Rick Hansen recently sat down with science broadcaster and environmental activist, David Suzuki, to talk about overcoming challenges, leadership, making a difference and more.
Rick Hansen:Thank you for being one of our Difference Makers during the 25th Anniversary Relay. What was the highlight of your experience?
David Suzuki: There were two things. The first, of course, was just the fun of actually running and seeing the response of people. That was great. The other was the closing event at the PNE. A fabulous evening and I was delighted to meet people like Sarah MacLauchlan, David Foster, and Michael Bublé, who I already knew but was glad to reacquaint with.
RH: What inspires you to continue to be such a prolific leader?
DS: I regard myself as—no I am—an elder. Elders are freed from distractions like a need for fame, money or power. And as an elder, I see my entire life being focused on my grandchildren. I want to be able to look them in the eye when I'm on my deathbed and tell them, I did the best I could. That's all any of us can do.
RH: What do you see as the greatest challenges that we face today?
DS: Our unwillingness to change our behaviour, even when we see the global eco-crisis facing us. But right now, the corporate agenda trumps sustainability in its drive to maximize profit.
RH: What are the greatest reasons to believe that we can overcome these challenges?
DS: Hope is all I have left. I'm a scientist and a realist and have watched our utter inability to respond to the issue of climate change. We have never had to act as a single species by disregarding political boundaries and agendas and economic "reality," but that's what we have to do now. Nature doesn't give two hoots about human borders or economic constraints, yet over and over, we meet and try to negotiate through political and economic priorities. If we love our children, we have to act and that is my hope, that love will conquer our lethargy. Many of my colleagues now say it's too late, that we've passed too many ecological tipping points to go back, but my response to them is that we don't know enough to say it's too late. Remember the catastrophic decline in sockeye salmon only four years ago? That's why we set up the Cohen commission to find out why, when a year later, we got the biggest sockeye run in a hundred years! No one knows why, but nature surprised us so I believe if we pull back and give nature a chance, she may be far more forgiving than we deserve.
RH: How can people who care about a healthy planet collaborate with people who care about an inclusive society?
DS: They are already working on the same issues, only from different perspectives. You see, we cannot have a truly sustainable society that is not inclusive. Where there are tremendous inequities in wealth as we have today or where there are inequities brought about by gender, religion or ethnicity—this is not sustainable. A starving person who finds an edible plant or animal is not first going to ask whether it's endangered; they'll eat it. So hunger and poverty are my issues.
RH: What are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
DS: Watching and spending more time with a new generation of activists like my grandson, Tamo Campos, and using new technological tools, in different and imaginative ways to engage people.
RH: In your mind, what defines a true Difference Maker?
DS: I think it's the collective effect of all kinds of people working in their different ways. Some will never be recognized or fully acknowledged, but I can tell you, thousands of people donate money and hundreds of people come to my foundation and volunteer their time and expertise. The David Suzuki Foundation gets credit for our work but really, it would not be possible without donors and volunteers who do things like lick stamps, make calls and write letters. I believe when the sum of these people reaches a certain point, society will flip and their actions and beliefs will become what society takes for granted. They are the difference makers.
Thanks David for continuing to inspire us with your ability to make such a difference.