RSPO RT12: David Suzuki – on human overconsumption, the need for diversity, local knowledge of sustainability, risks of monoculture, over fixation on the market economy

Dr David Suzuki of UBC – on human overconsumption, the need for diversity, local knowledge of sustainability, risks of monoculture, over fixation on the market economy

Problem of consumption driven by appetite for stuff is amplifying our ecological footprint. Our numbers, technological power, consumptive power and global economy makes this the Anthropocene epoch – where our species undermines the support systems of the planet. Man’s brain invented an idea called “the future” – we are the only animal who can deliberately avoid danger and seek opportunity– this foresight allowed humans to survive and make us the planet’s dominant animal. We are the factor affecting the earth. We are heading down a dangerous path.

Half of Nobel Prize winning scientists alerted us and the press ignored it. The scientists warned that if not checked, our current practices puts at risk what we wish for the future of human society - fundamental changes are needed to avoid the collision – atmosphere, water, forest, species, over population etc. No more than one or a few decades for our chance to avert these threats will be lost.

Diversity is important. At level of the species there is diversity – genetic polymorphism. Species that thrive have inbuilt level of diversity, not homogeneity. This is part of life’s reliance. At ecosystem level, the more diversity, the more resilient it is. As conditions around the world change, there is a diverse pool.

Diversity should be built into everything we do. Sustain that diversity. Monoculture over large renders any group vulnerable to change – climate, new pests and disease. It is a great threat to long term resilience and survival of live.

For 95% of human existence, we were nomadic hunter gatherers. You are utterly dependent on nature for your survival and well-being. As humans spread across the planet, we brought extinction with it. Humans extinguished woolly mammoths and more, even with simple tools.

Indigenous knowledge is based on place – hard won practical experience accumulated over long periods of time. This is priceless knowledge of how to live in that place. Priceless as it cannot be duplicated by science. Hard won knowledge on how to survive from year to year. So much loss of what was known – a lot of it had to do with sustainability. Diversity in this ethnosphere helped humans survive. But now we are monocultured around the planet with a narrow knowledge base.

In history, most humans were farmers and they know about weather, pollination, nitrogen fixing plants and they are embedded in nature. From 1900, and amazing change. World population tripled to 6 billion in 2000. Huge cities and many cities. Transformation from village farming animal to a big city dweller. You can spend days and weeks not going outdoors. In a city, our perception of nature changes – who needs that? You just need a job. Then the economy becomes the highest priority. Thus, the Canada Prime Minister says you cannot do anything about GHG emissions, it will spoil the economy. Elevating the economy above all.

CEO of logging company asked “are environmentalists” willing to pay for the trees. So long as you argue within an economic framework. The real reason for fighting on the forest was not on services for humans i.e. pulp and paper versus alternative income form berries, flower arrangement and maybe a cure for cancer? Ecological services are mere economic externalities. Environmentalists have failed to shift the frame set by economics.

If you’ve to breathe polluted air, you’ll get sick. You need clean water. Bottled water from Europe in Malaysia? That should be criminal! Food and soil are high priorities too. Then whether you’re in oil palm or oil; how you do it should not undermine these foundations for life.

You live in a world constrained by laws of sciences and we live within it. Remember we are animals, we are subject to laws of carrying capacity of ecosystems. We have exceeded our biosphere by consuming the way we are. We are taking away from what rightly belongs to our children and grandchildren by over consuming.
Capitalism and the market economy. We invented these things! We can change these things so they conform to laws set by the natural world. Some see a forest as a sacred grove, rivers as a circulatory system – others see it as pulp and paper, irrigation system etc. Is the earth our mother or the mother lode?

Note: a cautionary view on the global free marketism approach including consumerism and global supply chains for processed products!