“Keep their feet to the fire”: Dr. David Suzuki on climate change and the government

Dr. Suzuki speaks to The Argus before his Thunder Bay town hall on climate change

By: Leah Ching, Editor-in-Chief

David Suzuki interview by Olivia Levesque.

Photo by: Olivia Levesque, Arts and Culture Editor. 

Together with The Blue Dot Movement, world-renowned Canadian environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki is travelling across the province to champion the rights of Canadians to a healthy environment. The national grassroots campaign advances the legal protection of all persons’ rights to live in a healthy environment.

Clean air, clean water, safe food, a stable climate, and a say in decisions that affect citizens’ health and wellbeing – these are the rights The Blue Dot Movement sees essential to legally protect. The movement advocates toward Charter recognition of every person’s right to live in a healthy environment with safe air, water, and food.

Dr. Suzuki and his colleagues are encouraging people to take part in the Environmental Bill of Rights Review period that has just opened up by submitting comments and suggestions to the Ontario government.

On Friday 23rd September, Dr. David Suzuki and The Blue Dot Movement stopped in Thunder Bay to host a town hall on the future of Environmental rights in Ontario. The event took place at Waverly Public Library. Before the town hall, Suzuki sat down with The Argus to answer some questions about the movement, and about how students can get involved.

Q: The government seems to think that there needs to be a trade-off between prioritizing the economy, and prioritizing the environment. Lots of youth constituents are disappointed by the government’s failure to set more ambitious targets in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

For all the frustrated students, do you think it’s useful that we continue to work within the existing political framework to advocate and lobby for change?

A: Well, I think that one can work in a number of ways. Being outside, yelling and screaming, is one way to do it. The reality is that the Harper government was a really bad time for all of us. Nothing got done, and anyone really would have been an improvement. So, Justin [Trudeau] came in and so far, he has said a lot of the right things.

The first thing he did was to ensure gender equity in cabinet, and that was huge. We’ve needed that, the perspectives of the different genders. We need a greater vision in seeing what problems are, and women add a very important dimension. So that was a huge step for me.

He went practically from the election to Paris. Harper was the one that pulled us out of the Kyoto target, and Trudeau was the one that voiced support for holding global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather that the two-degree limit that most countries aspire to. That was huge, radical change.

His commitment to 1.5 degrees instead of 2 degrees, his commitment in government to raise Indigenous issues as one of the nation’s highest priorities, all of those things have been fantastic. And now, I think, our job is to keep their feet to the fire.

Great, Justin – you’ve done a good job, you’ve said great things, and we’re behind you. But now –  do it. That’s the hard part. If he’s committed to 1.5 degrees, and I wrote him and said, “Are you serious about the agreement made in Paris?”, and he said yes, then why are we discussing pipelines? If we invest in a pipeline, we have to use it for 25-35 years. We have to be off fossil fuels long before that. Why are we talking about expanding rail service or building new coal terminals, all of that should be off the agenda. Why are we talking about getting the tar sands up again? The tar sands have to be shut down.

So now is when reality sets in. It’s great, he’s shown political vision and leadership, and the hard part is now doing something about it. And unfortunately, right now he’s very reluctant to do that because he’s already thinking about the next election.

So your job, and anyone else’s job who wants to see this government do the right thing, is to keep his feet to the fire. And that means to keep going back and saying, “This is what you promised. You committed Canada to 1.5. You committed Canada to Indigenous peoples. This is your promise, now do it.”

Q: Now that the 120-day review period for the Environmental Bill of Rights is opening, can you tell us a bit about why this is so important? What improvements are needed to take this legislation into the 21st century?

A: So here in the North, I hear people saying, “Is it possible to balance our economic needs with our environmental needs?” And I’m going, “What the hell are you talking about?” If you don’t have air for three minutes, you’re dead. If you have polluted air, you’re sick. So who can say, “Well, we’ve got to balance the environment with the economy.” What do you mean by that? You can’t eat money, but air keeps us alive. And it’s the same with the soil and the water, these things give us life. How can we talk about a balance?

So this is what I believe is needed. The Bill of Rights has got to elevate the things that keep us alive. The things that give us a healthy environment must be our highest priority to protect. That’s what we’ve got to do, then everything else falls out of that. Don’t tell us the economy has to be considered; the economy is a human invention and yet we ask nature to conform. We have to cut down trees faster, we have to make trees grow faster, we have to catch more fish, or genetically engineer fish so they grow bigger in a shorter time. We’re always trying to get nature to meet our economic demands. It’s crazy. The economy is a human construct. We can change that but we can’t change nature.

So that’s the challenge. To get a bill that elevates the things that keep us alive as the highest priority.

Q: What do you think students can do to join the movement, create awareness, and create substantive change within our communities in the North? What can we do to get people on board?

A: Students have a twofold challenge. One is to talk within your peer groups and spread the message about what our highest priority should be. And that’s a challenge. Your generation has grown up being bombarded with commercials. So you know that Coca-Cola is the real thing. You’re taught these messages over and over again. We’re taught that inconsequential human creations like Coke are important. The challenge is that your generation thinks that, “Look, there’s a new iPhone. I need the iPhone 6, then the iPhone 7, then the 8 as soon as it comes out!

You are the new consummate consumer class; you’ve been made into consumers. Yet it is consumption that is destroying the planet. 70% of the United States economy is there to service conspicuous consumption, and has nothing to do with necessities in life. Go into Walmart, for example, how many products do you think are critical to your health and wellbeing? Very few. And that’s what the economy is all about.

The challenge is to get youth to realize what the important things are. Without clean air, you die. On top of educating, you’ve got to be politically active. I think that’s our twofold challenge. Political involvement, and recognition the ways in which we’re living aren’t sustainable.

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