“The earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself”
– Chief Seattle
Dr. David Suzuki is from Vancouver, Canada. It’s easy for me to imagine Chief Seattle and Dr. Suzuki walking together through the Northwest forests, canoeing in the same rivers, visiting the same coastlines that have so inspired Chief Seattle’s writing and Dr. Suzuki’s lifelong efforts to protect our world.
The Industrial Revolution had begun around the time of Chief Seattle’s birth. The huge migration of Europeans into North America and the Indian territories came via steamship and wagon train. The pilgrims justified their pillaging of the native land as “Manifest Destiny” a term coined in the 1840‘s by American columnist, John Louis O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan believed that an Anglo-Saxon god had given white settlers the right to take Indian territories and that it was their mission to expand “civilization” and its institutions across the whole of North America. This westward movement represented progress and economic opportunity, but only for the Anglo-Saxons. Chief Seattle had firsthand experience of the aggressive nature of these settlers. Chief Seattle, a true visionary, saw how unsustainable their behavior was and would continue to become over time.
“The earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of earth. If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves.” – Chief Seattle
Dr. Suzuki shares Seattle’s love of the earth and the complexity and symbiotic relationship between all forms of life with which we share our planet. I first heard of Dr. Suzuki when I was studying oceanography in college. Suzuki and the oceanographer and naturalist, Jacques Cousteau were two of my professor’s favorite subjects for discussion. It was the late 1970’s. America was having its first bitter taste of life with a gas crisis. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter spoke to the nation and warned that if our energy needs were not addressed immediately, that America would be exactly where it is today. Fighting wars for oil and drilling in unsafe places, using perilous methods.
“We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting the future control us.” – President Jimmy Carter
Carter encouraged a new way forward for the country. His speech: sometimes referred to as the “Moral Equivalent of War” speech, detailed methods each of us could employ to save energy. He spoke of cars that would be more fuel-efficient. He called for scientific breakthroughs that would set a positive example for the rest of the world. Carter wanted the US to invest in it’s future and be a shining example of innovation for the world. He encouraged our brightest minds to invent technologies that would free us from the burdens of oil-dependence and the inevitable environmental dangers of burning fossil fuels.
‘The world now uses about 60 million barrels of oil a day and demand increases each year about five percent. This means that just to stay even we need the production of a new Texas every year, an Alaskan North Slope every nine months, or a new Saudi Arabia every three yars. Obviously, this cannot continue.’ – President Jimmy Carter
It was during this time, that Dr. Suzuki and Jacques Cousteau became clarions for sustainable societies. They brought their understanding of the environment to television and radio. They used these mediums to educate their audiences. Offering advice and ways each of us could effect positive change. Encouraging listeners to become more conscious of consumer habits, personal waste, and the preciousness of nature.
TOMOHIDE IKEYA: From the “Breath” Series
“The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: We are all in the same boat.” – Jacques Cousteau
For over four decades, Dr. Suzuki has been one of the worlds leading proponents for renewable energy. Through his scientific work, Dr. Suzuki has long recognized our planet’s finite resources. He has spoken passionately about the limits humans must immediately address to avoid environmental collapse. He speaks of a necessary “perceptual shift” in our relationship with nature and the wild.
What does it mean to be unnatural? We have distanced ourselves from nature and grown out of balance with it. In nature, a tree grows to a height that is sustainable by its own root system, and not beyond it. Its branches grow to lengths that its trunk can support. If the tree were to grow beyond the support of its root system the tree would topple over. Nature has balance that mankind does not share. It is imperative that we as a species alter our behavior soon if we are to survive. Of course, knowing the future behavior of mankind is beyond any science known to me. Achieving equilibrium with nature in the form of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases to a point where we no longer alter the earth’s ecological balance is a necessary if not lofty goal. As Dr. Suzuki has written in his online blog:
“Doing so will require substantially reducing greenhouse gas emissions — 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 and to near-zero by the end of the century. We must also protect carbon ‘sinks’ such as forests and wetlands and find ways to store or bury carbon. The good news is that weaning ourselves off fossil fuels, conserving energy and shifting to cleaner sources comes with economic and quality-of-life benefits.”
