David Takayoshi Suzuki, CC, geneticist, broadcaster, environmental activist (born 24 March 1936 in Vancouver, BC).
David Takayoshi Suzuki, CC, geneticist, broadcaster, environmental activist (born 24 March 1936 in Vancouver, BC). A Canadian of Japanese parentage, Suzuki was interned with his family during the Second World War (see Internment of Japanese Canadians). He is known for his career as a broadcaster (including the CBC TV series The Nature of Things) as well as his work as an environmental activist.
Education and Early Career
Suzuki received a bachelor of arts in biology from Amherst College, Massachusetts, in 1958. He went on to study at the University of Chicago and in 1961 graduated with a doctorate in zoology, becoming a geneticist. In 1969, he won a Steacie Memorial Fellowship as the best young Canadian scientist. He specialized in meiosis, the early division of living cells where differentiation begins (e.g., between reproductive and other cells), and the study of mutations caused by changes in temperature.
In 1971, the CBC TV series Suzuki on Science began to make him a public figure. While continuing his university teaching and research in genetics (his work on the fruit fly gained him worldwide recognition), he wrote widely on science and science policy, created the radio series Quirks and Quarks in 1975, and served on the Science Council of Canada.
Some academic colleagues criticized Suzuki's broadcasting as a waste of his talents, but Suzuki was convinced that public awareness of science would contribute to both better science policies and an enriched culture. His rare combination of personal charm and scientific ability, as displayed in The Nature of Things (the longest running documentary series on CBC-TV), has made Suzuki a unique figure in English-speaking Canada. His 1985 CBC special, A Planet for the Taking, was one of the most watched shows in CBC history, science or otherwise, and was awarded the Environment Programme medal by the United Nations.
Suzuki also developed a number of television science series with international broadcasters. For example, he worked with both the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) on the series The Secret of Life (1993), and with the Discovery Channel on The Brain (1994).
In 2008, Suzuki and his youngest daughter, Sarika, launched a CBC-TV show, The Suzuki Diaries, about sustainability issues around the world. Father and daughter first visited Europe to discuss the equilibrium between human needs and planetary limits. The second instalment in 2010 focused on coastal Canada. David and Sarika met with scientists, fishermen and leaders on all three of Canada's coasts to discuss the health and sustainability of Canadian coastlines.
In many ways, Suzuki’s career evolved from geneticist to broadcaster to environmental activist. Some point to the CBC special A Planet for the Taking as the moment when his activism shifted into high gear. In the eight-part series, which aired in 1985, Suzuki travelled the world examining humans’ relationship to the earth. In 1990, he founded the David Suzuki Foundation, a non-profit organization promoting solutions to environmental problems, cementing his place as one of Canada’s most recognizable and vocal environmentalists.
In 2014, Suzuki launched the Blue Dot Tour alongside celebrities such as Margaret Atwood, Neil Young, Raine Maida and Emily Haines. The 20-event tour spanned the country and aimed to bring attention to the fact that Canada does not officially recognize the right to live in a healthy environment, unlike over 110 other countries. The tour aimed to promote the inclusion of this right in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Media releases for the tour suggested it might be Suzuki’s last. The winding down of Suzuki’s career speaks in part to his age, but perhaps also to a sense of frustration and defeat. “We fundamentally failed to use those battles to get that awareness, to shift the paradigm,” Suzuki told Maclean’s magazine in 2013, speaking of the environmental battles activists waged 30 to 35 years ago. “And that’s been the failure of environmentalism.”
Suzuki is the author of 52 books, 19 of which are for children, including You are the Earth (1999) and Salmon Forest (2003). Other titles include his two autobiographies, Metamorphosis: Stages in a Life (1987) and David Suzuki: The Autobiography (2006), as well as The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision for Our Sustainable Future (2010) and Letters to My Grandchildren (2015).
Honours and Awards
David Suzuki has received numerous honours and awards. Among them, he received five Gemini Awards for his Canadian television efforts, and in 2002 he was awarded the John Drainie award for broadcasting excellence. Suzuki received a lifetime achievement award from the University of British Columbia in 2000. He has 24 honorary degrees from multiple universities in Canada, the United States and Australia. He received the Royal Bank Award in 1986 and in the same year was awarded the UNESCO Kalinga Prize for science writing. Suzuki was named an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1977 and became a Companion to the Order of Canada in 2006. In 2009, David Suzuki won the Right Livelihood Award, which is known as the "Alternative Nobel Prize," and recognizes outstanding vision and work for the planet and its people.