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Oct 25, 2010

4877098287_1c393f3131_zAccording to David Suzuki last night at the Opera House, humanity is in the 59th minute, and we’re on a suicidal path of economic growth. He gives us an example from science – a test tube full of bacteria – to illustrate the non-negotiable laws of nature and how we’re breaking them.

Suzuki tells us to imagine putting one bacterial cell into a test tube full of food, which divides every minute. This is exponential growth, and it’s the path humanity is on because of our belief in unlimited economic growth. In his words:

“At time zero you have one cell; one minute you have two; two minutes you have four; three minutes you have eight; four minutes you have 16. That is exponential growth and at 60 minutes the test tube is completely full of bacteria and there is no food left, a sixty minute cycle. When is the test tube only half full? Well the answer of course is at 59 minutes; but a minute later it is filled. So at 58 minutes it is 25% full; 57 minutes 12½ % full.

At 55 minutes of the 60 minute cycle it is only 3% full. So, if at 55 minutes one of the bacteria said to its companions that they had a population problem, the other bacteria would be incredulous because 97% of the test tube would be empty and they had been around for 55 minutes. Yet they would have only 5 minutes left. How do we add even a fraction of 1% more of air, water, soil or biodiversity? We cannot. The biosphere is fixed and finite and every biologist I have talked to agrees with me, we are past the 59th minute.”

His example is no more than an illustration of the common sense rule that you can’t have exponential growth in a planet with finite natural limits; but the way he puts it sends a jolt of recognition and realization through those sitting around me. And when he drives his point home – “I say it without apology. We are promulgating an illusion that everything is alright by using up the rightful legacy of our children and grandchildren. That is not sustainable, it is suicidal” – I imagine there’s not a person in the room, including myself, compelled to double their efforts towards changing the trajectory we’re on.

I first met David Suzuki about 5 years ago when he was giving a speech at Sydney University and our environment collective was in the middle of a three year “Green Campus Now” campaign. The Great Hall was packed and the audience was waiting for someone to come onto the stage to begin the event and introduce David Suzuki. Seeing an opportunity, I jumped up, strode to the microphone, and briefly announced our campaign to get the University to switch from coal to renewable energy, asking the audience to sign the petitions on their way out.

The University administration wasn’t very happy about my impromptu speech, but David Suzuki heard, and endorsed our campaign that night. Eventually, the University Senate committed to investing $1 million into renewable energy as a result of our work.

I have no doubt that the speech Suzuki gave that night was a turning point in our campaign. It was attended by senior University officials, well-known alumni, staff, and students; and almost everyone who heard him speak was moved to sign our petition, and many to get involved in a deeper way, as they left the Great Hall.

Compelling communication about science and about sustainability is all too rare. It’s an incredibly valuable thing to be able to captivate an audience the way David Suzuki did last night to a sold-out Opera House concert hall. His books and his writing are similarly engaging – he is a master at weaving his life, his experiences and his family history into a broader narrative about sustainability and ecology.

I’d bet that David Suzuki, David Attenborough and Tim Flannery are probably responsible for educating more people about science and nature in an effective and inspiring way than the school systems of their three respective countries.

The difference between the way science was taught to me in high school, and the way Suzuki teaches it, is enormous. Last night, I listened in wonder as Suzuki explained how breathing works and that my lungs, if spread out, would cover an entire tennis field. I’ll remember it forever. In contrast, the thing I remember most from my high school science class was the time I organised a boycott against dissecting mice in class.Not one thing I read in those heavy textbooks seems to have remained in my mind.

And the difference is this: David Suzuki loves nature; and recognises that humanity is a part of it. He is passionate about the natural world, and on a crusade to make humans understand that we aren’t separate from ‘the environment’ but that we are the environment: made up of air, water, soil and fire just like other mammals. He tells a story of walking into a camping store in Calgary that had a sign out front proclaiming ‘No Animals Allowed’ and explaining to the confused owner that if he enforced that rule, he would have no customers! And he encourages all of us to spend time more in nature, because to fight to protect something, you must love it first.

Thanks to Naomi Martin and the team greening the Opera House for their great work. I can’t wait to see Vandana Shiva’s Sydney Peace Prize address “Making Peace with the Earth” at the Opera House on Wednesday 3rd November.

You can see the trailer for David Suzuki’s new film, Force of Nature, below.

