In Conversation with Dr. David Suzuki

Dr. David Suzuki and Stephen Cipes in Kelowna, BC on October 14, 2015 following the Okanagan Water Forum held by the Okanagan Nation Alliance. Photo: A high five between Dr. David Suzuki and Stephen Cipes in celebration of the success of the 2020 Vision for an Organic Okanagan campaign at a recent Blue Dot event. Two grassroots movements prevailing! Photo Credit: Matthew Jensen

Stephen Cipes: I would like to present you with my book. It is called the All-One-Era. It would be a great privilege and honor if you could take a copy. I wrote an inscription there just after your wonderful talk today.

It has your great quote in there.

(Reading from the book) How come the movie An Inconvenient Truth by US vice-president Al Gore didn’t have an impact? It was there for all to see and what did the world do? They held world summits and committed to lower the carbon footprint using economic sanctions. And did they lower it?  No! It was a joke.  As Dr. David Suzuki pointed out, the politicians that voted to lower it are not now in office and those who are, are not obligated to adhere to those commitments.

And it goes on, and the actual quote is beautiful because it sums it up perfectly.

The Environmental movement has failed. We’ve won some pyrrhic battles but we lost the war because we failed to change consciousness surrounding these issues.

 Dr. David Suzuki: Exactly.

Stephen Cipes: It is the consciousness that is the most important thing. If it doesn’t come from something you are doing now with this grassroots movement [Blue Dot]… it is so beautiful. I congratulate you on that.

Dr. David Suzuki: I am very proud of it.

Stephen Cipes: It is wonderful.

Dr. David Suzuki: It’s going gangbusters.

Stephen Cipes: You just gave a great speech here to all the First Nations about how you already have over seven million Canadians signed up.

Dr. David Suzuki: Well, their municipalities have signed up. So we get the city council to pass a declaration to help the environment. And they in those cities are a total of seven million.

Stephen Cipes: Beautiful. Can you give us a little synopsis of the Blue Dot?

Dr. David Suzuki: So the idea is that the Blue Dot is this tiny, tiny sphere in the universe. We’re insignificant. That was the point of Carl Sagan’s essay, that when you get to the edge of the solar system and look back, we’re just 1/6 of one pixel in the whole picture. We are nothing. And yet, in that tiny dot all of human history took place. All of the billions and billions of people, who have loved and worked hard, who fought and killed and lusted for power, and all of that stuff took place on that insignificant little dot. That’s our only home; it’s our only place in the universe that we have. What we think is we have to deal with each other in a kinder way. And we have to realize that our health and well-being depend on a healthy environment which is clean air, clean water, clean food, and clean energy.

The problem you know, Stephen, is that most of us in Canada now live in big cities. And in a big city a person’s priority becomes his job. I need a job to make the money to buy the things I want and so the economy seems to be the most important thing in our lives.

I have a friend in Toronto, who lives in a highrise apartment in the north end of Toronto, completely air-conditioned. On the week days he goes down the elevator into the basement into his air-conditioned car, then down the Don Valley freeway into the basement of his commercial building, all air-conditioned, and connected through tunnels to huge shopping areas. He said to me, “David, I don’t have to go outside for weeks,” so if you don’t have to go outside who the hell cares about nature? And that is our problem, is that we are disconnected from the natural world.

Stephen Cipes: Yes, it is a wonderful thing that you are bringing that up. I salute you for doing the great work. I walk barefooted in the earth every day, grounding and feeling the magnetic energy of the earth, the electrical energy that surrounds us. We are electrical in nature; we are receivers. As we open up our feminine energy, we men can do it, we can receive and become conduits of spirit, but we first need to get back in touch with nature. Like you said, a large percentage of the world lives in high-rise buildings and in cities. They never touch the ground with their bare feet and they don’t breathe the fresh air. They are stifled and they are out of touch with nature, which is our very essence. Most of all, it brings us back to our hearts. When we are in touch with nature, we automatically say and feel the right things and we no longer tolerate the destruction that we see in every state, and no longer buy into it. We stop giving away our power, so to speak.

Dr. David Suzuki: You know Richard Louv?

Stephen Cipes: I have heard his name, yes.

Dr. David Suzuki: He wrote The Last Child in the Woods. And he says there are a suite of problems with young people – attention deficit disorder, bullying, hyper activity – that all comprise what he calls ‘nature deficit disorder’. Take these kids out into the nature, and all these issues disappear. We need to get out and make contact with nature.

