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David Suzuki on Rio+20, “Green Economy” & Why Planet’s Survival Requires Undoing Its Economic Model

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As the Rio+20 Earth Summit — the largest U.N. conference ever — ends in disappointment, we’re joined by the leading Canadian scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster, David Suzuki. As host of the long-running CBC program, “The Nature of Things,” seen in more than 40 countries, Suzuki has helped educate millions about the rich biodiversity of the planet and the threats it faces from human-driven global warming. In 1990 he co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation, which focuses on sustainable ecology, and in 2009 he was awarded the Right Livelihood Award. Suzuki joins us from the summit in Rio de Janeiro to talk about the climate crisis, the student protests in Quebec, his childhood growing up in an internment camp, and his daughter Severn’s historic speech at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 when she was 12 years old. “If we don’t see that we are utterly embedded in the natural world and dependent on … Mother Nature for our very well-being and survival … then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economies, corporations, markets,” Suzuki says. “Those are all human-created things. They shouldn’t dominate the way we live. It should be the biosphere. And the leaders in that should be indigenous people, who still have that sense, that the earth is truly our mother, that it gives birth to us. You don’t treat your mother the way we treat the planet or the biosphere today.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, known as the Rio+20 Earth Summit, has concluded with few successes to report. Negotiators unveiled an agreement that sets new development goals and lays the groundwork for future talks. Many groups working on environmental and poverty issues have criticized the agreement for being too weak. Greenpeace called it, quote, “an epic failure.” Politicians such as Nick Clegg of Britain called it, quote, “insipid.” And some protesters protested the final text by ripping it up and renaming the summit “Rio minus 20.”

The gathering came 20 years after the ’92 U.N. Earth Summit in Rio, when leaders pledged to protect the planet by endorsing treaties on biodiversity and climate change. At that meeting, a 12-year-old Canadian girl named Severn Cullis-Suzuki made a riveting plea to world leaders.

SEVERN CULLIS-SUZUKI: My dad always says, “You are what you do, not what you say.” Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. But I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Severn Cullis-Suzuki, then the age of 12, delivering her famous address at the ’92 first Earth U.N. summit that took place in Rio. Well, two decades later, Severn was back in Rio, this time as a veteran international environmental campaigner and mother of two. Democracy Now! spoke to her from Rio on Friday and asked her about what progress had been made since ’92.

SEVERN CULLIS-SUZUKI: Twenty years have passed, and everybody wants to know what have we done, how have we progressed. Well, last week, scientists released a report in the academic journal Nature that suggested that we are pushing for a tipping point in the earth’s biosphere, that we are attacking our ecosystems that sustain us and all life on this earth, in so many ways, on so many levels, that we are pushing for a state shift like what was seen 12,000 years ago with the end of the last ice age. But this time it will be human-caused, and it will be orders of magnitude faster than the thousand-year transition that happened last time. I mean, that report, released on the eve of this world summit, is clear that we have not achieved the sustainable world we knew we needed 20 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: Severn Cullis-Suzuki, now mother of two. She delivered the famous Rio address in 1992 at the age of 12.

Well, today we bring you—today we bring you our interview with Severn’s father, David Suzuki, one of Canada’s leading environmentalists. We spoke to him just after speaking with Severn. He is perhaps best known as host of the long-running CBC program, The Nature of Things, seen in over 40 countries. In 2009, David Suzuki was awarded the Right Livelihood Award. His latest book is Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet.

I began by asking David Suzuki if anything has changed since his daughter delivered that famous address 20 years ago.

DAVID SUZUKI: Absolutely not. We’re going backwards. You know, certainly from the standpoint of my country, Canada said that it was playing a leadership role at Rio '92. Here, there's just been no question that Canada is a laggard. We are a global outlaw, a renegade country.

But overall, the science is in: the planet is in terrible shape. And the difficulty is that meetings like this are doomed to fail, because we see ourselves at the center of everything, and our political and our economic priorities have to dominate over everything else. If we don’t come together and say, “Look, let’s start with the agreement that we are biological creatures, and if you don’t have air for more than three or four minutes, you’re dead; if you don’t have clean air, you’re sick,” so, surely, air, the atmosphere that provides us with the seasons, the weather, the climate, that has to be our highest priority. Before anything economic or political, that has to be the highest priority.

