Invermere was abuzz with the arrival of award-winning scientist, environmentalist, broadcaster and author David Suzuki, but during his presentation at the Invermere Community Centre on Friday (June 1), the audience was so silent and attentive that you could have heard a pin drop while he was speaking.
The Wildsight-sponsored evening gave those who attended a very personal look at what kind of man Suzuki is, a man who is truly passionate about the cause he supports. At times playful and witty, Suzuki showed a wide range of emotions during his hour and a half presentation and, at one point, was nearly in tears as he described what was important to him in his life, as taught by his father. He came off as determined, and at times vulnerable, but overall as an incredibly inspiring model for what many people aspire to achieve in their own lives.
His message was simple. The fight that he wages, and has waged for so many years, isn’t about corporations versus the environment, or him against the government. The message was about the very survival of the human species.
“I feel that these are truly remarkable times,” Suzuki told the assembled crowd of roughly 300. “We are at a moment when decisions that are made or ignored are going to determine, I believe, the fate of all humanity on earth.”
Suzuki touched on a wide range of subjects, delving deep into the annals of human history to add context to much of his presentation. The ever-growing human population was a sticking point, as he explained the growth and overall ecological impact of our species is unprecedented in the history of our planet.
“We have become a new kind of force on the planet,” Suzuki said. “There has never been a single species of plant or animal able to alter the biological, physical and chemical properties of the planet as we are doing now… we are altering the planet on a geological scale.”
Urgency was something Suzuki tried to impart as well. He quoted colleagues who felt it was simply too late for humanity, who have said we had passed too many “tipping points” to be able to change course now.
“I don’t think there’s any point to saying it’s too late, we’re going to fight to the end anyway to make this a better world regardless of if it’s too late,” Suzuki said.
The problem, Suzuki explained, is that we have reached a point in our society where we elevate the economy above the very things that keep us alive. As economy and ecology derive from the same root word — ecos, Greek for dwelling — he feels that all economic principles or developments should adhere to ecological principles. Air, water and food are the very things that keep us alive, and yet so many governments worldwide, including our own, do not enact policies that are ecologically sustainable. The urgency, he said, comes from the need each of us should feel to provide a better world for our children.
“I can assure you at this point in my life, I have no hidden agenda,” he said. “I speak to you, truth that comes from my heart — you know that I don’t have to run after fame, money, or power. I now speak as a grandparent, and that is my agenda — is the future that I leave when I pass on, for my grandchildren.”
Suzuki said he wanted us to shift our focus from a system that places equal or greater emphasis on society and economy as opposed to the environment, because the environment is so much bigger than those two other aspects of our lives.
“Environmentalism isn’t a speciality or a discipline, it’s a way of seeing the world,” Suzuki said. “Follow your heart, because we need everyone to see the world differently. We need everyone to be an environmentalist.”
Before the audience had a chance to ask questions, Suzuki shared one final story that was especially dear to him. When his father was dying of cancer, Suzuki moved into his home to take care of him, and said that time with him taught him the greatest lesson of all.
“In the time we spent together, he kept saying ‘David, I die a rich man.’ He never once said, ‘Do you remember that big house we owned in London, Ontario, or that car I bought in 1987, or the closet full of fancy clothes… ‘ That’s just stuff. All we talked about was family, friends, and neighbours, and the things we did together. For my father, that was his wealth, that’s what gave his life meaning,” Suzuki said, his voice cracking with emotion. “Happiness, that’s what life is about. It’s not about running after all this stuff, and we’ve forgotten that.”
Catching up with audience members once the presentation was concluded, it was easy to tell that Suzuki had made quite an impression.
“I’m really inspired that David is willing to talk as an elder, not looking for any fundraising or donations, but openly honest, and that’s what we need,” said Sadie Parr, who drove from Golden to see Suzuki’s presentation.
“I thought it was inspiring,” echoed Dave Atkinson, of Invermere. “To hear a speech like that about something that concerns all of us, coming from someone as knowledgeable as Dr. Suzuki and with as much passion as he has about it… it brought it down to a very human level.”