Photo: I became an environmentalist because... It's a Matter of Survival

Liz Rice was so inspired by David Suzuki’s radio series It’s a Matter of Survival that she wore the T-shirt for Grade 10 photo day.

By Liz Rice, Guest Blogger

Last summer, David Suzuki Foundation scientist Faisal Moola asked me why I became an environmentalist. We were discussing a topic for this blog, and his question was a good starting point.

I didn't know what to tell him.

You'd think I'd know the answer. Many environmentalists recall the precise moment that launched them into activism. For some, it's a book or film. Others are changed after a conversation with a friend or teacher, or when they witnessed environmental devastation first-hand.

I couldn't recall my moment. When I was younger, I lived with chronic pain, which affected my ability to remember my teen years.

By all accounts, it's a wonder that I'm an environmentalist at all. As a teen, I lived with my family on an organic farm, but I hated farm life. All of my camping experiences were horrible. I much prefer being inside than out. And, I never enjoyed science classes.

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In the course of our conversation, Faisal said something that caught my attention. He spoke about the David Suzuki Foundation's origins, about how it began in the late 1980s with a five-part CBC radio documentary series by Dr. Suzuki. The response to the series was overwhelming, prompting Dr. Suzuki to create his Foundation. Faisal and I tried to recall the name of the series. I was an avid listener of CBC Radio in my teenage years (a parent's dream, I know) but I couldn't remember it.

Curious, I went online to the Foundation's Our Story page [] and couldn't believe what I read. It was the answer to Faisal's question.

The five-part CBC radio documentary was called It's a Matter of Survival. In the summer of 1989, it warned that countries had less than 10 years to do something about climate change; that we had 10 years to determine the future of all living things! I remembered the program, which resulted in more than 17,000 fans sending Dr. Suzuki (snail mail) letters asking how to avoid global climate catastrophe. I recall taking the show's message to heart. But, I had many years of chronic pain ahead of me which impeded my ability to take action.

By my early 30s, my health had improved significantly, and I started to remove all the obstacles that stood between me and doing something about the climate crises, including leaving a good job. For six years now I've been "full steam ahead" fighting this pressing problem, primarily through presenting on environmental and health topics.

So, it turns out that David Suzuki is the source of my environmental passion. I was so affected by his radio broadcast that I wore the It's a Matter of Survival T-shirt during photo day in Grade 10.

I am saddened and fearful that it's been 15 years since the critical 10-year period for action has passed. Of course, there is still time to prevent devastating climate catastrophe — but barely.

Inaction is not a viable option; we can slow climate change down. It's still a matter of survival and it's still up to us to take action.

Exactly 25 years after Dr. Suzuki's It's a Matter of Survival set the course of my life, I reflect on his amazing legacy. In a few weeks, Dr. Suzuki is embarking on what he thinks may be his last public campaign: The Blue Dot Tour []. According to him, "The plan is to work with Canadians from all walks of life to protect the people and places we love. It's the most important thing I've ever done."

Thank you, Dr. Suzuki, for your powerful words and actions. Thank you for inspiring a 14-year-old girl to eventually change her life to pass on your important message to other young people. May your Blue Dot Tour inspire others to do the same, and wear the T-shirt for their school photo!

Liz Rice is a Toronto-based enviro-health speaker. She's also a Climate Reality Project presenter and an active volunteer with Citizens' Climate Lobby.

August 23, 2014

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