News | David Suzuki speaks to McGill

Renowned environmental activist delivers “legacy lecture”

Celebrated Canadian scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki visited McGill’s Pollack Hall Tuesday night to discuss two futures: humanity’s and the planet’s.

Part way into a presentation about the necessity of saving an ailing planet, the 74 year-old Suzuki departed from his scripted presentation to lambast Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s environmental policies.

He condemned Harper for “saying that doing something about climate change will ruin the economy.”

Suzuki pointed to the example of Sweden, which imposed a substantial domestic carbon tax in the 1990s, and has since grown its economy by 44 per cent while far surpassing the environmental targets set by the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. He went on to remark of Harper, “How dare a leader of this country tell you a lie without even examining what the hell he is saying.”

Suzuki appeared on behalf of the David Suzuki Foundation, in promotion of his recently published book, The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision For Our Sustainable Future. The ten dollar tickets to the event sold out a week in advance.

Billing himself as a speaker “without any hidden agenda,” Suzuki told the audience he wanted to give a final, personal message to younger generations. Noting his age, he joked that he had entered “the death zone.” But he also stressed that it was the responsibility of society’s elders “to sift through our experiences in a lifetime–our observations and thoughts–to distill a legacy…that will be something worth passing on.”

Speaking for well over an hour, Suzuki returned repeatedly to the theme of “legacy,” urging his audience to consider the impact of current Western lifestyles on the lives of future generations.

After an introduction by way of the trailer for the upcoming film Force Of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie, the iconic environmentalist and educator walked on stage to enthusiastic applause.

Suzuki outlined several ways that humanity is putting a dent in the planet, such as overpopulation, an economy flawed in its evaluation of natural resources – a forest, he argued, provides valuable ecological services that standard economic models do not account for – and harmful technologies of industries driven by profit.

“When you add these things together – our numbers, our technological muscle power, our consumptive appetite in the global economy – that means that we have become a force that has never before existed in the 3.9 billion years of life on Earth,” he said. “We have become a force of nature.”

A biologist and geneticist by training, Suzuki appealed to empirical research: “We are now altering the chemical, physical, and biological properties of the planet” on an unprecedented scale, he said.

Suzuki also emphasized the shared etymology of the words “economy” and “ecology.”

“‘Oikos’,” he said, “is the Greek word for ‘household’ or ‘domain.’ Ecology is the study of home. Economics is the management of home.”

The problem, he continued, is that our society elevates the latter above the former, which results in unsustainable lifestyles. Moreover, he argued, an economy is an artificial structure, whereas an ecology is not. “Let’s put the ‘eco’ back in ‘economics,’” Suzuki said.

Suzuki also urged the audience to reassess the consumerist values of the West.

“What’s an economy for?” he asked. “Are there no limits? How much is enough? Am I happier with all this stuff?”

City living, he continued, has “cut us off from the world that keeps us alive.” Suzuki pointed to the mass urbanization of Canada – 85 per cent of Canadians now live in cities – and the world in general as a major factor in what he sees as humanity’s disregard for nature.

“If we don’t go outside, how can we fall in love with nature? And if we don’t love nature, how can we ever worry about what’s happening to it?”