Our Canadian campus, transplanted here to the sands of the Middle East, would not think of making a big deal out of Christmas. That would be a cultural imposition. But Earth Day? Forget about it. A week’s festivities, the campus festooned accordingly, a free screening of “An Inconvenient Truth,” among other movies, activities, quizzes, contests, and a live lecture by David Suzuki, shipped in ‘specially from Canada at great expense in CO2 emissions.
I could not attend the talk, exactly—it was SRO, and I had to watch it by closed circuit from an adjoining room.
What struck me most forcefully was the extreme conservatism of Suzuki’s position. He spoke only of stopping things, of preventing things, or protesting things. When he spoke of the “sacred elements,” he meant, not the elements in the periodic table, but the ancient Greek elements earth, air, fire, and water; and his god is Gaea. He is advocating, in effect, a return to pre-Christian paganism, turning the intellectual clock back 2,000 years. He felt, speaking of the Newfoundland seal hunt, that five hundred years was much too short a time to have established a traditional culture. And, most strikingly, the clarion call on which he ended his speech was “I want to preserve a world with all the richness and opportunities it had for our grandparents.”
Let’s see; Suzuki was born in 1936. Allowing thirty years to a generation, his grandparents would have been born in 1876 or thereabouts; and would have come to maturity in the last years of the 19th century.
A world of richness and opportunity? Opportunity to die of tuberculosis, or smallpox, or scarlet fever, or to be crippled by polio, I’d say. In 1900, world GDP per person was $680 US. In Canada, it was $2,758. Try to live on that. Today, it’s $6,500; $34,273 for Canada. In Qatar, the average life expectancy would have been about 35. Most Canadian homes in 1900 lacked electricity and running water.