July 21st, 2018

Sorry, but David Suzuki is right

By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 9, 2018.

Kent A. Peacock


Many people, from the Dean of Engineering at the University of Alberta to that noted climate scientist Margaret Wente of Toronto’s Globe and Mail, have vented their outrage at the decision of the University of Alberta to award an honorary doctorate of science to David Suzuki.

What was Dr. Suzuki’s crime? He has dared to state the truth that cannot be spoken in Alberta: “the tarsands have to be shut down É we have to be free of fossil fuels long before 2050.”

In what follows I’ll be polite and call them “oil” sands, not “tar” sands, but what Suzuki says is exactly right. There are two reasons for this, energy efficiency and climate change.

Real climate scientists (including Dr. Danny Harvey of the University of Toronto) have done the math. It is completely out of the question for Canada to meet the emission targets that it agreed to at the 2015 Paris climate conference if the oilsands stay in operation. And those emission targets were understood by all governments involved (including ours) to be only a first step; it is well known that they are not by themselves nearly enough to hold the global temperature increase to 2 degrees C, let along the “aspirational goal” of 1.5 degrees that Canada advocated.

The other problem is energy efficiency. The only reason that we are trying to use Alberta’s bitumen deposits as a major energy source is because most of the better-quality oil has been burned up. That’s one of the problems with oil: you burn it, and it is gone. We’ve gone from crude to crud; we’re mining bitumen because there is not much else left. And the problem with using bitumen as a fuel source is that you have to squander a great deal of energy in order to extract and process it into usable form, a lot more proportionally than is needed for most forms of conventional oil. The oilsands are just about the least efficient source of net usable energy on the planet. And because of their emission of carbon dioxide and other pollutants (not to mention the devastation of forests, fisheries, and hunting lands), the oilsands are among the dirtiest sources of energy on the planet as well. For these two reasons, they will be among the first to be replaced as new ways and means of generating energy come on line, which they inevitably will.

One of the biggest mistakes we have made in Alberta is to think that we can go on forever using oil royalties to keep our taxes low. Pushing for pipelines is a good way of punting the question of taxes (or higher royalty rates) into the next term of office. >But the oilsands will inevitably be shut down whether anyone likes it or not. I can’t put an exact date on it, but my guess is that any new pipelines, if built, would be obsolete long before they are amortized. If we are wise, we will take the billions that we want to invest in pipelines and instead put that money into no-holds-barred research and development of alternative energy sources – a process which, by the way, will employ a lot of people. Our greatest resource is not oil but human ingenuity, if we are wise enough to put it to work on a large enough scale.

Like Dr. Suzuki, I believe that humanity does in fact have the vision and the sheer guts that it will take to replace fossil fuels before the ice caps collapse (though it is going to be a close-run thing). We are going to have to try a lot of different methods of producing, distributing and storing energy, not all of which will pan out, and it is going to cost a lot of money up front (though it will pay off hugely in the end). But to have a hope of success we have to start by following the example of Dr. Suzuki, and tell the plain truth: the age of oil, coal and gas is coming rapidly to an end. And the most polluting and least energy-efficient means of producing energy from fossil fuels will be the first to go.

Dr. Suzuki richly deserves his degree. And then let’s get to work solving the problems that he has so accurately identified.

Kent Peacock is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Lethbridge.

Share this story:


39 Responses to “Sorry, but David Suzuki is right”

  1. Jagtech says:

    I assume you speak on behalf of the University of Lethbridge, and that these opinions are those of the U of L ?
    It would be a shame to see the U of L lose tens of millions of dollars in funding from Alberta corporations due to your comments, as happened at the U of A.

    • Fescue says:

      I don’t think the natural environment, other species, or future humans are going to care too much if any university loses or gains a few donations from corporations. Dr. Peacock is simply stating the science and the trends (as does Suzuki). Low-energy-return fossil fuels (like bitumen) will be the first to end – it is only logical. Planned pipelines will not be useful, they will be a stranded asset. And this is not to mention (as biff does below) the other negative impacts of this industry.

      Directing capital investments towards mitigating or adapting to the worst effects of global warming (while we still have surplus funds and available energy) and preparing for a low-carbon future seems like a good idea to me.

      • GHG says:

        Whose capital and what surplus funds???????

