Canadian icon David Suzuki addressed oceans, climate change and other topics concerning the environment before a packed house Wednesday at the Comox Community Centre, included in a tour of Vancouver Island, Northern B.C. and Haida Gwaii.
Dubbed Celebrating Coastal Connections, the 12-day tour draws on the history of work, activism and friendship that Suzuki — and the foundation named after him — has with B.C.’s coastal communities.
It also highlights the need for creative and quick responses from communities to address climate change and other environmental challenges, in light of shellfish die-offs, low snow packs, pine beetle devastation and altered growing seasons. Also locally, warm temperatures in the Puntledge River are endangering the run of chinook salmon.
“For over 20 years, the scientists have been saying, ‘The evidence is in. Climate change is happening, we’re causing it.’ But there’s still a lot of denial,” Suzuki, host of the long-running CBC series The Nature of Things, said in an interview. “This is a world we’ve created.”
Feeling the need for a different angle to spread the message about climate change, Suzuki asked researcher/filmmaker Ian Mauro to make a film that depicts ordinary British Columbians such as fishermen and foresters who work outside to demonstrate that climate change is happening. The film preceded his talk.
Before Wednesday’s event, he said Mauro had interviewed a local shellfish aquaculture operator who lost millions last year because of carbonic acid.
“The ocean’s getting more acidic, and shellfish can’t form their shells when it’s acidic,” Suzuki said. “So I mean … what’s it going to take to convince us it’s happening? We’ve got to get on with solutions. But everybody’s got to come on board and say, ‘This is what we have to do’.”
Suzuki also weighed in on arguments that claim deforestation is a major contributor to flooding, an ongoing local problem.
“Deforestation is a part of it,” he said. “The best carbon capture and storage we have are trees. When we are deforesting by clear cutting, we’re removing one of the most effective things there is. Now, you can’t tell me that when you take a tree that’s 150, 300 years old, and cut it down and put three seedlings in the ground, that that’s replacing this 300-year-old tree.
“Basically, we’re reducing the carbon sink. And often much of that forest is burned, liberating carbon, so it’s a part of the problem.”
On a lighter note, Suzuki was impressed with the number of “white haired” people in the gym at the community centre.
“That’s great. I go to the gym in Vancouver and they’re all young guys pumping iron.”
The tour started Monday in Nanaimo. It has so far sold out in each stop.
“But the thing that’s exciting to me, here we are, we’re in K’ómoks territory and the audience is predominantly white. I love that. One of the big reserves in Vancouver is the Musqueam Reserve, and there are non-natives living on their land — they’ve got 99-year leases — and there is like a gulf between them. It’s as if there’s a fence separating them. So I’m delighted to see there’s a mixture here.”
After the Island portion of his tour, Suzuki ventures to Bella Bella, Smithers, Kitimat, Prince Rupert, Masset and Skidegate. Schools participate through art projects about students’ connections to their coastal homes.
Suzuki implores communities to support the Blue Dot movement to protect Canada’s environment. He said Richmond was the first municipality to pass a declaration.
“We now have 53,” he told the crowd. “Let’s hope for a wave that keeps building.”