A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have a 30-minute interview with the incredible David Suzuki for my job as Editor of WHERE Edmonton Magazine. If you are not familiar with him, Suzuki is a Canadian environmentalist, activist, public speaker, writer (he has written more than 50 books!), and teacher.
He is known for hosting the popular television show The Nature of Things, and most recently, for his outspoken remarks against climate change and environmental policies of the Canadian government.
Our interview revolved mostly around his new book Letters To My Grandchildren, and what comes next for the 79-year-old, but we did manage to chat a little bit about some of his environmental concerns as well.
Check out the interview about his book and future plans here, and see some of our environmental-themed conversation below.
The Anthrotorian (A): One thing that you are well known for is your, sometimes controversial, environmental work. At this point, what do you think the biggest threat to the environment is?
David Suzuki (DS): People always ask me, "is it deforestation, is it species extinction, is it the ocean destruction, the ozone layer, or climate change..." I believe that the real challenge or threat is the human mind. I don't think we have any lack of solutions to the various problems we face, but so long as the human mind clings to it's beliefs and values, that is what is limiting us. For example, you have Stephen Harper — who has been the Prime Minister of Canada for 10 years — and has said that we are not going to do anything about reducing greenhouse gas emissions because it will destroy the economy. So, he has elevated the economy above the very atmosphere that keeps us alive. That is really puzzling to me... You see, we create these ideas about the economy, capitalism, corporations or human borders, the market and currency, and we act like these are the most important things in the world — that come before clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy, and other species. That is absolutely crazy!
What I say is this: you can't go for three minutes without air or you die. Think about that. We walk such a fine line. Three minutes without air and we're dead?! If you have to breathe polluted air all the time, you're sick. So surely everyone in the world would have to agree that clean air has got to be our highest priority. Without that, you are either dead or sick. How then can you use air as a garbage can?
Let's get things straight here — yes, the economy is important, but we MADE the economy. Air is something that we DID NOT MAKE, and without it we are dead. So surely whatever we do economically shouldn't infringe on the air we breathe... We need to recognize that we are biological creatures — we are animals — that need clean air, clean water, clean food, and clean energy, or we're dead. Those things have to be protected above EVERYTHING else.
A: Do you see the younger generation approaching this problem differently?
DS: Well, young people are certainly seeing that their future is at risk. That's why you have groups like Youth For Climate Justice. You see, whatever does or does not happen over the next few years will have little effect on old guys like me... but you guys, you young ones, are going to have to live with it for the rest of your lives. You have everything at stake.
[A big concern I have is that] young people are generally not voting — not because of a lack of interest, but because they do not see the issues that they care about being talked about. Prime Minister Harper was recently in the Arctic and didn't mention one thing about climate change, even though it is extremely obvious up there. He also just introduced a new budget, and there was no mention of funding for climate change. Young people see that politicians aren't paying attention to their issues, so they are going about trying to solve these problems a different way.
But, I call on young people to start raising these issues in the political sphere and their parents and grandparents have to do the same on their behalf — making the concern for our children part of the political agenda. Right now it isn't.
A: When it comes to the climate change issue, what is our biggest hope at this point?
DS: Well, obviously people have to change the way they live and there is a great deal of stuff going on at the grass roots level. For example, the City of Vancouver has committed to going fossil fuel free by, I think, the year 2020 — they are going to be the greenest city in the world! There is a lot of amazing things happening at the municipal level, but, we need the top level leadership to commit to getting off fossil fuels.
NOTE: The views expressed by David Suzuki are his own and are not necessarily the views of The Anthrotorian.