If you want action on climate change and a cleaner economy not powered on fossil fuels, don’t vote for Stephen Harper, David Suzuki said bluntly at a federal election forum on Thursday night in Vancouver.

“The highest priority I have is to do everything I can as one citizen to make sure that Mr. Harper doesn’t get back into power,” the enviro broadcaster said to applause at a “Rethinking Economics” event moderated by the Dogwood Initiative.

Speaking to the climate crisis, “This is an absolutely critical time." World leaders still have the opportunity to broker a climate change treaty at the COP21 UN climate summit in Paris before it's too late, said Suzuki.

"We have to go and respond as if there are 100 Pearl Harbours going off at once.... whoever is elected Prime Minister will have enormous repercussions throughout the entire lives of our young people," he added.

A Haida leader on the same stage was just as direct.

"Quit sending sniveling politicians to Ottawa!” bellowed former Haida president Miles Richardson.

"Send leaders that stand for something! Send leaders that stand up for [ecological] values that bind us as a society, and will stand up and fight for those in the face of money. In this election coming up on the 19th, there a couple of options out there,” the First Nations business consultant added.

Former Haida President Miles Richards, ecological economist Peters Victor, and environmental broadcaster and scientist David Suzuki on Thursday. Photo by Mychaylo Prystupa,

The discussion opened a sustainability conference for the Canadian and U.S. Societies for Ecological Economics. The groups are promoting the field of "ecological economics" that examines ways to ensure everyone’s well-being "within planetary limits." Pricing unacceptable eco-behaviour, such targetting greenhouse gases with a carbon tax, are among the levers studied.

From ‘cowboy' to ‘spaceman’ economy

But getting to a greener future—and altering mainstream thinking, government institutions and vested interests —will be a "daunting challenge" said ecological economist Peter Victor. All the main political parties in the Canadian federal election, he said, have a plan for growing GDP, but little in the way of sustainability limits.

"We need to transition from a 'cowboy economy’ which assumes endless frontiers and unlimited resources, to a closed ‘space man economy' in which conservation and recycling are paramount," said Victor.

Suzuki said economic thinking has to become rooted in protecting the air, water, climate and soil first—if we're going to keep earth as our home.

"I have to laugh when they say people are going to go to Mars and create a colony there. There’s no soil!” he said to laughter.

Pipeline approvals a sign our economics isn't working

Retired school teacher arrested on Burnaby Mountain while protesting Kinder Morgan oil pipeline test drillers in November 2014. Photo by Mark Klotz.

Richardson said Canada's National Energy Board regime for evaluating oil pipelines is a classic example of how laws tilt in favour of economic progress over people and ecosystems.

"If somebody wants to put a pipeline in my backyard from Alberta to where I dig clams [in B.C.] —I’ve got to prove that they’re going to harm me! And when I go to their forums, they tell me I have no standing to make my argument. Hell with that!” he said to applause.

Suzuki said First Nations often refer to plants and animals as "our relatives."

"Genetics confirms that. If you look at the genes in a carrot plant or a cedar tree, an eagle, a salmon or a bear, you'll find they carry thousands of genes that our identical to the genes in our bodies. They are not resources or commodities! They are our biological kin, because we share that evolutionary history."

"It’s that understanding, in gratitude we must treat and value the diverse plants and animals around the world.”

Local governments are listening. Vancouver' deputy mayor Andrea Reimer spoke of the city's Greenest City goals to curb carbon, reduce waste and cutback on water. "I just wanted Vancouver to be the greenest city in the world. It seemed very straightforward to me."

“We have this story in British Columbia and in Vancouver and in large parts of Canada that we are hewers of woods, carriers of water, we dig things, and we are a colony of empires."

“The reality is only one per cent of our jobs are about hewing, digging, carrying, piping things, and only three per cent of our GDP, so then we do we tell ourselves this ridiculous story?”

Clean tech explosion

Solar panel farm in Germany. WikiCommons photo.

Clean Energy Canada's executive director Merran Smith said the story of a green transition is happening surprisingly fast —the cost of solar has dropped 85 per cent in five years, she said. “We talk about how Mr. Harper doesn’t want us to act on climate change, because it will wreck the economy. [But] already, there are more direct jobs in clean energy in Canada than there are in the oil sands. That’s pretty impressive.”

And internationally, Smith said:

"Last year, carbon emissions globally plateaued for the first time in decades, even though the economy grew. So, why? According to the International Energy Agency, it’s because of renewable energy and energy efficiency. That gives me hope. We can solve climate change."

Blue Dot Tour

Suzuki says legal reform is the first step towards better ecological economics. His "Blue Dot" concert and speaking tour is building a grassroots push to alter Canada's constitution to add the right to a healthy environment. "I have been astonished at the way this has resonated," he said.

Since the tour began last year, 85 municipalities have signed on including Montreal, St.John’s, Yellowknife, Vancouver, Victoria. Last week, B.C. municipalities voted in favour of sending the resolution to Premier Christy Clark.

"Because in Canada, you need seven premiers representing provinces containing more than half of the population [to make a constitutional change]. And when we get that, we go to the feds —but of course we have to wait for the election, because there’s no chance in hell with Mr. Harper."

In defense against CRA audits that have tended to target groups opposed to the oil sands, Suzuki clarified his appearance Thursday night was not on behalf of any political party, corporation or organization —not even the David Suzuki Foundation. "I have to say that or Mr. Harper will come after my ass.”

Neil Young & David Suzuki - Blue Dot Tour - Vancouver, BC, Canada
Neil Young on David Suzuki's Blue Dot concert tour last year in Vancouver. Photo by Kris Krug.

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