David Suzuki Comes Out Swinging

Suzuki's starkest message involved the concept of peak oil, the point in time where all of the easily accessible fossil fuels will have been discovered, after which oil supplies will rapidly deplete. The post-peak oil world will see suburbs, commuting, large houses and long distance food transport becoming impossibly expensive.

Published: 04-Feb-2005

To kick off the regional One-Tonne Challenge, David Suzuki started with sharp criticism January 26. He criticized the OTC, suggesting that feel-good voluntary programs only work so well. "We've had 15 years to watch [voluntary compliance] fail. And now this government, if it's serious, had damn well better start getting some legislation in place."

Suzuki reminisced briefly about his last visit in 1972 before musing about environmentalism in a packed SLC Great Hall. His evening lecture filled the Theatre of the Arts as well as three overflow rooms. Afterwards, Suzuki signed books and met with supporters in the Modern Languages lobby. He was sponsored by various groups including WPIRG, Feds, UWSP and the UW Bookstore.

UW did not escape criticism either, "I was shocked when I came here and saw all of the student parking lots. What the hell are students doing in cars?" Suzuki suggested that better options like cycling, walking or public transit should be more convenient than cars on campus.

Suzuki's main theme was that society needs a better connection to the world around it. Interconnectivity means that people are easier to satisfy rather than when they try to buy happiness. "We're all caught up with this idea that I've got to work longer, harder in order to make money to get all this stuff. Nobody's asking, ‘Am I happier because I've got all this stuff?' I think it demands a reassessment of what our core values are."

He acknowledged that adults are very set people, which is what limits change. "The way that we learn to see the world is the way that we will treat it when we grow up." Change starts with teaching children, and "The easiest and most effective way to do that is to get children out into the wilderness. They need to see their genetic connection to the world."

Suzuki said that the environmental movement faces the risk of being pidgeonholed as a narrow movement. He suggested that groups like the Green Party need to broaden their goals to include fighting poverty and world hunger in order to successfully protect the environment. "Someone starving is not going to check the endangered species list before they eat. They've got bigger priorities than the environment. Human rights and social issues are at the centre of the environmental movement."

Suzuki's starkest message involved the concept of peak oil, the point in time where all of the easily accessible fossil fuels will have been discovered, after which oil supplies will rapidly deplete. The post-peak oil world will see suburbs, commuting, large houses and long distance food transport becoming impossibly expensive. "Some experts believed that we had hit peak oil in 2004. Others said, ‘No, you're crazy, we'll hit it in 2006 or 2007.' It's undeniable, it's here. The good news is that there are alternatives. The bad is that we still stick to our ruts and our old ways," said Suzuki. He claimed that Canada could be a fully sustainable country by 2030 provided it followed proper goals immediately. He cited European countries as examples for Canada to follow.

For all the change needed, environmentalists cannot wear themselves out. Suzuki warned, "Environmentalists have got to be lifers but at the same time it has to be sustainable activism. You can't go full-blast and burn out. You need to take time and enjoy what you're protecting."

For his own inspiration, Suzuki shared a favourite mantra, "You can achieve anything you want as long as you don't care who gets credit." Humble and unpretentious, David Suzuki received loud ovations both at the end of the forum in the SLC and after his lecture in ML.

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