A (very) partial response to David Suzuki


in Economics, Politics, Rants, The environment

Last night, I saw David Suzuki speak at a conference on health and the environment. To my surprise, I was far from impressed with most of what he said. He essentially presented a false binary: conspicuous consumption on the one hand, or the preservation of pristine nature on the other. While I certainly acknowledge that a lot of consumption is unnecessary, that doesn’t mean that all sacrifices are of the same moral variety as him choosing not to fly to Australia.

The view that pesticides should not be used in farming was broadly echoed. No doubt, there can be abuse of pesticides and there is a human and ecological cost associated with employing them. That said, it hardly seems that we can take a message of pesticide abandonment to a world of six billion, in which one and a half billion live in extreme poverty. Calling for an end to economic growth means something rather different in Canada than it does in Brazil or Bangladesh or Bolivia. Likewise, not everyone in Canadian society can switch to more ecological (and expensive) options while making only trivial sacrifices.

As a public relations figure, Suzuki obviously has to simplify his messages and present things in a form that is fairly easily repeated and absorbed. That said, the parks-versus-SUVs form of environmentalism doesn’t have much chance of being relevant outside the thinking of a privileged global elite.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

. September 19, 2007 at 10:11 am

CBC News has learned that serious budget problems at Environment Canada now threaten wildlife areas and other services within the Department. The National Wildlife Areas budget has been slashed from 1.9 million dollars to nothing. The Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Network has lost 80 percent of its budget. The Migratory Bird Program has been cut by 50 percent. And the Canadian Wildlife Service budget is frozen for the rest of the fiscal year. It means all scientific field and survey work is halted.

Antonia September 19, 2007 at 4:29 pm

Any chance he was tailoring his message to the audience?

. September 24, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Chemical generation
Sep 24th 2007
From Economist.com
Punjabis are poisoning themselves

IF INDIAN newspaper reports are to be believed, the children of Punjab are in the throes of a grey revolution. Even those as young as ten are sprouting tufts of white and grey hair. Some are going blind. In Punjabi villages, children and adults are afflicted by uncommon cancers.
The reason is massive and unregulated use of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals in India’s most intensively farmed state. According to an environmental report by Punjab’s government, the modest-sized state accounts for 17% of India’s total pesticide use. The state’s water, people, animals, milk and agricultural produce are all poisoned with the stuff.

Matt June 4, 2009 at 5:19 pm

I saw him speak last night at Science World, and found his talk to be quite compelling. He didn’t talk of pesticides at all, in this case. He did talk about how the environment, due to the fact that it sustains us, should always be our number one priority. He also spoke of how population growth is unsustainable because we live in a fixed biosphere, capable of a fixed amount of support.

I found that for the most part he steered well clear of saying anything controversial, save for a section when he leveled some heated criticism at Stephen Harper. He was a well practiced public speaker, however, and completely entertaining.

Milan June 4, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Did he offer any suggestions on how population growth could be reduced to a sustainable level?

Matt June 4, 2009 at 5:55 pm

I’d say not.

Having said that, he did to a degree talk about solutions for energy, forestry and such. Most of it was about political will and shifting our priorities away from the economy and towards our ecology.

Matt June 4, 2009 at 5:56 pm

He was promoting his Nature Challenge. It’s worth taking a look at at:


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