Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Hard-Hitting Voice on the Environment

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Hard-Hitting Voice on the Environment

Article excerpt

IT WAS A moment other professors dream about. Hundreds of students had jammed into an amphitheater at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Eyes were focused on the entrance to the hall where this particular academic was scheduled to speak. The room buzzed with excitement.

The professor arrived late, weaving his way to the lectern through the standing-room crowd. For a half-hour the audience listened attentively, laughing and applauding frequently. When he finished they asked probing questions, then pursued him out the door to the university bookstore where they waited in line to buy his new book and have it autographed.

This, of course, was no ordinary academic. This was Dr. David Suzuki, professor of genetics at the University of British Columbia. Suzuki has not looked at a fruit fly in years and he no longer teaches formal science courses. These days, students flock to his lectures in droves to hear him talk about the fate of the earth and about his work as a broadcaster and syndicated columnist.

Suzuki's environmental column has been distributed by the Southam Syndicate since July 1989. Fourteen Canadian newspapers carry it, including the Saturday edition of the Toronto Star, the country's largest-circulation paper.

"It's definitely been one of the syndicate's biggest features," said Southam editor Dan Smythe.

Suzuki is also the author of several books, including Inventing the Future, Technology and Nature, Genetics, It's a Matter of Survival and an autobiography entitled Metamorphosis.

His most recent work, co-authored with Vancouver writer Peter Knudtson, is called Wisdom of the Elders. The book, published in the United States by Bantam, examines aboriginal conceptions of the earth and the parallels between their ecological knowledge and the knowledge of scientific "elders" such as Harvard's E.O. Wilson and Stanford's Paul Ehrlich.

Wisdom of the Elders reflects Suzuki's long-standing interest in the culture of aboriginal peoples and their relationship with the environment, particularly in British Columbia, where he was born 58 years ago.

"In British Columbia it's classic," said Suzuki. "They have the fireweed clan, the killer whale clan, the raven clan, the wolf clan, the bear clan. Their clan system is based on their relationship with these other creatures, with plants and animals. They refer to their 'brother the killer whale' and their 'sister the raven" and they really mean it! The interesting thing is that genetics - DNA analysis - shows they are absolutely right! By DNA analysis they are our relatives!"

Suzuki's name has been linked with Canada's most turbulent environmental struggles, particularly on Vancouver Island, where people have been protesting the clearcutting of some of North America's oldest stands of temperate coastal rain forest. His concern for the earth has also taken him abroad to places as far afield as Antarctica and the rain forests of Malaysia. Together with his wife, Tara Cullis, he recently established the Institute for a Sustainable Future, in Vancouver, to plan strategies for global conservation and fund-worthy projects.

The columnist is best known in Canada for Quirks and Quarks and The Nature of Things, broadcast by CBC radio and television respectively. Suzuki is one of Canada's most polemical hosts, pinning the blame for the planet's woes on corporate and political elites and the entire developed world, which constitutes 20% of the earth's population and consumes 80% of its resources. …

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