David Suzuki to tell students to ‘get involved’
One of Canada’s most celebrated environmentalists is coming to a Richmond high school to urge youth to get involved in protecting the planet. David Suzuki will speak to students at the Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit not as the scientist, broadcaster, author or environmental activist he is, but as an elder.
“I’m spending a lot of my time now speaking to people as an elder,” the 78-year-old said in an interview with The Richmond Review. “It’s a very special time in one’s life. Certainly one is past an ambition for celebrity or money or power, so we can really speak the truth from our hearts, without fearing getting fired or not getting promoted.”
Suzuki, co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation and professor emeritus at University of B.C., is the keynote speaker for the April 26 event at R.A. McMath Secondary, organized by students from the district’s Green Ambassadors program. He’ll be speaking to the day’s theme of We Are the Fraser, while telling youth they have the biggest stake in the Earth’s future.
“Whatever happens will have little effect (on my life). And yet the decisions being made now are going to reverberate through their entire lives,” he said. “The sad thing is that youth are the one group that are the least likely to take part in the electoral process.”
Suzuki said he understands why young people stay away from the political process: issues being discussed aren’t really about them. Yet the Conservative government’s push to become a “petrol power” will have a major impact on their lives in the future, he said.
“I’m telling them you’ve got to get involved. If they say to me I’m not old enough to vote, I say: You’ve got to recruit the two most important people in your lives, and that’s mom and dad. If your mom and dad care about you, they’ve got to become eco-warriors on your behalf.”
Suzuki is renowned for his radio and TV shows that have brought the science of nature into living rooms across the country, including The Nature of Things With David Suzuki. He’s the recipient of numerous awards and honours, including being names a Companion of the Order of Canada and the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for Science.
Suzuki is also a prolific author, having written 52 books, including 19 for children. He’s working on another, Letters to My Grandchildren, which he called his most important volume yet.
Climate is a key issue that will impact the lives of youth, but it’s only one of a suite of problems the Earth is facing, the scientist said. The extinction crisis, acidification of oceans and pollution are among others.
“If you use air, water and soil as a garbage can, what the hell do we expect is going to happen? We can’t be healthy if we don’t have a healthy planet.”
Suzuki said problems stem from the importance placed on money. The economy has been elevated above all else, and when an economic downturn comes, concern for the environment and what keeps us alive disappears, something he called “insane.”
He said some governments have made progress—Suzuki believes the carbon tax introduced by the B.C. Liberal government in 2008 will be Gordon Campbell’s greatest legacy—while the federal government continues to push the development of the Northern Alberta oil sands.
“To my amazement, the tar sands represent the largest industrial development on the planet,” he said. “Don’t you think maybe there’s an environmental effect of that—maybe a little bit? And yet this government has absolutely demonized environmentalists. Joe Oliver (Minister of Natural Resources) calls us enemies of the country.”
Earlier this year singer-songwriter Neil Young put the oil sands on stage by speaking out against the government’s role in promoting them. In his “Honour the Treaties” tour, Young warned oil sands expansion’s impact on First Nations and their way of life. The Prime Minister’s Office responded: “Even the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day. Our government recognizes the importance of developing resources responsibly and sustainably, and we will continue to ensure that Canada’s environmental laws and regulations are rigorous.”
But oil sands expansion has gone far enough, according to Suzuki. He pointed to the 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen, where Canada and other world powers recognized the need to ensure temperature rises don’t exceed 2C. But to meet that goal in Canada, 80 per cent of the oil, coal and gas that’s in the ground needs to stay there, said Suzuki.
“That means we shouldn’t be supporting any further exploration of oil. We’ve got way more than we can afford to burn,” he said. “The reality is, the oil in the tar sands should be left in the ground if (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper means what they did in Copenhagen.”
Of the Fraser River, home to the world’s greatest salmon run, Suzuki said the body of water should be celebrated in the face of rising threats from industrialization.
“In some countries the river is considered the sacred mother. You don’t treat your mother or something sacred the way you treat the fraser river,” he said. “We should celebrate it and treat it with greater respect.”
Richmond Earth Day Youth Summit
•Also known as the REaDY Summit, the event takes place Saturday, April 26 at R.A. McMath Secondary from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
•The event features exhibits and workshops on themes of environmental stewardship and sustainability.
•David Suzuki is the keynote speaker, while other presenters—addressing topics such as connecting with nature, sustainable food and natural gardening—include Arran and Jyoti Stephens of Nature’s Path Foods, paleontologist Scott Sampson, chef Ian Lai and experts from the David Suzuki Foundation.
•All Richmond youth are encouraged to register at readysummit.ca.