Scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster David Suzuki is pictured in a Toronto hotel room, on Monday November 11 , 2016. David Suzuki will receive an honorary doctor of science degree today from the University of Alberta after months of criticism. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

David Suzuki receives honorary degree for conservation

The longtime oilsands critic was greeted by cheers and boos in Edmonton at the University of Alberta

Human beings are a “tectonic force” shaping nearly every facet of the planet we depend on and our failure to realize that is at the heart of most ecological disputes, environmentalist David Suzuki said Thursday.

In Edmonton to receive an honorary degree from the University of Alberta, the longtime conservationist and oilsands critic was greeted by cheers and boos as he got up to speak while protesters waved placards outside.

“We have disputes over many things because we haven’t started from a position of agreement on what we all need and must protect,” Suzuki said in a moderate speech that focused on the challenges facing the science students graduating.

“We have become the dominant animal on the planet and we have to find a way of living in balance with the elements that keep us alive and healthy.”

Some stood to cheer his words, others remained seated, but the applause was long and loud.

Suzuki has said that Alberta’s oilsands, which are crucial to the province’s economy, should be left in the ground to prevent vast amounts of carbon from being released into the atmosphere.

Outside the convocation ceremony, about three dozen protesters from as far away as the oilsands capital of Fort McMurray and the industry’s financial hub in Calgary disputed Suzuki’s position — as well as his fitness for the honour.

“The oil industry is important to Alberta and to Canada and Mr. Suzuki is not very supportive of it,” said Barbara Benyon of Camrose, Alta. “Any good he might have done has been cancelled out long since.”

The university said Suzuki’s honorary degree was granted “for contributions to public understanding of science and the environment.”

However, there are those in the province who take Suzuki’s views personally.

“It is a personal thing,” said Bob Iverach, a Calgary lawyer and University of Alberta alum.

Iverach said giving Suzuki a degree 10 years ago, before he became so outspoken, would have been one thing. Now, Iverach compared it to giving one to Adolph Hitler on the basis of his early career.

“Hitler wrote ‘Mein Kampf.’ Do you give him a PhD for the body of work he’s done?”

Others criticized Suzuki for his lifestyle. They said it’s a long way from the low-carbon model he advocates for others.

“This award to David Suzuki is a complete insult,” said Ken Wilson from Calgary. “He’s a celebrity sensation. He’s made up. He has done nothing environmentally in terms of his own lifestyle.”

Suzuki did not directly address the controversy, but did say everyone should be “scientifically literate” so as to be able to address today’s economic and environmental challenges.

In introducing Suzuki, university president David Turpin reminded the audience that universities have traditionally been places where unpopular but necessary ideas can be thrashed out.

“We need independent thinkers,” he said. “We need to question the status quo.”

The university announced in April that Suzuki was one of 13 people who would be honoured at spring convocation.

That prompted complaints, as well as critical public letters from the university’s deans of business and engineering.

Donors and alumni, particularly those in the oil and gas industry, said they would withdraw donations and partnerships. One Calgary law firm said it was cancelling its annual $100,000 funding commitment to the university’s law school.

In an op-ed posted on his foundation’s website, Suzuki said that universities should be the place “to air a range of ideas about the geophysical, social and economic consequences of fossil fuel use.”

The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Surrey addictions officials say pandemic funding is wreaking havoc on those in recovery

Governments’ kindness taking its toll, recovery operators say

Police asking for help to find 11-year-old last seen in Surrey

Shauntae Joseph has been reported missing two other times since October 2019

B.C. government releases designs for new Pattullo Bridge

Project expected to cost $1.377 billion, completed by end of 2023

Influx of cross-border visitors to Peace Arch Park sparks concern COVID-19 could spike

Police, parks officials say patrols, education and signage have all been increased

11 new COVID-19 cases in B.C. as top doc urges caution amid ‘encouraging’ low rates

Dr. Bonnie Henry also announced that two care home outbreaks would be declared over

Dr. Bonnie Henry announces official ban on overnight kids camps this summer

New ban comes after talking with other provincial health officials across the country, Henry says

Senior man in hospital after unprovoked wolf attack near Prince Rupert

Conservation officers are on site looking for the wolf

VIDEO: NASA astronauts blast off into space on SpaceX rocket

Marks NASA’s first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

Importance of accurate, ethical reporting more critical than ever

‘I knew what he wanted’: Kootenay man spends hours in tree as black bear patrols below

Francis Levasseur is no stranger to the outdoors, but a recent run-in with a bear caused quite a scare

B.C.’s police watchdog probing death of Richmond man in alleged shoplifting incident

Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is asking any witnesses to come forward

PHOTOS: U.S. cities brace for increasing unrest over police killing of George Floyd

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has fully mobilized the state’s National Guard

Aldergrove zoo to reopen with staff in masks, one-directional visitor experience to tackle COVID-19

Reopening on June 1, to be ushered in by words from Darryl Plecas, Legislative assembly Speaker

Most Read