Scientist and environmental activist David Suzuki was in town recently and he spoke to a full house at the West End Cultural Centre. The very popular TV show The Nature of Things has been on TV since 1972 and Dr. Suzuki has been the host since its inception.
He shared with the audience how there are many people involved in these shows and there are extensive preparations needed to film them.
He recalled one instance when he got frustrated with the tedious preparations on the part of the lighting and sound people before the filming even started. He told them to shoot the piece already.
His boss pointed out how there were many people busting their butts to make him look good and how “that’s not easy.” It was a humbling experience for Suzuki, who said he never got back on his high horse again.
Because of all of the work that goes into getting the best shots, shows like The Nature of Things seem to portray a world that looks better that the real world.
But the real message of his talk was the environmental damage that has been done to this planet and how with determination and a thoughtful attitude, change can be made.
As an example of determination he talked about when the USSR first launched the Sputnik satellite into space on Oct. 4, 1957, followed by many other space firsts such as the first animal in space, first person in space, etc.
This gave the U.S. the determination to try to outdo the USSR in the space race. They made a commitment to surpass the USSR’s accomplishments. They met the challenge by forming the NASA space program and on July 20, 1969 they put a man on the moon.
Another example of determination he talked about was the Haida Gwaii of northern BC who in the early 1980’s stood up to logging companies cutting down trees in their area. Many Haida were arrested in their long battle but their efforts eventually paid off resulting in the creation of a large national park reserve.
Their strong connection to the earth was what gave them their commitment and determination to make a stand.
Suzuki’s point in citing these examples is that with determination and commitment on everybody’s part, change is possible.
“The most important thing in meeting any challenge, not only in the United States but in Canada also, is to make the commitment and try,” he stated to thunderous applause.
Stephen Harper, governments and corporations were criticized for favouring economy over ecology. Suzuki said that while economic growth is a sign of prosperity for most western societies, in the country of Bhutan, the government recently proclaimed their goal is not “economic growth but happiness … living where nature flourishes.”
Dr. Suzuki declared that many corporations are committing criminal acts by being irresponsible when it comes to protecting the environment.
In many of the shows, books and articles he has written over the years, Suzuki refers to the earth as a living organism.
He also mentions how many Aboriginal peoples he has spoken with over the years, whether they are from America, the Amazon, the Serengeti or Australia, refer to the planet as Mother Earth. They also talk of how we are created by the four elements – Air, Earth, Fire and Water – and how we are the environment.
As one who has been adopted by three First Nations Clans, Suzuki has a deep respect for indigenous people and their respect for the earth and environment.
“Virtually everything I have learned about environmentalism has come from my First Nations brothers and sisters,” he stated.
Suzuki said, if we had done something when people began speaking about climate change in the early 1980’s, we wouldn’t be spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to fix the problem now. Back then, he thought climate change would be “a slow motion catastrophe” occurring over decades or centuries.
By 1988, he came to the realization the threat was very real and urgent action was needed immediately.
Dr. Suzuki also pointed out the average Canadian spends only about 8 minutes per day outside and more than 6 hours on the computer or watching TV.
He also mentioned how some people consider the cyber world better that the real world. In the cyber world you can have a gunfight and get killed and be able to fight again, he said, you can drive a car fast and crash and start over again, you can have the kinkiest sex and not get STD’s. He strongly urged people to get outside and connect with nature.
It’s quite alarming that Canada has more fresh water per capita than any nation on earth yet there are more than 1000 boil alerts in communities every day, he said.
After reading letters to his grandchildren from one of his books, he left us with these encouraging words:”The act of sharing affirms that we are part of a community and that community matters to us.”
He also talked of how we should be thoughtful of the way we live including being kind and thoughtful to others.
I recently read Dr. Suzuki’s book The Legacy (2010) wherein he wrote, “Not long ago, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, drought, forest fires, even earth quakes and volcanoes were accepted as “natural disasters” or ‘acts of God’. But now we have joined God, powerful enough to influence these events.” Pretty heavy when you think about it.
As Dr. Suzuki pointed out, we are the environment. Doesn’t it make sense we should have respect for the environment, including not only our brothers, sisters and fellow creatures on the planet but Mother Earth as well. Reduce, reuse and recycle are good notions to live by, with a strong emphasis on reduce.
A brief question and answer session followed the one hour talk after which Dr. Suzuki sat at the book table in the lobby signing books.
All photos by Doug Kretchmer