I believe the largest movement in my lifetime is the environmental movement. It’s clear to me that citizens, the world over, want governments to address the issue. It seems however that politicians and their governments are unable to affect real change because they are beholden to their corporate supporters. There is no doubt that people act to protect their immediate interests and unquestionably politicians are people. Rather than try to blame our leaders for acting or not acting as we hope they will. Dr. Suzuki encourages us all to take more of a personal responsibility to educate ourselves and become leaders ourselves in environmental awareness and sustainable behaviors. As he mentions in his writings:
“…huge sums of corporate money have been spent on campaigns to sow doubt and confusion about issues ranging from the dangers of smoking to threats to the ozone layer to climate change. It’s all about protecting corporate profits and interests.
What’s important, though, is for those of us who rely on facts rather than spin to look at solutions. We can all do much more to reduce our environmental footprints, but the problem has grown so much that large-scale efforts are needed, and many of these must come from decision-makers in industry, government, and academia. However, there appears to be reluctance in some of those circles to act unless the public demands it. And so it’s up to all of us to become informed. Then we can hold our leaders to account and challenge those who refuse to see the big picture.”
“This public responsibility is especially important in light of stepped-up efforts to deny the reality of climate change or the role humans play in it. Cases in point are illustrated by the denialgate scandal revealed by the release of Heartland Institute documents and the revelation that Ottawa’s Carleton University hired Tom Harris, a PR man for a number of Astroturf groups with a mechanical engineering background, to teach a course on climate change.”
TOMOHIDE IKEYA: From the “Breath” Series
Within the scientific community, there is no longer a debate that human behavior has negatively impacted the environment and is contributing to climate change. The unnecessary consumption of fossil fuels has a powerful effect on us all and the punishment is already being felt all over the world by the numerous effects nature exhibits. There also are many financial incentives that can be construed as carrots or sticks depending on your orientation that encourage environmentally friendly corporate behaviors and discourage those behaviors that endanger our Earth. However, these punishments do very little to motivate the corporations and their actions. The fines and legal fees are considered business expenses and in most cases are more than compensated for by the profits these businesses enjoy. In many other cases however, the governing body that has the duty to protect our world or some portion of it fails to do so in any measurable way. Take for instance the following excerpt from Dr. Suzuki:
“…a state investigation found that coal-mining company Massey Energy, which often blasts away the tops of mountains to get at the coal, broke the law 62,923 times in the 10 years leading up to a disaster that killed 29 people in 2010. The company, which contributed millions of dollars to elect many appeals court judges in the state, was rarely penalized for those violations.”
Should we sit by and let corporations speed us towards an environmental disaster? Absolutely not. As Dr. Suzuki states at the end of the above post:
“We should all take it personally. We aren’t out to shut down the fossil fuel industry immediately. That would be impossible as well as impractical. But surely a sustainable, healthy future ought to come before a corporation’s right to profit.”
Dr. Suzuki is a Founding Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This association, a group with a membership of 121,200 scientists and science supporters from around the world, has recently released in a report called “What We Know”. “What We Know” is both a report found online and as a living document in the form of this website: http://whatweknow.aaas.org/ It is a collection of media and scientific evidence that supports our knowledge that global warming is not only real but influenced by human behaviors.
“As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change. But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.” – AAAS
Sea levels continue to rise. The oceans are acidifying. There are severe weather changes creating droughts in some areas and flooding in others. Animals and plants are becoming extinct at alarming rates. Food crops are being affected. On top of all this, the human population is ever exploding.
Because the need to address climate change is so very urgent, there is a need to ask people to get involved. Citizens are more powerful than they realize in their ability to influence the world they live in. I urge everyone to take these issues personally. We must all seek out actions through resources like Dr. Suzuki’s foundation and others in an effort to save our EARTH for generations to come.