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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Victoria writer releases first novel inspired by U.S. school shootings

Dear Mr. President tells thought provoking story of victims left behind

Saanich mayor joins fight to protect local wildlife from rat poisoning after second owl dies

Mayor Fred Haynes to meet with provincial, federal pest control industry representatives

Sidney fire responds to fewer but more severe calls during pandemic

Rise in severity linked to changes in routine during COVID-19 pandemic

Saanich police see spike in excessive speeding compared to previous years

Nearly 100 excessive speeders caught since January 2020

Colwood branch drop-off to continue throughout summer

COVID-19 safety measures remain in place

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of the world of summer sports

In a typical year, there are plenty of summer sporting events and tournaments held across Canada

‘We’re sick of it’: Anger over police killings shatters U.S.

Tens of thousands marched to protest the death of George Floyd

Surrey mayor’s party under fire for ‘sickening’ tweet accusing northern B.C. RCMP of murder

Mayor Doug McCallum says tweet, Facebook post ‘sent out by unauthorized person’

Father’s Day Walk Run for prostate cancer will be virtual event this year throughout B.C.

The annual fundraiser for Prostate Cancer Foundation BC has brought in $2.5 million since 1999

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids’ camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

PHOTOS: U.S. cities brace for increasing unrest over police killing of George Floyd

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has fully mobilized the state’s National Guard

Most Read