The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for our Sustainable Future

The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for our Sustainable Future

David Suzuki, Allen & Unwin

When there’s a choice about our caring for the earth between the needs of grandchildren/human relationships and short-term monetary profits, Suzuki is the best contemporary exponent of “the more responsible way”.

I’d call him a prophet — conveying messages which are so true they’re hurtful and often uncomfortable. He’s sometimes described as “one of the planet’s preeminent elders”. Tim Flannery reckons he’s “the greatest environmentalist of our age.

What a life, what an inspiration!”

His latest book is a compilation of jottings used to make a film about his life and work and is based on the motif of The Legacy (the last lecture a professor gives before retiring, which summarises her/his most passionate ideas).

So Suzuki asks, “If I had one last lecture to give, what would I say?”

This work is brilliant — an eminently readable synthesis of his vision.

Item: “What kind of world would we like to have in a generation? How about one in which the air is clean and children no longer have epidemic levels of asthma? A world that is covered in forests that can be logged forever [because] nature and ecology set the rules. When I was a child, we drank the water from any river or lake — how about aiming for that?”

Ninety-six pages of such hortatory preaching about the Good Earth and how we should care for it is not difficult to read (or understand).

David Suzuki lives in Vancouver (where our family was privileged to sojourn for two years: surely the most beautiful city in the world). Many of his most precious examples come from that part of the world.

Like: “On the west coast of Canada, scientists have only recently discovered that hundreds of the most fertile areas for clams were created by people as clam gardens hundreds of years ago. And as resources collapse under assault by modern industrial forces, we are turning to those reservoirs of traditional knowledge to gain insights into better management processes”.

The promo says: In his own lifetime, Suzuki has witnessed an explosion of scientific knowledge as well as a huge change in our relationship with the planet — a tripling of the world’s population, a greatly increased ecological footprint through the global economy, and a huge growth in technological capacity.

These changes have had a dire effect on Earth’s ecosystems and consequently on our own wellbeing. To deal with this crisis, we must realise that the laws of nature have priority over the forces of economics and that the planet simply cannot sustain unfettered growth.

We must also recognise the limits of scientific reductionism and the need to adopt a more holistic point of view.

Perhaps most important, we must join together as a single species to respond to the problems we face.

Suzuki ends by saying that change begins with each of us; all it takes is imagination and a faith in the inherent generosity of Mother Earth.

This book’s a “must read”. I have half a dozen titles by this author and I’d recommend starting with this one.

Here are some sentences I marked where he got my attention:
* “Imagine a beginning 14 billion years ago in which the entire universe was contained within a single point the size of a period on a typed page. Consider the Big Bang, an explosion of such high temperature that matter could not exist.”
* “Each time the population [of the earth] doubles, the number of people alive is greater than the sum of all other people who have ever lived.”

* “The biosphere is the layer of air, water and land where all species live. It is extremely thin. If Earth were shrunk to the size of a basketball, the layer of topsoil in which our food is grown would be a single atom thick. And on that thin organic mix, humanity’s survival rests … Each year, an estimated 24 billion tons of topsoil is lost throughout the world, in large part because of agricultural practices and desertification. The amount lost over two decades is equal to the entire cropland of the United States. Annually, that represents lost productivity worth over $40 billion.”

Rowland Croucher

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