Cross-posted from http://annarose.net.au/

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40 thoughts on “David Suzuki: Legacy Tour

  1. Fran Barlow

    Thanks duncanm

    Here’s a quicklink I found and converted to tinyurl

    http://tinyurl.com/suz-oh

  2. duncanm

    fran barlow asked where audio of the legacy speech can be found.

    I believe for one, it is available on the JCU website. (James cook University)

    I think the best way to advance urgent political response is through GETUP

  3. Michelle Hamer

    If the doctor says you are dieing, then it doesn’t matter if there is a smile on his face and he has twelve children at home, the message is the same. I believe that is what was attempted to be expressed in earlier posts by other idividuals which I suppose I was too warm and fuzzy to get across but please keep telling me why David Suzuki doesn’t know what he is talking about because he has five kids. I mean you’ll probably be falling down a well but not take the rope because it’s the wrong brand.

    This is a joke I was told a long time ago and think it is really suitable for our current era, all existential and the existence of God debates aside, of course it continually appears that “can’t see the forest for the trees,” is more often than not.”

    There was a huge flood in a village.

    One man said to everyone as they evacuated, “I’ll stay! God will save me!”

    The flood got higher and a boat came, and the man in it said “Come on mate, get in!”

    “No” replied the man. “God will save me!”

    The flood got very high now and the man had to stand on the roof of his house.

    A helicopter soon came and the man offered him help. “No, God will save me!” he said.

    Eventually the man drown.

    He got by the gates of heaven and he said to God, “Why didn’t you save me?”

    God replied, “For goodness sake! I sent a boat and a helicopter. What more do you want!”

  4. Flower

    Hmmm – Perhaps we could have tucked into the 2.2 million live animals that were experimented on in Western Australia in 2006 (up from 514,000 in 2005 and 178,000 in 2004) after they’d been sacrificed for the benefit of ‘humanity.’

    After all, among the 2.2 million animals, were 400 whales, dolphins and porpoises and I suspect a few primates too.

    Of course we are told that scientific experiments on these hapless critters are vital to maintain the health and extend the longevity of the ‘superior’ species – the dominant homo-saps, aiming for a population of 9-10 billion by 2050. By then, the ‘superior’ species should be eating each other.

    “And what would Madam prefer for the main course this evening? The steak Dianne or George’s meat balls?”

  5. Geoff Russell

    I did read what you said Michelle … you want your kids to fish in the local
    creek … Yes? this implies that you want almost everybody else’s kids NOT to fish
    in the local creek. Yes? If you think there can ever be enough fish in the world’s
    creeks for everybody to be able to catch them, then you are simply wrong. Western
    fish consumption is subsidised by other people’s oceans because there are not
    enough fish to meet the demand. If fishing were done sustainably, there would be
    even less … far less. Australia has probably the largest coastline per capita on
    the planet … but we still import about half the fish that are eaten here. Oops, sorry,
    there’s more of that pesky information getting in the way of that warm and fuzzy Huck Finn experience.

  6. Michelle Hamer

    Dear Mr. Russell:

    I think you are so busy ranting off info that you are unable to listen and missed the point:) But I’m totally stoked that you commented on what I said. Thanks. Maybe I will comment more often, I’m sure we would both thoroughly enjoy the rant!

  7. Ray Polglaze

    For those who missed David Suzuki’s talk, here is the video of his talk at the Sydney Opera House:

    http://play.sydneyoperahouse.com/index.php/Talks/david-suzuki-the-legacy.html

  8. Mark Duffett

    Great, Ron, you’re volunteering to be first into the Soylent Green machine, then, are you?

  9. Ron E. Joggles

    Jonathon @ 25 said “Population crash really is a worst-case scenario.” Bring it on!
    Humans are a plague upon the Earth,
    Our cities, teeming sores.

  10. Geoff Russell

    Michelle, the only way your 5 children can catch those fish is if very, very, very, very, few
    other people want to catch fish in that creek. So you had better be hoping that almost
    everybody else is different from you … because there will be no fish in that creek if there
    are plenty of people exactly like you. On a global scale fish and seafood in total
    provide about 1% of calories … but far more than this in the diets of rich people who consequently
    are hoping that poor people don’t develope a taste for fish. Actually, rich people don’t trust
    to luck … they just buy or steal fish from poor countries. Have you seen all the news stories
    of Somali pirates? They used to be fishermen until the big European fish companies bought
    their fishing rights for a song … not from the fishermen, but from their “government”.

