David Suzuki and his twin sister Marcia was born to Setsu Nakamura and Kaoru Carr Suzuki on March 24, 1936. Both of his father’s and mother’s grandparents were emigrated from Japan to Canada in the early 1900’s—his paternal grandparents were from the Aichi Prefecture, while his maternal grandparents were from Hiroshima—making David a third-generation Japanese–Canadian, otherwise known as a Canadian Sansei. He has two other siblings, aside from his twin—Geraldine and Dawn.
Setsu loved sports and the outdoors, and would often bring his son, David, out with him to his camping and fishing trips. Because of this, David got exposed to nature and the environment, which would greatly influence his passion in life. In many of his interviews, David would often cite his father’s influence over his love for nature, having begun it early in his childhood.
David’s childhood was marked with suffering and discrimination due to his heritage. During the outbreak of World War II, when Canada declared war against Japan in 1942, David, only six years old back then, was persecuted along with his family and was sent to a labour camp. His father Setsu was sent to Solsqua, a small town in the British Columbia interior, while David, his mother and his siblings were sent to Slocan, which was only a few hundred kilometres from Solsqua. It was in the labour camp where David’s sister Dawn was born. Prior to them being sent to the labour camp, the Canadian government also took the family’s dry-cleaning business and sold it.
David and his family faced many horrific challenges and difficulties at the labour camp. Not only was this caused by his cultural difference, but also due to the anger that the native Canadians had to the Japanese for bombing Pearl Harbor. The persecution was intense, that even after the war, the family had to move several times to escape their persecutors—David and his family moved to the east of the Rockies, jumping from town to town—first to Islington, then Leamington, and then London, Ontario, where they finally settled.
In spite of all of the suffering they faced, the Suzuki family remained strong and optimistic. David would often tell stories of him and his friends joking around and having fun in the midst of persecution while in the camps.
When his family was in Islington, David studied at the Mill Street Elementary School. Due to moving, David then had to transfer to Leamington Secondary School. When the Suzuki family finally got settled in Ontario, David entered London Central Secondary school to study.
In his last year at the school, David was elected as the Student’s Council President; it was an astounding victory—David received more votes than all the candidates combined. During this time, both of David’s parents worked at the Suzuki Brothers Construction Company, run by Setsu’s brothers.
David Suzuki entered college at the Amherst College in Massachusetts, receiving his bachelor’s degree in arts in 1958. While studying in Amherst College, he rekindled his relationship with high-school sweetheart Setsuko Joane Sunahara, who in the same year he went on to marry. David and Setsuko had three children—Tamiko, Laura and Troy.
David studied in the University of Chicago afterwards, and in 1961, he received his Ph.D. His intelligence and passion for nature helped him to reach success. Between 1961 and 1962 he became a research associate for the Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National Lab Biology Division.
The following year, he became an assistant professor in Genetics at the University of Alberta (from 1962 to 1963). David has since become a member of the University of British Columbia faculty until his retirement in 2001, becoming a professor emeritus for the research division.
During his study years, David supported the “black rights” movement, often citing that he and Martin Luther King, Jr., had the same views at that time. Because of his devotion for the black people, he became a member of the NAACP, making David the only non–black member of the team.
David Remarries and Fathers Two Daughters
In 1965, David and his wife, Setsuko, filed for a divorce. Though frustrated with the incident, David did not waver in his passion for nature. In 1972, David met another woman named Tara Elizabeth Cullis, whom he fell in love with and that same year married. They have two daughters—Sarika and Severn.
Kids Love Suzuki on Science
Aside from teaching in schools, David Suzuki also had passion for television. In 1970, David hosted a weekly children’s show named “Suzuki on Science,” which was popular among many kids during its time of airing. In 1972, David, at age 35, received the E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellowship award for being an outstanding research scientist—David held the title for three years.
In 1974, David founded the radio program ‘Quirks and Quarks,’ where he stayed on radio as one of the most listened hosts for the next five years. Other equally famous radio programs that David Suzuki hosted were CBC’s “It’s a Matter of Survival” and From Naked Ape to Superspecies.” During this time, David also hosted a weekly program designed for adult audiences called “Science Magazine.”
Writing a Textbook on Genetic Analysis
In 1976, David published his textbook entitled “An Introduction to Genetic Analysis,” where he collaborated with A.J.F. Griffiths to write. Since its publication, this book has remained to be the most widely utilized genetics textbook in the United States, and has been translated to many languages—Spanish, Greek, Italian, Arabic, French and German among others.
It was also in this year that David Suzuki was conferred the title of Officer of the Order of Canada, the country’s most prestigious award. David was further honoured in 2006 when the title was promoted from Officer to Companion.
The Nature of Things Wins Awards
David’s biggest success in his broadcasting career came in 1979 when he started hosting “The Nature of Things,” a television series created by CBC that was aired in almost 50 countries. David used the program to help stimulate the interest of people in the natural environment, pointing out the threats that were present against their well-being and the habitat of animals, and presenting various alternatives for the betterment of living through achieving a more sustainable society. David received a Gemini Award for best host for the program.
In 1985, David hosted an eight–part CBC television series entitled, “A Planet for the Taking.” The show was received very well by so many audiences that it averaged over 1.8 million viewers for each episode. The program was such a hit among the masses that David was awarded the United Nations Environment Programme Medal. In one of his speeches, David summarized the point of view that the program gives to the people in this 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."
