Suzuki still going strong after 50 years

By Chris Beauchamp

World-renowned author, activist, award-winning geneticist and broadcaster Dr. David Suzuki was in town this week attending the Green Party National Convention at Camp Kiwanis, east of Calgary. Dr. Suzuki delivered the keynote speech to the convention on Sun., Aug. 26, in which he addressed environmental issues and expressed his hope and belief that in the future environmental sustainability will become so integrated into each political party’s platform that “fringe” platforms, such as the Greens’ will become commonplace.

"I hope in the long run the perspective of Greens will really become irrelevant in the political process," explains Dr. Suzuki in a Gauntlet interview. "I feel the environment is too important to make it a political issue. We need a society where everybody understands that we absolutely depend on our environment for survival."

Citing air, water and soil as invaluable parts of the natural world, he expresses his strong conviction that society’s priorities must shift to protect these resources, before any other considerations–especially economic ones–are taken into account. A picture of health, Dr. Suzuki’s concise hand gestures and clear arguments belie his age as he launches into a powerful indictment of western values.

"We better get straight what the real bottom line is," he says, noting that economic prosperity has been usurping environmental sustainability for generations. "We’re living in a fool’s paradise now because we have a globalized economy where we can suck resources from around the planet and we have the illusion that it’s creating wealth and everything is fine."

It is clear speaking with him that to Dr. Suzuki, our current situation is anything but "fine." Equally comfortable reciting examples of human caused damage from all over the natural spectrum, whether the devastated fish stocks in Atlantic Canada, clear-cut logging practices in British Columbia, or exponential increases in cases of asthma in children, Dr. Suzuki firmly believes humanity is on a crash course with itself.

"We’re going backwards," he says passionately. "We’re going the wrong way in terms of what the world was like 40 years ago. We’re in deep trouble."

As host of the popular CBC science television show, The Nature of Things, Dr. Suzuki has been educating and entertaining viewers and listeners throughout his over 30 years in broadcasting. He has also traveled extensively, both for research, lecturing and activism, fearlessly expounding his belief that humanity’s current path is leading to ecological disaster. Publishing over 30 books, he has written extensively on humanity’s role in nature as part of a larger whole, not that of a dominating or controlling force.

Over 50 years into an extremely distinguished career, it seems difficult to believe that he will slow down. Indeed, Dr. Suzuki sees his potential retirement as more of a chance to shift his priorities.

"I had hoped to retire at 55," he says, chuckling. "Then I passed that and said well okay, maybe at 60. And then 60 passed and now I’m hoping by 70 I’ll be able to… cut back on the travel and speaking."

He also speaks proudly of the David Suzuki Foundation, which he established in 1990 to examine and find solutions to environmental issues. Employing over 40 full-time staff, he hopes to secure "a really solid financial basis" for the foundation by the time he hits 70 in 2006.

"This is the last phase of my life. I’ve done the best I could. It’s time to move over and let the young ones like you guys come in and take it on."

Yet it’s clear he isn’t going to retire to the couch. In addition to spending more time with his grandchildren, he’d also like to take a course in geology, use his in-house laboratory to become an expert in tidal pools and learn Spanish.

"I’ve got lots to do."

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