There were the two big questions which David Suzuki led with when he spoke at the Sydney Opera House last night. Thanks to my dear friend Virginia for taking me along.
It was a talk called ‘Legacy’ based on the thesis of his present book. Actually, I have been profoundly shaped by Suzuki’s work. This whole journey (all of it, not just the 10 City Bridge Run) began after reading Suzuki’s book “Good News For A Change” while I was posted in Darwin during my time in the Army… It was good to come full circle and hear him talk in person.
He covered many themes skilfully woven together in a seamless talk. Population growth, our preoccupation with jobs, who we are as humans, economics, and why this matters to nature.
Suzuki challenged our idolisation of lifestyle through our worship of the market: Do we actually put the economy above human life? Have we missed the opportunity that was presented with the global financial crisis over the last three years?
Is the economy the source of everything we need?
In economic systems, unless money changes hands the transaction for something is thought to have no value. He uses the example of the environment and nature. In a similar way, this appeals to how I have been thinking about ‘developing countries’ and the 24,000 children who each day will die largely from preventable disease. All ‘externalities’.
We have enshrined economic growth as our highest priority. By itself, growth is nothing. It is not a definition of progress. It describes a cycle, not progress. Does all of this stuff make us happy?
We never ask the important questions, Suzuki lamented, returning to the questions that had framed his opening comments.
As a biologist, he observed that death resulted from things growing forever. As humans, we have defied our own limits to growth becoming the most populous mammalian species on earth (I haven’t checked this figure, can this be true?)
Death awaits us all. What are the meaningful things in life? What really makes a home? Suzuki told us a moving story about his father in the last month of his life which exemplified the importance of relationships. The things that matter most are not valued on the economic system.
His answer sounds a little abstract, but I think needs to be practiced rather than planned:
- Slow down!
- Get to know each other.
- Re-imagine the future.
- Dream of what is possible.
Small actions matter. I found inspiration in his distillation of why it is important to act, which I would summarise as “because we are human and part of creation”. Similarly it gives good rationale to why we should care to address extreme poverty: we are all human- caring for others and relationships are what make us human.
The same economic argument for the environment presented by Suzuki applies for extreme poverty. They are directly linked. High birth rates in ‘developing countries’ that come from high child mortality creates an unsustainable population.
Hans Rosling has made comments about this population explosion which Suzuki portrayed using the exponential growth of bacteria in a test-tube. The lifestyles we enjoy now will become untenable not because of our cities, but because of the effect and neglect this is having elsewhere.
We all have a choice. What will be our legacy. It actually does matter.