In a recent interview on Australian Televsion (ABC) David Suzuki lamented his failure to achieve anything positive as an activist on environmental issues. He admitted his fame and popularity as a TV expert on numerous scientific matters but regretted that his ability to influence and change things didn't reflect his celebrity status. He didn't attempt though to explain why.
With regard to the environment he recalled how, in the seventies everything seemed marvelous and everyone appeared to be on board with environmental awareness. There were campaigns to save forests, stop oil pollution, save the seals and so on. Leading politicians threw their weight behind such campaigns, and gave verbal support. All appeared to be going well. (As a skeptical viewer I couldn't help wondering though whether anything was actually done, or was it just talk. "They cut down all the trees and put them in a tree museum," as Joni Mitchell sang, "and charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em.") But thirty years later, said Suzuki, with the onset of economic crisis, the politicians changed their tunes, and suddenly interest in the environment, and climate change, took a back seat or disappeared altogether. He regretted this. He was angry about this. Why should politicians lose interest in environmental matters just because the economy entered difficulties? Why should concern about climate change, which after all was scientifically proven, and threatened the whole planet, become something not to talk about just because of economic problems. Our existence was at stake! If the economy was not geared to dealing with this issue we could be doomed!
He talked about the way in which so-called sceptics with regard to climate change and the science behind it, had managed cleverly and subtly to discredit the science completely by a mass campaign of undermining and raising doubts about the science - saying the scientists only postulate climate change they haven't proved it and so on- and how the oil companies had poured millions of dollars into efforts to question the science without actually discussing what it said or why it said it. He praised the second President Bush for his contributions to the negative side of all this, but forgot to mention this same President's contribution to religious belief, lies and hypocrisy in general and war in Iraq. Not that this particularly distinguishes Bush from any other US President.
But the striking thing about this interview, where Suzuki was talking very frankly, was that how all his activist life, despite all his scientific know-how and countless honorary degrees for his scientific contributions, he just can't join up the dots. He can't see that separating the environment from the economic system and wanting it treated as a special issue will never go anywhere. Never has gone anywhere; was always just glib and green talk by politicians when the economy seemed okay, but disappeared altogether when the economy hit hard times. Suzuki feels let down. Perhaps, if he'd ever thought about it properly and scientifically, he might have reached the pretty obvious conclusion that capitalism is at fault here, because capitalism can't afford to do anything about the environment because profits count first, and they're on the dive. And that to see "environmentalism" as a compartmentalized matter, as if freed from bourgeois economic constraints, is foolish and unwise.
Is it not sad to see such an honoured and famous scientist bamboozled by capitalist ideology to such an extent he doesn't even identify capitalism as the driving force behind all the disasters besetting humanity and the planet? It reminded me of Bertrand Russell wanting to ban the bomb.