“The future doesn't exist. The only thing that exists is now and our memory of what happened in the past. But because we invented the idea of a future, we're the only animal that realized we can affect the future by what we do today.” – David Suzuki
While attending high school in the early 1960s, I lived in Kitsilano – the now upmarket Vancouver neighbourhood named after Squamish Chief August Jack Khatsahlano.
My Yew Street and Seventh Avenue home was just steps from Fourth Avenue which later in the Sixties became the hotbed of hippie culture. During my six years in Kits, it was mostly known for the huge saltwater Kitsilano Pool which was fronted by the still-operating Kitsilano Showboat.
Today the Fourth Avenue scene is filled with stores selling yoga wear, outdoor gear, fashionable clothing, specialty teas, nuts and lotions, and a host of restaurants.
The northeast corner of Fourth and Vine is now home to a Whole Foods Market and it was there that recently one of my fellow shoppers was David Takayoshi Suzuki, the well-known author, environmentalist, broadcaster, and university genetics professor.
My daughter lives in Kits and while visiting her, I’ve encountered Suzuki near the corner of Fourth and Vine three times.
So what does one who has idolized someone for years do when he encounters that someone in a grocery store checkout line? I respect David Suzuki’s privacy too much to confront him and introduce myself.
Instead, I followed him.
Leaving the store, Suzuki walks quickly and purposefully, even at 83 years of age.
I wondered about the place he calls home. In the Irving K. Barber Lecture at the Brilliant Cultural Centre in Castlegar in 2010, Suzuki had described his house and the things that made it valuable to him – a special cabinet, the carved gate, the clematis, and the pet cemetery.
After taking a short cut through the Safeway parking lot, Suzuki disappeared from my sight down Third Avenue. I decided to let Suzuki go home in privacy.
It was then that I realized I have been following David Suzuki all my adult life.
I first became aware of Suzuki while he hosted the popular CBC Radio series Quirks and Quarks between1975 and1979. I watched him as the host of the long-running TV show The Nature of Things, now in its 60th season. He explained the natural sciences in a compelling and easily understood way to me, probably because he is the only network television science host who was actually a practising scientist.
When Suzuki began writing regular newspaper columns, I would clip them and save them in a file folder. I would buy and read some of the books he later published – my favourite is still The Sacred Balance, although my autographed copy of The Legacy is a close second.
In 1985, he criss-crossed the globe and produced an eight-part CBC special, A Planet for the Taking. It was spectacular, groundbreaking television. I remember following with rapt attention every episode of his five-part radio series It's A Matter of Survival in 1989.
“Change is never easy, and it often creates discord, but when people come together for the good of humanity and the Earth, we can accomplish great things.” – David Suzuki
After four decades of espousing a message that time to save the Earth and future generations was short, Suzuki began to focus on solutions.
For me, one of his most memorable television shows follows Suzuki and his youngest daughter Sarika Cullis-Suzuki as they tour Europe for three weeks in July 2008 visiting Denmark, Germany, France and Spain filming “The Suzuki Diaries,” which looks at the social and economic benefits of adopting sustainable practices.
In a new 2015 instalment of Suzuki Diaries, David and Sarika, set out to discover whether some of Canada's biggest cities are ready for the challenges of the future.
A third-generation Japanese-Canadian, Suzuki is a self-confessed shit disturber who has felt like an outsider most of his life.
“I’ve always seen myself as the messenger, not the message,” Suzuki told the Vancouver Sun in a 2010 interview. Despite being a household name in Canada and much of the world, he is uncomfortable being a “star.”
“My father said to me early on – shortly after I was elected president of the student body in high school – that if you’re going to stand for anything, people are going to get mad at you,” Suzuki related in that same interview.
“But it’s very painful. I don’t like having people pissed off at me.”
“Our personal consumer choices have ecological, social, and spiritual consequences. It is time to re-examine some of our deeply held notions that underlie our lifestyles.” – David Suzuki
Suzuki’s stands against tar sands development and pipeline expansions and their potential devastating effects on climate heating have made him a favourite target of Alberta’s The Rebel Media, a far-right political and social commentary media website.