        • Fescue says:

          Well, GHG, by capital I was suggesting that profit-seeking corporations would stop investing in unprofitable pipelines and refineries and would direct this money to more profitable investments that have a future.

          By surplus I was speaking more generally that we currently live well enough and waste enough energy that we (society) could direct it to ensure a reasonably good future. In other words, we’re not eating the seed potatoes quite yet – but when it comes to that, we will wish we had planned better when we were better able to respond.

          Don’t worry, GHG, I didn’t mean the precious taxpayer.

    • byrnejm says:

      Jagtech – to have opinions is not the role of a university. Individual faculty members develop opinions based on knowing and understanding the research literature. That is what academic freedom is all about.

      “Academic freedom means that both faculty members and students can engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation. 2. Academic freedom establishes a faculty member’s right to remain true to his or her pedagogical philosophy and intellectual commitments.”
      Inside Higher ED, 2010

      James Byrne, Professor

    • ladkin says:

      Jagtech’s is precisely the kind of insinuated threat that reveals how certain donors associate their funding with ownership rights over the university (or whatever other institutions they choose to “support”). And these threats are all the more reason for Dr. Turpin, the Government of Alberta, and others to defend the universities’ autonomy as well as academic freedom. We are a public institution. Our mandate is to serve the public interest–not to be beholden to any particular, private interest.

  2. biff says:

    brave letter – but worth heeding. alberta is a classic example of a province whose economy is pretty much fully foreign owned, and influenced. forever the one horse town, save for the relatively small agriculture sector that primarily feeds monsanto and other big chem/big pharm firms. we are a toxic disaster on the precipice; leaching poison lakes, euphemistically called tailings ponds, are poisoning our fresh waters, and ergo us and the nature we need for our healthy survival. they will indeed come to breach: let’s face the reality, scum mining practices always make a misery of the environment. alberta will pay dearly, in terms of degraded quality of life/health, and in clean up costs, which may really not clean things up.
    suzuki may not be perfect, but he is more deserving than most that have been a recipient of the nonsense/bs that is the honourary degree.

    • GHG says:

      The economy is foreign owned? Like who precisely are you referring? The Canadian domiciled corporations whose shares are owned by Canadian pension plans, mutual funds, university endowments, benefit plans, provincial trust funds, RRSP’s, TFSAs and everyday Joe’s? Those companies?

      • biff says:

        seeing as how we can only cover our costs when oil is above 100 a barrel, and seeing that most of our oil money flows into pockets that are not alberta gov’t, i see it as we are mostly foreign owned. the topper is that the family farm here is basically owned by big pharm, kind of in an indentured servitude way.

        • GHG says:

          You really have no idea what you are talking about. Yes, oil sands production is more expensive than conventional oil but it does not cost $100 to produce. And the risk to produce the oil rests with the company (many of which are Canadian), NOT with the tax payer. ALL Albertans and Canadians benefit from the sale of each barrel produced through royalty payments and taxes – in the billions. Oil not consumed in Canada (and more would be, if Energy East was allowed to carry oil to eastern refineries but we’d rather import 400,000 barrels of foreign oil/day – but that’s another story), becomes owned almost exclusively by US buyers when they pay for it! (Just like when you become the foreign owner of your iPhone made by an American company). Since just about all of Canada’s oil flows to the US we are price takers and receive a discount. ADD another foreign customer (ie China or India for instance) and we command a better price. A higher price means higher royalties, taxes, investment, employment, etc. That is why a pipeline is necessary.

          As for the family farm…whatever.

          • Dakota says:

            It is hypocritical that some will criticize and vilify the oil sands while taking and accepting the benefits the oil sands profits generate into the Canadian equalization coffers. There seems to be many that would not only bite the hand that feeds them but cut off both arms as well…

  3. GHG says:

    ” If we are wise, we will take the billions that we want to invest in pipelines and instead put that money into no-holds-barred research and development of alternative energy sources”….Um, whose billions exactly are you taking for this venture of fantasy? The tax payer?

