Emory Bundy [Bullitt Foundation,
Seattle, Washington]: I'm pleased to be able to introduce David
Suzuki, an eminent Canadian scientist, environmental activist...
Audience member: Turn on the
Emory Bundy: Sorry. Do I have to start
from the beginning?
Audience in chorus: Yes!
Emory Bundy: I'm here to introduce
David Suzuki, who is an eminent Canadian scientist, environmental
activist and media personality. David was born and raised in
Vancouver, except for the years where his family, like other
Canadian-Japanese families, were moved to Ontario during World War
II. He was educated in Amherst College and did his post graduate
work at the University of Chicago and is currently professor of
zoology at University of British Columbia.
David is not tremendously well-known in the
United States, but is known internationally as a man who wears many
hats. He is principally a geneticist with over 150 major and minor
articles to his name. He is a popularizer of science of the highest
order and has been active for 30 years in television, radio, film,
as a writer of book, newspaper columnist, and a producer of records.
He has written over 300 popular articles, has written 17 book, seven
of which are for children. In the television he is perhaps best
known in this country for his work on his weekly series The Nature
of Things, which he's been doing for 8 years?
David Suzuki: Fifteen.
Emory Bundy: Fifteen?
Emory Bundy: And for his 8-hour series
A Planet for the Taking. He's been active in the Civil Liberties
Movement in Canada for many years, and for ten years has been
working with Native People in his native land, and Australia, Latin
American and elsewhere. And most importantly perhaps for this group
he has been an advocate for environmental sanity for many years
focusing primarily on changes in our economic system, in our
economic assumptions which somehow seem to project growth endlessly
into the future. I'm pleased to introduce David and ask you to give
him a warm welcome.
David Suzuki: Thank you very much. I
see I've lost 25 minutes of the hour and a half that I thought I
had. So I'll shuck a lot of what I had to say and...
Audience: No, no.
Suzuki: [chortles] Thank you. When
Vicki Husband called me and said a guy named Bill Lazar of EGA was
going to be calling me, I said, "Who? What organization?" I didn't
know about this group and I must say that I've been absolutely
electrified to come here last night, because the groups that I hang
out with, of course, have very little money, just a lot of
enthusiasm and commitment. And it's nice to realize that there is
some money available in the fight. So I thank you very much for
I would like to add to what Emory said and
hope some of you will get a chance to go further north of the 49th
and see why British Columbia is now being called the Brazil of the
North, although from my viewpoint that's a real insult to the
Brazilians, if you see the kind of devastation that's going on on
We, what I'm going to talk about, I hasten to
say, is from a Canadian perspective. I've spent most of my life,
except for 8 years when I lived in the States, in Canada. And uh but
I think we share many of the same problems and the same vision.
I think human beings like to have occasions,
anniversaries, to celebrate or to reflect on various things, and so
in 1992, what has been very important for me is to realize that this
has been the quincenetnnary of the arrival in North America of
Christopher Columbus. That 1992 is the 30th anniversary of the
publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. That 1992 is the 20th
anniversary of the first major global conference on the environment
in Stockholm. So it is a time to pause and reflect on how we got
here and where we're going.
In North America, well certainly in Canada,
for the last decade the environment has repeatedly polled at the
very top of Canadians' agenda of their concerns and priorities. To
me what has been astounding is that in the last year or so with the
major recession that afflicts us as it has the United States, the
polls indicate that the environment has dropped practically out of
sight, that economics, jobs seem to be the major preoccupation. I
don't believe that for a minute, but that certainly is what the
media are now announcing.
And in our, my country it's reflected in the
fact that a number of major environmental groups are in deep
trouble, they've had to lay off a large number of staff -- that's
Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund, Friends of the Earth -- and in
British Columbia the Western Canada Wilderness Committee has been
chronically in deep trouble even though they have great support
within the Province.
And increasingly we hear the kind of right
wing attacks on environmentalists as typified as Rush Limbaugh, and
his -- where we're being portrayed as -- and it's the same in Canada
-- sentimental, romantic, commies, or dupes of the communists -- and
Ron Arnold of the United States of the wise use group has had a
major impact in British Columbia by establishing a series of Share
the Forest groups throughout the Province, and they've been a very
Many environmental groups and individuals held
high hopes I think for Rio, put a lot of effort into the Prep-Con
process before Rio and went down there with great expectations,
hoping for a major shift after Rio. And clearly the Rio Conference
was a dismal failure. I think nothing reflected its failure more
than the meeting of the G-7, the Group of Seven industrial
countries, in Munich two weeks later, in which there was not a
mention of Rio or the environment. It was simply let's get on with
business as ususal.