  11. Ray Polglaze

    Michelle, In your closing sentences you have brought the discussion back to one the key messages of David Suzuki’s talk: that it makes a lot of difference how we look at the world. Do we see a forested valley as a sacred place rich in history and meaning? Or do we see it as a timber resource to be sold to make money? He would agree with you that we need to change our perspectives on the world, and that this is the path to a better relationship with the planet and its species. Atleast that is what I heard him saying.

  12. Michelle Hamer

    I would like to comment and I am new to this site. I don’t usually tend to participate in chats like this but seem endeavoured to. Just like sometype of group meeting…I will stand up and say I have five kids in my home and I have a sustainable company that is interested in what makes beautiful, what is inclusion and how can we have hope for our global community so that my FIVE kids well be able to catch fish in the old Strawberry Creek down the road. Sometimes life happens…I had a very long discussion about this very topic because obviously I think about these things. The conclusion of that debate was that it would appear that our lack of consideration for life and what is life giving is the perpetual fuel to the power that continues to devestate, destroy and misuse our biological web that we are all a part of. I would think that which is not life giving such as children rummagging around in techlogocial waste with their feet rotting off, poisions put into diosposable diapers and baby food and detrimental toxins put into our products and then into our water system far out weighs procreation, a natural force of life, in the destruction of our planet. If we actually went into each day giving thanks for the life around us and were appreciative that each time we step out our door, especially if you are an urban dweller you are stepping out onto a piece of land that you should be thanking every other living being on this planet for sharing. We are so concerned with how to stop life that is exactly what we are doing. If we changed our perspective just a little it would change how life offered itself back to us. Live well. Michelle Rosetta – Queen Bee of BEE 23 Natural Beauty Products and proud mother of little leaders to be:)

  13. Averil Bones

    I saw David Suzuki at the Opera House on Sunday night too, and his messages are still echoing in my mind. The longer this week goes on, the more I find that the concert hall was filled with like-minded people… people who already appreciate something of the crisis in the natural world that we are, on a generational scale, facilitating.

    This message, that we are eroding our own life-support systems, that we are eating up the natural capital that should support future generations and wiping out the species that will teach us the critical survival lessons of climate adaptation, how is it less important than pouring billions of dollars into a few hundred-year-old investment banks? Even now that I’ve studied economics, it all seems utterly backwards to me. A fifth of all plants extinct. As Suzuki pointed out, everything we eat, everything, relies on plants to capture the energy of the sun. Digest that thought with your breakfast, your wheat, your coffee, your orange juice, the flowering plants and the pollinators that toil to feed you.

    The activist community is the place to be right now. At this point in history, I can’t imagine why anyone would be doing anything but putting their weight to turning the tanker of climate degradation and biodiversity loss.

    Anyway, Anna thanks so much for your contribution. You’re an inspirational individual. We may not achieve everything we set out to achieve, but we’ll achieve much more than if we’d never tried at all.

    Cheers,

    Averil

  14. Bill Parker

    Like Jonathon Maddox I am late as well. My thunder stolen. This was first year bacteriology that took some believing even then. I went on to look at bacterial survival and its complex.

    To use that comparison is likely to get people thinking but it isn’t that simple.

    Perish the thought but cannibalism is still possible.

  15. Tom McLoughlin

    I remember an event about that time, I think it may have been at the Seymour Centre near Sydney Uni? I waited for David Suzuki to finish signing books and had a a little chat with him. Actually I told him some home truths about being politically positioned by then premier Bob Carr, so maybe it was 7 years back. But not a rant – I unrolled some secret NSW Govt maps. I showed him the areas Carr saved (maroon colour) compared to the much bigger areas he released for 20 years of logging (light green), compared to existing parks (grey). The kind of maps that make journalists look innumerate when they parrot Carr’s boast of 330 new national parks in his tenure – compared to the much bigger areas on Carr’s watch of Eastern forest proper for destruction. I also recently traveresed the sad history of fully 1/2 million hectares of woodlands cleared in agricultural lands from say 1997 to 2002 and how that was kept secret with help of one in particular ngo trusty, under Carr. In a state of 80M hectares, that a big clearing rate. In secret.

    David Suzuki had the intrinsic decency to seem depressed over the meaning of those maps. He was just starting to realise by the Govt’s own document how Carr, a master media manipulator had conned a master environmental communicator into his spin. It’s been my depressing duty to tell that story. An ecologist lives in a world of wounds.

