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

Food security – It’s important for humans and other animals

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

As leaves change colour and drop from trees, and a chill in the air signals the approach of winter, many of us are thinking of the hearty soups and dishes that will warm our bellies.

Not everyone is lucky enough to enjoy such thoughts. About four million Canadians – including more than a million children – lack food security, defined as reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. In Canada, people from low-income households and Indigenous communities are the most likely to suffer from food insecurity.

Read moreFood security – It’s important for humans and other animals

The predator we need to control is us!

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

• Humans are the world’s top predator. The way we fulfil this role is often mired in controversy, from factory farming to trophy hunting to predator control. The latter is the process governments use to kill carnivores like wolves, coyotes and cougars to stop them from hunting threatened species like caribou – even though human activity is the root cause of caribous’ decline.

Predation is an important natural function. But as the human population has grown, we’ve taken over management of ecosystems once based on mutually beneficial relationships that maintained natural balances. How are we – a “super predator” as the Raincoast Conservation Foundation dubs us – aligning with or verging from natural predation processes that shaped the world?

Read moreThe predator we need to control is us!

Food production in the city is good for people and the climate

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

 

portrait of David Suzuki•  Humans are fast becoming city dwellers. According to the United Nations, “The urban population of the world has grown rapidly from 746 million in 1950 to 3.9 billion in 2014.” Sixty-six percent of us will likely live in urban environments by 2050. The number of mega-cities (more than 10 million inhabitants) is also skyrocketing, from 10 in 1990 to 28 in 2014 –home to more than 453 million people – and is expected to grow to 41 by 2030.

Along with concerns about climate change and the distances much of our food travels from farm to plate, that’s spurred a renewed interest in producing food where people live. Urban agriculture won’t resolve all food production and distribution problems, but it could help take pressure off rural land while providing other advantages.

As writer and former Vancouver city councillor Peter Ladner (also a David Suzuki Foundation board member) writes in The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities, “When urban agriculture flourishes, our children are healthier and smarter about what they eat, fewer people are hungry, more local jobs are created, local economies are stronger, our neighbourhoods are greener and safer, and our communities are more inclusive.”

Local and urban agriculture can also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and recycle nutrient-rich food scraps, plant debris and other “wastes.”

A 2016 study from the U.S. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found that urban agriculture could “increase social capital, community well-being, and civic engagement with the food system,” as well as enhance food security, provide ecosystem services, improve health and build residents’ skills. Gardening is also therapeutic.

Urban agriculture isn’t new. During the First and Second World Wars, Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and Germany encouraged “victory gardens” to aid the war effort by reducing pressure on food systems and farms. Gardens and chicken coops appeared in yards, parks, school fields, golf courses, railway edges and vacant lots. Sheep grazed on sports fields and kept grass in check. Peter Ladner notes that, during the Second World War, the UK had 1.5 million allotment plots producing 10 percent of the country’s food, including half its fruit and vegetables; and by war’s end, more than 20 million home gardens supplied 40 percent of US domestically consumed produce.

Granted, there were fewer people and more open spaces then, but it’s still possible to grow a lot of food in urban areas, especially with composting and enriched soil techniques. Ladner writes that Toronto plans to supply 25 percent of its fruit and vegetable production within city limits by 2025… One patch of Detroit land where 12 vacant houses were removed to grow food has supplied almost 200,000 kilograms of produce for 2,000 local families, provided volunteer experience to 8,000 residents and brought the area new investment and increased safety.

Cities needn’t be wastelands of car-choked roads and pavement. Incorporating food production into ever-expanding urban areas makes cities more liveable and enhances the natural systems that keep us alive and healthy.

Excerpted from the original article, “How much food can cities produce?” 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

South Australia an example for the world

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

portrait of David Suzuki
• I’ve always had a soft spot for Adelaide in South Australia, a city built more on a human scale where downtown can be easily navigated on bike, foot or tram. For me, Adelaide’s greatest attraction is a huge market right in the city’s centre.

