David Suzuki: Protecting the environment doesn't require real sacrifices

I recently read an article about a woman in Spokane, Washington, who doesn’t like phosphate-free dishwashing detergents. Phosphate-containing detergents are banned in Spokane County because of their negative impact on the environment, so the woman drives 45 minutes to Idaho where phosphate detergents are still sold. The article also notes that the woman has a five-year-old daughter. I’m astounded.

People often argue that protecting the environment will require too many sacrifices. Is this what they mean? That they would risk their children’s futures because they can’t be bothered to rinse their dishes before putting them into the dishwasher?

Phosphates are added to cleaning products because they help cut grease and get rid of food particles on dishes. But they also have enormous negative impacts on rivers, streams, and lakes. By fertilizing the waters, phosphates can cause massive algae blooms that starve the water of oxygen and choke aquatic ecosystems, killing fish, amphibians, insects, and plants. Phosphates have been banned from laundry detergents in most places for a number of years now, but consumers have resisted moves to ban them from dishwashing detergents.

The article notes that the Spokane River is one of the most endangered in the U.S. and that phosphate pollution from the county’s main wastewater treatment plant has been reduced by 14 percent since the dishwasher-detergent law was passed in July. But apparently this woman doesn’t care if the river is devoid of life when her daughter grows up—as long as her dishes are spot-free!

The woman claims to be “environmentally conscious”. I guess she means that she cares about the environment only when it is convenient for her. This is a good example of the kind of challenges faced by people who really do care about the environment and the future. Part of the problem may be that some people can’t really relate their own behaviour to the consequences. Think of parents with asthmatic children who continue to smoke in the house or drive SUVs. Others are simply not willing to make even the smallest sacrifices when it comes to protecting the environment. Yet, for the most part, no real sacrifices are required.

At the David Suzuki Foundation, we hear almost daily from people who thought it would be difficult to get up a bit earlier and expend a bit more energy to cycle to work instead of drive, for example. But they soon found that the benefits of cycling—from getting in better shape to enjoying the outside world—far outweighed any of the negative consequences.

It’s more about changing the way we think than about giving something up. If we take a broader, more long-range view of things, we see that we usually gain more than we lose when we make changes in our lives to protect our surroundings.

We see the same kind of resistance to things like a carbon tax. Never mind that market forces play a far greater role in fuel-price increases than a carbon tax ever will! People see that they might have to pay a few pennies more at the gas pump or for home-heating bills and they immediately cry that they will have to give up their cars and freeze in their homes during winter.

But we see immediate and long-term benefits from putting a price on carbon. People find ways to conserve energy, companies invest in technologies that use renewable energy, and we end up with less pollution and fewer emissions that contribute to global warming.

We live in consumer societies, especially here in North America. We’ve become convinced that we have to keep replacing our goods with newer and “better”, often over-packaged, products. We dispose of things even before they have broken down. And the world suffers for it. People sometimes accuse me and other environmentalists of wanting to send us back to living in caves and scrounging for roots and berries. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We can lead lives that are even more fulfilling on a cleaner planet where more people have access to clean air, water, and food. All it takes is some imagination and some forward thinking. If we really cared about our world and about our children and grandchildren, we would be willing to make some sacrifices to make the world a better, healthier place. But in most cases, the sacrifices are as illusory as some of the benefits we think we are deriving from our rampant consumerism.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org/.




Apr 28, 2009 at 4:46pm

What a load of crap Suzuki? What about the 450,000 tonnes of carbon thats is ready set to dump as the Olympics becomes a reality. Its a loser for sure as its a enviromential disaster waiting to happen as 2010 gets closer to BC doing the biggest possible environmential damage one can do in 10 days. As 450,000 tonnes is what some countire use in a year yet BC is ready set to go to do the biggest carbon dump out there.
So save the crap because BC is certainly doing nothing to save the environment along with the Suzuki dirt bag foundation.


Apr 28, 2009 at 5:53pm

Sorry Suzuki, no longer do I regard you as an Environmentalist, rather you have become a media-maven, who craves the media's attention and will crush anyone who crosses you.

Carbon Tax, hell no it is a gas tax to fund Campbell's $2.8 billion RAV Canada Line that very few people will use. Wrong transit/wrong place. But for a media-maven it doesn't matter because you have been bought and packaged by Gordo and his pals. What was your 30 pieces of silver?

Give me real environmentalist, real hero's like Watson of the Sea Shepard Society or Mair, fighting a desperate rearguard action against the destroyers of the forest ecology, not media-mavens like yourself and Berman who hob-nob with the Liberal elites and their 'run-of-river' cronies.

50 years from now, people will look back and see how little you accomplished and spit upon hearing your name and compare you with Judas Iscariot!
Grumpy is as Grumpy does!


Apr 28, 2009 at 11:48pm

That's hilarious. You think in 50 years from now people are going to praise Carole James for her vision and leadership? I'm sure they'll be talking about the visionary "axe the tax" campaign, and how British Columbia showed such leadership on the issue of climate change and the environment.

In 50 years from now, people will look back at individuals like Grumpy and Colleenc and conclude they were products of an era of greed and selfishness. An era in which people believed it was their god given right to drive Ford F-150's and Toyota 4-Runners not because they needed to, but because they wanted to. They'll look at rank and file NDP'ers complaining that a $10 a tonne carbon tax was so unfair, and they'll be disgusted.

David Suzuki has not endorsed the Liberals, he has simply endorsed a carbon tax, something he proposed long before Campbell adopted it as part of his platform. He's begged Carole James to reverse her position, and in doing so would gain his full support, but instead she thought it was more politically advantageous to continue with her "axe the tax" campaign. After years of using David Suzuki to help brand her party in a certain light, she stabbed him in the back when he needed her the most.

The only people who think he is "judas" are the same ones that have a sense of entitlement and don't take any responsibility for their own actions. People blinded by their own thirst for power that they will justify anything to obtain it. It's a lot easier to go on the offensive and try and smear an environmentalist who has dedicated his entire life to the subject, than it is to look in the mirror and ask difficult questions about yourself and about your party it seems.

Gassy Jack's Ghost

Apr 29, 2009 at 11:25pm

I recently read Suzuki brag about how he makes "the best coffee in Vancouver." I don't care if it's organic or not, the coffee trade is an environmental catastrophe. When he puts his money where his mouth is and gives up coffee, and stops flying jumbo jets around the world to speak, he might regain some of his former credibility. And he could be using this space to give us some science about local issues like fish-farming, pine beetles, run of river, or how useless a "revenue neutral" carbon tax is (uggh!) -- things that people really need to be educated about right now leading up to the election. Instead, he writes this fluff? Sorry Suzuki, but like this article, you are irrelevant.