At the Climate First Tour in Winnipeg, David Suzuki, who is always critical of economists and economics said our current economic system is based on the idea of endless growth. “The philosophy of infinite growth means that progress is measured by growth, constant growth, and this is the creed of cancer. This can end in only way, with death.”
Another pet peeve of Suzuki is that economics, the dim science, is out of whack. According to economics, all of the things that nature does to keep the world intact are externalities. They are all irrelevant from the perspective of economics. Everything nature does is irrelevant; it does not count. From my perspective, this is the original sin of economics. If we are serious about tackling climate change, this is the attitude that must be rejected.
David Suzuki thinks that Stephen Harper epitomized this attitude. Harper elevated the economy over everything else. The atmosphere, for example, according to Harper, was an externality that did not matter. As a result of such attitudes, damage to nature is not counted as a cost. The people who caused the damage, whether to the air, the atmosphere or the ocean did not have to pay for that damage, because such costs were externalities. Externalities do not fit into the equations of economics. That attitude leads directly to our current collapsing natural world and our existential climate crisis. Suzuki categorically rejects this attitude: “Holding up human constructs over nature is crazy.”
Suzuki said the essential characteristic of humans is that we can foresee dangers. Foresight was critically relevant for our survival during our long evolutionary history. Now science and computer technology have amplified foresight. Scientists have warned us that we are headed for danger, but we don’t pay attention. As a result we are ignoring one of our most important characteristics and it will be our peril.
In 1992 in a famous public statement a large group of scientists of the world warned us. They said that human actions and the natural world are on a collision course. This is already affecting our atmosphere, oceans, soil, forests, corals, and species extinction. It is the cause of over population. This statement was signed by ½ the Nobel scientists who were alive at the time. Yet we did nothing about it. We did not heed the warnings. We ignored our foresight that had saved us so often in the past. Had we heeded the warning, we likely would not have this existential crisis now.
In 2017 scientists gave us a new warning. They warned us that unless we changed our ways within 12 years and drastically reduced our emission of greenhouse gas emissions, we would be destroying the life as we know it. Again little has been done. Again we are lacking foresight. Greta Thunberg’s big theme is that all she is telling us is to listen to the scientists. Listen to the warnings. Use our foresight.
There is one more thing we need besides foresight. We need to work together. This problem we face, this emergency, demands that everyone work together. All parties have to be set aside.
Suzuki said that when he was a student in the United States in the late 1950s after Russia launched the first space ship into space to orbit the world, America was horrified. How could the Russian do it first? What did this mean? The America reaction was clear and simple: we have to deal with this. No one asked ‘how can we afford this?’ They got together and poured money into the NASA space program. Anyone in science who wanted a grant got one.
With an urgent goal, we can perform what appears impossible. When it comes to climate change, we need that sense of urgency now. It doesn’t look like we can do it.