In his interviews regarding this program, David would often end his speeches with the conclusion that we should have a major “perceptual shift” in our relationship with nature and wildlife. In 1993, David hosted another critically acclaimed television series entitled “The Secret of Life,” which was created by PBS.
David’s amazing gift of television hosting and his passion and dedication for the welfare of nature and wildlife has earned him numerous awards. In fact, he has received four Gemini Awards for the category of best host due to his highly acclaimed shows, which not only educate viewers about the importance of taking care of nature and wildlife, but also encourage them to act on it. Many of the viewers of David’s shows have described him as charismatic, inspirational, and passionate.
The Sacred Balance Book Turned into a Mini-Series
David wrote a book entitled “The Sacred Balance,” which was first published in 1997. The book explored the impact of human actions on the world and those who lived in it, and encouraged its readers to help in changing the environment for the better. The book became a worldwide hit, and in 2002, it was made into a five–hour mini-series.
In 1997, David also collaborated with the producers in Discovery Channel to produce “Yellowstone to Yukon: The Wildlands Project,” a television series that focused on the development of corridors between wilderness reserves in order to sustain the diversity among the species. The television show concentrated on the efforts of Dave Foreman, who started the Wildlands Project after leaving Earth First!, which he helped develop, in 1990.
The David Suzuki Foundation Aims to Address Global Warming and Other Environmental Issues
In order to further his dreams of caring for the environment, David co-founded the “David Suzuki Foundation” in 1990, along with his wife, Tara, and a dozen other thinkers and activists on Pender Island in British Columbia. The organization focused mainly on environmental issues, such as climate change, global warming, forestry, sustainable resources and biodiversity. Today, the David Suzuki Foundation is being supported by over 40,000 donors, all united towards the following goal:
"Work towards balancing human needs with the Earth's ability to sustain all life. Our goal is to find and communicate practical ways to achieve that balance."
David has been a board member of the organization since its inception. However, in 2012, David announced his resignation from the board due to the attacks made by politicians and the media. In an interview, David stated that for the sake of the organization which is bearing his name, he would rather step down to save the organization from further attacks.
David’s passion in taking care of nature and its wildlife has earned him many awards despite the number of criticisms he has received for his radical thoughts in terms of global climate change and environmental disasters.
Right Livelihood Recipient
In 1986, he received the UNESCO Kalinga Prize, which was to honour his popularization of science. He was also named as one of the ten Greatest Canadians in 2004 by CBC viewers. In 2009, David Suzuki received the honorary Right Livelihood Award, which many refer to as the alternative Nobel Peace Prize.
David actively participates in the movement to make people aware of climate change, and is currently one of its most outspoken members. In a speech David made at McGill University in 2008, he encouraged the students to speak out against politicians who did not deal with 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."
Throughout his career, David Suzuki has travelled in many parts of the world, speaking in many events on his perspectives about taking care of the environment. These frequent travels have brought quite a lament to David, who is concerned about the carbon footprint that he is leaving.
In one interview, he claimed how ironic it was that he, who was spreading the message of climate responsibility, was one of those who were breaking it by making a lot of carbon deposits through his travels. Due to this, David has stopped taking vacations abroad and instead focused on clustering his speaking engagements into a single engagement that can be broadcast through video conference.
Awards and Achievements
- 1976: Conferred the title of Officer of the Order of Canada
- 1986: Awarded the UNESCO’s Kalinga Prize for the Popularization of Science
- 1995: Conferred the Order of British Columbia
- 2004: Nominated as one of the top ten “Greatest Canadians” by CBC viewers in which he ranked fifth in the final vote
- 2006: Received the Bradford Washburn Award from the Museum of Science in Boston
- 2006: Conferred the title of Companion of the Order of Canada
- 2007: Received the International Human Rights Award from Global Exchange
- 2009: Received the Honorary Right Livelihood Award
- 1974: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Prince Edward Island
- 1979: Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Windsor
- 1979: Honorary Doctor of Science from Acadia University
- 1981: Honorary Doctor of Laws from Trent University
- 1986: Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Calgary
- 1986: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Governors State University
- 1986: Honorary Doctor of Science from Lakehead University
- 1987: Honorary Doctor of Science from McMaster University
- 1987: Honorary Doctor of Laws from Queen’s University
- 1987: Honorary Doctor of Science from Carleton University
- 1988: Honorary Doctor of Science from Amherst College
- 1997: Honorary Doctor of Science from Griffith University
- 1998: Degree de Liberte from Open University
- 1999: Honorary Doctor of Science from Whitman College
- 2000: Honorary Doctor of Environmental Science
- 2001: Degree de Liberte from Simon Fraser University
- 2005: Honorary Doctor of Science from York University
- 2005: Honorary Doctor of Science from UQAM (Universite du Quebec a Montreal)
- 2006: Honorary Doctor of Science from Flinders University
- 2007: Honorary Doctor of Communication from Ryerson University
- 2007: Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Montreal
- 2007: Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Western Ontario
- 2008: Honorary Diploma in Alternative Energy Engineering Technology from Lambton College
- 2009: Honorary Doctor of Science from the Memorial University of Newfoundland
- 2010: Honorary Doctorate from the Universite Sainte-Anne
- 2011: Honorary Doctor of Communication from the Universite Laval
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- The David Suzuki Foundation