When I first visited Adelaide in 1993, I met Mike Rann, a young, charismatic aboriginal affairs minister in South Australia’s Labor government. His party lost the election that year, but Rann later became party leader and then state premier in a minority government in 2002. I met him again in 2003 when he outlined ambitious plans to address climate change by aggressively moving South Australia into renewable energy. Wind and solar were the obvious opportunities, but he was also enthusiastic about “hot rocks,” superheated pockets that could create steam to drive turbines for electricity.

Rann proudly introduced me to the Youth Conservation Corps. Young people in this program are trained to restore land overgrazed by sheep or cattle, plant trees and make wildlife inventories. Rann surprised me by dedicating 45 hectares of reforestation land as Suzuki Forest.

I met young people working on “my” forest who enthusiastically told me about the number and variety of birds they’d seen that day, described plant species and talked about how many trees they had planted. Many were street kids, inspired by the chance to learn about nature and conservation and proud to be re-greening the area.

I kept in touch with Mike Rann over the years. He was re-elected with majority governments in 2006 and 2010, then resigned in 2011. Last March, I returned as a guest of WOMADelaide. Although Rann was in Italy where he is now Australia’s ambassador, his wife Sasha welcomed me back.

In Adelaide, I met Ian Hunter, South Australia’s environment minister, who boasted of his state’s tremendous progress in renewable energy. South Australia gets 40 percent of its electricity from solar and wind and hopes to reach 50 to 60 percent within a few years. The area is blessed with abundant sunlight, but few jurisdictions have committed to solar as aggressively and successfully as South Australia. From my hotel room, I looked down on a factory roof covered in rows of solar panels, which are now mounted on one of every four houses.

I also returned to Suzuki Forest. I was delighted and amazed at the variety and size of plants and trees and the birds that now flourish among them. Perhaps my forest has been protected by neighbouring Schwarzenegger Forest!

Despite the impressive work in South Australia, most of the country is caught between the terrible reality of climate change – droughts, massive fires and dying reefs – and continued pressure to serve the economy by relying on fossil fuels, including recently approving the world’s largest coal mine.

Australia’s centre-right Liberal government under Prime Minister Tony Abbott gutted the previous government’s actions on climate change… Fortunately, the public started funding Flannery’s work and the commission was reborn as the independent Climate Council. Abbott was booted by his own party after a short reign.

Nevertheless, the country – like much of the world – is in the throes of deciding whether to act seriously to reduce the threat of climate change. An example for the world, South Australia shows that many opportunities exist to do so.

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

 

Virtual reality and the real thing

Portrait of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

• The digital revolution is breaking new ground every day. Technology has a way of doing that. I remember when Hewlett-Packard introduced its first “laptop” computer, which stored a page and a half of writing. It revolutionized my life as a newspaper columnist. I never imagined the steady advances that would lead to today’s powerful laptops, tablets and handheld computers.

Once, while filming in a remote BC forest, I wanted to pan from the roots of a cedar tree along the trunk to the top in a single shot. After spending hours rigging wires and pulleys and struggling to keep the heavy camera from swaying as it rose, our crew gave up in frustration. Recently, we used a light GoPro camera mounted under a drone to get a spectacular high-definition shot in a few minutes!

The first time I opened YouTube, I was looking for a video of the astounding phenomenon of mucous secretion by a hagfish, a primitive marine animal. To my surprise, I found several postings and as I chose one, a list of several others that might be of interest popped up. Two hours later, I realized I’d been sucked in by an incredible range of films.

When I first heard about virtual reality, I was invited to put on the goggles and experience it. Crude as those first images were compared to what’s available now, I was immersed in the scenes. It was impressive and exciting, but I suggested that people should be wary of unintended consequences because virtual reality could eventually appear better than reality.

During a recent visit to Montreal, I had the opportunity to watch the latest iteration of the digital revolution: images in 3D, HD and 360-degree-wrap-around. It was mindboggling. I swam with whales and zoomed through a forest, listening to actual sounds, along with music and narration. As I watched a spectacular mountain forest, a train suddenly appeared, splashing across a lake and then coming straight at me. As my body responded to the all too realistic locomotive, it reached me and exploded into a thousand birds that took off in a glorious cloud. Computer graphics melded seamlessly with actual footage that generated scenes far exceeding reality.

