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Exposure to pollution in Hong Kong is worst in the home, study reveals

It’s not just on the city’s streets where we are at risk from dangerous PM2.5 particulates – three-quarters of daily personal exposure is indoors

http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2097540/exposure-pollution-hong-kong-worst-home-study

Your home may be your refuge in Hong Kong, but not from air pollution. It’s probably worse.

Exposure to PM2.5 particulates small enough to lodge deep in the lungs and most harmful to human health have been found to be just as high – or higher – inside people’s homes as they are outdoors or during the commute to work on an average weekday.

A two-year study by think tank Civic Exchange and City University, funded by investment bank Morgan Stanley, found that most urban dwellers are exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 during their daily commute that are almost always above average limits set by the World Health Organisation, and generally above readings at the nearest air quality monitoring station.

Breathe easier, Hong Kong is on course to hit global air pollution target

While the Environmental Protection Department’s 16 stations can monitor and assess ambient and roadside air quality across districts, the study fills a relatively wide gap in statistics on individual-level exposure to pollution in different “micro-environments”.

Co-author Dr Zhi Ning reported finding that people were exposed to air pollution risks not just outdoors but also indoors at home or the office.

“Your 24 hours are spent in different environments,” the City University air pollution expert said. “You may think that even if its very polluted outside, you are more safe inside. But it really depends on what that indoor environment is like.”

The researchers employed 73 volunteers who carried lunchbox-sized “personal exposure kits” fitted with sensors and GPS, 24 hours a day for a year around the city.

They found that most spent more than 85 per cent of each weekday indoors, which broke down to 42 per cent of the day at home, 34 per cent in the office, 4 per cent commuting and 11 per cent outdoors or in other indoor areas.

Homes were found to contribute 52 per cent of an individual’s personal exposure to PM2.5 compared with 13 per cent for offices, 4 per cent while commuting, 18 per cent outdoors and 14 per cent in other indoor areas.

The average PM2.5 concentration measured in homes – 42.5 micrograms per cubic metre – was three to four times lower than outdoors but slightly higher than while commuting and three times higher than in the office.

Factors for the PM2.5 build up in homes, Ning surmised, could range from cooking and the type of gas used to proximity to a construction site or smoking tobacco. And this was exacerbated by poor ventilation and dirty air filters. Offices tended to have better ventilation systems. Flats on lower floors were also exposed to more pollution.

But Ning found little correlation between personal exposure and district pollution. A person who spent more time in better ventilated indoor areas in heavily polluted Sham Shui Po, for example, could have a lower exposure to PM2.5 than the station reading and vice versa.

“Right now we only rely on [the department’s] data but they only provide a general, ballpark figure,” Civic Exchange research fellow and co-author Simon Ng Ka-wing said.

“It is important to know how much air pollution we are exposed to on a personal level. This would allow us to make better decisions as to when to go or not to go somewhere.”

The study recommended the government do more to promote better indoor air quality in homes and implement a comprehensive management programme.

A government spokesman said: “The EPD has been conducting promotional and educational activities, including exhibitions and seminars, to promote practices to achieve good indoor air quality.”

Additional reporting by Brian Wong

Trump has reheated debate with US withdrawal from Paris Agreement, former UN climate chief says

Speaking on sidelines of three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong, Christiana Figueres insisted the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions would not be shaken.

The United Nations’ former climate chief has struck a defiant note against US President Donald Trump [1]’s pullout from the landmark Paris accord, insisting the global shift towards reducing carbon emissions will not be shaken.

In an interview with the Post, Christiana Figueres, who formerly headed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, even “thanked” Trump for effectively reinvigorating the discussion over global warming and making it headline news again. But she admitted it was sad to see the US give up its leading role.

“The announcement was a political message that Mr Trump wanted to give out, geared toward his political base,” said Figueres, who headed the negotiations leading to the Paris agreement in 2015 [3]

“Most of the US economy, most cities, states and corporations, will continue because they know its in their own interest.”