Rebel Media podcast host Sheila Gunn Reid paints an unflattering portrait of Suzuki in her 66-page book The Case Against David Suzuki: An Unauthorized Biography. Gunn has also written a book that called for the ouster of former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley and recently belittled the policies of Elizabeth May in one of her podcasts.
Ezra Levant, another Rebel Media writer, podcaster, tar sands cheerleader, and former communications director for Stockwell Day, has also taken numerous shots at Suzuki.
“I’ve had critics all my life,” Suzuki told Maclean’s magazine in 2013. “But I certainly think the intensity and vileness of the personal attacks has changed.”
In1962 he was hired as an assistant professor at the University of Alberta. He lasted only one year in Edmonton’s climate. When that same university awarded Suzuki an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2018, The Rebel Media, Levant, and Troy Media – an editorial content provider that has given space to many a climate denier – spearheaded fierce opposition to the recognition. Suzuki got his degree, but the university lost some donors as a result.
“Is it progress to use up what should be the rightful legacy of our children or to leave them to deal with problems that we have created?” – David Suzuki
Suzuki’s official CV runs 17 pages. It lists dozens of academic and broadcasting awards as well as 25 honorary degrees. He has authored or collaborated on 52 books, including 19 for children. In 2011, Reader’s Digest named him as its “most trusted Canadian.”
Colleagues at the University of B.C., where he taught in the genetics department for 39 years, have called Suzuki Canada’s most prominent, most trusted and most authoritative voice on the environment.
Suzuki was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2009. His 2011 book, The Legacy, won the Nautilus Book Award. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada and the Order of British Columbia and is a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 2004, David Suzuki ranked fifth on the list of final nominees in a CBC Television series that asked viewers to select The Greatest Canadian of all time.
David Suzuki is a force of nature and a force for nature. I respect and honour him for giving voice to the fact we humans are exceeding the Earth’s capacity to support us all.
In 2009, on the occasion of Suzuki’s last lecture, the feature documentary Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie profiled his life and work. Suzuki said the lecture was “a distillation of my life and thoughts, my legacy, what I want to say before I die.”
Listen to Suzuki as he gives a version of his Legacy lecture to an audience in Perth, Australia. He starts speaking at the four minute mark. I dare you not to be moved to action.
“The crisis is real, and it is upon us.” – David Suzuki
The annual mean concentration of CO2 has marched resolutely upward every single year since 1958. The rate of increase is itself increasing, from an average of 0.8 ppm/year over the first decade of measurements to 2.3 ppm/year in the decade since 2009 – a velocity that strongly correlates with mass extinction in the geological record.
We are currently dumping over 37 billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.
“We’re in a giant car heading towards a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit.” – David Suzuki
We no longer have time to piss around, Suzuki stated recently in a column co-written with Ian Hanington, David Suzuki Foundation senior editor and writer.
They then gave voice to the path forward: “There’s room for discussion about the most effective ways to address the climate crisis, but ultimately we have to deploy every solution available and keep developing new ones – including energy conservation and efficiency, carbon pricing, public transit, vehicle and industrial electrification, clean energy technologies, education and family planning to empower women and slow population growth, reducing consumerism and more.”
Scientists tell us there’s a 10- to 15-year time lag between the rise of carbon dioxide emissions and the subsequent rise in air surface temperatures. The climate impacts we’re seeing today – the forest fires, hurricanes, droughts and floods – were locked in around 2004.
“The way we see the world shapes the way we treat it.” – David Suzuki
Some of his fellow scientists believe it’s already too late to save our species. Suzuki is more optimistic. Just like Suzuki, I too remain hopeful.
Nature, if given the chance, will be more forgiving than we deserve, Suzuki told his audience at the Brilliant Cultural Centre.
It is important that we identify with the place in which we live and with everything alive and inanimate that comprises it. All of us must forge a bond between ourselves and nature.
As Stephen Jay Gould said, “we will not fight to save what we do not love.”
We must start paying attention to the flashing warning signs in the Arctic, Greenland, Antarctica, and the Amazon.
We must think in the first person plural, but act as an individual.
We must act with a protect and preserve philosophy and act now. It’s time we all followed David Suzuki.
“The ‘environmental’ crisis is a ‘human’ crisis; we are at the centre of it as both the cause and the victims.” – David Suzuki
Michael Jessen is an ecowriter living at Longbeach on Nelson’s North Shore. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org