The celebrated science broadcaster and environmental activist says we have to stop elevating the economy and politics over the state of our world
“The amazing thing to me was that for years, people like me would go to Ottawa, begging for a few million dollars for public transit, for insulating houses, for the good things that have to be done. And the reaction was ‘oh well, you know, that’s too much money, we don’t have the money’. Covid hits and suddenly, not tens of millions, not hundreds of millions, we spent over $300bn. Where the hell did that money come from? They just cranked it out. And that’s the response we need on climate.”
“Covid hits and suddenly, not tens of millions, not hundreds of millions, we spent over $300bn. Where the hell did that money come from? They just cranked it out. And that’s the response we need on climate.”
Suzuki’s current push is twofold. At an organisational level, the David Suzuki Foundation, the charity he co-founded in 1991 with his wife, Tara Cullis, is focused on combating the idea that natural gas, and particularly liquified natural gas, is a clean fuel and part of the solution to the climate crisis. It is running a campaign under the banner “stop LNG from fuelling climate chaos”. It applies more broadly, but the foundation is particularly focused on fracking – the process of pumping chemically loaded water underground to break down shale and release gas.
Much like Australia, Canada is in the middle of an argument over the role of gas that often ignores the vast greenhouse gas emissions the industry releases. This discussion only occasionally reflects on the warning two years ago from the head of the International Energy Agency, Fatih Birol – that the world should not be opening new coal plants or oil and gas fields if it is serious about meeting the goals set in the 2015 Paris agreement.
Suzuki, as usual, is to the point. He describes fracking as “the dumbest way I can imagine to get energy. It’s crazy,” he says. “The amount of water that’s being basically removed from use, and the leakage of the methane in these wells is massive.
“We’ve done a calculation that says the carbon footprint of frack gas is worse than the carbon footprint of coal. And yet, it’s being peddled in Canada, as a transition fuel. You know, ‘it’s not as bad as oil and coal, and so we’ve got to go to LNG. But frack gas is not a transition fuel, and so we’ve got to oppose it.”
At a personal level, he continues to push for the Canadian government to declare a climate emergency and follow through on the logical ramifications of that. He is particularly focused on the Canadian environment and climate change minister, Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace director.
“We’ve got the best environment minister we’ve ever had, he was arrested with Greenpeace, he’s been a campaigner for years, and he’s held hostage by politics,” he says.
“He’s got to resign and tell the world why, in the way that [UK international environment journalist] Zac Goldsmith in Britain now has resigned and said, ‘look our government isn’t serious about it’. This is what we need – the ministers to get up and say, ‘look, politics is killing us, we can’t do anything because we’re held hostage by politics’.”
“This is what we need – the ministers to get up and say, ‘look, politics is killing us, we can’t do anything because we’re held hostage by politics’.”
Amid the gloom, Suzuki sees cause to keep fighting. He traces humanity’s plight back to the Renaissance, when he says we lost the idea that we are embedded as a strand of nature dependent on everything around us – plants, animals, air, water, soil and sunlight – and instead placed ourselves at the top of a pyramid with everything else beneath us. He says this idea has only strengthened since the Industrial Revolution, but can be reversed.
“We’ve always tried to justify what we’re doing by saying it’s not going to destroy the economy, so we’re all operating within this pyramid idea. That’s been the fundamental failure, I think, of environmentalists, including me – that we haven’t been able to get across the idea that the systems we’ve developed are themselves limited and responsible for the destruction,” he says. “We’ve got to break out of that, and stop elevating the economy, our politics, our legal systems, as if they come before anything else.”
It is easy for this to sound hopeless. Suzuki cites the scientific consensus that reverberations from what’s already been done will continue for centuries, if not longer, even if emissions stop immediately. He expects the future response will probably include a shift towards self-sufficient local communities, disconnected from the global economy and focused on survival.
He expects the future response will probably include a shift towards self-sufficient local communities, disconnected from the global economy and focused on survival.
But he isn’t interested in hopelessness, and stresses “we don’t know enough to say it’s too late”.
All action now makes a difference.
“I say despair is a luxury we can’t afford any longer,” he says when asked how he remains positive. “If you care at all about your children or grandchildren, then it seems to me you have no choice but to try. My hope is that trying shows that we believe there is a different possibility – that we can make a difference.
trying shows that we believe there is a different possibility – that we can make a difference
“But hope without action – if we say, ‘well, shit, there’s nothing I can do, but something will happen’ – that’s giving up. We can’t afford to do that.”
David Suzuki is in conversation with Natasha Mitchell via video link at Melbourne Museum on 19 August. See details here