Respected geneticist and professor emeritus at the University of British Columbia, Dr. David Suzuki addressed a capacity crowd at Portland State University, presenting “The Nature Challenge – Setting the Real Bottom Line for Communities.”
Sponsored by PSU, the Portland Office of Sustainable Development and Nike, the hall was filled with students, visitors and nature enthusiasts from Portland and the entire state of Oregon.
City Commissioner Dan Saltman welcomed the audience and thanked the sponsors in helping make sustainable development a reality.
The director of the city’s sustainable practices, Susan Anderson, expressed enthusiasm for the turnout and the growing number of people interested in sustainable practices. She described the day as being a special turning point for her organization, as it marked a change from merely providing technical assistance to interested organizations and communities to providing educational assistance as well.
Lee Weinstein, Nike’s representative, introduced Suzuki with a mention of his numerous awards in his work of creating an awareness of the importance of sustainable practices.
Suzuki expressed his pleasure being back in Portland and was motivated by the large turnout for the evening. Describing the Portland community as being well aware of the importance of intelligent living, he praised the community for the work it had already achieved as the local community served as the connector of basic human survival.
Describing the ratification of the Kyoto Agreement as a significant and proud moment for him and his fellow Canadians, he said that the real issue for him was about the future and legacy for the future and the children.
Suzuki expressed displeasure at society’s teaching that the economy is all-important.
“To me, as a biologist, its confusing that the economy comes before the biosphere,” Suzuki said. “We live in the biosphere just as the economy does.”
He elaborated on North America’s penchant for holding the economy as the highest priority and measuring progress by the extent to which the economy as grown.
“Will anyone ever ask how much is enough?” he asked.
Suzuki said the human race is collectively taking more than it has to give from the environment.
“We live in a world that is connected and every act carries consequences,” said Suzuki amid applause from the audience.
He offered a way to right this act.
“A city is a biological desert,” he said. “It has none of the biodiversity of the rural life, and therefore our reference point has diminished by living in the cities. We desperately need our elders to tell us how it was to allow us to focus on a new reference point.”
Concluding his hour-and-a-half-long speech, Suzuki described the global economy as the greatest destroyer.
“We are predicated on the notion that the greatest thing to hit the planet is us,” he said. “That is why we measure the economy as a success point. Sometime the economy and the biosphere is going to crash and test the limits and we are going to be in trouble.”
Suzuki then opened the floor for discussion. He was asked how he proposed to bring back the connection between human life and nature without losing the efficiency of urban life.
He said that he was encouraged by the statistics that show parents are taking children to zoos more than to soccer games.
“Schools need programs to send children out to experience nature. We need to be smarter about our close living,” he said.
Suzuki was also asked for his thoughts on the U.S. media’s current obsession with the space program.
“I have never been a fan of the amount of money spent on space,” he said. “I have never understood the idea of humans in space, the enormous problems to counter that goal and why they can’t do it mechanically. Lets put our efforts where are priorities are, and that’s good old Mother Earth.”