David Suzuki: Nonstop Growth is Population Suicide

I just got to see Dr. David Suzuki speak in person when he was at Georgian College on Earth Day, in fact the first Earth Day he hadn’t spent in British Columbia in many years so we all felt honoured and privileged to hear his inspiring words on such an important day.

One of the key messages Dr. Suzuki passed along was one I’ve cared about as well: namely that our economy is something we invented and can change to suit our needs. (Think: the failure of communism in the Soviet Union.) The environment is something on which we depend, and that provides us the necessities of life such as air, water, and food ultimately powered by photosynthesis, the ultimate in solar energy. And yet we constantly try to make the environment bend to our needs to preserve the economy we invented, so often polluting the air, water, and soil in the process. Corporations too conveniently ignore these issues as “externalities.”

In follow up to this point, Dr. Suzuki addressed the main focus of the economy, namely growth. Nonstop growth can’t work with finite resources. To illustrate that point, he referred to the nonstop growth our own population has been experiencing. When Dr. Suzuki was born, he mentioned there were only about two billion people on Earth. In the span of one lifetime our planet’s population has more than doubled.

He used a brilliant analogy to explain why our species may be headed to suicide. I thought about trying to put it into words, but this video explains it so much better than I could by Dr. Suzuki himself.

David Suzuki and Earth Day

We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.”
—David Suzuki

I’m proud to be Canadian. That doesn’t always mean that I’m proud of everything Canada does. But one thing it got right was David Suzuki. Although from Japanese heritage, this man is third-generation Canadian. He’s an academic with a PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago he obtained more than fifty years ago. He’s a science broadcaster, host of the long-running CBC program “The Nature of Things.” And he’s a long-time activist regarding global warming and climate change. And today—on Earth Day of all days—I get to hear him speak his message in person at Georgian College.

His efforts at educating people about climate change and global warming stem from the fact that he’s a scientist. He may not have received his PhD in climate science, but as someone who understands the principles of hypothesis, the scientific method, experimentation and interpretation of data, and publication in peer-reviewed journals, he has more than enough expertise to be qualified to speak to the issue.

One of the problems in science today is how compartmentalized it has become. Certainly in medicine we see it all the time. As an example, I’m a doctor who specialized in internal medicine and then subspecialized in cardiology. Although I stopped there, I could have gone ever further and pursued, say, electrophysiology which is the study of rhythm disorders. Beyond that, I could have decided to dedicate myself to only pacemakers and defibrillators, or ablation techniques, or rhythm medications.

The problem with learning more and more about less and less is that eventually you know everything about nothing. Since climate science is complex, I believe someone who has a broader understanding of science will often have a better appreciation of the big picture than someone who understands only the atmospheric aspects of it, or the hydrospheric, or geospheric. Dr. Suzuki’s background in zoology obviously gives him particular expertise in topics relating to the animal world, but he has a much more holistic understanding of climate change than a sub-sub-specialist ever could. People often think of the word “holistic” and its connection to an alternative branch of medicine, but its true meaning is simply a “comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” That’s climate change and global warming, through and through.

Dr. Suzuki has understood the science behind global warming and has been warning about its dangers for decades. Like many others who understand science, he considers the evidence for global warming and its connection to human activities to be irrefutable. He is also quick to point out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assembled more than 2500 scientists from over 130 countries, coming to the conclusion that most of the global warming observed in the last half-century is due to human activities rather than other factors. (This is where phrases like “the vast majority of climate scientists around the world” comes from.) Indeed, every national academy of science around the world believes we are the main culprit for climate change, but the skeptics and deniers do a good job of growing seeds of doubt in the media.

There has even been a smear campaign against Dr. Suzuki himself; to be fair, he has garnered his own fair share of controversy, mostly borne out of frustration that progress moves too slowly toward the solutions we need. Real change requires government participation and that just hasn’t occurred enough for Suzuki’s satisfaction. (Or, indeed, for anyone’s satisfaction who believes in what the science is telling us and appreciates what we need to accomplish to stave off a global crisis in the generations to come.)

He’s also frustrated because too many people argue that global warming isn’t real. There is no doubt that climate change deniers and skeptics are out there in full force with a goal of delaying any action on climate change. Frustrating because so many of those on that side of the “debate” don’t understand the science—the main reason I wrote my book and maintain a blog on the subject. The science tends to get published in scientific journals but those aren’t easily accessible to the general public, requiring good public speakers like Dr. Suzuki to spread the message around. The skeptics and deniers typically get their information from sources that come from a well-organized campaign intent on spreading disinformation and they target the media, the general public, and policy makers rather than publish in any peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journals. Sadly, these groups are too often funded by the fossil fuel industry or other groups with a vested interest in maintaining business as usual, rather than looking to develop renewable sources of energy.