I have no doubt virtual reality is going to have a huge impact. We’re just beginning to recognize its potential. But as with all new technology, there will be unintended repercussions, the greatest of which will be further estrangement from nature. Studies show that because people evolved out of nature, we need that connection with the natural world for mental and physical well-being.

Author Richard Louv categorizes a suite of childhood problems – including bullying, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity – as “nature deficit disorder,” induced or worsened by too little physical exposure to nature. The average Canadian kid today spends more than six hours a day glued to a screen – mobile phones, computers, televisions – and less than eight minutes a day outside!

Some proponents claim virtual reality will stimulate children to spend more time outside. But why bother when the virtual world seems better than the real one? I’m sure innovation and creativity will continue to drive the technology to new frontiers. I’m just as sure there will be enormous unexpected and damaging consequences if we aren’t careful.

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

Take the Nature Challenge

Portrait of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

• For the most part, our brains didn’t evolve in cities. But in a few decades, almost 70 percent of the world’s people will live in urban environments. Despite the prosperity we associate with cities, urbanization presents a major health challenge. Cities, with their accelerated pace of life, can be stressful. The results are seen in the brains and behaviour of those raised in cities or currently living in one.

On the upside, city dwellers are on average wealthier and receive better health care, nutrition and sanitation than rural residents. On the downside, they experience an increased risk of chronic disease, a more demanding and stressful social environment and greater levels of inequity. In fact, city dwellers have a 21 percent greater risk for anxiety disorders and a 39 percent increased likelihood of mood disorders.

A study published in Nature links city living with sensitivity to social stress. MRI scans show greater exposure to urban environments can increase activity in the amygdala, a brain structure involved in emotions such as fear and the release of stress-related hormones. According to the study, the amygdala “has been strongly implicated in anxiety disorders, depression and other behaviours that are increased in cities, such as violence.”

The researchers also found people who lived in cities for their first 15 years experienced increased activity in an area of the brain that helps regulate the amygdala. So if you grew up in the city, you’re more likely than those who moved there later in life to have permanently raised sensitivity to stress.

Author and professor David Gessner says we’re turning into “fast twitch” animals. It’s like we have an alarm clock going off in our brains every 30 seconds, sapping our ability to concentrate for longer periods of time.

How do we slow things down? Nature seems to be the answer. Cognitive psychologist David Strayer’s hypothesis is that “being in nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command centre, to dial down and rest, like an overused muscle.”

Research shows even brief interactions with nature can soothe our brains. Stanford’s Gregory Bratman designed an experiment in which participants took a 50-minute walk in either a natural or an urban environment. People who took the nature walk experienced decreased anxiety, brooding and negative emotion and increased memory performance… Their study also showed neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness was reduced in participants who walked through nature compared with those who walked through an urban environment.

Spending time in nature regularly is not a panacea for mental health, but it’s an essential component of health and psychological resilience.

Every spring, the David Suzuki Foundation challenges Canadians to spend more time outside for health and mental well-being. The 30X30 Nature Challenge asks people to commit to spending at least 30 minutes a day in nature for 30 days in May. Take the 30×30 pledge at 30×30.davidsuzuki.org and receive the latest research on the health benefits of spending time outdoors.

Let’s show our brains – and bodies – some love. Get outside!

Excerpted from the original article. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior public engagement specialist Aryne Sheppard. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Change is in the air

Portrait of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

•  When Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated in June 1914, no one thought, “Uh-oh, World War I is starting.” We only recognize the significance of events in the context of history. I recently had a day like any other except it made me wonder if we’re on the verge of historical change.

On March 2, 2016, I woke to CBC’s Early Edition and heard program host Rick Cluff interviewing Canada’s Minster of the Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. She was explaining her infant government’s intention to meet the emissions targets set in Paris in December. That was followed by an interview with Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff talking about his organization embracing the need to address climate change with a proposal to create a million “climate jobs” over the next five years. It all struck me as amazing after a decade when little attention was paid to climate change at the federal level.

