Don’t let fossil fuel corporations hijack political agenda

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SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

I consider voting a privilege and a responsibility. But I wish politicians would take their responsibility to voters more seriously. We elect them to represent us. Sometimes our interests coincide with corporate priorities. After all, corporations create jobs and economic opportunities and often develop products and services citizens need. Corporations can’t vote, but by putting enormous amounts of money into campaigns and lobbying, they can hijack the political agenda.

That’s the case with the fossil fuel industry, the most profitable in human history. It’s taken such hold on the US that the current administration refuses to accept advice and research from climate scientists, biologists, military experts, economists and others who warn that continuing to burn fossil fuels will steer us to climate catastrophe, and that failing to act will be far more costly and lacking in economic opportunity than confronting the challenge.

Canadians shouldn’t be smug. Many people expected changes in 2015 when the Liberals won the federal election and the NDP won Alberta’s election. The new governments said the right things and came up with reasonably good plans, but then continued to approve and promote fossil fuel development and infrastructure to the extent that one has to question whether they understand the urgency of the climate crisis.

As former Alberta Liberal Party leader and Oil’s Deep State author Kevin Taft writes in a Maclean’s article, “The link between fossil fuels and global warming has been known since the 1980s and so has the solution to global warming: phasing out fossil fuels. Rather than accepting the science and adapting to other sources of energy, the oil industry has developed an aggressive campaign to obscure the science and advance its own interests.”

Since their 2015 election, the federal Liberals and Alberta NDP have maintained support for fossil fuel projects and infrastructure.

In early October, federal environment commissioner Julie Gelfand gave the government a failing grade on climate change, noting only five of 19 government departments she looked at had even assessed climate risks and how to deal with them.

Taft also examines how oil money has compromised universities’ independence. A recent report by the University of Western Ontario’s Alison Hearn and York University’s Gus Van Harten backs him up, showing Enbridge funding for the University of Calgary created conflicts of interest, compromised academic freedom and gave the company influence over decision-making.

It’s not the first time the University of Calgary has been caught up in oil industry scandals. In 2004, political science professor Barry Cooper set up research accounts to secretly funnel donations, mostly from oil and gas industries, to the misnamed group Friends of Science for its efforts to dispute climate science and reject the Kyoto Protocol.

Democracy works, if we participate. But it doesn’t function well if we forfeit our rights to corporate interests. We must speak out at the ballot box and between elections and tell politicians our support depends on them putting our interests first.

Excerpted from Government for the People, Not Fossil Fuel Corporations. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Environmentalism a way of being

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

I’m often introduced as an environmentalist. I prefer to be called a father, grandfather, scientist or author, as these terms provide insight into my motivation. Environmentalism isn’t a discipline or specialty like law, medicine, plumbing, music or art. It’s a way of seeing our place in the world and recognizing that our survival, health and happiness are inextricably dependent on nature.

We’re clever animals – so smart we think we’re in command. We forget that our inventions have created many crises. Atomic bombs represented an incredible scientific and technological achievement, releasing the power within atoms. But when the US dropped them on Japan in 1945, scientists didn’t know about radioactive fallout, electromagnetic pulses or the potential for nuclear winter. Those were discovered after we used the weapons.

Swiss chemist Paul Mueller won a Nobel Prize in 1948 for his discovery that DDT was a potent insecticide. Many years after the compound was put into widespread use, biologists discovered a previously unknown phenomenon: biomagnification up the food chain.

When people started using chlorofluorocarbons, no one knew they would persist in the environment and float into the upper atmosphere where the sun’s ultraviolet rays would cleave away chlorine-free radicals. As a geneticist, I only learned about the protective ozone layer when other scientists reported that chlorine from CFCs was breaking it down.

Our knowledge of the biological, chemical and physical components of the biosphere and their interconnections and interactions is too limited to enable us to anticipate the consequences of our inventions and intrusions.

What we need is humility. Clever as we are, nature is far more creative. Over 3.8 billion years, every species has had to evolve ways to find food, water and energy, and to dispose of wastes, find mates, reproduce, avoid predators and fend off parasites and infections… If we had the humility to learn from nature, using an approach called “biomimicry,” we would find far more and better solutions.

The Canadian Cancer Society recently reported that half our population will develop cancer. This isn’t normal, but it shouldn’t surprise us. After all, we have synthesized hundreds of thousands of new molecules that have never existed on Earth. Most have never been tested for their biological effects and tens of thousands are now used in products and enter our waste stream.

