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‘Setting the Bottom Line in the Anthropocene’

Dr. David Suzuki delivers talk at SWP 20th anniversary celebration

Dr. David Suzuki, a noted Canadian environmental scientist, author and climate activist, delivers a talk entitled “Setting the Bottom Line in the Anthropocene” at the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust’s 20th anniversary celebration on Nov. 7. Suzuki’s speech focused on how humans became the major influence on the planet’s climate and humanity’s imminent responsibility to take action against climate change at local, national and global levels. (Journal photo by Cecilia Brown)

MARQUETTE — Humans have become the dominant influence on the planet’s climate and environment, marking the current geological age as the Anthropocene epoch. Due to this, scientists across the globe are urging humanity to recognize that our species can impact — for better or worse — the planet’s well-being and habitability for generations to come.

This was discussed during a talk titled “Setting the Bottom Line in the Anthropocene” by noted Canadian environmental scientist, author and climate activist Dr. David Suzuki at the Superior Watershed Partnership and Land Trust’s 20th-anniversary celebration on Nov. 7 at the Marquette Regional History Center.

“We’re at an unprecedented moment,” Suzuki said. “In the 3.8 billion years that life has existed on this planet, there has never been a single species with the power to alter the chemical, physical and biological properties of the Earth as we are now doing.”

In the early days of humanity, our species lived in nomadic hunter-gatherer societies, and later, in largely agricultural communities, he said.

These lifestyles contributed to an “ecocentric” approach to life and land, Suzuki said, as humans became attuned to the delicate balance of the ecosystems they inhabited because this was necessary for survival.

“When you live in a state of nomadic hunter-gatherer, you know very, very well that you are deeply embedded in a very complex web of relationships: relationships with other species of animals and plants, and air, water, soil and sunlight,” he said. “These are all critical elements of the way to live. That’s what’s called an ecocentric way of seeing our place in the world. We’re a part of a very complex web, which we are absolutely dependent (on).”

However, as centuries and millennia went on, the relationship between humans and the Earth began to change, he said. Many societies developed anthropocentric world views based on ideals of human exceptionalism and humanity’s perceived right to “go forth and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it,” Suzuki said.

Communities, towns and cities formed; lands were explored and taken from their original inhabitants; and technology developed, allowing people to extract minerals and fossil fuels from the earth and build factories, spurring an unending drive toward growth, production and consumption, he said.

“It was easy to begin to think we really are special, we are so intelligent, we no longer have to be confined by the restrictions of biology or nature,” he said. “We just have to be smart enough and we can transgress any kind of law or principles of the natural world. We were no longer bound and to observe the laws of nature.”

With this anthropocentric world view has come the long-term prioritization of the economy over the environment, he said.

This endless growth has come with disastrous consequences for the planet and its people, Suzuki said, as human activities have led to climate change and the disruption of “the critical elements that should be regarded as sacred.” These elements are air, water, soil, biodiversity and sunlight and they compose “the foundation of all life on Earth,” Suzuki said.

“The economy is a human construct, but we elevate that above the natural world. And the economy that we’ve come to accept now is based on the creed of cancer,” he said. “It’s based on the need, the belief, in endless growth. Nothing in a finite world can grow forever. Cancer cells think they can grow forever. And of course, if you don’t do something about it, the end result is death.”

However, there’s still time to change, he said.

There isn’t much time — less than 12 years, according to the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report — but Suzuki has hope.

He believes society can still make a unified, concentrated effort to reduce emissions and fight climate change quickly, much like the way the United States focused a great deal of time, energy and resources to win the space race and land a man on the moon.

“Americans had no idea how they were going to achieve it. They just made the commitment, and then threw every bit of their energy and resources at it … There are dozens and dozens of spin-offs nobody anticipated, but all resulted from the commitment to get to the moon first,” Suzuki said. “And I believe that’s exactly the same with climate. This is a crisis that we’re heading towards, but it’s an enormous opportunity. Nobody knows what the final real solutions are going to be, but as we engage ourselves at the level of our own lives — but also at a level of government and business — enormous opportunities are going to fall out of this. The important thing is to seize that crisis and make the commitment.”

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.