My Lunch with David Suzuki

David Suzuki, Canada’s leading figure on matters of science and environmental responsibility, is in the news again because the University of Alberta, in the midst of a regional and national controversy over oil pipelines, chose to award him an honorary degree.

Coincidentally, it was in that same province that I had my own confrontation with Dr. Suzuki a few years ago.

I was booked to address the large annual teachers conference in Calgary in the TELUS Convention Centre and, as I looked over the program in advance of the meeting, found that David Suzuki was also scheduled to speak. I saw from his bio that he and I shared in common both the University of Chicago (we received our doctorates there) and, after a few minutes on the Internet, discovered that we also shared an agent, Christine Beaumaster of Keynote Speakers.

So I contacted Christine, who contacted Dr. Suzuki’s assistant, who contacted him, and a lunch date was set for the downtown hotel in which we both were to be accommodated.

We happened to arrive at the restaurant at the same time that day and duly followed the hostess to our table. Every single party we passed looked up, did a double take, and then started buzzing. There are few more recognizable people in Canada than David Suzuki, of course, the longtime host of CBC’s science program, “The Nature of Things.”

Once we were seated, however, everyone around us treated us with Canadian politeness and we began to talk without interruption. And we talked for 90 minutes.

The first half-hour was spent getting acquainted. I found David (as he asked me to call him) reserved, even wary—which made perfect sense, since I was clearly one of those keen Christian types that was on the wrong side of the environmentalism debate. For, as the second half-hour made clear, David had bought entirely into the famous thesis of Lynn White, Jr. (published in an article back in 1967) that Christianity was largely responsible for western civilization’s devastating attitude toward the natural world.

As David made clear to me, he believed that it was Christianity’s “dominion ethic,” the teaching in Genesis 1 and 2 that human beings were created as the “apex species” to “rule the world,” that furnished the divine authorization for human rapacity. Clearly, in David’s mind, “dominion” meant “domination,” and domination meant exploitation.

When I replied that some of us Christians preferred the term “stewardship” to “domination,” he pooh-poohed it right away. He’d already come across that locution and, to him, it was a mere euphemism for the same ugly thing. Human beings were in charge and could do what they liked to other species.

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