Citizen Action Monitor

Meetings like Rio+20 are doomed to fail — David Suzuki

“We’re going backwards”

No 511 Posted by fw, June 25, 2012

“A meeting like this is doomed to fail because we haven’t left our vested interests outside the door and come together as a single species and agreed what the fundamental needs are for all of humanity. So we’re going to sacrifice the air, the water, the biodiversity all in the sake of human political and economic interest. They’re doomed too.”David Suzuki

What follows is my abridged transcript of Amy Goodman’s interview today with David Suzuki, covering the climate crisis, the student protests in Quebec, his childhood growing up in an internment camp, and his daughter Severn’s historic speech at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when she was 12 years-old. My abridged transcript focuses solely on Suzuki’s reflections on the Rio+20 summit.

To access the complete transcript and see the original interview, click on the following linked title. My transcript appears below a 16:46-minute You Tube clip of the interview.

David Suzuki on Rio+20, “Green Economy” & Why Planet’s Survival Requires Undoing Its Economic Model, Democracy Now, June 25, 2012


Canada is a laggard. We are a global outlaw, renegade country. But, overall, the science is in, the planet is in terrible shape.

We’re going backwards. Certainly from the standpoint of my country, Canada, said that it was playing a leadership role at Rio ’92. Here there’s just been no question, Canada is a laggard. We are a global outlaw, renegade country. But, overall, the science is in, the planet is in terrible shape.

Meetings like this are doomed to fail because we are sacrificing all for the sake of political and economic interests

The difficulty is that meetings like this are doomed to fail because we see ourselves at the center of everything. And our political and our economic priorities have to dominate over everything else. If we do not come together and say, look, let’s start with the agreement that we are biological creatures, and if you do not have air for more than three or four minutes you are dead, if you don’t have clean air you are sick, so surely, air, the atmosphere that provides us with the seasons, the weather, the climate, that has to be our highest priority before anything economic or political. That has to be the highest priority. But what you’re getting is a huge gathering, as we saw in Copenhagen two years ago, a huge gathering of countries trying to negotiate something that does not belong to anyone to through the lenses of all of the political boundaries and economic priorities, and we try to shoehorn nature into our agenda. It simply is not going to work. A meeting like this is doomed to fail because we haven’t left our vested interests outside the door and come together as a single species and agreed what the fundamental needs are for all of humanity. So we’re going to sacrifice the air, the water, the biodiversity all in the sake of human political and economic interest. They’re doomed too.

We have to find a mechanism to hold leaders legally accountable for what they do/don’t do

You can charge people who are at a scene, where someone is being murdered, and if you do not do anything to try to help that, you can be charged with criminal negligence. If something is going on that you should know about and you ignore it deliberately, then that is called willful blindness. That is a legal category for taking people to court. I think what we have to also find is a mechanism to judge people and to make them accountable for the implications of what they do or do not do for future generations. That is, there should be a category of intergenerational crime. You come here 20 years later, how many of the political leaders that were here in 1992 are now here again? Very, very few, if any. So, these guys come, they make a lot of nice words and they say, we care about this, we’re going to do that. Nobody holds them accountable because they go out of office, they go on to become billionaires or whenever they do. But who is accountable for the lack of any kind of profound activity?

Corporations are calling the shots and Obama is held hostage by a dysfunctional congress

You know, Obama was signaled sea-change in the American politics in the United States. Unfortunately, he’s held hostage and he made some fundamental opponents right from the beginning that were fantastic, really top-notch scientists heading NOAA, heading the Energy Department. This was a sea-change. You think of a Nobel Prize winner being appointed the minister, or whatever you call him, secretary of energy. These are huge changes. The reality though, is he is held hostage by an absolutely dysfunctional congress. And he is held hostage by the corporate agenda, which is still a primary obligation that politicians have, even though has been very successful at getting that grassroots support. The fact is that corporations hold a huge hammer over the heads of our elected representatives and they are calling the shots. The economic system is the driving force that is destroying the planet, but now it is the corporations that are setting the direction and they’re calling the shots. I think that it is not that Mr. Obama is like George Bush, because he is definitely not, but he is held hostage by the same system within which Bush operated.

There is huge support in the US right now for parties that want to return to the past

I think in the U.S., you’re in deep trouble right now because of the huge support for parties that want to take us back to the past, the Tea Party and all of that are taking us away from having an opportunity for civil society to really contribute.

Britain’s leading scientist says the odds are only 50/50 that humans will survive to the end of this century

I think we are really in a crisis when Sir Martin Rees, one of the leading scientists in Britain, the Royal Astronomer, was asked on BBC, what are the chances that human beings will survive to the end of this century? This is whether we will still be around. His answer was, 50/50. 50/50 that human beings will avoid extinction? I mean, surely to goodness we ought to be on an absolute crisis mode and getting off all of this rhetoric being fostered by the fossil fuel industry and nuclear industry and get on to a truly sustainable path.