As part of his personal mission, Dr. Suzuki established The David Suzuki Foundation in 1990. Its mission is to “protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and for the future. Our vision is that within a generation, Canadians act on the understanding that we are all interconnected and interdependent with nature.” (In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to point out that I was very honoured when asked to write a guest blog for one of the many blogs on the David Suzuki Foundation website, this one entitled Docs Talk. A joint effort with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, it’s dedicated to promoting knowledge and understanding about the impact of environment on health. As a cardiologist, I was invited to write about the impacts of global warming on heart health in particular. Never one to resist a good play on words, its title is “The heart of the matter on climate change.”)

Dr. Suzuki is a real hero. Not only for Canada, but for the whole world. Generations to come will be able to look back on his achievements and realize how how important he was in the efforts we made to save our planet from ourselves, and for our future.

Climate Reality Training with Al Gore in Toronto

“Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, ‘What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?’ We have to hear that question from them, now.”
Al Gore

Last week I was in Toronto and unable to post any blogs, so my apologies. For two days, Al Gore and the The Climate Reality Project provided training to skilled and motivated people who can serve as agents of change and try to make a real difference in this world. They are now members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. I got to go but this time as a mentor. In all there were 30 of us for about 600 trainees. I went through a similar training session in San Francisco back in August 2012 so I was excited for what these eager folks were able to experience. (I’ll post a blog tomorrow outlining the training in a little more detail.)

Mr. Gore has provided training sessions all over the world. Prior to Toronto there had been 7,826 Climate Leaders hailing from 126 different nations ranging in age from nine to 87. I was very excited because this was only the second time that training had been done in Canada, the first having taken place a number in April 2008 in Montreal. And I was especially excited that my 12-year-old son Jamie was also one of the trainees this time around.

Some might ask: why have a training session in Canada? Well, it came here for good reason. My country is a top emitter in the world, both for total emissions and per capita. Canada has a key role to play in in the anticipated emissions reduction agreement at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this coming December in Paris. So far, Canada has been significantly behind many of its peers including the U.S. and the E.U. Without strong federal government commitments, it’s been left to Canadian provinces and municipal governments to take action. (This is precisely the focus of David Suzuki’s Blue Dot campaign.)

I was at a half-day session with the other mentors before the formal training sessions began. On July 9 and 10, our trainees were exposed to a number of experts who discussed provincial initiatives that could help provide a model for a stronger federal plan. They also discussed how Canada can—and should—play a major role in moving toward a clean energy, low-carbon economy. Here are some reasons why Canada should care: Continue reading

David Suzuki's Blue Dot Campaign

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

David Suzuki has done a lot of great things, but his Blue Dot campaign may be the greatest. The Blue Dot referenced is our beloved planet Earth. Seen from space a great distance away that’s all it is, a description coined by Carl Sagan after seeing a photo taken by the Voyager 1 spacecraft when it was six billion kilometres from home.

All over the world, more than 110 nations from Costa Rica to Norway have formally recognized that their citizens have a fundamental right to live in a healthy environment, considered no less important that having a right to vote, or freedom of speech. But Canada isn’t one of them. Yet.

David Suzuki wants to change that with this campaign. Starting with cities and municipalities, then provinces, and finally a whole nation. Its ultimate goal is to amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include the environment as a fundamental right, something that 85 percent of Canadians support. That would lead to stronger laws to protect the environment for our future. This seven-minute video explains this in greater detail:

If you want to find out more about the Blue Dot Campaign, here’s the link: http://www.bluedot.ca/join-us

David Suzuki Explains Climate Change

I hope this short video won’t be teaching most of you anything you don’t already know—I believe I’m largely preaching to the choir with this blog. But based on some comments I receive, I know there are at least a few skeptics and deniers who check out my posts.

Here, David Suzuki spends two minutes explaining the basic science behind carbon pollution and climate change. The video was jointly produced by the David Suzuki Foundation and Climate Reality Project Canada. (I’m a Climate Leader and regularly give talks for that group.)

It’s hard to refute the facts Suzuki points out, so please feel free to share the information and pass it along to others who would benefit from his message.