, sole purpose is to make money.

Right now, it’s clear that it is the commitment to economic growth, and to the economy above everything else, that is destroying the planet.

David on the Blue Dot Tour in Hamilton, Ontario. Photo courtesy of the Suzuki Foundation

We had a Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who said, over and over again “we can’t do anything about global warming! If we start reducing emissions, it will destroy the economy.” And we elevated the economy above the very atmosphere that keeps us alive!

So long as we continue to think we’re so smart — planning our way into the future — and, that if we have a problem, we can solve it with technology; we’re in deep, deep trouble. We haven’t really come to grips with that.

Naomi Klein in her book, This Changes Everything, puts her finger right on the problem; and that is capitalism; the construct that we’ve made. And yet, capitalism, the economy, markets, corporations — these are human creations. You can’t change the rules of Nature. Our chemistry and biology dictate the way we have to live.

Yet — national borders, economies, or concepts like capitalism or communism — it’s crazy to act as if these things come before everything else. We can change those things; we can’t change Nature.

So I think (the greatest challenges facing humanity is this whole attitude that we have, that we’re the dominant species, and it’s our right to go and exploit Nature any way we can; and the belief that we’re so smart that we know how to manage our way into the future.

David taking a break from building his grandsons a tree house, Haida Gwaii, August 2014. Photo courtesy of David Suzuki

Mongabay: So what are the big solutions? What is the alternative to capitalism?

David Suzuki: I tell a story that I believe shows what the challenge is: in Canada we’ve been fighting for years against the tar sands oil operations in Alberta. We believe it’s just far too polluting a source of energy and that it’s got to be shut down.

I got a call, four years ago, from the CEO of one of the largest companies in the Alberta tar sands, and he said “can I come down and talk?” I said “Of course. We’ve been fighting. We can’t afford to fight anymore, because in a fight there are winners and losers, and we can’t afford losers.” I said “I want to work together with everyone to try to find a way to a different path.”

He was at my door the next day, and I told him how thrilled I was, that I was honored, delighted and thanked him for coming. But I said “Before you come in my office, I want you to leave your identity outside the door. I don’t want to know that you’re the CEO of an oil company. I want to meet human being to human being. Because, I said, I’m not interested in talking about oil and energy and all that until you and I agree upon what the fundamental basis is for all of humanity — how we have to live on Earth.”

That, I believe, is the challenge for all of us. We have got to start from a position of agreement. If we’re fighting, then what the Hell, we’re all over the place. We don’t have a groundswell or a foundation of agreement, and that, I believe, is a challenge for us. So give this guy credit, he came in through the door, but very reluctantly.

I said, “Look, I know this is awkward for you. You came to meet me as the CEO of an oil company and I disarmed you on that. Let me tell you what I’m thinking. We live in a world that is shaped by laws of Nature and there’s nothing we can do about it. We have to live within the limits. Physics tells you, you cannot build a rocket that moves faster than the speed of light. The speed of light is a limit set by physics. The law of gravity says that if I trip on the stairs, I’m going to hit my face on the floor. That’s gravity, and there’s nothing you can do about that. First and second law of thermodynamics tells us you cannot build a perpetual motion machine. So physics tells you the kind of world that we live in and we accept that.

Chemistry tells you the same. The atomic properties of the elements dictate the freezing point, the melting point; and dictate the diffusion constants and reaction rates. All of these properties of atoms are dictated and inform us. We know, through the laws of chemistry, what we can or cannot make in a test tube, and we live within those laws. And in biology, it’s the same. Biology dictates that every species has a maximum number where they can be sustained in an ecosystem or habitat. That number is dictated by the carrying capacity of that ecosystem or habitat. Exceed that number and your population will crash.

Humans aren’t confined to an ecosystem or a habitat, but to the Biosphere, the zone of air, water, and land where all life exists. That’s where we live, and there is a maximum carrying capacity in the Biosphere, for human beings. That’s dictated by how many humans there are and by our per capita consumption. And that will tell you whether or not we can maintain our population.

David Suzuki, Canadian Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. Suzuki has been speaking out for the Earth for more decades and is an icon of the environmental movement. Photo courtesy of the Suzuki Foundation

Every scientist that I’ve talked to agrees: we’ve already passed the carrying capacity for our species because of the hyper consumption of Western society and the sheer bulk of numbers in the developing world. That adds up to more than the planet can carry indefinitely. We’re going towards 8 or 10 billion, and as we do that, we maintain the illusion that everything is okay by using up what should be the rightful legacy of future generations.

