By Brendon Purdy
Where Edmonton Editor Lindsay Shapka had a chat with David Suzuki about his new book Letters To My Grandchildren, and about what is next for the well-known Canadian. Suzuki will be in Edmonton, at the Metro Cinema on June 27, 2015 for a live talk about this page-turning read.
WHERE (W): It seems like a very personal topic, writing to your grandchildren, but obviously you must have felt that there is a larger message in there, and a larger audience for it. Why did you decide to share these letters with the world?
David Suzuki (DS): It is a very personal book, but it was a very easy book to write compared to my other ones because it was like I was talking to my grandchildren. But, I did write it to appeal to other people. I am really issuing a call to elders to get off the couch and off the golf course and get on with the really important part of their lives, which is passing on the lessons that we have learned. Young people need to hear what we have gone through — our successes and our failures. I do hope young people will read it as well. A lot of my ideas come from my life [experiences], and I am hoping that [the book] will spark ideas in young readers.
W: Are there any important messages that you are hoping readers will take from the book?
DS: I do have some [messages in the book] regarding the First Nations people, as two of my grandchildren are Indigenous people that live on a reserve in Haida Gwaii.
There are a lot of environmental messages as well, which is kind of what people expect from me. But I also pass, on lessons from working with the media — the media creates a persona that you see on TV, but that has nothing to do with who I am.
The two things I didn’t talk about in detail are my foundation which I am very proud of, and my career as a scientist because I have written about both of those things extensively in other books.
W: Speaking to the idea of fame, I know that you are very famous for a lot of things — you have won multiple awards, you have countless honourary degrees — but what is it that you have accomplished that matters most to you?
DS: Well, to me there is only one thing, and that is my children and my grandchildren. My greatest contribution is children who are decent, hardworking and talented human beings who are contributing to society themselves. I am very, very proud of that.
W: When you were the same age as your grandchildren, what did you want to be when you grew up?
DS: I had an insect collection, and I used to run through the fields and search for new bugs. I was particularly keen on beetles and I wanted to be an entomologist. Then, as I got older people started telling me that I would never get a job as an entomologist, so then I wanted to be an Ichthyologist because I loved fishing! But, I fell in love with genetics when I was in college and that just changed everything for me.
W: What’s next for you?
DS: I want to spend more time with my grandchildren, but my wife has told me to stop using the word “retirement”. Right now my health is okay, and I really passionately care about environmental and social issues because of my grandchildren. I will continue to speak out whenever I have the opportunity and try to make any sort of impact.
In the book I tell the story about the hummingbird. It is an old Indigenous story that tells about a forest fire that breaks out and a hummingbird going by sees the fire. He flies over to a pond, gets a beak full of water, flies back to the fire, drops the water on it, and goes back to the pond. The bird is going back and forth with a small beak full of water, and all the other animals of the forest are just laughing and saying, “What are you doing? You’re not going to put the fire out!” And he just looks at them and says, “I’m doing the best I can.”
And that’s all I have ever done and will continue to do — the best I can.