I had the good fortune this week to be in the audience during Dr. David Suzuki and Jeff Rubin’s Eco Tour stop in Winnipeg, part of a cross-country book tour. Dr. Suzuki is a world-renowned geneticist and Canadian television personality who has hosted the CBC science show, The Nature of Things, for 31 years. He has become one of the most articulate and public voices speaking up for a sane environmental policy, in the face of runaway climate change and biodiversity loss. Mr. Rubin was formerly the chief economist for CIBC and is now a best-selling author whose latest book is entitled The End of Growth (his previous one was Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller). An ecologist and an economist – not a pairing that one sees very often, but one that should be happening a whole lot more.
Both men spoke for about 15 minutes about their perspectives on the looming crises in both the economy and the environment. Rubin highlighted how peak oil isn’t about how much oil reserves in total the world has, but rather how much oil can be retrieved in a way that generates profit; even with triple digit oil prices, it just isn’t economically feasible to go after high-risk reserves. Rubin also asserted that triple-digit oil prices dampen down global economic growth, which has been propped up by cheap oil prices for decades (hence the title of his book). Of course, he said a whole lot more but that was his intro.
Suzuki started off by reminding us that, despite our amazing technological advances and sophisticated industrialized way of life, we humans are, after all, animals. We need to breathe air and drink water and consume food to survive. And yet, inexplicably, we continue to pour pollution into our air and pump toxic chemicals into our water and our soil. He posed the question “why is it that the market, which is something that humans have created, dictates what our ecosystem is used and abused for, rather than the other way around?” The market, Suzuki asserts, has become what dragons were in medieval times – the scary, untouchable monster that humans had to look out for and fear. It’s time that humans realized that, just like dragons, the market is a creation of the human imagination and our fear of it needs to disappear the same way our fear of dragons did hundreds of years ago.
During a short question and answer session that followed their short presentations, I asked for both of their responses to the International Energy Agency’s 2011 World Energy Report, which warned that if fossil fuel infrastructure is not rapidly changed (by 2016), the world will lose for ever the chance to avoid catastrophic climate change. Jeff Rubin’s response was that the IEA based it’s calculations on a world whose GDP was growing by 4% a year, and he doesn’t think this will happen, for the reasons he outlines in his book, related to the high price of oil. He also places some faith in human ingenuity and technology. David Suzuki, on the other hand, responded by discussing Australian author and intellectual Clive Hamilton’s recent book, Requiem For A Species; the species Hamilton is referring to in the title is humans. The book focuses on how and why humans have ignored the warning of science about global warming until now, so that now it is too late.
My head wanted to believe Jeff Rubin, and believe that we still have the time and ability to turn this crisis around, but in my heart I felt the pain and sadness that Suzuki clearly feels about this issue, and the truth of Hamilton’s message. I haven’t given up hope – I can’t, I have two daughters who are going to be living in the world that we have created – but I do know that the situation is bleak. The only response I know is to keep doing what I can to change the outcome through education and activism, while at the same time preparing for the “Great Disruption” in our economy and personal lives that is about to happen to all of us, whether we are ready for it or not. And, while I’m at it, I plan on spending time with the people I love, doing things that feed my spirit.