The “green economy” in the US is a system built on the need to continue to expand and grow

The green economy will simply allow the corporations to make a shift. You can see it in Exxon. Exxon, one of the companies that have spent tens of millions of dollars denying climate change, denying any responsibility, taking government subsidies on a massive scale, now their ads are all about, we want a clean future, we’re looking at clean energy and all that stuff. Sure, the green economy is just about being more efficient, being less polluting, being less energy intensive, but still it’s a system built on the need to continue to expand and grow. The true economy has got to come back into balance with the very biosphere that sustains us. I think a lot of people just see the green economy as a different way of allowing the corporate agenda to continue to flourish.

We have to change the corporations and the economy because “greening” is totally destructive

We have got to change the economy and we have to do what we did in 1944 when governments came to Bretton Woods in Maine, and said we have got to develop an economic system for a post-war world. And they designed, they instituted GATT, the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade. They invented the World Bank, the IMF. They tied world currency to the American greenback. But they left out the environment. It’s time for a Bretton Woods II. We have got to overhaul the economy. You cannot change nature, but you can change our inventions like corporations and the economy. They have got to change. So, greening the economy that is itself a totally destructive system because it is bent on exploiting resources unsustainably and growing forever, that is got to be overhauled, it doesn’t work.


America’s right-wing agenda has undermined scientific credibility

It’s astonishing to me because I want to remind your viewers that in 1992, an American president had declared himself — well, in 1988, he said, if you vote for me, I promise I will be an environmental President. That was George H.W. Bush. There wasn’t a green bone in his body but the American public had put the environment at the top of its agenda. He had to say that. Many people say, George Bush came to Rio in 1992 so he should be recognized for that. George Bush was not going to come to Rio unless they watered down the climate convention. They were aiming at the original plans, were for a 20% reduction in greenhouse emissions in 15 years. George Bush said, I am not going, until he got a much watered-down target of stabilization of 1990 levels by the year 2000, and he came down and signed that. But, his actions were predicated on American concern about the environment. Since then, of course, we have gone into recessions. But, I think we have not recognized that we’ve got people like the Koch brothers, you got these right-wing think tanks, Competitive Enterprises Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Institute, that are all now pushing a radical right-wing agenda funded by fossil fuel industry and rich people to say, this is not true. Which is undermining scientific credibility.

Although we are facing an absolute crisis right now, North Americans assume everything is OK

June 7, this year, Nature is filled with articles from scientists who have looked at the ecosystems of the planet. We are in deep trouble. We are facing an absolute crisis now. But countries like Canada and the United States, which are endowed with huge resources, can float by on the assumption everything is OK. We don’t see the crunch coming as poor countries like [in] Europe are seeing. They do not have the kind of resource plenty that we have in North America. And so they are seeing it and leading the call for change. But, we have the illusion that the economy is the source of everything that matters and we have got to keep that growing at all costs. It’s at all costs to the future for our children and grandchildren.

We need to shift our beliefs and values from the earth is ours to exploit to “we are part of a vast web of interconnected species dependent on Mother Nature”

Well, the thing we hear over and over again is that we need a paradigm shift. It has become a cliché. But, I absolutely believe this is a critical change, that all of the stuff that goes on will not achieve anything unless we ultimately see the world in a different way. You see, our beliefs, our values shape the way we look out at the world and the way we treat it. If we believe that we were here, placed here by God, that all of this creation is for us, it’s for us to go and occupy, dominate, and exploit, then we will proceed to do that. That is the paradigm we now exist within. We’re driven then by that sense that it’s all there for us. We need to shift that to a better understanding that we are part of a vast web of interconnected species, that it is the biosphere, the zone of air, water, and land, where all life exists. It’s a very thin layer around the planet.

[Earth] is home to ten to thirty millions other species that keep the planet habitable. And if we don’t see that we are utterly embedded in the natural world and dependent on nature, not technology, not economics, not science — we are dependent on Mother Nature for our very wellbeing and survival. If we don’t see that, then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economies, corporations, markets…. If we do not make that fundamental shift, then we will just go on, oh we got to be more efficient we got to have a green economy, and all that stuff, but we haven’t fundamentally changed in our relationship with the biosphere.

The minute you accept that we are biological creatures, then our highest priorities become absolutely clear. That means stop all release of any kind of human created material into our surroundings until we learn ways to recycle that in mimic nature in how we create and then degrade those things.

We need to work toward creating strong families and supportive communities. We need full employment, we need equity and justice and freedom from war, terror, and genocide. To me, those are my issues, because if you don’t have that kind of society, you cannot have a sustainable environment. Hunger and poverty are my issues, because a starving person who finds an edible plant or animal, is not going to say, I wonder if this is an endangered species? They kill it and eat it. I would. And you probably you would too.

How can we create an economy that will allow these fundamental needs that we have to be protected? How do we construct a way of living as a species, protecting these values? But if we don’t see what the primary needs are, then I just think that we’re just playing at the edges and we’re not being serious about reaching a truly sustainable future.


David Suzuki, Canadian author and environmental activist, perhaps best known as host of the long-running CBC program, “The Nature of Things,” seen in more than 40 countries. In 1990, he co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation which focuses on sustainable ecology. In 2009, he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award. His latest book: Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet.

MY COMMENT: Now if we only knew how to get from where we are to the visions that Suzuki (in this post) and William Rees (in the previous post) have laid out for us.

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