But what you’re getting is a huge gathering, as we saw in Copenhagen two years ago, a huge gathering of countries trying to negotiate something that doesn’t belong to anyone, through the lenses of all of the political boundaries and the economic priorities, and we try to shoehorn nature into our agenda. And it’s simply not going to work. A meeting like this is doomed to fail, because we haven’t left our vested interests outside the door and come together as a single species and agreed what the fundamental needs are for all of humanity. So we’re going to sacrifice the air, the water, the biodiversity, all in the sake of human political and economic interest. They’re doomed.

AMY GOODMAN: David Suzuki, in 2008, you urged McGill University students to speak out against politicians who fail to act on climate change and said, quote, “What I would challenge you to do is put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail, because what they’re doing is a criminal act,” you said. Do you still feel the same way today? And what exactly are the crimes that are being committed?

DAVID SUZUKI: Absolutely, absolutely. I think there are a number of—you know, you can charge people who are at a scene, where someone is being murdered, and if you don’t do anything to try to help that, you can be charged with criminal negligence. If something is going on that you should know about, and you ignore it deliberately, that’s called “willful blindness.” That’s a legal category for taking people to court. And I think that what we have to also find is a mechanism to judge people and to make them accountable for the implications of what they do or do not do for future generations. That is, there should be a category of intergenerational crime. You come here 20 years later: how many of the political leaders that were here in 1992 are now here again? Very, very few, if any. So, these guys come, they make a lot of nice words, and they say, “Oh, yeah, we care about this. We’re going to do that.” Nobody holds them accountable, because they go out of office, they go on to become billionaires or whatever they do. But who’s accountable for the lack of any kind of profound activity?

AMY GOODMAN: When Democracy Now! was at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durban this past December, I spoke with Marc Morano, who published Climate Depot, a website run by climate denier group Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow. I asked him about President Obama’s record on climate change. This is what he said.

MARC MORANO: His nickname is “George W. Obama.” Obama’s negotiator, Todd Stern, will be here today. They have kept the exact same principles and negotiating stance as President George Bush did for eight years. Obama has carried on Bush’s legacy. So, as skeptics, we tip our hat to President Obama in helping crush and continue to defeat the United Nations process. Obama has been a great friend of global warming skeptics at these conferences. Obama has problems, you know, for us, because he’s going through the EPA regulatory process, which is a grave threat. But in terms of this, President Obama could not have turned out better when it came to his lack of interest in the congressional climate bill and his lack of interest in the United Nations Kyoto Protocol. So, a job well done for President Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Marc Morano of the climate denier group Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, saying President Obama is basically their best ally, calling him “George W. Obama.” Do you share that assessment, David Suzuki?

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, you know, Obama was signaled a sea change in American politics in the United States. Unfortunately, he’s held hostage—and he made some fundamental appointments right from the beginning that were fantastic, really top-notch scientists heading NOAA, heading the Energy Department. This was a sea change. You think of a Nobel Prize winner being appointed the minister, or whatever you call him, secretary of energy. These are huge changes.

The reality, though, is he’s held hostage by an absolutely dysfunctional Congress. And he’s held hostage by the corporate agenda, which is still a primary obligation that politicians have, even though he’s been very successful at getting that grassroots support. The fact is that corporations hold a huge hammer over the heads of our elected representatives, and they’re calling the shots. The economic system is the driving force that is destroying the planet, but now it’s the corporations that are setting the direction, and they’re calling the shots. I think that it’s not that Mr. Obama is like George Bush, because he is definitely not, but he’s held hostage by the same system within which Bush operated.

AMY GOODMAN: I want ask about the Canada XL Keystone—the Keystone XL pipeline. Just two months after President Obama rejected the project, after mass protests where more than 1,200 people were arrested around the White House last summer, he announced his support for TransCanada to build the southern leg of the pipeline from Oklahoma to Texas. In his remarks, President Obama said his administration has authorized enough gas pipelines to encircle the earth.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: There is a bottleneck right here, because we can’t get enough of the oil to our refineries fast enough. And if we could, then we would be able to increase our oil supplies at a time when they’re needed as much as possible. Now, right now, a company called TransCanada has applied to build a new pipeline to speed more oil from Cushing to state-of-the-art refineries down on the Gulf Coast. And today I’m directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.