She was speaking on the sidelines of the three-day World Sustainable Built Environment Conference in Hong Kong on Monday, the city’s largest ever conference on sustainable buildings and urban development. Tackling climate change [4] in the face of rapid urbanisation is the key theme.

Trump’s politically-motivated gesture, Figueres said, would have limited impact on America, given that more than 175 US mayors, a growing number of states and more than 1,000 corporations had pledged to continue upholding commitments to the Paris Agreement.

“It is the White House which stepped out of [Paris], not the US economy,” she said. “That’s actually a sad statement to make as under normal conditions, a president should speak for the economy and the majority.”

Figueres brushed off Trump’s announcement as one riddled with inaccuracies, not least because there was no legal basis for it – no country can withdraw from the accord until three years after ratification – and his claims of bringing back coal industry jobs.

“It is not feasible and Mr Trump knows it,” she said, adding that most coal jobs had already been killed by cheap natural gas as a result of the recent shale revolution, and mining jobs had been taken over by mechanisation and automation.

“It will be increasingly difficult for other heads of state to take Mr Trump seriously,” she added, suggesting that Trump had undermined his country’s credibility.

Figueres said it would be inevitable that China – the world’s biggest carbon emitter – continued the charge as its leaders recognised decarbonisation was “good for their economy”.

Figueres, who now vice-chairs the Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy, said built-up environments contributed to one-fifth of global emissions. The conference was being held in Hong Kong as it was a gateway to Asia, she said.

“Asia marks whether the world is going to succeed in climate change actions or not.”

Tobacco To Fossil Fuels: Tracing the Roots of Trump’s Claims on Paris Climate Deal

To understand why President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the global Paris climate agreement, we might start by looking at the sources he relied on to justify his decision.

https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/06/01/tobacco-fossil-fuels-tracing-roots-trump-s-claims-paris-climate-deal

But we’re not going to start there, but we will end there.

Instead, let’s go back to the early 1990s. The tobacco industry was facing multiple bans on advertising its products in countries around the world.

So the tobacco industry took ownership of a study that reviewed a bunch of other studies about the claimed impacts of tobacco advertising on actual tobacco consumption.

In short, the study, handed to Phillip Morris International, concluded there was no real link between tobacco advertising and smoking levels. Studies that had found a link were probably flawed, the report claimed.

The reports, the letters, and the memos back and forth, are all buried away in the Tobacco Industry Documents Archive at the University of California – San Francisco.

Clearly, the report would help the tobacco industry to argue there was no need to regulate the advertising of its products, because that advertising didn’t make a difference to smoking levels one way or the other.

National Economic Research Associates

The company that carried out that tobacco study was National Economic Research Associates.

Why is this relevant to Donald Trump and his decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement?

When Trump spoke of the “onerous energy restrictions” he claimed the Paris deal placed on the United States, he cited figures from a report by the very same National Economic Research Associates (NERA).

According to the NERA study, the Paris agreement would cut coal and gas production, and “cost” America 2.7 million jobs.

Fossil Fuel Interests

Two groups, namely the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) and the U.S Chamber of Commerce, sponsored the NERA report (incidentally, a New York Times investigation described the chamber as Big Tobacco’s Staunch Friend in Washington, due to its advocacy for the industry).

NERA has also produced reports supporting the LNG industry and the coal industry.

The ACCF has, over the years, accepted funds from a string of major corporations and industry groups, including ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute and foundations linked to the billionaire petrochemical brothers Charles and David Koch.

As a fact check by the Associated Press on the part of Trump’s speech citing the NERA study published points out:

“The study makes worst-case assumptions that may inflate the cost of meeting U.S. targets under the Paris accord while largely ignoring the economic benefits to U.S. businesses from building and operating renewable energy projects.

Academic studies have found that increased environmental regulation doesn’t actually have much impact on employment. Jobs lost at polluting companies tend to be offset by new jobs in green technology.”

