To many who grew up with the environmental movement, Dr. David Suzuki is a legend. He has always been there — a guiding light. A pragmatic scientist, he has never sugar coated the difficult truths regarding carrying capacity, tipping points, climate change, over-consumption, population, and pollution. But he has also never been a doomsayer.

Suzuki, a Canadian geneticist and biologist, has always been about solutions, both societal and individual. And though he became an icon of television, radio, the lecture circuit, and the Internet, and has written more than fifty books, he isn’t just a talker. As co-Founder of the David Suzuki Foundation he seems to be everywhere: meeting with First Nation leaders, surrounded by children or by performers like Neil Young and Gordon Lightfoot as he promotes the Blue Dot Movement and seeks to enshrine the right to a protected environment in the Canadian Constitution.

Dr. Suzuki is over 80 years old now, but shows no sign of slowing his advocacy for the Earth or his zest for life. If anything, he has become more frank, more outspoken, in the face of the world’s deepening environmental crisis. Recognized as a world leader in sustainable ecology, Suzuki is the recipient of UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for Science, and the United Nations Environment Program Medal, and in 2009 won the Right Livelihood Award — considered the Alternative Nobel Prize.

In this exclusive Mongabay interview, Dr. Suzuki speaks his mind, clearly defines the big problems we face, offers up the big solutions we urgently need to pursue, and tells us why we must have hope.


Glenn Scherer for Mongabay: You’ve seen a lot of ecological damage in your 80+ years on the planet, what can you say to those who are losing heart?

David Suzuki: Yes, I think it’s a very depressing time; especially when you look at the record of our coming to see that there are problems decades ago, and our inaction. It was in 1988 that environmental issues had really risen to the top. I remind you, there was an election in 1988, and a candidate said “if you vote for me, I will be an environmental president.” Do you know who that was?

Mongabay: I don’t.

David Suzuki: It was George H.W. Bush. There wasn’t a green bone in his body, but he said it because Americans had put the environment at the top of its agenda. And Margaret Thatcher, in 1988, was filmed picking up litter in London, and she turned to the camera and said: “I’m a greenie, too!” The environment had reached great heights in the late 80’s, but then there came a slight recession and immediately, whenever it’s a matter of the economy and the environment, the environment loses every time. So the environment “protectors” disappeared, and we saw the right wing think tanks, and people like the Koch brothers, begin to pour tens of millions of dollars into a campaign of disinformation. So the result is that while Americans, in 1988, were very concerned about the environment, today the concern about the environment is much less.