Appeared in Business in Vancouver – December 3, 2013
There is a distinct meanness attending reports of the aging and disillusionment – the two frequently are chums – of David Suzuki. A smirking triumphalism, as if over annoying, profit-averse environmentalism itself. Like a deathbed conversion, it cheers somebody.
The obvious rejoicers include some business people and their boosters whom the putative pope of the environment excommunicates from decent society and casts into the eschatological hell of global darkness. (Don’t be alarmed, the word just means the end, last bell on Wall Street, won’t be seeing ya Monday.)
Pope David’s gloom that his life’s work is ashes – “environmentalism has failed,” he wrote in a 2012 blog, snatched by Maclean’s as its cover teaser – is akin to the other pope musing that maybe the Resurrection is a bit of a stretcher after all. Suzuki believes that environmentally things are getting worse. He does retain hope, which, as John Bunyan may have written, makes a poor guide but a good companion.
The most visible symbol of the movement, Suzuki is 77, an age when even a global rescuer’s world tends to shrink to a room, a cup of tea, even a best-friend cat or dog. A University of B.C. professor emeritus (whose c.v. runs to 17 pages, Maclean’s writer Jonathan Gatehouse reports, and includes an astonishing 25 honorary degrees), these days Suzuki sometimes can’t send a word from brain to lips, and fears the dementia that afflicted other family members.
Suzuki’s most nastily gleeful deconstructionist is Ezra Levant – “Sun News Network shouting head,” as Gatehouse wittily describes him. Levant, whose views are admirable when I find them admirable and aren’t when I don’t, chortled about the sage’s worldly materialism and wealth. Such as: his $8 million Kitsilano house (bought in 1975 for $145,000, a common Vancouver escalation), and a stunning $41,000 fee, marked down $10,000 through Gatehouse’s more accurate inquiries, for a fundraising day and speech last year at Montreal’s John Abbott College.
“The fallen saint,” the Toronto Sun sneered.
Placing my delicate fingers on the earth, I detect that Suzuki drew rumbles of suspicion and indeed jealousy from the cause’s other disciples long before Levant’s verbal meat axe. A contact on the Dark Side – adviser to several big-name oil and pipeline companies – states that a classmate pegged Suzuki as a nascent enviro-businessman.
Cursed by employment in a suspicious trade, I wonder if, say, front-line, danger-courting Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society or Tzeporah Berman looks archly on Suzuki’s fame the way I suspect Margaret Atwood privately eats her guts out about Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize in literature. Hey, just guessin’.
Allow a partial statement of my own opinions. I knew and loved the environment so long ago she was called Mother Nature. I was indelibly marked at earliest age by the now-forgotten books of Thornton W. Burgess and Ernest Thompson Seton.
I am far, far left of the environmentalist movement, certainly its anthropocentric element. The childhood hymn about God seeing the little sparrow fall brings tears to my eyes. On greyest days a chickadee flitting in branches outside my room lifts my heavy heart. Earth must be loved for itself alone.
That said, I’m also a confessed hypocrite. I own Enbridge, TransCanada and various energy stocks. At any moment I’m 51 for, 49 against, either way, on northern resource or any exploitation, versus leaving the sacred wilderness in peace, even if a pipeline thrust through forest and river transported nothing but jelly beans.
When I’m in favour of those enterprises, this tips the balance: I can’t in all conscience deny the livelihoods of distant, hard-working people who, in my West Vancouver ghetto, I will never meet.
© Trevor Lautens, 2013