There was a girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes. She was just 12, standing in front of the most influential people of her time. Severn Cullis-Suzuki went to the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 and talked. She spoke about how she felt betrayed, afraid and angry, yet she stood there and fought for the future:
“Hello, I’m Severn Suzuki speaking for ECO – the Environmental Children’s Organization.
We are a group of 12 to 13 year olds trying to make a difference: Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg, and me. We’ve raised all the money to come here ourselves. To come 5,000 miles to tell you – adults that you must change your ways.
At school, even in a 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 our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not to be greedy. Then, why do you go out and do – do the things you tell us not to do? Do not forget why you are attending these conferences – who you’re doing this for. We are your own children. You are deciding what kind of world we are growing up in.
Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying, ´Everything’s going to be all right; it’s not the end of the world, and we’re – and we’re doing the best we can.´ But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities?
These are only a few cut-outs of her speech, but I think they are enough for you to get the idea what it was about (she pretty much told adults they are hypocrites, just in case someone did not get it).
I guess you have never heard her name before, have you? Well, not surprising, but still sad, considering she has been speaking about environmental issues for 32 years.
Severn founded the Environmental Children’s Organisation at the age of 9. It was a group of friends that wanted to learn and teach other kids about environmental problems.
She has come a long way since days of the ECO and the Earth Summit. These days she is working towards her PhD at the University of British Columbia with a goal to manage language research that will help to enliven a traditional language of her husband’s tribe called Haida.
In-between the speech at Rio de Janeiro and saving Haida, she received a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University, and a Masters of Science in Ethnoecology (it’a a scientific study on how different groups of people living in different parts of the world understand the ecosystems around them) from the University of Victoria, British Columbia.
She published a few books: Tell the World (1993), The Day You Will Change the World (2003), Notes from Canada’s Young Activists (2007) and moderated a TV series for children called ‘Suzuki’s NatureQuest,’ and series ‘Samaqan – Water Stories’ about First Nations and water issues.
As an Earth Charter Commissioner she and her five friends cycled across Canada to raise awarness about climate change and air pollution in 2000.
In 2017 she and her childhood friends from the Environmental Children’s Organisation celebrated 25 years since the famous speech at the Eart Summit. They asked young people from Canada, the USA, Japan and Brazil to give the speech again. They wanted to remind the world that those words were still true, maybe even more than in 1992, and that there was yet another generation of adults failing their children.
Even if Suzuki’s speech didn’t sound familiar, this one will, I bet:
“My message is that we’ll be watching you. This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.
You are failing us. But young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.
We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
I said you would know this one, didn’t I? It went totally viral, and so did many others of Greta’s speeches. This one is from the UN Climate Action Summit that was held in New York in September 2019.
I don’t think I need to introduce Greta, but just in case: she is a 17 year old environmental activist who gained international recognition in 2018, when she skipped school to protest in front of the Swedish parliament. Soon enough, other students started joining her and together they created a school climate strike movement known as Fridays for Future. She has given numerous speeches that have gone viral. Vice Media created a 30-minute documentary called “Make the World Greta Again“, which you can find on YouTube.
So, what do these two girls (and their speeches) have in common?
They both have a relative, who is known in association with a climate change. Severn‘s father is a Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, while Greta is a distant relative to Svante Arrhenius, a Nobel-winning chemist who first estimated the greenhouse effect on the Earth’s climate.
They both took an interest in the climate change at a young age. As I have already mentioned, Suzuki started the ECO when she was 9. Greta first heard about the climate change in 2011 when she was 8, but it wasn’t until August 2018 when she started taking action. She stood in front of the Swedish parliament with the, now famous, sign „Skolstrejk för klimatet“ and was soon joined by other students. Since then she has made numerous public appearances and speeches both in front of young people at various protests, and politicians at meetings. Moreover, she has made Fridays for Future protests famous worldwide.
Both of the above mentioned movements are about adults not doing enough. These girls have suggested that politicians weren’t doing enough back then and aren’t doing enough now. That children shouldn’t be fed with false hopes and fairy tales about the situation not being serious when it is really serious.
So, has anything changed since 1992? In terms of our action against the climate change, not much. Or at least not enough. Scientists nowadays say that we have 10 years left to do something, so if my math is right, we don’t have enough time to wait around for another 30 years for another child that will try to open our eyes. Therefore, the best we can probably do is to listen to them and Greta.