Gauntlet Q & A: David Suzuki

By Tobias Ma

During a speaking event at last week’s Conservative convention in downtown Calgary, the Gauntlet managed to spot David Suzuki waiting for a book signing. We took the opportunity for a brief but bizarre interview before his speech that ended somewhat heatedly as Suzuki apparently felt cut off throughout.

David Suzuki: Give me a [fist] bump.

The Gauntlet: Okay. Is this thing on? Is now a good time for you?

DS: Why not?

G: You’ll probably be speaking soon, so what do you intend to talk about tonight?

DS: You want me to give my talk now? Huh? You’re too lazy?

[Nervous laughter]

G: We just want an idea of what you’re talking about so our questions don’t . . .

DS: Well, I think the challenge is for people your age. What is or is not done in the next few years is going to determine your entire futures. So you’ve got a huge stake in what’s going on.

DS: What I’m suggesting is that elders, our group of people who have lived an entire lifetime but are now not encumbered by working for power or money or fame, they’re free now to tell the truth. So if you can get elders to share what they have learned over a lifetime, and you know goddamned well it’s not about money, then elders should be sharing what they’ve learned with young people to empower them.

Elders don’t have a vested interest anymore in the status quo. They’re retired. Youth have not invested in that status quo, you’re still free to see . . . the trouble is that once you get a job and buy a house, you get very locked in and it’s difficult to think about change.

G: So how would you suggest young people try to avoid this culture of consumption? What are some unusual ways you can think of for young people to reduce their footprint?

DS: There are lots of things like that, like getting outside for Christ’s sake. The average child in Canada spends eight minutes a day outside and over six hours a day in front of a television, computer or iPhone screen. Get the hell outside! You’re not going to fight to protect something if you don’t love it. You’ve got to love nature. That’s the biggest thing.

But I think that we have an economy that is based on consumption. After 9/11, George W. Bush’s first speech he made to the American people was, “I want you to go out and shop.” That wasn’t a joke. Seventy per cent of the American economy depends on consumption.

So you ask, ‘What do we do?’ There are lots of ways you can reduce your footprint. But we’re fundamentally caught up in a system that is built around destroying the planet. So we have to change that system.

G: The question that always comes up then is, of course you can’t just create some utopian system from scratch, but what should we be doing then? What are the alternatives you see?

DS: I’ve got a lot of things to say about that, but I’m not an economist, right? I think that the creed of the cancer cell is growth forever and the result of that is death. Economists are the only group I know of that really think that humans can have a system that can grow forever. And it’s the same creed. So, how can you have an economic system built on utilizing the finite resources of the biosphere, that thinks it can grow forever? That’s crazy. It’s suicidal.

So that’s the first thing you’ve got to think of, but then the problem is that the things that really count, that matter most, like trees taking carbon from the atmosphere, putting oxygen back in, services that nature performs, called externalities, they’re not in the economy. They’re not in the equation. You’ve got a system based on human productivity and innovation that doesn’t account for what nature does to keep the planet healthy and alive. So you ask what kids can do? Change this economic system. It’s crazy.

G: Do you believe we’re already over the cliff though?

DS: I don’t think anyone can say that because we don’t know enough. A lot of my colleagues are saying it’s too late, but my response is that, first of all, I don’t think there’s any point in saying it’s too late. You’re going to fight to the end anyway, right? Whether it is or not, you’re going to fight, right? I think no one knows enough to say it is too late. You have to have hope.

G: Do you think the government right now is too attached to the energy sector?

DS: The government has tried to demonize environmentalists. We have a government that I believe is guilty of willful blindness. They’re not paying attention to scientists and climate change is going to affect Canada more than any other developed country.

We’re a northern country. We’re already feeling the impact. We have the longest coastline of any country in the world. Think of the activities — agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism — that are climate dependent. We’re going to be hammered by it.

G: I was just talking to Mr. [Ezra] Levant outside who is a big fan of yours, and he mentioned that the government is no longer able to receive donations from big corporations —

DS: The government is no longer able to . . . what?!

G: He said that corporate donations are no longer allowed. He used that as evidence to suggest that there is no influence from the energy sector upon government.

DS: What is he talking about?! We just took in $16 billion from a Chinese oil company. Do you not think that affects government?

G: They’ll make it back in taxes, then?

DS: We’re going out and begging for money from other countries. What? Are we so poor that we can’t invest in ourselves? Once you get a loan or a gift from another country, does he have any hope that we will be independent of the influence of that? Tell him to go take a jump! It’s ridiculous.

G: I take it you’re not a fan of the recent European Union free trade agreement?

DS: No, I’m not a fan of free trade. This is what John Maynard Keynes said years ago. There’s a lot of things that should be kept international like sports, music, art, but for heaven’s sake keep your economy domestic.

I’ve got a lineup of people.

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