  4. Dakota says:

    Kent Peacock, “professor of philosophy” certainly has some delusional beliefs. Suzuki, the fruit fly scientist, seems to believe he is savior and prophet of all things environmental of the earth and mankind. Suzuki is a hypocrite of huge proportions. He criticizes that people should not have children, while he has 5 children himself. As well he has more than a few multi-million dollar homes as well as a home in Australia. He also jets around the globe regularly lecturing folks while charging tens of thousands of dollars per lecture for instilling in us the evils of carbon use. His own lifestyle uses more carbon than those he lectures to. It seems there is a problem that most professors and universities these days have, they do not teach truth or facts but instead indoctrinate their students with their own particular biased socio-political beliefs and opinions while controlling and stifling free speech and vilifying or tossing out anyone that would attempt to exercise their rights of free speech within those halls of learning. If students dont buy into their personal concepts they do not pass their class. Kent Peacock hardly speaks for the U of L or the majority of Albertans and is just another blow hard who exchanges too much oxygen to carbon dioxide and exhausting it into the atmosphere.

    • GHG says:

      Now, now Dakota, let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story.

    • grinandbearit says:

      Dakota you need to get your head out of Fox News and the alt-right echo chambers. You understand that your claims about Suzuki’s personal qualities are not relevant to the claims about energy and environment. What you state here is simply a common logical fallacy.
      Your claims about professors and universities these days are simply mindless repetitions of US alt-right propaganda, asserted without evidence. I would be shocked if you could mount even a modest, honest argument on this topic, based on evidence and free from logical fallacies.

    • Tony Pargeter says:

      So you don’t think climate change is upon us then?

    • Tony Pargeter says:

      I keep reading these wholesale conservative assessments that they somehow think constitute valid arguments. First you slag “philosophy” as if refined thinking is of no account and then call Suzuki a “fruit fly scientist” which pretty well takes down that whole course of study, not to mention that Suzuki IS bloody well right you parochial fool.
      And you say THEY are blow hards. Ha!

      • Dakota says:

        Suzuki is a trained geneticist. His expertise of study is involved in the area of fruit flies. This is nowhere close to making him an environmental sage. He has his opinion, others have their own. He lives his life in opposite poles of what he preaches and lectures others how to live. He also believes that anyone with contrary opinions from his on the environment should be silenced. This has been stated on his website. Scientists are supposed to remain open to new ideas and possibilities however Suzuki has his mind made up and is intolerant to contrary opinions. As for the proven science on climate change of the degree, magnitude and causes of it, Suzuki has none. There is no majority of consensus of scientists to assert this claim only hockey stick graphs, “studies” and “papers” which the IPCC will not release to the public for scrutiny. The science for proof positive is still up for debate. Further, his wife is also an activist. She apparently has been a key player in environmental movements in the Amazon, Southeast Asia, and British Columbia. It seems that “environmentalism” is also a trade and profession in the Suzuki family. It brings in big dollars for them. Your snobbery and derogatory ad hominems hardly offers any logical rebuttal. It is also obvious by your condescending tone that you struggle with cognitive dissonance. I hope you feel better soon.

        • grinandbearit says:

          Dakota: Thanks for making my points far more colourfully and convincingly than i ever could.

          • Dakota says:

            I don’t understand your dialect of rudeness but there are other ways to look at this topic. Others may have a different viewpoint on this. All I can do is explain my opinion, not comprehend it for you. Finally you have not even explained your view on this topic only trolled mine. I guess if you spoke your mind you would be speechless. Get a life it’s obvious you don’t have one.

            • grinandbearit says:

              I guess I should have made the underlying points in my comments more explicit for you. In my opinion the original Opinion piece by Peacock was clear, accurate and appropriate. He presented a sensible, defensible position on Suzuki, the honorary degree and anthropogenic climate change. If you look at the reasons for the decision to award an honorary degree and the process for deciding, they make a great deal of sense. Suzuki emerged long ago as a public intellectual urging scientists to step up and participate in public decision making and in translating the results of research into policy and public knowledge. He was a pioneer in this regard. He urged scientists and academics to be responsible in making sure that hard won knowledge discovered or created usually out of the public purse was applied to benefit the general public. He created the wonderful radio show Quirks and Quarks which has provided generations with important useful knowledge about scientific discoveries and the process of doing science. He was also host of the Nature of Things, a long running series with similar benefits. For these things alone he merits an honorary degree. For these things he was given the highest national award possible for a Canadian and many previous honorary degrees from other universities.
              In addition, Suzuki is an advocate for changing energy policies, specifically to reduce harm to global climate from burning fossil fuels. For this he is condemned by people who have political and/or financial interests in furthering fossil fuel industries and ordinary people who have been confused by the very active disinformation campaign funded by the former to obscure the clear message from the data in climate science (as well as those who embrace various anti-environmentalist conspiracy theories). Because University of Alberta decided to award Suzuki a degree these factions attempted to interfere in the free academic decision making process, threatening financial support and slandering those involved. The decision to award was one that generated lots of diverse opinions and arguments even within U of Alberta, and it is important to recognise that debate and contention is healthy.