Stephen Cipes: Absolutely. I am a member of the Robert Bateman board of directors and I have been doing that for the last seven years now. Introducing children to the wild. It’s a beautiful work along with your beautiful work.

Dr. David Suzuki: Yes.

Stephen Cipes: I loved that you mentioned Rachel Carson’s book and the impact of herbicides and pesticides have on the environment [at the Okanagan Water Forum]. It’s actually the basis for what I have wanted to do for the last 40 years in the Okanagan Valley. I am putting forth the 2020 Vision Declaration for the entire valley of British Columbia to become 100% organic by the year 2020.

Dr. David Suzuki: I just heard it, when you announced it. I was electrified, Stephen.

Stephen Cipes: Thank you so much.

Dr. David Suzuki: No, that’s what we need, the kind of target. Then we can all work together. And it is an uplifting target.

Stephen Cipes: And I took the declaration to your event, for the Blue Dot, which my son Ezra was managing, and without even reading it in public I got 300 signatures that night. Amazing!

Dr. David Suzuki: That is great!

Stephen Cipes: Because everyone who is signing the Blue Dot also wants to see everything return to natural. We want nature to prevail, not money. Money is not our God. This is the beautiful thing.

One of the most important things I had to prove was that my own organic winery, Summerhill, could be economically feasible, you know sustainable, before I could say let’s everybody be organic. Because then they will turn around and say, ‘Steve, we don’t have millions of dollars to do that,’ but now I can make that statement, that we are financially stable, and we are 100% organic. We are winning awards around the world, we are the most visited winery in all the world, and all that stuff. So, wow, it’s a great boon.

Dr. David Suzuki: It is a great boon. But it is crazy that you have to prove doing something that improves your health and the health of the environment, somehow has to be economically possible strikes me as crazy.

Stephen Cipes: Crazy. Could I get your signature on this petition [the 2020 Vision Declaration]?

Dr. David Suzuki: Absolutely.

Stephen Cipes: Thank you so much. [Dr. David Suzuki signs the 2020 Vision Declaration] That is awesome. That’s beautiful.

Dr. David Suzuki: Al Gore called for 100% renewable energy in ten years. These are the kind of calls that we need to get off of the drunken destructive path that we are on.

Stephen Cipes: This is the call to action… [reads declaration]

We agree with this declaration, by signing below, agree:

– To share the 2020 vision with our friends and family

– To grow, buy, and consume local organic

– To ask where our food and beverages come from and how they’re grown

– To consider transitioning our lawns to gardens, and to xeriscape our properties

– To urge all commercial chemical farming owners to consider the future for all our children and their children’s sake

Dr. David Suzuki: Absolutely.

Stephen Cipes: It is that simple. And the beautiful thing is that the Okanagan can be a model for the world, and it is the easiest place to grow organic because we have the least amount of pests here.

Dr. David Suzuki: But you know, an entire country is organic, and that is Bhutan. They are an amazing country.

Stephen Cipes: Bhutan. They are, yes. Wow.

Dr. David Suzuki: Now, they can do it because they are a small country. Really isolated in that the Himalayan Mountains surround them but the big thing is, as you know, the story of the king when he was at a meeting in India, and he was asked by the press, “What about your GNP?” He said, “We don’t pay attention to GNP. It’s GNH, Gross National Happiness. That’s the goal.”

Stephen Cipes: The right to a healthy environment. Clean air, water, food, and a say in decisions that affect the environment… It seems like a simple straightforward request based on good old common sense, and yet we have to fight for it. Who are we fighting against?

Dr. David Suzuki: Every interest that doesn’t have to pay the price for what it does. So the fossil fuel industry will fight it because right now they use the atmosphere as if it is free. They use the rivers, and the land as a garbage dump and they don’t pay for that, so they don’t want to face up to the fact that there is a cost to that, a health cost. Every logging company that wants to clear cut, rather than log properly is going to fight it, and everybody that wants to use a river to exploit it in a way that is unsustainable.

You know, you would think a healthy environment that’s a mom and apple pie issue, but the vested interests see it through very narrow lenses.

I talked about the CEO of the oil company that came to see me. When he left, he couldn’t agree with what I said even though I said, “Look, I think you know this is a foundation of how we can live.” He could not agree with me because how could he go back to his shareholders and say, “I agree with Suzuki. We can’t do anything to screw up the air, the water, and the soil.” Well, he would get fired in a minute. So there would be a lot of vested interest that will fight this.

