Suzuki deliveres Commonwealth Lecture


Dr Suzuki started the Lecture by urging people to consider the collective impact of 6.6 billion human beings living in one planet.

"When I was born in 1936, there were two billion people in the world.  In my lifetime, the population has more than tripled.  We are now the most numerous mammal on Earth and since each of us has to be fed, clothed and sheltered, the collective ecological footprint of our species just from basic living is now very large. But in the past century, our increased technological prowess has been astounding, providing us with the capacity to alter the biological, physical and chemical features of the planet on a geological scale."

Dr Suzuki illustrated the precarious state of the earth’s living matter with a test-tube analogy.
"Let us take a system analogous to the planet, namely a test tube full of food for bacteria.  We introduce one bacterium and it proceeds to divide every minute so at time 0, there is one cell, at 1 minute there are 2 cells, 2 minutes, 4 cells, 3 minutes, 8 cells, etc until at 60 minutes, the entire test tube is full of  bacteria and there is no food left, so it’s a 60 minute growth cycle.  When is the test tube half full?  Of course, the answer is at 59 minutes.  So at 58 minutes, the test tube is 25% full, at 57 minutes, it’s 12.5% full.  At 55 minutes, the tube is 3% full, and if at that moment, one bacterium announces they have a population problem, the others would scoff that 97% of the test tube is empty and they’ve been in existence for 55 minutes." 

"So suppose the bacteria are no more prescient than humans and at 59 minutes wake up to the fact that they have only one minute left and splash money to the bacterial scientists who create three new test tubes full of food.  So in less than a minute, they quadruple the amount of food and space.  For humans, it would mean adding three more planets." 

"So are they saved?  Well, at 60 minutes, the first test tube is full, at 61 minutes, the second is full and at 62 minutes, all four are full.   By quadrupling the amount of food and space, they buy two extra minutes and how can we add even a fraction of one percent more air, water, soil or biodiversity?  And every biologist I’ve discussed this with agrees that we are already past the 59th minute!" 

"When I address politicians or businesspeople, they are often outraged at that statement when they can point to stores brimming with goods, food in abundance and a population living longer and healthier than ever.  I do not apologize for my contention.  We are living under an illusion of abundance by using up the proper legacy of our children and grandchildren."

Speaking on the particular relevance for Commonwealth countries, Dr Suzuki said, "We need the perspective of many small island states in the Commonwealth. They are the canaries in the coal mine. I was there at Kyoto when the small island states pleaded, with no effect, for environmental redress." Dr Suzuki said developed countries need to lead by example. "If a rich country does not tackle environmental issues, why should a country like Bangladesh reduce carbon emissions?"

Dr Suzuki said that as human beings we are created out of the elements of the earth. "There is no environment ‘out there’ and we are ‘over here’ needing to manage our relationship with the environment ," he said.  "We are in the environment. We take a breath of air and some of that air stays in us. We are the environment. The crisis of the environment is a crisis of human beings. This should be the new shift the environmental focus."

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