We’re using it up now. And you know that. Talk to any elder in any area and ask them: “what was it like when you were a kid?” and they’ll describe a world that is completely changed. It’s gone. So carrying capacity is what dictates how many humans can live on the planet and whether it’s sustainable. As well, biology tells us we’re animals. And, as biological beings, I said to this guy, “What do you think is the most important thing that every human being needs?”

Instead of answering directly, like any child would, I could see the thinking; he said “well…” and I realized he’s thinking “money, a job, a business” and I said, “Look, if you don’t have air for three minutes, you’re dead. If you have to breath polluted air, you’re sick.”

So surely, as a human being, you would agree with me. Clean air is the highest need every human being has, and we should be protecting it above anything else. And then I said, you and I, we’re 60 to 70 percent water by weight. The body needs water for our skin and our eyes, and so on. Water, Mr. CEO, if you don’t have water for three to six days, you’re DEAD. If you have to drink polluted water, you’re sick. So clean air, and clean water, should be the highest need of every human being and we should protect them above everything else.

Food is different. We can live for four to six weeks without food, but eventually we die. If you have contaminated food, you sicken. Most of our food comes from the earth, so I said clean food and soil have to be there with clean water and air.

Finally, I said, all of the energy that you and I have in our bodies, that we need to grow and move and reproduce and do work, all of that energy is sunlight captured by photosynthesis. We then convert it into chemical energy and we get it by eating plants or animals that eat the plants and we store the energy in our bodies. When we want to work or move, we burn those molecules and radiate the energy of the sun back out throughout our bodies. Photosynthesis joined with clean soil and food, clean water and clean air: those should be the foundation of every society on Earth. Protect the air, the water, the soil, and photosynthesis.

David being welcomed by the Squamish First Nation, Porteau Cove, British Columbia, November 2014. Photo by Lisa Wilcox, Squamish Nation

The miracle, to me, of life on Earth, is those four elements which Indigenous peoples call Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Those four elements, should be sacred and they are cleansed, replenished, created by the web of living things. It’s all the plants that take carbon dioxide out of the air and put oxygen back into it, for us. It’s all the plants that photosynthesize to capture the sun’s energy. It’s life that creates the soil where we grow our food. It’s life that filters the water so that we can drink it. So biodiversity is as important as Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

I said to him that other things, like the borders that we draw around properties, states, or countries, capitalism, corporations, economies, markets, these are NOT forces of Nature. They are human constructs and they have to be changed in order to fit the demands of the real world — to fit into the forces of Nature.

I said, Mr. CEO, if you will shake hands with me, and agree with what I have just said, I will do everything I can to help you and your company, and I believe that’s what we have to do. What do you think he did?

He couldn’t. He couldn’t shake hands with me, because if he did, and went back to his shareholders and said “I had a discussion with Suzuki and I agreed with him, whatever we do, we can’t mess with the air, water or soil,” he would get fired so fast because that’s not his job. His job is to make money.

Mongabay: Does it come down to a problem with Western Science and it’s compartmentalized, component parts view? Do we need to come back to a more holistic, Indigenous view of the Earth?

David Suzuki: Oh, Absolutely. This is why my wife Tara and I have worked with Indigenous people for over thirty years. They’re the only groups, all around the world, with a track record of living sustainably. They’ve lived in their places for literally thousands of years. When the Europeans came to North America, for example, they looked down at these people as primitive savages. Yet the Europeans didn’t realize that the riches of forest, and fish, and rivers had been used by cultures for thousands of years. Look at what we’ve done, to our forests, our rivers, and our fish in just the last hundred years. You know it’s completely unsustainable.

These are people for whom the land is sacred, who have come to understand that Earth, Air, Fire and Water are the very source of our livelihoods, and our lives, who have developed rituals to give thanks for Nature’s abundance and generosity, who promise in their ceremonies to care for Nature, to ensure Her continued abundance — You’re damn right we’ve got to learn those back! We’ve forgotten that kind of connection very, very recently.

David with Chief Simon Fobister at Grassy Narrows. Photo courtesy of the Suzuki Foundation

Remember, the big revolution that happened to human beings was not the Industrial Revolution, although that was big, it was the Agricultural Revolution ten thousand years ago. With the Agricultural Revolution, people could settle down with a reliable source of food and develop permanent homes, and then alternately, villages, cities, and all of the complexities of modern civilization, were made possible by the Agricultural Revolution. And farmers understand, very well, the importance of weather, climate, of water that comes from the snow in the winter, of pollination from insects, of nitrogen fixation through plants. Farmers understand very well that we are dependant on Nature for our wellbeing.

I believe a really big change happened about a hundred years ago. In 1900, there were one and a half billion people in the world, but only fourteen cities with more than a million people. London was the largest, with six and a half million people. Tokyo was the seventh largest, with one and a half million people. The vast majority of people in the world lived in rural village communities because they were involved in an aspect of agriculture. Shift a hundred years, to 2000. In the year 2000, there were now four times as many people, six BILLION people, with more than four hundred cities with more than a million people. Tokyo was the largest, with 26 million people.