I hopped out of bed with excitement. Walking to the bus stop, I was hailed by my neighbour, the eminent architect Bing Thom, who invited me to squeeze into his Mini Minor. As we drove downtown, he was anxious to talk about the energy future and how it related to his job designing places to live and work. “We have to be bold because climate change is so urgent,” he repeated several times.

As he let me off at the Fairmont Waterfront hotel, I wondered if I was still asleep and dreaming. I then noticed a number of identical bicycles at the hotel entrance. When I asked a manager whether they’re for rent, he replied, “They’re for our hotel customers on a first-come, first-served basis.” I asked whether they were used much. “All the time. People love them,” he answered.

I was at the hotel to join Yussuff for a news conference about the CLC’s plan, called “One Million Climate Jobs: A Challenge for Canada.”

As Yussuff and I chatted before the event, I asked how he had come to take climate change so seriously. “I have a seven-year-old daughter, and my greatest concern is the world we are leaving her,” he said, “Climate change is going to have a profound effect on her life.” I responded that, as a grandfather, I shared his concern.

At the news conference, I thanked and congratulated the CLC for the forward-thinking idea that the challenge of climate change presents an opportunity. British Columbians, I said, are at the frontlines of climate change.

The reporters wanted to know what specific proposals we had to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I pointed out the important hurdle was to commit to reduce emissions because, until we start, we won’t know what opportunities will arise. I reminded them that in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy said the US would get American astronauts safely to the Moon and back in a decade, no one knew how they were going to do it.

Amazingly, not only did they achieve the goal before the decade was over, there were hundreds of totally unanticipated spinoffs, including laptops, cell phones, GPS, ear thermometers and space blankets. I am absolutely certain the same will happen when we commit to avoiding chaotic climate change.

This day wasn’t much different than the day before or the next one, but it made me feel that a revolution is already underway.

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

Time to protect the Great Bear grizzlies

Portrait of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS by David Suzuki

• The agreement between government, industry, First Nations and environmental groups to protect much of the Great Bear Rainforest should be celebrated. The deal makes almost 85 percent of the forested land base in this massive region on BC’s coast off limits to logging. Forestry in the remaining 15 percent will follow “lighter-touch” practices, called “ecosystem-based management.” Most importantly, First Nations will have greater decision-making authority over industrial development on their lands.

However, while the agreement helps protect grizzly bear and other wildlife habitat, it doesn’t protect the bears themselves, contrary to BC Premier Christy Clark’s claims at a news conference. Hunting grizzly and black bears in the Great Bear remains legal.

The agreement actually contains no reference to grizzly hunting. To slow the hunt, First Nations and others must pony up millions of dollars to buy out existing guide outfitting territories open to foreign big-game hunters. Trophy hunting by BC residents – governed under a different process – will proceed regardless of whether First Nations and their allies purchase and retire foreign hunting quotas.

Had the government been serious about ending the barbaric hunt, it could have banned it outright under the province’s Wildlife Act or simply ended the open season on grizzlies in the Great Bear, as was done by earlier governments to protect the area’s Kermode “spirit bears.” Only bears with white fur are protected even though bears with black coats can carry the spirit bear gene. Despite the spin, the BC government has never recognized the Coastal First Nations ban on trophy hunting in the Great Bear Rainforest.

First Nations-owned and operated bear viewing operations are booming in the Great Bear Rainforest, creating jobs and revenue. The trophy hunt threatens these sustainable businesses. The grizzly bear trophy hunt is a sport, like dogfighting, cockfighting and bullfighting are sports, – maybe worse. Bears that people come to see and photograph can be legally shot by trophy hunters, armed with high-powered rifles and scopes. That the BC government allows it to continue in the face of opposition from First Nations and a huge majority of British Columbians for the sake of profit is disgusting. Shooting an animal – often on its way to feed and thus an easy target – just to hang its head on the wall or put its skin on the floor is not hunting. It’s killing for pleasure.