AMY GOODMAN: TransCanada has reapplied for a permit to build a 1,200-mile segment from Alberta, Canada, to Steel City, Nebraska. Just this past Friday, the U.S. State Department said it would conduct a new environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline. Talk about the significance of the project, the role of activists in stopping it, then President Obama being slammed afterwards. I mean, Republicans in Congress even said they would pass legislation in Congress, because he, in a very poor economy, was stopping people from getting jobs to build it. David Suzuki, your answer to jobs versus the environment?

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, that’s always been the dichotomy that’s thrown up. But we haven’t looked at the real job opportunities that lie from taking a completely different direction. I mean, Obama’s statement shows that he is captive of the oil industry, as are most governments on this planet. He could have—he had an opportunity to really offer Americans the real job creator, which is in renewable, sustainable energy, greater energy efficiency, getting us off the oil addiction that we have. It’s going to run out. It’s going to run out. We’re going to more and more extreme sources of energy. This is the moment that we should create the opportunity to go down a different path.

I mean, I just came back from Japan, where they had an absolute disaster that was an opportunity. They’ve now shut down every single one of the 54 nuclear plants they have. And they have an opportunity to take a totally different path. Japanese people cut their energy use by 25 percent immediately after Fukushima. They showed there was huge opportunity there. And instead, the government simply wants to get those plants up and running again. So the nuclear industry, the fossil fuel industry have an enormous hammer over our elected representatives, and it really is up to civil society.

And I don’t know. I think in the United States you’re in deep trouble right now because of the huge support for parties that want to take us back, back to the past. You know, the Tea Party and all of that are taking us away from having an opportunity for civil society to really contribute. I think we’re really in a crisis when Sir Martin Rees, one of the leading scientists in Britain, the Royal Astronomer, was asked on BBC, “What are the chances that human beings will survive to the end of this century?” This is whether we will still be around. His answer was 50-50. Fifty-fifty that human beings will avoid extinction? I mean, surely to goodness, we ought to be on an absolute crisis mode and getting off of all of this rhetoric that’s being fostered by the fossil fuel industry and the nuclear industry and get on to a truly sustainable path.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, French President François Hollande held a brief news conference and said he saw in green economy a path to overcome the economic crisis.

PRESIDENT FRANÇOIS HOLLANDE: [translated] Some people say there is an economic and financial crisis, and therefore the issues related to the environment and sustainable development may be set aside, may be treated separately, and that there would not be much pressure. This is not how I reason. I believe that the lasting development, the environment, which we also call “green economy,” is also a means of overcoming the crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the new French president, a Socialist, François Hollande, speaking at Rio+20. David Suzuki, do you feel there’s a counterweight to the corporations and the climate change deniers?

DAVID SUZUKI: The green economy will simply allow the corporations to make a shift. So, I mean, you can see it in Exxon. Exxon, one of the companies that has spent tens of millions of dollars denying climate change, denying any responsibility to deal with, taking government subsidies on a massive scale, now their ads are all about, “Oh, we want a clean future. We’re looking at clean energy and all that stuff.” Sure, the green economy is just about being more efficient, being less polluting, being less energy intensive, but still it’s a system built on the need to continue to expand and grow. The true—the true economy has got to come back into balance with the very biosphere that sustains us. And I think a lot of people just see the green economy as a different way of allowing the corporate agenda to continue to flourish.

We’ve got to change the economy, and we have to do what we did in 1944, when governments came to Bretton Woods in Maine and said, “We’ve got to develop an economic system for a post-war world.” And they designed—they instituted GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. They invented the World Bank, the IMF. They tied world currency to the American greenback. But, they left out the environment. It’s time for a Bretton Woods II. We’ve got to overhaul the economy. You can’t change nature, but you can change our inventions, like corporations and the economy. They have got to change. So, greening—greening the economy, that is itself a totally destructive system because it’s bent on exploiting resources in—unsustainably and growing forever, that’s got to be overhauled. It doesn’t work.

AMY GOODMAN: Leading Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki. We’ll continue our interview with Canada’s environmentalist just after our break. You can visit our website, democracynow.org for our in-depth coverage of Rio+20. Back in 30 seconds.


AMY GOODMAN: The Rio+20 Earth Summit has concluded. We’re returning to our conversation with Canada’s leading environmentalist, David Suzuki. I spoke to him about the largest U.N. conference ever and asked him about his own family background and how he became the renowned environmentalist he is today.

