Suzuki's Way Would Make Things Worse—for People and the Planet

Printer-friendly version
posted December 10, 2002

David Suzuki has delivered himself of ten suggestions Canadians can adopt to improve environmental quality (Suzuki Foundation, November 2002). Some of the ideas are fine, such as encouraging Canadians to choose more fuel-efficient cars, or to live closer to where they work. Other suggestions on his list, and from his Foundation, however, such as supporting the Kyoto Protocol, or calling for the consumption of more expensive local foods over less-expensive imported foods would cause more harm than good.

What Suzuki, and other old-school anti-capitalist environmentalists constantly fail to grasp is that economic freedom is not the enemy of the environment. The economic growth and development resulting from economic freedom is the very wellspring of personal safety, health, and environmental quality and protection. American Enterprise Institute researcher Steven Hayward recently made this point concrete yet again, by comparing indicators of environmental sustainability with indicators of economic freedom around the world (Hayward, October 2002).

Hayward points out that countries scoring well on rankings of environmental sustainability are among the most economically free countries on Earth, including Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Countries with lower levels of economic freedom, such as Algeria, Russia, and Egypt perform more poorly at securing environmental sustainability. Finally, the least-free economies, including countries such as Haiti, Ukraine, and Turkmenistan fare dismally at securing environmental sustainability.

Of course, this is not a new discovery. The relationship between free economies, increasing societal wealth, and environmental quality has been known for well over a decade. Environmental economists have repeatedly documented the positive connection between robust market-based economies and strong environmental protection. If there’s any doubt of this, just pull up an internet search engine, punch in “environmental Kuznets curve,” and stand back.

What does all this have to do with Suzuki’s list of suggestions? Well, most of his suggestions, and many, if not most of the positions of the Suzuki Foundation, fly right in the face of this knowledge. Further, by inflicting damage on economic strength, market competition, and personal choice, Suzuki’s initiatives are more likely to increase environmental degradation rather than mitigate it.

Suzuki’s anti-competitive suggestion that Canadians should purchase food based on regional origin rather than cost for example, would likely reduce competition in food markets, and lessen the drive to produce better quality foods at lower prices. Not only would Canadians suffer reduced choices in variety and higher prices in such a setting, but citizens in developing countries already limited in choice by poverty would necessarily choose food over environmental protection with the scant resources available to them.

And that’s small change compared to Suzuki’s embrace of the economically devastating Kyoto Protocol on climate change. According to virtually every non-governmental economist, Kyoto would damage the economy significantly, raise the prices of basic goods and services, and leave consumers with less income, less product choice, and less housing and transportation flexibility in their lives. Even scientists who hold manmade global warming to be a looming threat agree that it would take 30 Kyoto-like reductions, with full global participation, to undo the threat. (Hansen, August, 2000), Canada’s ability to reduce the threat by itself is precisely nil. Kyoto will not help the environment ­ precisely the opposite is true - it will squander resources needed for protecting the environmental quality that Canadians cherish.

So why don’t groups like Suzuki’s get it? Why is it that the only pathway to environmental quality they promote seems to require either self-denial or the destruction of free markets? Perhaps the answer to that can be found in an earlier writing of David Suzuki’s.

Back in 1999, when the world was temporarily more focuses on the Y2K bug than it was on the environment, Suzuki’s fundamentally anti-humanist agenda slipped out from behind his usually avuncular façade. “I hope there is a major glitch,” Suzuki said, as “It might give Mother Earth a rest.” And in case you’re thinking that he didn’t mean anything anti-human in all that, Suzuki continued, saying “I think it would be wonderful if things collapsed for a few days. Chaos would happen…but it would be an amazing opportunity for people to really start thinking about things ­ and a global collapse would really make people think(Eichler, December 1999).” But history tells us that global collapse doesn’t make people think, it makes people suffer. And after the immediate suffering passes, people’s struggle to reacquire the food, technology, medical care, and energy availability they value takes precedence over their desires for environmental protection.

Polls show that we are all environmentalists - the vast majority of Canadians cherish the environment, and want to expand environmental protections (Statistics Canada, 2000). But as more and more environmental pressure groups let their biases trump critical thinking, regular citizen-environmentalists have to take their suggestions about helping the Earth with a very large grain of salt.

Subscribe to the Fraser Institute

Get the latest news from the Fraser Institute on the latest research studies, news and events.