Profile: Dr David Suzuki

Profile: Dr David Suzuki

He has a message for Australia, which he says has back-pedalled on climate change action. He rejects the argument that a carbon tax will slow the economy. He gives Sweden as a case in point, where in 1991 it initiated a carbon tax. “Today they pay $150 a tonne and have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 8%. During that time the Swedish economy has grown by 44%.” David Suzuki is in Australia in October.

What the hell are you thinking?

Kathleen Noonan in the Courier-Mail (27 September 2010):

 Author and environmentalist David Suzuki.

TALKING to David Suzuki brings to mind that irreligious gift card with a holy picture on it, warning “Jesus is coming. Look busy”.

Around this seemingly tireless 74-year-old Canadian, considered by many as a green prophet, you never feel as if you are doing enough for Mother Earth. He inspires action.

“What the hell are they thinking?” is his favourite phrase, delivered with force, about many things – politicians compliant with the fossil-fuel industry, BP over the oil spill, US President Barack Obama and his motor-industry bailout, Australia and its lack of carbon tax.

There’s so much to do and Suzuki says he and the planet are running out of time.

“I’m in the death zone. I’m not being dramatic or macabre. I’m healthy but I’m 75 next year. That’s entering the human death zone.

“I need to get out there all that I believe. I thought the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster was a moment in history when we would wake up and change our ways, but no. My God, what will it take!”

As clarion calls go, David Suzuki in full flight is truly something to behold.

Just back from the Peruvian rainforest, speaking from his home in Vancouver, the voice gets louder down the phone line, but the activist elder has a rival. His one-year-old grandchild is in full flight in the background. Clearly, passion and verbosity run in the family. “He’s the joy of my life. He and my other grandchildren are why I’m doing this.”

His latest book and lecture tour, The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future, are “what I want to say before I die”. The book, his most thoughtful and personal, is based on the traditional “last lecture” he delivered last year at the University of British Columbia where he had been a professor for 39 years.

“We are so dazzled by our own inventiveness,” Suzuki writes, “that we are blinded to the consequences of technology. As an elder, I am appalled that my generation has induced change and created problems that we bequeath to my children and grandchildren and all generations to come. That is not right but I believe that it is not too late to take another path.”

Suzuki has spent decades on environmental crusading. His profile as a popular scientist came from his role since 1979 hosting the internationally acclaimed Canadian television series The Nature of Things. The author of more than 40 books, his critics called him a television hippy and economic naysayer, tried to intimidate him with bullets pushed through a window and break-ins to his office, and discredit him with smear campaigns. Not much stuck.

Today the promotion brochure for Suzuki’s Legacy Tour shows his face in close-up profile. With glasses, silver goatee and white hair, he now looks like an old sage. He carries the air of the guru on the mount, waiting for the rest of us to catch up.

Award-winning Canadian film maker Sturla Gunnarsson’s just-released documentary Force of Nature: the David Suzuki Movie interweaves the lecture with a biography, in the tradition of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Gunnarsson knew Suzuki at university.

“He was the genetics professor with a rock-star aura. He was young and charismatic and had a counter-culture folk hero status,” he said.

Suzuki has never been afraid to put his neck out. He has successfully fought through ugly layers of racial prejudice, as a third-generation Japanese Canadian. One of the first and strongest influences on Suzuki was the racism he encountered when he and his family were detained in an internment camp in Canada during World War II.

An early childhood spent exploring a marsh not far from home was another influence. What he learnt in that swamp was that all the planet’s complex yet fragile systems are linked.

“When I saw BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster (the April explosion caused about 4.9 million barrels of oil to gush into the sea), I thought this, these images will change the world. No.

“Then BP used chemical emulsifiers, so the oil is still out there, just not in a gloopy tide that looks bad for television images. Everyone thinks it’s gone away. People have the concentration of a hummingbird.”

He says we don’t take advantage of these crises to make the big changes that are necessary.

“I would have thought Australia, for Christ’s sake, with its huge crisis over water and bushfires, would have been going in a different direction on environment and climate change, but no. It back-pedalled on a carbon tax. Australia, what are YOU thinking?”

He rejects the argument that a carbon tax will slow the economy. “I say, look at Sweden… Sweden in 1991 initiated a carbon tax. Today they pay $150 a tonne. That’s a hell of a lot of money, but they have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 8 per cent. During that time the Swedish economy has grown, GROWN, by 44 per cent.

“So what the hell is going on? Our politicians lie through their teeth.”

With his 75th birthday next year, Suzuki says he will be slowing down but by no means retiring. “I think elders are crucial. Elders in first nation aboriginal communities hold a key role, but in the western world they are considered a pain the neck and put into nursing homes. We’re never needed elders more.

“Elders, come on. Rise up!”

Australia, David Suzuki is coming. Look busy.

David Suzuki’s latest book The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future (Allen & Unwin) will be published on October 3. As part of The Legacy Tour, he will appear at the Brisbane Powerhouse on October 26 (Phone 3358 8600), in Byron Bay on October 27, in Townsville on October 28 and Cairns October 29.

THE WORLD according to Suzuki . . .

POLITICIANS: “They rely on focus groups and quickly abandon policy. They simply eye the next election. At least in Canada it’s five-year terms. My God, in Australia it’s three years. Children don’t vote so there is nothing in it for political leaders to have a vision.”

POPULATION: “The reality is Australia is overpopulated. We are so wedded to economic growth that we think we have to keep the population growing. That is nuts. You can’t keep population growing indefinitely. Your country can’t sustain it.”

SKILLED MIGRANTS: “We take doctors and teachers from Third World countries. I find that absolutely disgusting. They need their academics and trained people. Cuba trains and supplies doctors for the world. What do we do? Rip off poor countries’ doctors.”

SOLAR: “Canada would kill for Australia’s solar potential. Yet when I visit I can hardly find a solar panel in a suburb.”

Source: and

2 Responses to “Profile: Dr David Suzuki”

  1. It is all true, and no matter how hard we work individually to help sustain the planet, we have no say in what the politicians say and do , or more so NOT DO. Sure we can vote, but they dont keep promises and as you say they lie through their teeth. I was always told as a child that “Money is the root of all evil”, how true this statement is. I feel so frustrated and angry about the desicration that has been done to this wonderful planet we have. i feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. People laugh and scorn me often, but I dont take any notice of them. Its hard to believe that their ignorance and self denial is so profound. How can they not see what is happening. How can I help encourage people to just stop, look around them and see the damage. I take my dog to a dog park for exercise and even there 20% of people dont bother to pick up after their dogs. i point out to them that their dog has just dropped, but they just look at me as if I’m nuts. That is only a small problem, but it is the attitude of so many people. Materialism is rife, we have much much more than we need. The waste we make is immense, and although we have made a start into recycling waste, the majority of people and Governments could do so much more.
    It is so infuriating and frustating, but I will never give up. David is a messiah but the people who can change things aren’t listening.

  2. Jannine Eldred Says:

    I relate to these comments completely! I don’t know many people who take our environment seriously. Often people agree with the idea that we need to look after it, be a lot more careful about our use of resources, recycle, etc. but in reality they don’t easily change their careless habits. Unfortunately it’s not until we experience consequences personally that we act. During the long drought many people did actually reduce their water use (often with the threat of fines if they didn’t) but once it started to rain again old habits and attitudes returned. Like Lynne Dalby I’ll never give up!

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