When we dump this vast assortment of new molecules into air, water and soil, we can’t anticipate how they might interact within living organisms or what their long-term consequences might be. Throwing more money into cancer treatment and research will not alone stem the disease. To arrest the cancer crisis (and it is a crisis), we must stop using the biosphere as a garbage can or sewer for these new molecules.

Along with humility, we should be grateful for nature’s generosity, something I’ve learned from Indigenous peoples. They acknowledge the source of their well-being: clean air, clean water, clean food and clean energy. In the urbanized industrial world we inhabit, we tend to think the economy is the source of all that matters to us. It’s time to see with new eyes.

Excerpted from Environmentalism is a Way of Being, Not a Discipline. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Shining bright in darker times

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SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

Are we entering a new Dark Age? Lately, it seems so. News reports are enough to make anyone want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers. But it’s time to rise and shine. To resolve the crises humanity faces, good people must come together.

It’s one lesson from Charlottesville, Virginia. It would be easy to dismiss the handful of heavily armed, polo-shirted, tiki-torch terrorists who recently marched there if they weren’t so dangerous and representative of a disturbing trend that the current US president and his administration have emboldened.

Racism, hatred and ignorance aren’t uniquely American. Fanatics acting out of fear… are everywhere. But whether they’re religious or political extremists or both, all have much in common. They’re intolerant of other viewpoints and try to dehumanize those who are different; they believe in curtailing women’s and minority rights even though they claim to oppose big government; they espouse violence; and they reject the need for environmental protection.

Charlottesville was a tipping point, not so much because hatred and ignorance were on full display (that happens all too often), but because so many people stood up and spoke out against it and against President Donald Trump’s bizarre and misguided response.

The effects spilled into Canada, most notably with the implosion of the far-right and misnamed media outlet, The Rebel. The online platform, born from the ashes of the failed Sun News network, is a good illustration of the intersection between racism, intolerance and anti-environmentalism. Rather than learning from Sun News’s failure that racism and extremism are unpopular and anti-Canadian, Rebel founder Ezra Levant ramped up the bigoted and anti-environmental messaging, with commentators ranting against feminists, LGBTQ people, Muslims and Jews (Levant is Jewish), along with rejecting climate science and solutions to environmental problems!

The Rebel’s Faith Goldy was at Charlottesville, sympathetically “reporting” on the band of mostly male white extremists. When a racist drove his car into a crowd of anti-Nazi protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and seriously injuring others, it was too much for some of Levant’s long-time supporters.

Rebel staff and commentators, including a co-founder, cut their ties. Norwegian Cruise Line cancelled a scheduled Rebel fundraising cruise, hundreds of advertisers pulled out and principled conservatives dissociated themselves. Trying to salvage the site’s ragged reputation, Levant fired Goldy.

Meanwhile, the White House is in disarray and [doing] damage control around the president’s unhinged tweets, the ongoing Russian-influence investigation, constant firings, including chief strategist Steve Bannon, and legislative paralysis, not to mention a stupid belligerence that brought us to the brink of nuclear war!

At first, it appeared the tide of intolerance, emboldened racism and anti-environmentalism was rising, but now it’s looking more like the last desperate efforts of a minority of small-minded people… Canada and the US have checkered racist and colonialist pasts, but for all our faults, we’ve been evolving. Thanks to many people with diverse backgrounds from across the political spectrum who have devoted themselves to civil rights, feminism, Indigenous causes, LGBTQ rights, the environment and more, we’ve made many gains. We have a long way to go, but we must keep on and not let fear, hatred and ignorance block our way.

If we and our children and their children are to survive and be healthy in the face of crises like climate change and terrorism, we must stand together in unity and solidarity without fear. Like the many who gathered in Barcelona the day after recent horrendous terrorist attacks, the people who stood up to racists in Charlottesville, those who reject the anti-human agendas of media outlets like The Rebel and the many people worldwide who march and speak up for climate justice, we must come together to shine a light on the darkness.

We must use our voices, actions and humour to confront these anti-human undercurrents. We must confront our own prejudices and privilege.

Love conquers fear and hate. We must show those who want to bring us down or take us back to darker times that we outnumber them by far, everywhere.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster and author. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. David Suzuki’s latest book is Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do (Greystone Books), co-written with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Trump the climate pariah

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SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

In withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, US President Donald Trump demonstrated monumental ignorance about climate change and the agreement itself. As Vox energy and climate writer David Roberts noted about Trump’s announcement, “It is a remarkable address, in its own way, in that virtually every passage contains something false or misleading.”

