A FORCE OF NATURE: David SuzukiPosted: February 26, 2011
“The human brain now holds the key to our future. We have to recall the image of the planet from outer space: a single entity in which air, water, and continents are interconnected. That is our home.”
It was a chilly but wonderfully moonlight night on Sunday evening when a friend and I attended the Australian premier of the David Suzuki documentary, A Force of Nature, at the Moonlight Cinema in Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. David Suzuki is a Japanese Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist, who has hosted the award-winning CBC science program The Nature of Things since 1979. Having grown up watching his television specials (broadcast in Australia on the ABC), I was excited to see him giving an introduction before the screening. If you’re familiar with his work as a science communicator, you’ll be surprised by the very personal nature of this film, made by award-winning Canadian filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson.
This is the trailer:
THE FILM PREMISE.
David is in the final act of his life and academic career, and is about to deliver his last lecture. Not shown in its entirety, the brilliant lecture forms the spine of the film – it is visited in specific segments, to introduce themes and ideas that are then explored biographically through David. We are taken to various locations of significance to him, and broader significance in terms of our collective history (Hiroshima, for example. David marvels at the resilience of nature after the devastation of the atomic bomb). As he visits these places and reflects on the impact of these events on his life, we understand the evolution of his activism/career and the motivation behind the message – of the interconnectedness of all life, and respect for the natural world. The result is a more emotionally powerful argument for science. Gunnarsson seamlessly moves us between these personal scenes and the lecture, as the essential theme of the film unfolds: what LEGACY are we leaving behind?
INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE LEGACY.
Not only the central theme of the film, Legacy is also the title of David’s new book (read about it here). A Force of Nature and Legacy are part of The David Suzuki Legacy Project. When one becomes an elder, a status that 74 year-old David embraces in the documentary, leaving a legacy becomes the most important thing you can turn your mind too. In A Force of Nature, he reflects not only on his personal legacy but, more importantly, our collective legacy.
WHAT WE DO WE REALLY VALUE?
According to David, this is the greatest threat to that collective legacy: the industrialised/first world obsession with economic growth. It seems that to this society, or at least to political and business leaders, growth/expansion is not merely a means to an end; growth is progress. But David argues we need to reassess what kind of growth is good, and what progress actually means to us. The great benefit of being an elder, of being wise, is that it enables you to do just that. What do we really value? And how do we structure our lives, lifestyles, and economies to ensure that the important things are preserved, and that future generations can also enjoy them? We see that responsible public policies come after that, when we make sure we elect leaders and reward businesses who ambitiously pursue practical policies that reflect those values – as ambitiously as the United States pursued a space program after Sputnik (a determined program that, unintentionally, gave us GPS and mobile phones). In order to get the right leadership in place, though, the majority needs to come to really understand the direction our personal choices are taking us in, collectively. This is why David moved into television and media educating – to influence public consciousness on a broader scale.
BECAUSE THE SOLUTION LIES IN OUR HEADS.
David says that the 2kg organ that enabled our undistinguished ancestors to take over the world – our BRAIN – is the organ we must now use to save ourselves from the self-destruction we are creating. Our brains are endowed with memory, curiosity, and inventiveness that enabled us to successfully populate the planet (despite our sensory and physical handicaps). And that brainpower did something incredible, which has set our species apart from others: it invented the idea of THE FUTURE. The future doesn’t exist (yet) – only the present, the now, is real. But our brains have the ability to perceive that we can affect the future by what we do today. This is CREATIVE POWER – the power to create the future. It is the power to imagine, and to see ahead where the dangers and opportunities lie. To recall experience and knowledge in order to plan and inform our behaviours, and understand how those behaviours (thoughts and actions) will affect the future reality. Deliberate cause and effect. David believes it is this foresight that enabled our species to rise to supremacy as it has.
PRICING LIFE ON EARTH? CARBON TAX vs BIG INDUSTRY
Yet business interests, emission intensive industries and their political allies are encouraging us now to ignore this ability of foresight, for one oft cited (bullshit) reason in particular:
“we can’t afford it”.
