I went and listened to David Suzuki speak at Firehall Arts Centre as part of the Powell Street Festival. He was promoting his new book, Letters to my Grandchildren. He’s 79 years old now and in what he calls “the death zone” or the zone that’s headed most predictably in death’s direction, although you wouldn’t know it to look at him.
Of course there were references to what you would expect in a 30 minute talk from Canada’s most notable environmentalist: the elevation of the economy to God at the expense of humankind’s future via clean air, clean water, and Prime Minister Harper’s dedicated contribution to that on behalf of Canada in oh so many election losing (we can only hope) ways. A paraphrasing with me taking tons of liberties in that last line.
Because Suzuki was there to soft sell his new book, and in keeping with the book’s focus, his talk centred more on relationships than environmental issues. He shared his experiences of his mother and father. He talked about his grandchildren. He referred to a long ago retort to his mother that to this day still fills him with regret, and choked him up during the talk.
His mother was the one who toiled day and night behind the scenes in her quiet ways of servitude so common in Japanese woman of that era while his father was the gregarious guy who got the attention. One day, while chatting with his mother as she was doing the washing, she looked at David and made some reference to hoping that he’d be able to help out his parents in the future. His retort, the retort that could have come from any 14-year-old was, “I didn’t ask to be born…” He let us know that he did come through for them.
David Suzuki emphasized the insanity of being constantly focused on the economy when in fact, without clean air, without potable water, there can be no life. He spoke about the impossibility of the economy’s ability to continue to grow ad infinitum and at some point, having to accept stasis and turning the money and commitment that now goes into degradation of the planet as a result of our total reliance on oil and gas into innovation around clean energy to build on humans’ legacy of innovation.
The economy is there to support what matters to us, not the other way around: relationships, sacred spaces on earth, ability to live and learn and direct that to the betterment of ourselves and others and other species, not stuck on the treadmill of an economic model that appears to be the recipe of our eventual demise.
It must have struck you by now that there IS nothing new left to say about climate change and our lack of change.
At the end of the talk, when someone asked, “Do you have any hope left?” He used the return of the sockeye run in 2009 as a hopeful example. “In 2009, based on the low numbers of sockeye, their extinction appeared imminent. Then the very next year saw the largest sockeye run in history and with no explanation for it.”
“We don’t know enough to know what’s going to happen for sure,” he said, and that, strangely enough – the ignorance of humankind – did actually leave me with a bit of hope for a change.
In the next breath, he referred to Guy MacPherson, an academic and author from Arizona, and MacPherson’s belief that we won’t even be here in about 20 years because of some catastrophic methane explosion. A belief that Suzuki said put him into a funk for days.
“This is the first year, said MacPherson in an online interview, that we could have an ice-free arctic by September and it will be the first time in human history.” Again, nobody knows precisely what’s going to happen,” he said.
I couldn’t help but think that it’s the kind of plot that blockbuster films make millions on, except, according to this, we won’t be around to scarf popcorn and marvel at the amazing and tragic destiny of all species on the planet.
PS: That brings me to ideas about my next blog post. After seeing David Suzuki and Taylor Swift in less than a 24 hour span, I feel the need to write about legacy next.