“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.”
I’m proud to be Canadian. That doesn’t always mean that I’m proud of everything Canada does. But one thing it got right was David Suzuki. Although from Japanese heritage, this man is third-generation Canadian. He’s an academic with a PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago he obtained more than fifty years ago. He’s a science broadcaster, host of the long-running CBC program “The Nature of Things.” And he’s a long-time activist regarding global warming and climate change. And today—on Earth Day of all days—I get to hear him speak his message in person at Georgian College.
His efforts at educating people about climate change and global warming stem from the fact that he’s a scientist. He may not have received his PhD in climate science, but as someone who understands the principles of hypothesis, the scientific method, experimentation and interpretation of data, and publication in peer-reviewed journals, he has more than enough expertise to be qualified to speak to the issue.
One of the problems in science today is how compartmentalized it has become. Certainly in medicine we see it all the time. As an example, I’m a doctor who specialized in internal medicine and then subspecialized in cardiology. Although I stopped there, I could have gone ever further and pursued, say, electrophysiology which is the study of rhythm disorders. Beyond that, I could have decided to dedicate myself to only pacemakers and defibrillators, or ablation techniques, or rhythm medications.
The problem with learning more and more about less and less is that eventually you know everything about nothing. Since climate science is complex, I believe someone who has a broader understanding of science will often have a better appreciation of the big picture than someone who understands only the atmospheric aspects of it, or the hydrospheric, or geospheric. Dr. Suzuki’s background in zoology obviously gives him particular expertise in topics relating to the animal world, but he has a much more holistic understanding of climate change than a sub-sub-specialist ever could. People often think of the word “holistic” and its connection to an alternative branch of medicine, but its true meaning is simply a “comprehension of the parts of something as intimately interconnected and explicable only by reference to the whole.” That’s climate change and global warming, through and through.
Dr. Suzuki has understood the science behind global warming and has been warning about its dangers for decades. Like many others who understand science, he considers the evidence for global warming and its connection to human activities to be irrefutable. He is also quick to point out that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assembled more than 2500 scientists from over 130 countries, coming to the conclusion that most of the global warming observed in the last half-century is due to human activities rather than other factors. (This is where phrases like “the vast majority of climate scientists around the world” comes from.) Indeed, every national academy of science around the world believes we are the main culprit for climate change, but the skeptics and deniers do a good job of growing seeds of doubt in the media.
There has even been a smear campaign against Dr. Suzuki himself; to be fair, he has garnered his own fair share of controversy, mostly borne out of frustration that progress moves too slowly toward the solutions we need. Real change requires government participation and that just hasn’t occurred enough for Suzuki’s satisfaction. (Or, indeed, for anyone’s satisfaction who believes in what the science is telling us and appreciates what we need to accomplish to stave off a global crisis in the generations to come.)
He’s also frustrated because too many people argue that global warming isn’t real. There is no doubt that climate change deniers and skeptics are out there in full force with a goal of delaying any action on climate change. Frustrating because so many of those on that side of the “debate” don’t understand the science—the main reason I wrote my book and maintain a blog on the subject. The science tends to get published in scientific journals but those aren’t easily accessible to the general public, requiring good public speakers like Dr. Suzuki to spread the message around. The skeptics and deniers typically get their information from sources that come from a well-organized campaign intent on spreading disinformation and they target the media, the general public, and policy makers rather than publish in any peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journals. Sadly, these groups are too often funded by the fossil fuel industry or other groups with a vested interest in maintaining business as usual, rather than looking to develop renewable sources of energy.
As part of his personal mission, Dr. Suzuki established The David Suzuki Foundation in 1990. Its mission is to “protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and for the future. Our vision is that within a generation, Canadians act on the understanding that we are all interconnected and interdependent with nature.” (In the interests of full disclosure, I would like to point out that I was very honoured when asked to write a guest blog for one of the many blogs on the David Suzuki Foundation website, this one entitled Docs Talk. A joint effort with the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, it’s dedicated to promoting knowledge and understanding about the impact of environment on health. As a cardiologist, I was invited to write about the impacts of global warming on heart health in particular. Never one to resist a good play on words, its title is “The heart of the matter on climate change.”)
Dr. Suzuki is a real hero. Not only for Canada, but for the whole world. Generations to come will be able to look back on his achievements and realize how how important he was in the efforts we made to save our planet from ourselves, and for our future.