So I think what we have to do then as
increasingly there are vocal opponents of the environmental
movement, as the environmental movement itself appears to be stalled
in terms of support, and as we see the terrible failure of Rio, It's
time to rethink our priorities: what are we doing wrong, what has to
now be the major focus of our efforts as we rush towards the end of
Now at the risk of covering territory that's
very familiar to most of you, I would to just go over the kinds of
crises that we face, that really, I think, have to underlie our
sense of urgency, that we don't have a huge amount of time and that
we have to be very focused in the direction that we're going. So let
me very quickly discuss what are the basic facts that really
confront us. This isn't speculation or conjecture, these are what
are agreed to be the bottom line of the crisis. And of course the
first issue we confront over and over is the same issue that Paul
Ehrlich raised at the Stockholm meeting in 1972, and that is the
incredible impact of population on the planet.
I remind you that every second three human
being are added to the global population and that number is
increasing. That's over a quarter of a million human beings a day,
that's over 90 million people a year are being and have to be fed,
clothed and housed. And this burst of population increase of
population increase is a very recent phenomenon. If we as a species
have been on this planet for 800,000 years, and you can do this for
yourself, just as an exercize, plot out 800,000 years on a piece of
graph paper divided into 8 sections on the x axis here and each
section represents a hundred thosuadn years, and you that right up
until the very end of that graph, right up to almost the present,
there weren't a billion human beings on the earth.
It took all of the 800,000 years of our
species to reach about a quarter of a billion human beings at the
time of Jesus Christ's birth. And after that it took another two
millenia to finally reach a billion people about 1830. And then
suddenly, of course, the rate of increase now is in that exponential
phase and it simply burst up.
I was born in 1936 and in my lifetime the
population of the planet has tripled. We're now at 5.5 billion and
it's said that we'll reach 10 billion in another 40 years. Mind you,
that in the time since I've been born the population of California
has gone up twelve-fold. So you see that, and on this curve, this
graph paper, the curve literally leaps straight off the page, right
in the very last second, essentially, of our existence here. And
anyone who looks at that curve will say, nothing in the universe can
continue to climb as it has.
At the very time that our numbers are
skyrocketing, since 1984 total gloabl food production has been
declining every year, and that's because we're losing of the order
of 25 billion tons of agricultural topsoil a year. The entire wheat
growing capacity of Australia is being lost every year.
What you see then is that the planet is under
siege by the deadliest predator ever known in the history of life on
We see the world through filters that are
shaped by our own personal experiences, and that I think is the
challenge that we have to overcome -- that we have to confront the
perceptual filters that are preventing us from even recognizing the
severity of the global eco-crisis, let alone taking serious action.
So I'd like to spend the bulk of my time discussing what I call
'sacred truths'. And I say that ironically because they are neither
sacred nor are they true. But they are deeply held notions that we
take so much for granted that we never even question them. And they
lie at the heart of what I think the environmental crisis is all
And I think the first sacred truth that we
have to deal with is a belief -- and it's easy to understand why we
believe this sacred truth because in Canada 80% of Canadians live in
urban centers. We live in a human-created environment. And it
becomes easy to believe, then, that we are not like other organisms,
that we're different and special, that human beings by virtue of
their great intelligence lie outside of the natural world, that we
control our environment and manipulate it. And I think that's at the
heart of this deadly problem that we face."
Now we know that over 90% of described species
Now the most critical sacred truth that we
have to face, one which you're all involved in, are the, is the
fundamental belief that economics must be the driving engine of our
society, that economics must be the highest priority on which our
governments are organized, which our industrial sector is based,
that economics must have the highest -- be the great preoccupation
of our society. Well, economics is very important, and no one denies
that, but let us understand that economics is a very chauvinistic
invention -- and I don't mean male chauvinistic, it is a species
chauvinistic idea. No other species on earth -- and there may be 30
million of them -- has had the nerve to put forth a concept called
economics, in which one species, us, declares the right to put value
on everything else on earth, in the living and non-living world. If
we have -- find a use for it, we declare that it has value; if we
don't have a use for it, we declare that it's worthless.
