UK Markets open in 5 mins

‘What a mess’: David Suzuki rates the planet's chances of survival

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

Our children’s lives will be dramatically changed by our impact on the natural world, according to world-renowned environmentalist and broadcaster Dr David Suzuki.

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia from his home in Canada, the 86-year-old says the outlook for our planet is “very grim” but humanity may survive in pockets.

With children unable to vote, he argues their parents and grandparents, no matter their political persuasion, have a responsibility to elect leaders who will act on climate change and species extinction to give the next generations the best opportunity.

“Our politics is so screwed up,” he said.

“Children don’t vote, future generations don’t vote, rivers, oceans, air, they don’t vote and yet we’re making decisions that effect these things in a profound way.”

Dr David Suzuki says we must urgently tackle climate change and biodiversity loss for the sake of our children. Source: Getty / Michael Dahlstrom
Dr David Suzuki says we must urgently tackle climate change and biodiversity loss for the sake of our children. Source: Getty / Michael Dahlstrom

Dr Suzuki has written 43 books on the environment, and became a household name via his long-running Canadian TV program, The Nature of Things.

Dismayed that nations have not pulled together to solve the Covid-19 crisis, Dr Suzuki believes it will be “pretty hard” to get them to “act as one” to save the planet.

"Tackling climate change and biodiversity loss must come before the human constructs of politics and economics, because it is an “issue of survival”.

“We were a great experiment, an amazing creature, and the only reason I am sad about where we’re at now is that I have grandchildren,” he said.

“They are the joy of my life and it grieves me what a mess we’re leaving for them.”

'What the hell is going on' Australia?

A frequent visitor to Australia, Dr Suzuki remains perplexed that our nation has continued to prioritise fossil fuels rather than renewable energy.

During his first visit in 1989, he was amazed by the sunlight, later describing it as the "richest resource of energy" of any country on the planet. 

Having maintained home in Port Douglas, near the Great Barrier Reef, the Canadian has seen firsthand the impact which climate change has had on Australia.

Australia's ongoing embrace of coal rather than solar energy has perplexed Dr Suzuki. Source: Getty
Australia's ongoing embrace of coal rather than solar energy has perplexed Dr Suzuki. Source: Getty

“You’ve got the richest resource of energy of any country on the planet — it’s called sunlight — and yet you’re still stuck on coal and oil, I mean what the hell is going on?

“It’s only because of economics.”

Economics the 'driving force' of destruction

Western economic thinking’s failure to put value on nature is the “driving force to our destructiveness”, Dr Suzuki argues.

He points to a review presented in February by economist Professor Partha Dasgupta, commissioned by the UK Treasury, which found our prosperity has come at the expense of ecosystems which provide clean air, food and water.

Contrasting with this is the traditional thinking of Indigenous people across the world, including the Haida in British Columbia, who Dr Suzuki says acknowledge a gratitude to the environment and admit that they have a responsibility to nature during ceremony.

“One of the big problems we face today… is this whole notion of freedom and ‘my individual rights - it’s as if freedom comes with no responsibility. ” he said.

“Any Indigenous person will tell you, yes we may have to kill an animal, or pull this plant out of the soil and use it, but we give thanks to it and we’re concerned that their kind will continue on."

Dr Suzuki pinpoints where 'destructive behaviour' began

After a lifetime examining humankind’s destruction of the environment Dr Suzuki says he finally understands the “root cause of our destructiveness”.

He believes it has come late in our existence, as nomadic hunter gatherers understood the “complex web of relationships” with air, water, animals and plants for thousands of years.

While farmers later understood this relationship, he argues embracing agriculture was our first major step away from living with nature.

Industrialisation led humans to believe they were no longer bound by natural laws, Dr Suzuki said. Source: Getty
Industrialisation led humans to believe they were no longer bound by natural laws, Dr Suzuki said. Source: Getty

Further separation, he says, came with the rise of Judeo-Christian ideas which saw nature as something to be used by mankind and this thinking was later accelerated by industrialisation.

“With the industrial revolution this really begins our shift when we think we’re no longer bound by natural laws,” he said.

“We can build a vehicle that will travel faster than the speed of sound, with telescopes and microscopes, and big machines we can now do what no other animal ever did.

“I mean we can escape gravity for god sakes, we can live in outer space or under the ocean.

“So this completes then the notion that we are so special, the only limitation to human progress is our imagination.”

Legacy of our civilisation is grim without major change

Despite having tried to takeover Earth, Dr Suzuki believes humans are incapable of managing our own affairs, let alone the problems affecting the planet.

Poverty, inequity and the environment are all interlinked and solutions must be found for all in order to achieve a sustainable world, he argues.

Biodiversity loss and extinction is a key concern of Dr Suzuki's. Source: Getty
Biodiversity loss and extinction is a key concern of Dr Suzuki's. Source: Getty

Fixing these issues comes with a major challenge, it puts established power at risk, but humankind has shown in the past that it can rapidly develop technologies when the will is there, such as during World War II and the space race.

"We've got to beat climate change, because if we don't, the alternative is horrifying," he said.

"We've got no choice."

As many countries around the world put their post Covid-19 economic recovery plans in place, Dr Suzuki wants people to remember that life before the pandemic was not "normal days". 

If we go back to business as ususal, Dr Suzuki believes our society’s short existence on this planet will have little to show for itself.

“They say, if in the future geologists or palaeontologists start looking at the layer record to see the Anthropocene, the period that we’re in now, the primary things they would find in that very thin layer of our time would be plastic, radioactive isotopes, cement and chicken bones,” he said.

“The legacy of our civilisation.”

To view this content, you'll need to update your privacy settings.
Please click here to do so.