Reverence for life.  It feels good and it’s pretty darn cute too.  What would happen if we humans shifted our awareness towards getting back in balance with nature, animals, the earth and ourselves? What if we choose, with all our mind and heart power, to love our planet, give nature a chance and change our ways to support life?



FULL INTERVIEW BY MONGABAY MAGAZINE and Glenn Scherer on 11 September 2017

Dr. David Suzuki is a Canadian geneticist and biologist, over 80 years old now, recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology.  In this exclusive Mongabay interview, Dr. Suzuki speaks his mind, clearly defines the big problems we face, offers up the big solutions we urgently need to pursue, and tells us why we must have hope.

(Photo Courtesy of David Suzuki)

Mongabay: What do you see as the most significant environmental challenge humanity must face in the next 10 years?

David Suzuki: People always ask me that, and if it’s not climate change, it’s species extinctions, or it’s the state of the oceans, or the loss of forests, or toxic pollution in our air, water and soil. There are a number of HUGE issues; any one of which can be catastrophic, ARE being catastrophic. But I see the biggest challenge being the values and beliefs we cling to that are driving our destructive path.

So to me, right now, the biggest enemy is capitalism and the concept of corporations that are now driving things. The ten biggest corporations are bigger than the vast majority of countries in the world. When you look at the amount of money they’re pouring into political campaigns in Canada and the United States, you realize that we elect people to run on a “corporate agenda.” Corporations exist for one reason, and one reason only: to make money. It may be that the way they make money is very beneficial or useful to society; but the reality is their driving, sole purpose is to make money.

Right now, it’s clear that it is the commitment to economic growth, and to the economy above everything else, that is destroying the planet.

So I think (the greatest challenges facing humanity is this whole attitude that we have, that we’re the dominant species, and it’s our right to go and exploit Nature any way we can; and the belief that we’re so smart that we know how to manage our way into the future.

Mongabay: So what are the big solutions? What is the alternative to capitalism?

David Suzuki: I tell a story that I believe shows what the challenge is: in Canada we’ve been fighting for years against the tar sands oil operations in Alberta. We believe it’s just far too polluting a source of energy and that it’s got to be shut down.

I got a call, four years ago, from the CEO of one of the largest companies in the Alberta tar sands, and he said “can I come down and talk?” I said “Of course. We’ve been fighting. We can’t afford to fight anymore, because in a fight there are winners and losers, and we can’t afford losers.” I said “I want to work together with everyone to try to find a way to a different path.”

He was at my door the next day, and I told him how thrilled I was, that I was honored, delighted and thanked him for coming. But I said “Before you come in my office, I want you to leave your identity outside the door. I don’t want to know that you’re the CEO of an oil company. I want to meet human being to human being. Because, I said, I’m not interested in talking about oil and energy and all that until you and I agree upon what the fundamental basis is for all of humanity — how we have to live on Earth.”

That, I believe, is the challenge for all of us. We have got to start from a position of agreement. If we’re fighting, then what the Hell, we’re all over the place. We don’t have a groundswell or a foundation of agreement, and that, I believe, is a challenge for us. So give this guy credit, he came in through the door, but very reluctantly.

I said, “Look, I know this is awkward for you. You came to meet me as the CEO of an oil company and I disarmed you on that. Let me tell you what I’m thinking. We live in a world that is shaped by laws of Nature and there’s nothing we can do about it. We have to live within the limits. Physics tells you, you cannot build a rocket that moves faster than the speed of light. The speed of light is a limit set by physics. The law of gravity says that if I trip on the stairs, I’m going to hit my face on the floor. That’s gravity, and there’s nothing you can do about that. First and second law of thermodynamics tells us you cannot build a perpetual motion machine. So physics tells you the kind of world that we live in and we accept that.

Chemistry tells you the same. The atomic properties of the elements dictate the freezing point, the melting point; and dictate the diffusion constants and reaction rates. All of these properties of atoms are dictated and inform us. We know, through the laws of chemistry, what we can or cannot make in a test tube, and we live within those laws. And in biology, it’s the same. Biology dictates that every species has a maximum number where they can be sustained in an ecosystem or habitat. That number is dictated by the carrying capacity of that ecosystem or habitat. Exceed that number and your population will crash.

Humans aren’t confined to an ecosystem or a habitat, but to the Biosphere, the zone of air, water, and land where all life exists. That’s where we live, and there is a maximum carrying capacity in the Biosphere, for human beings. That’s dictated by how many humans there are and by our per capita consumption. And that will tell you whether or not we can maintain our population.

Every scientist that I’ve talked to agrees: we’ve already passed the carrying capacity for our species because of the hyper consumption of Western society and the sheer bulk of numbers in the developing world. That adds up to more than the planet can carry indefinitely. We’re going towards 8 or 10 billion, and as we do that, we maintain the illusion that everything is okay by using up what should be the rightful legacy of future generations.

We’re using it up now. And you know that. Talk to any elder in any area and ask them: “what was it like when you were a kid?” and they’ll describe a world that is completely changed. It’s gone. So carrying capacity is what dictates how many humans can live on the planet and whether it’s sustainable. As well, biology tells us we’re animals. And, as biological beings, I said to this guy, “What do you think is the most important thing that every human being needs?”

Instead of answering directly, like any child would, I could see the thinking; he said “well…” and I realized he’s thinking “money, a job, a business” and I said, “Look, if you don’t have air for three minutes, you’re dead. If you have to breath polluted air, you’re sick.”

So surely, as a human being, you would agree with me. Clean air is the highest need every human being has, and we should be protecting it above anything else. And then I said, you and I, we’re 60 to 70 percent water by weight. The body needs water for our skin and our eyes, and so on. Water, Mr. CEO, if you don’t have water for three to six days, you’re DEAD. If you have to drink polluted water, you’re sick. So clean air, and clean water, should be the highest need of every human being and we should protect them above everything else.

Food is different. We can live for four to six weeks without food, but eventually we die. If you have contaminated food, you sicken. Most of our food comes from the earth, so I said clean food and soil have to be there with clean water and air.

Finally, I said, all of the energy that you and I have in our bodies, that we need to grow and move and reproduce and do work, all of that energy is sunlight captured by photosynthesis. We then convert it into chemical energy and we get it by eating plants or animals that eat the plants and we store the energy in our bodies. When we want to work or move, we burn those molecules and radiate the energy of the sun back out throughout our bodies. Photosynthesis joined with clean soil and food, clean water and clean air: those should be the foundation of every society on Earth. Protect the air, the water, the soil, and photosynthesis.

The miracle, to me, of life on Earth, is those four elements which Indigenous peoples call Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. Those four elements, should be sacred and they are cleansed, replenished, created by the web of living things. It’s all the plants that take carbon dioxide out of the air and put oxygen back into it, for us. It’s all the plants that photosynthesize to capture the sun’s energy. It’s life that creates the soil where we grow our food. It’s life that filters the water so that we can drink it. So biodiversity is as important as Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

I said to him that other things, like the borders that we draw around properties, states, or countries, capitalism, corporations, economies, markets, these are NOT forces of Nature. They are human constructs and they have to be changed in order to fit the demands of the real world — to fit into the forces of Nature.

I said, Mr. CEO, if you will shake hands with me, and agree with what I have just said, I will do everything I can to help you and your company, and I believe that’s what we have to do. What do you think he did?

He couldn’t. He couldn’t shake hands with me, because if he did, and went back to his shareholders and said “I had a discussion with Suzuki and I agreed with him, whatever we do, we can’t mess with the air, water or soil,” he would get fired so fast because that’s not his job. His job is to make money.