  16. Jonathan Maddox

    I’m late to the party again … but I have to take exception to Suzuki’s nightmare scenario example, it’s not remotely realistic. Population may grow “exponentially” and in the test tube with one kind of bacterium and one kind of food it may even grow until the resources are all gone, but real populations in real environments don’t grow like P(t) = e^t. They follow something much closer to a logistic curve, P(t) = 1/( 1 + e^t ). They reach a stable level. Real-world curves aren’t smooth like these, they have bumps (and they’re not continuous curves either, they are discrete integers).

    Now it’s quite clear that humans ARE exhausting resources and ARE polluting the resource sinks and ARE out-competing other life on the planet and monopolising the productive capacity of the earth … but it’s also clear that growth levels out in many possible scenarios. The population growth of several of the more prosperous communist countries in Eastern Europe was zero for several decades; many Western countries would also have near-zero population growth if it weren’t for immigration and baby-bonus programs; China’s population is stabilizing around 1.3 billion.

    The nightmare scenario (and it’s entirely possible) is that human population will “overshoot” sustainability, devastate the planet, and fall back until it has a decent chance of stabilising at a lower figure (maybe 0, or half a billion, or back here at seven billion after climbing to 9 billion … who knows). It is at all not clear that we’ve already overshot or that overshooting is inevitable.

    Population crash really is a worst-case scenario. No real-world population grows following a simple exponential curve until there’s nothing left to consume.

  17. Geoff Russell

    JamesH: “and fire” is quite true of cattle. Vast areas of the planet are burned annually to
    prevent forest regrowth to facilitate cattle. For some detail:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/05/boverty-blues-p1/

  18. JamesH

    You were joking about “air, water, soil and fire”, right?

  19. Ray Polglaze

    One of the themes that has emerged in these comments is the importance of contributions from different areas of knowledge. It’s perhaps interesting that this point has been made by David Suzuki’s daughter, Severn Cullis-Suzuki.

    Here she is speaking with passion to Canadian university students in 2008. Listen for when she says “we need you”.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djE8J4rYjGw&feature=related

  20. Mkeigher

    Watch David Suzuki connect all 7 billion of us http://testtube.nfb.ca from the National Film Board of Canada.

  21. Michael R James

    [paddy Posted October 25, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    I’m not sure why you’re swinging at Arts/Law grads.]

    I have written on this previously in Crikey but cannot lay my hands on it.
    The main issue is that Lawyers are trained to be, essentially, Sophists. They must not get emotionally engaged in an argument either way. The more dispassionate they can be, the more effective they are and the more successful they are. Winning, regardless of just cause or any overt facts, is the sole arbiter of their life’s success.
    So, naturally they are not very interested in things like scientific facts because that just might mean one argument is actually correct over another one–meaning they could have lost an argument before it even begins! Not on.
    This is non-trivial. The increasing dominance of lawyers in politics is counter-productive to good outcomes. I believe there have been a decade or more of lawyer-politicians (it is easier to name those who are NOT lawyers on either side) who were fundamentally uninterested in many of the major problems facing us, including environmental (MDB, climate change in general), energy, urban planning, transport etc. This was painfully obvious for Howard, Costello, Beazley, Gillard, Abbott, Hockey and even Rudd (not a lawyer but closely related discipline of diplomacy). Then there is George Brandis (SC). The jury is still out on the possible exceptions (Turnbull, Garrett) but on the other hand most of us (thinking types) are not equivocal about Bob Brown (MB, BS).

    As for Arts grads, well who takes them seriously? (kind of a joke but many a serious point was made in jest; a big part of the problem with our media IMO).

    I think it is time we had a quota system on the number of lawyers in parliament!

  22. Fran Barlow

    Mark Duffett said:

    [Diversity? I’d settle for ‘balance’. Certainly I’d feel better about ‘common sense sustainability’ as espoused by the AYCC if it contained a few more engineers, and a few less arts types. Without that perspective, I suspect my idea of ‘common sense’ might differ from yours (and Fran’s).]

    I prefer the term diversity Mark, mainly because balance sounds a lot more binary, and I’m not sure which two entities are the ballast for each other. I have the greatest respect for engineers — a 57km tunnel under the ALPs? — awesome! I don’t doubt that the project was up to its metaphoric armpits in engineers, though hopefully a few Arts/law grads made sure it was realised politically as conceived.

