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David Suzuki & Jeff Rubin Address Our Economy’s Disconnect With Reality

2012/10/04

I had the good fortune this week to be in the audience during Dr. David Suzuki and Jeff Rubin’s Eco Tour stop in Winnipeg, part of a cross-country book tour. Dr. Suzuki is a world-renowned geneticist and Canadian television personality who has hosted the CBC science show, The Nature of Things, for 31 years. He has become one of the most articulate and public voices speaking up for a sane environmental policy, in the face of runaway climate change and biodiversity loss. Mr. Rubin was formerly the chief economist for CIBC and is now a best-selling author whose latest book is entitled The End of Growth (his previous one was Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller).  An ecologist and an economist – not a pairing that one sees very often, but one that should be happening a whole lot more.

Both men spoke for about 15 minutes about their perspectives on the looming crises in both the economy and the environment. Rubin highlighted how peak oil isn’t about how much oil reserves in total the world has, but rather how much oil can be retrieved in a way that generates profit; even with triple digit oil prices, it just isn’t economically feasible to go after high-risk reserves. Rubin also asserted that triple-digit oil prices dampen down global economic growth, which has been propped up by cheap oil prices for decades (hence the title of his book). Of course, he said a whole lot more but that was his intro.

Suzuki started off by reminding us that, despite our amazing technological advances and sophisticated industrialized way of life, we humans are, after all, animals. We need to breathe air and drink water and consume food to survive. And yet, inexplicably, we continue to pour pollution into our air and pump toxic chemicals into our water and our soil. He posed the question “why is it that the market, which is something that humans have created, dictates what our ecosystem is used and abused for, rather than the other way around?” The market, Suzuki asserts, has become what dragons were in medieval times – the scary, untouchable monster that humans had to look out for and fear. It’s time that humans realized that, just like dragons, the market is a creation of the human imagination and our fear of it needs to disappear the same way our fear of dragons did hundreds of years ago.

During a short question and answer session that followed their short presentations, I asked for both of their responses to the International Energy Agency’s 2011 World Energy Report, which warned that if fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed (by 2016), the world will lose for ever the chance to avoid catastrophic climate change. Jeff Rubin’s response was that the IEA based it’s calculations on a world whose GDP was growing by 4% a year, and he doesn’t think this will happen, for the reasons he outlines in his book, related to the high price of oil. He also places some faith in human ingenuity and technology. David Suzuki, on the other hand, responded by discussing Australian author and intellectual Clive Hamilton’s recent book, Requiem For A Species; the species Hamilton is referring to in the title is humans. The book focuses on how and why humans have ignored the warning of science about global warming until now, so that now it is too late.

My head wanted to believe Jeff Rubin, and believe that we still have the time and ability to turn this crisis around, but in my heart I felt the pain and sadness that Suzuki clearly feels about this issue, and the truth of Hamilton’s message. I haven’t given up hope – I can’t, I have two daughters who are going to be living in the world that we have created – but I do know that the situation is bleak. The only response I know is to keep doing what I can to change the outcome through education and activism, while at the same time preparing for the “Great Disruption” in our economy and personal lives that is about to happen to all of us, whether we are ready for it or not. And, while I’m at it, I plan on spending time with the people I love, doing things that feed my spirit.

David Suzuki at Toronto EcoTour, photo: C. McNamara

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Photo: Occupy Canada

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Graphic: Give a Shit About Climate Change (www.facebook.com/giveashitaboutclimatechange)

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More links:

Suzuki Cautions Resource Rich Saskatchewan

Suzuki, Rubin Book Tour Links Ecology, Economics

12 Comments leave one →
  1. 2012/10/05 5:07 am

    I share your thoughts and shake my head at what we’re doing to our environment and ourselves. In the meantime, happy thanksgiving.

    • 2012/10/05 10:09 pm

      Thanks – it started off in an interesting way, with a 28-hour power outage due to an early winter storm. Being unplugged like that makes one think about how dependent we all are on the grid. It’s good to be back on-line, but it was nice to have all the usual expectations gone for a while, too.
      Enjoy your turkey & pumpkin pie, too!

  2. Martin Lack permalink
    2012/10/05 11:06 am

    Both talks sound fascinating. However, I disagree with Suzuki. The market has not become a dragon; it has become a god – and far from learning not to fear it – we need to stop worshiping it.

    Your question based on the IEA’s WEO 2011 was an excellent one; and both responses are very interesting: I had not made the connection between low growth and the potential deferral of the onset of what Herman E Daly called “uneconomic growth” that it provides us. However, I fear Hamilton is right, we will never change – no matter how much time we are given.

    I am utterly despondent because of what has happened in the UK in the last year or so. Here is an extract of what I said in an email to my Conservative MP today:

    ‘In light of the way in which our “greenest ever government” has removed Feed-in Tariff incentives for people to invest in Solar PV; overturned the presumption against opencast coal mining in planning policy; is forcing opencast developments on communities and county councils that had rejected them; and is ignoring its own scientific advisors to pursue decades of unabated gas-fired power generation… I am inclined to feel that my friendship (as opposed to membership) of the Conservative Party may be under threat.’

    More on this topic on my blog on Monday.

    • 2012/10/05 10:15 pm

      I prefer Paul Gilding’s take on what’s ahead to Hamilton’s – that we humans will muster up the response required, albeit at the last minute. We shall soon see who is right.
      And reading your list of the antics of the “greenest ever govt” I can see why you might despair.

      • Martin Lack permalink
        2012/10/06 2:43 am

        Hamilton’s ultimate conclusion is that we must get over being disillusioned and/or despairing and instead channel our emotions into civil disobedience (as James Hansen has done). That is all very well for them to say but, I need a job.

  3. 2012/10/06 9:22 pm

    I also want to believe Rubin. These kids are so amazing and such strong advocates for change. It reminds me of an old Sting song,
    “Mr. krushchev said we will bury you
    I don’t subscribe to this point of view
    It would be such an ignorant thing to do
    If the russians love their children too”

    Same song different verse.

  4. 2012/11/23 5:56 pm

    This photo was created by the admins on “Give a Shit About Climate Change” (www.facebook.com/giveashitaboutclimatechnage), it would be greatly appreciated if you could give credit to the page. Thank you!

    • 2012/11/25 11:32 pm

      Thanks for sharing that info, K, I’m happy to give credit where credit is due (as noted, I found it on Occupy Canada’s Facebook wall). Just a suggestion for further great graphics – if the credit is embedded right into the photo, it won’t get lost in the shuffle.

      • 2012/11/25 11:41 pm

        Sorry, I meant the bottom photo, the one with Suzuki and the quote. Sorry about the confusion! Oh yes, after this image got “stolen” instead of shared by most pages, we started adding the credit to everything. Not one image has ever been so popular as this one though. Thank you very much for being so understanding and professional about this, a lot of people don’t seem to understand how frustrating it can be.

      • 2012/11/26 8:01 am

        Okay, I think I got it sorted out. And congrats on the success of this picture – while it may be frustrating that your group is not being created appropriately for it, I think you should also be proud and pleased that it’s as popular as you say it is. I’m sure you’d agree that the important thing, in the end, is that this message goes viral.

      • 2012/11/28 6:38 am

        Agreed. Thanks again!

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