“Child is the Father of Man”
"My heart leaps up when I behold
A Rainbow in the sky:
So was it when my life began;
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old,
Or let me die!
The Child is father of the man;
And I wish my days to be
Bound each to each by natural piety." - William Wordsworth
Raised in Vancouver and Toronto, Severn Cullies-Suzuki has been camping and hiking all her life. When she was 9, she started the Environmental Children's Organization (ECO), a small group of children committed to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. They were successful in many projects before 1992, when they raised enough money to go to the United Nation's Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Their aim was to remind the decision-makers of who their actions or inactions would ultimately affect. The goal was reached when 12 yr old Severn closed a Plenary Session with a stupendously commanding speech that received a standing ovation and stupefied the entire world for about half an hour.
And if you’d like to see for yourself how a 12-year-old made world leaders take notice, watch Severn’s speech… Please, do take just about 10 odd minutes of your time to listen to this unforgettable epic of a speech, NOW…
Today’s young people, my dear friends, have a lot at stake in worldwide climate change negotiations. After all, they’ll inherit either a bleak future if we don’t take action or a happy & secured planet if we seize the opportunity to develop clean-energy solutions and do whatever it takes to remedy the ever burgeoning threat of global-warming and environmental degradation.
To stress the importance of decisions made by today’s leaders for our youth, the United Nations recently recruited young people from around the world to speak at climate talks in New York in September, 2009.
I providentially hunted down a recent interview of the blessed young girl who stunned delegates with her passionate speech at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, by Andrew C. Revkin of The New York Times. That young person was David Suzuki and Tara Cullis’s daughter, Severn, who now has a master’s degree in ethno-ecology and lives with her husband and brand new baby on Haida Gwaii.
The Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro resulted in the first climate treaty, the Framework Convention on Climate Change. The effort under way at the United Nations is intended to breathe life into that pact with a fresh addendum to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, with all of its limitations and flaws.
Mr. Revkin spoke to Severn about her experience 17 years ago and about the lessons for young people today. Here are some excerpts from the interview for you to fathom Ms. Suzuki’s reflections on the value and limits of having youth weigh in on such deliberations…
“Q. Your speech was powerful and seemed powerfully-received. What was your feeling right afterward and for the next few days or months?
A. After giving the speech I remember having this intense sense of completion. I knew we’d been able to achieve our dream and mission of speaking to the world leaders at the U.N. At that time there was no formal means for children to have a voice at the summit, so we’d slipped in between the cracks, worked hard and used any contacts we had to get five minutes at the plenary. I knew we’d shocked the plenary audience with what we had to say. After two weeks of being on the conference grounds, meeting street children, learning from people from all over the world about environmental issues, me and my friends felt angry, and justified in our anger at our world leaders. I remember feeling very calm, very confident. I hadn’t pulled any punches. I knew that we had achieved what we’d set out to do, and had played our part in the huge effort of our community of friends, family and activists to execute our plan.”
“Q. The framework convention on climate change was finalized there. Did that feel exciting, triumphant? As you’ve grown up and watched the world stick pretty much with business as usual, what’s been your feeling?
A. I remember at Rio Centro there was definitely a buzz, and the sense that important things were happening. But I had the righteous sense that the adults were making all kinds of back door deals, and were making it far more complicated to justify inaction. That was the first summit that I’d attended. In the years after I attended several more international summits, and this sense has only increased. Of course, I’ve grown up since then, and I know that making change in the world isn’t as simple as just speaking to the world leaders. I don’t hold my breath waiting for them to save the world.”
“I feel very proud of the fact that now there is a formal means for youth to have a voice; I like to think that ECO made a contribution towards that by speaking at the Earth Summit in ‘92. Youth are now recognized as having a stake in the decisions. However, sometimes I worry that by incorporating them into the system, the youth voice might be lost in the complexities of the U.N.”
“And they are treated as just another stakeholder — given only a few minutes to speak at the end of a conference — yet youth make up half of the world’s population! They are the ones with everything at stake. But then seeing the youth demonstrations at the COP gatherings, and hearing their powerful speeches, I am proud that they are there, to speak truth to power.”
“The shocking thing about the speech I gave at Rio is that the exact same speech could be given today. I think that the power of youth remains to cut through the complexities of the negotiations and remind the decision makers of really what it’s all about — the whole reason why the world must get together.”
“Remind these politicians of their own children! Even today, though many would say that we have gone backwards since the Rio Earth Summit, I still have to believe that it is the love people have for their children that will steer the world in the right direction.”
Ms. Suzuki, with the passage of 18 years, has now moved from childhood to motherhood. She recently completed a master’s degree in ethno-ecology and lives on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands) in British Columbia with her husband and their 2-month-old baby.