It is rare to find a mentor who can maintain longevity while in the public eye. It is rarer still to find someone who can not only sustain your respect over decades, but continually grow it outwards. David Takayoshi Suzuki is one such a person for thousands of Canadians and environmentalists worldwide. He is an extraordinary example of what ripples one life can make and how those ripples, when set into motion with right intention, can become giant waves.
Most of us know Dr. Suzuki through his 27 years of service to the environmental movement as host of CBC’s top-rated show, The Nature of Things. Committed to investigating even the most controversial of topics, The Nature of Things has boldly explored medical marijuana; big business farming; the disappearance of old growth forests; and in an unforgettable 1987 episode, Suzuki spoke about the emerging AIDS/HIV epidemic, giving many of us our first introduction to the disease.
But even for those who don’t often visit TV Land, Suzuki is still a phenomenon. Having authored more than 30 books, been awarded 15 honourary doctorates and the UNESCO prize for science, founding the distinguished David Suzuki Foundation, and been instrumental in the fight for First Nations land rights, there are few places left in the world where Suzuki isn’t known and cherished.
Given how much life Dr. Suzuki has packed into seventy years so far, it isn’t surprising that he is now touring Canada with his second autobiography. He recently introduced his simply titled, David Suzuki: The Autobiography, to an eager audience at Montreal’s own Lower Canada College.
This second installment to Metamorphosis, released in 1986, picks up where Suzuki left off, at the tender age of 50. In the last twenty years Suzuki has made some of his most notable contributions, including the establishment of the David Suzuki Foundation (who, among other efforts, advocates for Canada to back the implementation of the United Nations Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas reduction); successfully campaigned to prevent the World Bank’s hydroelectric dams from being built in Native Brazilian rainforests, and has broken bread with international leaders, from Kayapo chief Paiakan to Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.
Inarguably one of the preeminent figures of our time, it is rather Suzuki’s stories about the small, human moments along the way that are most poignant; his tender telling of a childhood spent in the Slocan Valley, in the Kootenays region of British Columbia, where his abiding love of nature was first forged; stories of a difficult and awkward teenagehood, made endurable by retreats into the woods, fishing trips with his beloved father and his deep affection for fish, insects and swamps.
“There is no place more magical than a swamp,” tells Suzuki, sharing one of his most loving memories of his mother, who despite having to share her refrigerator with salamander eggs and earthworms, never admonished her son for what he brought home from the swamp, but rather treated them as if they were each great treasures.
It is this quality of parenting, tells Suzuki, which cultivates curiosity in children, and leads to an enduring sense of responsibility to, and interconnectedness with, the earth. In his words, Suzuki’s five greatest contributions to the planet are his own children. Indeed, they are impressive examples of what can happen when a love of nature is encouraged in the young mind.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, the youngest daughter born to Suzuki and Tara Cullis in 1979, began her career in environmental activism at age 12, when she spoke to the United Nations at an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Her speech can be described as no less than riveting, bringing an audience of international delegates to tears and standing ovation.
“I am only a child,” she told them. “Yet I know that if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this would be. In school you teach us not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? You grownups say you love us, but I challenge you, please, to make your actions reflect your words.”
Severn went on to graduate from Yale University, receiving a B. Sc. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2002, and continues to speak around the world urging listeners to take personal responsibility in the global environmental crisis.
We have just such an opportunity with Suzuki’s latest campaign, the Nature Challenge. This initiative is both an attempt to petition our government to prioritize environmental concerns, as well as a call to Canadians to conserve natural resources by taking at least three of the following actions:
1. Reduce home energy use by 10%
2. Choose an energy-efficient home and appliances
3. Don’t use pesticides
4. Eat meat-free meals one day a week
5. Buy locally grown and produced food
6. Choose a fuel efficient vehicle
7. Walk, bike carpool or take transit
8. Choose a home close to work or school
9. Support alternative transportation
10. Learn more and share with others
Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper has neither included environmental issues amongst his “5 promises,” nor will he meet with Dr. Suzuki despite several invitations, it is Suzuki’s hope that a million names collected on the Nature Challenge petition will be enough to convince our government that preserving the environment rates topmost among Canadian values. That being said, Canada is one of worst environmental performers (28th out of 30) in the industrialized world, according to the report The Maple Leaf in the OECD.
As Suzuki explains in his book The Sacred Balance, opting to prioritize the economy before the environment makes backwards sense. Without sustainable resources, the bottom line is a moot point. Not only do we need to make urgent changes to our consumption habits in order to restore our planet’s declining health, but we need to be shifting our social priorities as well, explains Suzuki, towards love, childhood and community.
“If we are to balance and direct our remarkable technological muscle power,” Suzuki explains, “we need to regain some ancient virtues: the humility to acknowledge how much we have yet to learn, the respect that will allow us to protect and restore nature, and the love that can lift our eyes to distant horizons, far beyond the next election, pay cheque or stock dividend. Above all we need to reclaim our faith in ourselves as creatures of the Earth, living in harmony with all other forms of life.”
To sign up for the Nature Challenge, visit here for more info.
This article was originally published in June/07 issue of Synchronicity Magazine.