David Suzuki: Occupy Wall Street protests reflect increasing frustration

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      I’m not the only one unhappy with economic systems based on constant growth and endlessly increasing exploitation of finite resources—systems that concentrate wealth in the hands of a few while so many people struggle.

      Since September 17, protests have spread from New York to a growing number of cities across the U.S., Europe, and Canada, in a movement dubbed “Occupy Wall Street”. The protesters’ aims aren’t always clear; in some case they seem downright incoherent or absurd—such as calls for open border policies and increased trade tariffs at the same time.

      It’s interesting that those credited with spurring the movement did so with a single question: “What is our one demand?” The question was first posed in my hometown of Vancouver by Adbusters magazine. Editor Kalle Lasn said the campaign was launched as an invitation to act more than an attempt to get an answer. Focusing on a single demand may or may not be a useful exercise, but the conversation itself is necessary. Thanks to the attention these protests are generating, union leaders, students, workers, and others have a public forum to raise questions about our current economic systems.

      Why have governments spent trillions of dollars in taxpayers’ money to bail out financial institutions, many of which fought any notion of government regulation or social assistance, while doing nothing for people who had life savings wiped out or lost homes through foreclosure? And why have governments not at least demanded that the institutions demonstrate some ecological and social responsibility in return?

      Why do developed nations still give tax breaks to the wealthiest few while children go hungry and working people and the unemployed see wages, benefits, and opportunities dwindle—and while infrastructure crumbles and access to good health care and education diminishes?

      Why are we rapidly exploiting finite resources and destroying precious natural systems for the sake of short-term profit and unsustainable economic growth? What will we do when oil runs out or becomes too difficult or expensive to extract if we haven’t taken the time to reduce our demands for energy and shift to cleaner sources?

      Why does our economic system place a higher value on disposable and often unnecessary goods and services than on the things we really need to survive and be healthy, like clean air, clean water, and productive soil? Sure, there’s some contradiction in protesters carrying iPhones while railing against the consumer system. But this is not just about making personal changes and sacrifices; it’s about questioning our place on this planet.

      In less than a century, the human population has grown exponentially, from 1.5 to seven billion. That’s been matched by rapid growth in technology and products, resource exploitation, and knowledge. The pace and manner of development have led to a reliance on fossil fuels, to the extent that much of our infrastructure supports products such as cars and their fuels to keep the cycle of profits and wealth concentration going.

      Our current economic systems are relatively new—methods we’ve devised both to deal with the challenge of production and distribution for rapidly expanding populations and to exploit the opportunities.

      It may seem like there’s no hope for change, but we have to remember that most of these developments are recent, and that humans are capable of innovation, creativity, and foresight. Despite considerable opposition, most countries recognized at some point that abolishing slavery had goals that transcended economic considerations, such as enhancing human rights and dignity—and it didn’t destroy the economy in the end, as supporters of slavery feared.

      I don’t know if the Occupy Wall Street protests will lead to anything. Surely there will be backlash. And although I wouldn’t compare these protests to those taking place in the Middle East, they all show that when people have had enough of inequality, of the negative and destructive consequences of decisions made by people in power, we have a responsibility to come together and speak out.

      The course of human history is constantly changing. It’s up to all of us to join the conversation to help steer it to a better path than the one we are on. Maybe our one demand should be of ourselves: Care enough to do something.

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

      Comments

      13 Comments

      Birdy

      Oct 11, 2011 at 5:28pm

      "It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science.' But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance."

      -Murray Rothbard

      8 12Rating: -4

      pessimist

      Oct 11, 2011 at 10:01pm

      Too bad being 'green' doesn't make any money. Our economic system will not change because of few peasants hold picket signs and yell slogans in the street. I doubt protests will lead to any policy change.

      Mike Puttonen

      Oct 11, 2011 at 10:19pm

      The Austrian School, eh?
      Speaking of economics, and Austria...the city of Vienna has cultural budget of 216 million euros a year, what's that these days, about 400 million Canadian? The Province of British Columbia spends about 15 million. Economics is about options. Like Sociology, Economics is not a science, dismal or otherwise. Economics is about making smart, ethical choices from a range of options.
      Adam Smith is my shepherd I shall not want. Well worth a read today. An authentic voice.
      The Austrian School on the other hand seem to have been toadies to a man -- Hayek didn't like Vienna and its rich, state-sponsored culture, but according to recently uncovered info., Hayek did go back to Vienna -- for the free health care!!

      12 9Rating: +3

      Chris2

      Oct 11, 2011 at 11:00pm

      Good points David, but I am hopeful that some good will come from the protests.

      monty/that's me

      Oct 12, 2011 at 8:18am

      Who actually wrote this?

      Mooney

      Oct 12, 2011 at 8:07pm

      Too bad David Suzuki is a dick that got the Liberals back in power

      Truth Watson

      Oct 12, 2011 at 8:38pm

      Hell yes, people are frustrated! How many of us work for corporations who report record profits, pay the top executives multimillion dollar annual bonuses, only to be told there's no money for raises? How many of us are told "we need to tighten our belts" to get through these tough times, pay our taxes and discover millions of our tax dollars are spent to fly politicians on VIP jets to their fishing lodges? How many of us work hard and can't afford to buy a home while criminals charged with white collar crimes are slapped on the wrist and live in the lap of luxury? The system has to change. It's time.

      9 8Rating: +1

      James G

      Oct 12, 2011 at 9:48pm

      I was wondering if Dr. Suzuki caught a glimpse of reality for a moment? Maybe poster Monty/that's me is right in what I assume is the suggestion that some far-more-aware intern wrote the bulk of this?

      Then I ran into this section;

      "Sure, there’s some contradiction in protesters carrying iPhones while railing against the consumer system. But this is not just about making personal changes and sacrifices; it’s about questioning our place on this planet."

      No, they are not. I can't speak for the entire group of occupiers but I am pretty sure they are not, en masse, worrying primarily about environmental concerns to the exclusion of all others. Instead,they are targeting the financial sector over the continuing fallout of the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the failure to prosecute those responsible.

      It is pretty much as I expected. Organizations and "foundations" that are part and parcel of the existing power structure will try to bend this amorphous movement to their agenda and try to exploit it.

      8 6Rating: +2

      cynic

      Oct 13, 2011 at 2:52am

      To the above poster, if being 'green' is good for economy then Obuma would have created millions of 'green' jobs. That didn't happen. Instead he created not so green jobs - for the military industrial complex.

      12 7Rating: +5

      Visakha

      Oct 14, 2011 at 2:53am

      ONLY blaming the system and the dark suits coaching it for our current global drama is not enough; we have to recognize our share of responsibilities and be willing to stop contributing to the madness.

      But for most people its not an option, they are STUCK in the system and need it to be changed. Boycott or exodus not being possible or just extremely challenging. I know because I tried several times to erase myself from the equation.

      These protests are only the beginning.
      Unity Consciousness is emerging.
      Love and Light <3