Imagine a theatre full of university students compelled to their feet in a standing ovation following a speech from a septuagenarian. Then picture lineups of eager participants at two microphones–all of them hoping for a chance to speak a few words with this powerful orator and mentor.
Hard to imagine? Not if you’re envisioning Stephen Lewis on the speaker’s podium. Considered one of the greatest humanitarians—and one of the most influential people in the world, he was appearing with a group of concerned students who have banded together to sound the clarion call for our environment.
Students for Sustainability
The Students for Sustainability Campus Tour touched down recently in Vancouver on its cross-Canada odyssey. The tour’s purpose was to share a positive message: we can all participate in actively caring for our environment and in pressuring governments to take action.
Spurred on by their impatience with the intransigence of governing bodies who fail to communicate the urgency of the climate-change crisis, Students for Sustainability was created as a partnership among the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sierra Youth Coalition, and the Canadian Federation of Students.
Helping to deliver the message at campus lectures in 21 universities across Canada, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Victoria, BC, was an impressive stable of high-profile leaders, including David Suzuki, Maude Barlow, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, George Stroumboulopoulos, and Lewis.
At the UBC stop Lewis was preceded on stage by Severn Cullis-Suzuki, environmental activist, speaker, television host, and author and Brendan Brazier, Ironman athlete, lecturer, and writer who developed a system of performance nutrition which is entirely vegan.
Vegan Diet for Our Healthy Planet
Brazier’s presentation drew on his expertise as a professional athlete and nutritional expert to back up his contention that eating a plant-based diet is not only good for our health but also better for the health of our environment.
Using illustrations from his book, The Thrive Diet (Penguin, 2007), Brazier’s presentation highlighted the effects on the planet of our dependence on meat.
Brazier pointed out that 70 percent of the food grown worldwide is destined as animal feed. “But grain fed to cows comes out the other end as methane, which far exceeds the amount of greenhouse gas that comes from the internal combustion engine.”
Brazier cited the finding of a 2006 United Nations report, saying that “animal agriculture is a greater contributor to global warming and climate change as a whole than is all of transportation–from trucks to trains, and even stretch Hummers.”
Intergenerational Love for Sustainability
Next up, on the giant video screen, was a 12-year-old girl delivering a passionate address about the environment to stuffy-looking UN heads of state at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. It was a hard act to follow, but Severn Cullis-Suzuki, now 28 years old, still has plenty of passion for the environment.
“I’ve been fighting for sustainability since I was a little kid,” said Cullis-Suzuki who talked about the relationship between a healthy ecosystem and human well-being. “The Rio Earth Summit was supposed to be a turnaround conference … to set the tone for sustainable development for the 21st century. But all of our ecological problems have gotten worse … the green momentum has been halted by the ‘other green’—the green of Wall Street.”
Cullis-Suzuki called on her audience to invoke the most powerful motivator of all to seek sustainability within a generation (a David Suzuki Foundation initiative): intergenerational love. “Ask your parents what their legacy to you–their cherished children–will be.”
Sustainability for Global Health
Lewis, the closing speaker, built on the themes covered by Brazier and Cullis-Suzuki in his own passionate and persuasive style, blasting “intractable, recalcitrant governments of the world” for their “somnambulant negligence” of the looming environmental “cataclysm.”
He quoted a litany of experts about the immediate threat of global warming to our environment, including the World Wildlife Fund: “We are acting ecologically in the same way as bi-national institutions have been behaving economically–seeking immediate gratification without due regard for the consequences.”
According to Lewis, a common theme among these experts has been the increasing rapidity of climate change. After quoting each expert’s estimate made over the last two or three years of how much time remains to make changes to stem climate calamity, Lewis added that in all cases, when asked recently if they would revise their predictions, everyone answered unequivocally: “Yes.”
Lewis, as did Cullis-Suzuki, drew the inevitable connection between climate change and global health. If we look at Africa, he told the audience, we can already see “the destructive dimensions of global warming … and there’ll be more drought, more hunger, more famine, conflicts over water … in countries that are already struggling with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.”
Lewis lamented that “we have so endlessly played at the periphery of the issue [of climate change]? and he charged the audience to take back the agenda. “When you are fighting to achieve sustainability in a generation, it’s the best objective you can possibly have.”
Further Reading and Resources
- David Suzuki Foundation (davidsuzuki.org)
- Sierra Youth Coalition (syc-cjs.org)
- Severn Cullis-Suzuki speaking at the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio (YouTube)
- The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007) by Tim Flannery
- Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning (South End Press, 2007) by George Monbiot
- The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
- The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, 2006) by Thomas Homer-Dixon