One of my highlights in the recent week I spent in Washington DC, attending the DC Environmental Film Festival, was listening to a talk by the Canadian naturalist and television personality David Suzuki.
In a 90-minute presentation at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, Suzuki talked about his childhood, early influences, academic career and public life. He kept his packed audience – over 600 people – spell-bound, entertained and inspired. It reminded me of the first time I listened to this charismatic geneticist: in the summer of 1991, on my first visit to his home city of Vancouver.
If anything, he had got better with age but, I was happy to note, hasn’t mellowed. He still has the same passion that has made him not just a highly successful science communicator, but an ardent activist for the environmental cause and the rights of indigenous people, or First Nations.
Introducing their well-known host, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) says:
“Dr. Suzuki is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. His television appearances, explaining the complexities of the natural sciences in a compelling, easily understood way, have consistently received high acclaim for over 30 years. He is the only network television science host who was actually a practising scientist.”
In his Smithsonian talk, Suzuki reminded us that his show – The Nature of Things with David Suzuki – is the only regular science programme that is broadcast on prime-time TV in North America on a mainstream public access channel. This might partly explain, he suggested, why Canadians are better informed about science and environmental issues that affect their daily lives. (In contrast, programmes like Nova go out on niche channels.)
The Museum of Broadcasting has this to say about the programme:
“One of the longest-running television shows in Canadian history, The Nature of Things has aired continuously since 6 November 1960. An hour-long general science program, the show began as a half-hour series–an attempt, as the first press release phrased it, ‘to put weekly science shows back on North American television schedules.’
Suzuki has been presenting the show without a break since 1979, and it is now branded by his name. When The Nature of Things with David Suzuki turned 30 years in l990, Suzuki wrote in The Toronto Star that in the gimmicky world of television-land, where only the new is exciting, “the longevity of a TV series is just like the persistence of a plant or animal species — it reflects the survival of the fittest.”