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David Suzuki weighs in on U of A honorary degree controversy: ‘This isn’t about me’

Click to play video: 'University of Alberta defends decision to give honourary degree to David Suzuki' University of Alberta defends decision to give honourary degree to David Suzuki
WATCH ABOVE: Philanthropists are now pulling donations from the University of Alberta, protesting the university's decision to bestow an honourary degree on David Suzuki. However, the university is standing behind its decision despite the backlash. Fletcher Kent reports – Apr 24, 2018

Canadian climate activist David Suzuki is addressing the heated debate sparked by the University of Alberta’s decision to award him an honorary degree.

READ MORE: University of Alberta’s decision to give David Suzuki honorary degree criticized

“As flattering as it is to be made the fulcrum of debate surrounding fossil fuels, climate change and humanity’s future, this isn’t about me,” Suzuki wrote in an op-ed published on his foundation’s website last week.

“After all, what I say about economics, planetary boundaries and the need to shift priorities is no different from what economists, scientists, philosophers and numerous other experts around the world have been saying for years,” Suzuki wrote.

“If nothing else, it’s good that a healthy debate about corporate influence over academic institutions and issues around climate-disrupting energy sources has emerged from it.

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“Too often, though, the discussion has strayed from topics that need attention into personal attacks,” he continued.

“If a university, especially one in the heart of oil country, isn’t the place to air a range of ideas about the geophysical, social and economic consequences of profligate fossil fuel use, we should be worried about the future of academic inquiry.”

READ MORE: ‘Universities must not be afraid of controversy’ – U of A president on Suzuki degree

On April 10, the university announced that Suzuki would be one of the 13 honorary degree recipients in 2018. Responding to the backlash, the post-secondary institution explained that honorary degrees are given to people “who represent diverse backgrounds and fields of endeavour” and “honours the contributions and full body of work.”

“The conferral of an honorary degree by the University of Alberta is not a signal of institutional agreement with any individual perspective,” the U of A post said.

That explanation did not appease many vocal opponents, including Brett Wilson, Andrew Leach and Jason Kenney.

News of the award also brought a flood of complaints to the university, along with critical public letters from its deans of business and engineering.

Watch below: University of Alberta student union president weights in on David Suzuki honorary degree backlash 

Click to play video: 'University of Alberta student union president weights in on David Suzuki honorary degree backlash' University of Alberta student union president weights in on David Suzuki honorary degree backlash
University of Alberta student union president weights in on David Suzuki honorary degree backlash – Apr 26, 2018

Premier Rachel Notley avoided criticizing Suzuki directly, but said her government’s efforts to find a middle ground between economic progress and environmental sustainability are undermined when the debate is polarized.

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“Speaking personally as an alumni, I’m not a big fan of this decision,” she said, but added the university is built on academic freedom and autonomy, and that must be respected.

READ MORE: Notley calls U of A Suzuki decision ‘tone deaf’ but supports university independence and debate

Suzuki is scheduled to receive the honorary science degree on June 7.

“This is not about attacking a particular industry or way of life,” he wrote in the May 17 post. “It’s about recognizing the reality of global warming and our role in it.

“It’s about finding solutions that provide economic opportunities for everyone, not just owners and shareholders of large corporations.

“It’s about ensuring that our economic models are ‘relevant to the contemporary world.’ It’s about measuring progress in ways that account for sustainability, human happiness and well-being rather than economic growth.”

Suzuki also pointed out that he once taught at the U of A genetics department, saying it’s where he started his broadcasting career.

Click here to read the full op-ed on the David Suzuki Foundation website.

This year’s recipients include agriculture advocate Nettie Wiebe, physicist and science educator Brian Cox, former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, francophone culture expert France Levasseur-Ouimet, journalist and CBC foreign correspondent Nahlah Ayed, and Suzuki.

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Watch below: The University of Alberta’s decision to award David Suzuki an honorary degree has been met with much backlash. Now, he’s responded in an op-ed on his foundation’s website.

Click to play video: 'Suzuki responds to U of A honorary degree' Suzuki responds to U of A honorary degree
Suzuki responds to U of A honorary degree – May 23, 2018

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