Today, March 24, 2016, we celebrate the 80th birthday of the iconic Canadian environmentalist and elder Dr. David Suzuki. This internationally respected nature lover is considered by many to be the greatest living Canadian. He has been an academic, science broadcaster and author but he is best known for his work as a passionate defender of the natural world.
It will come as a surprise to many but Suzuki’s passion for nature was born in a Canadian concentration camp. While Suzuki has earned global praise, he was not always venerated as he is today. Due to his Japanese heritage, the Suzuki family was subject to the racist brutality of internment during the Second World War.
These camps did not have schools or formal activities and Suzuki’s inability to speak Japanese prevented him from playing with the other mostly Japanese speaking children. Ironically these factors contributed to his rise to prominence as one of the world’s foremost environmentalists and lovers of nature. The absence of activities or friends caused him to spend long hours exploring the forest adjacent to his camp (now known as Valhalla Provincial Park).
Suzuki is one of the world’s leading champions of climate action and environmental advocacy. He is the co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation which focuses on issues like climate change, clean energy and sustainability. Essentially they strive to encourage a mode of life that is in harmony with nature. He is also the inspiration behind the Blue Dot Movement that is campaigning to enshrine clean air, water and soil into Canadian law.
Like so many scientists today Suzuki is deeply concerned about tje ecological toll that climate change is taking on the world today. “I am raising the alarm” Suzuki said in a Globe and Mail interview, “especially now as an elder”
Suzuki has explained that our disconnection with nature is at the heart of our destructive relationship with our environment. As he put it, “[we] no longer live as part of nature.” He believes that the comforts of contemporary life isolate us from the realization that we are part nature. He posits that we need a paradigm shift that enables us to prioritize nature.
While Suzuki is well loved by most, he has earned the ire of some of those whose interests he has undermined through his advocacy . He is no stranger to threats and intimidation. His office at UBC (the University of British Columbia where he was a professor of genetics) was broken into two times. A bullet was even fired into his home. However, Suzuki never capitulated and he is even more strident now that he is an elder.
Suzuki’s connection to nature inspires him to speak truth to power.
To illustrate the point he recently suggested that former Canadian
Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be thrown in jail for his willful
ignorance on climate change.
Despite the daunting challenges posed by climate change Suzuki remains stalwart in his conviction that we must fight for the planet until we breathe our last breath:
“There are many of my colleagues now who are saying
it’s too late; we’ve passed too many tipping points. And my response to
that at my age is I don’t have to worry about it in the sense that …
I’ll be dead when things really kick in badly. But I don’t think anyone
should say it’s too late, because that’s a hopeless prognosis. And we
don’t know enough to say it’s too late. It’s very, very urgent. But
don’t say it’s too late. Because we have to have hope.”
Suzuki has won many awards and achieved a number of great
things in his life. His awards include the Right Livelihood Award, a
Nautilus Book Award and Companion of the Order of Canada. As an activist
he has successfully stopped fossil fuel drilling operations and stopped
supertanker traffic off the west coast.
Although he has received many awards and accolades the accomplishment that he values the most is being a father and grandfather.