This is a video of a Canadian girl who spoke to the United Nations and left them completely silent and speechless for five minutes. Her name is Severn Cullis-Suzuki, and her speech was given at a U.N. assembly in Brazil when she was twelve years old. She had raised all the money to travel to the delegation, five thousand miles from her home, herself.
Speaking about the hole in the ozone layer, pollution, the devastation of the forests and extinction of so many species, Severn charges that we adults have no idea how to fix these things, in fact can’t fix them, and that we must change our ways. “If you don’t know how to fix it, stop breaking it,” she pleads.
Severn continued to say:
“I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I’m only a child and I don’t have the solutions…but neither do you. I am only a child, but I know we are all part of a family five billion strong; in fact, 30 million species strong, and borders and governments will never change that.
Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to share. We are afraid to let go of some of our wealth. Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with children living in the streets. 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, medicine, shelter, love and affection.’
If a child on the streets who has nothing is willing to share – why are we, who have everything, still so greedy?
I am only a child, but I know if all the money spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty, and finding treaties – what a wonderful place this world would be.”
And here’s the kicker – this speech was given in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. How much is still relevant today? All of it. And the more important question is: How much has been changed, accomplished, since Severn spoke that day?
Years later, Severn wrote a piece for Time magazine in which she said: “I spoke for six minutes and received a standing ovation. Some of the delegates even cried. I thought that maybe I had reached some of them, that my speech might actually spur action. Now, a decade from Rio, after I’ve sat through many more conferences, I’m not sure what has been accomplished. My confidence in the people in power and in the power of an individual’s voice to reach them has been deeply shaken…In the 10 years since Rio, I have learned that addressing our leaders is not enough. As Gandhi said many years ago, ‘We must become the change we want to see.’ I know change is possible.”
Severn comes from an environmental legacy – her father is the renowned David Suzuki. At the age of nine, Severn founded the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. Today, Severn is an environmental activist, speaker, television host and author. She has spoken around the world about environmental issues, urging listeners to define their values, act with the future in mind, and take individual responsibility.
She co-hosted Suzuki’s Nature Quest, a children’s television series that aired on the Discovery Channel in 2002. In early 2002, she helped launch an Internet-based think tank called The Skyfish Project. As a member of Kofi Annan’s Special Advisory Panel, she and members of the Skyfish Project brought their first project, a pledge called the “Recognition of Responsibility”, to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002.