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David Suzuki: Igniting the great global transformation

David Suzuki by Jennifer Roesler Grassy article bees climate
David Suzuki writes a regular column on environmental issues. Photo by Jennifer Roesler.

To resolve the climate crisis, everyone should do their part. But to truly turn things around, we need a transformational shift away from profit-driven consumerism. Everything we do as individuals can make a difference—from driving less to reducing meat consumption to using heat pumps instead of fossil-fuelled home heating.

But the biggest obstacle to resolving the climate and other crises is the excessive amounts of power and wealth large corporations and the extremely rich—as well as state-controlled entities—have amassed under our global economic system.

A recent study by world-renowned researchers for the Carbon Majors Database found that just 57 corporate and state-controlled oil, gas, coal and cement companies have been linked to 80 percent of the world’s fossil carbon dioxide emissions since the 2016 Paris climate agreement. Despite international pledges to reduce emissions, they found that 65 percent of state and 55 percent of private-sector companies had scaled up production in the following seven years. The largest investor-based contributors were Exxon, Shell, BP, Chevron, and Total Energies. State-controlled companies such as Saudi Aramco, Gazprom, and the National Iranian Oil Company have also ramped up production.

According to the International Energy Agency, “Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will require nothing short of the complete transformation of the global energy system.” That means “no new investments in oil, gas and coal,” IEA executive director Fatih Birol, one of the world’s foremost energy economists, said.

The IEA adds that “The pathway is narrow but achievable, and it would bring major benefits for human prosperity and well-being.”

It’s undeniably what most people want. Unfortunately, under our global economic system, most people don’t hold the reins of power, even in democracies. The system encourages massive accumulation and concentration of wealth and power. It makes no sense.

An Oxfam report found that the world’s five richest men have more than doubled their wealth since 2020, at a rate of US$14 million per hour! Meanwhile, at least five billion people worldwide have become poorer. The fact that billionaires even exist—and that we may soon see trillionaires if we don’t correct course soon—is a damning indictment of our disastrous economic system. Especially when so many people are struggling with rising living costs, long work hours, precarious and often dangerous jobs and growing impacts from a changing climate.

No one needs a billion dollars, or private jets, massive yachts and energy-sucking mansions. If you think that some might deserve their wealth because of hard work and brilliant ideas, consider that “All of the world’s billionaires younger than 30 inherited their wealth,” as the Guardian points out—and that massive wealth transfer is accelerating.

Most people are too consumed with trying to survive and make ends meet as living costs rise and working life becomes harder to pay much attention to everything happening around them. Those amassing obscene wealth want to keep it that way, especially those involved in deadly enterprises like fossil fuel exploitation. They buy politicians and media to promote their interests and fool the public into thinking that everything is fine and everyone can get ahead if they just try harder.

Looking at all that’s going on in the world, from increasing climate disruption to growing wealth inequality, along with severe global conflict, much of it over “resources”, it’s plain to see we’re on a collision course. The only ones truly benefiting are the very rich, and even they won’t thrive on a dying planet.

Shifting course, transforming not just our energy and economic systems but also our ways of thinking, will benefit the vast majority of the world’s people, not to mention all the other life forms that share this small blue planet.

Transforming our global energy systems in ways that treat workers and marginalized people fairly and recognizing our place in nature can help drive the necessary greater transformation. But while we must all do our part to cut consumption and energy use and reduce waste, the most important step is for each of us to get involved, get informed and push for better ways, whether it’s through voting, protesting, communicating with each other or some or all of these.

We’re running out of time. We the people need to take back the power.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with David Suzuki Foundation senior writer and editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

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David Suzuki

David Suzuki

David Suzuki is Canada’s best-known environmentalist.

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