This is nonsense, David argues, as environmental concerns should always be primary… after all, it is the natural world that sustains human life in the long term – not jobs! He also argues that the notion that we can’t afford to reduce our carbon emissions is a complete fallacy. Business interests in his country of Canada, as in Australia, have opposed the imposition of a carbon tax, arguably one of the best market mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions, saying it would cripple the economy. Here in Australia, Prime Minister Gillard’s recent announcement of plans to introduce a carbon tax from July 1st next year has been met with fierce opposition by the usual suspects: Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, right wing politicians, their media geisha and the money-focused voters that support them. In the State of NSW, the right-wing opposition leader has wasted no time in using the issue, warning voters about how the tax will add to their annual power bills, and vowing to “fight the carbon tax” (wow, what a hero). Yet Sweden has had a carbon tax since 1991, and charges $150 a tonne – not applied to fuels used for electricity generation. Because fuels from renewable sources (such as ethanol and biofuels) are exempted, the tax has led to a large increase in the use of biomass for heating and industry. Since the imposition of the tax to the year 2006, they reduced carbon emissions by 9%, which exceeded the Kyoto target so much that they were told they could actually increase their emission by 4% (something they declined to do, because it wasn’t considered ambitious enough!). Moreover, their economy grew by 44% during that time.
Like David said, that old “we can’t afford it” line? Lie.
THE BRAIN, THE SOLUTION.
Our abilities of foresight are greater today than they have ever been, thanks to science, the body of knowledge across disciplines, and the freedom of access we have to that knowledge facilitated by communication technology. Ironically though, it is the advent of too much information that is in some ways impeding environmentalists’ efforts. People, having a bias towards a particular viewpoint (regardless of whether that viewpoint is true or not) can easily find sources of “information” that justifiy their bias. What is needed are people who can sift through the information we are bombarded with everyday, and identify what is valid and what is not. Moreover, we need people and sources of information that will take the time to look at an issue in depth AND in its broader historical and social context – how it relates to other news stories and ongoing developments, giving us a more complete understanding of the issues. Why is this important? Because of one simple, powerful fact: everything is interconnected.
THE WISDOM OF INDIGENOUS CULTURES, THE KNOWLEDGE OF DEVELOPED COUNTRIES, AND THE GENIUS OF NATURE.
Something I’ve always admired about David is his genuine respect for indigenous cultures’ relationship with the natural world. It is an affinity that has deepened with the birth of his grandson, whose father is a First Nation’s man of Canada (we get to see the little dude in the movie). The values of many aboriginal cultures in relation to the environment stand in complete contrast with the values that underpin the economic system of the West, Asia… the industrialised world. Many indigenous cultures place an emphasis on having humility and reverence in the face of nature. The idea that certain areas, certain places in nature, for example, are sacred and not to be exploited, is regarded as silly by growth/money-minded, myopic thinkers. That particular value though, of reverence for nature and seeking to work with it, or like it, (as opposed to conquering and using it), is one we will need to embrace en masse for our own survival. That doesn’t mean turning our backs on cities, or technology – far from it. In fact, the convergence of this value and technology – as in biomimicry – has already given birth to some ingenious designs, inventions, and architecture. Have a look at this awesome bit of biomimicry modern architecture in Zimbabwe (of all places):
Another idea that is embodied in many indigenous cultures, and ancient spiritual traditions, that David has articulated scientifically throughout his career, is the interconnectedness, and hence, interdependence, of all life – of everything within the biosphere. Every living thing is bound together by scientific laws and the elements. We are, fundamentally, all the same.
In this short clip from the film, he articulates this interconnectedness beautifully in relation to air:
The problem we face as a species is that we tend to look at everything in a segmented, fragmented way. We see parts, not the whole. This is reflected in public policy – we treat energy, health, the environment, immigration and economics like they are separate issues. But they aren’t – they are, as we are, all interconnected.
David believes this is the most crucial message we need to get out today… our very survival now depends upon it. Until enough of us let this fact permeate our thinking and consciousness, and govern our behaviour and choices, we will continue to head in the wrong direction.