See below for YouTube video and text of speech by David Suzuki to the assembled at Occupy Vancouver, at 1 pm on Saturday, October 22, 2011. (Text transcribed by a volunteer.) Download text here: David Suzuki Speech to Occupy Vancouver, October 22, 2011
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David Suzuki Speech to “Occupy Vancouver,” October 22, 2011 (1 pm)
Location: Vancouver Art Gallery
(Unofficial text. This version of the public speech was transcribed by a volunteer.)
See video here: http://youtu.be/0AqiVdruCII
I want to say right at the beginning that I’m speaking to you as a private citizen. I don’t represent or speak on behalf of any organization or group. I’d also like to begin by acknowledging that we are gathered together here on Coast Salish ground. I want to thank the organizers of today’s program for inviting me to share a few ideas with you. I believe the Occupy movement could be absolutely historic but we won’t know for years from now.
I believe what it is, is the demand for open dialogue, for conversation in which disparate voices (we’ve already heard some of them) will be heard and I am here as much to listen and learn as I am to speak. But I’m especially grateful then for being given this time at the beginning to present my ideas first.
Let me be transparent with my motives as I hope you ask all speakers to be. I have an agenda. I am an elder and I’m long past the seduction of fame or money or power. I speak to you today as a grandparent with four young children and a fifth on the way. And I’ve seized this opportunity to speak about their future, a future far less rich in biodiversity and natural abundance than when i was a child. My generation and the boomers who followed have lived like kings and queens and thoughtlessly partied as if there is no tomorrow.
We forgot. We forgot the lessons taught to us by our parents and grandparents who came through the great depression. Live within your means. Save some for tomorrow. Satisfy your needs, not your wants. Help your neighbours, because someday they will help you. Share, don’t be greedy. Money doesn’t make you a better person or more important person. Well, the party’s over. We’ve got to remember those old aphorisms, clean up our mess and start thinking about our grandchildren.
I’m a scientist and what we do is probe the mysteries of the cosmos to uncover Laws and principles and principles that explain what’s going on in the world and how we can live within it. Physics tells us we can’t build a rocket we can’t build a rocket that will travel faster than the speed of light. I know at CERN they’re saying maybe six kilometres faster than the speed of light but don’t hold your breath on that one. Physics tells us the Law of gravity applies to all objects on earth. That entropy means Perpetual motion machines are not possible. Those are the laws of physics. And we live within them. In chemistry diffusion constants, reaction rates, Atomic properties set the limits of chemical reactions and the kinds of Molecules that we can synthesize. Biology dictates our absolute need for clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity in order For us to survive and live in a healthy way. Those are laws of nature and we can’t change them. We have to live within their boundaries.
Many other things are not forces of nature. We draw lines around our property, around cities, provinces and countries. And boy, we take them importantly. We will go to war, kill and die to protect those borders. But you know what? Nature couldn’t care less about human borders. Air. Water. Dust? Storms, Drought, Global warming, fires, epidemics, migrating birds, fish mammals and insects pay no attention to our ideas of territory. Other things: capitalism, economies, corporations, markets and currency. These are not forces of nature. We invented them. And if they don’t work we can and we must change them.
Look at what happened in Copenhagen. 192 nations gathered to deal with the atmosphere that belongs to no one. 192 national borders. 192 economic priorities trying to shoehorn nature to fit our agendas. It will never work unless we subordinate our priorities to the limits imposed by nature itself. For me the Occupy movement is about oikos, the Greek word for household or domain. It’s about defining our place in community in the state in the nation and in the biosphere. What is our home? and how do we live in it sustainably. With opportunities and meanings and happiness as our highest aspirations. Oikos is home. Ecology is the study of home. Economics is its management.
But we elevate economy above ecology. For five years the Prime Minister of Canada has never acknowledged the reality of human-induced climate change or that Canada is the industrialized nation most vulnerable to its impact. And now he’s cutting back on scientists in Environment Canada and research on climate so then we don’t have to listen to the facts. Mr Harper has steadfastly said, “We can’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions because it will destroy the economy.” First of all, it’s not true. Sweden, a northern industrialized country like us, has a carbon tax, has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 8 per cent below 1990 levels while its economy grew by 44%. But more egregious, Mr Harper lists the economy above the very air that keeps us alive. Let’s put the eco back into economics.
There’s an old saying that “Money talks.” I’ve talked to a lot of loonies but they’ve all been people. Money may not literally talk, but today it controls and sets the agenda for our governments. Occupy is not just about the one percent who continue to rake in an ever-increasing proportion of society’s wealth while 99 percent bear the real cost. Occupy is about corporate power. Corporations have become bigger than most governments on the planet. And they are no longer bound by national borders, laws or standards. Occupiers know because so many of you are young that the terrible inequities represented by the one percent today are also inter-generational. Today’s corporations and the super-rich are increasing wealth at the expense of generations to come, exhausting resources, extinguishing species, poisoning air, water and soil. Yet economists discount the estimated costs of these problems that will be most strongly felt by successive generations to come.