A separate team of economists and scientists has also checked the claims made in the NERA report, which has previously been cited by failed Republican Presidential candidate (and climate science denier) Ted Cruz. They come to similarly unflattering conclusions to the AP fact check.

So in the end, we have President Trump relying on a questionable report paid for by groups with a clear vested interest in undermining the Paris agreement.

Cigarette, Anyone?

When reporters were being briefed in the hours before Trump walked out to the White House Rose Garden, it was Trump’s energy aide Mike Catanzaro making the calls.

As DeSmog’s Steve Horn has pointed out, Catanzaro is a former fossil fuel and energy lobbyist with a history of attacking climate science.

He also spent time working with Senator James Inhofe – the Republican who claims global warming is the greatest hoax ever. Catanzaro is just one of a parade of former industry lobbyists now in top positions in the Trump administration.

The Paris climate deal, struck in late 2015, was rightly declared a historic moment.

No doubt too, Trump’s declaration that he will join Nicaragua and Syria outside the deal will also be seen as historic.

It was a decision to delay action to regulate an industry, based on tired old propaganda techniques and the self-serving analysis of a polluting industry under attack.

Cigarette, anyone?

The Guardian view on air pollution: playing politics with the nation’s health

The high court shouldn’t have been asked to decide on this. But it has rightly ruled against the government’s latest efforts to delay action on air quality

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/apr/27/the-guardian-view-on-air-pollution-playing-politics-with-the-nations-health

Thanks to this government’s intransigence about tackling air pollution, the battle to improve the quality of the air we breathe has played out not in the political arena, but in the courts. Time after time, the government has found itself on the wrong side of the law: first for its failure to meet legally binding European targets on harmful nitrogen dioxide emissions; then, for failing to produce an adequate plan to address these. Its latest delaying tactic has been to claim it could not meet this week’s court-imposed deadline for publishing a new draft plan, because of the “purdah” convention ruling out new government announcements in the run-up to an election.

And so it has fallen to judges yet again to take the government to task over its failure to act. Today’s ruling took apart the government’s case: its own purdah guidance sets out exemptions where public health is at risk. As the judge pointed out, why would it be better to have parties debating what ought to be in a draft air pollution plan, when it could be debating what is actually in it?

The government’s real motivations are political, not procedural. Having delayed taking meaningful action for seven years, it is clearly nervous about proposing any measures that hit drivers of diesel cars during an election campaign. Its political cowardice is astounding – and pointless. Public attitudes have shifted in recent years, and London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, has made tackling air pollution one of his top priorities. The government is unlikely to face opposition to tougher action from any of its mainstream political opponents, and is enjoying double-digit poll leads.

Yet it continues to shirk its responsibilities to the nation’s public health. Today’s air pollution may be less visible than the smogs that settled over our cities in the 1950s, but it is a deadly killer, responsible for upwards of 40,000 premature deaths per year. London breached its annual air pollution limit just five days into 2017, and legal limits were easily surpassed in the vast majority of local authorities. The effects are particularly pernicious for children whose lungs are still developing.

The human cost makes the government’s latest attempts to delay a disgrace. The two-month extension it was seeking for its final plan could have meant thousands of avoidable premature deaths, all in service of not wanting to jeopardise a marginal number of votes in an election that it is on course to win handsomely. It’s a sick calculus.

The good news is that air pollution is easier to tackle than other environmental and public health challenges. Unlike climate change, it is relatively localised: city-scale actions to address pollution levels can have a marked effect on their air quality. Much (though by no means all) of the problem comes down to emissions from diesel vehicles and, to a greater extent than in other areas of public health, consumers are highly responsive to financial incentives. The irony is that we know this because many have switched from petrol to diesel as a result of sweeteners introduced back when diesel was thought to be more environmentally friendly due to its lower carbon emissions.

