When David Suzuki asked his youngest daughter to travel Europe with him for a special episode of his CBC show The Nature of Things, she hesitated. Sarika Cullis-Suzuki, 25, wasn’t sure how she would measure up in front of the camera next to her celebrated father. But seeing a rare opportunity to spend quality time together, she accepted and spent three weeks last July touring Denmark, Germany, France and Spain filming “The Suzuki Diaries,” which looks at the social and economic benefits of adopting sustainable practices.
First aired in January, the show follows the father-daughter team as they travel through Europe visiting individuals and organizations that are successfully implementing environmental solutions. “We wanted two things to come across to our viewers,” says Cullis-Suzuki, “hope and the intergenerational theme between me and Dad.”
Cullis-Suzuki has spent her life deeply rooted in nature and environmental advocacy. She has been influenced not only by her father, one of Canada’s most recognized environmentalists, but also by her mother, Tara Cullis — a former Harvard literature professor who helped start the David Suzuki Foundation in 1990 — and her older sister Severn, who has been speaking to international audiences about social and ecological issues since she was 12.
Cullis-Suzuki, who studied marine biology at the University of California, Berkeley, and is now doing a master’s in zoology at the University of British Columbia, was initially concerned about missing school to film the show. But she discovered the trip was its own rewarding educational experience.
She and her father toured Berlin on a solar-powered boat via the Spree River and went to a biodynamic winery in France. But of all the places she visited, Cullis-Suzuki was most impressed by the environmental advances in Denmark. Thirty-six percent of Danes bike to work, and the country’s goal is to have 30 percent of its energy fuelled by renewable resources by 2025. “Denmark puts Canada’s environmental efforts to shame,” she says. “What’s great about Denmark is that they live more sustainably but are not sacrificing their quality of life.”
During filming, Cullis-Suzuki learned that this mindset does not change overnight and that there is typically a culmination of four elements leading to a country’s environmental revolution: a sudden energy crisis combined with political will, local participation and public understanding.
In Denmark’s case, the OPEC oil crisis of the 1970s motivated the country’s politicians to implement environmental policy changes. As Cullis-Suzuki learned, Denmark’s female politicians played a large role in pushing for these changes because, as mothers, they were driven to leave a healthy world behind for their children.
Cullis-Suzuki hopes the series shows Canadians how their environmental efforts lag behind those of Europeans. “Canada definitely has to raise its environmental standards,” she says, “and all Canadians have to realize that living green should not be a lifestyle option — it should be the norm. I hope Canadians realize this before a crisis hits, and we’re left behind.”
For someone who left environmental advocacy to the rest of her family, Cullis-Suzuki now realizes the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Through her family and her studies, she has witnessed the important role advocacy plays in properly addressing pressing environmental issues. It is a role she embraces as she prepares to film another episode of “The Suzuki Diaries” this summer on the issues facing Canada’s oceans.