David Suzuki: Governments must be held accountable for protecting the environment

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      What purpose do governments serve? Some people think we could do without them, but that’s absurd. Even libertarians agree that some kind of police force and legal system are necessary to ensure that individual freedoms and property are protected, especially when conflicts arise over competing freedoms and property rights.

      Others argue that the ever-expanding economy is our highest priority, and that governments should encourage this unending growth by subsidizing or promoting business and removing so-called regulatory red tape.

      At its most basic, a government is there to protect its citizens. That’s more complicated than it seems. What rights do citizens have? Most democratic countries spell those out in their constitutions. Canada’s Constitution, for example, enshrines rights in a range of areas: fundamental, democratic, legal, equality, language, and so on.

      As we begin a New Year, it’s worth reflecting on how well our government has looked after the interests of its citizens, and where we might be heading.

      According to our Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, we are legally entitled to life, liberty, and security in Canada. But how can we fulfill that right without protecting the necessary preconditions for life: clean air and water and productive soils to grow food? These all come from and depend on natural functioning ecosystems. We can try to clean up water that has been polluted or grow food in a lab, but those strategies will cost much more than protecting the ecosystems before they are compromised.

      Natural functioning ecosystems (let’s just call them “nature”) supply resources that we all depend on to meet our basic needs and to survive. We need nature, including each other, more than anything else. We can’t rely on technological fixes, individual actions, or market systems to protect it. Unfortunately, the negative costs of damaging the environment and the benefits that nature provides are rarely factored into economic equations.

      In that light, one of government’s primary roles is to protect nature. Arguments between the so-called political left and right are often summarized as the difference between wanting more or less government. But that misses the point of government.

      Governments set priorities, many of them based on where they allocate money and resources. Successive governments in Canada have promoted the idea that a strong economy is the most important consideration and that to have prosperity we must put the interests of corporations above those of citizens. This is backwards.

      While continuing to spend tens of billions of dollars on jet fighters, war ships, and campaigns to promote itself and the tar sands, Canada’s government is gutting resources from the programs and departments responsible for protecting our environment, as well as weakening policies and laws designed to conserve nature.

      At the end of 2011, we saw our government trying to cajole other countries to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol during the climate change talks in Durban, South Africa. When no one went along, Canada became the first country to abandon this legally binding international agreement. Of course, our current government isn’t the only one that has failed to live up to the agreement’s requirements. Kyoto may not have been perfect, but in abandoning it rather than working to strengthen it, Canada’s leadership failed to acknowledge that dealing with climate change is essential to protecting its citizens, and those of the world.

      We can only take this administration’s word that it will come up with a realistic plan to cut emissions and fight climate change, but the record of successive governments so far doesn’t inspire much confidence.

      Let’s get beyond this false dichotomy of economy versus environment. If we look at economy as a way to provide for the health and well-being of citizens, then it’s there to serve the environment, of which we are a part, and not the other way around. Environmental protection shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to opportunity; it should be seen as an essential part of a healthy economy.

      It’s up to all of us to ensure that the governments we elect to look after our interests protect nature because we depend on it for our very lives. That’s what they’re for.

      Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Aquatic Biologist Jeffery Young.



      Hamish Winter

      Jan 3, 2012 at 7:30pm

      'It’s up to all of us to ensure that the governments we elect to look after our interests protect nature because we depend on it for our very lives. That’s what they’re for."

      That's nice. Is that why Suzuki sold out to endorse the totally scam BC Liberal Party?

      Such a load of baloney.

      Hamish Summer

      Jan 4, 2012 at 1:51am

      There was a time I felt the environment was important enough that the most powerful, influential executives (government or business) were smart enough about it. Apparently they aren't and many mindless people WITH KIDS don't really care.

      A good new years resolution might be to scrap conscience and play by their own rules, if you've got nothing to lose. It'll be fun to feed these ivy-league educated sefish executives and their children with the destruction they're causing with their own medicine and help lead humans to its environmental demise.

      Besides, the remaining species will be thankful.

      2nd Nation

      Jan 4, 2012 at 9:22am

      Hey Summer - do you like the human race? If so then we probably need some kids from time to time. Just a thought.

      Hamish Summer

      Jan 4, 2012 at 1:19pm

      It is a good thought, 2nd - It's difficult to respect a race so focused on the short run, greed and selfishness (while disregarding the lifeboat we all live in) but I apologize for ranting out of frustration. Will continue to play nice for now.


      Jan 4, 2012 at 4:46pm

      Sigh, more rants from an environmental Chicken Little. This one from Mr. Suzuki, whose David Suzuki Foundation has received millions of dollars from the biggest corporations in Canada. You know, those same corporations who support the current Conservative government. You have to wonder who is blinder, Suzuki, for taking their money, or the corporations, for giving money to someone who obviously sneers at them.

      the biggest corporations in Canada

      Jan 4, 2012 at 10:04pm

      It is called shameless blatant corruption. It is what the OWS is fighting.

      "Accountability for Dummies"

      Jan 5, 2012 at 1:01pm

      Its ironic, the honesty thing because often voters smirk as if finding an honest politician is a hard thing to do. Little wonder when it is a play ground for criminals who get to call all the shots and break all the rules then tell you to get in line when it comes to doing it right. "Accountability for Dummies" with that title in mind there needs to be some drastic changes because there is no going back when it comes to the air we breath and the water we drink and the food we eat.
      The government isn't trying to sell Canadians a lame duck but one whose feathers are covered in tar when a guaranteed oil spill comes to their neck of the woods.
      Fitting for a politician whose lying ass has done much harm but wildlife and precious waters aren't up to the greed.
      It is a question of getting priorities right. What is more important the economy or the truth or the truth about the economy because bottom line you have nothing if no one is being straight? Make it a priority in the next election and voters don't want to hear lies about accountability voters want it signed sealed and delivered. Not some sleazy piece of work from parliament or the legislature which is usually out to lunch because open dicussion isn't something the BC Liberals like to do in case someone catches on.

      One day cab driver next day MLA and then Minister of the Environment or perhaps one of those RCMP lot who are more out of touch than most of the criminal calling the shots. I think Canadians need to quit picking from the bottom of the barrel and to start demanding more of its politicians when it comes to qualifications and CEO shouldn't be on top of the list.


      Jan 6, 2012 at 10:38am

      Suzuki should stop flying even with his solar pack attached to his backpack... LOL

      Voice of Reason

      Jan 6, 2012 at 12:45pm

      Environmental professionals (Biologists, Foresters, etc) working for government to review industrial impacts and activities in nature should have more authority to stand up and speak out against both politicians and industry when they see immediate and cumulative effects negatively impacting the environment. Too often they are stifled and disciplined for speaking out. Crown Land is a public resource and should be managed sustainably in perpetuity.


      Jan 6, 2012 at 6:56pm

      <blockquote>David Suzuki: Governments must be held accountable for protecting the environment</blockquote>

      It is egos that must be held responsible for protecting the environment and David Suzuki's is one of them. It is sad that he has spent his life informing us, but has since fallen off his own wagon and now wallows in his own self importance.

      I will never again take seriously anything that emanates from the name Suzuki. He is lost to his own ego!