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UdeS awards honorary doctorate to David Suzuki, a force of nature

Sherbrooke, le 17 juin 2022 – His commitment to defending life in all its forms has had an impact across the globe. Both activist and educator, Canadian scientist David Suzuki has advanced the environmental cause in multiple ways. For the Université de Sherbrooke, bestowing him with an honorary doctorate was a natural fit.

Now 86 years old, Dr. Suzuki has lost none of his passion for standing up for the environment and stoking the debate around climate change. This was clear to the members of the university community who attended a June 16 event on the Health Campus to highlight UdeS’s commitments to carbon neutrality and the fight against climate change.

At our campus to give a lecture, the renowned geneticist and zoologist warmly agreed to join the UdeS family by receiving a doctorate honoris causa from the institution.

For Dr. Dominique Dorion, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, who submitted Dr. Suzuki’s name for consideration to the UdeS administration, receiving this distinguished guest was a great privilege. “As professionals who work in health and research, we know that Dr. Suzuki's incredible fight against global warming is intimately linked to population health. We believe it is our social responsibility to actively fight climate change and find solutions to alleviate its impacts,” said Dr. Dorion.

For Pierre Cossette, Rector of the Université de Sherbrooke, this illustrious scientist, activist and communicator embodies the hope that inspires our commitment to take action for sustainable development. “Dr. Suzuki has been a lifelong and passionate advocate for nature and our environment, a cause that is also very important to the Université de Sherbrooke. To dedicate your life to teaching, education, and science communication, you have to be convinced that humans are capable of great things and believe that we can meet the immense challenges that lie ahead!” stated Rector Cossette.

In his acceptance speech, Dr. Suzuki said he was pleased to receive this honour from a university that has seen such impressive success in working for the well-being of future generations.

An unprecedented time for humanity

Mr. Suzuki gave a powerful, enlightening and at times moving talk on climate change. Hanging on the eminent biologist’s every word, the audience was transported back in time to when humans, seeing themselves as equals to other living beings, held a fair and equitable place in the ecosystem.

“Throughout our history, our brains’ great potential has led to mistakes, including the belief that we could transform the ecosystem into a pyramid with humans at the top and everything below for our use. We have become an invasive species. We are at an unprecedented moment since life arose on the planet.”

Pleading for greater respect of natural laws and limits, Dr. Suzuki cited the exemplary relationship of First Nations with their environment.

Dr. Suzuki also said, “Think about how children taught to see a mountain as divine will treat that mountain. Now imagine how the mountain will be treated by children taught that it is only something that contains gold, silver and minerals. We need to change the way we see and treat the world and take a longer-term view, similar to that of Indigenous people, of our responsibility over seven generations of our ancestors and seven generations yet to come.” 

Going meatless, rethinking our travel habits by limiting air travel, and buying clothes more responsibly are some of the individual actions that Dr. Suzuki is encouraging to help us reverse course.

The guest speaker also pointed to civic engagement as a key driver of change. “Fish and birds don’t vote, so they are not on the political agenda. We must act now by getting involved politically, to fight for the future of our children. Water and air are gifts from nature that we have a responsibility to protect.”

Basing his philosophy on scientific facts, Dr. Suzuki believes that, by taking action and mobilizing, we can ensure a future for upcoming generations. “We are all in the same canoe. We have to paddle together.”

This lecture in English was broadcast on YouTube with French subtitles. Extracts from his talk have been paraphrased here.

A career dedicated to protecting nature

David Suzuki's impressive career path began in 1958, when he received his BSc in biology from Amherst College in Massachusetts. Four years later, with a doctorate in zoology under his belt, he devoted himself to teaching, first Genetics and then Zoology.

From associate professor in 1993 to professor emeritus in 2001, he has advanced our knowledge in areas such as the genetic mutations caused by climate change. His work has earned him many distinctions, including the prestigious Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the “alternative Nobel Prize.” His social contribution has earned him no fewer than 29 honorary degrees from Canadian, American and Australian universities.

An outstanding communicator, Dr. Suzuki hosted The Nature of Things, a CBC program that started in 1979 and still airs in about 50 countries. He has also published over 50 books on climate change, including 19 books for children.

On television and through his writings and public talks, David Suzuki has always sought to stimulate the public’s interest in the environment by giving us different perspectives. Throughout his fight against the climate crisis, he has shown his support for First Nations by defending their very strong connections with nature. One of his greatest accomplishments is the internationally recognized David Suzuki Foundation, which he started with his wife Tara Cullis.

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Isabelle Huard, Media Relations Advisor
Communications Department | Université de Sherbrooke | 819-821-8000, extension 63395

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