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David Suzuki and the Paradigm of Growth

Written By: - Date published: 10:50 pm, November 12th, 2010 - 24 comments
Categories: greens, sustainability - Tags: ,

Here is a fantastic presentation from Dr David Suzuki, about why our obsession with economic growth is suicidal.  Watch it – it’s pretty powerful stuff.

He’s the keynote speaker at the Green’s Conference on Sustainable Economics.  His key theme is that our obsession with growth is suicidal.  We have a limited amount of resources, and if we keep growing our population, and/or growing our economies – they’ll all be used up.

We need a new way of thinking, that’s not the more, more, more of consumerism.  We have so much wealth already, more won’t make us happier – although if we spread the wealth more equitably that will.  We need to reign in the avarice and get on with enjoying life…

24 comments on “David Suzuki and the Paradigm of Growth”

  1. Richard 1

    Out of curiosity, how are we meant to slow global population growth without the one tool that has historically shown to be needed: expanding the economies of the developing world? Something modelled on the One Child Policy? That’s worked pretty swimmingly, unless you’re a girl.

    • Vicky32 1.1

      Seconded, Richard…

    • M 1.2

      Yes, bad karma if you’re a female under the One Child Policy.

      Humane population reduction is going to be headache whether it\’s fewer children born or not prolonging people’s lives at the end.

      Maybe adopting the Indian model might be better. A while ago, I think it was the documentary series”The People’s Century” there was footage shown of the government’s campaign “You have two, that will do” and men could get vasectomies free IIRC.

      Cash is now an incentive in India to delay couples starting families:


    • bbfloyd 1.3

      and what happens when the expansion reaches it’s limits? does anyone who advocates “growth” as a way of being have the slightest interest in, or plans to cope with that reality? or are you assuming that we will have found another planet to populate, and therefore continue the pattern?

      • M 1.3.1

        Not advocating growth at all but with India’s birth rate at 2.6 children per couple it may be a good start as I think many people want to have a child.

        China’s record of forced abortions, abortions based on sex of the foetus and the imbalance in the population because males are preferred over females shows that the policy has had uninteded consequences. These methods of quelling population growth may be good if clinically looking at numbers but real people are involved here.

        I believe that the approaching drop in resources: water, fertile land, fossil fuels to name a few will have people maybe having just one child or none at all because existence is going to become pretty grim, more so for those in densely populated areas on the globe. In the same way people delayed having families in the Depression and WWII when money and resources were tight I think this will be repeated but there will no loosening of the bonds like there was post WWII where people went out and had screeds of kids all possible because of oil.

        Being cognizant of the approaching doom we face coupled with the knowledge of humanity’s fondness for replicating itself there needs to be some hard talk and real leadership from leaders of countries and religions because as you say there is no other planet to move to.

  2. RedLogix 2

    Population decline is quite common in some countries, even without a “One Child Policy” like China.

    The crucial elements of this seem to be:

    1. Education and status of women.

    2. A sense that the one or two children whom a family does have, will most probably survive to adulthood.

    3. An assurance of an adequate social safety net as one approaches old age.

    If you get these things right, at least, then it seems most people happily choose to have fewer children. The few who do have more than say three, are counterbalanced by those who remain childless.

  3. Population growth isn’t the problem, the abuse of the available resources and their distribution is the main worry the human species faces. I may have misinterpreted what Suzuki is saying, but he seems to be advocating a form of ethnic cleansing (‘population control’) in the poorest areas of the world – Africa, South-East Asia, South/Central America, India/Pakistan/Bangladesh – as a means of protecting the privileged life styles of those in the most affluent countries.

    People in the poorest parts of the world are, more or less, forced to produce multiple offspring. Not only as a consequence of the limited resources available for birth control, but in response to economic necessity. The poorest countries have no means -aside from the economics of begging- of attending to the needs of their most vulnerable populations. The most effective means of ensuring a longer life is producing enough kids to care for them once they are too old to adequately care for themselves. Because infant and child mortality is so high in so many countries multiple offspring are the necessary response to the economic environment: the more kids you produce the greater the likelihood enough will survive to contribute to the economic health of the family..

    The same paradigm does not exist in the more affluent western societies where the production of multiple offspring isn’t required to maintain the comfort of the parents. The problem with the slow growth of the western population is their increasing growth of consumption, the wealthier a person is the greater their negative impact on the environment.

    Realistically, there needs to be a massive transfer of resources, technology, education, health-care and general wealth to the most desperate portions of humanity. This wealth, these resources must be stripped out of the control of the elite groupings that use them to maintain a paradigm which is ultimately suicidal for the human species. The wealthiest sectors of the global ‘village’ (a tedious euphemism for the wealthiest 1% of the planets population) are not only a threat to the working class, they are a threat to the survival of humanity. This threat to the survival of the species needs to be dealt with soon and with ‘extreme prejudice’.

    (sorry for the bloviated version of redlogix response)

    • Bill 3.1

      On the population front.