But heavy lobbying from the car industry in Westminster and Brussels has staved off firm action. European emissions tests for diesel cars have been far easier to manipulate than in the US; as a result, 97% of modern diesel cars exceed the official limit for NOx pollution. Behind the scenes, the British government has tried to block tougher testing. It’s a familiar story: the government similarly watered down plans to tackle childhood obesity in the face of special pleading from the food and drink industry.

The high court ruling puts the ball back in the government’s court. It should choose to accept it, rather than appeal. But either way, it has been exposed as a government willing to privilege marginal political advantage and the lobbying efforts of big business over the health of the nation.

Donald Trump will scrap Barack Obama’s plan to halt global warming, reveals EPA chief Scott Pruitt

Activists have vowed to fight the president’s new order

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/donald-trump-barack-obama-global-warming-plan-undo-epa-scott-pruitt-paris-talks-environment-a7652386.html

Environmentalists have denounced a plan by Donald Trump – who has said climate change is a hoax – to sign an executive order that will take apart his predecessor’s efforts to try and slow the warming of the planet.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, said the order will undo Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, an environmental regulation that restricted greenhouse gas emissions at coal-fired power plants. The 2015 regulation has been on hold since last year while a federal court hears an appeal filed by Republican-controlled states and more than 100 companies.

Over the weekend, Mr Pruitt said Mr Trump’s plan would help create jobs and lower the cost of electricity.

“We’ve penalised ourselves through lost jobs while China and India didn’t take steps to address the issue internationally,” he told ABC News.

But environmentalists have condemned the proposal, saying the move will not only undo more than an a decade of fighting climate change, but will also not provide the sort of jobs Mr Trump has said he will create.

“Trump’s trying to undo more than a decade of progress in fighting climate change and protecting public health,” said David Doniger, director

“But nobody voted to abandon America’s leadership in climate action and the clean-energy revolution. This radical retreat will meet a great wall of opposition.”

Bloomberg News said Mr Trump’s plan involved some measures that would be undertaken immediately and said that could take years to be completed.

The order will compel federal agencies to quickly identify any actions that could burden the production or use of domestic energy resources, including nuclear power, and then work to suspend, revise or rescind the policies unless they are legally mandated, it said.

UK landmarks join big switch-off for Earth Hour

People are being urged to join UK landmarks and famous sites around the world as they switch off their lights for an hour on Saturday night to back action on climate change.

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/uk/uk-landmarks-join-big-switchoff-for-earth-hour-35564205.html

Despite the terror attack in Westminster on Wednesday, the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben are joining more than 270 landmarks across the UK in switching off the lights for conservation charity WWF’s Earth Hour.

Buckingham Palace, Blackpool Tower, Brighton Pier, the Senedd Building in Cardiff, the Kelpies sculpture in Falkirk and Edinburgh Castle are among those also taking part.

Starting in Samoa and ending 24 hours later in The Cook Islands, people in 184 countries will send a message calling for action to protect the planet by tackling climate change, WWF said.

Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, New York’s Empire State Building, the Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow, the Egyptian Pyramids and Tokyo Tower will be switching off the lights during their Earth Hour between 8.30pm and 9.30pm.

Members of the public are also being encouraged to take part by switching off their lights for the hour.

Colin Butfield, director of campaigns at WWF, said: “Today, hundreds of millions of people will be showing global unity on climate change during Earth Hour. Climate change is impacting us here and now.

“We are seeing it across the globe, from the Great Barrier Reef suffering mass bleaching for an unprecedented second year in a row, to more severe weather in Britain.

“Following the tragic events in London earlier this week, we are inspired and grateful to hear that the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben will be switching off their lights to show support for global action on climate change.”

He added: “Earth Hour is the world’s biggest climate change event. All you have to do is switch off your lights for one hour to join hundreds of millions around the world to send a clear signal that we must act and we must act now.”

As well as the big switch off, people are kicking off Earth Hour in various ways including a pedal-powered cinema night arranged by Exeter University students on Gylly beach and a musical display at the Senedd.

