The Legacy: An Elder's Vision for Our Sustainable Future

The Legacy: An Elder's Vision for Our Sustainable Future

by David Suzuki, Margaret Atwood

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In this expanded version of an inspiring speech delivered in December 2009, David Suzuki reflects on how we got where we are today and presents his vision for a better future. In his living memory, Suzuki has witnessed cataclysmic changes in society and our relationship with the planet: the doubling of the world’s population, our increased ecological footprint, and massive technological growth.

Today we are in a state of crisis, and we must join together to respond to that crisis. If we do so, Suzuki envisions a future in which we understand that we are the Earth and live accordingly. All it takes is imagination and a determination to live within our, and the planet's, means. This book is the culmination of David Suzuki’s amazing life and all of his knowledge, experience, and passion — it is his legacy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781553656456
Publisher: Greystone Books
Publication date: 09/11/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 1,110,059
File size: 650 KB

About the Author

David Suzuki is an acclaimed geneticist and environmentalist and the founder and chair of the David Suzuki Foundation. He is the author of more than forty books and is the recipient of the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for Science, the United Nations Environmental Medal, and the UNEP’s Global 500 award, and he has been named a Companion of the Order of Canada. In addition, he holds eighteen honorary degrees, and he has been adopted into three First Nations clans.

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than thirty-five titles, including the novels The Handmaid's Tale (1983) and The Blind Assassin, which won the prestigious Booker Prize in 2000.  Her work has been published in more than forty languages. Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson. 

Read an Excerpt

Margaret Atwood

What you’re about to read is David Suzuki’s Legacy Lecture. The term “legacy” has an ominous ring to it, a hint of departure: surely he isn’t going somewhere? Not so soon! He’s a landmark! No other living Canadian has done so much—nationally and internationally—to make us aware of the world we live in and of its precarious state. And no one else started this task so early and has taken so much flak for it.

It seems that David Suzuki has always been with us. He’s lived in the tradition of the great prophets—those whose messages go unheeded because they tell us things we find uncomfortable. Time after time he’s gone up the sacred mountain, listened to the voice, understood that it is what it is, and brought the hard but true words back down, only to find us cavorting around shiny gods of our own devising. He’s been doing that in so many ways, over so many days—on Quirks and Quarks, a radio science program he started; on CBC television’s The Nature of Things, which he’s hosted since 1972; and through the David Suzuki Foundation, dedicated to making the world a sustainable place. It’s a wonder he never gave up on us. But he didn’t: after each potato flung his way, he trudged up the mountain again, rearranged the words to make them more understandable, and gave us another try.

As for his somewhat dire reputation—“Dr. Doom and Gloom,” as he himself tells us—let’s consider the deeper meaning of the word “legacy.” A legacy is something you pass on, and it assumes there will be someone to pass it on to. That’s quite a leap of faith for Dr. Suzuki, considering the grisly facts he’s been facing. But as you’ll see, he makes the leap. Human intelligence and foresight got us into our present pickle by enabling us to invent such efficient ways of exploiting Nature that our population growth went into overdrive, and now human intelligence and foresight are all we can rely on to see us through the tight bottleneck we’re fast approaching—that narrowing chasm where far too many people are faced with far too little food and, very possibly, far too little air.

But, says Suzuki, we can do it if we really try, and we really will try if we can visualize the danger we’re in. Programmed as we are to grasp the low-hanging fruit, enjoy the present hour at the expense of the years to come, and ignore the storm until it’s almost upon us, we do have the capacity to learn from experience and to look ahead.

David Suzuki is by training a biologist—a scientist—which to some people conjures up the image of a white-coated rationalist, devoid of emotion and bent on pure experiment. But no human being is really like that, not even economists. Neurologists tell us that purely rational thinking is an impossibility for us: instead we think-feel; we feel-think. David Suzuki came to biology the way so many have: through the emotions, a love of the natural world—the world he then set out to explore using his intelligence. What he did with the love and the intelligence is a thing the human race has been doing to its advantage ever since the Pleistocene: he told stories about what he loved and what he discovered, stories that confer a benefit on those who hear them if only they will listen with care.

The “legacy” in this lecture is one of truthful words about the hard place we’re in, but it’s also one of hopeful words: our chance—if we will take it—for “opportunity, beauty, wonder, and companionship with the rest of creation.” My own hope is that we ourselves will emulate David Suzuki and leave legacies in our turn, and that the planet will through our efforts become a better and more liveable home than the rapidly deteriorating biosphere we find ourselves in right now. It’s the nature of gifts to pass from hand to hand; we should thank Dr. Suzuki for the gifts he has given and find within ourselves the grace to pass them on.

From Chapter 2

So now the challenge is to get things right. First we have to recognize that our world is shaped by such factors as gravity, the speed of light, entropy, the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics – these are forces of nature and they impose limitations on the way we live. Another is the biosphere, the source of all we need to survive and flourish so protecting its health has to be our highest priority.

Other things like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, markets or currency are not natural, we created them and if they are not working, we can change them . But like dragons and demons of old, the economy has come to be treated as if it were a real thing before which we must all bow down.

That’s why businesspeople and politicians tell me that I “have to be realistic, the economy is the bottomline”. I was once told by an environment minister that “Environmentalists should understand we can’t afford to protect the environment without a strong growing economy”. So even a minister of the environment, whose job is to protect it, bows before the economy as the highest priority.

Ever since becoming the prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, like former U.S. President Bush and former Australian prime minister, John Howard, has said that we cannot reduce greenhouse gas emissions to meet Kyoto because of its negative effects on the economy.

Let us remember that economics and ecology are derived from the same Greek word, oikos, meaning household or domain. Ecology is the study of home while economics is its management. Ecologists try to determine the conditions and principles that enable life to survive and flourish. By elevating the economy above ecological principles, we think we are immune to the laws of nature

This human-created entity – the economy - is therefore fundamentally flawed, so flawed that it is inevitably destructive.

For example, in battles over forests, coral reefs or wetlands, environmentalists are often forced to argue in the economic realm. Thus, while the forest industry may claim the obvious economic benefits of jobs, lumber and pulp, environmentalists must counter with the possible monetary value of potential medicines, new genetic material for crops, harvesting of fruits and nuts, or tourism.

Yet the reality is forests perform “services” that maintain the conditions necessary for all life. Forests store and pump out water, regulating weather and climate; they remove carbon dioxide from the air and generate oxygen by photosynthesis; and they provide essential habitat to countless other species. Such “ecosystem services” are priceless: they keep the planet healthy for animals like us, but they are ignored by conventional economists as “externalities”. Let’s put the eco back into economics.

Our lives are absolutely dependent on clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity, without them, we sicken and die. Yet the economy is built on extracting raw materials from the biosphere and pouring wastes back into it. So disregarding nature and her services is ultimately suicidal, yet it’s exactly what conventional economics does. (The tragedy - and the opportunity - is that if done properly, many renewable resources

Table of Contents

Foreword Margaret Atwood vii

Introduction 1

1 Evolution of a Superspecies 5

2 Finding a New Path 37

3 A Vision for the Future 69

Acknowledgements 97

Sources for Quotes 101

References 105

About David Suzuki 111

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The 'legacy' in this lecture is one of truthful words about the hard place we're in, but it's also one of hopeful words: our chance if we will take it for 'opportunity, beauty, wonder and companionship with the rest of creation.' My hope is that we ourselves will emulate David Suzuki and leave legacies in our turn." — Margaret Atwood

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