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September 23rd 2013 print

Roger Franklin

Why David Suzuki had to quit his own charity

Before devoting all of Q&A to the Canadian environmentalist, the ABC would have been well advised to do some background checks. That it didn't -- or ignored the findings if it did -- argues for an official inquiry into the way the national broadcaster goes about its business.


Expect to hear a lot of stuff that isn’t so when tonight’s Q&A is given over to David Suzuki, and we can be sure of that because the ABC began the rain of error with its very own promotional material. “David T. Suzuki PhD, Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster,” the program’s web page states.


True, he is an environmentalist of sorts, at least according to one of the current definitions of that term, and he has won some awards, including six different tribal names bestowed by Canadian Indians, but he most certainly is not the chairman of the charity that he founded and which still bears his name. Just why he was obliged to step down from that post is a fascinating story. If the ABC had looked into it, not only would its website be minus one howler of an error, executive producer Peter McEvoy might even have had second thoughts about making Suzuki only the second non-politician ever to be accorded the honour of a whole Q&A to himself.

Suzuki’s message of imminent climatic catastrophe resonates with a certain section of his Australian audience (and 90% of Q&A’s; just you wait see), but the greater lesson to be drawn from what went on in Canada has less to do with spurious stats and science-by-press release than the tendency of your more self-righteous charities to play politics — and then scream blue murder when they are caught.

In Suzuki’s case the publicly subsidised partisanship was so egregious even he conceded he had to quit, albeit while blaming his departure on “bullying” by the paid tools of Big Carbon and the Conservative government of PM Stephen Harper. Does that whining paranoia sound familiar? It’s not just global-warming phobia that Australia’s dark greens share with their Canadian counterparts.

Suzuki’s record as a prophet is so bad it makes our own Tim Flannery seem a reliable source of information. In his first book, for example, 1992’s It’s a Matter of Survival, he begins with the article-of-faith nightmare scenario so beloved of catastropharians everywhere. It is 2040, temperatures have risen by 5 degrees and mankind is cowering before nature’s fury. Most of what was Bangladesh is under five feet of water and that country’s survivors are battling famine-stricken Indians for their next meal. Miami is being engulfed, America’s Midwest is a dustbowl and our poor, abused planet is well on the way to replicating Mars, where it is very cold, or Venus, where it is very hot. Suzuki doesn’t nominate a preference, by the way, except to opine that the future will be grim and growing rapidly worse.

Amusingly, Suzuki cites the congressional testimony of NASA’s James Hansen as his proof:

On June, 23, 1988, in the middle of a sweltering Washington heat wave, James Hansen made waves himself when he told a US Senate committee that we are right now in the midst of the greenhouse effect …. On a day when the United States was experiencing what life would be like in a manmade hot box, James Hansen testified before the committee….

Suzuki isn’t wrong, for a change, when he cites that “manmade hot box” because that is a precise description of what the Senate hearing room was like that day. You see, before scheduling their hearing, congressional warmists first checked the weather data to find a date likely to be among the year’s hottest. Then, as a chuckling Senator Tim Wirth later boasted, they left the windows open and had the air conditioning neutered. Wirth was so proud of his stage-managed dog-and-pony show he crowed about the ruse to America’s PBS show, Frontline, noting with satisfaction that by the time Hansen settled himself at the witness table “it was really hot.”

Nothing succeeds like excess in the climate industry, and Suzuki’s first book was soon followed by a plethora of the rash pronouncements and dead-tomorrow predictions that are his hallmarks. He will doubtless repeat many again on tonight’s Q&A, so there is no point in listing them here. Far more interesting is to wonder by what logic executive producer McEvoy concluded that Suzuki was a reputable environmental expert, rather than anti-capitalism agitator and political lobbyist dressed in green. After all, if McEvoy had booked tonight’s guest on the latter basis, the ABC’s professed commitment to balance would have demanded someone be present to put an opposing point of view.

In Canada, where Suzuki is a fixture on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, a soulmate of our own ABC, Conservative senators became so sick of his politicking they made moves to strip his eponymous foundation of its charity status. Suzuki snivelled, but it is hard to deny partisanship when you have just appeared in a TV ad to endorse the Ontario Liberals (the video is here), the rough equivalent of our very own Labor Party. Even more difficult is presenting yourself as a simple environmentalist when your foundation’s website offers a form-letter template for blitzing critical lawmakers with, ahem, expressions of “grass roots” support.

Nor were politicians Suzuki’s only critics. A Canadian non-profit, Ethical Oil, devoted to encouraging the tapping of domestic energy reserves,  rather than funding Middle East despots, filed a 44-page complaint with Canada’s tax authority. Here are some key examples of the conduct it alleged against tonight’s one and only guest.

  • During the 2011 Ontario election, David Suzuki – whether acting on his own behalf or that of the Foundation isn’t clear – attacked the Ontario Progressive Conservative party, calling its plan to reform unaffordable renewable energy subsidies “absolute insanity,” while appearing in Liberal campaign ads.
  • The Foundation itself went ahead and supported the Liberal party’s Green Energy Act, calling on Ontarians to tell their local candidates to support it or lose their vote.
  • It launched a political campaign to pressure the federal government to change its energy policy by raising taxes on “dirty fuels such as the Alberta Tar Sands.”
  • It has called the Canadian government’s position on climate talks “shameful” and has even gone so far as to work with foreign governments to try and push their anti-Canadian-oil policies here in Canada.
  • It has attacked Environment Minister Peter Kent directly, accusing him of enacting policies that are a “repudiation of core Canadian values” – even providing an online form so Suzuki’s followers could express their “sadness and shame” towards the federal government over an approach to climate change that the Foundation doesn’t agree with.
  • It has attacked Senators who dared to question the foreign funding flowing to groups such as the Suzuki Foundation to fight Canadian politics.

So Suzuki stepped down and now bills himself only as the foundation’s chief volunteer. But is he out of the foundation’s management loop? Well, only if he hasn’t been talking to his wife and co-founder, Tara Cullis, who continues to serve as president, and two of the zero-population-growth advocate’s five children, who also occupy board seats.

The ABC bagged something like $1.2 billion last year to fund its operations, of which Q&A is one of its showpieces. The broadcaster also employs more journalists than any other Australian news organisation, which should have meant that McEvoy had an underling handy to profile Suzuki, the foundation and his nakedly political approach to all matters environmental.

If that due diligence wasn’t done before the sole seat in Q&A‘s spotlight was awarded, McEvoy and his boss, ABC editor-in-chief Mark Scott, have some quite serious questions to answer.

And if those checks were done and Suzuki was still honoured with an appearance free from the obligation to debate on equal terms, then the questions about the way the ABC goes about its business are even more serious and someone needs to start putting them.

A committee of inquiry, perhaps?

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online