After 44 years of hosting CBC The nature of things, David Suzuki’s term is coming to an end. Although the upcoming season will be his last, that doesn’t necessarily mean the public will see or hear less from the iconic — and sometimes controversial — Canadian environmentalist.
“This is the most important time in my life,” Suzuki announced in an interview on Sunday National with host Ian Hanomansingh. “I hate to call it retirement. I’m just moving on.”
His final season with the series focused on nature and science begins in January. In a statement, CBC management said the new hosting plans would be confirmed “in the coming weeks.”
Suzuki said he is very excited about the future of the show.
In recent years, the 86-year-old retired from the series, appearing less often in front of the cameras. He pokes fun at his age, saying he “surpassed my best before the date.”
Suzuki said he wanted to retire for a while, but stayed on the show to see it through The nature of things will not be canceled after his departure.
“People in the media think, ‘Oh my God, The The nature of thingsis it still on?” he said. “You’re damn right it’s still on!”
The show — and Suzuki — have come a long way since he first started hosting in 1979.
When he began his broadcasting career in the 1960s, Suzuki’s casual style stood out.
“I had a headband and shoulder-length hair and granny glasses, and scientists were outraged that this hippie was talking about science,” he said.
But Suzuki managed to connect with the audience and took Canadians for a ride as he explored a range of topics.
Through the The nature of thingsSuzuki has shared his passion for science and nature with the general public — from explaining how a ballpoint pen works to discussing a 1980s fight over logging on Haida Gwaii in British Columbia, formerly known as the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Suzuki said it was through interviewing the Haida people that he first realized how nature and people are interconnected.
“Through them I saw that there is no such thing as an ‘environment’… the environment is what makes us who we are,” he said.
He fears that environmental protection has failed
During his long tenure as a science communicator and environmentalist, Suzuki developed a reputation for speaking his mind—and sometimes landing himself in hot water.
He made controversial statements about the safety of genetically modified food. The general consensus among most scientists and the World Health Organization is that GMOs are safe, although some members of the public remain wary, according to research by the Pew Research Center.
Last year, Suzuki was accused of inciting eco-terrorism because he said that if the government doesn’t take climate change seriously, people will blow up gas pipelines. Critics have also suggested the environmentalist is a hypocrite because he lives in a multi-million dollar waterfront home in Vancouver.
Suzuki defended himself, saying trolls and news outlets could take his words out of context or twist them.
“This type of attack is used as a reason to avoid whatever I say. But that doesn’t mean the message isn’t real,” Suzuki told CBC’s Ian Hanomansingh.
Suzuki is both irreverent and self-deprecating as he reflects on his legacy.
Looking back on his career on the show, he said he feels privileged to have been a part of the show and he is proud of what he has achieved, although he does not see it as his only achievement.
Suzuki said he hoped people learned something from his work, but added that “when I die, I don’t care what people think of me. I’ll be dead.”
As for his environmental activism, Suzuki said he still has work to do.
“All in all, I feel like a failure, because I’m part of a movement that failed,” he said. “All I want is to be able to tell my grandchildren, ‘I did the best I could.’
Suzuki said he thinks the key to solving climate change is getting people to change the way they think about nature.
“We are intimately connected. There is no separation between us and the air, between us and nature,” he said.
He looks forward to having more free time soon to devote himself to the environmental movement.
‘Now we can tell the truth’
As he moves into the next phase of his life, Suzuki said he believes now more than ever, it’s his responsibility to call it what it is.
“I don’t have to kiss anybody’s ass to get a job, a raise or a promotion,” he said. “Now I am free, as an elder.”
“As you get older, you don’t care about more power, money or fame. Now we can speak the truth. We can look back and say ‘this is BS’.”
Just a few days ago, Suzuki did just that at a press conference in BC, accusing the federal government of “shithole” for promoting tourism while failing to address climate change.
He credits his father with teaching him to take a stand. Suzuki remembers being lectured by his dad when he was in high school for taking a “nambi-pambi” stance on an issue as student body president.
“He said, ‘If you want everybody to love you, then you’re not going to stand for anything. There’s always going to be people who are going to oppose you or disagree with you’.”
Suzuki, a third-generation Japanese Canadian, spent part of his childhood in an internment camp in BC’s interior with his family during World War II. His father was sent to forced labor by the Canadian government.
He said his experience during the war is part of the reason why social justice and activism are important to him.
When asked what his childhood self would think of where he is now, Suzuki paused.
“I suppose he would be surprised. I have no idea what he would think.”
The journey from “hotshot scientist” to TV broadcaster
Suzuki, a scientist by training, said he never planned to become a full-time broadcaster. After eight years of post-secondary studies in the United States, he returned to Canada in 1962 with plans to pursue a career as a geneticist.
“I was a real scientist in my mind,” Suzuki said. “I wanted to make a name for myself in genetics – and to my shock, when I applied for a research grant, I received $4,200.
Suzuki said he could not believe the lack of funding for Canadian research, compared to his American colleagues who received grants in the tens of thousands of dollars.
“I said, ‘What the hell is going on? Canada and science are like the backwaters.'”
That’s part of what sparked Suzuki’s desire to share his passion for science with the world.
His introduction to journalism began with a series of TV episodes on genetics, broadcast on the local CBC Alberta channel on Sunday mornings. At the time, Suzuki was teaching in the genetics department at the University of Alberta.
“I started meeting people on campus who said, ‘I really liked the show you did last week.’
Suzuki said he was surprised by how many people were watching TV on Sunday.
“That’s when I realized that this is a powerful medium.”
He later became the first host of the CBC radio program Quirks & Quarksand in 1979 he took over the duties of host The nature of thingswhich debuted in November 1960.
“I wanted Canadians to know that science is important,” Suzuki said.
Although people now have a wealth of information at their fingertips, Suzuki worries about the amount of misinformation.
“I wanted people to get more information.” “Well, now they’ve got it. … It’s a really terrible state, and people don’t know how to wade through that pile of information,” he said.
“But I hope that even though there is a septic tank there, that The nature of things will continue to shine like a jewel.”
Suzuki said he deeply appreciates his time on the show and the opportunities it gave him to learn from others.
“I had a wonderful run,” he said.