Photo: What's so radical about caring for the Earth?

We are condemned by our own government because we question the safety of two pipelines crossing more than 1,000 streams and rivers through priceless wilderness (Credit: Clickr Bee via Flickr)

By David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Editorial and Communications Specialist Ian Hanington

Caring about the air, water, and land that give us life. Exploring ways to ensure Canada's natural resources serve the national interest. Knowing that sacrificing our environment to a corporate-controlled economy is suicide. If those qualities make us radicals, as federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver recently claimed in an open letter, then I and many others will wear the label proudly.

But is it radical to care for our country, our world, our children and grandchildren, our future? It seems more radical for a government to come out swinging in favour of an industrial project in advance of public hearings into that project. It seems especially radical when the government paints everyone who opposes the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project as American-funded traitors with a radical ideological agenda "to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth."

Subscribe to Science Matters

It's bad enough when our government and its ethical oil and media supporters don't tell the truth, but it's worse when they don't even offer rational arguments. Their increasing attacks on charitable organizations and Canadians from all walks of life show that if they can't win with facts, they'll do everything they can to silence their critics. And we thought conservative-minded people valued free speech!

The proposed Northern Gateway and Keystone XL pipeline projects and the massive, mostly foreign-controlled expansion of the tar sands are not about finding the best way to serve Canada's national interests. If we truly wanted to create jobs, we would refine the oil in Canada and use it to reduce our reliance on imported oil, much of which comes from countries that government supporters say are "unethical". If we really cared about using resources for the national interest, we would slow development in the tar sands, improve environmental standards, increase royalties and put some of the money away or use it to switch to cleaner energy, eliminate subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, and encourage Canadian companies to develop the resource.

Instead, we are called radicals for daring to even question the wisdom of selling entire tar sands operations to China's state-owned oil companies and building a pipeline so that the repressive government of China, rather than Canadians, can reap most of the benefits from the refining jobs, profits, and the resource itself. We are radical because we are concerned about the real dangers of oil-filled supertankers moving through narrow fiords with unpredictable weather conditions and through some of the last pristine ecosystems on Earth. We are condemned by our own government because we question the safety of two pipelines crossing more than 1,000 streams and rivers through priceless wilderness — a reasonable concern, in light of the more than 800 pipeline spills that Enbridge, the company in charge of the Northern Gateway, has had since 1999.

And so here we are, a country with a government that boasts of our "energy superpower" status but doesn't even have a national energy plan. A country willing to sacrifice its manufacturing industry, its opportunities in the green-energy economy, its future, and the health of its people for the sake of short-term profits. A country hell-bent on selling its industry and resources wholesale to any country that wants them, without regard for the ethics or activities of those countries.

Our government is supposed to represent the interests of all Canadians, and not just those who voted for it or the corporations that support it. Instead we have a government that hurls insults at its citizens.

Canadians are better than that. While an investment banker like Joe Oliver or a former oil industry economist like Stephen Harper may look at Canada and only see numbers, we see a country rich in natural resources, wildlife, clean water, a diverse population of educated and caring people, and institutions that have been built up over the years to put the interests of Canadians first.

With recent or pending federal reviews into both environmental regulation and charitable giving, we can expect more attacks and more attempts to silence those who believe that we must at least have a discussion about our priorities before selling out our country to anyone who wants a piece. Maybe it's time to get radical!

January 19, 2012

Read more

Post a comment


Apr 30, 2013
1:36 PM

I too have asked myself and others if I feel so strongly about the environment, does this make me a radical kook intent on vandalism or worse toward polluters and/or shyster developers. Imagine people actually being labelled
terrorists and you begin to see the scope of the countervailing forces of greed directed against environmentalists and their supporters. People who believe in the earth are not a radical fringe group edging others to rebel, but a movement to take a step back and “smell the roses”.

Mar 25, 2013
8:40 PM

I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here and propose a reality check. Other commenters should feel free dispute what I say and destroy my arguments. Personally, I do believe that Canada should develop it’s Arctic hydrocarbon resources with gusto for the following reasons:

Most Canadians care very deeply about providing financially for themselves and their families. Suzuki’s utopian concept of a nation of left-wing idealists doesn’t hold up to reality. When Canadians leave school and enter the workforce, any former idealism they had shrinks pretty quickly.