Causeway Bay has worst air in Hong Kong, statistics show

District exceeded the WHO’s limit on the concentration of small particulates in the air on 227 days of 2016

http://www.atimes.com/article/causeway-bay-worst-air-hong-kong-statistics-show/

Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong Island, had the poorest air in the city in 2016, followed by Tuen Mun in the New Territories West and Mong Kok in Kowloon, according to chief of the city’s Environment Bureau, citing from analyses by the Environmental Protection Department.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing made a written reply to the Legislative Council on Wednesday regarding concern over high-level air pollution in Hong Kong.

The World Health Organization’s guidelines state that the concentration of small particulates PM2.5 over a 24-hour period should not exceed 25 micrograms per cubic metre.

In 2016, Causeway Bay exceeded the limit on 227 days of the year, while for Tuen Mun and Mong Kok the numbers were 173 days and 171 days respectively. Other locations in Hong Kong monitored by the government averaged 100 days.

Pollution from the Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province and tropical cyclones are often blamed for Hong Kong’s poor air quality.

Over 80% of high pollution days were said to be caused by the downdraught effect of tropical cyclones, which results in the accumulation of ozone and fine suspended particulates in the Pearl River Delta. Wong explained that the pollutants are then brought to the city by westerly or northwesterly winds.

Waste disposal charge will cost a typical Hong Kong family HK$51 a month

Environment minister reveals range of fees intended to meet target of a 40 per cent reduction in household waste by 2022

Hong Kong’s households will have to shell out around HK$33 to HK$51 a month to dispose of their rubbish when a long-awaited quantity-based charging scheme designed to change behaviour and reduce waste comes into force in two years.

Environment minister Wong Kam-sing said on Monday that charges for municipal solid waste – rubbish generated from homes, offices, factories and restaurants, a third of which comes from kitchens – would be imposed on all sectors in one go for the sake of fairness and in line with the “polluter pays” principle.

“Quantity-based waste charging aims to create financial incentives to drive behavioural changes in waste generation,” Wong said. “The biggest aim is to reduce overall waste disposal, not to increase government revenues.”

Residential buildings, village houses and street-level shops that use government refuse collection services will be required to buy one of nine types of rubbish bags of varying size, priced at an average 11 cents per litre. The charge will be 30 cents for the smallest, 3-litre bag, while the biggest 100-litre bag will cost HK$11.

A three-person household opting for the standard 15-litre bag – roughly the same size as a supermarket plastic bag – will pay about HK$1.70 a time, running a tab of about HK$51 per month. It will cost HK$1.10,or HK$33 per month, for 10-litre bags.

Oversized items that cannot fit into any of the nine designated bags must be tagged with a label that costs HK$11 for disposal.

Sold in packs of 10, the bags will be available at 4,000 sales points, including convenience stores, post offices, petrol stations and special vending machines.

Commercial and industrial buildings using private collection services will pay a landfill “gate fee”, based on the weight of the rubbish they produce. The tip fees will be set between HK$365 and HK$395 per tonne.

Details of the charging scheme were revealed by the Environmental Protection Department on Monday after years of public engagement. A bill will be tabled at the Legislative Council before the summer and, following its passage, the public will be given 12 to 18 months to prepare for the charging scheme. Full implementation is expected in the second half of 2019.

The average Hongkonger throws out about 1.39kg of household waste per day. A target was set in 2014 to slash that figure by 40 per cent by 2022. Wong said the city’s municipal solid waste had increased by over 80 per cent over the past 30 years, far outpacing the population growth of 34 per cent.

He said the government would step up enforcement at refuse collection stations and bin sites. Legislation could also empower public officers to carry out enforcement and spot checks within common areas of private residential estates.

waste-price

Fixed penalties for non-compliance have been set at HK$1,500.

Wong said the charges – which will be in place for three years – were “acceptable” and in line with practices in Taipei City and Seoul, both of which have seen significant waste reduction since levies were introduced.