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, I was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1936. My mother and father were born in Vancouver in 1909 and 1911. I am what Japanese call a third-generation Canadian. My mother and father had never been out of Canada. They were citizens all their lives. They couldn’t vote until after World War II. And when World War II happened, although we were full Canadians by birth, we were regarded as enemy aliens, as were Japanese Americans. We were incarcerated in camps. And then as the war was coming to an end, we were told that we had two choices: we could sign up and get a one-way ticket to Japan, which for us was a foreign country, or we could get out of British Columbia, go east to the Rockies. And so, because we only knew Canada, we went east of the Rockies, and I ended up in Ontario.

Now, you know, after the war, my parents said the way out of our poverty was hard work and education. And fortunately, both of those things were possible for me. And then a very amazing thing happened. I was offered a scholarship from an American college that was worth more than my father earned in a year. In 1954, Amherst College in Massachusetts offered me a scholarship for $1,500, because Amherst believed that foreign students added to the education of American students, and they were willing to pay money to have a foreign student come and be part of that college. And for me, Amherst College made me as a scholar, and I’m ever grateful to the United States for that.

In 1957, when I was entering my last year in college at Amherst, on October 4th, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. We had no idea there was a space program. And in the months that followed, we saw the American rockets take off and explode on the—either on the launching pad or, once they got into the air, they exploded. Meanwhile, the Soviets launched the first animal, a dog, Laika; the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin; the first team of cosmonauts; the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova. Americans realized, “Holy cow! The Soviets are very advanced in science and technology.” They didn’t roll over and say, “Oh, my god, they’ve got too big a lead. We can’t afford to do this. It’ll destroy the economy.” They simply said, “We’ve got to go and beat these guys.” And, you know, even though I was a Canadian living in the States at the time, all you had to do was say, “I love science,” and Americans just supported you, threw you into universities. And I got a graduate education and a training that I could never have gotten in Canada.

And, well, what happened: Kennedy declared a race to the moon. Americans are not only the first and only country to reach the moon, but think of all of the spinoffs, the unexpected spinoffs, that came from that commitment to beat the Russians. I mean, you’ve got 24-hour-a-day newscasts. Well, maybe that’s not such a great thing. But you’ve got GPS, you’ve got cellphones—all of the things that came about simply because America said, “We’ve got to make the commitment, and we’ve got to beat the Russians to the moon.” And it doesn’t make sense to me that there’s all this sense of, “Oh, my god! You know, we can’t get off fossil fuels. It’ll destroy the economy.” This is not the American way. The American way is to meet that challenge and realize huge things will happen once we make the commitment. We can’t anticipate. Certainly in solar panels, certainly in geothermal energy, there are huge opportunities. The America that I knew and loved would have said, “This is a challenge. American know-how will lead the world and create jobs at the same time.” So I’m astounded at the position the United States is in today, compared to what it was like when I graduated from Amherst College.

AMY GOODMAN: David Suzuki, I wanted to ask you about the mass student protests that have been taking place in Quebec province. You wrote in a recent piece, “Governments all across Canada have no qualms about investing vast amounts of money to exploit 'natural resources', yet they all but ignore the most precious, our children.” In the United States, there is very little written about or very little coverage of these mass student protests that have been taking place, some of the largest in Canada. Talk about what you see has to happen.

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, Quebec is a very, very different society, and I’m very proud that they’ve remained in Canada. They reflect a great deal of a value difference, so that the environment, for example, on Environment Day this year attracted 300,000 people on the streets of Montreal, for Earth Day. They attracted over 100,000 people objecting to the student tuition increase. Now, the English press in Canada has portrayed this as: “These spoiled brats in Quebec, they don’t realize they’ve got cheapest tuition in all of Canada, and they’re objecting to a few hundred dollars’ tuition raise.” No, that’s not what it’s about. They’re saying that they like to look to countries like the Scandinavian countries, even France, where young people are regarded as the most precious commodity, where they are supported, and their universities are free, if they reach a certain level of ability. They’re supported through the system, and that’s what the Québécois are trying to tell us. But no, we portray this as spoiled kids that don’t want to spend any more money. I don’t think that’s what it is. But, of course, Charest, the premier, who in some areas is quite progressive—in the environment, for example—but Charest has brought in really very severe, draconian legislation to suppress this kind of public dissent. And now that’s what’s attracting more kids to the streets to say, “This is not a civil society any longer when you suppress us in that way.” So, what underlies the student protests is, I think, a very profound question about what are our values in our society.

