David Suzuki Australian Agenda

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17th October 2010, 03:55pm - Views: 930

Australian Agenda 




David Suzuki

Sky News

Australian Agenda

David Suzuki


October, 2010

Interview with David Suzuki, Environmentalist

Australian Agenda program, 17th

October, 2010

Peter Van Onselen:  Welcome back.  You’re watching Australian Agenda.  He’s in Australia now

to promote his new book, Legacy, which is a compilation of some of his thoughts over the years

over 40 books about the environment and science, Canadian academic, David Suzuki.  He’s

joining us out of Melbourne.  Thanks very much for your time, professor.

David Suzuki:  It’s good to be here.

Peter Van Onselen:  Can I ask you, we’ve got a debate in this country about whether or not we

should be a big Australia.  There’s the argument that we need larger population growth, coming

particularly from business, to stimulate economic growth as well.  There’s also the issue of

combating ageing, which is something that is talked about in a lot of countries around the world

as a reason for higher fertility rates.  That’s quite contrary to your position, isn’t it?

David Suzuki:  Absolutely.  There are far too many of us in the world, but especially in the

industrialised world where our consumption per person means that we have a reach that goes

far beyond the confines of Australia.  So I just came back from Japan, where they have a

population of, what, 120 million I think.  I said, look, you guys should be down around 30 million. 

They’re all worried, should we use immigration to bring people in and keep the economy going

by expanding our population?  Every country seems to be concerned now, the industrialised

world, about an ageing population, a decreasing labour force and the need to keep the economy

growing by having more and more people being productive.  It can’t go on!  We just don’t have

the resources, the nation can’t support that.  We’ve got to adapt in a different way, it seems to

me, to that reality.  You can’t keep using immigration to prime the economic pump.

Paul Kelly:  Just on that particular point, David Suzuki, you’ve argued this is an urgent problem,

there are far too many people in the world.  How do we address this in an urgent sense?  How

on earth do we stop the growth rate and get numbers down?

David Suzuki:  We know that what the best contraceptive is, that is you empower women, you

educate them and give them a bit of economic security, and birth rates drop.  We in countries

like Canada and Australia love to say, well the problem is the brown, black and yellow people

are breeding like flies and that’s a problem.  But wait a minute.  It’s true, that’s where the

population growth is going on, but you have to take into account more than just numbers of

humans.  It’s how much do we use per person.  So if you want to compare us to India or China,

you still have to multiply by 20 or 40 to get Chinese or Indian equivalents of your population. 

You want to compare us to Bangladesh or Somalia, you’ve got to multiply by 60 or 80.  There

it’s very clear, we in the rich countries are exploiting the vast bulk of the planet’s resources, and

putting out the vast bulk of its waste and toxic emissions.  So the challenge is the

Australian Agenda 




David Suzuki

hyperconsumption of the industrialised countries.  Here is the challenge.  Most of our

economies now are built on serving consumption.  So if I say that we are hyperconsumers and

we have to begin to reduce our consumption, the business people have a very tough time with

that concept.

Peter Van Onselen:  Professor Suzuki, you were an early comer to climate change and the

need for action on it.  In this country here in Australia, it’s a really divisive debate, internally of

parties as well as between major parties.  My question for you is, how do you think you actually

break through the political realities of just how difficult this is, to achieve the kind of consensus

that can make any kind of action of the like you might want?

David Suzuki:  That’s a really tough one.  But I’ll tell you.  In 1988, that’s the year I first came to

Australia, and it was Australian scientists, I was invited to meet with the Commission for the

Future.  I don’t know if this organisation exists anymore, but they showed me the information. 

That was the first time for me, I mean I’d known about climate change long before ’88, but I

never took it seriously as an immediate, urgent issue until I came to Australia.  Around the

world, concern was very strong.  A group of atmosphere scientists meeting in North America

said, we are causing global warming and we’ve got to reduce emissions by 20% in 15 years. 

Now we did nothing about that.  Why?  The reality is the fossil fuel industry and a few extreme

right wing people like the Koch brothers in the United States began to pour tens of millions of

dollars into a campaign of confusion.  So they began to create phoney baloney environmental

sounding groups, Coalition for Green Industries, and they began to set up blog sites and

support a few sceptics to say this is junk science, it’s not really happening.  They’ve been

unbelievably successful at creating this sense that those scientists really aren’t telling the truth,

that they’re spinning it for all kinds of other reasons.  The public is beginning to say, hey we

can’t trust those scientists, and the problem isn’t real.  So for a group of politicians to try to act in

the way that is needed is a very risky thing in light of this powerful lobbying block by the fossil

fuel industry.  I personally think that what we need to do is charge people in the fossil fuel

industry with an intergenerational crime.  They’ve known for decades now that global warming

caused by burning fossil fuels is real, and that it’s creating a real problem.  In the name of profit,

they have continued to create this climate of deception and confusion.  I think that’s criminal.

