The Most Trusted Canadian

By Katherine Jamieson

For more than three decades, David Suzuki has hosted Canada’s most popular nature program. The Nature of Things with David Suzuki, on Canadian Public Television, reaches 1.5 million viewers weekly and has made him a celebrity in Canada and Australia. He’s been named one of the “Greatest Canadians” in a cross-Canada contest, and for the third year in a row a Reader’s Digest poll has found him to be the “Most Trusted Canadian.” But Suzuki, whose work as a science educator and environmental activist landed him on the cover of Amherst magazine in 1994, bemoans the fact that viewers have not taken a more active role in conservation as a result of his program. “I wanted people to watch me, then turn it off and go do something,” he says. “I wanted to empower people with information; instead I empowered me.”

In 1990 he started the David Suzuki Foundation to advocate for the environment. “We said that every dollar we raise, we’ll spend it, we’ll be flat out,” he recalls. “There was a real sense of movement.” Then a recession halted progress. “The economy always trumps everything else,” Suzuki laments. “The industrial countries were saying, ‘We can’t afford this.’” Today, Suzuki uses a bracing metaphor to describe the state of the debate over climate change: Humanity is in a giant car speeding toward a brick wall at 100 miles an hour. The passengers are arguing about where they want to sit, and all of the scientists who can make a difference are locked in the trunk. “Many of my colleagues are saying it’s too late,” he says.

He now sees his primary role as rallying elders. His model is Native American communities (known as First Nations in Canada) where, in the face of violence and suicides, “elders are the rock.” Suzuki was the focus of a documentary, Force of Nature, that chronicles his lifetime of activism, and he’s encouraging others to consider their own legacies to the environment. “We’re headed on a destructive course,” he says. “This is not a time to go golfing.”