Grey wave must lead green, says Suzuki

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It’s up to seniors to teach today’s baby boomers the old ways of conservation to head off an ecological disaster, says a noted scientist.

David Suzuki, the famous geneticist and environmentalist, spoke about how seniors can help shape a more sustainable world Wednesday at the second bi-annual Greying Nation Conference in Edmonton. About 400 delegates gathered to talk about the effects of the aging boomer generation on health care.

“The boomers, our kids, have lived through a period of lavish growth that is absolutely unsustainable,” said Suzuki. Canadians now take up about four times more living space than they did 40 years ago, he noted, due in most part to their huge stock of consumer goods.

This over-consumption has caused massive changes to the Earth’s biosphere, Suzuki said. “Eighty per cent of the forests that were here in the 1900s are no longer present. We destroyed them.” Plastic waste now forms islands in the ocean bigger than Texas.

“We are using up the rightful legacy of future generations in order to keep this economic system going,” Suzuki said, “and I don’t think that’s right.”

Too much waste

Suzuki, who is 73, said he grew up in an era where people grew their own food and darned their own socks. “It was inconceivable when I was growing up to throw things away” after one use, he said. But today’s economy, about 70 per cent of which is based on luxury goods such as potato chips and SUVs, encourages such wasteful behaviour.

Canadians needed to get rid of the idea that growth is an indicator of success, he said, as limitless growth was impossible in a limited world. Instead, success should be measured based on how it maintains the necessities of life, such as clean air, water and soil.

This will mean asking tough questions about energy production, especially in Alberta. “I ask you as a member of the legislature here,” he said, suddenly addressing St. Albert representative Ken Allred in the front row, “when is enough enough? Are there limits to growth? When will Alberta be satisfied?”

A report released the previous day by the Energy Resource Conservation Board predicted that Alberta’s oilsands production would hit 3 million barrels a day by 2018, more than double the current level of 1.31 million.

Alberta’s development of the oilsands would affect the climate of the entire world, he said, and it was one of the few places with the wealth to do something about it. “There’s a responsibility that comes with that which I don’t think this province is facing.”

Allred, in an interview, agreed North Americans were taking more than their fair share of the world’s resources, but questioned what more Suzuki wanted Alberta to do about the oilsands, given that it was already investing $2 billion into carbon-capture and storage. “I’m not sure if he wants us to shut down the oilsands … but that’s what’s keeping the country going,” he said.

When asked if Alberta should put a limit on oilsands growth, in reference to Suzuki’s questions, Allred said he was uncertain. “I’m not sure we need a moratorium, but we need slower, more planned growth.” He hoped the Land Use Framework would help with such planning.

Live more simply

Today’s seniors have a double responsibility for the environmental crisis, Suzuki said. “We’re the ones who screwed up the environment,” he said, and they’re the ones who can help fix it.

Bringing back old habits such as patching clothes and not eating meat every day would help stave off environmental collapse, Suzuki said. “My daughters all know how to catch fish and pickle and bottle. My children all learned to garden from their grandparents.”

“That’s our job as elders: to remind people of what the world was like.”

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.