DAVID SUZUKI: What do we do when the cathedral burns?

What do we do when the cathedral burns?

When Paris’s Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, the flames threatened more than eight centuries of culture and history. The fire evoked shock, horror and grief worldwide. While the cathedral burned, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed determination to rebuild what the French regard as a sacred site.

Beset by divisive “yellow vest” demonstrations, the French were united by the Notre Dame fire in grief and their resolve to rebuild. Within a day, wealthy donors and companies pledged a billion dollars for restoration. The first challenge will be to determine what caused the fire so a repeat can be avoided in the rebuilding.

I wouldn’t wish to diminish in any way the profound emotional impact of the Notre Dame conflagration. I have visited the great cathedral a number of times, and each time has been a deep spiritual experience. But if we had a similar response of shock and horror at the death throes of the Great Barrier Reef, the toxic state of the Ganges River, the degradation of the Amazon rainforest or the rising levels of carbon in the atmosphere that gives us air, weather, climate and seasons, think of the responses we could develop.

What prevents us from action is the perceptual framework through which we encounter the world. We all share a common sensory system to inform us about what is happening around us. Humans have increased the range of our senses with telescopes, microscopes and technology to see, hear and smell far beyond the range of our organs.

However, factors like gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic position and personal experience shape the way we respond to the input from our senses. Ask a man and a woman about love, sex or family, a Bay Street financier and a Bay Street homeless person about money, the economy or welfare, a Palestinian and an Israeli about Gaza, water or Jerusalem, and chances are the responses will be radically different.

One of humankind’s most important attributes for survival has been foresight — the ability to use observation, experience and imagination to look ahead and make decisions that minimize danger and take advantage of opportunity. Today, scientists and supercomputers provide powerful amplification of foresight by marshalling a vast array of information and projecting scenarios into the future. For decades, leading scientists and their organizations have warned about catastrophic changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere, depletion of oceans, spread of toxic pollutants throughout air, water and soil, acceleration of species extinction and so on.

As Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan governments vow to fight a carbon tax and pit jobs and the economy against action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we fail to unite in recognizing the threat of climate change to our health and survival.

Children are not yet blinded by the perceptual complications of adulthood or our verbal declarations. They see that our current trajectory is toward a radically uncertain future. Inspired in part by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, young people are calling on adults for real action to preserve their future. Surely that merits as profound and intense a response as the French have had to the Notre Dame fire.

We know the cause of the current ecological crisis. With our profligate use of fossil fuels and over-exploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources while putting our “wastes” into air, water and soil, we are destroying the natural systems on which we depend for health and survival. Having identified the cause, we could commit massive amounts to stop the practices that are creating the problems while searching for new ways to provide for our needs and to exploit what we call “waste.”

This will call for a shift in the way we see ourselves in the world. By raising their future for consideration, children are trying to get politicians to move beyond their current priorities of re-election and party solidarity and to show businesspeople the folly inherent in the drive for ever-increasing profits and endless growth. There is no hidden agenda or ulterior motives behind their pleas. Ignoring their calls for action puts us on a road to extinction.

Repairing Notre Dame and preventing future damage is worthy, but we must also do the same with our precious natural systems and areas.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington.

Just Posted

Have you seen Apple’s camera cars cruising your ‘hood?

White Subaru mapping cars seen around Saanich Peninsula

International migration drives population rise in B.C.

No joke, provincial population topped 5 million by April 1

Downtown Victoria sees 10-fold increase in condo units since 2016

A report by the Downtown Victoria Business Association details ongoing construction trends

Sidney lowers flag to half mast in honour of former fire chief

Mel Baldwin died June 21 at the age of 83; served Sidney Fire for 46 years

Sidney BIA says sad goodbye to president and executive director

Susan Simosko and Donna Petrie leave, board members fill new positions

Video shows fireworks shot at swan in Alberta

Alberta Fish and Wildlife is investigating the incident in Grande Prairie

WITH VIDEO: Two endangered marmots released on Vancouver Island

With three new pups born in May, two more Vancouver Island Marmots… Continue reading

Surrey RCMP raises Pride flag amid din of protesters

There were about 30 protesters on either side, and 20 Mounties doing crowd control

Should B.C. get rid of Daylight Saving Time?

The province wants to know, as state governments down south make the move

Air Canada reviewing how crew left sleeping passenger on parked plane

In a Facebook post, the woman said she woke up ‘all alone’ on a ‘cold dark’ aircraft

Canadians crash out of Women’s World Cup in 0-1 loss to Sweden

Canada missed a chance to tie the game on a penalty shot

Four-year-old boy assaulted at B.C. soccer game

It happened at a weekend tournament in Ashcroft

B.C. residents rethinking summer road trips due to gas prices

63 per cent of respondents reported gas prices are impacting their day-to-day finances

Two bear cubs saved near Revelstoke after mother hit by car

Conservation officers trapped the cubs and transported them to a wildlife sanctuary

Most Read