David Suzuki reflects on 50 years of the planet’s destruction

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      Last month, I attended the 50th anniversary of my college graduation. A week later, I celebrated my grandson’s graduation from high school. I don’t think I was much different from the kids in my grandson’s class when I went away to college in 1954 (give or take a few rings and tattoos). Like them, I was filled with trepidation but also excitement about testing my physical and intellectual abilities beyond high school. But my how the world has changed in 50 years!

      I began my last year of college in 1957. On October 4 that year, the Soviet Union electrified the world by successfully launching a satellite, Sputnik 1, into space. Little did we dream that out of the ensuing space race between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. would come 24-hour television news channels, cellphones, and GPS navigation.

      In 1958, the only trans-Atlantic phone lines were cables laid on the ocean floor, so phone calls to England had to be booked hours or sometimes days in advance. I flew from Toronto to a roommate’s wedding in San Francisco on a propeller plane that made several stops during the 22-hour trip.

      In 1958, scientists were still debating about whether genetic material was DNA or protein, we didn’t know how many chromosomes humans have or that the Y chromosome determines sex, and the Green Revolution was yet to come. Polio was still a problem in North America, smallpox killed hundreds of thousands annually, and oral contraceptives, photocopiers, personal computers, colour TV, and DVDs didn’t exist.

      In 1958, parts of the Amazon, Congo, and New Guinea had not been explored. We were yet to learn of species extinction, depletion of fish in the oceans, the effects of CFCs on the ozone layer, acid rain, global warming, PCBs, and dioxins.

      In half a century our lives have been transformed by scientific, medical, and technological advances, as well as a host of environmental problems. No one deliberately set out to undermine the planet’s life-support systems or tear communities apart, but those have been the consequences of our enormous economic and technological “success” over the past five decades. Beset by vast problems of wealth discrepancy, environmental issues, poverty, terror, genocide, and prejudice, we are trying to weave our way into an uncertain future.

      I began speaking out on television in 1962 because I was shocked by the lack of understanding of science at a time when science as applied by industry, medicine, and the military was having such a profound impact on our lives. I felt we needed more scientific understanding if we were to make informed decisions about the forces shaping our lives.

      Today, thanks to computers and the Internet, and television, radio, and print media, we have access to more information than humanity has ever had. To my surprise, this access has not equipped us to make better decisions about such matters as climate change, peak oil, marine depletion, species extinction, and global pollution. That’s largely because we now have access to so much information that we can find support for any prejudice or opinion.

      Don’t want to believe in evolution? No problem – you can find support for intelligent design and creationism in magazines, on websites, and in all kinds of books written by people with PhDs.

      Want to believe aliens came to Earth and abducted people? It’s easy to find theories about how governments have covered up information on extraterrestrial aliens. Think human-induced climate change is junk science? Well, if you choose to read only certain national newspapers and magazines and listen only to certain popular commentators on television or radio, you’ll never have to change your mind.

      And so it goes. The challenge today is that there is a huge volume of information out there, much of it biased or deliberately distorted. As I think about my grandson, his hopes and dreams and the immense issues my generation has bequeathed him, I realize what he and all young people need most are the tools of skepticism, critical thinking, the ability to assess the credibility of sources, and the humility to realize we all possess beliefs and values that must constantly be reexamined.

      With those tools, his generation will certainly leave a better world to its children and grandchildren 50 years from now.


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      Antonio San

      Jul 17, 2008 at 9:40am

      "Considerable presence" of skeptics

      The American Physical Society, an organization representing nearly 50,000 physicists, has reversed its stance on climate change and is now proclaiming that many of its members disbelieve in human-induced global warming. The APS is also sponsoring public debate on the validity of global warming science. The leadership of the society had previously called the evidence for global warming "incontrovertible."

      In a posting to the APS forum, editor Jeffrey Marque explains,"There is a considerable presence within the scientific community of people who do not agree with the IPCC conclusion that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are very probably likely to be primarily responsible for global warming that has occurred since the Industrial Revolution."

      The APS is opening its debate with the publication of a paper by Lord Monckton of Brenchley, which concludes that climate sensitivity -- the rate of temperature change a given amount of greenhouse gas will cause -- has been grossly overstated by IPCC modeling. A low sensitivity implies additional atmospheric CO2 will have little effect on global climate.

      Larry Gould, Professor of Physics at the University of Hartford and Chairman of the New England Section of the APS, called Monckton's paper an "expose of the IPCC that details numerous exaggerations and "extensive errors"

      In an email to DailyTech, Monckton says, "I was dismayed to discover that the IPCC's 2001 and 2007 reports did not devote chapters to the central 'climate sensitivity' question, and did not explain in proper, systematic detail the methods by which they evaluated it. When I began to investigate, it seemed that the IPCC was deliberately concealing and obscuring its method."

      According to Monckton, there is substantial support for his results, "in the peer-reviewed literature, most articles on climate sensitivity conclude, as I have done, that climate sensitivity must be harmlessly low."

      Monckton, who was the science advisor to Britain's Thatcher administration, says natural variability is the cause of most of the Earth's recent warming. "In the past 70 years the Sun was more active than at almost any other time in the past 11,400 years ... Mars, Jupiter, Neptune’s largest moon, and Pluto warmed at the same time as Earth."

      Travis Lupick

      Jul 17, 2008 at 10:03am

      The American Physical Society is not quite so conservative on climate change, at least according to my 20 seconds of research.

      Goto <a href="http://www.aps.org/" target="_blank">www.aps.org/</a> and type "climate change" in the search box. Here is the first paragraph from the conclusion of your search's first result:

      "Much of the public debate over climate change has confused the issue of detection of climate change with the inevitability of climate change. The consensus of the scientific community is clear: increasing emissions of greenhouse gases will inevitably cause the levels of greenhouse gases in the Earthí­s atmosphere to rise, which will change the Earthí­s climate. While the inevitability of climate change is generally accepted, the magnitude and nature of these changes are still uncertain."

      The APS has hardly "reversed its stance on climate change," as the above comment suggests. I'll leave it up to readers to take a look at the comment's other sources.


      May 18, 2009 at 6:18pm

      Hey Suzuki, when your organization waded into the Carbon Tax debate in the provincial election, you did at the cost of every other environmental protection platform promise. Your weighty voice killed off the NDP's environmentalist support. Now we're going to get more salmon-killing aquaculture and the habitat-destroying private-profit run-of-river power generation. These two alone combine to fail your grandson's economic future and environmental future.

      Sometimes the whole painting conveys so much more than the individual brush strokes.

      You certainly made me more cynical.