Twenty-three years ago, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio Di Janeiro, a young lady of 12 years named Severn Cullin-Suzuki stood before the delegates and kept them speechless for six minutes. This is what she had to say:
“I am here speaking for ECO, the Environmental Children’s Organization. We are a group of 12 and 13 year olds trying to make a difference. We raised all the money ourselves to come here ourselves, to come 5,000 miles to tell you adults you much 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’m here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak for all the starving children who’s cries go unheard. I am here to speak for all the 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 with my dad in Vancouver until just a few years ago when we found the fish full of cancers. Now we hear of plants and animals going extinct every day, vanishing forever. In my life, I have dreamed of seeing herds of wild animals, jungles and rain forests 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 things when you were my age?
This is happening right before our eyes, and yet we act as if we have all the time 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 layers. You don’t know how to bring the salmon back up into our dead streams. 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!
Here, you may be delegates of your governments, 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, and yet know I am part of a family…5 billion strong; in fact, 30 million species strong. Borders and governments will never change that.
I am 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; and yet, we 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. We live a 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.
Here in Brazil, two days ago, we were shocked when we spent some time with children living in the streets. This is what one child told us, “I wish I was rich. And if I was, 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 that are my age, that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born. I could be a child living on the streets in Brazil, I could be a starving child living 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 if all the money spent on wars 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 how to not fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, to not 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 is going to be allright. 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 grownups say you love us, but I challenge you…please, make your actions reflect your words.”
This child seemed to make such an impression. I could see the reactions on the faces of the delegates. It seemed they were taking it to heart. Twenty-three years ago…..I really thought she made an impression. I was obviously wrong.
Extinction rates are up – it is estimated we could lose up to 15 species this year alone. Deforestation has raped the Amazon of millions of acres of forest and jungle. The population growth, over 8 billion people on this planet now, is also pushing the animals out of their natural habitat.
Global climate change has brought drought to what was historically agriculturally rich areas, bringing famine to even more countries. The food rich countries that could help those that are desperate for assistance, turn their backs on their brothers and sisters. Yes, we are a greedy lot.
As for the economy, with a few exceptions, the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer. The whole global economic crisis will surely bankrupt this world if the conglomerates, banks and governments don’t come up with viable plans to help this world as a whole, instead of finding quick fixes to appease the public while hoarding more for themselves.