    [I heard the test tube/bacteria analogy so long ago and so often since that I’d consider it a cliché. Same with the shared argon atom thing – I first read that in a piece by Arthur C. Clarke that must be at least fifty years old now. So I’m afraid I and many others might not find Suzuki’s talk all that revelatory.]

    Interestingly, road testing these things on others suggests that your experience might not be predictive. The kids at school were impressed, as were some of the staff. Mind you, my year 10 kids had no clue who Suzuki was, though someone asked if he owned a car company. I doubt they’d have heard of Arthur C Clarke either, more’s the pity.

    Suzuki’s point was our connectedness, for good and ill, in a world in which people often go cognitively dissonant when uncomfortable realities press upon their minds. We humans are neither separate from each other nor even separate from the natural world as a whole, and yet we often behave as if we are, “othering” everything inconvenient. Whether we cast our eyes at the Adelaide Hills or the MDB or the collapsing glaciers in West Antarctica, or the floods in Pakistan or cholera in Haiti and Benin that connectedness is something useful to hang onto, even if it’s realised though the medium of something as slippery as a drop of water or an argon atom.

  23. Geoff Russell

    Mark: “Dissection is the best teaching tool” is an empirical hypothesis which
    many medical and veterinary faculties in various countries have decided is false … this
    has been happening for 20 years. In the veterinary case, a typical pattern is
    assign students to 2 groups (one practices on “waste” animals who “don’t wake up” and the other train with some alternative … a model usually), then you do the procedure for real on real animals who do wake up. Lo and behold no between group differences. e.g.,
    Greenfield, C., Johnson, A., Arends, M. & Wroblewski, A. (1993). “Development of parenchymal abdominal organ models for use in teaching veterinary soft tissue surgery”. Veterinary Surgery , vol 22 (357-362)

    But in the current blogs context it is the “subtext” which routine dissection teaches which is the real issue … namely that animals are simply a resource. That attitude is inconsistent with what is required to look after the planet … namely to undo 200 years of deforestation to draw down about 60 ppm of CO2. We have to vacate (our livestock) from vast tracts of land … and we won’t do this if we view this as wasting the land and wasting any tasty wildlife on that land.

    Anna: When I got involved in Animal Liberation in the 80s, most members were
    vegetarian with a few vegans. These days almost everybody is vegan. This isn’t
    being driven just by concern about the veal industry (really just
    a part of the dairy industry) but also by an understanding of the role of
    the dairy industry in the Murray Darling Basin:

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/10/18/who-crippled-the-murray-darling-basin/

  24. Mark Duffett

    Anna, I have to hand it to you, your sunny disposition and smileys are impervious to my grumpy old man snark. I’ll let your (and Fran’s) comments on animal testing alternatives through to the keeper on this occasion, because that wasn’t my main point, which was that science isn’t just about knowledge of the natural world, so much as how you get it.

    Yes, arts/law graduates have their place too, but I’m pretty sure that telling the world how to do science education isn’t it. @Fran, this is my naivety, that I’m old-fashioned enough to think that teachers shouldn’t have to motivate their students.

    Diversity? I’d settle for ‘balance’. Certainly I’d feel better about ‘common sense sustainability’ as espoused by the AYCC if it contained a few more engineers, and a few less arts types. Without that perspective, I suspect my idea of ‘common sense’ might differ from yours (and Fran’s).

    Finally, I don’t know that I’d be too confident that Suzuki’s presentation will have the effect on others that you hope. Maybe it’s something I picked up through my science education ;-), but I heard the test tube/bacteria analogy so long ago and so often since that I’d consider it a cliché. Same with the shared argon atom thing – I first read that in a piece by Arthur C. Clarke that must be at least fifty years old now. So I’m afraid I and many others might not find Suzuki’s talk all that revelatory.

  25. paddy

    I’m not sure why you’re swinging at Arts/Law grads. Diversity is as important in public life as it is in nature.]
    LOL Fran. Bullseye! 😀

  26. PeeBee

    Anna and Heavy at 3 and 4, I totally agree with Suzuki and applaud him for doing it. The one thing we can all do to curb population growth is to have less than 2 per couple. In this he has manifestly failed. As I said his credibility would be greater had he practiced what he now preaches.

  27. Fran Barlow

    Mark Duffett asked:

    [Anna, has it occurred to you to wonder how we know our lungs’ effective surface area? I’ll bet getting that knowledge involved more than a few mouse dissections, and other icky things besides. ]

    Doubtless that is so, though, speaking as a teacher, it’s not quite the same thing as claiming that this is the ideal way to engage children in science. These days, you could do that with some suitable software and get pretty much the same cognitive outcome, if not one that was markedly better in many cases. It’s a hell of a lot more controllable and easier to run. Even surgeons these days work a lot with simulators.