From absurd claims that the voluntary agreement will impose “draconian financial and economic burdens” on the US to petty, irrational fears that it confers advantages to other countries to the misguided notion that it can and should be renegotiated, Trump is either misinformed or lying.

The agreement to limit global temperature increases that every country except Syria and Nicaragua signed in December 2015 (the latter because it doesn’t go far enough!) is an astonishing achievement. Despite a relentless, massively funded campaign of denial, the world’s nations came together and agreed to reduce the risk of climate chaos.

With Trump’s single-minded focus on propping up outdated, polluting industries, he’s unlikely to lead us out of this mess, but that doesn’t mean we should give up hope… Climate change and our response to it will be the defining moment of humanity’s relatively brief history.

Life on Earth was made possible by the blanket of greenhouse gases enveloping the planet. They regulated temperature and kept it from fluctuating drastically between day and night and through seasons. As life evolved, photosynthesis became the planet’s primary means of capturing and using the sun’s energy, eventually producing and maintaining atmospheric oxygen. Plants mediated the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen, but the rise of fossil fuel-driven industrialization has pushed carbon dioxide beyond plants’ capacities to utilize it. We have steadily altered the chemistry of the air beyond levels that developed over several million years.

Scientists have anticipated the crisis of catastrophic climate change from human activity for decades, but despite their warnings, political and economic agendas have, with a few exceptions, trumped real action to reduce fossil fuel use.

The problem didn’t appear suddenly. Industrialized nations have been the major greenhouse gas contributors, spurred by the American economy’s spectacular growth. Signatories to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 recognized that countries responsible for the problem should cap and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions while allowing poorer nations to develop economically until leaders could enact another all-inclusive treaty.

If there’s a bright side to Trump’s decision, it’s that climate change has received more serious media coverage than ever before, and people around the world – from municipal, state and business leaders in the US to heads of state everywhere – have agreed to increase their efforts, to lead where Trump has failed.

People from all walks of life are joining forces to confront the common threat. The leader of the most powerful nation is not among them. Sad!

Excerpted from “Trump is a pariah in the face of climate crisis.” David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. David Suzuki’s latest book is Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do (Greystone Books), co-written with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Work less and help the planet

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SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

In 1926, US automaker Henry Ford reduced his employees’ workweek from six eight-hour days to five, with no pay cuts. It’s something workers and labour unions had been calling for and it followed previous reductions in work schedules that had been as high as 84 to 100 hours over seven days a week.

Ford wasn’t responding to worker demands; he was being a businessman. He expected increased productivity and knew workers with more time and money would buy and use the products they were making. It was a way of spurring consumerism and productivity to increase profits, and it succeeded. Ford, then one of America’s largest employers, was ahead of his time; most workers in North America and elsewhere didn’t get a 40-hour workweek until after the Second World War.

Since standardization of the 40-hour workweek in the mid-20th century, everything has changed but the hours. If anything, many people are working even longer hours, especially in North America. This has severe repercussions for human health and well-being, as well as the environment.

Until the Second World War, it was common for one person in a household, usually the oldest male, to do wage work full time. Now, women make up 42 percent of Canada’s full-time workforce. Technology has made a lot of work redundant, with computers and robots doing many tasks previously performed by humans.

People get money from bank machines, scan groceries at automated checkouts and book travel online. Many people now spend most or all of their workdays in front of a computer.

Well into the 21st century, we continue to work the same long hours as 20th century labourers, depleting ever more of Earth’s resources to produce more goods that we must keep working to buy, use and replace in a seemingly endless cycle of toil and consumerism.

It’s time to pause and consider better ways to live like shifting from fossil-fuelled lifestyles with which our consumer-based workweeks are connected; it would have been easier to change had we done so gradually.

The UK think tank, New Economics Foundation, argues that a standard 21-hour workweek would address a number of interconnected problems: “overwork, unemployment, over-consumption, high carbon emissions, low well-being, entrenched inequalities, and the lack of time to live sustainably, to care for each other, and simply to enjoy life.”

Beyond helping break the cycle of constant consumption and allowing people to focus on things that matter – like friends, family and time in nature – a shorter workweek would also reduce rush-hour traffic and gridlock… And it would give people more options for family care. (David Suzuki Foundation employees enjoy a four-day workweek.)

Economic systems that require constant growth on a finite planet don’t make sense. The fact that the world’s richest 62 people now have more wealth than the poorest half of the world’s population is absurd and tragic.

