In 1989, David Suzuki's award-winning radio series It's a Matter of Survival sounded an alarm of where the planet was heading. Over 17,000 of his shocked fans sent him letters asking for ways to avert the catastrophe.
A group of people urged David Suzuki and Tara Cullis to create a new, solutions-based organization. That November, they hosted a gathering with a dozen thinkers and activists on Pender Island, B.C. By the end of the meeting, something significant was afoot. And after many planning meetings, on Sept. 14, 1990, the David Suzuki Foundation was incorporated.
Tara describes here how the David Suzuki Foundation has grown up since then.
First international projects
Our early projects were international because project dollars could go much further overseas. We worked with the Ainu of Japan to protect salmon, indigenous peoples of Colombia, and the Kayapo people of Brazil. We researched a dam project in Australia and worked with the Hesquiat people of Vancouver Island to restore a clam fishery. With each of these projects, we partnered with local peoples to develop alternative models of economic and community development.
But we needed guiding principles to steer the direction of the Foundation. As a group, we wrote The Declaration of Interdependence. At the Rio Earth Summit, portions of our declaration were woven into the work of others around the world to form the Earth Charter, whose adherents are still growing.
A new focus on Canada
We learned from the best how to fundraise, gradually building our core group of committed donors, many of whom remain our enthusiastic partners today. Their faith allowed us to dive into our locally based work in fisheries, forestry, and sustainability.
Fisheries was the subject of our first book, Dead Reckoning, by Terry Glavin. Our second was The Sacred Balance, by David Suzuki. We have now published nearly forty books, all in partnership with Greystone Books. Many have gone on to win national and international awards.
By 1996, we had ramped up our work on climate change, quickly publishing five reports in the run-up to the Kyoto Conference in 1997. We partnered with the local Musqueam First Nation to launch the Musqueam Watershed Restoration Project, working to bring the last salmon stream in Vancouver back to health.
Meanwhile, our work in forestry and fisheries combined in the launch of the ambitious Pacific Salmon Forests Project, which worked with the communities of the central and northern coast and Haida Gwaii. We went on to publish landmark guidelines for logging, exposés of overharvesting cedar, and annual report cards on Canadian rain forests (size of clear-cuts, treatment of salmon streams, etc).
Evolving our work
Our Climate Change team has since expanded into the health arena, working with doctors to fight for clean air, while publishing energy solutions and lobbying successfully for Canada to sign the Kyoto Accord. We have brought the voices of Olympic skiers and NHL hockey players to advocate for going carbon neutral and worked with governments to support renewable energy and the carbon tax.
We began work to protect species at risk, help governments ban pesticides, research contaminants in farmed salmon, challenge gravel extraction in the Fraser River, and work with chefs to switch to sustainable seafood.
The public began asking us for green living tips, so we developed the Nature Challenge to offers ways to help the environment in our everyday lives. We moved into gardening with David Suzuki Digs My Garden and into households through our Queen of Green and her tips on everything from laundry soap to green weddings.
We also addressed economics, assessing the true value of greenbelts, farmland, pollination, and other ecosystem services, and published a widely used guide on how businesses can shrink their environmental impact.
Where we are today
The David Suzuki Foundation is now a national, bilingual organization. In addition to our Vancouver head office, we have busy offices in Toronto and Montreal.
Twenty years after that first Pender Island meeting and 17 years after writing the Declaration of Interdependence, the David Suzuki Foundation has become a strong and capable force. Committed donors, determined staff, and talented volunteers have made the Pender Island dream of 1989 a reality.