But it was his message to the next generation that told the most frightening tale.
“You see we are at an absolutely critical moment in all of human history when what we do or do not do in the next few years will very well determine whether we survive as a species on this planet,” Suzuki told an audience of 1,600 college and high school students at John Abbott College Tuesday.
Another 14,000 Lester B. Pearson high school students watched the lecture in classrooms across the board’s territory via live streaming.
Suzuki, 76, an author, broadcaster and award-winning geneticist with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a Ph. D. in zoology, said youths need to be leaders for change.
“You have got the biggest stake in what’s going on in this country today. Whatever happens or doesn't happen over the next few years is going to have little impact on my life... but will reverberate throughout your entire lives,” he warned.
Calling himself an elder, Suzuki said “elders have something no other group has. We’ve lived through an entire lifetime, we’ve learned something we should pass on to future generations.”
Elders, he noted, are no longer driven by a need for power, money, fame or even sex.
“As I’ve gotten older and my testosterone levels have dropped, I’ve gotten a lot smarter,” he joked.
Dr. Suzuki was serious, however, when saying he wants other elders “to get off the couch and get off the golf course and go pass on what you’ve learned in life.”
He says it is their responsibility.
Elders and youth can become a powerful force for change, Suzuki said.
Like drops in a bucket, they can work to make a lasting difference.
Dr. Suzuki says it is time to heed a warning that has been sounding for the past 40 years.
He illustrated by reading a portion of the 1992 document titled World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity that was signed by 1,700 scientists from 71 countries, including over half of all living Nobel prize winners at the time.
“So it’s a pretty impressive array of signatories. Let me read you some of what this says: ‘Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.’
Admitting his message sounded melodramatic and dire, Suzuki said change is still possible - though only for a short period of time.
He said the economy and the market are man made and can be changed.
The natural world cannot.
Message to youths
During his lecture Suzuki pointed to a recent survey in which more than 90 percent of teenage girls listed shopping as a favourite activity and form of physical exercise, while saying teen boys and girls are “enslaved by electronics.”
The downside, he noted, is that youths don’t go outside much anymore.
So how can we ask them to save the planet if they don’t have a vested interest, he asked?
His advice to parents is to send kids outside no matter what the weather, and to change our consumer ways.
“Our economy depends on consumption and we simply can’t sustain that,” he explained.
Suzuki, who has written 52 books including 19 for children, is also a world leader in sustainable ecology having received, among other awards, the United Nations Environment Program Medal, and the Right Livelihood Award, which is considered the Alternative Nobel Prize. It is given to those doing exceptional work for the planet.
Despite such laureates, Suzuki, who is very approachable and down to earth, says awards and money are not what makes him happy.
He then spoke of caring for his father when the elderly man was dying.
“I moved in with him the last month of his life,” Suzuki recalled during a press conference following the lecture. While doing things like feeding, bathing and carrying his father from room to room, Suzuki says the two often laughed, cried and reminisced together.
“He kept saying, ‘David, I die a rich man,’ but he wasn’t talking about closets full of fancy clothes or houses... He was talking about the people he loved.
“We’ve gotten screwed up as to what we look at as wealth. Money isn’t what matters in the end.”