Saturday, November 26, 2016

"The Girl's Speech Which Silenced the World for 6 Minutes."

Hello. I'm 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: 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 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 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. 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 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 someone's child. I am 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 am only a child, yet I know that we're 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 the privileged life with 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 streets 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; that I could be one of the 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 that if all the money spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty and 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 fight with others. To work things out. To respect others. 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 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 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.

Thank you.

( NOTE: When she was 12, Severn Suzuki and three Vancouver schoolmates raised money to go to the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992. Her speech to delegates had such an impact that she became a frequent invitee to U.N. conferences.)


'The Girl Who Silenced the World' returns to Rio

Twenty years ago, a 12-year-old girl took the 
podium at the U.N. Conference on Environ-
ment and Development in Rio de Janeiro and 
told a room full of world leaders that they 
were failing her.
"Coming 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," she said.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki was only nine when she 
and her friends created the Environmental 
Children's Organization, or ECO, a group 
dedicated to learning about and educating 
others on environmental issues. The speech 
she delivered just a few years later at the 
1992 Earth Summit captured the world's 
attention and would in many ways shape her life.

"Do not forget why you're attending
these conferences, who you're doing 
this for. We are your own children. 
You are deciding what kind of world 
we will grow up in. Parents should 
be able to comfort their children by 
saying, 'Everything's going to be all 
right,' 'We're doing the best we can,' 
and 'It's not the end of the world,'" 
said Cullis-Suzuki.
"But I don't think you can say that to us anymore," 
she said. "Are we even on your list of 
The year after she gave this talk, Cullis-Suzuki 
received the U.N. Environment Programme's 
Global 500 Award in Beijing. Over the last two 
decades, a video of her speech has made its 
rounds on the Internet, earning the now 
32-year-old Canadian activist the title 
"The Girl Who Silenced the World for 6 Minutes."
"To take a step back, and not even look at this 
as myself but as a phenomenon, seeing a child 

truth to power is a very, very powerful 
image and story. And it's something that I've 
never received any criticism for, and that blows 
my mind," said Cullis-Suzuki in an interview with 
The speech "really cut through a lot of the 
rationale we have as adults ... for destroying 
the natural world and destroying options for 
the future," she said. "Now, as a parent myself, 
I understand why people reacted to me, because 
I remind them of their own kids, and people love 
their own kids."
This week, Cullis-Suzuki has returned to Rio 
for the U.N. Conference on Sustainable 
Development, known as Rio+20, which opens 
today. She is teaming up with the Canadian 
youth-centered group We Canada to help the 
next generation of world leaders speak up in 
the global dialogue.