AMY GOODMAN: David Suzuki, your long-running CBC show called The Nature of Things explores environmental diversity of the planet. Can you talk about some of the experiences and discoveries that have had the most impact on you? And in these last few minutes, because climate change is so little addressed, while weather is increasingly on every channel, and it says “extreme weather,” “severe weather,” the other two words, “global warming,” rarely flash, if ever, on the networks. Can you talk about what’s at stake for people to even understand, since in the United States it’s even a debate? Given the amount of money oil companies pour into the global warming denier groups, it’s even a debate whether in fact this really is a concern.

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, it’s astonishing to me, because I want to remind your viewers that in 1992 an American president had declared himself—well, in 1988, he said, “If you vote for me, I promise I will be an environmental president.” That was George H.W. Bush. There wasn’t a green bone in his body, but the American public had put the environment at the top of its agenda. He had to say that. Many people say, George Bush came to Rio in 1992, so he should be recognized for that. George Bush wasn’t going to come to Rio unless they watered down the climate convention. They were aiming at the original—the original plans were for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 15 years. George Bush said, “I am not going,” until he got a much watered-down target of stabilization of 1990 levels by the year 2000. And he came down and signed that. But he was—his actions were predicated on American concern about the environment.

But since then, of course, we’ve gone into recessions. But I think we have not recognized that you’ve got people like the Koch brothers, you’ve got these right-wing think tanks, Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, that are—the Heritage Institute, that are all now pushing a radical right-wing agenda, funded by fossil fuel industry and rich people, to say this is not true, which is undermining scientific credibility.

June 7th, this year, Nature is filled with articles from scientists who have looked at the ecosystems of the planet. We’re in deep trouble. We are facing an absolute crisis now. But countries like Canada and the United States, which are endowed with huge resources, can float by on the assumption everything’s OK. We don’t see the crunch coming as countries like [in] Europe are seeing. They don’t have the kind of resource plenty that we have in North America. And so they’re seeing it, and they’re leading the call for change. But we have the illusion that the economy is the source of everything that matters, and we’ve got to keep that growing at all costs. It’s at all costs to the future for our children and grandchildren.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of children and grandchildren, in 1992, David Suzuki, you were in Rio with your daughter Severn, who was then 12, who gave this remarkable address to the Rio summit, the first Earth Summit.

SEVERN CULLIS-SUZUKI: You don’t know how to bring the salmon back up a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back the forests that once grew where there is now a desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Severn Suzuki. David, that was your daughter. It’s now 20 years later, and you are now back in Rio with Severn, who is now Severn Cullis-Suzuki, and with your grandchildren, her two sons. Can you talk about what it meant to you for her to give that address 20 years ago and where you see we are right now?

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, it was a remarkable speech, and at the end of her talk she got a standing ovation. She went back to sit with us. Al Gore came up and said, “That’s the best speech anyone has given at this conference.” And the power of her speech—which, by the way, she and the other kids together wrote. Her mom and I didn’t have any input. She said, “Dad, I know what I want to say. I want you to tell me how to say it.” But she wrote that speech, and a child speaks from the heart. You know that there is no hidden agenda. They just speak in that childlike way of innocence. And that was the power. Her words had power because they came from that kind of innocence.

Now she’s back. She’s brought her youngest son. The only reason I’m here is because I said, “Sev, I don’t believe these conferences achieve anything, but I’ll go as your babysitter.” And I’m here as a babysitter. You just happened to corral me because I’m here looking after the baby. I’ve got to get back and take care of my grandson.

But I can tell you she feels unbelievably desperate, because she says the problem is that we’ve got a breakdown in governance. Leaders came here in 1992. They were moved by a child’s plea, a child’s request to do something for her future. And now those leaders aren’t here, and there’s no one accountable for the fact that they failed fundamentally. And now there’s a new set of leaders, and they’re making the same kind of promises, without any understanding of the urgency of the crisis we face. And so, she comes to this with a very—from a very dark place, by the disillusionment of her childlike belief that our leaders will truly lead and care about a future for her children. And now she’s got an investment into the future, and that makes her even more desperate about the lack of governance.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, David, talking about taking care of your grandson, if you were in charge, if you could have anything accomplished right now, what are the steps that you feel are most important to take right now?

