The View From Here – Opposition to U of A awarding David Suzuki an honorary degree is justified

Tom Henihan

No university should bestow accolades on a scientist who has compromised his integrity, whose claims are deemed by many of his peers to be outlandish and as an environmental advocate cites false sources to support those outlandish claims.

If a university lauds such an individual, by association, the university diminishes its own stature and compromises its integrity.

No university should award David Suzuki an honorary degree; especially you might think the University of Alberta. However, the U of A recently announced it would do just that and bestow an honorary degree on Suzuki.

Universities ought not to be intellectual and moral safe places for professors and students that become “triggered and stressed” when confronted with opposing ideas. Universities should neither timidly or pragmatically support any kind of public consensus.

So, I am not suggesting that the U of A should not award an honorary degree to someone because that person’s views run contrary to the prevailing views within the province. However, there should be a strong consensus that the individual merits that honour and that he or she behaves with professional integrity.

David Suzuki is a TV personality, the Dr. Phil of the environmental movement who makes sweeping apocalyptic pronouncements, or maybe that should be apoplectic pronouncements, that no university should celebrate.

Most famously, following the earthquake, tsunami and ultimately the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Suzuki claimed that if there was another earthquake in that region and the fourth nuclear installation got undermined, that it was “bye bye Japan,” and that the entire west coast of the U.S. would have to evacuate.

Former professor of nuclear physics at the University of British Columbia, David Measday, called the statement “ridiculous” and “crazy,” and another renowned nuclear energy expert Mycle Schneider saw Suzuki’s statement as just “totally insane.”

A few months later Suzuki said, he regretted the Fukushima claim about the need for mass evacuations on the Pacific Coast of the US, but in typical arrogant fashion, he never fully withdrew the claim, only to say he was “speaking off the cuff.” Off the cuff science, hardly merits an honorary degree.

Closer to home, many Albertans, some of whom are U of A alumni now working in oil and gas industry, were opposed to Suzuki receiving the honour degree, mainly due to his opposition to the oil-sands.

Another much less predictable voice of opposition was reported in a story in the National Post, regarding the University of Alberta Economist, Andrew Leach’s vehement objection to his University offering an honorary degree to Suzuki.

The National Post article quotes Leach as saying, “There’s no way I’d share a stage with David Suzuki … not a chance.”

His opposition to Suzuki stems from a conference Leach attended where Suzuki was a keynote speaker.

At the conference, once again, “speaking off the cuff” I assume, Suzuki displayed a simplistic understanding of economics, claiming that economics “teaches that environmental damage is to be ignored.”

Leach also pointed out that Suzuki has repeatedly declared economics as “brain damaged.”

Considering the U of A’s choice in Suzuki, one must wonder, if celebrity and its superficial cachet tempted the university to throw an honorary degree in such a questionable direction.


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