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What Really Matters? Interview with David Suzuki

AS AN EDUCATOR, SCIENTIST AND BRAODCASTER, DAVID SUZUK has become internationally known for his deep understanding of ecology. Author of 43 books, he also hosts The Nature of Things, a scientific series produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

GB: Many leading environmental indicators show things getting worse, not better. Why can’t we seem to HighresSuzukibikereverse course and save the planet?
DS: One of the major problems we have is that economists don’t regard what happens to in nature as part of our economic system. When a species of bees goes extinct, resulting in a certain type of wildflower dying, and so on, they just shrug and say, “what do bees matter to me?” They don’t see a connection.

GB: But of course, it’s all linked.
DS: Yes, I believe we in the industrial world have deliberately distanced ourselves from nature. For thousands of years, most people lived in rural villages, and were involved in food production. They understood that winter snow is related to summer water for growing food. Now there are more than 400 cities on Earth with more than a million population each. And the people in cities live under the illusion that they don’t need nature any more.

GB: But we can’t go back to rural living, sprawling across the landscape. Would that even work?
DS: No, What’s needed is a change in our way of thinking. For example, rather than seeing regulations as impediments, view them as opportunities. People sometimes get mad when they hear what I have to say. They’re scared. “What, do you want us to live in a cave!?” they ask. That’s because deep down, they know that changing to a fluorescent light bulb isn’t going to solve this.

GB: Some people think technology and innovation will halt the environmental meltdown.
DS: There are some huge opportunites—to make homes much more energy efficient, to wrap them in solar cells and turn them into producers of energy, also to collect al of the rain that falls, and grow food on our rooftops. The LEED standard has really driven a lot of green building—and it’s an industry where people are macho and competitive—so everybody is trying to be greener than the next. That’s a good thing, but it’s going to take subsidies from the government to go far enough, fast enough.

GB: But big oil, big banks and the military seem to be get most of our tax money.
DS: Where we put our money makes you want to weep. Why the helll are we subsidizing oil companies? I think Al Gore’s call for 100 percent renewable energy within 10 years is a clarion call. People say it’s not possible, but in the early 1960s, every rocket we sent into the sky blew up. We didn’t roll over. Everyone got on board, and we went to the moon. Llook at the spinoffs that resulted—including cellphones.

GB: But skeptics will say “trust the marketplace.”
DS: We have to remember, this idea of trusting the marketplace is not a law of nature, like entropy. We created the damn thing and it’s not working, so let’s try something else. I remember when George Bush after 9/11 told us all to go shopping. That was a low point. We’ve got to begin to pay the true cost of things. We treat the environment like a resource, as if we don’t live in it. We have this immense juggernaut destroying everything in its path, and no one is asking the most important question: Are we happier with all this stuff?

GB: Research shows once basic needs are net, happiness pretty much levels off.
DS: When my father, who was my hero, was dying of cancer at 85, we spent a few days with him. He never once said, “Hey, you remember that car I had” or “remember that great house…?” All we talked about were family, friends, neighbors, experiences. The things that really matter have nothing to do with stuff. When we begin to realize that, then things can really begin to change.