It’s a Matter of Survival, the CBC Radio show hosted by David Suzuki in 1989, was a landmark broadcast. It spanned five months and featured discussions with 140 of the world’s top scientists on the very real problems facing the earth’s environment. Suzuki says, “It seemed to reflect that sense of urgency.” The show generated some 17,000 letters from concerned listeners anxious for solutions.
The radio series ended in November 1989. In an effort to answer the questions streaming in from the public, Suzuki and his wife Tara invited a small group of scientists to Pender Island for a brainstorming retreat. The result was the formation of the Vancouver-based David Suzuki Foundation.
The goal of the Foundation is to study environmental problems, to find sustainable solutions and to communicate the results to the public. They have studied climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, and the effects of forestry practices on British Columbia’s salmon.
But the road from idea to full-fledged thriving organization was not an easy one. The foundation’s beginnings were humble and financing was scarce. Initially, Suzuki and his wife Tara used their own savings to fund the foundation. “We got a tiny office over a garage,” says Suzuki. “I think the rent was something like $500 a month.” Even with stable funding, problems continued to arise. Scrutiny was intense. “We’ve been audited at least twice that I know of,” says Suzuki. “The government uses audits as a weapon to punish or dictate to people.”
Sustainable solutions do not implement themselves. It is often left to the public to pressure the bureaucratic machine into adopting change. In this respect, the foundation has been effective in raising public awareness of environmental issues. Many celebrities, including Margaret Atwood, James Burke, Gordon Lightfoot, and Sting serve as honorary board members to put a spotlight on special issues.
Funded solely by public donation, the David Suzuki Foundation continues to fulfill its role as an independent environmental watchdog. The foundation’s members feel driven to find workable solutions through scientific research, community education and industry cooperation. David Suzuki’s commitment to the organization is as strong today as it was in the beginning. For the David Suzuki Foundation, finding answers is only half the battle.