David Suzuki: Leaders must put people before politics

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When we elect people to office, we give them power to make and enact decisions on our behalf. They should have a vision that extends beyond the next election and the latest Dow Jones average—to our children and grandchildren.

We expect our leaders to have a clear picture of our world and the conditions necessary for human life and well-being. If they don’t, how can they make informed decisions?

So let me outline some simple, scientifically validated truths about us and the world we live in—truths that should guide our political decisions.

We are, above all else, biological beings, with an absolute need for clean air from the moment of birth to the last death rattle. We take air deep into our lungs and filter whatever’s in it. Plants on land and in the ocean take in the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and release oxygen during photosynthesis, creating the atmosphere we depend on.

We are about 60 percent water by weight, so we need clean water to be healthy. When water falls to Earth, it’s filtered through tree and other plant roots, soil fungi, and bacteria, cleansing it so it’s safe to drink.

All the energy in our bodies that we use to move, grow, and reproduce is sunlight captured by plants in photosynthesis and converted to chemical energy, which we ingest. We eat plants and animals for our nourishment, so whatever they’re exposed to ends up in our bodies. We need clean soil to give us clean food.

These are basic, biological facts and should be the prism through which any decision is made at individual, corporate, or government levels. Protection of air, water, soil, and the web of life should be the highest social, political, and economic priority.

We’re also social animals. Scientists have shown that love during childhood is essential for healthy development. Children who are deprived of love at critical points can develop a variety of physical and psychological deficits. To avoid those, we have to work for strong families and supportive communities, full employment, justice, greater income and gender equity, and freedom from terror, genocide, and war.

Finally, we are spiritual creatures who require sacred places, a sense of belonging to the world and a recognition that we are not in charge of nature, but dependent on the biosphere for our health and well-being. We are not outside of nature; we are part of it.

To be fully healthy and human, our most elemental needs are biological, social and spiritual. Politicians ought to know this. Their role is to protect and enhance those necessities of life; otherwise there is no vision, direction, or leadership.

That’s why it’s absurd for a politician or government representative to speak about any aspect of the economy without acknowledging the threat of human-induced climate change. Many oppose doing anything on ideological grounds, but the science is overwhelming and compelling, and the need for action is clear. What can you say about “leaders” who choose to ignore the best available evidence to the detriment of the people they are elected to represent?

Surely those who act only for short-term economic gain, imposing destructive consequences on generations to come, must be held responsible. We must also consider the consequences of rapid and excessive exploitation of fossil fuels on the world’s poorest people, who have done little to create climate change but are most affected by it.

Even though Canada ratified the legally binding Kyoto Protocol, which spelled out our obligations to reduce the risk of climate change, many of our “leaders” have willfully ignored scientific evidence and urgent calls to meet the protocol’s targets, and Canada eventually abandoned the agreement. What should we call that?

And what can we say about “leaders” who can see something is wrong and have the means to respond but choose not to? This is what Canada is doing—in the face of overwhelming evidence and pleading of other industrialized nations.

Our elected representatives deserve respect for their commitment. But the elevated status and power of politicians also carries responsibilities. Many are abrogating those responsibilities for ideological reasons that have nothing to do with our well-being.

Comments (5) Add New Comment
What
Leaders do put people before politics, and the people they put first are the people (their corporate masters) that get our leaders into the positions of power. Since all of our leaders have the same masters, it does not matter which of them gets to be the figurehead for a little while.
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John B
The only logical way to behave is to act as if the best evidence regarding climate change is accurate. If we do that and are proven correct in the long run, we may save our planet. If it trumps out that assumptions were overly pessemistic, all that will be lost is a (relatively) small amount of money and growth. To do it the other way round courts absolute ruin, with no hope of redemption.
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Northern DC
Well-written!

PS @What: It makes a /huge/ difference which party & which leader are in power. You’re saying it makes no difference if May or Harper is at the helm? Crazy.
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Truth to power
Few people have the ability to lead in good times and bad times; both in peace or in war like we are living now. An understanding of power, violence, law, social, cultural and religious paradigms integrated with executive ability and good inductive and deductive AND critical reasoning skills are a MUST for a Leader; communications skills are a must as well; and I don't mean having a good speech writer either.

To find all these traits and abilities in ONE person is rare; or even someone who understands what is needed for a leader; i.e; knowing that one person doesn't know or have all the answers- and knows to seek them out by consulting with others.
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Hard words
People would rather be lied to; it feels better, and they don't have to face often uncomfortable truths. Until people find the drive or need to face facts or even have the courage to go LOOKING for the Truth- what we have for "leaders now will continue....and Canada will be destroyed.
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