... [side 2]
I think that growth is the most critical issue
that we have to confront. Can we continue to press for steady growth
as the salvation of our society?
You know very well that your profession shapes
the way that you look at the world. And I'm always struck by that.
My whole background as a professional is as a geneticist. And any
time I get up in front of an audience like this I can't help myself
-- I see mutants everywhere.
Now I think that there's another major problem
that we face with our democracy. And that is, the way that we divvy
the world up to deal with it politically means that we never assess
our surroundings in any kind of holistic way, so that we understand
the interconnectedness of everything...
And I think that was the signal failure of Rio
-- was the failure to recognize that humans must rein in their
demands and pay much greater attention to the ecological needs of
the rest of the, the forms of life on earth, for the very future of
the quality of our lives.
I think it gives you the idea of what I want
to get across though, that we can run off attempting to save the
planet, but until we come to an understanding of some of the deeply
held assumptions that we all carry around, and understand where they
don't make any sense, realize that there are conflicts between our
presumed values and beliefs and what we are trying to do, and then
bring them into greater conformity, then we're not going to
seriously deal with the crisis. So that I think is the most
important challenge, to confront the sacred truths, debunk them, and
begin to reconstruct values and priorities. We have to think much
more about children and the quality of life, not in terms of more,
but in terms of real quality of the way we live. We have to take for
granted that there are indeed limits to growth, in spite of what
people like Julian Simon say, there are limits. We are terrestrial
creatures and we live within a finite world, and we are very close
to the upper edge of what that world can yield...
We have to each of us begin to live more
lightly on the planet, and I don't have to tell you all about that,
not because we're going to save the planet at all, but because we
need time now, we desperately need time to really find the
solutions. We are in a period of transition now. There's no
question, these [growth] curves which are all going up are going to
come down, and they're going to start coming down within our life
times. What we have to work on now is how to minimize the
destructive impact of that impact both on ourselves and on the other
plants and animals we share the planet with.
What I am involved in now is trying to
establish the evidence that we are living in a completely
unsustainable way, I think that sustainable development is a swiz,
it's a terrible hoax that's been foisted on us, because we equate
development with progress and usually growth. And even Bruntland
herself, in Our Common Future, predicted a five-fold increase in the
global economy which is madness, I think. We are trying to establish
what we call the ecological footprint of our species on earth...
So once you establish the reality of the
ecological footprint of our species, especially coming form the
industrialized world, you recognize that we are past 59 minutes, and
there is no alternative but to rapidly decrease the consumption of
our population. Now that is absolute anathema to the powers of our
countries, our respective countries, but until we begin to talk
about limits to growth and the need to de-develop -- and believe me,
the major cutbacks will be easy ...
We've got, it seems to me, begin to create an
alternate vision. Rio's failure must be the challenge for us. We
have to accept that we're past the 59th minute, and that we're in a
period of transition. And what is needed now, I think, and this is
what our commitment is, is to attempt to define what are the
ecological ground rules of truly sustainable living, and I don't
think that'll be hard. What are the ecological ground rules? Once
you have that what is a vision of a sustainable future?
Over and over again people come up to me and
say, 'Look, I agree with what you are saying, but what do guys want?
Do you want us to live in caves? Do we have to back to living in
houses with dirt floors and out houses?' People are afraid because
they don't know what the future will bring, and I understand that.
We now have to begin to define a vision of a sustainable future. And
then we have to say, how do we make a transition in ten to fifteen
years, from the way we are now, to something approximating that
sustainable way of living. What are the concrete steps to make the
And then what we want to do is fund Suzuki
samauri all across Canada, who are going to take the ground rules,
the vision and the strategy, and sell it at the grass roots. Because
if Rio told us anything, it is that we are not going to get the
profound changes from the top down, that you can't -- because of the
game they're playing -- you can not get the real leadership coming
from industry or politics, it's got to come from the ground up.
And I've talked to Al Gore about this many,
many times, and he understands clearly. He said that when the public
understands profoundly the change that's needed, politicians will
fall all over themselves to get aboard. They don't lead. They are
smart at following the thrust.
And as long as the environment continues to be
a political football we're not being serious. And I believe the
challenge is to raise the playing field, so that it is taken for
granted that we have certain ground rules that are ecological, that
it will not be a political issue, that it will be a social value on
which our politics is built. And that's the challenge for the
1990's. Thank you.
END OF TAPE