October 4th 2006
Future will condemn Howard says Suzuki
Pulling no punches, perhaps the world's best-known environmentalist, Canadian scientist and author, Dr David Suzuki told a 3,000 plus audience in Townsville that, in 25 years from now Australians would regard the Howard government as committing crimes against a generation for not heeding the warnings by scientists on greenhouse gases and saying no to the Kyoto Protocol.
Professor Suzuki was in Townsville presenting a "Suzuki speaks" free public lecture on the ''The Challenge of the 21st Century'' last night at the Townsville Entertainment Centre.
"It grieves me that the Prime Minister says no to Kyoto. It's embarrassing," he said.
But Suzuki's aim was not confined to the federal government. His view was much broader and philosophical with over-population, economic growth, consumerism, reductionist science and a media obsessed by trivia among his targets.
Dr Suzuki is the author of 43 books and has been involved in award-winning science and environment based broadcasting for 30 years. He is perhaps best known as the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's, The Nature of Things.
"Ninety percent of the major fishes of the world have gone," he said. "There are now more humans than rabbits, mice or rats in the world," and, taking a swipe at our consumerist culture, said, "We have an incredible itch for 'stuff'".
Suzuki sketched a brief outline of how humanity had emerged in the last 150,000 years from being a physically unimpressive animal to a "super-species" due to our powerful brain with unique capabilities. "The human brain invents the future" he said, identifying our species' ability to predict future likelihoods - which he lamented was the same ability we were now "turning our backs on," as we ignore the warnings of scientists.
He cited a 1992 declaration (read here) by over half of the world's living Nobel Prize-winning scientists and many others that, "'humans were on a collision course with the living world'" and that, "'we had ten years to change,'" starting with a reduction of greenhouse gases by 20%. "The response of the media was terrifying," he said. "No Canadian or North American major newspaper reported it. "That we had ten years to change the world was not newsworthy."
While Suzuki quoted the warnings of scientists he was also critical of his own profession for its, "scientific reductionism". He attacked modern biology for "focussing on fragments" and "by removing them (from their environment) lose sight of how they interact"
Much of modern technology was, he thought, "bludgeoning nature into submission rather than mimicking it".
Economics he saw as, "Not a science but a form of brain damage." He noted that, when he asked economists how they would describe the ozone layer, or underground aquifers(?), they would refer to them as "externalities". "Economists believe the economy can grow forever and must," he said. Dr Suzuki believes the earth must move towards a "steady state" approach to economics as the earth's resources are finite.
As for the explosion in information, "The last thing people need is more information. We don't know how to reflect on what is meaningful" he said.
Perhaps Suzuki's most telling analogy was to do with growth, both of population and economies. He gave the example of a bacteria in a test tube. Starting with one cell which would divide into two (or double in number) every minute. After 55 minutes the test tube would be just 3% full but by the power of compound growth, at the 60th minute it would be at 96%. Suzuki sees humanity presently as past its 59th minute.
It appeared to this reporter however that Dr Suzuki may have skipped a page in his speech when he referred to five things people could do to reverse the planet-threatening direction. We didn't hear them but a quick visit to his website reveals at least ten and much more (read here)
There was a great deal of confronting and thought provoking ideas delivered by Dr Suzuki some of which may have shocked the audience who, by appearance, were what one would consider mostly a fairly typical cross-section of the Townsville community.
Townsville City Council deserves congratulations for organising this very important and well received address even if its own actions, such as the support of massively resource depleting and polluting industries like the proposed Chalco Alumina refinery, are a clear contradiction of the dangers Dr Suzuki warns of.
George Hirst, Editor.
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