Born in Vancouver, British Columbia in March 1936, David Suzuki is a third-generation Japanese-Canadian. From 1942 until the end of World War II, he and his family were among the many North Americans of Japanese ancestry who were confined to internment camps. That experience had a profound and lasting effect on Suzuki, who, to this day, views white North American society as a bastion of racism and feels “a very profound empathy for what minority groups in this country [the U.S.] have gone through.” He asserts, for instance, that African Americans and Native Americans “have been taught, generation after generation,” that they are “savages” whose intrinsic value amounts to “nothing.”
Suzuki earned a BA in biology at Amherst College in 1958, and a Ph.D. in zoology three years later at the University of Chicago. He taught genetics at the University of Alberta in 1962-63 and has been a faculty member at the University of British Columbia since 1963. He has written more than 50 books and holds 25 honorary degrees. His Introduction to Genetic Analysis (co-authored with A.J.F. Griffiths) is the most popular genetics textbook used in the United States. In 1990 Suzuki and Harvard professor Tara Cullis together established the David Suzuki Foundation to “protect the diversity of nature and our quality of life, now and for the future.”
Suzuki has been involved in broadcasting since the 1970s and has presented such radio and television series as Quirks and Quarks, From Naked Ape to Superspecies, and Suzuki on Science. His biggest success has been The Nature of Things, a TV documentary series which Suzuki has hosted since 1979 and which has aired in some 50 countries. In 2009 Suzuki won the Right Livelihood Award for “his lifetime advocacy of the socially responsible use of science” and “his massive contribution to raising awareness about the perils of climate change and building public support for policies to address it.”
According to Suzuki, global climate change is a serious and pressing problem that an “overwhelming majority of scientists” now ascribe to the carbon-dioxide emissions associated with human industrial activity. During the Bush administration, Suzuki chastised the President for “continu[ing] to deny the reality of climate change and … rejecting the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”; he characterized Bush’s position as “a direct slap in the face of the scientific community.” In 2008 Suzuki urged an audience at McGill University to “see whether there’s a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders [who deny the threat posed by global warming] into jail because what they’re doing is a criminal act.” “It’s an intergenerational crime in the face of all the knowledge and science from over 20 years,” he added.
Suzuki took up this theme again in a 2009 speech, also at McGill University, where he said: “When you have politicians who are advised by scientists how bad climate change is going to hit, and by economists how bad it is for the economy, and they still do not take action, that is an intergenerational crime.”
Suzuki uses the term “eco-terrorists” to describe “people who say ‘baloney’ to global warming,” who “continue to pump out all kinds of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere,” and who “clear-cut forests” but “don’t give a damn about what that’s going to do the the quality of the air or the water or other creatures.” Such destructive actions, he says, are largely by-products of greed in the “corporate sector” which has routinely “injured and manhandled” many innocent people.
In a similar vein, Suzuki characterizes “the private sector” – specifically the automobile, pharmaceutical, forestry, fishing, and fossil fuel industries – as “absolutely disgusting” for trying to implement cost-cutting measures that jeopardize both public safety and the natural environment. To address this problem, Suzuki calls on “government leadership” to regulate these industries much more tightly and to advise them: “You damn well live up to that [i.e., the regulations]. And if you don’t want to be in our country [i.e., comply], get the hell out!” Further, Suzuki supports the imposition of government taxes on carbon emissions generated by businesses of all kinds – so as to “make polluting activities more expensive and green solutions more affordable.”
Suzuki has accused certain media outlets, particularly Fox News, of deceitfully working to discredit the purportedly large body of scientific evidence suggesting that anthropogenic global warming poses a grave threat to the earth and all its life forms. These media “skeptics” and “deniers,” Suzuki says, are bankrolled by coal and oil companies and “[fossil-fuel] industry-funded lobby groups.”
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