Swarovski 2013 Humanitarian Award: David Suzuki

David Suzuki  Credit-Kent Kallberg

Elizabeth May stills laughs about her first encounter with the host of Quirks and Quarks and Suzuki on Science.

“I kept calling every Halifax hotel and asking to speak with David Suzuki and finally got through,” she recalls. “He [picked up and] said “You just got me out of the shower. Give me a second.”

Back in the mid-’70s Suzuki was fast becoming a hero to millions of Canadians for his increasingly vocal defence of the environment. This included the future Green Party leader, in Halifax for an anti-pesticide campaign.

A gifted geneticist and academic, Dr. David Suzuki became best known for hosting the iconic The Nature of Things with David Suzuki. Over the years the program has transformed from one devoted to explaining the science underlying the natural world to helping Canadians understand how critical it is to protect that world. Suzuki says it’s been as much of an eye opener for him as it has for them.

“I feel in many ways The Nature of Things was my grounding. I really learned about the deep environmental ecology of nature.”

And then Suzuki discovered something that surprised him. The immense popularity of The Nature of Things had in effect made him the face and voice of Canada’s environmental movement. This completely altered his relationship with audiences.

“I was trying to empower people with knowledge and excitement and information and instead they empowered me,” he says. “It was a huge responsibility.”

Suzuki used that star power to persuade political decision makers and others to take steps to protect the planet. Other TV projects soon followed. These include his 1985 hit series, A Planet for the Taking and the critically acclaimed 1993 PBS series The Secret of Life. Later, he founded the David Suzuki Foundation, which works with government, business and individuals to conserve our environment through science-based research and education.

Since then others have joined in praising Suzuki, including Haida First Nation leader Miles Richardson, who credits Suzuki for helping Canadians understand nature in the way that Canada’s indigenous peoples have always understood it. “It’s basically understanding and accepting that all things are connected,” says Richardson, “and that our actions have consequences.”

The irony, Suzuki says, is that television, a tool which keeps people indoors, is being used to persuade people to spend more time outdoors. He thinks the trend will continue with technologies that enable viewers to probe nature – from the deep microscopic changes of a human cell to the vast mysteries of the outer cosmos.

“If we use those kinds of tools I think it gives you a sense of wonder and shows that there’s really no line between us and that world out there.”

Photo: Kent Kallberg