BOOKCASE : David Suzuki: The Autobiography

• Allen & Unwin Australia • $35

Before reading this book, I knew only that David Suzuki was ‘celebrity’ environmentalist in an era when celebrity is no guarantee of substance. Now I know great deal more about this Canadian of Japanese parentage who spent childhood years in Second War World internment camp.
He might have harboured bitterness about his early, jarring experiences of unthinking racism; instead he has lived life with an open, enquiring mind and special affinity for at-risk people, animals and eco-systems.
Suzuki swapped his burgeoning scientific career as geneticist when growing radio and TV involvement showed he had rare skill to communicate complex scientific matters to mass audience. This led to over 30 years fronting the TV programme The Nature of Things, an early understanding of environmental challenges and an enduring commitment to spelling out the self-inflicted dangers we face.
Increasingly, he has felt responsibility to seek solutions too. The David Suzuki Foundation, with second wife Tara playing crucial role, has taken important initiatives as well as continuing their involvements with ‘First Nations’ communities in Canada, Brazil and, more recently, Australia and New Guinea.
Passionate about the dangers and inevitability of climate change since the late 1980s, Suzuki gives succinct, stark outline of the problems the world faces. He writes: “… despite the overwhelming consensus of climatologists and the most painstaking assessment of scientific literature in history, in 2005 the media continued to treat climate change as if it is controversy, as if there is still doubt.”
David Suzuki: The Autobiography is something of potpourri. Important environmental messages jostle with family matters and gauche name-dropping reminiscences with lyrical passages, but overall it is an absorbing story of good, committed and eminently sensible man.
He is as pertinent about the dangers of biotechnology (“As issues of cloning, stem cells, and release of genetically engineered organisms in the wild continue to crop up, there is dearth of scientists trained in genetics who don’t have stake in the technology”) as he is about ‘progress’ (“It’s not all hopeless if we can transcend the current conceit that the latest is the best, that history and the past are academic pursuits”).
His final word: “It has been my lot to be Cassandra or Chicken Little, warning about imminent disaster, but it gives me no satisfaction at all to think my concerns may be validated by my grandchildren’s generation.” – Ian F Grant

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