Cross Country Checkup

David Suzuki decries pipeline approval, calls for unity on 'existential crisis' of climate change

Warning that Canadians have little time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow climate change, Suzuki shared his thoughts on the politics of climate change and took calls from Cross Country Checkup listeners.

'If the Raptors could get all of Canada united, then what the hell?’ says Suzuki

Environmentalist David Suzuki joins Green Party Leader Elizabeth May during a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, June 14, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
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Environmentalist David Suzuki says Canadians have little time to reach greenhouse gas emissions targets recommended by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last October.

The report detailed that annual carbon dioxide pollution levels, which are still rising now, would have to drop by about half by 2030 and then be near zero by 2050.

"We've got very little time to make a major shift in our energy use ... basically reduce our emissions by 50 per cent. That's a big ask," Suzuki said.

Speaking with Cross Country Checkup on Sunday, Suzuki, host of CBC-TV's The Nature of Things, criticized the federal government for re-approving an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the plan on Tuesday. 

That announcement came just a day after the House of Commons passed a non-binding motion declaring that Canada is in the midst of a "national climate emergency."

Suzuki spoke with Checkup host Duncan McCue on Sunday about the politics of climate change and he took calls from listeners.

Here's part of that conversation.

What was your reaction when the Canadian government re-approved the Trans Mountain pipeline?

I didn't know what the hell is going on. I mean, we have our Parliament now declaring a climate emergency, which is right on, and at the same time, approving pipelines.

So long as we're down there discussing pipelines — and the threats to the southern resident whales, the possibility of spills, carbon taxes being too big — we're not going to do what has to be done.

Your caller Geoffrey said it right at the beginning: read the IPCC report that came out in October of last year. And that said, we've got very little time to make a major shift in our energy use ... basically reduce our emissions by 50 per cent.

That's a big ask.

Steel pipe to be used in the oil pipeline construction of the Canadian government’s Trans Mountain Expansion Project lies at a stockpile site in Kamloops, B.C., on June 18, 2019. (Dennis Owen/Reuters)

Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson says there's no inconsistency: we can expand Trans Mountain and meet Paris emissions targets. What do you make of that?

As long as we're in the political arena, then we're not going to be serious about dealing with the IPCC challenge.

The problem, you see, is that the issue now, the timeframes are so long.

Even [former prime minister Stephen] Harper, who was someone that didn't want to even talk about climate, was forced ultimately to set a target — but he set it way the hell away. He knew he wouldn't be around when the time came to say, 'Have we met these targets?'

The Liberals accepted the Harper targets and ... we've never met any of the targets we've declared that we're committed to and we punt. We put off the decisions.

Well, time has run out. We don't have time to wade through the next election and then have an argument to the next election after that. We've got to start now and we've got to make the commitment.

This is no longer a partisan issue. If the Raptors could get all of Canada united, then what the hell? Why can't we all be united on an existential crisis now? This is no longer a political issue.

I agree with Jason Kenney. He needs a war room, but he's got his guns aimed the wrong way.

We should be all working on a war room against climate change, but the IPCC says we have very, very little time to act on it.

John Vissers in Abbotsford, B.C., asked Suzuki: What is the very best thing I and my neighbours could be doing right now to help with this whole issue; to say enough already?

I really believe October 21st is the deadline. This is going to determine whether, in fact, we're going to be serious about the IPCC target or not.

That means you've got to be involved. We have what's called a democracy. We've got to play that role now and be very, very active in the political process. And what you've got to do is demand of everybody running for office: is climate your number one issue?

It has to be the issue that all parties are saying, 'We're going to take this very seriously,' and act on it.

Everybody's looking for some kind of magic bullet. I don't have any, but I think that we have an opportunity not only to make climate the top issue of this election, but to say that we're taking the science seriously.

You know if we get bogged down in discussing the economics and jobs and the ecological threat to orcas and all of that stuff, we're not dealing really with the science that says we have a short window of opportunity to avoid absolute climate chaos.


This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. With files from Samantha Lui.

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