Suzuki delivers message of humility and wisdom at 2012 Watts Lecture
by Kurt Kleiner
Humans face catastrophic environmental change unless we understand that we live in a natural world with inherent limits, David Suzuki told an overflow audience at UTSC’s 2012 Watts Lecture.
Speaking passionately to frequent applause, Suzuki told the audience that humankind has failed to understand that the economy and human society are embedded in the biosphere, which places physical constraints on what we can do.
“The problem is perceptual,” Suzuki said. “We see the world through anthropocentric lenses – as if we’re at the center of everything, and everything else is out there around us.”
“We need to see the world through a bio-centric view, a way of seeing that we’re a part of a wonderful web of living things and that our very survival and well-being depends on the health and well-being of the rest of nature. We’ve got to see the world as it really is.”
An anthropocentric view of the world gives the illusion that we can balance the needs of the environment with the needs of the economy, he said. In fact, all human activity depends on a healthy environment. Once we’ve done too much damage to the environment – through human-caused global warming, for instance – our economy will necessarily suffer, and we risk catastrophe.
Suzuki is a scientist, activist and environmentalist, and has been an award-winning broadcaster in Canada for the last 30 years. He is the long-time host of The Nature of Things With David Suzuki. He is also co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.
A major problem with our outlook, he said, is that we don’t understand that physics, chemistry and biology are naturally imposed limits that we can’t overcome, despite our desire for more things.
“The borders we draw around cities and countries, those are not forces of nature. We created them. Other things - like capitalism, currency, markets, corporations, the economy - these are not forces of nature. We invented them. If we invented them we can change them. And yet we've come to think these things are so important,” he said.
Suzuki was pessimistic that politicians would make the painful long-term changes required to stave off disaster, and would prefer to continue selling off the future of young people.
But he also counseled the audience not to despair, and said that it is important for young people to “get up and make some noise,” and demand changes to save their futures.
The annual Watts Lecture series invites distinguished speakers with broad appeal to speak at UTSC on issues of global concern. This year’s installment was co-presentation by UTSC and We Canada, a non-partisan, youth-led citizen initiative aimed at mobilizing support and leadership on sustainability issues ahead of the upcoming earth summit this June in Rio de Janeiro. Dr. Suzuki’s lecture is part of We Canada’s cross-country tour, Dialogue and Action for Earth Summit 2012.
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