    I’m not sure why you’re swinging at Arts/Law grads. Diversity is as important in public life as it is in nature.

  28. Anna Rose

    Hey Mark! Thanks for your kind and generous words and your suggestions 🙂 I’ll have to work harder to be more imaginative from now on. Will let you know how I go with that. And thanks for giving my school of thought it’s own label – Rosean. No-one’s ever done that before. Prefer to call it common sense sustainability (what’s more practical than protecting the air, water, and soil we depend on?), but Rosean sounds cool too!

    PS There are many alternatives to animal experiments now, and they were available when I was at school. If you’re interested in learning more you can look at the John Hopkins Centre Alternatives to Animal Testing. http://caat.jhsph.edu/

  29. Mark Duffett

    Again this peculiarly Rosean (or is it a general Gen Y thing?) blend of naivety and arrogance. Anna, has it occurred to you to wonder how we know our lungs’ effective surface area? I’ll bet getting that knowledge involved more than a few mouse dissections, and other icky things besides. That, the getting of new knowledge, is the essence of science, not the gee-whizzery of Suzuki et al., and that’s why your science teachers asked you to cut up pestilential rodents. Don’t blame them because you lacked the imagination to see where such fundamental tools of investigation might lead.

    Don’t get me wrong – the popularisers have their place. But don’t kid yourself that they’re ‘educating you about science in an effective way’. Get a clue, not an Arts/Law degree, before so casually slagging off your science teachers.

  30. Fran Barlow

    [how do you get though to people who have no interest in listening to Suzuki, Flannery et al and really couldn’t give a shit about their effect on the environment]

    It’s what occurred to me as I left Tricky.

    There was quite a bit in Suzuki’s talk that was pitched hard at the values conservatives claim they hold dear. had they been there, they’d surely have been shifting about uncomfortably.

    It’s worth recalling that although the apostles of infinite growth and market forces are typically in a political coalition with conservatives, based on their shared but differentiated animus towards leftists, (the former because of their desire to protect the wealthy elite, the latter because they fear moral turpitude and the consequences of declining authority) the two are at best an odd couple.

    Really, the conservatives ought to favour protecting the biosphere — what’s more “traditional” than nature itself? The trouble is that their reservations about the mores of capitalist markets nearly always stand aside when the prospect of liberal ethics becoming public policy raises its head. The capitalists are OK with liberal ethics of course — they just don’t like the idea of getting between a man with a bsuiness idea and an unexploited natural resource.

  31. Fran Barlow

    I went along last night with hubby and I can attest it was fabulous. Suzuki got three standing ovations.

    I was always going to be impressed. He is a fabulous speaker in didactic mode — someone who really has that rare ability to be both a scientist and not a remote boffin. It’s hard not to like him, and obviously, much of what he says are sentiments I’d strongly endorse. At times I felt that the things he was saying had been borrowed from my posts, but Hubby added: well pretty much everyone thinks that. Sadly, that’s a gross exaggeration, but I took comfort in it nonetheless.

    He spoke with passion and erudition on the ascent of humanity and the role of human cognition in elevating our species to pre-eminence overr the others and yet stressed that we are nevertheless not separate from the biosphere but indissolubly connected with it. There was a great moment when he spoke of the elemetn argon which would pass from the lungs and then lips of Tim Flannery and be shared with the entire assembled hall within about 15 minutes, and then within about a year, with the rest of humanity. he suggested that indeed, that would go backwards and forwards in time, meaning that we would also be sharing it with the creatures that didn’t survive K-T, with Julius Caesar and Joan of Arc and with all who came after us. It was a nice moment.

    He spoke also of the ways culture affects how we view the natural world — either as a resource to be exploited or as part of ourselves and went on to make a point both about the slavish obsession over “growth” and the kowtowing before the gods of the market, who, like demons of yore, had to be appeased so as to get them off our backs.

