David Suzuki, the Japanese-Canadian scientist and environmentalist, professed astonishment at having been awarded this year’s Roger Tory Peterson medal from the Harvard Museum of Natural History. “I’m not a birder,” Suzuki said, referring to the great ornithologist for whom the medal is named. “I’ve always been an insect and fish guy myself,” he told his audience for the Peterson Memorial Lecture at the Science Center Sunday afternoon (March 19).
But in a lecture that brought Hall B about as close as it’s likely to get to the atmosphere of a revival meeting, Suzuki made a passionate plea for radical change in human stewardship of the Earth – away from the view of Earth as a repository of natural resources to be exploited, away from the view of continuous economic growth as the ultimate measure of human success. “This is a remarkable moment in the history of life on Earth.”
He called on his audience, and beyond that, the developed world, to embrace the environmental agenda he’s been promoting in Canada under the name of “sustainability within a generation.” He also has 180,000 Canadians committed to “the Nature Challenge,” a 10-point program of steps that individuals can take toward sustainability.
The same superior brain that has enabled humans to dominate – and in many ways despoil – the planet can also produce solutions to the problems it has helped create. “The human brain invented the notion of the future,” Suzuki said, adding “Foresight is the very definition of what it means to be human.” He invoked the biblical stories of Joseph, protecting Egypt from famine by storing excess grain during seven bountiful years, and of Noah building his ark to protect a remnant, at least, of life on Earth from the flood.