Suzuki urges us to embrace the nature of things

When David Suzuki was a horny teenager, he went to a local swamp. His father told him he wasn't supposed to ask out Caucasian girls and, at that time, in the small, southern Ontario town of Lemington, there were no Japanese girls in sight.

When David Suzuki was a horny teenager, he went to a local swamp.

His father told him he wasn’t supposed to ask out Caucasian girls and, at that time, in the small, southern Ontario town of Lemington, there were no Japanese girls in sight.

The Suzuki family was the first non-white family to stay longer than a day in the town.

They moved there after being held in a post-Pearl Harbour internment camp in the West Coast.

Nature had always been an escape for the young environmentalist. He was an outcast to the white kids because he looked Japanese and derided by Japanese kids in the internment camp because he could only speak English.

That specific swamp in Lemington saved his life, the 75-year-old Suzuki remembered.

Now, it’s a parking lot.

It may have been because it provided a sanctuary, but nature’s wonders have always held a special place in Suzuki’s heart.

Years later, as a bellbottom-clad, headband-wearing professor at the University of British Columbia, he would still laugh at the thought that few other people could see the beauty in flies like he could.

These, and many more memories from Suzuki’s younger years shone in grainy footage throughout the recent Sturla Gunnarsson film Force of Nature, The David Suzuki Movie. The documentary, which introduces the scientist as the godfather of Canadian environmentalism, flips between these shots and passages from his “legacy” lecture, delivered in Vancouver on the eve of his 75th birthday.

Standing before the projection screen at the Beringia Centre on Friday, Suzuki’s stained, cracked toenails nestle under the beaten leather straps of his sandals. He has a pen in his chest pocket, like any self-respecting nerd, and he switches between holding the microphone, rested against his chest with both hands, to nearly flailing it around as he uses his all of his arms to express himself.

Many in the audience recognize him as the most trusted voice of conservation in Canada.

His show, The Nature of Things, has aired for more than five decades.

He laughs at the ease he’s had at “selling” the environment to Canadians.

“You show a film on the sex life of a worm and you’ll get a great audience,” he said, the laugh-lines behind his frameless glasses prominent.

“People love nature. It’s one of the ironies. Over 90 per cent of Canadians say, ‘Nature is an important part of who I am as a Canadian.’ Over 80 per cent will say, ‘Yes, I am willing to support an increase in taxes to protect nature.’ And yet we’re spending less and less time outdoors. Even our national parks are seeing dwindling audiences. It’s the damndest thing.”

The environmental movement has enjoyed 20 years of failure, he said.

It’s failed to work from the ground up and instill ownership in the work it accomplishes and it has failed to view its work with the proper perception, he said.

It is time to reshape our relationship with nature, he said.

The human race must start listening to indigenous groups across the world who describe their connection to the Earth as a literal part of them, as their mother or giver of life.

It is beyond time we have a Bretton Woods II, said Suzuki, referring to the international conference that, generally, sorted out the financial world and set up the globalized economy after the Second World War.

It transformed Germany and Japan, turning the most devastated countries in the world into a pair of its strongest economies.

“But they left out nature,” he said. “The economy has become disconnected from the natural world. Nature performs dozens of services that keep the planet healthy and habitable for an animal like us, economist ignore those as ‘externalities.’ We need a global conference to introduce nature services as a huge part of this economy.

“We’re looking at the world through the wrong lenses. We draw boundaries around property, around our municipalities, around our provinces, around our countries. These are human creations and, boy, do we take them seriously. Well guess what, nature doesn’t give a shit about human borders. Do you think a grizzly bear comes to the border with the United States and says, ‘Oh, I can’t go any further, I’m a Canadian bear’?

“And then we do things like we create economies. The whole reason why things like Kyoto and the Copenhagen meetings failed is because at Copenhagen we had 192 countries, each with their own national boundaries, each with their own economic priorities, trying to deal with the atmosphere that doesn’t care about our economies or our boundaries. And we want to shoehorn nature into our agenda.

“If you have a government that’s elected, that’s political basis is dependant on economics – a kind of economics which essentially regards nature as an opportunity to feed the economy, but doesn’t see that nature is the very source of our survival and that protecting nature should be our highest priority, then we’re doomed.

“We are past the 59th minute, but we are creating the illusion that everything is fine by using up the rightful legacy of our children and grandchildren.”

Suzuki stops and his body is still.

You couldn’t tell that he just delivered a highly energetic five-minute rant.

He puts his hands back together around the microphone and rests it back on his chest.

He has said this before.

But he is neither an optimist nor a pessimist, he said.

He is a scientist. And as such, he sees the trail we, as a human race, are on.

“We’re heading down a very dangerous path,” he said. “And all I cling to is hope.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read