Photo: I remember Doug Tompkins

(Credit: Sam Beebe via flickr)

By David Suzuki

Doug Tompkins recognized that genuine sustainability requires protection of large tracts of land, not small reserves that allow people to press in on wildlife. He has left a lasting legacy in the land he bought and dedicated to remain forever wild.

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But I remember Tompkins for what was to him, a small act that had huge repercussions in my family. In 1991, when the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) was a brand new entity, Doug flew his own plane accompanied by Bill Devell, a deep ecologist, to visit our family on Quadra island. DSF was still too new to have a clear direction (Tompkins did support our work years later) but he happened to chat with Severn, our eleven year old daughter.

She had stayed in an Amazonian Kaiapo village in 1989 where she was horrified to witness forest destruction, so she formed ECO (Environmental Children's Organization) to visit schools and talk about the importance of forests. She learned about a conference to be held in Rio in 1992 and decided to take her club "to remind grownups that their decisions affected children". Tara and I were not planning to attend, but Severn told Tompkins about her plan. "That's a good idea", he said, "write to me". All this I learned later when she came in brandishing a cheque for $1000 from Tompkins!

That's when Tara and I decided her idea had merit so we told her we would support her by matching every dollar she raised. I never imagined that would come to $14,000! She took five children and three adults (including me and Tara) to the Earth Summit at Rio where the late Canadian Maurice Strong heard of Severn's message and put her on the program to speak to delegates. Her speech was a powerful plea for action that has now been viewed by millions on YouTube. She has gone on to become an activist and Doug Tompkins had a huge impact on her life with his generous gesture.

December 11, 2015

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