The ten largest cities in the year 2000 all had more than eleven million people. In countries like Canada, the United States, Europe, most people, 80-85 percent of the population, now lived in big cities. In a big city, surrounded by other people, where Nature is not very obvious, your priority becomes your job. You need a job to earn money to buy things you want. The economy, then, to urban people, seems to be the first thing that matters. And we put all our emphasis, then, on the economy. We no longer see the connection between the way we live and the forces of Nature.

Surrounded by hope. Almost half of David’s books are written for children. Photo courtesy of the Suzuki Foundation

Mongabay: Is this why almost half of your books have been directed towards young people?

David Suzuki: Yes, I don’t think we have time for young people to grow up and replace us. We’ve got a very, very narrow window of opportunity to change things, now.

What I’ve found is that when people go through university, and they get out of university and get a job, and they get married and buy a house, and have kids, and then an environmentalist comes along and says “Look, you’ve got to change the way you’re living,” they get pissed off. They’ve invested a lot of effort to get to where they are. They don’t want to change. This has been the biggest challenge. You can talk to people, you can reason with them, but they’ve put a lot of effort to get to where they’re comfortable and they like their lifestyle. It’s very hard to convince them they have to change.

I believe that’s where children come in. Children say “Mum, Dad, I’m worried, what kind of a future are you leaving for me?” Adults, if they really love their children, have no choice but to think hard about what they’re leaving and act on that. That’s the primary reason I’ve written the books for young people. Of course, they have to change the way they look at the world, but they’re the ones who will influence their parents.

All scientific seriousness aside, David becomes one with the water element. Photo courtesy of David Suzuki

Mongabay: What’s the one thing the average person can do, every day, to make an environmental difference?

David Suzuki: Everybody’s looking for the magic bullet. There is no magic bullet. The fact is that the current crisis is one of over-consumption. We’re all just using up the Earth. Everything we buy comes out of the Earth and when we’re finished with it, we throw it back into the Earth.

The absolute epitome of this hyper-consumption and destruction, are blue jeans. Now, people pay hundreds of dollars for brand new blue jeans that already have tears and rips in them. What is that telling us? That we’re so wealthy we can buy a piece of clothing that is clearly just for show, for a fad, that is not going to be reusable or recyclable and going to end up in the garbage.

That is the epitome of what a crazy, destructive society we’re in now. We actually pay money for something that is not durable or passed on. Now, I gather, men can buy blue jeans not only with the rips, but pre-dirtied, with the dirt built into these blue jeans. If this isn’t the height of flaunting our crazy wealth, what is? It just makes me sick to see this crazy fad spreading throughout society today. To me it’s the example. Anyone buying these blue jeans and wearing them clearly is saying “I don’t give a shit about the state of the Earth.”

Mongabay: It’s thoughtless…

David Suzuki: That’s the problem! Everything we do, we’ve got to be thoughtful about it.

If people buy a cotton shirt, how many people think, “Gee, cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops that we grow, is this organic? Where was this cotton grown? What was the affect of the cotton growing on the people growing and harvesting it?”

You’re putting out money to buy a cotton shirt has HUGE repercussions. Same thing for buying a car, a computer, a television set. There’s a lot of metal in these things. Mining is one of our most destructive activities. Where are the metals in these products coming from? What was the impact of the mining on the people that worked there? What about the ecosystems where the mines are dug? We don’t ask any of those questions, because, quite frankly, we don’t care because we’ve been so disconnected we don’t see it.

We think, “Well, I’ve worked hard, I’ve got the money, I can buy it!” Well, your buying it has repercussions that reverberate around the planet.

David lunching on a fishing boat with grandson’s Ganhlaans and Tiisaan, July 2014. Photo courtesy of David Suzuki

My parents got married during the Great Depression, and that was a critical teaching moment in their lives. They taught us, and said over and over, “Live within your means, save some for tomorrow, share, don’t be greedy, work hard for money to buy the necessities in life. Don’t run after money; it won’t make you a better or more important person.” Those are lessons they taught us because of the hardships they experienced in the Depression.

But now, 70 percent of the North American economy is based on consumption. Walmart is the epitome of that consumption demand. Go through a Walmart and ask, “What in this vast array of products do I consider a necessity for me to be able to live at a decent level?” I’d say 95 percent of what you buy in Walmart has nothing to do with the necessities of life. They’re all frills that are there to get you to spend your money.

So yes, it’s true, as consumers, we’ve got a big role to play. So we’ve got to look at the way we’re living.