It’s time for a paradigm shift in our economic thinking.

Excerpted from “Long work hours don’t work for people or the planet.” David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. David Suzuki’s latest book is Just Cool It!: The Climate Crisis and What We Can Do (Greystone Books), co-written with Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Citizen assisted genetic testing

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SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

Since I started working as a geneticist in the early 1960s, the field has changed considerably. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins won the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Researchers then “cracked” the genetic code, which held promise for fields like health and medicine. It was an exciting time to be working in the lab.

More than 40 years later, in 2003, an international group of scientists sequenced the entire human genetic code. Researchers can now find a gene suspected to cause a disease in a matter of days, a process that took years before the Human Genome Project. As of 2013, more than 2,000 genetic tests were available for human conditions. Forty years ago, I never dreamed scientists would have the knowledge and manipulative capabilities that have become standard practice today.

Inner engineering

In a couple of decades, genetics has allowed for systematic inventorying of the world’s biodiversity. Canada’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph has the genomes of more than 265,000 named species identified with barcodes in its database. The cost to analyze a sample against this free public database is about $10.

Young citizen scientists in San Diego were recently able to help compile information about the area’s biodiversity through their local libraries. Kids signed out genetic testing kits… through Catalog of Life @ the Library.

People in Canada can also help identify seafood fraud with the LifeScanner service. Genetic testing helps consumers identify the species and possibly the origin of fish they buy, important for people who care about sustainability and health and nutrition.

Identifying and tracing seafood has long been a challenge, especially because about 40 percent of wild-caught seafood is traded internationally and labelling is often inadequate. Once fish are skinned, cleaned and packaged, it’s not always easy to tell what they are. If you buy something labelled “rockfish” in Canada, it could be one of more than 100 species. Often, labels don’t indicate whether the fish were caught or processed sustainably. Although the European Union and US require more information on seafood labels than Canada, one study found 41 percent of US seafood is mislabelled.

A European study found stronger policies combined with public information led to less mislabelling. People in Canada have demanded better legislation to trace seafood products. More than 12,000 people recently sent letters to government asking for better labelling.

SeaChoice (the David Suzuki Foundation is a member) is working with LifeScanner to register 300 people in Canada to test seafood, in part to determine whether labels are accurate.

With the help of citizen scientists, genetic testing can offer a powerful approach to righting environmental wrongs. Combining crowd-sourced scientific data, public policy reform and consumer activism is already showing positive results. The same approach could work in areas such as testing for antibiotics, pesticide and mercury residues and more.

Excerpted from “Citizen science and genetic testing yield positive results.” David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Facts and evidence matter

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SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

We recently highlighted the faulty logic of a pseudoscientific argument against addressing climate change: the proposition that because CO2 is necessary for plants, increasing emissions is good for the planet and the life it supports. Those who read, write or talk regularly about climate change and ecology are familiar with other anti-environmental arguments not coated with a scientific sheen.

A common one is that if you drive a car, buy any plastic goods or even type on a computer keyboard your observation that we need to reduce fossil fuel use is not valid, no matter how much evidence you present. Like the “CO2 is plant food” claim, it’s a poor argument, but for different reasons.

The statement that gas-fuelled cars cause pollution is true whether or not the person making it drives a car, just as a claim that automobile emissions are harmless is false, regardless of the claimant’s car ownership or driving habits.

Fossil fuels are useful for many purposes – from life-saving medical equipment to computer keyboards – so why extract, transport and burn them so rapidly and wastefully? Supplies aren’t endless.

Most people don’t have the time or expertise to read through and comprehend the massive volumes of peer-reviewed science on phenomena such as feedback loops, ocean acidification, extreme weather events, species extinction and sea level rise.

Fortunately, some excellent resources provide information for people with varying levels of knowledge and expertise: skepticalscience.com offers a big-picture approach by examining the peer-reviewed literature.

You can also find accessible science on the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration websites. The American Institute of Physics offers a comprehensive history of climate science.

Media outlets with considerable, credible coverage include The Guardian and National Geographic and environmentally focused websites such as Grist, EcoWatch and the National Observer. Desmog Blog’s timely articles and extensive database shed light on what’s behind concerted efforts to downplay or dismiss the seriousness of climate change. Websites for environmental groups like the David Suzuki Foundation, Pembina Institute and others are also good information sources. Just Cool It!, a book coming out April 22 by Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington and me explains climate change and focuses on solutions.