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, you know, the thing we hear over and over again is that we need a paradigm shift. It’s become a cliché. But I absolutely believe this is the critical change, that all of the stuff that goes on will not achieve anything unless we ultimately see the world in a different way. You see, our beliefs, our values shape the way we look out at the world and the way we treat it. If we believe that we were here, placed here by God, that this—all of this creation is for us, it’s for us to go and occupy, dominate and exploit, then we will proceed to do that. And that’s the paradigm we now exist within. And we’re driven then by that sense that it’s all there for us.

We need to shift that to a better understanding that we are part of a vast web of interconnected species, that it is the biosphere, the zone of air, water and land, where all life exists. It’s a very thin layer around the planet. Carl Sagan told us that if you shrink the earth to the size of a basketball, the biosphere, the zone of air, water and land, where all life exists, would be thinner than a layer of Saran Wrap, and that’s it. That’s our home, but it’s home to 10 to 30 thousand—30 million other species that keep the planet habitable. And if we don’t see that we are utterly embedded in the natural world and dependent on nature, not technology, not economics, not science—we’re dependent on Mother Nature for our very well-being and survival. If we don’t see that, then our priorities will continue to be driven by man-made constructs like national borders, economies, corporations, markets. Those are all human-created things. They shouldn’t dominate the way we live. It should be the biosphere.

And the leaders in that should be the indigenous people, who still have that sense, that the earth is truly our mother, that it gives birth to us. You don’t treat your mother the way we treat the planet or the biosphere today. If we don’t make that fundamental shift, then we’ll just go on: “Oh, we got to be more efficient. We got to have a green economy,” and all that stuff. But we haven’t fundamentally changed in our relationship with the biosphere.

AMY GOODMAN: And if we do treat it in that way, what needs to happen?

DAVID SUZUKI: Well, I think then we have to reassess everything. We have to set—I believe we have to start with the fundamental understanding that we are animals. And believe me, I’ve said that in many parts of the United States, and people get mighty [bleep] off at me when I tell children, “Don’t forget we’re animals.” They say, “Don’t call my daughter an animal! We’re human beings!” We don’t even want to accept our biological nature. But, as animals, our absolutely highest need for survival and well-being is clean air, clean water, clean soil that gives us our food, and energy from the sun that plants use for capture by photosynthesis. That’s what we depend on. So, how could we, claiming to be intelligent, use air, water and soil as a garbage can for our waste and the most toxic chemicals ever known on the planet, as if somehow that’s not going to have consequences? The minute you accept that we are biological creatures, then our highest priorities become absolutely clear. We’ve got—that means stop all release of any kind of human-created material into our surroundings, until we learn ways to recycle that and mimic nature in how we create and then degrade those things.

Then we have to say we’re biological—social animals. And as social animals, what is our most fundamental need? And to me, this was shocking, when I began to read the scientific literature. The most important thing we need is love. Children, to grow up to be fully formed and developed human beings, need love at very critical times in our development. If you look at children that grow up under war-torn conditions, under—in genocide or terrorism, and see children deprived of love are fundamentally crippled physically and psychically. Well, that means then we’ve got to work towards creating strong families and supportive communities. We need full employment. We need equity and justice. We need freedom from war, terror and genocide. To me, those are my issues, because if you don’t have that kind of a society, you can’t have a sustainable environment. Hunger and poverty are my issues, because a starving person who finds an edible plant or animal is not going to say, “Oh, I wonder if this is an endangered species?” They’ll kill it and eat it. I would. And probably you would, too. So we’ve got to deal with these issues.

And then we say we’re spiritual beings. And as spiritual animals, we need to understand that we’re part of nature, that we emerge from nature and return to it when we die, that there are forces out there that we’ll never understand or control. We need sacred places. To me, those are what we construct as the foundation of the way that we live. And then we say, how can we create an economy that will allow these fundamental needs that we have to be protected? How do we construct a way of living as a species, protecting these values? But if we don’t see what the primary needs are, then I just think that we’re just playing at the edges, and we’re not being serious about reaching a truly sustainable future.

AMY GOODMAN: That was David Suzuki, speaking from the Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil just before it concluded on Friday. More than 120 world leaders attended. Greenpeace called the summit “an epic failure.” David Suzuki is a Canadian author and environmentalist, best known for the long-running CBC program, The Nature of Things. His latest book is Everything Under the Sun: Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet. And speaking of Canadian journalists and environmentalists, congratulations to Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on the birth of their baby. Welcome to the world, Toma.

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