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Change is needed to stave off climate change crisis: Suzuki

For those who think it's impossible to reduce energy use, broadcaster, environmentalist and scientist David Suzuki said the 2011 Japan earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster proves it isn't.
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David Suzuki gave a speech at the saveONenergy Symposium Oct. 17. Photo by Heidi Ulrichsen.

For those who think it's impossible to reduce energy use, broadcaster, environmentalist and scientist David Suzuki said the 2011 Japan earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster proves it isn't.

“Every one of the 52 nuclear reactors was shut down, and Japan reduced its energy use by over 25 per cent,” he said during his keynote speech at a local energy conservation symposium.

“There were no regulations, no laws passed. It was strictly voluntary. Today in Japan only two of the reactors are back up and running.

“Yet if you go to Japan today you'd think everything seems fine. What the hell did they need the nuclear reactors for?”

This is in a country that uses power for frivolous reasons such as toilet seat warmers, Suzuki said.

“I keep telling the Japanese, are Japanese bottoms so tender you have to have it warm to take a dump?” he said. “If you shut down every electric toilet seat in Japan, you would shut down two nuclear plants.”

Suzuki made the comments at the saveONenergy Symposium. Organized by Ontario Power Generation and six northern utilities, the symposium provided businesses with suggestions about how to save on electricity usage and lower hydro bills.

He said he's not an expert on energy conservation, so he wasn't going to provide specific tips, but rather wanted to provide some context for the work those in the audience are doing.

“I want to congratulate the Ontario Power Authority for embracing energy conservation,” he said.

“That is so great. I've got to add a little aside and say 'God, it took you awhile to get there,' but I'm glad you did.”

During the OPEC oil embargo of 1973, people began to seriously look at renewable energy resources, but no more so than in Denmark.

“But our top engineers in Canada said 'Impossible. Wind can never, ever provide more than two per cent of our energy needs,'” he said. “Denmark is over 18 per cent already, and is aiming for a much higher amount.”

But Suzuki points out that before the Russians launched the first satellite in the mid-1950s, space exploration seemed impossible, but by 1969, the United States had put the first person on the moon.

“That is a challenge that confronts us with climate change,” he said. “We know what the problem is, we know what the real solution is. That is our opportunity.
“There are enormous opportunities, but we just have to make a commitment that we're going to get off fossil fuels, and we've got to invest everything in renewables.”

Canada actually has a wealth of sources of environmentally friendly energy production, including solar, wind, geothermal, tidal wage, run of river and countless other methods, he said.

People seem to need a “crisis” to spur any sort of change when it comes to energy production, Suzuki said.

“Well folks, we have that crisis,” he said, pointing to the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report which said the burning of fossil fuels is warming the planet.

“The solution is also very clear and very simple,” Suzuki said. “If we want to avoid climate catastrophe, we have to get off fossil fuels.”

Nuclear power is also problematic, he said, as the nuclear industry has failed to come up with a permanent solution to store spent nuclear fuel.

For those who think humanity can't abandon conventional power sources for fear of damaging the economy, Suzuki said the economy is a human construct, and shouldn't hold us back from protecting what's most important – the planet.