David Suzuki Speaks in Brandon

David Suzuki (Environment North / Flickr)

David Suzuki was in Brandon recently to speak on environmentalism. In his presentation, Suzuki said that humanity has turned their back on the very thing keeping us alive in order to benefit the economy. We use water, air, and land to conveniently dispose of our garbage and pollution. 1992 saw 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including many Nobel laureates, sign a document entitled the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity. This document states which areas are under critical stress, namely the atmosphere, our water resources, the oceans, the soil, the forests, and many living species, and offers a prophetic warning of what will happen if we don’t alter our treatment of nature. The media paid the document no attention. However, in Suzuki’s words, “Whenever a third rate economist has a sore toe and thinks the economy is going to drop, he gets full coverage.”

The economy by itself is nothing but a means to something else: we use it to obtain justice, greater equity, and environmental protection. Today, the world seems to give the economy and job creation precedence over things such as happiness, health, and the environment. Polls have continuously shown that a large portion of Canadians are most concerned with the economy and the Canadian debt. We work our life away to make ends meet, while industries and corporations exploit the environment for profit. But what is the goal of our economy? The creation of the iPhone 6 or a better world?

The crux of the presentation opined that protesting and blocking developmental projects such as dams, forestry operations, oil drillings, and pipelines will only prolong the inevitable, and that even when we protest, interest in exploitation will remain in government- and industry-minded individuals. What is needed is a shift in our way of thinking. “The way we think of the world shapes it,” Suzuki said. What is a mountain to you?  A photo opportunity?  A sacred place?  Or an opportunity to extract resources?

Suzuki also spoke of a movement in Central America. Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, possibly the most biologically-diverse region in the world, has committed itself to what is called the Yasuní-ITT Initiative. The Yasuní-ITT Initiative is an agreement with the world, so to speak, where by protecting the biodiversity, water, and air and refusing oil companies drilling permits, Ecuador will contribute to the world. For this contribution, the Ecuadorian government asks to receive half the revenue they would make from extraction in donations, or roughly five hundred million dollars per year. This money would sit in a United Nations bank account and Ecuador would collect the interest.

Furthermore, Ecuador has extended its constitution to include the protection of the rights of the Earth, or, as the Ecuadorians call it, Pachamama. An example: a road was being widened, which obstructed the flow of the Vilcabamba River, resulting in the increased velocity of the river flow, and subsequent flooding. Richard Frederick Wheeler and Eleanor Geer Huddle demanded this injustice be recognized, and won. Because they were appearing in court on behalf of Pachamama, they did not receive any monetary compensation. The construction company was forced to restore the river to its original state.

Ecuador is a poor country and could become very wealthy by exploiting its natural environment. But they are choosing not to because of their deep respect for the environment. Here in Canada, one of the wealthiest nations in the world, there is arguably a growing disconnect with nature. Our generation spends more time indoors than any other generation. We use our natural resources as a main export, use the earth as a garbage dump, and have our goods shipped to us from all over the world. But do we stop to think about the impact our consumer and economic choices and might have?