Paul Kelly:  What sort of crime should they be charged with?  And would you like to see them

being put in jail?

David Suzuki:  There’s a group in Europe now that is looking to see whether or not there is a

legal mechanism for crimes that in fact are committed with implications for future generations. 

This is a brand new area, but I think this is something well worth investigating.

Paul Kelly:  You don’t think this would be liable to some sort of abuse, do you?

David Suzuki:  Well, we need a mechanism to at least point out that there is some kind of

criminal activity.  If you read a book like Climate Cover-Up or Merchants of Doubt that show that

the fossil fuel industry has known now for two decades this is real, and that it is being caused by

burning fossil fuels, and then to deliberately campaign-  And look at what happened with the

tobacco industry.  We now know the tobacco industry knew the evidence was in about the

dangers of smoking, and continued a campaign to downplay the reality of that.  What has

happened with them?  They have now had to pay tens of billions of dollars for that campaign.  I

think the same ought to be done with the fossil fuel industry.  In terms of what do we do in

politics, that’s going to take politicians who are concerned with more than just what payoff will

there be before the next election.  The problem now is that a politician’s view is determined by

Australian Agenda 




David Suzuki

that very short horizon of the next election.  In Australia, that’s less than three years.  So

whatever they do has to have some kind of payoff in order for them to claim the benefits of what

they’ve done.  That’s very difficult in an issue like climate change.

Piers Akerman:  Dr. Suzuki, you once said that scepticism was the best lesson that science

could teach, and now you’re telling the world that we should not listen to climate sceptics, as

they’ve been branded.  You say in your book that man has been responsible for extreme

weather events, but I have yet to see any evidence produced by any climatologist around the

world that a single hurricane, earthquake or tidal wave has been produced by anthropogenic

global warming.

David Suzuki:  I think you’re reading into that book what I did not say.  All of the evidence from

the standpoint of the climatologists is that as we begin to trap more heat on the planet, and

that’s physical reality, even a sceptic like Bjørn Lomborg admits that that’s a reality, that climate

change from trapping heat is physically a reality.  But climatologists are very reluctant to say

that Hurricane Katrina for example was the direct result of the greenhouse gases that have

accumulated, because you can’t make a concrete tie-in of cause and effect.  They simply have

to say this is the kind of event that you expect.

Piers Akerman:  But you made that claim in your book.

David Suzuki:  You show me where I made that claim in the book.  I deny that.  

Piers Akerman:  I don’t have it on the table.

David Suzuki:  Right.  You’re reading into it what I did not say.  Nobody can say that particular

weather or an event is a direct result of the changes that have gone on.  We can’t do that.  It’s

something that you just have to say is statistical correlation.  

Piers Akerman:  Inasmuch as you’re totally opposed to fossil fuel energies, are you a supporter

of nuclear energy?

David Suzuki:  No.  I say that if we’re talking about a sustainable energy future, then by

definition both fossil and nuclear fuels are finite, and they are not sustainable because they’re

going to be exhausted.  When burning them or using nuclear and using fossil fuels creates

problems at the end, then it seems to me that it’s crazy to put your emphasis then on a non-

renewable, problem causing fuel.  The obvious area to go in, and I’m saying that obviously

we’re going to have to use fossil fuels for a considerable length of time, because so much of our

infrastructure in our society is built on using that.  But when I come to a country like Australia

and see what Australia’s got that Canadians would die to get, namely lots of sunlight, and you’re

still bellyaching about the lack of an alternative for nuclear or fossil fuels, it just doesn’t make

any sense to me.  This is a huge opportunity for this country, because you’ve got something a

lot of countries like us would love to have.  But when I come to a place like Melbourne or

Sydney, I have to still look very hard to see any solar panels anywhere!

Peter Van Onselen:  Dr. Suzuki, we are out of time.  I’ll give you a chance, perhaps unusually

for Melbourne, to get out of the studio and get into the sunlight and enjoy the Australian

weather.  We appreciate you joining us on Australian Agenda.  Thanks very much for your


David Suzuki:  Thank you.

Australian Agenda 




David Suzuki

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