One only needs to check the history of Western Australia over the last decade to see the massive improvements that have been made to the economy, incomes and lifestyles due to a resources boom in a nation similar to Canada. In Western Australia, life is better now.

Having personal money gives us freedom. Almost every human being will happily take that freedom over the option of a few extra species living centuries from now.

Modern humans are unlikely to be made extinct in the foreseeable future. Human development will happen inevitably anyway, so whatever efforts are made to halt our resource consumption will have only a transient effect.

Feb 07, 2013
4:44 AM

Beaucoup de monde ont une assurance santé d’entreprise, ils sont donc protégés par la loi Evin qui les autorise à garder cette mutuelle s’ils ont été contraint de quitter l’entreprise pour une cause dont ils ne sont pas mis en cause. Pourtant il est important dans certains cas essayer un comparatif mutuelle sante afin de vérifier qu’il n’y a pas trouver une mutuelle pas cher autre part.

La mutuelle est une protection en plus à la Sécurité Sociale. Le plus souvent, la Sécu ne prend en charge qu’une partie des frais de soins avancés, elle utilise sur la BRSS (Base de remboursement de la Sécurité Sociale), elle ne rembourse qu’un certain pourcentage des frais. Les mutuelle sont encore plus utiles pour quand le prix que fait payé un docteur est plus grand au tarif de convention, les remboursements lunettes ou les remboursements prothèses dentaires. Elle rembourse les charges de soins . Le plus souvent, la Sécu ne prend en charge qu’une partie des frais de soins avancés, elle utilise sur la BRSS (Base de remboursement de la Sécurité Sociale, pour tout renseignements cliquez ici), elle ne rembourse qu’un certain pourcentage des frais.

Jul 12, 2012
3:01 PM

im sick and tiered of our so called govt giving everything away soon we will have to buy food water and everything else and of course it will be 10 times more money then what we sold it for . we need more people like you or there will be no planet David Suzuki our hero an champion go gettem

May 26, 2012
3:02 PM

I grew up watching 'The Nature of Things', and David Suzuki became one of my heroes, and he still is. I thank you for loving the Earth as you do David, and for being the person that you are. God bless you!

Feb 04, 2012
6:39 AM

If an environmental radical is one offensive to the dominant society, then I guess I am a radical. Still, with billions of our tax money going to militarily exploitive resource wars, in and out of Canada, the Harper government is the true radical. They are to be taken seriously and feared.

Jan 27, 2012
11:11 PM


Thank you so much for your courage and persistent compassion for the earth and Canadians. I truly believe you are our contemporary Gandhi.


Jan 23, 2012
8:35 PM

Canadians at home and abroad must use their voting rights to clean house! We all understand that we need gas in our current cars and to heat our homes for now. And, even those of you that remain skeptic about climate change, fossil fuels are depleting and are an energy source from the past. We must not fear change— renewable energy, the reinvention of the car that operates on sustainable power is exciting. But, it takes visionaries and the brilliance of a few with the support of many to bring us there—use your vote now to make changes before that too is taken away. In The State of Texas, a law was passed that gives the oil industry the right to build a pipeline on your property and the landowner has no recourse. It is called "imminent domain." If those of us who speak up about environmental degradation are called radicals, than would it be fair to say laws such as the one in Texas "radical" as well?

Jan 23, 2012
3:08 PM

Along with pressuring gov't. we need to be asking the media where their head is. I've known about and have been following this stuff for years because I ask questions and look for answers. The media and the majority of Canadians don't ask, so like Donna B. don't know about what's really going on. Not until it lands in their backyard.

Jan 23, 2012
9:57 AM

Thanks to the unmitigated greed of the proposed mega-quarry in Ontario my eyes and ears are being opened to Canada's environmental situation and reputation. By adding myself to one mailing list and adding a few friends in facebook I have now been inundated with good causes, all frightening in their use of modern technology and apparent lack of ethical values. These causes do not speak well of Canada's environmental policies. I am a typical Canadian. I am an environmentalist because I like getting outdoors. I am an environmentalist because I believe in reduce/reuse/recycle. I am an environmentalist because I am concerned about using all our resources today (badly) and leaving nothing for tomorrow. How radical is that?

Jan 22, 2012
4:04 PM

who are the real radicals here? those who are trying to preserve clean water, air and land for present and future life on earth, or those who are altering the very chemical make-up of our atmosphere so they can make a few bucks?

