It may seem like there’s no hope for change, but we have to remember that most of these developments are recent, and that humans are capable of innovation, creativity, and foresight.

By David Suzuki with contributions from Ian Hanington, David Suzuki Foundation editorial and communications specialist

I'm not the only one unhappy with economic systems based on constant growth and endlessly increasing exploitation of finite resources — systems that concentrate wealth in the hands of a few while so many people struggle.

Since September 17, protests have spread from New York to a growing number of cities across the United States, Europe, and Canada, in a movement dubbed "Occupy Wall Street." The protesters' aims aren't always clear; in some case they seem downright incoherent or absurd — such as calls for open border policies and increased trade tariffs at the same time.

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It's interesting that those credited with spurring the movement did so with a single question: "What is our one demand?" The question was first posed in my hometown of Vancouver by Adbusters magazine. Editor Kalle Lasn said the campaign was launched as an invitation to act more than an attempt to get an answer. Focusing on a single demand may or may not be a useful exercise, but the conversation itself is necessary. Thanks to the attention these protests are generating, union leaders, students, workers, and others have a public forum to raise questions about our current economic systems.

Why have governments spent trillions of dollars in taxpayers' money to bail out financial institutions, many of which fought any notion of government regulation or social assistance, while doing nothing for people who had life savings wiped out or lost homes through foreclosure? And why have governments not at least demanded that the institutions demonstrate some ecological and social responsibility in return?

Why do developed nations still give tax breaks to the wealthiest few while children go hungry and working people and the unemployed see wages, benefits, and opportunities dwindle — and while infrastructure crumbles and access to good health care and education diminishes?

Why are we rapidly exploiting finite resources and destroying precious natural systems for the sake of short-term profit and unsustainable economic growth? What will we do when oil runs out or becomes too difficult or expensive to extract if we haven't taken the time to reduce our demands for energy and shift to cleaner sources?

Why does our economic system place a higher value on disposable and often unnecessary goods and services than on the things we really need to survive and be healthy, like clean air, clean water, and productive soil? Sure, there's some contradiction in protesters carrying iPhones while railing against the consumer system. But this is not just about making personal changes and sacrifices; it's about questioning our place on this planet.

In less than a century, the human population has grown exponentially, from 1.5 to seven billion. That's been matched by rapid growth in technology and products, resource exploitation, and knowledge. The pace and manner of development have led to a reliance on fossil fuels, to the extent that much of our infrastructure supports products such as cars and their fuels to keep the cycle of profits and wealth concentration going. Our current economic systems are relatively new — methods we've devised both to deal with the challenge of production and distribution for rapidly expanding populations and to exploit the opportunities.

It may seem like there's no hope for change, but we have to remember that most of these developments are recent, and that humans are capable of innovation, creativity, and foresight. Despite considerable opposition, most countries recognized at some point that abolishing slavery had goals that transcended economic considerations, such as enhancing human rights and dignity — and it didn't destroy the economy in the end, as supporters of slavery feared.

I don't know if the Occupy Wall Street protests will lead to anything. Surely there will be backlash. And although I wouldn't compare these protests to those taking place in the Middle East, they all show that when people have had enough of inequality, of the negative and destructive consequences of decisions made by people in power, we have a responsibility to come together and speak out.

The course of human history is constantly changing. It's up to all of us to join the conversation to help steer it to a better path than the one we are on. Maybe our one demand should be of ourselves: Care enough to do something.

October 13, 2011

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Aug 13, 2015
7:56 PM

What do the people want??? I believe what I want is a level playing field. I’m told the tax laws in Canada are 70000 pages how about 7 words ” a dollar earned is a dollar taxed”. No special classifications no hiding it. No more ducking responsibilities you make a mess you clean it up. No hiding behind the corporation game . If I have a brain problem and if some one doesn’t take total responsibility for my action I come under the mental health act. Corporation do not have a brain so some one has to take full binding legal and financial responsibility then the corporation and its assets become wards of the state. I’m almost finished ranting but enough for now.

Apr 30, 2012
1:41 PM

People are really complicating things when it's so simble. The same taxation % of someone earning 100,000$ a year should apply to someone earning 1,000,000$ or more. It's common sense. Eliminate the loop holes and the tax breaks. When someone is earning 5,000,000$ but gives himself or herself a 50,000$ salary , and declares houses, cars, vacations entertainment etc….in the company name !!!!!!!!! This ridiculous notion that the rich will stop investing and creating jobs if they don't get tax breaks is really black mail and scare tactics. I suggest a class action lawsuit in a court of law against the government so that all can see exactly who pays what. The hard working middle class will be shocked !!! I rest my case.