Government justifies allowing this practice by arguing the hunt is well-managed and that grizzlies are plentiful, with only a small number killed each year by hunters. Even if that were true – which it’s not – it’s a poor excuse for an inhumane practice.

Studies confirm earlier research by the David Suzuki Foundation showing the hunt is not sustainable. A peer-reviewed report by Simon Fraser University, University of Victoria and Raincoast Conservation Foundation scientists in the journal PLOS ONE analyzed the provincial government’s own data and concluded too many grizzlies are being killed in BC.

It’s time to stop killing bears for trophies.

Excerpted from the original article. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director Faisal Moola. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

Environmental rights are human rights

SCIENCE MATTERS

by David Suzuki

Portrait of David SuzukiMy grandparents came here from Japan at the beginning of the 20th century. Although it would be a one-way trip, the perilous journey across the Pacific was worth the risk. They left behind extreme poverty for a wealth of opportunity.

But Canada was different then, a racist country built on policies of colonization, assimilation and extermination of the land’s original peoples. My grandparents and Canadian-born parents – like indigenous people and others of “colour” – couldn’t vote, buy property in many places or enter most professions. During the Second World War, my parents, sisters and I were deprived of rights and property and incarcerated in the BC Interior even though Canada was the only home we’d ever known.

A lot has changed since my grandparents arrived and since I was born in 1936. Women were not considered “persons” with democratic rights until 1918. People of African or Asian descent, including those born and raised here, couldn’t vote until 1948 and indigenous people didn’t get to vote until 1960. Homosexuality was illegal until 1969!

In 1960, John Diefenbaker’s Progressive Conservative government enacted Canada’s Bill of Rights and in 1982 Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals brought us the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, with equality rights strengthened in 1985.

We should celebrate those hard-won rights. I’m happy to have witnessed much of the progress my country has made. But there’s room for improvement. And in some ways Canada has gone backward.

When I was a boy, we drank water from lakes and streams without a thought. I never imagined that one day we would buy water in bottles for more than we pay for gasoline. Canada has more fresh water per capita than any nation, but many indigenous communities don’t have access to clean drinking water.

When I was growing up in Vancouver, Dad would take me fishing for halibut off Spanish Banks, sturgeon on the Fraser River and salmon in English Bay. Today, I can’t take my grandchildren fishing in those places because the fish are gone.

As a boy, I never heard of asthma. Today, childhood asthma is as common as red hair. And half of all Canadians live in places with unacceptable air pollution.

I also remember when all food was organic. I never thought we’d have to pay more not to have chemicals in our food. Today, we can’t avoid the toxic consequences of our industrial and agricultural activities. We all have dozens of toxic pollutants incorporated into our bodies.

We may think the highest rate of deforestation is in the Amazon, but in 2014 Canada became the world leader in loss of pristine forests.

Surely, in a nation with so much natural wealth, we should expect better appreciation, treatment and protection of the air, water, soil and rich biological diversity that our health, prosperity and happiness depend on.

The right to live in a healthy environment is recognized by more than 110 nations – but not Canada. That inspired the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice to launch the Blue Dot movement a little over a year ago.

It’s exceeded our expectations, with more than 100 municipalities passing environmental rights declarations and a number of provinces considering or committing to the idea. The next step is to take it to the federal level, by calling for an environmental bill of rights and, ultimately, an amendment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The environmental rights campaign is also about human rights and social justice – something recognized by the United Nations, which has appointed a special rapporteur on human rights and the environment. A country and its values are measured not by the number of extremely wealthy people, but by the state of its poorest and most vulnerable. Many environmental problems are tied to societal inequities – hunger and poverty, chronic unemployment, absence of social services, inadequate public transit and often conflicting priorities of corporations and the public interest – as people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and toxic pollution.

Canada has come a long way, but we can’t be complacent. We must work to maintain and strengthen the rights of a sl Canadians, to build an even better Canada. That means giving all Canadians the right to a healthy environment.

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