Have you ever heard a politician call for mass spending for the sake of future generations? For children who can’t vote? Or for youth who don’t bother to vote? Why does the government that we elect to look after our well-being and our future act as a cheerleader for corporate sectors. Because money talks. For years the auto sector fought every progressive innovation from seat belts to catalytic converters to mileage targets to air bags “It will cost too much. We’ll be put out of business. Let the markets rule. Don’t legislate. Trust us.” is what they said. For ten years Chrysler had data that proved air bags saved lives yet for years the auto sector fought Ralph Nader while hundreds of thousands of people who could have been saved by air bags died. And when their beloved free market shifted to favour foreign companies, those bastions of free enterprise came crawling to government and asked for bailouts. David Lewis was right. They’re corporate welfare bums. But they got the money with very few strings attached. Why does our government, Ag Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency acts like cheerleaders for GMOs, declaring them substantially equivalent to normal food and thus not requiring special standards of safety yet denying the requirement of labelling so at least we can choose what to eat. Money talks. Just ask Monsanto.
Remember the tobacco industry’s campaign of denial, spending tens of millions to assure us that smoking and second-hand smoke were not hazardous. All the while their own experts knew the health dangers. Why is the pharmaceutical industry allowed to do its own research on drug safety instead of independent labs and spend hundreds of millions of dollars to support an army of lobbyists with the result that the fastest rising component of health costs are drugs. Money talks.
Why do we continue to subsidize the fossil fuel industry with billions of our tax dollars while they are reporting record profits year after year? Do you think that development of the tar sands, the Enbridge pipeline or LNG ports will be possible without massive subsidies from us the taxpayers? Money talks.
Fossil fuel companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to inform us fossil-fuel caused climate change is not real. It is. While saying that scientists are divided on the issues. They are not. While supporting right-wing think tanks and skeptics and websites, all to confuse the public and keep government from acting. And while they’re doing this they are in full knowledge that what they are denying is real. If this isn’t immoral, I don’t know what is. And yet Canada calls tar sands oil ethical. Exxon has reported record profits yet has fought against a class action suit brought by people impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Exxon has lost over and over again in the courts but has appealed each time and to this day Exxon has not paid a single cent to the victims of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. And Exxon is one of the major contributors to the campaign of disinformation about climate change. I could go on and on.
Publicly held corporations may produce or do things that we need, that are good for society, but they’re only mandate is to make money, the more and faster the better. Terrible things have been done in the name of profits and we need our governments to protect us from the depredations and we are here to ask “How much is enough?” Don’t corporations have any social and ecological responsibilities?
Corporations are supported because they are said to be the economic engine of society. But when profit is their goal, they will fight to reduce their share of taxes, demand subsidies, oppose regulations and fire hundreds of employees if it will increase profitability.
Corporations are not people. They are economic creations that are not designed to consider people, communities or ecosystems. And that’s why we [not clear sounds like “in the 70’s”], people who are put in jail today for selling marijuana. But who went to jail after BP spilled oil into the gulf for months? Politicians have rushed us into the global economy. I remember when Brian Mulroney was prime minister and rushed us into free trade agreement with the United States even though 60% of Canadians voted against it. He was interviewed by Larry King on CNN and when Larry chided him for Canada’s economic downturn Mulroney’s reply was, “That was the global economy. Don’t blame me for what happened to the global economy.”
If we lose control over our economy because of the global economy why do our politicians give up their responsibility and rush to embrace that globalization. Globalization does not spread the highest standards for workers or for communities or ecosystems. Instead corporations go to the lowest standards of medical care, of wages, of environmental standards because it’s all about maximizing profits. The global economy means our garbage and toxic effluents are shared with the world, dumped into the air, water and land. When you purchase fancy running shoes, a cell pone or automobile, do you know whether slave and child labour was involved in any part of its production? The ecological impacts of toxic material generated within the process of manufacturing – these costs are hidden. Yet each time we make a purchase, we become part of that system that exploits people and ecosystems around the world.
We claim we live in a democracy but how many of us will vote next month in the coming election.
Maybe we’ll set a record with 25 per cent. How about the provincial election? Ontario just had a record 49 per cent turnout. And what about the federal election – when 40 percent of us don’t vote, we don’t have democracy. I have voted faithfully in elections ever since I turned 21 in 1957 and I have never voted for a party that formed the government. In other words, my vote carried no weight. Because we are one of the last democracies in the world that doesn’t have a democracy based on proportional representation. If we don’t vote we don’t have democracy. If we don’t have proportional representation we have minority rule.
Corporations are not people and corporations should not be allowed to finance political campaigns…[some inaudible words]. Why do we have such a disproportionate representation of politicians who are business people or lawyers? I believe because they can afford to run for office and move and they have friends with money.
But that skews government priorities to issues jurisdictional and economic. We need a broader perspective than just legal and economic issues. Political campaigns should not be financed disproportionately by the wealthy.
And any qualified candidate should be able to campaign and the only money for campaigning should be from us, the taxpayers. If money talks, let it be for the general public so their best interests dominate government priorities, not corporations.
A society that supports vast disproportions in the distribution of wealth is not a sustainable society. A society should measure its success by the care of its weakest, poorest and most vulnerable, not by the number of super-rich.
Let’s take back the agenda. We need democracy for people, not corporations. We want greater equity. We demand social justice, especially for first peoples of this nation and we want to recognize and protect our most fundamental needs: clean air clean water clean soil clean energy a diversity of other species and communities that support our children with love and care.
Thank you all.