Apr 29, 2012
3:10 AM

It really is time for humanity to step out of our childhood, because we have enough to support us all. The old order is designed for those that have but not for the rest of us….lets make a change!

Apr 01, 2012
9:18 AM

Society and economy march together. Greater change for the good can come about by taking into consideration further values of social harmony. Occupy, says it wants economic change and hemp can obviously provide part of that positive change. Occupy should consider that other movements don't desire to occupy jail cells because Occupy was too hung up on the banks. 2012 would be a fine year to end deception and glorify human values of dignity and choice.

It's a shame that the strength and vitality of the Quebec student movement and the bravery and courage of the marijuana movement aren't part of the protected core values of Occupy. Canada is the richest country in the world, the pension age should have been lowered to 63 not raised to 67 and so enhancing our generational divisions.

That said, Occupy has my permission to attend the 4/20 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa this year so long as they show respect.

Jan 31, 2012
11:02 AM

The summer of 2012 — will be like no other.

With the fall of 2011 we watched as the politicians waited for Mother Nature to take care of the situations. The main stream press — not known for investigative journalism but more like stenographers — write what they are told by politicians and the like.

The main theme that runs through this and other movements (Arab Spring, London Riots and Occupy Movements in the USA, Canada and around the world) is Enough is Enough — This is not a Democracy. All is being run and controlled by the wealthy (I do not limit this to the 1% — but more to the 20% — 30%) in my mind if someone is making a million dollars per year they are not part of the so called Middle Class, in Canada the average household income is around fifty thousand dollars.

London, England, the Big Brother Metropolis, will be a hot bed — the Olympic Games with all its pomp and ceremony. As far as these games are concerned there should be a limit spent on them — no new stadiums and facilities that they say are for the future athletes — when instead they get repurposed for other things and we end up with a massive Olympic debt. This is what happened in Montreal along with all the corruption and with every pig at the trough.

Democracy and Capitalism — as we have them — are not working and therefore like Communism should be torn down and rebuilt on the principles of a true Democracy, get rid of loop wholes, tax breaks and entitlements. Should there be career politicians?

I know I am going all over the place here but these are huge topics and one thing leads to another.

By the end of 2012 maybe the world will be "unrecognizable"


Jan 30, 2012
11:40 AM

Great article Dr. Suzuki. I think that although the Occupy movement has raised awareness of the shortcomings and faults with our current system, they are going about it in the wrong way.

It brings to mind "Days of Action" several years ago organized by Labour Federations and Unions. Services were interrupted to draw awareness to the to the importance of the people providing them, but all it did was interfere with people trying to get to and from work. It didn't put organized labour in a favorable light with the general public, particularly those working in the private sector. In my opinion the Occupy movement is doing the same. Yes, they have made some strides, however at what cost?

In Toronto the movement caused $200K worth of damage to the park they were living in, at which volunteers came and did the clean up after they dispursed their camp.

How can damage to public property be seen as making a positive statement? Why didn't the members step up to the plate, take responsibility and fix the damage themselves at their own cost? They want business to act more responsibly and with conscience — how about looking in the mirror first and taking a hard look at their own actions? If any members of the movement did indeed stay and help, I will gladly apologize for this last statement.

It is a known fact that capitalism is a deeply flawed economic system. However, in seeing the global downfall of communist and socialist societies and the relative standard of living in countries that operated under these systems, I believe we can safely say that capitalism is the best system we have. No other system allows people the freedom to strive and be successful under their own merit.

For those of us who are of the belief that we are responsible for our own success and welfare, Occupy should "occupy" themselves with more productive pursuits.

Nov 14, 2011
2:19 AM

This is sorta how the problem I see is like:

How do distribute "wealth" and products if not through capitalism? How do you recognize contributions, or the rise of competitive leadership that, ideally, would allow improvements to spread? The age of "working hard" is nearing an end, but "working smart" has a much harder task when it comes to quantifying contributions. If you can copy and paste something that took years to create, what is it worth?

Throw-away disposable goods push back this capitalist chasm. If it breaks, you get a new one. Someone works to make it, you indirectly work to help him. It creates an ever increasing spiral. The only reason to adhere to it is the incremental improvements each new product has. This worked perfectly until 1970-75, when computer automation helped enhance what was a purely human endeavour: thinking. Tedious tasks, such as numeric calculations, were automated. (the sort of paid work roomfulls of undergrads might do to learn the basics) The "hard work" part is automated. This continues until an undergraduate degree's skill set is automated, and you need a Master's to be competitive.I mean, for Calculus, WolframAlpha does in seconds what takes a person years of math training to do.

That's good if you need a lot of lower tier math solved. That's bad if your trying to "climb the hill".

