Biography of David Suzuki

David Takayoshi Suzuki (born March 24, 1936) is a Canadian academic, science broadcaster, and environmental activist. Suzuki earned a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1961, and was a professor in the genetics department at the University of British Columbia from 1963 until his retirement in 2001. Since the mid-1970s, Suzuki has been known for his television and radio series, documentaries and books about nature and the environment. He is best known as host and narrator of the popular and long-running CBC Television science program The Nature of Things, seen in over 40 countries. He is also well known for criticizing governments for their lack of action to protect the environment.

A longtime activist to reverse global climate change, Suzuki co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990, to work "to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that does sustain us." The Foundation's priorities are: oceans and sustainable fishing, climate change and clean energy, sustainability, and Suzuki's Nature Challenge. The Foundation also works on ways to help protect the oceans from large oil spills such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Suzuki has also served as a director of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association from 1982 to 1987.

Suzuki was awarded the Right Livelihood Award in 2009. His 2011 book, The Legacy, won the Nautilus Book Award. He is a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 2004, Suzuki ranked fifth on the list of final nominees in a CBC Television series that asked viewers to select The Greatest Canadian of all time.

Early life

Suzuki has a twin sister named Marcia, as well as two other siblings, Geraldine (now known as Aiko) and Dawn. He was born in 1936 to Setsu Nakamura and Kaoru Carr Suzuki in Vancouver, British Columbia, where his parents were also born. Suzuki's maternal and paternal grandparents had immigrated to Canada at the beginning of the 20th century from Hiroshima Prefecture and Aichi Prefecture respectively.A third-generation Japanese Canadian ("Canadian Sansei"), Suzuki's family suffered internment in British Columbia early during the Second World War until after the war ended in 1945. In June 1942, the government sold the Suzuki family's dry-cleaning business, then interned Suzuki, his mother, and two sisters in a camp at Slocan in the British Columbia Interior. His father had been sent to a labour camp in Solsqua two months earlier. His sister Dawn was born in the internment camp.After the war, Suzuki's family, like other Japanese Canadian families, were forced to move east of the Rockies. They moved around Ontario, from Etobicoke, Leamington, and eventually to London. In interviews, Suzuki has consistently credited his father for having interested him in and sensitized him to nature.Suzuki attended Mill Street Elementary School and Grade 9 at Leamington Secondary School before moving to London, Ontario, where he attended London Central Secondary School.

Academic career

Suzuki received his Bachelor of Arts degree in biology in 1958 from Amherst College in Massachusetts where he first discovered genetics study, and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1961. From 1961 to 1962, Suzuki worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. From 1962 to 1963, he was an assistant professor at the University of Alberta. He was a professor in the genetics department at the University of British Columbia for almost forty years, from 1963 until his retirement in 2001, and has since been professor emeritus at a university research institute.Early in his research career he studied genetics using the popular model organism Drosophila melanogaster (fruit flies). To be able to use his initials in naming any new genes he found, he studied dominant temperature-sensitive (DTS) phenotypes. He jokingly noted at a lecture at Johns Hopkins University that the only alternative subject was "(damn) tough skin."

Broadcasting career

Suzuki began in television in 1970 with the weekly children's show Suzuki on Science. In 1974, he founded the radio program Quirks & Quarks, which he also hosted on CBC AM radio (the forerunner of CBC Radio One) from 1975 to 1979. Throughout the 1970s, he also hosted Science Magazine, a weekly program geared towards an adult audience.

Since 1979, Suzuki has hosted The Nature of Things, a CBC television series that has aired in nearly fifty countries worldwide. In this program, Suzuki's aim is to stimulate interest in the natural world, to point out threats to human well-being and wildlife habitat, and to present alternatives to humanity for achieving a more sustainable society. Suzuki has been a prominent proponent of renewable energy sources and the soft energy path.

Suzuki was the host of the critically acclaimed 1993 PBS series The Secret of Life. His 1985 hit series, A Planet for the Taking, averaged more than 1.8 million viewers per episode and earned him a United Nations Environment Programme Medal. His perspective in this series is summed up in his statement: "We have both a sense of the importance of the wilderness and space in our culture and an attitude that it is limitless and therefore we needn't worry." He concludes with a call for a major "perceptual shift" in our relationship with nature and the wild.

Suzuki's The Sacred Balance, a book first published in 1997 and later made into a five-hour mini-series on Canadian public television, was broadcast in 2002. Suzuki is now taking part in an advertisement campaign with the tagline "You have the power", promoting energy conservation through various household alternatives, such as the use of compact fluorescent lightbulbs.