World Green Organisation policy advocacy manager Angus Wong Chun-yin welcomed the scheme but said the departments involved would need to be clearer about how to divide labour and monitor and carry out enforcement in estates. “It still seems a bit clumsy,” he said.

Greeners Action executive director Angus Ho Hon-wai said the charging scheme’s impact would be greater if rates were set higher.

“At this rate, I believe it will be difficult for the government to meet the 2022 waste targets,” he said.

“But as a starting point, we can acquiesce.”

He said the government also needed to consider how property management companies of commercial buildings will divide tip fee costs equitably among tenants.

“What if I produce very little waste, why should I help pay for others? This is something they will need to think about.”
________________________________________
Source URL: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2080508/11-cents-dump-1-litre-trash-hong-kong-government?_=1490065597228

David Suzuki, climate science’s caustic Dr Doom, rips into consumerism, hails China’s green tech

Japanese-Canadian geneticist offers gloomy prognosis of looming catastrophe, and rubbishes the idea that humanity can innovate its way out of its problems

http://www.scmp.com/print/lifestyle/article/2079813/david-suzuki-climate-sciences-caustic-dr-doom-rips-consumerism-hails

David Suzuki is a force of nature. The Canadian geneticist turned celebrity champion of the environment is operating on severe jet lag, two hours’ sleep and an ever-heightening world-weariness. But he fires off epithets, facts and acerbic quips with a vigour that’s as implausible as the ageless glow of his skin.

“Humans value growth; that’s like cancer cells,” Suzuki, 80, says. We’re overpopulated and live in a finite world but are deluding ourselves that the opposite is true, he says.

“We’re an invasive species,” he adds, forecasting that a Spanish-flu-like epidemic might cut back swelling populations in the near future.

The developing world is a target of his ire for its booming populations, a position he admits is controversial. “We don’t talk about how these populations are growing too fast because we’re told it’s racist to say that.”

Touching down in Hong Kong to deliver a rallying speech at City University that kicks off its inaugural lecture series on sustainability, Suzuki does not mince words on stage nor during interviews, in which he refuses to suffer optimists.

He has a reputation as a fearsome figurehead of Canada’s environmentalists, having, on occasion, responded to detractors in expletives, and proved a slightly scary interviewee. At times, he emanates a grandfatherly warmth; at others, a wry impatience that veers on the grouchy.

“Yeah, humans are just so smart, we’re just so, so smart,” he says, rolling his eyes at the suggestion that humanity might save itself through its own inventiveness. This quality, though marvellous in some respects, is what enabled us to develop in ways that are unsustainable.

“We have the internet, that’ll fix things,” he says sarcastically. He finds effusive optimism of this sort not only deeply distasteful, but also dangerous, as it vindicates inaction in the face of creeping adversity.

That man-made solutions to climate change’s increasingly disastrous impact, by way of geoengineering, or conquering new planets as recently proposed by Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk, might be just around the corner, are beliefs he calls delusional. The answer lies not in new inventions, but in scaling back big time and pushing for others to do the same.

The solution to our problems goes far beyond paltry gestures such as switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, he says, but doesn’t offer any specific suggestions besides a total overhaul of the status quo, and mobilising society to campaign for its rights to clean resources.

“Since I arrived in Hong Kong people keep saying ‘free the market, you gotta free the market’,” Suzuki says, waving his arms flamboyantly. “The market” is a human construct, he adds. It’s not a preternatural force that’s beyond the control of humans – it can be tamed.

Needless to say, Suzuki is no proponent of deregulated capitalism, nor is he hopeful about the future prospects of mankind within the current framework of the global economy. “Corporations don’t give a s*** about us,” he says.

He argues that what’s happened is that we imbue “the market” with an almost transcendental power while relegating the natural world to a position of servitude. This sanctions our plundering of the Earth with ever greater and prospectively more dangerous ingenuity.

On China, he has a nuanced take: “I vowed never to go back because of the air pollution. Now China has invested in green technology because it’s had to – the pollution is killing people. It’s becoming a world leader in green tech.”

