David Suzuki: Now that we own General Motors, what should we do with it?

If you’re a Canadian taxpayer, you’re now the proud part owner of a failing automobile company, thanks to the federal and Ontario governments. They’re generously giving General Motors $10.5 billion of your money for an 11.7 percent share in the company.

Former CIBC World Markets chief economist Jeff Rubin calls it an “investment in obsolescence”. The author of Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization, recently told the Tyee news Web site, “We should be investing in the future, not the past, making a huge capital investment to build buses and public transit.”

He’s not alone in his thinking. South of the border, where the U.S. government is giving GM a whopping $50 billion for a 60 percent share of the company, filmmaker Michael Moore wrote, “The only way to save GM is to kill GM”.

He goes onto say that doesn’t mean killing the infrastructure. “If we allow the shutting down and tearing down of our auto plants, we will sorely wish we still had them when we realize that those factories could have built the alternative energy systems we now desperately need,” he writes.

“And when we realize that the best way to transport ourselves is on light rail and bullet trains and cleaner buses, how will we do this if we've allowed our industrial capacity and its skilled workforce to disappear?”

How indeed? One thing is certain: We don’t want GM to go back to “business as usual”. This is a company that has fought every progressive move to improve safety and reduce the environmental impact of vehicles, from seat belts and air bags to fuel-efficiency standards.

The usual argument has been that any progressive move would drive the price of cars up to the point where the company would go out of business. Well, guess what? Maybe if GM had spent more money on keeping up with the times than on lobbying and court challenges and building SUVS and Hummers, it wouldn’t be facing bankruptcy today.

GM executives have also argued in the past that the markets should dictate their actions and governments should stay out of the way, but they now seem to have made a U-turn when it comes to government involvement!

Well, we now own part of GM. Shouldn’t we have some say in what becomes of it? Will the U.S. and Canadian governments show some imagination and foresight and turn this crisis into an opportunity?

Mr. Rubin and Mr. Moore are right: Our future is in fuel-efficient cars, buses, and trains, and in green energy. (And even private automobiles may eventually be a thing of the past; the idea of using of a tonne of metal and many litres of fossil fuel to get one person to the grocery store or work is more than a bit absurd.)

We often hear arguments that a major shift in our manufacturing base is not possible—it will be too costly and take too much time. But, as Michael Moore points out, in 1942, GM quickly switched from building cars to producing planes, tanks, and weapons for the war effort.

The emergency we face today is no less severe; in fact, it is more so. And we have better technology now.

Likewise, when the Soviet Union launched its first Sputnik satellite in 1957, the U.S. spared no amount of money or effort to get people into space and eventually onto the moon.

And despite arguments that we can’t afford green technologies, governments didn’t have much trouble finding billions—or trillions—of dollars to bail out banks and car companies that were largely the authors of their own problems. Where are our priorities?

The need for a cleaner future is here. The technology is here. The opportunity is here. All that’s required is some will and imagination from governments and corporations. We can no longer rely on diminishing fossil fuel supplies. Our very survival depends on developing more sustainable technologies, transportation, and products that don’t pollute the air, water, and soil.

We don’t need more Cadillacs and Hummers. We need a new way of looking at our world.

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




Jun 10, 2009 at 7:56am

GM needs needs to retool into mass producing parts for the thousands of standardized generation 3.5 nuclear reactors, we need to start building now. GM can help

Within ten years we can be off fossil fuels and reversing global warming. To do anything else is to risk a climate catastrophe that might actually end life on this planet.

John Galt

Jun 10, 2009 at 11:14am

God I love Marxism.

Live Free or Die

Jun 10, 2009 at 11:18am

Poverty Sucks, I’m not getting poorer without a fight!

Are Jeff Rubin, Michael Moore and David Suzuki living in high density urban housing and taking pubic transit everywhere? Of course not, they are the rich elites; the unwashed middle class has lived too well for too long and needs to lower their standard of living to save the planet. The elites need to continue to live much better than the rest of us so they are free to formulate prescriptions for how the unwashed masses need to live to save the planet.

There are very few things I’m absolutely sure of in this world; one of them is that Poverty Sucks! Like most middle class citizens of a western country, I have no intention of voluntarily submitting to a lower standard of living based on computer models of future climate change. I believe Anthropogenic Climate Change (ACC) is happening, but I refuse to become poorer, take inconvenient, nasty public transit or live in a city in close proximity to many of the losers in the human race just because “experts” tell me to. I believe any attempt to mitigate ACC is the ultimate example of the “Tragedy of the Commons” where the developed nations are asked to become significantly poorer while the rest of the world changes nothing based on computer models of the future. Without assurances that everyone else sacrifices at least as much as me to combat ACC, there is no way I’m becoming poorer just to say I did my part. And you can be sure as a resident of the second largest democracy on earth, I’m not voting for anyone anytime soon who promises to reduce my standard of living, take away any of my freedoms (my cars), or force me to move to high density housing (I really like my 2 acres surrounded by forest in rural Maine). Like most rural and suburban residents of the USA, I hate cities and don’t intend to ever live in one for the rest of my life.

The practical solutions to ACC are obvious to me, and we have already started to implement some of them. The automobile needs to continue on its evolutionary path to electrification. This will continue to happen as Oil becomes more expensive and wise government incentives can accelerate the process. Government should heavily promote increased nuclear electricity generation and disincentivize coal. Just these two steps would go a long way toward reducing carbon emissions without lowering standards of living nearly as much as Mr. Suzuki apparently wants to.

Poverty Sucks, I’m not getting poorer without a fight!


Jun 10, 2009 at 5:50pm

We? Who is "we" David?

Now that you've helped Republican Party interests elect their preferred choice to run the 51st state maybe YOU can get the General to stop by and give you a 'hummer'. I wouldn't let him kiss you though...you just can't gargle away the stench of genocide.



Jun 10, 2009 at 6:26pm

Sure. You could pool some of your money together and start attending shareholder conventions. Owning a miniscule portion of 11 percent isnt much power.

For the way I feel, it's like we keep getting beat over our heads with the same set of sticks: do what you can, take the bus, save energy; recycle, be power smart,shop local

..whats going to happen when we reach that critical mass point where we have achieved all these laudable goals of greening the environment and slowing global warming down?

Has anyone thought of how the world will look, how we will feel, what will we do with ourselves?

But back to the topic, GM is going to have to get competitive, it's the same ball game (sell cars: lots and lots of cars) with a different selling point: who ever sells the most cars with the most fuel efficiency and least felt enviro-footprint: wins. Gentlemen, plug in your engines.


Jun 15, 2009 at 2:07pm

I have two questions. First, if Jack Layton had said during last fall's federal election that government's should take an equity stake in GM, what would the reaction have been? Would he have been called "an old fashioned socialist", as he was by former Liberal Leader Stephane Dion?

Second, why is it that the David Suzuki Foundation refuses to accept donations from governments, but does accept donations from business corporations?

Rod Smelser