Technology & Science

Suzuki at 75: An elder for the planet

David Suzuki, host of CBC's The Nature of Things, turned 75 Thursday. As he and the program celebrate a half-century fighting for the planet, he is frustrated and worried.
On his 75th birthday, Canada's Godfather of environmentalism looks to the future with worry. 9:33

David Suzuki turned 75 Thursday and after a half-century of fighting for the planet, the Godfather of Canada's environmental movement is frustrated and worried.

The scientist, turned media celebrity, turned environmental activist, is looking back on his life and calling on Canada's seniors to provide guidance to the country's next generation of leaders.

"I keep emphasizing, I'm in the death zone. But so are every one of you who is an elder. Now get on with the most important part of your life. It's not just being able to go out and go golfing every day. It's being able to summarize what you've learned and pass that knowledge and experience on," Suzuki says.

His birthday thoughts aren't just for Canada's aged. On the eve of a federal election, Suzuki wants younger Canadians to step up as well.

"We've got to have more involvement of people. We have to have more indication that we want our politicians to take this issue (the plight of the environment) seriously," argues Suzuki.

A look back

The Nature of Things, the CBC television science program Suzuki has hosted for more than three decades, celebrated Suzuki's 75th birthday Thursday with a special retrospective episode that also marked its own 50th anniversary.

The program, which debuted as a half-hour show in 1960, was one of the first to present scientific findings on climate change, AIDS, nuclear power and countless other subjects, and helped give international prominence to Suzuki, who became its permanent host and the face of the program in 1979.

David Suzuki, who celebrates his 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of CBC's The Nature of Things Thursday, says Canadians must get politicians to take the environment seriously. (Canadian Press)
While the Vancouver native commands the respect and adoration of vast numbers of Canadians, he has been a major thorn in the side to many of Canada's most important industries. In the early 1980s, he was an instrumental force in preserving South Moresby Island in B.C.'s Haida Gwaii archipelago from logging.

"He certainly was one of our most severe critics and because he has such public credibility, we don't like it at all. I mean, who wants someone with David Suzuki's stature saying that we're doing the wrong things," asks Avrim Lazar, President and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada.

Making an impact

Eventually though, Suzuki and the forest industry began seeing eye to eye. In 2010, industry and environmentalists signed the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, which protects 29-million hectares of Canada's northern woodland. Lazar attributes Suzuki's success to his ability to get ordinary Canadians to take responsibility for their own actions.

"It's one thing for the consumer to say, 'tut-tut, I wish you (industry) were better.' It's another thing for the consumer to say, 'I want you to give me stuff that makes me feel good about myself not bad about myself.' And one of David Suzuki's contributions has been having the ordinary Canadian internalize this sense of responsibility," says Lazar.

David Suzuki has been host of The Nature of Things since 1979. CBC
Still Suzuki's profoundest effect has been on the Canadian environmental movement itself.

"I think David Suzuki has been our teacher, our friend, our inspiration, our environmental expert and trusted as such for decades," asserts Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada.

May first met Suzuki as an activist in Cape Breton Island, N.S. Though she has heard people tell her that Suzuki is slowing down in his old age, she doesn't buy it.

"I think the talk of legacy is a bit premature. We'll be doing this interview at his 95th birthday celebration. And we'll be talking about the extent to which David Suzuki might want to take some time off because he is now 95," jokes May.

With files from The Canadian Press