Q&A David Suzuki, born on March 24, 1936, in Vancouver, Canada, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. He is renowned for his radio and television programs that explain the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easy-to-understand way. Kuensel’s Samten Wangchuk caught up with this author of more than 50 books, one of the experts at the ongoing international expert group meeting for a new development paradigm, for a quick interview at lunch.
Kuensel: In your talk this morning, what did you mean when you said: “We do to the earth what we do to ourselves”?
Suzuki: When I became involved in the environmental movement, the problem was, humans were taking too much from the environment and putting too much waste and toxic material back into it. So I thought we had to regulate how much can we take and how much and what do we put back in.
It was the native people I was working with who began to tell me about mother earth and I thought, well, speaking metaphorically or poetically, they said, the earth creates us and, as I began to think about that, I began to realise that science informs us, that we are air, that we have to breathe air everyday of our lives till we die.
We take air into our bodies, it fills us in our lungs, sent to every part of our bodies, when we breathe it out, not all of it or else we’d collapse, half of the air stays in your lungs.
The point is, there is no line that says the air ends here and I begin there, it is in us, it’s stuck to us and so we are air.
And the air that I breathe out goes up your nose, it links us to all of the rest of life on the planet and it’s the same with water and soil.
We are created out of the elements of the planet, we are the earth and what we do to that, if we kill or clear-cut forests and reduce the photosynthetic activity, that affects us. That’s all I mean, how we treat the earth will have direct impact on us because we are the earth.
Kuensel: How has this message gone with people in your many years as an environmental activist?
Suzuki: I’ve been involved in environmental issues for over 50 years. The concerns I have is, we are losing big time. As someone said this morning, corporations are now bigger than most governments on the planet and they have their agenda that is driving on this very destructive path.
I think we’re changing the world around us and there’s a sense of great urgency because of this phenomenon called “over shoot”, you over shoot the capacity of the planet to support you and by the time you recognise that, it may be too late.
Can we go back even if we were to stop and shift the paradigm? That’s the concern. It might be too late.
Kuensel: Our fear in Bhutan is, even we are drawn towards this consumerist-driven model of development…
Suzuki: Bhutan is in this amazing position, where, because of the isolation for so long, you have been able to come very recently and recognise all of the mistakes of the kind of development policies that we have had in the rest of the world. The isolation has given the kind of eyes to Bhutan to see what is wrong.
But I also see that when you go out and reach out into the bigger world, there are many things out there that are attractive.
Bhutan introduced TV a decade or so ago and in my hotel room there are 80 channels, and their message is – buy, buy and buy – look at the cars, the clothes, the food and so now you are being assaulted by this globalised economy coming here.
I gather young Bhutanese in farms want to come to the city for jobs.
So Bhutan is rushing this new paradigm and it’s very urgent to find this new paradigm and Bhutan isn’t living that yet now. You’ll have to find a way to adjust to the new paradigm.
Kuensel: You talked about a dam you succeeded in stopping from being built in British Columbia, we’re building some for our hydropower projects here…
Suzuki: Being involved in environmental issues, although we had many victories, little parks and reserves and we succeeded in stopping dams, 30 years later we’re still fighting the same battle.
A dam we stopped on the Peace river in British Columbia 35 year ago, they are now building it at British Columbia. What does that tell us? We didn’t change the way we look at the world.
The reason we didn’t want the dam was because that meant retarding the river, flooding the land and changing the ecology of the earth.
But now we say, oh no, we need that energy, we have to get development in the mining industry, we have to build the dam.
We haven’t seen that we have to take our surroundings very seriously and that is the paradigm shift that Bhutan has been talking about, wellbeing of all life means, wellbeing for human beings and the acknowledgment of that is a huge shift.
Kuensel: Anything else you’d like to add…
Suzuki: When I was asked to come here, I said yes, I’ll pay for it myself, I will come here because this is the big shift and I fought for many years.
We need the paradigm shift to begin to live in a different way.
I came because I was so honoured to be asked on a working group. We’ve heard about Bhutan for many years. I can tell you the world in my community is hungry for the vision coming from this process.