In 1992, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, aged 12, addressed the delegates present at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). She was the founder of the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO).
Severn and the other ECO members raised money to attend the UNCED at Rio de Janeiro, where they participated in workshops and where she gave her famous speech, asking adults to put children and the Earth they will inherit “on their priority list”. In 2008, a recording went viral on YouTube. “The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes” touched people from all over the world.
“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 get the carbon out of the atmosphere. 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 forests that once grew where there is now a desert.
If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!”
In 2017, a new generation of children has emerged. Today, parents still cannot say that “everything is going to be alright” or “we’re doing the best we can”. That is the reason why Severn Cullis-Suziki, as an Earth Charter International Council Member and now a parent herself, decided to organize a Rio 92 Anniversary video project “I’m Only a Child, but…” The video is a compilation of various children from all over the world giving a personalized Rio Speech.
Please share this movie as a reminder of the universal responsibility we, as adults, carry: secure Earth’s bounty and beauty for present and future generations (Earth Charter Principle 4).
Hopefully there will be a day soon that we can reassure all children on this Earth full-heartedly “it is going to be alright”.
Original Speech by Severn Cullis-Suzuki
Hello, I’m Severn Suzuki speaking for E.C.O. – The Environmental Children’s Organisation.
We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference:
Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg and me. We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways.
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. 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.
We cannot afford to be not heard. I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the 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 with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers.
Today we hear about 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 about these little 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 salmon back up a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert.
If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!
As adults, you might have a job, an official title- you might be delegates of your governments, business people, organizers, reporters or politicians – but really you are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles – and all of you are somebody’s child.
I’m only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil — 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 to tell the world how I feel. In my country, we make so much waste, we 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 lose some of our wealth, afraid to share. In Canada, we live the privileged life, with plenty of food, water and shelter — we have watches, bicycles, computers and television sets.
Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with some children living on the streets. And 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 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 children are my age, that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born, that I could be one of those children living in the Favelas of Rio; I could be a child starving in Somalia; a victim of war in the Middle East or a beggar in India.
I’m only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this earth would be! At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world.
You teach us how 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 be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do?
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 are growing up in. Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying “everything’s going to be alright”, “we’re doing the best we can” and “it’s not the end of the world”.
But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore. Are we even on your list of priorities? My father 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. I challenge you; please make your actions reflect your words.
Article Written by: Femke Lootens, Earth Charter International Secretariat intern