This incredible 20 years old video that I have included in this post made a deep impression on me. I cried and sobbed listening to the 12-year-old girl.
Severn Cullis-Suzuk was born on November 30, 1979 and raised in Vancouver, Canada. Her mother is writer Tara Elizabeth Cullis. Her father, geneticist and environmental activist David Suzuki, is a third-generation Japanese Canadian.
While attending Lord Tennyson Elementary School in French Immersion, at age 9, she founded the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other youngsters about environmental issues.
In 1992, at age 12, Severn raised money with members of ECO to attend the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), also known as the Rio Summit, Rio Conference, Earth Summit – a major United Nations conference held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from 3 June to 14 June 1992, five thousand miles from their home.
Along with group members Michelle Quigg, Vanessa Suttil, and Morgan Geisler, Severn Cullis-Suzuki presented environmental issues from a youth perspective at the summit.
Severn spoke about the hole in the ozone layer, pollution, the devastation of the forests and extinction of many species of wild life and vegetation. She charged that we adults have no idea of 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 pleaded.
Severn’s amazing speech left her audience completely stupefied and speechless. After she ended her speech she received a standing ovation.
She received a lot of praise for her speech in the press – even Al Gore Jr., 45th Vice President of the United States (1993–2001), under President Bill Clinton called it “the best speech at Rio.”
The video of her speech has since become a viral hit, popularly known as “The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes”. This video has 2,018,732 hits to date.
In 1993, she was honoured in the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honour. In 1993, Doubleday published her book Tell the World, a 32-page book of environmental steps for families.
Here’s the transcript of her speech:
“Hello, I am Severn Suzuki speaking for E.C.O – the Environmental Children’s Organization.
We are a group of 12 and 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 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 generations to come.
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 our 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, my home, with my Dad until, just a few years ago, we found a fish full of cancers.
And now we hear of animals and plants going extinct every day, vanishing forever.
In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the 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 have to worry of these things when you were my age?
All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have 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 the salmon back up a dead stream.
You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct.
And you can’t bring back the forest that once grew where there is now a desert.
If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it.
Here you may be delegates of your governments, business people, organizers, reporters or politicians. But, really, you’re mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles and all of you are someone’s child.
I’m only a child, yet I know we are all part of a family, 5 billion strong, in fact 30 million species strong. And borders and governments will never change that.
I’m only a child, yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.
In my anger, I am not blind and in my fear I am not afraid of telling the world how I feel.
In my country we make so much waste, we buy and throw away, 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 share, we are afraid to let go of some of our wealth.
In Canada, we live a privileged life. We’ve plenty of food, water and shelter. We have watches, bicycles, computers and television sets. The list could go on for 2 days.
Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent time with some children living on 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, medicines, 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 are children my own age, that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born. And that I could be one of those children living in the favelas of Rio.
I could be a child starving in Somalia, or a victim of war in the Middle East or a beggar in India.
I am only a child, yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers ending poverty and in finding treaties, 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 to not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others and to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not 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 doing this for.
We are your own children.
You are deciding what kind of a world we are growing up in.
Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying ‘Everything is going to be all right, it’s not the end of the world, and we are 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?
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.
But I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.
- The Young Can’t Wait by Severn Cullis-Suzuki (time.com)