              As you note, Suzuki’s initial training and contributions were in genetics. I agree with you that we should definitely not take any geneticist’s word about climate change as somehow privileged. But Suzuki has been an expert science communicator for decades. His views on climate change are conditioned by appreciating important scientific facts. There are literally thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles by active climate scientists that address the issue of anthropogenic climate change. These data and analyses are in publicly available scientific journals (not hidden by the IPCC nor invented by Suzuki (or his family)). Nearly all who state a position on anthropogenic climate change support it; almost none fail to support it. This is about as certain as anything gets in science, after a lengthy period of testing and evaluating other ideas about climate change and its causes. The process that you hoped would happen in the science of climate change HAS happened (and is continuing to happen with only the faintest of hopes that anthropogenic climate change is not an important factor) and Suzuki is telling you about the outcome. At some point in the progress in most areas of science it becomes irrational to be a “maybe this, maybe that” skeptic. In the opinion of most active climate scientists we have passed that point when it comes to anthropogenic climate change.
              Finally, you expressed a view about academic freedom in the universities. (I will agree that like any other human institution, universities sometimes succumb to outside or inappropriate pressures and fail to defend academic freedom, but this is the exception.) Universities are one of the few public institutions that embrace that value, where ideas, no matter how unpopular, can be rigorously and honestly pursued and the results of that pursuit publicly communicated. It seems that you are an enemy of that open process. You would like money, popularity and power to dictate what is pursued at a university (especially where the public seems to have fallen so far behind scientific knowledge), where ideas and communications that are critical of popular and powerful views are suppressed, where a university supported by proceeds from the oil industries should not be allowed to provide warranted criticisms of the activities and consequences of those industries. As painful as this sometimes becomes, people in the university are willing to bite the hand that feeds them, especially if the hand is also picking our pockets or breaking our legs. You have turned reality on its head, where the institutions that foster academic freedom and free inquiry are for you the places that suppress it, and the places where no dissent is tolerated (where people are fired for opposing their organizational superiors) are a fountainhead of freedom and skepticism.

  5. biff says:

    ghg – respectfully, you paint nice fairy tale. i feel you choose to overlook the reality of boom and bust, and the environmental destruction, and the enviro disasters yet ahead. the royalty and taxation schemes are schemes that have ripped off the province and its people for decades. the real money has left. that is why the boom and bust, because we do not hold the wealth. we have given the oil away, and the ndp has done nothing to alter the scam that was brought to new lows by klein.
    if you want to split hairs over what is a “canadian” flagged private company that also takes the wealth away versus what is another country “flagged” corp that takes the money away, enjoy your delusions. what we need to acknowledge is the public purse is empty and in a big hole that is growing. 100 dollar oil is what gets us a little more – less than that is not enough, especially given the bs royalty and tax scam. you can make up what you wish in order to justify what has been far more beneficial to big corp than to the people of alberta, but the numbers are there, and have been for along time. this started before the ndp – it is not a party thing, it is a greed thing due to our belief that we need to be dependent on the big corp, and that the big corp is our friend. so, on that note, i will suggest that you, ghg, see too little of the reality.
    dakota – your outlook is simply just too simple. forget the personality bashing – reflect on the message. your lack of any substance in your rant, and your focus to bash the messenger, demonstrates how you have been outfoxed by fox, where everything and everyone that does not prioritise money/profit over all else is stupid and selfish. never before have the kings and feudal lords been so beloved by the dumb serfs they own. for still too many, the only picture they care to see is that of “so long as i get mine…”. our kids and grandkids will surely not thank us for the mess we have left them. and it is a mess, and getting worse. do try to acknowledge the big picture before you leave.

  6. biff says:

    what i mean by flagged is the country under which a corp identifies itself – cdn, usa, etc/ a bunch of bs as they do not serve the people of the country, they serve themselves. and gov;ts the world over are complicit. they do not look out for the masses – they look out for the corp because they are feathering their nests. look at how often ministers and leaders move into chairmanships, lobbying and other high paying positions as payback for their service to big corp while in power. so, the big corp gets to help themselves to whatever they want, thanks to the free passes given them by our bought gov’ts. kind of like shipping, eh? they fly the flag of whatever country serves its best interests – tax free, lax on pollution – and those interests rarely serve the people.