Falling off her government's agenda

Cullis-Suzuki is the daughter of writer 
Tara Elizabeth Cullis and prominent 
Canadian environmental activist 
David Suzuki. Having also received a 
bachelor of science degree in ecology 
and evolutionary biology from Yale 
University and a master of science in 
ethnoecology from the University of 
Victoria, British Columbia, Cullis-Suzuki 
is no stranger to the sustainability issues 
facing the planet.
She hosts "Samaq'an: Water Stories[["An
examination of the importance of water 
includes a look at how industrial develop-
ment is impacting this natural resource, 
as well as accounts of what water means 
in the lives of everyday people.Premiered:
August 18, 2016]] ,a Canadian television 
show about First Nations communities and 
water issues. But before that, she served 
on the U.N. Earth Charter Commission and 
on then-U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's 
Special Advisory Panel for the 2002 World 
Summit on Sustainable Development in 
Johannesburg, South Africa.
Cullis-Suzuki said she has grown skeptical 
of the top-down approach to negotiations, 
but when she was asked to be one of We 
Canada's 12 "Champions" on sustainable 
development at the Earth Summit, the girl 
who always spoke up couldn't say no.
We Canada was launched two years ago 
as part of the Canadian Earth Summit 
Coalition, an independent nonprofit created 
to engage the public in the Rio de Janeiro 
conference. Cullis-Suzuki consulted with 
the group on its three policy recommend
-ations: to establish a measure of national 
progress that includes the natural 
environment, to implement a carbon tax 
and eliminate fossil fuel subsidies and to 
push the government of Canada to add 
fair trade to the sustainability agenda.
The three policy recommendations were 
presented in consultations with more than 
8,000 youth across the country and 
supported in more than 1,200 signed letters 
to the federal government. The Canadian 
government, however, did not include We 
Canada's recommendations in its national 
strategy for Rio+20 or meet with civil 
society groups to have them shape the 
national report, according to Aleksandra 
Nasteska, We Canada's communications 
In response to a petition, the Canadian 
Department of Foreign Affairs and 
International Trade said that it held 
consultations within the federal government, 
which is led by a Conservative Party 
majority, and opened the strategy 
document to a 120-day public review.
The letter does not respond to We 
Canada's three policy recommendations 
directly. Instead, it referred to the 
"increasingly inclusive" nature of U.N. 
conferences for how the coalition's 
policies could be brought into the zero 
Nasteska said it felt as though the 
government was writing them off. "As in, 
'You're youth, so there's no reason why 
we should listen to you,'" she said. 
"There's no commitment to action 
or no invitation to meet with us."
After We Canada presented the 
policy recommendations at 
regional consultationswith the 
U.N. Environment Programme 
and submitted them directly to the Earth 
Summit, however, its three ideas were 
woven into the primary U.N. negotiating 
document, she said.
Overall, the expectations for Rio+20 are 
not high. The European Union and United 
States still face serious economic troubles, 
and tensions over the responsibilities of 
developed versus developing nations that 
plague the U.N.-led climate talks are also 
clouding Rio.
Cullis-Suzuki said she is not holding 
her breath for world leaders, from Canada 
or elsewhere, to instigate meaningful 
change at Rio+20. For We Canada, the 
main goal is to represent Canadian civil 
society and serve as witnesses to the 
government's actions. "We need to 
challenge them, not just at the summit 
but beyond," she said.
The best outcome of the talks would 
be a new sense of momentum behind 
sustainability efforts, she said. Support 
for action on environmental issues 
tanked during the 2008 financial crisis 
and has yet to climb back up. Failing 
to use this transition period to steer 
the world economy in a new direction 
would be a missed opportunity, she said.

Fighting the Northern Gateway pipeline

Cullis-Suzuki is also looking to shape 
Canada's environmental legacy by 
engaging in a campaign against the 
proposed Enbridge Inc. Northern 
Gateway pipeline from the Alberta oil 
sands to the coast of British Columbia.
Where she lives with her husband and 
two sons on the Pacific Coast archipelago 
of Haida Gwaii, the Haida people, 
including Cullis-Suzuki and her family, 
live off the land and hunt and fish for 
food. To get Canadian bitumen to ports 
and ships bound for Asia, the pipeline 
would cross 5,000 salmon bearing 
streams and create a huge threat to 
these fish populations, she said.
The national government has pushed 
hard for the $5.5 billion project, which 
it says would expand Canada's foreign 
markets and spur economic growth. 
But federal politicians have also limited 
public input to only those directly 
affected by the pipeline and have 
passed new legislation to streamline 
environmental reviews that could apply 
retroactively to the Northern Gateway 
pipeline (ClimateWire, June 5).
While she hasn't given up on the fight 
against the Northern Gateway, 
Cullis-Suzuki said that if the 
international community doesn't rally 
around a new approach to economic 
growth, battles over individual 
pipelines will keep cropping up while 
the planet decays.
"When I get really overwhelmed, I 
take a step back as a biologist and 
as an ecologist and say, 'Well, if we 
really trash the planet and we really 
limit the ecosystems that support us, 
life will continue on; evolution will 
continue on,'" she said. "Whether or 
not the charismatic mega fauna will 
survive -- the lions, the tigers, the 
elephants and things that occupy a 
similar space on the top of the food 
web like we do -- that's another question."
For solutions, Cullis-Suzuki looks 
back to her start on the global stage 
in the fight for a sustainable future.
"We really need to hear from the 
youth, because young people, 
people under 30, now comprise 
over 50 percent of the world's 
population, and yet they have so 
little decision making power," said 
Cullis-Suzuki. "We need them to rise 
up and remind us what it's all about."

Severn Suzuki video
Severn Suzuki, a 12-year-old from Vancouver, British Columbia, was assigned 
to speak to world leaders assembled at the first U.N. conference in Rio de 
Janeiro in June 1992. Afterward, she became known as "The Girl Who 
Silenced the World for Six Minutes" because heads of state sat in rapt attention 
when she described her own encounters with environmental issues, including 
water and air pollution and endangered species. Then she asked them: 
"Did you have to worry about these things at my age?" 
Click here to watch the video.

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