David Suzuki: On big business, the environment—and the future

On big business, the environment—and the future

“I used to call my dad a mutant because for most children of immigrants their main concern is making money. He was never a big success in making a lot of money. He always loved gardening and trees and camping, and I kept saying, “You're a mutant–you didn't get that from your parents.”

My father was my great inspiration. He was my greatest fan and my toughest critic. He taught me how to be a public speaker. He just felt the embarrassing thing about Japanese-Canadians was that they were always so shy and awkward. He said if you want to compete in white society, you've got to learn how to speak publicly.

The problem is that money grows faster than real things. We demand always that nature be put on steroids in order to provide us a maximum return.

Big business is a major cause of the degradation of the planet because it's driven by the bottom line, which is to maximize profit for shareholders.

Hazel Henderson, a futurist in Florida, says conventional economics is a form of brain damage, and she's absolutely right. Economists actually believe the economy can continue to grow forever, which it cannot.

In 1989, when the Exxon Valdez oil spill happened, the American GDP went up by $2 billion. If you looked only at GDP growth, then you'd say, “Well, that's great–spill oil all over the place, it's good for the GDP.” This is a nutty, stupid notion of an indicator of anything, and yet every politician will turn somersaults to try and keep the GDP growing.

I've come to the conclusion that we're not going to stop the destructive bent by working with environmentalists in the environmental community alone. This huge ship called the global economy has momentum and is on a very destructive path. We've got to bring people who are in business onside.

I don't get the objection to Kyoto. And Kyoto is just a tiny, tiny beginning. If [Alberta], one of the richest provinces in one of the richest countries in the world, can't afford to do something about climate change, when can we afford to?

In Britain, they take science seriously. Britain is the country of Sir Isaac Newton, Darwin, Watson and Crick. In Canada, we think science is used for political purposes.

The thing that pisses me off about complaints that Kyoto will ruin the economy is that there have been companies that have reduced their energy use by well over 50% and made hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process. The reality is that business is incredibly inefficient and any reduction in energy use is going to save you money.

The oil patch? They are the ultimate free enterprises. I said to [Prime Minister] Paul Martin, “Why are you subsidizing fossil fuels? At the very least, let them fight it out on the markets–they don't need to be subsidized.”

Thirty years from now, people are going to look back and say to us in disbelief, “You mean you just burned oil and gas?” Future generations are going to say, “That was a one-time gift, and you just burned it? What an incredible waste.”

The fact is, the future lies in renewables. I think at this moment we have an incredible opportunity.

My life is not 100% pure. If it was, I wouldn't be flying around and doing a lot of the things I do.

I bought the first [Toyota] Prius sold in North America. We love that machine. We don't use it when we go to work because we can bike or walk. Unfortunately, it's straight up a hill.

David Suzuki by himself is nothing. But if millions and millions of ordinary people are trying to do something, that can add up into a force.

[My kids] are all, thank god, heavy environmentalists. [If they weren't] I'd have to go out and shoot them.

I see my major role now as a grandfather. I have no illusions. I'm not going to save the world. I don't ever want them to look at me and say, “Grandpa, you could have done more.”

Timeline: David Takayoshi Suzuki
Born March 24, 1936, in Vancouver, BC.
Geneticist, broadcaster, author, professor.

1942: Sent to internment camp in B.C. interior with his Japanese-Canadian mom and two sisters under the War Measures Act.

1949: Settles in London, Ont.; attends high school. Graduates from the University of Chicago with a PhD in zoology in 1961.

1979: Becomes host of CBC's award-winning science series The Nature of Things. Celebrates 25th anniversary in 2004.

1990: Starts David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit environmental group aimed at achieving “sustainability within a generation.”

2004: Places fifth on the CBC's list of the Top 10 greatest Canadians.