Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Address to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1992

Severn Cullis-Suzuki

Environmental Activist

When Severn Cullis-Suzuki was twelve years old, she travelled from Canada to Rio de Janeiro with the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO) to give a presentation at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. ‘We are a group of twelve and thirteen year olds trying to make a difference,’ she told her audience. ‘We’ve raised all the money to come here ourselves, to come five thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways.’ Cullis-Suzuki grew up in Vancouver, Canada, and describes in her speech her love for the outdoors – how she fishes for salmon with her father and dreams of visiting the rainforest. Her ambitions crystallized, however, once she became aware of the disastrous effects of climate change.

Cullis-Suzuki remains an environmental activist today, championing organizations that support a cleaner Canada, and encouraging students to speak up. In her Rio de Janeiro speech, she leveraged her unique position as a child speaking to adults – an emissary from generation future – to powerful effect. She is direct and unblinking in her assessment. ‘I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realize, neither do you.’ She speaks about consumer waste in Canada and makes a personal appeal to her listeners. ‘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.’

Address to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development 1992

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 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.

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 in Vancouver, my home, with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers.

And now we hear of 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 of these 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 yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong; in fact, 30 million species strong and 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 of telling the world how I feel.

At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world.

You teach us not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share and 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,” “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 grown-ups say you love us.

But I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words.

In my anger, I am not blind, and in my fear, I am not afraid of telling the world how I feel.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki