David Suzuki doesn’t have the same name recognition as Neil Young outside of Canada, but they have a few things in common: both are environmentalist crusaders and haters of business and both are prone to fantastically irrational claims. Neil Young likened the Canadian oil sands development to a nuclear holocaust. David Suzuki, a zoologist by training and Canada’s leading environmentalist, remarked that should there be another nuclear emergency at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, everybody—some 50 million people—at the west coast of North America (8,000 km away) would have be to evacuated because of the nuclear fall-out. See the National Post story here.
However, Neil Young and David Suzuki differ in one important respect. When Neil Young was called out on his comparison of the oil sands development to Hiroshima and told that he did not know what he was talking about, he replied: “Of course I don’t know what I am talking about [regarding the oil sands]; I am a musician.” David Suzuki, on the hand, took three months to express “regret” for his outrageous claim about the need for evacuating North Americans due to a nuclear emergency in Japan. He called his remark “off the cuff” but did not renege it. He attributed it to his “sense of potential widespread disaster” and “the need for urgent international response to dealing with the spent rods at Fukushima.”
(A footnote on nuclear power: it is a remarkably safe and clean source of energy. Natural disasters such as earth quakes and tsunamis can cause accidents like the one in Fukushima, but they are exceedingly rare. It is worth noting that the worst nuclear disaster occurred in a government-run power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine which was then part of the communist Soviet Union. Many Western, freer countries, most notably France that derives 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy, have been using nuclear power safely for decades.)
When making the overblown claim about nuclear evacuation, David Suzuki also said: “If that is not terrifying, then I don’t know what is.” In other words, according to his moral code, it is OK to terrify people by making fabricated claims to get them to join your cause. And when you are called out on your outlandish lies—like many nuclear scientists did when they learned about Suzuki’s attempted fear-mongering—you do not admit that you did not know what you were talking about. Instead, you claim that “a potential widespread disaster” is looming, and your comments were justified to get people to pay attention and to join the anti-industrial crusade.
David Suzuki’s nuclear fall-out and evacuation comments were more immoral than Neil Young’s attack on the Canadian oil sands development because he masquerades as an expert on nuclear power and pretends to base his views on scientific evidence, not on emotional reaction like Neil Young did. Only this time, he went too far: there is not a shred of scientific evidence supporting his claims. Any thinking person’s response should be to ask: if David Suzuki made such outlandish claims about nuclear power, what else has he lied about? And if he is not telling the truth, what is his motive? To promote human well-being, or a pristine environment without human “interference”?
However, while many nuclear scientists have criticized Suzuki’s irresponsible remarks and some media have published the story, he has an ardent following in Canada, his own TV show with the national public broadcasting company, and significant media attention. It is a tragic statement about today’s culture that someone as irrational and dishonest as David Suzuki has so much influence. But when the irrational exposes itself and its ridiculousness, that also presents an opportunity for changing the culture. All we have to do is to point it out, like National Post’s Tristin Hopper has done, and spread the word. That can plant a seed for questioning irrational claims. Next time people hear so-called experts making calls to curtail human well-being—by banning the nuclear power or fossil fuel industries—they may question the veracity and validity of such claims and eventually, reject them. And better yet, they may embrace pro-human, rational ideas instead.