      How many Pakistanis or Indians or Fijians etc, etc, etc does it take to produce the warming gas emissions of one USer or Canadian, NZer etc, etc, etc? The answer is ‘many’.

      On the birth rate in the ‘third world’, some are claiming (astoundingly by my mind) that this is coming under control as aspirational villagers move to urban slums in search of ‘the good life’ where they have fewer children.

      People are not the problem. Industrial production and consumption is. End.

      edit. And as for Suzuki, who labels himself as an ‘Elder’ and complains that Kim Hill’s reasonable interview was one of the most ‘negative’ he had taken part in; he’s a prat. Which is not to say that he is not a prat prattling on around some salient ideas and facts. Jut that the ideas and facts get inevitably and unfortunately coloured.

      • Robert Atack 3.1.1

        Alas Bill at 200,000 new humans a day we are the ‘Industrial production’

      • blacksand 3.1.3

        interesting; I just had a listen to that interview and I don’t think that comment of his in closing is a bit brief to judge him on. It was interesting to compare her retort (she would say that she’d given him the opportunity to state his case) and his reply (well ok) with the Hill/ Pilger dust-up which left me disgusted with both of them – she’s definitely got better at reacting to criticism!

        It’s going back a bit, but what seemed to be happening in the Pilger interview was that he was used to being interviewed by people who just could not compute what he was talking about – Kim Hill’s devil’s advocate approach came across fitting into this mould, and his contempt shone through. Kim Hill in turn reacted to him as an interviewee behaving badly and it got out of control so all we saw was two strong willed goats butting heads.

        It looks like David Suzuki saw her questioning in the same light, and mistook it – I think this reflects more on the media these two had encountered through their whole careers more than it does KH or them. DS handled it better than John Pilger, I was listened to the entire interview wondering what the fuss was about, and that he was bothered enough to say something, but left it right to the end to say anything is to his credit.

        I do think some of KH’s questions were a bit dissappointing, I’d have though by now she’d get the difference between science and technology & this is an important distinction for me. Science is about learning what happens; by and large this is pretty important. Technology is about applying our understanding of what’s going on.

        It’s that application phase where the consequences hit – we develop tools, and all tools (by and large!) have a capacity to do harm and to do good. All tools need to be used safely and effectively (and DDT is a very good example of this). That tools can cause harm is not a consequence of the science behind them, but of the steps (or lack of steps) between their development and their use.

        It’s not the learning, and understanding where things get messy – its the applying, and if there are consequences, where they fall that is the problem.

      • Robert Atack 3.1.4

        maybe thias is your answer Bill?

    • Vicky32 3.2

      Excellent points, Andrew!

  4. If we ALL went out tomorrow and got sterilized, and aborted the kids in the production line, it would do nothing to stop what is already in motion.
    People can prattle on about one child this or two is enough or whatever. Simply we are about 30 years behind the effects of climate change now, we are about 70 ppm over the limit of CO2 that is a sustainable level for human existence (long term) … the oceans are dying, the top soil is dying … making it imposable for us to create the predicted amount of food we will need over the life time of any child or 20 year old alive today … we have to grow as much human food over the next 50 years as ‘we’ have grown over the past 10,000, it doesn’t take a bloke flying all the way from Canada to tell us this. (expanding his foot print)
    And you think Kiwi Saver is going to survive, yeah right
    Who gave us this scam?

    “Damn right I’m feisty, I’ve got nothing to lose. When I’m on my deathbed I want my Grandchildren to be gathered around, and I want to be able to look at them and say ‘I did the best I could’.”
    David Suzuki

    The man is an idiot for having children in the first place and his children must be retards to have continued his horrific mistake … weren’t they listening to dad ?? They probably vote green

    • blacksand 4.1

      You’re not from the VHEM are you? You sound pretty righteous on it.

      I’d like to have children, and I’ll make damn sure that they’ll be raised to understand what they need to get by and enjoy life, just like my parents passed their parent’s values on to me. For all your criticism above, you’re pretty sparse on solutions; correct me if I’m wrong but you don’t have anything better than being a sanctimonious prick.

      If you think that opting out is going to do anything other than guaranteeing that a higher proportion of tomorrow’s children are raised by people who don’t give a shit, then you’re missing a point or two.

      • Robert Atack 4.1.1

        vhemt.org is the solition … but alas most people think with their pricks and that is why we are crashing and burning (

      • Robert Atack 4.1.2

        I always say we are screwed no matter what, Nature doesn’t care if she starts to shed us at 7 billion or 9 billion we are going to zero, and it doesn’t matter if 1 million or 10 million spices go extinct per day, they are going extinct anyway, it is going to take millions and millions of years for the planet to resemble anything remotely like pre-human, My point is if you love your children half as much as I love my dog why would any parent try and force there child to survive what is under way?
        You might as well have them in a 10 story high maternity ward and drop them on the highway. Maybe to maintain the ego of the parents you could compare splat photos, because with all the information out there now you are ignoring the precautionary principle and gambling with your child’s life http://www.oilcrash.com/articles/precautn.htm
        ‘We’ spend more time deciding on a house or what type of dog we are going to get than at the potential future survivability of our child in an obviously stressed planet.
        I was just bloody lucky not to have any, and once I found out how lucky, I made sure I wouldn’t.
        I used to think New Zealand might be one of the last countries with a lifestyle worth a dam, but I think we are fast catching up with the rest of the world Fontera is making sure of that, and our instance on more population.