But the reality is, all of our impact as consumers is nothing compared to the impact of corporations. I believe that in a time, in a country, where we have democracy, we’ve got to be, as individuals, much more active in the political process.

In Canada, something like 62 percent of Canadians go to the polls and vote locally, but at the provincial and municipal level, way fewer than that go and vote. [An estimated 42 percent of eligible voters stayed home in the Trump / Clinton 2016 election.]

So we’re not playing a really important part in telling people that we elect to office to do something about the state of the environment; to bring corporations under control; to stop the destructive practices that these corporations are doing. I believe we need way more democracy, and you only get that when you have a very active and committed civil society.

Suzuki is a big proponent of human powered solutions, including bicycles and democracy.

Mongabay: You say there are no silver bullets, but there are those who believe otherwise. What, for example, do you think about geoengineering?

David Suzuki: Geoengineering is the ultimate expression of the problem we face. We know exactly what the problem with climate change is: the emission of greenhouse gases exceeds the capacity of the biosphere to re-absorb those greenhouse gases, so they’re building up.

We also know what the solution is: we have to “green” the planet so that the best thing Nature developed, namely plants, will remove more carbon dioxide and we’ve got to get off the use of fossil fuels that contribute to that excess. That’s the problem, and the solution.

But we use all kinds of excuses to avoid taking that path to that solution because, they say “it will destroy the economy,” or “it’s impossible to convert from fossil fuels to renewable energy; that’s crazy, we can’t do it!” That’s also what they said about having planes that could fly!

We use the current situation as a justification for not doing anything. Then we say “but we’re so smart, we’ll solve it by geoengineering.”

Geoengineering is based on the same assumption that led us into using DDT as a pesticide, that led us into nuclear energy as a bomb, that led us into CFCs in spray cans.

Each one of these things: nuclear weapons, when they were exploded in Japan, we didn’t know there was such a thing as radioactive fallout. When DDT was used, we didn’t know [the dangers, and instead], we gave a prize to the guy that found out that DDT worked as a pesticide. We didn’t know about bio-magnification up the food chain. When CFCs began to be used in the millions of pounds, we didn’t know that chlorine would break off CFCs and scatter the ozone.

Over and over again, we opt for the apparent benefits of the technology without the humility to realize we don’t know enough to anticipate all of the unexpected consequences. So we’re jumping into artificial intelligence, we’re jumping into genetic engineering, we’re jumping into nanotechnology, and we’re jumping into geoengineering. We are totally ignorant of history if we think these are going to be solutions without costs. So geoengineering is just crazy; it’s crazy to keep pitching more technology when technology has created the greatest problems that we already confront.

David Suzuki speaks on the Blue Dot Tour. Photo courtesy of Desmog Canada

Mongabay: What gives you hope for the future?

David Suzuki: Hope is all I have. And it’s not a Pollyannaish, “oh don’t worry, good things will happen, or they’ve always happened,” or anything like that. I believe that we’re so ignorant we can’t even say “it’s too late.” A lot of my colleagues are saying it’s too late; we’ve passed too many critical tipping points to go back, and all of the signs on the curves are very, very dire.

I use, as an example to support my hope, the most prized species of salmon in the world called Sockeye salmon with the bright red, oily flesh that we love to eat. The largest run of Sockeye salmon in the world is in the Fraser River in British Columbia, where I live. We like to have a run of 20 to 30 million Sockeye in a year. That’s a strong run, even though it’s well below what it used to be before Europeans came, but 20 to 30 million is a lot of fish.

In 2009, just over one million Sockeye came to the Fraser River. I remember, distinctly, looking at my wife and saying “it’s too late, there isn’t enough biomass to get those Sockeye up to the spawning grounds. They’ve had it.” A year later, 2010, we got the biggest run of Sockeye in a hundred years. Nobody knows what the Hell happened. Nature shocked us, and we still have a federal committee trying to find out what the Hell is going on with the Fraser River Sockeye. Nature showed us that, if we can pull back and give her a chance, she will surprise us in many ways.

I believe that that’s the challenge: to give Nature the chance, not impose human technology, and try to manage our way into the future. Give Nature — which has had 3.8 billion years to evolve — give Nature a chance, and my hope is that she will be far more generous than we deserve.

Thanks to the Creating Equilibrium conference for facilitating the connection with Dr. Suzuki.

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David Suzuki and friends on the Sea Shepherd, the research vessel for the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. From left to right, elected Chief Robert (Bob) Chamberlain, David Suzuki, Alex Morton, Chief Ernie Crey, Sea Shepherd Captain Oona Layolle and Pamela Anderson. Photo courtesy of David Suzuki