An earth-focused vision for the future
David Suzuki is an internationally renowned geneticist and environmentalist and is the author of more than 40 books and recipient of many national and international awards for his writing and his scientific work. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia. His book The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision For Our Sustainable Future (Greystone Books, 113 pages) is part autobiography, part history and part basic science, but above all, it is a plea for the planet.
In a Forward by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, she says, “The legacy in this lecture is one of truthful words about the hard place we’re in, but it’s also one of hopeful words: our chance — if we will take it — for opportunity, beauty, wonder, and companionship with the rest of creation. My hope is that we ourselves will emulate David Suzuki and leave legacies in our turn.” While this statement by Ms. Atwood could serve as a condensed review itself, I’m going to indulge myself by introducing you to what lies within the pages of this compelling book.
Suzuki divides his small book into three sections which are, themselves, descriptive of the content and detail one finds in the book’s pages: “Evolution of a Superspecies,” “Finding a New Path,” and “A Vision For the Future.” The first 36 pages are devoted to both his own early life’s history and the evolution of the human species in general. He talks about the earlier values of indigenous peoples the world over and their relationship with the natural world in terms of sustainability and balance. He then goes on to talk about population growth and how that changed and continues to change mankind’s view of and relationship with the land. He then breaks this section of the book into the elements of earth, air, fire and water — showing how in each case our relationship with these elements has changed and how these changes have created what we are experiencing now as climate change. “We are tearing at this web of life, which is the source of our most fundamental needs,” Suzuki says, as he writes about biodiversity as an essential ingredient in the ongoing sustainable future for all life on the planet. He then goes on to say that “our great crisis of climate change demands a radically new approach.”
In his section on “Finding a New Path,” Suzuki emphasizes how economics has become an over-riding priority over that of environmental balance and sustainability, with the stock market, the GDP and individual wealth being more important to us than the health of our ecosystems. He quotes Rachel Carson and her classic book Silent Spring and many other established and well-known authors and scientists throughout the book to support his thesis that it is necessary for all of us to follow the lead of our ancient ancestors in re-establishing a knowledge and reverence for the natural world if we as a species are going to survive. The rest of the book, then, is Suzuki’s vision of what we can do to achieve this positive end. He uses words like “interconnectedness” and “interdependence” often and at will to drive home his point — that it is within our power and doable to create a sustainable world and future. “What is needed now is to confront our enormous ecological challenges — a joining together in a common goal and a commitment to meet that goal. And if we do those things, we can be assured that there will be huge unexpected benefits,” he writes. He again cites the indigenous Haida peoples in the northwest as an example. “The trees, birds, fish, air, water and rocks are all part of who the Haida are. The land and everything on it embody their history, their culture, the very reasons why Haida are on this earth.” He then goes on to state: “In fact there is no environment ‘out there,’ separate from us. I came to realize that we are the environment.”
In the end Suzuki punctuates his sermon on and in The Legacy by focusing on the subject of love. Again, reverence appears in his “Vision for the Future” as he addresses love ironically at times. “Our great boast is the possession of intelligence, but what intelligent creature, knowing the critical role of air for all life on Earth, would then proceed to deliberately pour toxic materials into it? We are air, so whatever we do to air, we do to ourselves. And this is true of the other sacred elements,” he preaches as an elder from his scientific pulpit. “We are all social animals, and our most fundamental social need is love. We must have love to be fully human and to realize our full potential. Finally, Suzuki concludes his sermon, as I will conclude this review, with these words: “We should know that there are forces impinging on us that we will never understand or control. We need sacred places where we go with veneration rather than to seek resources or opportunity. These, then, are our most fundamental biological, social and spiritual needs. Once we understand that those basic needs must be the very foundation of our values and the way we live, that they must be protected for our health and well-being, we can begin to imagine a new way of living in harmony and balance with them. By creating a vision of what must be, we then determine the way we act. Imagine a society ... to which the mere fact that a person exists is cause for celebration and a deep sense of responsibility to maintain and share that experience.” And to this I will simply add “Amen.”
(Thomas Crowe is a regular contributor to The Smoky Mountain News and author of the multi-award-winning non-fiction nature memoir Zoro’s Field: My Life in the Appalachian Woods.)