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Suzuki’s ‘Legacy Lecture’ Far From His Last

David Suzuki’s ‘Legacy Lecture’ Far From His Last

Chan Centre, Vancouver

An eclectic audience gathered for a sold-out show last night. A wild-haired activist chatted with a svelte socialite, his boots frayed and of the hiking variety, hers leather and knee-high. A clutch of First Nation elders sat in the Orchestra section, regal in blue and white button blankets. Nearby, a young mother dandled her blanket-wrapped newborn. The lights dimmed, and a spry figure with silver curls and beard bounded onto the stage.

Blazing in a red silk shirt with a Haida salmon-image leaping over his heart, the speaker launched into an account of first fires, the importance of creation myths including the Big Bang Theory and the placement of individual history within this context. Behind him, a floor-to-ceiling projection screen kept pace with the words; campfires morphed into galaxies morphed into sunlit leaves.

Ten dizzying minutes into the intellectual, multi-media exercise, the speaker paused. He said, “But I should introduce myself. I am David Takayoshi Suzuki. ‘David’ from my Canadian-born father in anticipation that I’d be a small man amongst giants.” Only then did the audience remember to take in a deep breath, and laugh out loud.

Delivered with characteristic humor tempered by scientific inquiry and cultural perspective, Suzuki’s Legacy Lecture was based on the premise of “If I had one last lecture to give, what would I say?”

Billed as the culmination of his experience to date as a scientist, activist and environmentalist, the lecture’s personal tone surprised even long-time fans. Suzuki re-visited his family’s time at a B.C Japanese-interment camp, where thriving streams and giant trees first inspired his life-long affair with nature.

Speaking of his long-time Point Grey home, which a realtor once offered to help “trade-up,” he enumerated the details that made it dear to him: a door-handle carved by a dear friend, a personal raspberry patch cultivated by his father-in-law, a cabinet crafted by his father. “All these things are of no value to a buyer, but they are priceless to me,” said Suzuki.

Over the hour and half lecture, Suzuki returned repeatedly to the themes of value and price. He expressed outrage and frustration at a political sphere obsessed with economic growth, willfully ignoring the irreplaceable nature of the resources it depletes.

“Things like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere,” he said. Economic margins have overtaken the collective consciousness, said Suzuki, such that even when a majority of the living Nobel Science Laureates issued a strongly worded warning to humanity urging joint and immediate action to avert environmental calamity, this effort was ignored by major media outlets. “It is time to put the ‘eco’ back into ‘economics,’” said Suzuki. Amazing things are possible when the challenge is right, he said, giving the example of when Russia launched Sputnik in the 1970’s, galvanizing the U.S to put a man on the moon.

Why not take on climate change?

Suzuki ended by evoking the connectedness of nature and man. This was a lesson Suzuki learned on one first trips to Haida Gwaai, where he met an artist and activist named Guuhjaaw. When Suzuki asked Guuhjaaw what would happen to the Haida if they lost their forests, the artist replied, “I guess we become like the rest of you.”  Suzuki’s Legacy Lecture, it seemed, sought to re-connect his audience with the equivalent of their sacred forests and creation stories.

The lights came up, and there was a standing ovation. It was almost 9 pm. The newborn, silent for the entire lecture, had her eyes wide open.

Later, at the wrap party at the Museum of Anthropology, Suzuki was recruited into one more performance: a circle dance with the Rainbow Creek Dancers. Randy Bachman sang “Taking Care of Business,” and Sarah McLachlan dedicated songs to the guest of honor. Suzuki looked tired but animated. He had just returned from Europe where he accepted the Right Livelihood Award and spoke at the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference. He had delivered the Legacy Lecture 3 times in 24 hours. It was his 40th wedding anniversary, and earlier in the day he had officially reopened the Suzuki Foundation Office after extensive renovations. “I hope the Foundation continues to flourish long after I’m gone,” he said, “Now let’s go out and get drunk.” In the foyer, DJ k-os (pronounced “Chaos”) cranked up the volume.

David Suzuki’s Legacy Lecture was directed by Sturla Gunnarsson, and will feature prominently in an upcoming biographical documentary produced in part by CBC (Fall 2010 release).

To read Suzuki’s Right Livelihood Award acceptance speech (has overlapping content with the Legacy Lecture):


Chinese Article Summary by Hsu Mei-Lang



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