For the Discovery Channel, Suzuki also produced "Yellowstone to Yukon: The Wildlands Project" in 1997. The conservation-biology based documentary focused on Dave Foreman's Wildlands Project, which considers how to create corridors between and buffer zones around large wilderness reserves as a means to preserve biological diversity. Foreman developed this project after leaving Earth First! (which he co-founded) in 1990. The conservation biologists Michael Soulé and Reed Noss were also directly involved.

Climate change activism

In recent years, Suzuki has been a forceful spokesperson on global climate change. In February 2008, he urged McGill University students to speak out against politicians who fail to act on climate change, stating "What I would challenge you to do is to put a lot of effort into trying to see whether there's a legal way of throwing our so-called leaders into jail because what they're doing is a criminal act."Suzuki is unequivocal that climate change is a very real and pressing problem and that an "overwhelming majority of scientists" now agree that human activity is responsible. The David Suzuki Foundation website has a clear statement of this:

The debate is over about whether or not climate change is real. Irrefutable evidence from around the world – including extreme weather events, record temperatures, retreating glaciers, and rising sea levels – all point to the fact climate change is happening now and at rates much faster than previously thought.

The overwhelming majority of scientists who study climate change agree that human activity is responsible for changing the climate. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is one of the largest bodies of international scientists ever assembled to study a scientific issue, involving more than 2,500 scientists from more than 130 countries. The IPCC has concluded that most of the warming observed during the past 50 years is attributable to human activities. Its findings have been publicly endorsed by the National Academies of Science of all G8 nations, as well as those of China, India and Brazil.

Suzuki says that despite this growing consensus, many in the public and the media seemed doubtful about the science for many years. The reason for the confusion about climate change, in Suzuki's view, was due to a well organized campaign of disinformation about the science involved. "A very small number of critics" denies that climate change exists and that humans are the cause. These climate change deniers, Suzuki says, tend not to be climate scientists and do not publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals but rather target the media, the general public, and policy makers. Their goal: "delaying action on climate change." According to Suzuki, deniers have received significant funding from coal and oil companies, including ExxonMobil. They are linked to "industry-funded lobby groups", such as the Information Council on the Environment (ICE), whose aim is to "reposition global warming as theory (not fact)."Suzuki is a "messenger" / ambassador for the environmental organization advocating for cutting CO2 emissions and creating climate solutions.Suzuki has attracted criticism for maintaining a lifestyle with a substantial carbon footprint while proselytizing against carbon emissions. Suzuki himself laments that in travelling constantly to spread his message of climate responsibility, he has ended up "over his [carbon] limit by hundreds of tonnes." He says that he has stopped vacationing overseas, and aims to "cluster" his speaking engagements together to reduce his carbon footprint. He would prefer, he says, to appear solely by video conference.

Social commentary

Genetically modified food

Suzuki has written that "products of biotechnology are being rammed into our food, onto our fields and into our medicines, without any public participation in discussions and with the complicity, indeed, the active support and funding of governments. But there are profound health, ecological and economic ramifications of this activity." In a 1999 CP Wire article, Suzuki is quoted as saying: "Any politician or scientist who tells you these products are safe is either very stupid or lying." In an interview with CBC TV, Suzuki argues that the science showing GMOs are safe is "very, very bad science" and that the commercialization of GMOs is "driven by money." His foundation's website includes an "Understanding GMO" page which claims "the safety of GMO foods is unproven and a growing body of research connects these foods with health concerns." However, Health Canada, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association, the National Academies of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and several other scientific and medical institutions from around the world have all concluded that genetically modified foods are safe to eat.


In a 2013 speech on water policy at the University of Alberta, Suzuki claimed that a second emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant would require the evacuation of the North American west coast. Three months later, he admitted that his comment was "off-the-cuff." However, Suzuki still speculates that another earthquake could trigger a new nuclear disaster in Fukushima, as the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission paper he cited in his aforementioned speech at the University of Alberta states that such a disaster could call for the evacuation of over 10 million Japanese residents.


In 2013, in the French news magazine L'Express, Suzuki called Canada's immigration policy "disgusting" (We "plunder southern countries to deprive them of their future leaders, and wish to increase our population to support economic growth") and insisted that "Canada is full" ("Our useful area is reduced").

Canadian justice system

While being interviewed by Tony Jones on Australia's ABC TV network in September 2013, Suzuki repeated the claim from Canadian media that the Harper government was building prisons even though crime rates were declining in Canada.

He suggested that the prisons might be being built so that Stephen Harper can incarcerate environmental activists. Jean-Christophe De Le Rue, a spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, denied the claims, emphasizing that the Canadian government is not building any prisons, nor do they have plans to build any. However, in 2011, the Harper government did announce a 5-year, "$2-billion federal prison-building boom" to add "over 2,700 beds to men's and women's prisons across Canada" with $517-million already "spent on prison construction" in 2010–2011.

