The Girl Who Silenced the World for Five Minutes

by Sunnie Tölle

Some Opportunities Only Come Once, Seize Them!

When Severn Cullis-Suzuki stepped on stage at the plenary session of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, she knew this was her one opportunity to speak to the world’s most influential decision-makers. At the time just twelve years old, she seized her once-in-a-lifetime chance to tell every politician, businessman and journalist at the UN: “You are what you do, not what you say…I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words.” What followed over 21 million of us have watched on Youtube since: Her address to UN delegates silenced the plenary session and touched the hearts of millions. Severn’s young voice made it unmistakably clear why we all must take immediate action to save the environment.

Girl Who Silenced the UN For Five Minutes (video)

Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s speech in 1992 (Creative Commons)

Since then, 20 years have passed. Severn is now 32 years old, married, a mother of two young boys and an outspoken activist for environmental justice. She has received the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honour, published a book, studied ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, co-hosted a children’s television series that aired on Discovery Kids and launched an internet-based think tank called The Skyfish Project which was integral to the creation of the “Recognition of Responsibility” pledge at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002.

Severn Suzuki’s speech at Rio Earth Summit 2012 (video)

On June 17th 2012, she returned to Rio de Janeiro, to attend the follow-up Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development that is starting officially starting today. When I met Severn at an event hosted by WeCanada and recorded her speech displayed below three days ago, I was deeply inspired to see that she had stayed true to the same values she expressed so powerfully in 1992. Though her scientific education has made her statements more refined and her age has added experience and wisdom, her belief in the power of intergenerational love is still at the heart of her message: “Twenty years on, I come back to the same argument I made as a child with my presence at the summit. The strongest moral imperative that we have to act and change is our children. It is because of our children that we will bring back the connection between cause and effect, between choices, the global situation, between privilege and responsibility. In identifying our moral imperative lies hope and our hope is love. Love for our children.”

Sunnie Tölle just graduated from Yale and majored in Economics. She’s blogging from the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012 in Rio de Janeiro. She also blogs for Oikos International (read her posts here). Email her at sunnie.tlle@yale.edu. Follow her on Twitter at @sunniejaye.

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