Photo: The Legacy: An Elder's Vision for Our Sustainable Future

By David Suzuki

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Excerpt from Chapter One: Evolution of a Superspecies

Throughout human existence, elders have been the repository of experience, of knowledge painstakingly acquired over centuries about our origins, our purpose, and our destiny. And now I too am an elder. Within the span of my living memory, which encompasses stories from the lives of my grandparents that reach back to 1860, cataclysmic changes have taken place in society and the world.

I was born in 1936 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where both of my parents were born as well. My parents named me David Takayoshi Suzuki – David, a powerful name given to me by my father, who feared I'd be a small man surrounded by Caucasian Goliaths; Takayoshi, meaning filial piety – respect for elders – conferred on me by my father's father; and Suzuki – Bellwood in English – the biggest clan in Japan.

Both sets of my grandparents were born in Japan in the 1860s. The population of the world had reached 1 billion only a few decades earlier, passenger pigeons still darkened the skies, and Tasmanian tigers stalked the Australian landscape.

Canada was born when my grandparents were infants, Japan was casting aside almost three hundred years of feudalism of the Edo Period to embrace Western industrialization in the Meiji Restoration, and virtually every technology that we take for granted today – from telephones to cars, plastics, antibiotics, and computers – was still to be invented.

Within my living memory, the human relationship with the planet has transmogrified – we have become a force like no other species in the 3.8 billion years of life's existence on Earth. And the ascension to this position of power has occurred with explosive speed. It took all of human existence to reach a population of 1 billion early in the nineteenth century. Since then, in less than two centuries, it has shot past 6.8 billion.

Each time the population doubles, the number of people alive is greater than the sum of all other people who have ever lived, but now we are also living more than twice as long as people did in the past. We are the most numerous mammal on the planet, and our numbers and longevity alone mean that our ecological footprint is huge; it takes a lot of air, land, and water to meet our basic needs.