Personal life

Suzuki was married to Setsuko Joane Sunahara from 1958 to 1965; the couple had three children. In 1973, Suzuki married a second time to Tara Elizabeth Cullis, with whom he had two daughters: Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Sarika Cullis-Suzuki. As of 2015, he has six grandchildren.Suzuki is an atheist. His cousin’s grandchildren are Montreal Canadiens centre Nick Suzuki, and Carolina Hurricanes centre Ryan Suzuki.


Suzuki is the author of 52 books (nineteen for children), including David Suzuki: The Autobiography, Tree: A Life Story, The Sacred Balance, Genethics, Wisdom of the Elders, Inventing the Future, and the best-selling Looking At Senses a series of children's science books. This is a partial list of publications by Suzuki:

Sciencescape – The Nature of Canada (1986) – with Hans Blohm and Marjorie Harris

Pebbles to Computers: The Thread (1986) – with Hans Blohm and Stafford Beer

Metamorphosis: Stages in a life (1987) ISBN 0-773-72139-8

Genethics: The Clash between the New Genetics and Human Values (1990)

It's a Matter of Survival (1991) ISBN 0-674-46970-4

Time to Change (1994)

The Japan We Never Knew: A Journey of Discovery (1997) – with Keibo Oiwa

The Sacred Balance (1997)

From Naked Ape to Superspecies: A Personal Perspective on Humanity and the Global Ecocrisis (1999) – with Holly Dressel. ISBN 0-773-73194-6

From Naked Ape to Superspecies: Humanity and the Global Eco-Crisis, (2nd edition 2004) – with Holly Dressel. ISBN 1-553-65031-X

Good News for a Change: Hope for a Troubled Planet (2001) – with Holly Dressel. ISBN 0-773-73307-8

More Good News (2003)More Good News: Real Solutions to the Global Eco-Crisis (Revised ed. 2010) – with Holly Dressel. ISBN 1-553-65475-7

David Suzuki: The Autobiography (2006)

David Suzuki's Green Guide (2008) – with David Boyd

The Big Picture: Reflections on Science, Humanity, and a Quickly Changing Planet (2009) – with David Taylor

The Legacy: An Elder's vision for a sustainable future (2010) – with foreword by Margaret Atwood

Letters to My Grandchildren (2015) ISBN 978-1771640886

Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie (2010), 93-minute documentary DVD (210616DV)

Awards and honours

Suzuki is an appointee to the Order of Canada, first as an Officer (1976), then upgraded to Companion status in (2006), the Order of British Columbia (1995), and is the recipient of UNESCO's Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science (1986) and a long list of Canadian and international honours.

Canadian version of the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977.

125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal in 1992.

Canadian version of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.

Canadian version of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

In 2004, Suzuki was nominated as one of the top ten "Greatest Canadians" by viewers of the CBC. In the final vote he ranked fifth, making him the greatest living Canadian. Suzuki said that his own vote was for Tommy Douglas who was the eventual winner.

In 2006, Suzuki was the recipient of the Bradford Washburn Award presented at the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts.

In 2007, Suzuki was honoured by Global Exchange, with the International Human Rights Award.

In 2009, Suzuki was awarded the honorary Right Livelihood Award.

He was the subject of Sturla Gunnarsson's 2010 documentary film Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie.

On June 23, 2015, Suzuki was awarded the Freedom of the City by the Vancouver City Council, which entitled him to the title Freeman of the City of Vancouver.

Honorary degrees

Suzuki has been awarded honorary degrees from over two dozen universities around the world. These include:

See also

Conservation biology




John C. Phillipson et al. "David Takayoshi Suzuki" in The Canadian Encyclopedia: Year 2000 Edition, James Marsh, ed. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1999. p. 2277. ISBN 0-7710-2099-6

David Suzuki. Metamorphosis. Toronto: Stoddart, 1991. ISBN 0-7737-5509-8

Further reading

Suzuki, David (2007), David Suzuki: The Autobiography, Greystone Books, ISBN 9781553652816

Suzuki, David; Boyd, David R. (2008), David Suzuki's Green Guide, Greystone Books, ISBN 9781553652939

Gazlay, Suzy (2009), David Suzuki: Doing Battle with Climate Change, Crabtree, ISBN 9780778746652

External links

David Suzuki Foundation

David Suzuki Institute

David Suzuki at IMDb

Order of Canada citation

The Nature of Things official website

The Right Livelihood Award

David Suzuki speaks out against genetically modified food, 2:39, Oct. 17, 2001, CBC Digital Archive

Video: David Suzuki – Observing our Species At the Montreal Degrowth Conference 2012, 10 minutes.

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