  7. GHG says:

    Oh, a grand conspiracy. Man I totally missed it! Wow, thx

    • biff says:

      conspiracy? again, look at the numbers – the very wealthiest controlling ever more- and also have an honest look at the state of the province and planet that is being ruined by greed. yours is a typical reaction of those so hoodwinked. i can be pretty certain you look out most for number 1. that approach, however, reeks of number 2. yes, a filthy, foul, destructive and polluting pipeline is just what we all need. as thick as bitumen is that idea.

  8. Resolute says:

    As a UofA alum I am in disbelief at my university Senate rewarding a dangerous hypocrite. Putting an honour in the trash.

    • Tony Pargeter says:

      That is an unfair assessment of Suzuki. He has been warning us all for decades about climate change and it’s exactly what is happening now.
      You con types so blindly despise anything and everything that is remotely liberal minded that you will enthusiastically and righteously cut off your own nose just to spite your face.
      Your hatred has become contagious, and is relatively new. It coincides with the advent of religion along with the removal of the word “progressive” from your name.

  9. zulu1 says:

    Well, it’s one person’s opinion. What is not stated here is that the world is currently 80% dependent on fossil fuels, and according to the International Energy Agency , will continue to be 76% dependent on fossil fuels 40 years from now, notwithstanding developments in alternative energy sources.
    If this turns out to be accurate then Alberta’s oil sands, being a very long lived asset will still be producing oil decades from now.
    As the fourth largest producer in the world, Canada would be utterly stupid and economically foolish to shut down such a valuable resource, not to mention the social programs, equalization payments and other services currently made possible by revenues from this resource.
    Suzuki’s foundation has made millions , from US liberal foundations, who are happy to fund him, if it means that the US remains not only the single buyer of our oil, but gets a heavily discounted price which can be re exported at huge profit margins. The yankee traders have it right.

  10. biff says:

    yes, it is utterly stupid to stop ruining the planet. profit must prevail. mine the earth bare, and poison it to boot.
    how about, instead, we think about the need to respect and nurture the living planet that allows us to live? perhaps we might agree that we can use a lot less, reduce our expectations around what we want, and make due with the stuff we get for a lot longer? the more we consume, the more we are consumed.

    • zulu1 says:

      It is an extreme view to believe that the production of fossil fuels will result in the complete destruction of mankind . The majority of Canadians believe that development of natural resources is beneficial to our nation’s economic health. History shows that the use of fossil fuels resulted in the fastest progress the world has ever seen during the industrial revolution.
      As for your comments on conservation, I would agree with you that we should use less and avoid waste as much as possible.

  11. snowman says:

    It makes you wonder how many Leth university
    profs’s signed on to climate change ideology you
    know climate changes four times a year has for everhow will you change that. When will the campaign start to reduce the 8billion people exhaling CO2 or manufacturingCO2 for citizen use like Trudeau told Suzuki on his sanctimonious crap. I wonder if the local 350org ,person in this city has the Universirty
    divest all their oil investments.mm, mm . you know like some from the once Pan Canadian oil.

  12. Jagtech says:

    Clearly no one here was around years ago when the University of Lethbridge hosted the “Oil Sands Research” Labs in the Chemisty department. (L. Hepler, Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research (AOSTRA) professor at the University of Lethbridge). That was what helped get the oilsands started in the early days. The Government of Alberta funded that, as did the Government of Canada and private industry.

  13. snowman says:

    Yes; and the Alberta Govt and Feds funded the Northern Alberta
    Railway (NAR)with Canadian Pacific and Canadian National
    operating partners. The Alberta Govt held a large amount of shares
    in the Great Canadian Oils sands project Dinning sold them of with
    a huge profit to help pay off the debt. Not only foreign players in
    the oil sands build up.

  14. […] defending the University of Alberta’s decision to award an honorary degree to David Suzuki:  https://lethbridgeherald.com/commentary/opinions/2018/05/09/sorry-but-david-suzuki-is-right/.  What I said there hasn’t pleased everyone, but I’ve also gotten some positive responses.  I […]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.