    He spoke movingly of his relationship with his dying (now dead) father and of how little his father was concerned with the artefacts of consumer society and made a more general point about how poor the market, as a purely human contrivance, was at valuing things that were significant to us all. Invited by an influx of money into Vancouver, he had, he told us, received an invitation to “buy up” in the housing market, and had been invited to list the things that might make his home morer valuable. he listed the fact that his children and parents had lived in the same place for 35 years, and that the ashes of his close relatives were scattered under a cherry tree in his front yard, and the places in the house where significant family events had taken place. There could surely have been few dry eyes in the house when he noted that these things were of no value in the market at all, but of inestimable value to him. It occurred to me that the wrong crowd was at this event.

    He also addressed population pressure as a driver of the problems we face. Here I was inclined to disagree with him, but he nevertheless put matters in an interesting way. he covered the exponential growth of the population of our species and invited us to consider a test tube where a single bacterium was inserted onto a medium and allowed to divide. Assuming that through cell division that the bacteria would double in mass every minute and completely consume all of the medium and the space in the tube in one hour, he invited us to reflect on how long it would have been when the tube was only half full. Plainly, on this curve, 59 minutes. A quarter full? 58 minutes. In fact at about 55 minutes the tube would only have been about 3% full and the opponents of growth would have been derided as scaremongering if they’d suggested there were a problem. He invited us to consider what, if at 59 minutes, the problem had been accepted by the bacteria they ought to have done. We need a new test tube! they might have said. At this rate, how many?. One, then two, then four every minute of course. He noted that our test tube — the biosphere of the Earth would be, if the Earth were the size of a basketball, in relative terms about as large as the coat of polyurethane on its surface. Nice point. Humanity isn’t doubling in size every minute of course, but the point stands. There are no further test tubes.

    He spoke also of the campaign of disinformation on Climate Change run by the Fossil Fuel lobby and the complete lack of progress since 1988 when it seemed as if we were closer to agreement on these matters than we are now.

    He finished on a hopeful note, saying that nature can surprise us, and not only in a bad way. We need to ensure that our governments and our communities rethink what we are doing and treat the biosphere as if it were indeed part of us and us of it, and that if we did, there was still room to hope to avoid disaster. I suppose one has to say that, and it would be nice to think he is right.

    It was an interesting way to spend my 28th anniversary!

    PS: Does anyone know if there is audio somewhere of the talk? There are several people I’d like to send this to, who need it more than do I.

  32. tricky

    Sad thing is Suzuki is preaching to the converted. Sure it helps to keep the momentum for people who want to develop new techniques and reduce our waste & pollution.

    But how do you get though to people who have no interest in listening to Suzuki, Flannery et al and really couldn’t give a shit about their effect on the environment.

  33. Anna Rose

    Hi Geoff – yep, listening to the talk last night re-confirmed my commitment to vegetarianism and I’m sure it got a lot of other people thinking about the amount (of resources, water, meat etc) that they consume as well.

  34. Geoff Russell

    Okay Anna … lungs covering tennis courts is cute but will it change how you breath? Australia’s livestock generate more warming than all our coal fired power stations, but if
    knowing that doesn’t change what you eat, then its just brain candy.

    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/the-missing-link-in-the-garnaut-report-20080709-3cjh.html?page=-1

    N.B. The subheading:
    “The real climate change culprit is methane gas from cows and sheep.”
    wasn’t written by the article authors, but by someone at the
    Age … there are multiple causes of climate change and we have
    to fix many of them.

  35. Alex H

    PeeBee, it’s only valid to attack the person if they are putting forward an opinion, which could be coloured by their character. Suzuki makes the simple case that if we have never ending growth of population and consumption of resources, and we only have finite space and resources then logically and as observed in the natural world then there is an inevitable crunch when the resources run out.

    He further makes the point that if the population growth is exponential then it is only at the last moment that the overcrowding will be really obvious. As I understand it recent population growth has been roughly exponential, but I’m happy to be corrected on this.

    Both of these arguments stand without requiring credibility of the person putting them forward – therefore attacks on author’s credibility are irrelevent. Do you contest the arguments or do you just feel like trying to cloud the issue?

  36. heavylambs

    PeeBee,Suzuki is now 74;he had his kids in the 1960s when the human population was half what it is now,and before his views had crystallised.

  37. Anna Rose

    I disagree; you don’t have to be perfect to make a difference.

    “The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men” – George Elliot

  38. PeeBee

    I think David Suzuki would be more credible if he hadn’t had 5 kids. A little like the priest telling the congregation to leave little kids alone!

  39. Anna Rose

    Because they threaten Bolt’s world-view!

  40. Angra

    Why does Bolt see Suzuki and Flannery as targets of abuse and contempt?

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