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Journalist Licia Corbella: David Suzuki told me to ‘F-off’, but his hypocrisy gives the finger to his message


David Suzuki has said a lot of offensive, wacky, inaccurate and damaging things over the years while speaking on the record and for publication.

These are not slips of the tongue, as his devoted followers sometimes try to claim. Suzuki, the decades-long star behind The Nature of Things, is extremely media savvy.

During debate in the legislature Monday, United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney summed up some of the wackier statements Suzuki has uttered.

“We all recognize that the senate of the University of Alberta is independent in its decisions to grant honorary degrees,” said Kenney, regarding the controversial decision that has led to a NoSuzuki.capetition that has garnered more than 22,000 signatures and prompted many donors to rescind substantial monetary pledges to the university.

“But,” continued Kenney, “I would like to know if the government would join with the official Opposition and a growing number of Albertans in expressing concern about the honour being granted to Dr. David Suzuki, who says that human beings are an invasive species, that immigration is disgusting and crazy and should be stopped, who says that the oilsands are the moral equivalent of slavery, who says that economics is the product of brain damage, and who says that Alberta’s major employer should be shut down immediately.

“Does the government share my concern about the honorary doctorate being granted to such an individual?” asked Kenney.

Like most of us, it’s safe to assume Suzuki says worse things in private. Following a recent column I wrote about the honorary-degree controversy, I received several emails from readers who say they have had interactions with Suzuki.

Their stories about his rudeness and foul language are in turn disturbing and hysterically funny. Over the years, any time I have written about Suzuki, I have I received many emails, particularly from flight attendants and CBC cameramen, who say Suzuki is, in their experience, the most uncivil, surly customer or colleague they have ever had the misfortune to deal with — and for some, it’s a repeated misfortune, as Suzuki is fond of flying all over the planet to deliver his $30,000 to $50,000 speeches, while hypocritically imploring others to stay close to home.

A couple of cameramen say they would go to pick Suzuki up at the Toronto airport to do a shoot, and Suzuki would take a limousine to the location rather than ride with “us peons.”

I have several interesting personal anecdotes about my run-ins with Suzuki, but one stands out.

Way back when I was a young reporter at The Province newspaper in Vancouver — some 30 years ago now — I was assigned to cover an event held in the Stein Valley of B.C.’s Coast Mountains, designed to garner attention and prevent the logging of the pristine alpine wilderness.

I interviewed organizers, members of the public who were camping out at the multi-day festival, as well as country superstar John Denver and the zany Long John Baldry, among others. All were welcoming, gracious, kind and giving of their time.

I approached Suzuki, who was sitting alone in the stands. When I asked him if he’d be willing to speak with me, he snapped: “Not now!”

Silly me, but I took that to mean, “come back later.” So, a little later, when nothing was going on at all, I approached Suzuki again, and again he snapped, “Not now!”

Shortly before I had to get back on the helicopter to fly back to Vancouver to file my stories, I again approached Suzuki as sheepishly and gently as is humanly possible. Finally, he made his true intentions known: “F— off!” he barked loudly.

I must have looked as shocked and wobbly as I felt, because a Grizzly Adams look-alike grabbed my arm as I retreated down the riser and said: “If it makes you feel any better, darlin’, he was rude to me too.”

And, you know, it did make me feel better. I realized I hadn’t done anything wrong to upset the great environmentalist and television star.

Back in the newsroom, I was regaled by my colleagues and bosses about their run-ins with Suzuki over the years — most were unpleasant.

Similarly, the verbal attacks Suzuki unleashes against Alberta’s oilsands are not a result of that industry doing anything wrong. Using amazing technology developed largely in Canada, men with great vision decided decades ago to find a way to extract oil from the sand that covers 142,200 square kilometres. 

Only a fraction of that land has been disturbed. Currently, the  530-square-kilometre piece of land mined is smaller than the John F. Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Fla., at 570 square kilometres.

All mined land must be reclaimed by law and will return to Alberta’s 381,000 square kilometres of boreal forest, a huge carbon sink.

At a time when oil was selling for $3 per barrel and it cost $30 to extract the oil from the sand, maverick Albertans with lots of guts and tenacity persevered, developing an industry around a product that despite the hope for more green technologies, is  growing in demand around the world, and it’s all done to the highest environmental and ethical standards anywhere in the world.

That Canada still imports oil from environmental and human-rights-abusing jurisdictions such as Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan and Venezuela is disgraceful, and outfits like the David Suzuki Foundation, Greenpeace and the like are to blame for it.

Suzuki, who did not return calls to respond, spends a lot of time hectoring others about over-population (but he has five children), reducing our carbon footprint (he has a jet-set lifestyle of the rich and famous), living smaller (he owns four houses in B.C. and an apartment in Port Douglas, Australia) and much else besides. So much hypocrisy from this guru of green.

If Suzuki was really convinced that the Earth is going to perish because of increasing amounts of man-made carbon being released into the atmosphere, would he seriously own a vacation getaway in Australia, so far away from Vancouver?

The amount of CO2 created by one economy airfare from Vancouver to Cairns, Australia, is 4.5 tonnes, according to an online carbon calculator, or one-third of the total amount the average British Columbian produces in an entire year (13.7 tonnes), according to a report called By the Numbers: Canadian GHG Emissions.

In short, David Suzuki doesn’t live like he believes his own press releases. He’s essentially told his message to F-off by the way he lives. When faced with a choice, he chooses his comfort over his convictions. It’s long past time we all stopped believing his press releases, too.

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