The Next Chapter

David Suzuki on why elders are essential to the environmental movement

The esteemed environmentalist talks about the wisdom that comes with age, and what he wishes he had asked his own grandparents.
David Suzuki talks about his latest book, Letters To My Grandchildren. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

David Suzuki has spent decades championing climate change issues in Canada and around the world. As his 80th birthday approaches next March, Suzuki is frank about the fact that he's now in "the death zone" — his final years on Earth. In Letters To My Grandchildren, Suzuki writes about the all the questions he wishes he asked his own grandparents, imparting wisdom about family, sex and history along the way.

ON BEING A GRANDFATHER

When I had Tamiko, my eldest daughter, she was a surprise. She was not planned and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was just the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I thought always thought being a father was the greatest experience of my life. But when I had my first grandchild, I couldn't believe it! It's just another order of magnitude better. When you live with someone 24 hours a day, there are times when you get really pissed off with each other. But with grandchildren, you don't spend all that time together and it's just, they worship you. They just don't see your faults. You don't get on each other's nerves. I can do all the things I deliberately didn't do with my kids, like load them up with candy and ice cream and then hand them over to their mom and dad. I love being a grandfather.

ON BEING AN ELDER

An elder no longer has to worry about offending someone or acting wrong. They're not going to get a raise or promotion. As an elder, I feel like I can speak the truth from my heart, and if someone is offended by what I say, that's their problem, not mine. I don't have to worry that they have some kind of power to hurt me in some way. Elders have something no other group in society has: we've lived an entire life.

David Suzuki's comments have been edited and condensed.

now