“Call us Alarmists” — an Exclusive Interview with David Suzuki

“The climate situation is alarming.”

Interview by Benjamin Hayward

The climate is changing, but you don’t need to convince world leaders of that. Despite the denial and rampant misinformation spread in the United States, on November 30 various leaders will gather in Paris for two weeks with their plans to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Nonetheless, few politicians have made meaningful commitments at home, and with fossil fuel industry interests strictly against action to prevent climate change, it has fallen to advocates and environmentalists to convince the public that policy change is necessary. Renowned biologist and science personality Dr. David Suzuki is one such advocate. In 1990, he co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world. He has long been an outspoken proponent of responsible environmental policy. In 1976, he was appointed to the Order of Canada, and in 2004, he was voted the Greatest Living Canadian by CBC audiences.

We asked Dr. Suzuki for his comments on climate change denial and the upcoming Paris Climate Change Conference.

The Global Intelligence: If every nation were to commit to the measures proposed at the conference, would the scientific community be content? Or does more need to be done to safely avoid a greenhouse catastrophe?

David Suzuki: Climate change is a global problem that requires global coordination. International cooperation in setting goals and targets is incredibly helpful, but action is even more important. Taking the Kyoto Protocol as an example, even though Canada did not enact solutions to reach those targets and eventually backed out altogether, the existence of that agreement spurred action across the country by many provinces and cities. The impact has been profound. Most Canadians now live in provinces that have or have committed to putting a price on carbon pollution. Vancouver has promised that 100 percent of its energy supply will come from renewable sources by 2050. Without Kyoto, it is very likely that these successes would never have happened.

As [Environmentalist] Bill McKibben has stressed, the target of a 2C rise determines the ceiling for the amount of carbon we can release. That means leaving 80 percent of all known oil deposits in the ground. That’s the target that must be set in Paris if the agreement from Copenhagen is to be met.

The important thing to recognize as we move toward the Paris climate conference in December is that, regardless of naysayers, change is already happening. The Paris talks will be successful if they can build on the momentum we have been seeing. If the business community comes out in support of the drivers that promote renewable energy and technologies that don’t pollute our atmosphere, that will be a success. If cities make the commitment to build less-carbon-intensive communities that give people sustainable transportation choices like better transit and options to get out of their cars, that will be a success. If faith communities and social groups continue to broadcast the message that solutions exists and we have a responsibility to protect the global climate, that will be a success. There’s a lot of work left to do, but international cooperation and goal-setting is the catalyst that drives action.

TGI: Following James Hansen’s testimony to the United States Congress in the summer of 1988, news headlines stated exactly what climate scientists are still saying today. From then onward, the oil industry began funding organizations to sow doubt among the public about global warming. On account of these campaigns of intentional misinformation, the United States is over 25 years late to the realization that burning fossil fuels must end. The specifics are impossible to know, but what difference does 25 years make? What could have been prevented by holding the 2015 Paris Conference in 1990?

DS: Public concern and acceptance of a need to act reached its height in 1988, thanks in part to a very hot summer and Hansen’s testimony. Margaret Thatcher stated on a television show that she was “a greenie too”, and George H.W. Bush promised, if elected, to “be an environmental president”. In Canada, Brian Mulroney was re-elected prime minister and appointed his brightest political star, Lucien Bouchard, to be environment minister. I interviewed Bouchard a few months after his appointment. When I asked what was the most urgent issue facing Canada, he immediately replied, “Global warming”. I asked how urgent it was and he responded, “It threatens the survival of our species.”

Climatologists meeting in Toronto in 1988 were convinced the science indicated human use of fossil fuels was causing global warming and called for a 20 percent decrease in emissions within 15 years. Had we taken that target seriously, we would have …

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