Students and community members gathered on Monday to hear environmentalist David Suzuki and economist Jeff Rubin deliver a clear message: human beings have come to the end of an era of unprecedented growth.
The sold-out event, which took place at Pollack Hall, was part of a multi-city lecture tour launched on September 23 at Toronto’s Word on the Street literacy festival for Rubin’s new book, The End of Growth.
The lecture, which was moderated by CTV news anchor Tarah Schwartz, opened with a standing ovation as Suzuki and Rubin walked on stage.
Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation and long-time academic, science broadcaster, and environmental activist, told the crowd that he was very happy to finally be sharing the stage with an economist who was bridging the two generally conflicting fields of environment and economics.
“Environmentalists have been told that they don’t know economics,” Suzuki explained. “And it’s true, environmentalists don’t know economics – we just use common sense. But when economists started warning about the end of growth, I knew I wanted to be part of this.”
Rubin, who served as chief economist at CIBC World Markets for over twenty years, opened the talk by explaining the importance of the two critical fuels that drive our economy: oil and coal.
“We attribute the last thirty to forty years of economic growth to our own brilliance,” said Rubin, “when really it has been because of cheap fuel – of which we are out.”
“We can no longer afford the oil that is coming out of the ground. What we’re talking about is not just another recession, it is not twenty to thirty years from now. Our rendezvous with triple-digit oil prices is now.”
“I think from the environmental standpoint I’m bringing some very good news,” Rubin said. “I think we’re talking about a major deceleration in economic growth. Those triple-digit oil prices are going to lead to very green places even if we don’t want to go there.”
During Suzuki’s speech, he explained that we have prized human constructs – such as capitalism and the economy – above the very world in which we live.
“This is the moment for all of us to ask, what is the economy for? Are there no limits to the economy? Are we happier with all of this stuff? We have to ask these questions because I think we stand at an absolutely catastrophic point in our relationship with the biosphere.”
According to Suzuki, human beings have become a force like no other the planet has ever seen.
“No other species has ever done what we are doing now,” he said. “We are now a geological force, altering the world physically, chemically, and biologically. We have lost our understanding of our place on the planet.”
“We are like any other animal on the planet,” Suzuki continued, “in that our most fundamental needs are water, air, and the earth. These are our most vital needs as humans, but what have we done? We have elevated a human construct above the very world in which we live. Let’s go back to the real world we live in.”
When Schwartz asked Suzuki about the most important thing Canadians can do right now for the future, Suzuki immediately responded that we have to “take back democracy and show our leaders what really matters to us.”