On recently elected US President Donald Trump he is far more critical: “We’ve moved from a biocentric point of view to an anthropocentric one. It’s all about me, me, me – and Trump is the cultural expression of that,” he says.

We once respected nature and bowed to its demands. Now we expect it to do our bidding and plunder its resources with an absurd expectation that they are infinite and a grandiose sense of entitlement.

“There’s no limit to what we want,” he says. “You walk down the street and see people in jeans that companies have ripped for them. I think that’s disgusting.”

Suzuki, a Vancouverite and third-generation Japanese-Canadian, rose to prominence as a TV presenter and environmental activist during and after the decades he spent as a research scientist.

His family suffered internment during the second world war, and, in its aftermath, were forced to relocate to the east of the Rocky Mountains after the government sold off their dry-cleaning business.

Suzuki attributes to his parents’ need to scrimp and save his own distaste for the materialist values that flourished after the war.

“My parents taught me not to run after money,” he says.

The fledging scientist earned his PhD in biology from the University of Chicago, and later became professor of a genetics department at the University of British Columbia, specialising in fruit flies.

He went on to host several documentaries, radio and TV shows, among them the internationally popular science programme The Nature of Things, which cemented his place as a household name.

“When I started doing those shows, Canadians were scientifically illiterate,” he recalls. “I had hoped that by helping disseminate information people would get better about making the right decisions.

“I’ve had to alter that belief – now we have the internet and access to so much information, we just read the stuff we want to believe.”

In the late 1970s, during the shooting of The Nature of Things, he interviewed the indigenous people of the Haida Gwaii archipelago on the north coast of British Columbia about protests they were holding against the cutting down of their forest.

These encounters proved life-changing for Suzuki, who has since campaigned tirelessly for the rights of indigenous cultures and has been adopted into one tribe.

“I’ve been welcomed into the eagle tribe – I’m an eagle,” he says. His adoptive tribe sees men and animals as one and the same, an idea Suzuki says is supported by recent research showing that humans and animals share many chromosomes.

He believes they are among the only societies who live sustainably, within their means and with respect for the natural world. He says science now backs many of their conceptions of man’s place in the world as part of an interconnected matrix.

With 55 books under his belt, a foundation in his name, and environmental campaign work spanning decades, Suzuki admits he’s exhausted, angry and prone to moments of despondency.

He has been a particularly active force when it comes to debunking climate deniers and the industry lobby groups that support them. “Companies that put their own profit over the survival of the planet – that’s evil.”

The past year has been a particularly bad one for his ilk. Deadline upon deadline set by climatologists and transnational alliances to offset climate change’s increasingly palpable impact have been flouted.

And what has emerged is an increasingly polarised world, unverifiable information chaos and a climate change denier at the helm of the world’s most powerful nation.

Suzuki remembers the evening of last year’s US elections. A party with his wife and friends in Massachusetts had disbanded early when the results became apparent. “I left that night worried that some of my friends might kill themselves,” he says.

A few weeks later he would find himself reading a particularly dismal report from an environmentalist’s research project that forecast climatological doom in our near future owing to methane being released from the Arctic as the permafrost thaws.

“I couldn’t move for a week after I read that,” he says. “My grandchildren have a very uncertain future.”

A family man with five children – three from his first marriage – he admits that for a proponent of population control his ecological footprint isn’t the most admirable.

“You have one kid, and you think, this is great, let’s have another,” he says. “And grandchildren are even better.”

His daughter, Severn, is like her father. At the age of 12, she travelled to Rio to give a speech at the summit and has since followed in her father’s footsteps by becoming a prominent environmental activist. When Suzuki needs to escape he retreats to the Haida Gwaii reservation, where Severn now lives with her husband and two sons.

“My grandchildren keep me from despair,” he says. “My grandchildren are what keep me fighting. Because we’ve got to keep fighting, otherwise – what’s the point?”