People who know how to live sustainably



Last week Chris and I attended the Climate First Tour at the University of Winnipeg. David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis, 2 elder statesmen were travelling across the country trying to fire up the country about the pressing issue of the times—climate change. They were joined by Pamela Palmater an indigenous spokeswoman. They wanted to make this the critical issue of this election, because it was the critical issue of our time.

The first speaker was David Suzuki. I have heard him many times and read many of his books, but he is always worth listening to.   Suzuki made one very important statement at the beginning of his talk. He said that we should always think about Indigenous People who flourished on this continent for millennia. They did not just survive; they flourished.  They are the only example that we have of sustainability over a long period of time. We should learn from them. We should not do what we always did before, namely, ignore their advice. Who is more qualified to give us advice than Indigenous People?

Like each of the other speakers that came after him, Suzuki started with the assumption that we are in fact in a climate emergency. The Canadian Parliament acknowledged it and we should proceed on that assumption. I agree.

He also agreed with the other 2 speakers that this issue is not partisan and we all must address it accordingly. Too many people, and too many political leaders are avoiding the uncomfortable fact that we must dramatically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Nothing less than that is acceptable. It is too late for puny measures.

Suzuki also said that he and Stephen Lewis were elders who had both made many mistakes and a few successes. Elders are required to speak the truth. Elders have a responsibility to share what they have learned. Elders have no need to suck up to power; they are in a unique position to tell it like it is, for they have nothing to lose.

Suzuki said, “We are at a critical in the history of human life on the planet. We need unity like we had when the Toronto Raptors were winning the NBA championship.”

Suzuki was very critical of media coverage of the issue of climate change. I know many people are sick of hearing about it, but it is the critical question of our time. They should be devoting a lot of time to climate change or they would not be doing their job.  Suzuki had one glaring and shocking example of their failure. He said that the recent United Nations report on species extinction was completely swamped by the media attention given to the report of Harry and Meghan’s baby. I think that baby is 6th in line to the throne. Is that important?

Suzuki pointed out that “for 95% of our existence as humans on this planet, we have been hunter-gatherers deeply embedded in and dependent on the natural world for everything and during all this time we had an ecocentric way of seeing the world.” In other words we did not have an anthropocentric view of the world, in which we see everything as if its purpose was to fulfill our needs. Being ecocentric means that humans are part of the natural world like all other creatures.

The first European explorers of the Western Hemisphere had a very different attitude. They were looking for resources and saw them everywhere. According to Suzuki,  “the European explorers saw Indigenous people as an impediment. As a result they did not appreciate the priceless knowledge the Indigenous people had that enabled them to flourish in this hemisphere.  From then on, starting in about 1750, we shifted to an anthropocentric way of seeing the world.”

         Suzuki added, “Ever since about 1750 our legal, political, and economic systems have been based on this anthropocentric way of seeing the world.” It undergirds everything. This reminded Suzuki of what Greta Thunberg said to the world leaders at the UN, “How dare you?”  In other words, “How dare one species arrogantly usurp all rights for itself?” Where is the right of the river to flow? Where is the right of the birds to fly? Where is the right of the forests to grow?

According to the anthropocentric ideology and that is really what it is, we are the superior species entitled to dominate the earth. But that is precisely the attitude that has got us into our current predicament.

The key question of our time, he said, is to shift from the anthropocentric to the ecocentric. I agree with this completely. We need a new attitude to nature. Or rather, we need an old attitude to nature. There are people who already have this worldview. They are all around us.

Many Indigenous people already have this worldview. We should listen to Indigenous people. They have known for thousands of years, how to flourish here. The anthropocentric view has only been on this hemisphere for about 500 years. We have to respect their knowledge. As Suzuki said, “the indigenous point of view that is shared by many Indigenous people is deeply ecocentric in origin, and remarkably, they still seem willing to share it.”

The famous Brundtland Report published by the United Nations in 1987 taught us the word “sustainability”. It really was based on this Indigenous attitude. That report said we should take advantage of that vast source of knowledge from Indigenous People. As Suzuki said, “We have been destroying the only human culture that has managed to thrive on our continent.” It’s time to change direction.

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