May 30, 2008
The Little Girl Who Shocked World Leaders Into Silence
There is a YouTube video clip being forwarded that is worth seeing and definitely worth passing around. Its content is an old footage from the “Earth Summit Conference” organized by the United Nations back in 1992, and the scene is taken from a plenary session under the theme, “Development and the Environment”.
The speaker is Severn Suzuki, a 13-year-old Canadian girl, and her audience is world leaders.
Two aspects of the footage got my attention: The speaker, and her message. At the age of 9, Severn started her own Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), made up of a small group of children committed to teaching other kids about the ongoing environmental crisis. In 1992, Severn and her group raised enough money to attend the Premier Earth Summit in Brazil to warn decision makers of the catastrophic results of their actions — or inactions as we see today — on future generations.
And this is what she had to say:
“Hello, I am Severn Suzuki speaking for ECO the environmental children’s organization. We are a group of 12- and 13-year-olds trying to make a difference. Venessa Suthie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg and I. We have raised all the money to come here ourselves, to come 5000 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 the 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 a great herd 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 am 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 a 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 forests that once grew — and 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 government, business people, organizers, reporters, or politicians. But really you are mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, and all of you are somebody’s child. I am only a child, yet I know that we are all part of a family, five billion-strong. In fact, thirty million species-strong, and voters and government will never change that. I am only a child yet I know that we are all in this together and should act as one single world toward 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 the privileged life. We have plenty of food, water and shelter. We have watches, bicycles, computers and television sets… the list could go on for two 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 and that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born. I can’t stop thinking that I could be one of those children living in the Favellas 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 and yet I know that if all the money that was spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers and ending poverty… what a wonderful place this would be. At school, even in kindergarten you teach us how to behave in the world. You teach us to not to fight others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share and 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, and 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 alright, it is 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 grownups say you love us, but I challenge you please make your actions reflect your words. Thank you…”
As Severn said her piece, her audience sat speechless. Some were teary-eyed; others sat their heads bent down in shame, while others simply nodded in agreement… Like them I was taken back -not only by the child’s maturity and wisdom but also by her piercing vision and premonition of things to come. I wondered what had become of her and of her timeless cry and I wondered what impact her plea had on her audience on that hot Brazilian summer day. With a little bit of research I discovered that according to Severn’s own account, her historic initiative landed on deaf ears.
I hope to believe that today, things will be different, and that as her 16-year-old revived plea makes its journey through the e-mails of billions of people around the world, someone in a remote land will take the lead and make sure that her message is not only heard, but also acted upon.