Although David Suzuki has been warning world leaders about climate change since the 1970s, his calls to reduce carbon emissions have fallen on deaf ears. Now, Greta Thunberg rallies the new generation to continue the fight for climate action.
From David Suzuki and David Attenborough to Greta Thunberg, the new CBC documentary, Rebellion, which aired on Nov. 6, 2020, bridges the gap between veteran climate activists and the youth of today who hope to heal our ailing planet.
Rebellion was directed by two experienced documentarians, Mark and Caitlin Starowicz, a father-daughter duo. Mark was the head of CBC Documentaries from 1992 to 2015 when he stepped down to focus on filmmaking once again.
In their latest film, Mark and Caitlin follow Suzuki as he arrives on the frontlines of the climate rebellion, speaking with Thunberg and other young activists who are frustrated with their parents’ generation for failing to reverse climate change.
The Journal spoke to the directors of Rebellion and Suzuki about the youth revolt shown in the film, and what needs to be done to stop climate change.
“Around this time two years ago, Greta was in the news but had only been in the news since August. David Attenborough had given a speech at the climate summit in Katowice, and the extinction rebellion had begun to take actions in London—dramatic publicity actions,” Mark said. “All these three things came together, and we got the sense of something big is happening.”
According to Mark, he and his daughter saw these events as a “generational tipping point in the making” and approached David Suzuki to narrate the film.
“Part of the genesis [of the film] was the realization that the idea of a personal carbon footprint […] was a PR move by [British Petroleum Company] to put the onus on people,” Caitlin said.
“The realization was that 70 per cent of all carbon emissions in the world are made by a very small number of multinationals. We’ve realized that since we’ve all been quarantined, emissions have only gone down eight per cent,” Caitlin added. “It was that moment that Greta started saying, ‘No, we need top-down change. We need systematic change.’”
The documentary features several large-scale climate strike marches from the last two years in various cities around the world including Montreal, Paris, and Amsterdam. Mark, who is now in his 70s, described the familiar feeling he got from seeing calls for climate action reach a fever pitch in Montreal.
“I was part of the 60s, so I was part of the anti-Vietnam War movement, the early Quebec nationalist movement, the student power movement, and also supporting the civil rights movement that was unfolding in the United States,” he said. “These were heady, heady times […] I remember turning to Caitlin and saying, ‘You know, this is exactly what it felt like in 1967, ’68 in Montreal.’ That sense that you are part of something larger, that something is building. It’s an almost indescribable feeling.”
As a millennial, Caitlin described her perspective on the generational struggle against climate change.
“Everyone in my generation has grown up in a period that has completely seen the disintegration of so many things that are important to us,” she said. “So often, there’s the stigma [that] millennials are so apathetic. You don’t do anything […] It was so incredible for me to say, ‘No, we’re standing up and we are angry.’”
“To have a livable planet is a human right, and to see someone as young as Greta was just so incredible. A young woman that we can stand behind.”
While David Suzuki is similarly gratified to see young people like Greta Thunberg stand up, he’s also dismayed young people are forced to face the grim reality of climate change which could have been avoided.
“The message is so much more urgent now,” Suzuki said. “I’m very, very sad that my generation—we didn’t take the warnings that were there long before.”
“I remind people that in 1988, a major meeting of climatologists in Toronto took place, and it was opened by the Prime Minister of Canada, Brian Mulroney,” he continued.
“That conference ended with a press release that said, ‘We are performing an uncontrolled experiment with the only home that we have. Global Warming represents a threat second only to all-out nuclear war,’ and called for a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in 15 years. If we had taken it seriously then—and the science was in—if we had taken it seriously and worked to that target, we wouldn’t have the problem we have today.”
According to Suzuki, world governments at the time weren’t keen to commit to reducing emissions because they’d take a hit in popularity in the moment, only for another government down the line to take credit for the achievement. Now, the Trudeau government has committed to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, an admirable and necessary intervention Suzuki hopes Canada will follow through on.
Suzuki said the Liberal party’s 2050 goal is enough to curb a climate catastrophe, depending on how it’s achieved.
“You see, even if you take the target that the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has set, you’ve got to be 50 per cent off by 2030,” he said. “That’s a more rigid target that’s closer. You’ve got to start reducing emissions immediately.”
Suzuki insisted while the US has just had four years of a president who flat-out denies the existence of climate change, Canada could also be doing more to phase away from fossil fuels.
“We’re still committed to billions of dollars for a pipeline that should not be built,” he said. “We have a government in Alberta that says any attempt or attack on the fossil fuel industry is anti-Alberta […] as an old-timer, it’s getting pretty bleak. Greta has had a huge impact, but as she says, she’s gone to Davos, she’s gone to the UN, and she keeps saying don’t tell me to have hope, don’t tell me what you’re doing. Your emissions are still going up.”
He added that recent world events—COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd, and the renewed strength of Black Lives Matter and Indigenous Lives Matter—should be used as a teachable moment. Suzuki argues we mustn’t go back to business-as-usual when the world reopens, but instead combat the overlapping issues of climate change and racial injustice. Just as disadvantaged groups are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, they are disproportionately affected by climate catastrophes.
The main point which Suzuki, along with Mark and Caitlin Starowicz, cannot emphasize enough, is the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.
“Reduce those emissions,” Suzuki said. “The economy has become the issue that we’re bowing down before, and so long as we do that we’re going to continue to get the fossil fuel industry doing what it’s done now for over 40 years: lie, lie, lie, lie and deny, deny, deny, and put pressure on government to keep regulations from going in.”
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