Twenty years ago, at the original Rio Earth Summit, Severn Suzuki, a 12-year-old from Canada, became “the girl who silenced the world for six minutes” by giving a sobering, kick-ass speech to the assembled delegates. You’re going to want to watch it:
This is like the climax to the best YA novel of all time (discounting ones with magic and vampires). Really, there’s nothing like an incredibly poised middle-schooler speaking up for her beliefs and making powerful adults feel silly. As Suzuki said then:
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?
This month, as world leaders again convene in Rio, the global community is faced with the reality that nothing has changed all that much in the past 20 years. Suzuki is now Cullis-Suzuki, and she has a cute baby, and she’s taller … but biodiversity is still declining, and climate change is an even bigger problem, and the U.S. is still fighting against timetables and enforceable limits. Cullis-Suzuki is going back to Rio this year, and in this video from Green Cross International she says her perspective has changed but her message hasn’t:
“We have to look at where we have come over the past 20 years and whether we have been successful in our quest for sustainability,” she says. The answer, more or less, is: nope, we haven’t. But perhaps we can manage to make some progress before Cullis-Suzuki’s kid gets old enough to address the U.N. as a preteen. Because that speech would probably be so moving that we’d all self-destruct in shame.
- 17-year-old tells world leaders to step up, give her a future.
- Read all of Grist’s coverage of the Earth Summit.