Dedicated to an amazing young woman.
June 11, 2012
It was twenty years ago when I heard a speech that rocked my soul. It was delivered by a 13 year old girl to an audience of the old boy's club at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. I have quoted it in every speaking engagement I have given since that day. It is the most pure and honest appeal for environmental literacy that has ever been spoken. I repeat it here, twenty years later. NOTE: at the next Summit in Africa, Severn walked away from the main conference, ashamed that corporate interests had hijacked the agenda. There is a video of her walking down a dusty African road towards the people's conference that she endorsed, but it was her comment that still haunts me – and I paraphrse – They didn't do anything – they listened and they promised but they didn't do anything. I could give the same speech today – are they even listening?" And she turned her back to the camera and walked away – one voice crying in the wilderness and they broke their promise – it broke my heart.
So to you, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Tell the World:
Hello. I'm Severn Suzuki speaking on behalf of ECO, the Environmental Children's Organization. We're a group of twelve- and thirteen-year olds from Canada trying to make a difference. We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways.
Coming up here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market.
I am here to speak for all future generations. I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go.
I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don't know what chemicals are in it. I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. And now we hear about animals and plants becoming extinct every day – vanishing forever.
In my life, I have dreamt of seeing great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see. Did you ever have to worry about these things when you were my age?
All of this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we had all the time we want and all the solutions. I'm only a child and I don't have all the solutions, but I want you to realize, neither do you!
You don't know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer.
You don't know how to bring salmon bakc to a dead stream.
You don't know how to bring back an animal now extinct.
And you can't bring back the forests that once grew where there is now a desert. I
\f you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!
Here you may be delegates of your governments, businesspeople, organizers, reporters or politicians. But really you are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles. And each of you is somebody's child.
I'm only a child and yet I know we are all part of a family five billion strong (now seven billion) – in fact, thirty million species strong – and borders and governments will never change that.I'm only a child and yet I know that we are all in this together and should act as one singel world toward one single goal. In my anger I am not blind, and in my fear I'm not afraid to tell the world how I feel.
In my country we make so much waste. We buy and throw away, buy and throw away. And yet northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to lose some of our wealth, afraid to let go.
In Canada, we live a privileged life with plenty of food, water and shelter. We have watches, bicycles, computers and television sets – the list could go on for days.
Two days ago, here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent time with some children living on the streets. And this is what one child told us: "I wish I was rich. And if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medecine, shelter and love and affection." If a child on the street who has nothing is willing to share, why are we who have everything still so greedy?
I can't stop thinking that these children are my own age and it makes a tremendous diference where you are born. I couod be one of those chlldren living in the favellas of Rio. I could be a child starving in Somalia, a victim of war in the Middle East or a beggar in India.
I'm only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this Earth would be.
At school, even in kindergarten you teach us how to behave in the world. you teach us:
not to fight with others,
to work things out, to respect others,
to clean up own mess, not to hurt other creatures,
to share – not to be greedy –
Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?
Do not forget why you are attending these conferences, who you are dong this for – we are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we will grow up in. Parents should be able to their children by saying, "Everythings going to be all right"; and :it's not the end of the world." But I don't think that you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities?
My dad always says, "You are what you do, not what you say." Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.
Thank you for listening.
Severn, thank you for speaking.
Skid Crease, Caledon