Jan 20, 2012
2:05 PM

I sure would like to know what their standard of safe is when we all know that everyone is at the merci of Mother Nature. The Japanese found out the hard way but let’s hope that the world has learned from it. It's always best to prevent than having to fix it so why create this environmental hazard if we can't predict what can happen? These decision makers are only politicians that have no respect for the future and only have their present careers to care for. This has to stop, and now since we're already several decades late. These are the same people that screwed-up the Kyoto accord.


Jan 20, 2012
12:31 PM

The government persistently talks about " the fragile economy", while actively destroying the fragile earth. How did the pipline get so far into the planning stage without it being major news until now.?

Jan 20, 2012
9:54 AM

Unfortunately, we humans seem to be a virus on this beautiful planet and thus we are killing our host.

Most of the worlds' population will not appreciate the earth and all its treasures until it's gone. Then there will be a lot of lamenting and breast-beating, if anyone is left.

Caretaking… that's totally radical !!!

All governments seem to have their own agenda, regardless of what the voting populace wants (as if they care). That's an example of irresponsible behaviour for short term gain for a few individuals.

What is needed is a total mind-shift in how we view our host. I need to use the word 'honour' here. Honouring encapsulates the awe, valuation and the energy and willingness to do what is necessary to promote and ensure the health and vitality of this wonderful little planet we call home.

The annoying thing is, is that there are eco-friendly alternatives out there. Many of those have been suppressed in deference to the immediate profitability for a select few.

Jan 20, 2012
8:42 AM

Oil is calories : could be forest. I noticed your web links here at comments has been disabled. :( earth sad I think it's getting close for the sort of angry comment attempts I've sent to Interpol in the past.

Jan 20, 2012
6:17 AM

Amen. Thanks David for saying it like it is.

Jan 20, 2012
5:03 AM

I think it's time to say ENOUGH! The hard part is to be heard. How can we get our message across so it can start to make a difference. It doesn't make sense that politicians can get away with this.

Jan 19, 2012
10:54 PM

Great article and applicable to many (if not all) nations on earth, including here in Australia. I love this: "Canadians are better than that… we see a country rich in natural resources, wildlife, clean water, a diverse population of educated and caring people, and institutions that have been built up over the years to put the interests of Canadians first." It seems so straight forward that we need to plan our futures considering environmental/social/economic issues in a wholistic manner. When we do that we all will "win". Keep up the inspiring work!

Jan 19, 2012
5:39 PM

sticks and stones…

We are witness to the revelation of something ugly that protects and nurtures the development of an agent for destruction.

This pipeline is unnecessary, economically speaking and otherwise.

Jan 19, 2012
4:14 PM

After reading the open letter, and hearing Joe Oliver being interviewed on the CBC, I decided to join the Green Party.

The example he gives in his letter — the westward expansion of the railway — is a primary example of a project that could have used better oversight. Does he forget how many people died in the Fraser Canyon alone?

Jan 19, 2012
12:29 PM

Well I think the answer is no, that to care and be concerned about such an undertaking when there's so much wrong and already known to be destructive about the tar sands debacle. I don't think that that is radical, I think that's sensible, not to mention the fact that the tar sands are already killing rivers and PEOPLE therefore. I think it's unthinkable to consider such dishonourable undertakings for profit of the few, who are already well off, when it destroys and has the potential to destroy even more IRREPLACEABLE wilderness, especially when it goes through the already disrespected indigenous peoples territories. Territories that are sacred to them and that they rely upon for their future generations and the future generations of wildlife, let alone my childrens. Thank you Suzuki Foundation. Many blessings and much awareness to all.

Jan 19, 2012
10:52 AM

I truly don't understand this mentality. I fight it all the time whenever I visit with my parents (we're in Alberta — oil is always a hot topic). They are fundamental Christians, and are always going on about love, God, protecting the land, — the usual. I do not ascribe to their faith/religion, yet I'm the one who's against the pipeline and the oilsands and the utter destruction they both are wreaking on my beloved Alberta (and everywhere else!). I find it decidedly odd that they're all for ripping apart (what they feel to be is) God's creation, and I'm all for protecting it. Role reversal I guess.

The David Suzuki Foundation does not necessarily endorse the comments or views posted within this forum. All contributors acknowledge DSF's right to remove product/service endorsements and refuse publication of comments deemed to be offensive or that contravene our operating principles as a charitable organization. Please note that all comments are pre-moderated. Privacy Policy »