As two friends and I drove home from David Suzuki’s Blue Dot Tour this Fall, we wondered aloud if our critical views were sacrilegious. At the very least we felt un-Canadian. As we contemplated this, a lightning bolt shot down in front of us. No kidding.

It’s not that we don’t support environmental causes, but we left the anticipated evening feeling a little baffled by the event that seemed more about form than substance.

It was quite an extravaganza with superb entertainment from musicians Jeremy Fisher, Danny Michel and Whitehorse. Spoken Word poet Shane Koyczan did his wonderful thing. Others joined in: underwater ocean explorer Joe MacInnis, industrial landscape photographer Edward Burtynsky and two speakers from the Six Nations of the Grand River – elder Elva Jamieson and hereditary chief Elijah Howard – spoke to the full house. And of course, David Suzuki himself rounded out the night. He is definitely still a handsome hippie even in his 70s, and all eyes were on him.

The problem was, it felt like we had just attended a religious revival where we were all being lulled, seduced, conned even. But this was already a group of supporters. These were people who have loved and admired Suzuki their entire lives. We were already invested before the show began, so what was the point of all the hype? We don’t need to be sold on the idea that the environment is in trouble and needs attention. I think we were hoping for new perspectives, new information. But there was nothing new. This was a night of entertainment against the backdrop of environmental crisis. And the words delivered that evening were an old refrain.

We were asked to fill out cards offering our time and money, our commitment, but to what I really don’t know. It was rather vague.

The crowd, however, was awed. They were stoked. This was Neil Diamond's “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show.” En masse, they responded appropriately to the personal stories of hardship told by most of the speakers. But that too felt like another ploy, playing on our sympathies for money.

My one friend remarked that perhaps the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) was feeling “muzzled” because the Harper government has threatened to audit environmental groups that speak politically. And that may be enough to explain an evening that lacked the political force and directness that I expected. The key statement delivered at the event and on the DSF website indicated the need for environmental rights at all levels of government. But there was no clear mobilization effort, no direction as to how to proceed other than giving money to the David Suzuki Foundation, a foundation that it seems can no longer speak politically.

I think most of us attempt to make change in our lives by choosing, for example, to eat less meat, ride our bikes, or compost. But it seriously feels like small potatoes. Many of us are willing to make small lifestyle choices. But our governments are so busy chasing growth that the bigger picture looks, at times, like a black hole. Serious problems still exist. For starters, we North American consumers have to share some of the responsibility for the strain countries like China and India are putting on the environment. They are, after all, making products for us.

My worry in writing this is that it will be taken as a pro-Conservative stance while, in fact, it is anything but. The Harper government is crushing the voices we have trusted through the years. I left the event in a state of dark disillusion and bewilderment, as if I were living out a glitzy propaganda-filled chapter from The Hunger Games. The only way to address the problem is through political action. But if the David Suzuki Foundation and other environmental groups can no longer speak politically for us, then we need to find our own voices.

It seems like the baton has been passed and we are entering a new era. And the timing feels appropriate as we prepare to enter a new year – and an important one, with an election on the horizon. Perhaps it's time to readjust our thinking because it seems that the onus has been placed in our own little laps where it should have been all along. David Suzuki is not our lifeguard. But we continually look for lifeguards who will tell us what to do and tell us it’s going to be okay. This event with its odd fanfare quality has delivered a message, albeit obliquely. There are no buffers between us and our environmental crisis. There is only a very sick planet left to our care.

Editor's note: While the CRA has been auditing a number of environmental charities lately, the fact that charities can devote 10 per cent of their resources to (non-partisan) political advocacy has not changed.

Leslie wrote for Good Work News for 15 years, and has contributed to The Record and the Globe and Mail. She also has a chapbook called Home, published by Stonegarden Studios, and more work coming out soon.

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