green recovery

How the pandemic can lead to a green and just recovery

David Suzuki offers hope in his new podcast with Jane Fonda and Neil Young as guests

David SuzukiDavid Suzuki is the host of the CBC’s The Nature of Things and author of more than 30 books on ecology (with files from Brendan Glauser).


Throughout Canada and around the world, the second wave of COVID-19 is hitting hard. Over the next few months, governments will remain focused on addressing the largest public health emergency in recent memory.

But to avoid past mistakes and seize this unique opportunity to build a more resilient, sustainable world, it’s also time to lay the groundwork for a green and just post-pandemic recovery.

I’m almost 85 years old. I co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation 30 years ago, after a CBC Radio series I hosted, It’s a Matter of Survival, generated 17,000 letters (in pre-email times!) from people concerned about the state of the planet and the future their children would inherit.

Decades later, as we grapple with many of the same environmental crises — the climate emergency, mass species extinction and an economic model that fuels it all — and now a global pandemic, we have many reasons to despair.

But after spending most of lockdown with three of my grandkids and seeing the world through their curious, caring eyes, I’m reinvigorated and newly committed to doing all I can to help humankind find a better path.

I spent the first seven months of lockdown at a family cabin in B.C. There I rediscovered some fundamental truths. Without the basic elements — fire, air, water, earth — there is no life. We also need to renew our understanding of the interconnections between all life and existence, something I refer to as “spirit.” When our relationship with these elements is out of whack, and when we lose our “spiritual” connection, we risk our very being.

The privilege of spending lockdown safe and healthy with family wasn’t lost on me. I wanted to make the most of the time.

One way I did this was by producing my first podcast, The David Suzuki Podcast. I reached out to old friends like Jane Fonda and Neil Young. I got to speak with celebrated thinkers like Kwame McKenzie, CEO of the Wellesley Institute in Toronto and Jennifer Keesmaat, former chief city planner, Indigenous leaders like Winona LaDuke and Jeannette Armstrong, youth activists and more. We recorded five episodes that explore how the pandemic can help us refocus on what’s most important and how a green and just recovery from COVID-19 could look.

It will be a challenge. The fossil fuel industry is working harder than ever to convince people to let it continue its destructive ways. Important climate lawsuits are getting thrown out of court. More than a million species worldwide are at risk of extinction. The list goes on. But I believe the reasons to be hopeful are many.

Recently, the federal government revealed details of a climate accountability plan to help us achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It’s a real strategy, with real legislative power. For an environmentalist of nearly 40 years, it’s good news.

On Nov. 30, 2020, the government also gave its first full economic statement since the pandemic hit. It was an opportunity to take stock of the massive, necessary recent public spending to address the pandemic. Perhaps more importantly, it was also an opportunity to begin charting our path to recovery, including commitment to a “green recovery.” It all needs to be paired with a strong climate plan and accountability law, but overall, it’s good news.

This next decade will be critical if we’re to rediscover balance with the natural world. By 2030, we’ll have a good sense of whether we’re on track.

In my podcast, I ask, “If this really is the transformation decade as we emerge from COVID-19, how will it look?”

We’re already seeing unprecedented public spending to re-energize economies and rebuild communities. We must make sure these efforts aren’t designed to take us back to “normal,” because that wasn’t working.

From nature-based climate solutions, like tree planting and wetland restoration, to more localized and resilient city design to community-led renewable energy generation, we can resolve our problems. All that’s needed is the political will.

For the courageous young people whose Friday strikes have brought unparalleled attention to the climate crisis, for the Indigenous leaders who generously share wisdom on how to live in harmony with Earth, for nature, upon which so many of us have relied to get through lockdown, let’s shift gears and change direction. Let’s rediscover our place on this beautiful living planet.

Article exclusive to TRNTO