The most immediate solution is to find more work to do. Disposable goods are one way. Subsidized busy-work another. The 3rd is creative work, concocting art or new ideas for computers to chew on. Which leads back to my why: how much is an idea worth? And can it even be owned? The genesis of any idea is rooted, somehow, in previous social iterations. By happenstance, the dots were connected.

Case in point, iPhones being used to protest the creation of iPhones! Consider that Apple started in the Homebrew Computer Club, a non-profit get together of techies. The amazing success it had was an offshoot of something not too different than the open forum of discussions Occupy tries to foster.

Nov 13, 2011
10:49 AM

Wow! What a moving letter. Thank you. I will pass this on.

Nov 12, 2011
10:25 AM

Mr. Suzuki,

Thank you for seeing the light like alot of us have. I to, am fed up with the system the way it is. Its true, the government only takes care of its rich friends while the rest of us struggle to make a living. I am 47 years old and have been waiting for justice for what happened to me when I was in the care of this terrible child welfare system. And thats one of the problems with this government, they don't care about children in care. The rich are the governments priority. I hope this "Occupy Movement" grows. People are fed up and enough is enough. Theres too much corruption.

Oct 22, 2011
2:42 PM

Dear Mr Suzuki, I have watched you for over 30 years .As a young adult you have always made sense and are definitely one of our Greatest Canadians.We do have to change our attitudes on purchasing and what is new is not better.We will be known as the destroyers in the years to come.I have never been trendy and never bought anything I don't need.I have kept and looked after an old camera since the 80's.My son bought me a digital camera for Christmas.First one.My stereo is a turntable /receiver and 2 speakers I bought in 1981.Still works well.I hate the disposable society that we live in.One day ,we WILL pay the price if we don't change this path we are on…Love your book "Legacy" R.Ross

Oct 22, 2011
11:23 AM

For me, the weirdest dynamic that has come out of this movement are the naysayers. You use the example of the protester with the iPhone, but regardless if the protester has an iPhone or is a "hippy", there are the naysayers discounting the movement. This is the saddest part of the human response to these protests. This is a DEMOCRACY that we live in and it is very healthy to be involved in the process, rather than heckle it on the sidelines, yet that response seems to be the one that is supported by the broader masses.

The idea is to be working TOWARD a goal rather than giving up all worldly possessions just so demonstrators won't be deemed hypocrites by the endless, non-relenting naysayers.

Oct 22, 2011
9:42 AM

Re John: I doubt that David Suzuki would be laughed out of any university classroom. There is more to life than the inside of your classroom and the words in your textbook. Open up your eyes and get real.

Oct 15, 2011
8:16 AM

It's true that rapid population growth and economic systems grown for serving and exploiting opportunities are recent developments.

Less recent would be the tendency of people with money to be spending it to buy things. So pessimism about the potential for 7 or 10 billion voluntarily buying less is understandable.

However an older tendency might offer encouragement, and it's a tendency evident among the Occupiers — the tendency to give, to share and to care for one another.

Oct 14, 2011
3:23 PM

I've been waiting my whole life for this movement. My dad spoke of it to me at a very young age.

Oct 14, 2011
1:05 PM

In my humble opinion, I believe that Occupy Wall Street should spread to every town center across Canada. We should all care about these childrens futures.

The generation that is coming up is tired of fat cats getting fatter while they climb all over each other for jobs, homes and enough security to consider starting a family. It's not fair and people need to rise up. This generation is educated and has much more at stake in the reality of what is happening in the world.

Go back and look at history. Take every continent on the planet and look at the changes in the past 100 years. Do we really want North America, especially Canada — the great white North — to follow any of them? North America still has a chance to change direction and avoid ending up where they are now.

I am as proud of this generation as I am of my own children. They have taken responsibility for their future.

My hope as that instead of trying to stop them our leaders will step up,listen and find ways to assist. My hope is that this generation will be wise and calm with voicing their fears, concerns and needs. My hope is that we will all benefit from this movement.

The saddest part is that if we would have listened in the 60/70s we would have heard the call to SLOW down and think about how our actions effect our environment. Social development should be the priority. We all have a responsibility to planet, people and future generations. Zanie Mollica Kelowna BC

Oct 13, 2011
4:44 PM

So many question marks when we all know the answer David?

If you listen to any professor in any business school/MBA programme, there is no question that the current kind of economic growth is essential to our wellbeing and security. As a student in business you will be laughed out of class if you question any part of it. Money is all that really matters?

To move forward we need to see that there are other ways to live, perhaps even better ones if we could just use a little of the creativity that is stifled as we turn the treadmill day after day.

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