Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki was in Montreal Wednesday for a town hall discussion on the future of environmental rights in Canada at Quebec Centre for Sustainable Development.
CBC Montreal's Steve Rukavina caught up with the 80-year-old activist Wednesday afternoon and spoke with him about the election of Donald Trump, the acceptance of climate change among Canadians and his efforts to get the right to a healthy environment enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Here's an edited transcript of that interview.
How problematic is the election of Donald Trump for the global environmental movement?
We all celebrated Obama when he made a really historic agreement that the two biggest emitters in the world, the United States and China, would work on climate together. This was the first time that China really came out and said "Yes, we've got a global responsibility" and the first time the United States made a major commitment on reducing emissions.
Both countries went to Paris last year and signed a very good agreement to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 C in this century.
We've now seen the election of man who believes that climate change is a hoax generated by the Chinese, who is determined to pull out of the Paris agreement. … But I think you're going to see the global community, including China, saying, 'Look, we have to do it anyway. We've got no choice."
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How practical is it to proceed with such an agreement without the United States?
They're a major emitter, we have to recognize that, but I don't think it's any reason to say we won't bother going on with it. That's absurd.
Voters in so-called rust-belt states voted for Donald Trump, people working in polluting industries who felt left behind. Do you think that could happen here?
There's no question.
I think that Canada is different in that our climate skeptics and deniers aren't as strong.… The bulk of Canadians accept that climate change is real, and the human use of fossil fuels is a part of it. And they should, because of all countries in the industrialized world, Canada is probably more vulnerable to the impact than any industrialized country. We're a northern country, Inuit have been telling us for over 40 years that the climate is changing.
We have the longest marine coastline of any country in the world. When water warms, it expands, and sea levels rise just from thermal expansion. That is going to affect Canada more than any other country.
And when you think of climate dependent industries — agriculture, forestry, fisheries, tourism — they're all going to be impacted heavily by climate change. So, Canadians, rightfully, realize that climate change is occurring and having an impact.
When you look at the Conservative Party, you look at leadership candidate Michael Chong, who said he favoured a carbon tax. He was booed at a candidates meeting. And when another candidate got up and said, 'I don't think climate is an issue we have to worry about,' he was cheered. So there's still a segment there of Canadians who prefer a Trumpian approach to climate.
So given all this, how optimistic are you about your Blue Dot initiative?
We had nine and a half years very dark years under the Harper regime, and he got booted out. And you can bet he got booted out because people did not like the agenda he had set and the means that he was using to suppress scientists, to attack environmentalists as foreign-funded extremists. Canadians rejected that.
Since we started the Blue Dot initiative, over 140 Canadian municipalities have passed environmental legislation. That includes the big cities — Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Halifax … None in Alberta yet, but we're working on it.
How optimistic are you that Ottawa will get on board?
Very. More than 15 million Canadians live under a jurisdiction that has adopted the Right to Healthy Environment. Well, can you just dismiss half of Canadians?
We need seven provinces with half of Canada's population [to get the Charter of Rights and Freedoms amended] ... We have to have some kind of protection and guarantee of a healthy environment that is no longer subjected to the whims of whatever political party gets elected.
But the environment is political –
That's ridiculous, and you've put your finger on exactly what the problem is.
I've always said to Elizabeth May that there shouldn't be a Green Party. … The Greens own the environment as a political issue, you're right, and it shouldn't be that way. Every party should be concerned about the environment.
You've called this your last fight. Are you at peace with the fact you may not be around to see this achieved?
Oh sure. When we started, I said, 'This is my last kick at the can.' It's a chance to really get people to change the way they see the world.
To me, the important thing is the conversation. Our fundamental needs as animals are clean air, clean water and clean soil. And that's what a healthy environment is about.