  5. Suzuki … by his production of children, is so far behind the issue it is not funny, maybe if he had his ears screwed on 30 years ago he might have listened to this guy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DVSCA0z8ZjM
    I’ve got Albert’s full lecture on exponential growth, which I think he has been giving for over 30 years, on DVD for those awake enough to bother
    for a free copy (including the movie Blind Spot) email me
    I know 75 copies of this lecture were handed out amongst National party mps 3 years ago … watch what they couldn’t (or couldn’t admit to watching)

  6. john 6

    Yes as R.A.,says, It’s all too late now,truly,the damage is done :WE have reached peak overshoot!
    On a lighter note Suzuki’s book on the sacred interconnectedness of all life on Planet Earth titled “The Sacred Balance” is the most passionate and brilliant book I’ve ever read about Man’s place in Nature. Suzuki however has the same human failings we all have: Growth’s ok for him( More Children and Grandchildren and Great Grandchildren) but everyone else must stop: The tragedy of the commons : I don’t have to change just everyone else!

    • bbfloyd 6.1

      once again, we have an important subject sidetracked by people choosing to focus on portions of the issue rather than the complete picture… so far, all that has been written about here is regarding population growth.. and i have to say that i’m not impressed with the lack of intellectual vigour shown in the race to discredit the arguments put forward in the original post…

      if anyone is interested, there was an economic component of the presentation…. does nobody here have the ability,or interest in addressing that portion of the issue? because it strikes me that one of the underlying reasons for most of the imbalances in world society are created by the economic strategies pursued by the majority of the worlds leading economies.

      once again.how can an economy that relies on “growth” continue to provide what society requires once the available resources have reach maximum capacity? if growth is a vital component of economic health, then how do we deal with the atrophy that follows when the limits to growth have been reached… assume that another “war to end all wars” will thin the population out enough to be able to continue on with the growth strategies?

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        Agreed. Suzuki was saying a whole lot of things beyond the population issue. I for one enjoyed the Kim Hill interview, even though Kim was being more than her usual ‘devil’s advocate curmudgeon’….Suzuki still managed to convey his message very well.

        Yes the infinite growth model is madness. But we are addicted to it because most people are very locked into ‘imitating the past’. The Green Party get’s 5-10% of the vote because that’s the portion of the population who are not change averse, who understand that transitioning to a green economy does not imply a leap back to medieval living standards…even though there may superficially appear to be some similarities.

        Indeed it’s a bad assumption to think that all life in the medieval times was necessarily miserable. Mostly if they were fortunate to live in a benign environment, or were well adapted to it, they lived relatively decent lives. The huge limitation was their lack of knowledge, so that disease, lack of clean water and sanitation, inability to plan children, inefficient agriculture and so on (the same things that still plague third world countries today) were the main limitations they faced. Understandably that’s not a prospect most folk in the developed world today would relish being imposed on them.

        The quantum change between the medieval era and our future is the availability of knowledge to everyone. The internet will always be with us and that alone assures us that while the manner of our future lives will be different, it will not have to be a life lived in ignorance. We know far more about health maintenance, medicine, highly efficient permaculture techniques, renewable energy production, efficient transport and so-on to make living in a ‘de-powered’ localised world a far more attractive proposition than the anxiety-inducing rat-race we live in today.

        Indeed there is no reason why with the right political, ethical and economic frameworks in place, the majority of people should not live comfortable, productive and interesting lives… with no more than 20hrs per week of effort to sustain themselves. All the ideas and technologies are known and available to achieve this. The only barrier is our own fixation on past habits.

        Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to steel. Steel leads to weight. Weight leads to suffering.

      • M 6.1.2

        bbfloyd, sure most of the posts have been about population numbers but don’t more people equal more consumption of resources? Even if people live in the third world where consumption is unbelievably modest compared with ours and ours modest when compared with the US, there is still consumption enhanced by growing numbers of people.

        Economic strategies by leading economies have encouraged massive overconsumption, much of it attained through access to cheap and easily available credit and now that the first world countries are saturated with consumer goods the big corporations have moved in to sink their fangs into the third world.

        I believe that economies, resources and populations that depend on them will follow a never ending drop which in many places will be non-linear.

  7. john 7

    Hi bbfloyd
    I think this feedback loop explains our situation clearly. It comes from Richard Heinberg\’s book \”Peak Everything\”:
    population growth – More fossil fuel extraction – More available Energy – Increased extraction of other resources and production of food and other goods – population growth

    The above feedback loop is breaking apart: Oil supply heading downwards, coal and oil to follow.Extractable resources are declining, Energy supply heading southwards.
    Negative feedbacks are happening with climate change limiting food availability,fished out oceans etc,
    View this animation:

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