It’s increasingly clear we can’t rely on politicians to get us out of the mess we’ve created. The current US administration is full of people who reject the overwhelming evidence for human-caused climate change. In Canada, our government has some good climate policies, but continues to approve fossil fuel infrastructure projects.

The silver lining of the irrationality that has descended on the US is that it has sparked a growing movement to promote scientific evidence and science-based solutions. The “March for Science” taking place in cities throughout the US and beyond on Earth Day, April 22, is one example.

We have scientific evidence and rational arguments on our side. Let’s use them to support solutions.

Excerpted from “Facts and evidence matter in confronting climate crisis.” David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Marvellous monarchs move Minister McKenna

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SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

Federal Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna had her mind blown recently. Remarkably, it had nothing to do with the political gong show south of the border. McKenna was visiting the hilltop monarch butterfly reserves in rural Mexico. There, she saw millions of monarchs clinging to oyamel fir trees in mind-bogglingly dense clusters, surprisingly well camouflaged for such colourful critters. She then wrote a heartfelt article calling on people in Canada to act before monarchs go the way of passenger pigeons and buffalo.

Since the 1990s, the eastern monarch population has declined by about 90 percent. More than a billion monarchs once made the journey to Mexico. In winter 2013, that dropped to 35 million. Modest increases since then have largely been erased. An intense late-winter storm wiped out more than six million monarchs last March and unfavourable weather conditions during critical breeding periods caused a 27 percent reduction over the past year.

Much of the overall decline has been pinned on the eradication of milkweed through widespread use of the herbicide glyphosate (known as Roundup) in the US midwest and southern Canada. Milkweed is a host plant and the only food source for monarch caterpillars. Extreme weather conditions… have exacerbated the decline.

In 2016, scientists estimated the monarch population has up to a 57 percent chance of “quasi-extinction” over the next 20 years. That means the population could hit levels so low recovery is impossible. Others suggest the migration into Canada could end. In November, scientists overseeing at-risk species in Canada said the government should list the monarch butterfly population as endangered.

Pre-eminent monarch advocate Chip Taylor estimates that more than a billion milkweed will need to be planted throughout the range if the population is to recover. That would require unprecedented co-operation and collaboration by agencies, groups and scientists throughout the monarch’s 5,000-kilometre migratory route… especially in the northern end of the range where 44 percent of the population originates, according to University of Guelph scientists.

In the US, plans have taken flight over the past few years. Federal and state agencies collaborated to develop an ambitious 10-year plan to increase the monarch population, providing more than 10 million for research and conservation efforts. Former president Barack Obama helped launch a plan to establish one million bee-and butterfly-friendly gardens across the continent, including butterfly gardens on the White House grounds.

In Mexico, government agencies, international organizations and local groups like Alternare are working diligently to protect the forests where monarchs overwinter.

What’s missing is action from Canada’s government. The good news is that the person with the most power to influence the plight of this imperilled species is Minister McKenna. Whether Canada legally protects monarchs, as recommended in November by federal scientists, is up to her. That’s why her newfound love of monarchs renews my hope.

If Canada is serious about saving the monarchs, the federal government needs to start now.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

We can learn so much from nature

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

If you fly over a forest and look down, you’ll see every green tree and plant reaching to the heavens to absorb the ultimate energy source: sunlight. What a contrast when you look down on a city or town with its naked roofs, asphalt roads and concrete sidewalks, all ignoring the sun’s beneficence! Research shows we might benefit by thinking more like a forest.

Solar roads could be a step in that direction. Roads, sidewalks and parking lots cover massive areas. Using them to generate power means less environmental disturbance, as no new land is needed to house solar power operations.

A French company, Colas, is working with the French National Institute for Solar Energy to test its Wattway technology under various conditions, with a goal of covering 1,000 kilometres of existing highway with thin, durable, skid-resistant crystalline silicon solar panel surfacing over the next four years. They estimate that could provide electricity for five million people. Although critics have raised questions about cost and feasibility, it’s not pie-in-the-sky. The technology is being tested and employed throughout the world.

Rooftops are another place to generate power using existing infrastructure. Elon Musk’s company, Tesla, is making shingles that double as solar panels. Although they cost more than conventional asphalt shingles, they’re comparable in price to higher-end roof tiles and can save money when you factor in the power they generate.

