Dr. David Suzuki – geneticist, environmentalist and the planet’s Steward-in-Chief – and Jeff Rubin – economist, award-winning author, and petrol price-prognosticator – arrived to a packed house at the Centretown United Church on Tuesday night. The event, part of their multi-city Eco Tour and organized by Octopus books, was moderated by the leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May (a last minute replacement for CBC Ottawa Radio host, Robyn Bresnahan). The two impassioned, albethey alternatively motivated special guests delivered a refreshingly complementary one-two punch of economic and moral arguments for how climate change will or should be addressed.
Mr. Rubin’s argument, most recently espoused in his bestselling book The End of Growth and in his regular blog, is that when our global economy is “fed cheap oil, it runs like a charm,” but when that price goes up, the economy lags. Rubin added that while we may lament a poor economy, that decreased economic output will ultimately yield the reduction in emissions that environmentalists have, for decades, been advocating. “The end of growth should not be viewed as an apocalyptic event, but as salvation”, Mr. Rubin argued.
Rubin’s “running out of the stuff we can afford to burn” argument dovetailed nicely with Dr. Suzuki’s simple, yet eye-opening review of “the nature of things” (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist). Suzuki reminded us how prior to the advent of agriculture, humans carried everything they owned on their backs. Quoting ecologist E.O. Wilson, he opined that we live on a planet that can sustain indefinitely only 200 million people living at the level of most North Americans. He added that we are running a planetary deficit, taking more from the earth than it can sustain, and we have become a force of nature. The audience, filled with the usual suspects of the strong environmentally conscious community in Ottawa, were captivated throughout the presentation, and regularly supported Dr. Suzuki’s passionate pleas for political engagement and rational reassessment of social priorities. “Have we forgotten what the economy is for? It used to serve us,” Suzuki asked rhetorically. “We want nature to fit human constructs. What we have to do is reshape those constructs to fit nature.”
Despite the lamentations of both speakers of forthcoming economic and environmental woe, the event was quite jovial, with a number of comical moments – from Jeff Rubin’s near “Jennifer Lawrence” off the stage, to David Suzuki’s admission of a desire to give a talk to the KKK, if only to inform them that they all descended from Africans. Maybe it was the standing ovation that the audience provided David Suzuki when he first appeared from a door from aside the stage, or perhaps the quiet hiss that could be heard when a questioner asked about fracking, but it was clear that this was an audience full of believers. Yet, the line of questioning from the audience, which included questions about food choices, to population control policies, to alternative energies, betrayed the fact that this crowd of believers may have come to this talk in search of something a little more: direction.