On October 17, David Suzuki visited Kitchener to deliver a keynote speech on the global environmental crisis and the state of international recovery efforts. On October 19, The Waterloo Region Record did exactly what most major media outlets do. They reached into their files, pulled out their environmental story template, jotted down a few quotes and published their version of the event.
Rethink Waterloo was a conference put together to help the people of the region reduce their environmental impact by connecting them with the necessary knowledge and advice. Suzuki’s role as the final speaker was to motivate those in attendance to take action and answer the question: what can I do?
Throughout his 90-minute presentation he covered everything from the cause of climate change and the inner-workings of this crisis, to the biggest environmental disaster in Canada – the Alberta Tar Sands. The Record’s story however focused on none of that. Their story focused on the idea that “the party is over” and they made vague reference to cleaning up and the need to find solutions quickly. Rather than taking an thorough look at the content of the presentation, the story amounted to a reiteration of all the same environmental tough-talk that has been passed around for the last couple of years.
The Record’s article points to explosive population growth and a wasteful lifestyle as the cause of our environmental woes. However, Suzuki explored these issues much more deeply. He explained to his audience why the global community functions the way it does and what needs to be addressed.
While the article did touch on what Suzuki called our “obsession with growth,” it fell short of conveying his real message. Not only did Suzuki denounce the notion of “infinite growth,” but he blamed it on our global economic system and called for a convention to alter it completely. He proposed that we restructure all trade to reflect the environmental cost the items have to future generations.
Our economic system is outdated according to Suzuki. It was invented after the Second World War when abundant resources and unprecedented population growth made a system that required an unrelenting rise in consumption every year seem not only sustainable, but almost irrepressible. Suzuki made it clear that we cannot combat our serial over-consumption under a financial system that falls into recession, and therefore crisis.
We strive to consume to keep the economy growing and in return the economy will require us to keep it growing. As Suzuki points out we are constantly growing the economy, but for what? At no point will it ever be large enough, it will only require more consumption from us to grow further. The economy does not provide us with food to eat or oxygen to breath like the earth does, and yet we make it our highest priority. In our economic system trees have no value alive, Suzuki explained – as long as they capture carbon and provide oxygen they are worthless. It is not until we chop them down that they gain value.
These bold statements did not make it into media accounts; neither did Suzuki’s pointed criticism of our federal government. He questioned Prime Minister Harper’s leadership abilities and ripped our federal environmental policies as all but non-existent. He openly denounced Harper’s attacks on former Liberal leader Stephane Dion’s Green-shift proposal as baseless fear-mongering. Suzuki commented that the Conservatives, since their arrival, have virtually eliminated the tiny bit of climate change policy that had survived from the previous Liberal government.
Suzuki also spoke of the successes that governments can have when they actually attempt to combat climate change. Sweden’s carbon level’s are now over 12 percent lower than called for by the Kyoto Protocol. Meanwhile our government has given up, claiming that the commitments are impossible to reach. How did Sweden achieve this? According to Suzuki through the introduction of a carbon tax, a similar system to the one Harper portrayed as reckless and unproven in the last election.
One of the most controversial and thought-provoking statements made by Suzuki got no ink at all. Suzuki called the Tar Sands Canada’s biggest environmental disaster and called for operations there to be shut down immediately. Not going to happen, obviously. But not even worth a mention?
The article made no reference to any of this, focusing instead on the importance of shorter showers and reducing energy use. Readers were basically asked to believe that Canada’s leading environmentalist flew half way across the country to tell the citizen’s of Waterloo to shut off their taps and flick off their lights.
Was his real message just too radical for the mainstream media to absorb? That’s a huge problem because we’re long past the point where we can afford to ignore environmental reality.
In the last few years, climate change has gained the media spotlight and is finally viewed as a genuine crisis. However the initial momentum for change is waning. When volunteers labour to put an event like Rethink Waterloo together to inspire conversation and search for solutions the media needs to bring them into sharper focus. The message of all environmental initiatives has been reduced to “reduce your individual impact.” Though this is a key factor in solving the problem it is not the only component. We are facing an unprecedented crisis in human history and we need to find revolutionary solutions. Who better to provide us with them than David Suzuki and who better to share with the public than the local media?
Christopher Raftis is a member of the Green Club at Norwell District Secondary School and a graduate of the school’s Community Environmental Leadership Program (CELP).