These developing technologies show that, as the world continues to warm, we can and must move beyond our outdated ways. In Canada and elsewhere, the political approach to climate change has often been to avoid discussing it – in part, by firing government scientists or vetting their public statements – and maintaining the status quo by lavishly supporting unproven and risky technologies like carbon capture and storage that keep us tied to fossil fuels for years to come. It’s nonsensical to dig up and melt oilsands bitumen, transport and burn it and attempt to capture the emissions and stick them back in the ground where nature had already stored the carbon. Nature took millions of years to do it, but we aren’t a patient animal.

US science writer Janine Benyus coined the term “biomimicry” to describe technologies based on nature’s ability to solve problems or exploit opportunities. It’s an important concept because it requires humility and respect for natural processes rather than the imposition of our crude, but powerful, technological innovations.

Every species shares the same challenges: how to get energy and food, avoid predators and disease (even bacteria get viral infections), what to do with waste and how to reproduce. Over long periods, numerous strategies to solve these challenges have evolved. We are a species magnificently adapted for survival, with a massive brain relative to our body size. Unlike any other species, we have the ability to ask questions and seek answers. We can find a treasure trove of solutions in the ways other species have dealt with challenges.

Biomimicry has inspired applications ranging from producing energy through artificial photosynthesis to building lightweight support structures based on the properties of bamboo.

By learning how nature works and how to work within it, we can overcome many problems we’ve created by trying to jam our technologies on top of natural systems. Fossil fuels were formed when plants absorbed and converted sunlight through photosynthesis hundreds of millions of years ago, then retained that energy when they died, decayed and became compacted and buried deep in the Earth, along with the animals that ate them. Rapidly burning limited supplies of them is absurd, especially when they can be useful for so many other known and possibly yet undiscovered purposes.

Surely, with our knowledge and wisdom we can do better than rely on the primitive idea of burning things to stay warm and comfortable without regard for the consequences – pollution of air, water and land with its related impacts on health, as well as climate change, which is putting humanity’s survival at risk.

Our economic systems don’t often encourage the most efficient and least harmful ways of providing necessities. They aim for the quickest, easiest, cheapest and most economically profitable paths. We can do better than that. Harnessing the sun’s power and learning how nature solves challenges are good places to start.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Hard work trump fear and hate

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

We can’t count on governments to make the changes we so desperately need. It’s up to us. We must be the change.

Now what? Many people in the United States and around the world are dismayed that a bigoted, misogynistic, climate change denier has been elected to the highest office in what is still the world’s most powerful nation. His party controls the House and Senate, meaning pro-fossil-fuel, anti-climate-action representatives who reject overwhelming and alarming scientific evidence will hold the reins. It will be a government firmly in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry. But global warming isn’t going to pause for four years. It’s going to accelerate. Do we give up?

No way! Governments move slowly at the best of times. People were filled with hope when Barack Obama became America’s first black president. Sure, there was progress in some areas, but the fossil fuel industry continued to expand as the world got warmer. Here in Canada, after a decade of watching our political representatives backtrack on environmental and climate policies, Canadians elected a party that promised climate leadership. Despite many progressive and positive initiatives, our government is still encouraging, subsidizing and approving fossil fuel projects and infrastructure.

We can’t count on governments to make the changes we so desperately need. It’s up to us. We must be the change. We have our work cut out for us, but work we must. Perhaps this is even an opportunity, albeit one fraught with great challenges. The election exposed nasty currents in US society, but it also revealed a profound and rising dissatisfaction with the status quo.

The answer isn’t to throw more gas on the fire. Many Americans just did that. Now, it’s up to those of us who believe in a brighter future to bring the fire under control without killing the flame. On the day after the election, the David Suzuki Foundation’s Alaya Boisvert posted, “Let the fire that ignites from this madness outshine the darkness that precipitated it.”

We can’t be complacent. We can’t let fear and despair stop us from working to make the world a better place for everyone, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, physical appearance or limitations, country of origin, political leanings, education or social circumstance. And let’s face it, the planet isn’t in trouble, humanity is. Earth’s natural systems always find balance, but the corrections they make to overcome the damage we’ve caused… don’t favour our species and the path we’re on.

We have so many possibilities and so much potential. We have knowledge and amazing technologies. We have ancient wisdom that teaches us how to be a part of this miraculous, complex, interconnected existence. Most of us want the same things: health, happiness and connection with others.

We mustn’t let fear overcome us. It’s time to stand together to work for justice and human rights, for equity, for liberty, for a cleaner environment, for governments that serve the people rather than corporations – for the values the United States of America was supposedly founded on. We must listen to each other and promote dialogue rather than debate.

The US election has brought things to a head, and the boil is erupting. It’s more important now than ever before to come together to heal the wound.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org