Democratic change and climate change

photo of David Suzuki

by David Suzuki

In 1952, my grade 10 civics teacher asked us what we hoped to become as adults. One of the most popular boys answered, “I hope to go into politics.” We were delighted because we knew he wanted to make the world and Canada better and we admired him for it.

Things have changed in half a century. In 1992, my daughter Severn, then 12, created a minor sensation with a speech at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit, upbraiding delegates for not protecting the future for children. “You grown-ups say you love us, but please, make your actions reflect your words,” she said.

Back in Canada, CBC Radio host Vicki Gabereau interviewed her. “So, Severn, when are you running for politics?” she asked. My daughter’s answer stunned me: “Oh, is that an insult?” To her generation, running for office was not admired or inspiring. Her response made me realize I was constantly decrying politicians who made grand statements, but failed to follow through. To a child, my complaints indicated that politicians are hypocrites.

Democracy is far from perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives. We must strive to improve. Women were once thought to be incapable of making decisions and were denied the vote. Asian-Canadians and African-Canadians, even those like my parents who were born and raised here, couldn’t vote until 1948. The original peoples of this land didn’t gain the franchise until 1960! Homosexuality was a crime in Canada until 1969. Change can happen in our political and judicial systems, but we have to work for it.

When far fewer than half of us fail to vote in federal, provincial and municipal elections, democracy flies out the window. It should be our civic duty to participate in the democratic process, as it is in Australia where people are required to vote.

I often wonder what’s gone wrong… Often it seems politicians prioritize corporate interests over those of the citizens who elected them. As prime minister, Stephen Harper avoided discussing climate change even though Canada is more vulnerable than most industrialized nations. He pulled us out of the Kyoto Protocol, arguing that reducing greenhouse gas emissions would “destroy the economy.”

Many of us thought things would turn around after Justin Trudeau was elected. He put climate change back on Parliament’s agenda and we rejoiced at Canada’s strong position in Paris shortly after. Two years later, we have to ask, “What happened?” To meet the Paris target, science shows we have to leave most known fossil fuel deposits in the ground. That means no more exploration for new sources, a halt to fossil fuel industry subsidies, no new pipelines and winding down fracking and deep-sea extraction.

We must also subsidize renewable energy expansion and seek methods to store energy, reforest large tracts of land and outlaw disposable products.

Each of us has a responsibility to change the way we live to minimize our carbon footprint, but we need the folks we elect to step up and restore our confidence. The window of opportunity to avoid climate chaos is narrow. We have to use our civic responsibility and tell elected representatives that Canada must honour its commitments. The Paris Agreement is one of the most important we’ve ever made.

Excertped from Corporate influence inflames political cynicism. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Learn more at

1 thought on “Democratic change and climate change”

  1. (A related study to the post below is at: AND article: …. Although conservative mainstream news-media in North America (and perhaps even Britain) might generally be expected to behave implicitly apologetic towards big environmental polluters, such as the corporate crude-oil sector, the relatively few yet equally mainstream outlets of an outwardly liberal slant, conversely, might be expected to vastly voice the alarm on all ecological threats, both potentially and in ongoing practice.

    However, from what I’ve observed over the last half-dozen years or so, the latter fail to do so, even though basic common sense, at least to me, would dictate that genuine ecological threats and disasters would be given the highest priority.

    Meanwhile, those progressive-reputation newspapers are very zealous in printing numerous stories (which I find have an unfortunate distractive effect away from even serious eco-concerns) on persecuted and disadvantaged minority groups, most notably those of race (and perhaps that of relevant related religion), sexuality, gender, and especially stories involving society’s most disenfranchised—the homeless and those with mindbogglingly decrepit living quarters very few of us would even think of inhabiting; and, to not be mistaken, I find stupendous and crucial such journalistic social activism. (As it were, the current and potently effective distraction, especially in conservative media, is that of the Omar Khadr compensation story.) But to me it’s clearly counterproductively absurd to stop that fervent extensive-coverage activism short of including the environment and eco-systems gravely threatened by big industries.

    (As an aside, I believe that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at this point in time anyway, has his re-election hopes pinned on the above-mentioned politics of race, gender and gender-bending, the three major social issues most enthusiastically covered by the overtly socially progressive Canadian newspapers, The Toronto Star and Metro.)

    As for editors and journalists within the near-monopoly mainstream corporate news-media (e.g. Canada’s Postmedia), I believe they may be compromising their professionalism as well as perhaps their own eco-health-concern convictions for the sake of a buck and a byline (i.e. a company paycheque and a frequently published name with stories); however, there are also those climate science deniers-of-convenience who are especially susceptible to econo-euphoria and the concept of an unhindered libertarian economy with, of course, the oil industry at the top of that chain. But what infuriates me is that they, like our theocratically orientated previous (Conservative Stephen Harper) national government, are abusing their position of power and/or immense electorate-consent-manufacturing influence, and resultantly dragging the rest of the 99.99 percent of the globe’s population (i.e. us non-believers) to hell along with them (an example site of note:

    Furthermore, very disturbing is the corresponding tendency, in general, for polled voters heading into an election to rate the environment as the least, or next to it, of their listed election issues of importance and, equally troubling, the economy as their primary concern. After all, seemingly goes the prevailing mentality, what back and brain busting labourer will readily retain the energy to worry about such things immediately unseen regardless of their most immense importance?

    Even worsening the entire situation, such widely published poll findings can perpetuate such skewed-logic priorities, as can a negligence of otherwise meriting eco-threat coverage erroneously imply there are no real, serious environmental concerns out there about which to worry (another two relevant articles at: AND

    I see it all as somewhat like a cafeteria lineup consisting of diversely socially represented people, all adamantly arguing over which identifiable traditionally marginalized person should be at the front and, conversely, at the back of the line; and, furthermore, to whom amongst them should go the last piece of quality pie—all the while the interstellar spaceship on which they’re all permanently confined is burning and suffering some serious storage-tank-breach spillage of lethally toxic chemicals at onboard locations that cannot be immediately seen.

    But in their defense, how can the general populace truly know what is in fact most important when the immense gravity of a situation is basically neglected by the mainstream news-media—except on the rare North American occasion of a Houston (Texas) Hurricane Harvey or New Orleans (Louisiana) Hurricane Katrina where there’s an unmistakably big brightly-lit sore-thumb unprecedented devastation and large-human-toll event (1,800-plus fatalities in the latter catastrophic occurrence during August 23-31, 2005) that no one can readily dismiss.

    Granted, I could understand why a more palliative approach to our Earthly fate might be in order, such as significantly correcting primary social injustices amongst the planet’s populaces, had humankind’s fate been irreversibly solidified in regards to global warming, as believed by a responding editor with a British monthly climate-concerned publication as well as many reputable climate scientists (a couple examples being: &

    As a species, we really can be so narrow-mindedly over-preoccupied with our own admittedly overwhelming little worlds, that we’ll miss the most critical biggest of pictures.

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