Stephen Cipes: Once again, world leaders will meet to discuss greenhouse gas emission targets and climate change, this time in Paris at the Climate Change Conference on November 30? Do you think anything new will come out of this meeting?

Dr. David Suzuki: I think there is a chance. I was very pessimistic. I talked to the French ambassador of Canada and I said, “Look, 20 meetings like this that have already gone on. Are you just going to be the 21st? Another failure? Or will you signal the 20 meetings have achieved nothing and you are going to have to do something different.” When he left I thought, not a chance he is going to. But two things happened I never imagined: one was the United States and China saying we’ve got to take it seriously. That is fantastic.

Stephen Cipes: That is fantastic.

Dr. David Suzuki: The other thing is that the Pope—I am an atheist, but man, this guy is beautiful. I have read his encyclical several times. It makes me cry every time. Because he has done something very few of us do, you know. He has taken hunger and poverty, issues of social justice, First Nations, the environment, and they are all put together. It’s about how we live together, and it is wrapped in a sense of morality, a moral obligation. And those two things, China and the United States getting together and the Pope, could potentially change the whole deal.

Stephen Cipes: I love it. Thank you so much for that. Canada has submitted its Climate Change Action Plan ahead of the Paris meeting. The Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) submission reveals Canada intends to achieve an economy-wide target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. How does Canada intend to do this?

Dr. David Suzuki: We don’t intend to do it. Mr. Harper doesn’t intend to do it. And Mr. Harper, you know, he already gifted the bassline from 1990 to 2005, which allowed for that much increase of greenhouse gases. Have you ever heard climate change pass his lips?

Stephen Cipes: Not really.

Dr. David Suzuki: No. And it’s interesting the contrast of Obama who went to Alaska, the oil producing state, and said, we’ve got to do something about global warming. And Mr. Harper, who went to the Arctic for five days and never once mentioned climate change. So as long as we have a Harper government, forget about climate change. He is not going to do anything. This is not a serious plan and it’s a joke. We are a laughing stock for the rest of the world.

Stephen Cipes: You wrote in The Sacred Balance, there are seven essential items that human beings need to live: earth, air, fire, water, biodiversity, love, and spirituality. Do you think human beings have become disconnected with their spirituality? If so, is this one of the core reasons that has led people away from nature and caring for the environment?

Dr. David Suzuki: I think it is, and this is why I have spent so much time with First Nations. They still have a profound spiritual connection to the Earth.

Stephen Cipes: …because they are one with the Earth, because they are one with nature, and one with themselves.

Dr. David Suzuki: But what is weird, Stephen, is throughout time again, each generation has hoped to leave a better world for our children. And you know for sure that children growing up in a highrise are not going to have a chance at the kind of world we know. What the hell has happened? We have become so short-sighted that we want to get more money to buy a bigger car, a bigger house, dadadada… and we are forgetting what we are leaving for our children.

Stephen Cipes: We fought to get rid of number 6 fuel in New York City because it was choking the babies, and we got it down to number 2 fuel. We fought to keep our waters clean and yet Long Island Sound had all the fish jump out. They had a Jubilee, and it’s dead now. I am so worried about Okanagan Lake.

Dr. David Suzuki: Yes.

Stephen Cipes: If it could happen in salt water, it could happen to this lake.

Dr. David Suzuki: Oh, absolutely.

Stephen Cipes: And this lake has an 80-year turnover. It’s one of the slowest in the world. It only turns over every 80 years, and the amounts of chemicals we are putting into it from the orchards and the vineyards is frightening. Not to mention the sewage treatment plants, and all those things… so I am really happy that you have signed this agreement [the 2020 Vision Declaration], and that we have two beautiful grassroots movements going: your wonderful Blue Dot and perhaps this All-One-Era, where we can come from our hearts. This is what we need to do. Back to our hearts, stop giving away our power. It’s not working.

Dr. David Suzuki: I think all over the world there are bits and pieces of things going on. The problem right now is that we have governments who are really working to a corporate agenda, because corporations have a vast amount of money to sponsor politicians. But I think that grassroots movement and all of these things going on have got to cause it to flip.

Stephen Cipes: Thank you so much. Thank you for doing your great work.

Dr. David Suzuki: Thank you for all of the support you have given us.

Stephen Cipes: You ain’t seen nothing yet.


This conversation has been edited for print. See the video below for full conversation.

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