Severn Cullis-Suzuki: Environmental Activist
by Darby on March 30, 2015 - 9:36pm
Severn Cullis-Suzuki made her first international appearance at the age of 12 when she addressed the delegates of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. She went to the conference with the Environmental Children’s Organization that she had started at age 9 (National Speakers Bureau, 2015). Her speech silenced the world for 6 minutes. Severn reminded the delegates that they weren’t just at the conference as politicians but also as parents. She spoke of protecting the Earth for our loved ones. Severn spoke of her growing worries regarding the environment and her concern for her future.
In this speech, she spoke passionately and moved the delegates to tears. She made statements such as: “I'm only a child, and I don't have all the solutions. I want you to realize, neither do you” (Cullis-Suzuki, The Speech, 1992). She continues on to say “if you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it” (Cullis-Suzuki, The Speech, 1992) which is a lesson that the world still very much needs to learn today. She urged the delegates to make a difference by telling them: “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” (Cullis-Suzuki, The Speech, 1992).
Some 22 years later, her speech continues to be viewed on YouTube; her message remains powerful as its relevance and strength remain unchanged (Cullis-Suzuki, The Speech, 1992).
When I was about 12 years old, I saw Severn’s six minute speech for the first time. It motivated me then and continues to motivate me to work towards my own environmental goals. She was the person who inspired me to begin causing action in my own communities. In her words, I found a voice identical to my own, of voice who is outraged by the actions of corporations and governments, a voice desperately calling out for change and for the protection of the future. Severn has been and continues to be an inspiration for many young people.
She has since continued to speak out strongly for her beliefs as a known environmental and culture activist. Severn has maintained her beliefs “about acting with the future in mind, and the interconnection between culture and environment” (Cullis-Suzuki, Biography, 2014). She is an advocate for her beliefs, often speaking globally.
She is also often reaching out to young activists and supporting them. A lot of her work targets young audiences and tries to empower youth to be informed and make the difference. She has written a few books including Notes from Canada’s Young Activists and The Day You Will Change the World (Fernandes, 2012). Her books try to encourage people and inspire people to make their own change in the world. She has also hosted and starred in TV shows all with the goal of promoting nature and the environment. These include the shows “Suzuki’s Nature Quest”, “Samaqan Water Stories”, “The Nature of Things” and more. Through these, she sought to inform the public about environmental issues. In addition, she also serves as a role model for young activists through her participation in the Dove campaign for alternative role models for young women as well as with WE Canada.
She has had an impact as an environmental activist in many ways. In 2000, she cycled with a group of friends across Canada in an effort to promote awareness about climate change and air pollution (National Speakers Bureau, 2015). She is a member of the Earth Charter Commission, and of the Earth Charter International Council. She has advised the UN Secretary General at the 2002 UN World Summit. She sits on the boards of the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society and of the David Suzuki Foundation.
She attended Yale University where she received a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2002 (Cullis-Suzuki, Biography, 2014). In 2007, she then received a Master’s of Science in Ethno-botany from the University of Victoria.
Severn was raised within First Nations culture (Cullis-Suzuki, Perspectives on RIO+20, 2012). She learned through her culture, her parents and her elders to care for her environment. Her parents taught her to always stand up for her beliefs and her elders taught her about nature. This greatly shaped the path she would take in the future and lead her to be the strong environmental activist she is today. Constantly speaking out for her beliefs, fearlessly treading forwards and working for change.
She currently lives with her husband and two sons on the islands of Haida Gwaii and continues to be an environmental activist. Her actions are now motivated by her family “I was at Earth Summit in Rio 20 years ago…I was only 12 years old. And when I was speaking to the UN I was fighting for my future. Today...20 years later, I will be fighting for the future for my sons” (Fernandes, 2012).
Severn truly believes in the power of youth. She encourages them to go out and experience the environment around them and speak out for what they believe. In addition, she believes that one does not need to be an environmentalist to make a difference. In fact, she says the key is that young people should “first follow [their] passion” since “society now needs everyone in every field to become sustainable. […]Become whatever you’re interested in first and then bring sustainability to it” (Cullis-Suzuki, Perspectives on RIO+20, 2012).
Recently, on March 21st and 22nd 2015, the EF Global Student Leaders Summit was held in Costa Rica. Severn was one of the speakers present (Edelman, 2015).
Humans are constantly taking advantage of the environment, exploiting it as if it were solely ours (Edelman, 2015). However, many people are just unaware of all the damage being done or maybe ignoring them because they seem like problems too big to tackle. We, the public, are “uninformed of the long-term effects our decisions have on the global environment” (Edelman, 2015).
There is hope however in the upcoming generation. More and more youth are getting involved in environmental issues. Thanks to leaders like Severn Cullis-Suzuki and Dr Jane Goodall, today’s youth are becoming informed about these kinds of issues and are learning how to create a healthier world (Edelman, 2015).
Youth, like those attending this summit, are interested in creating change and it is leaders like Severn that help motivate, inspire and teach them. She continues to play an important role in rousing youth to fight for their futures and their world.
Severn continues to have an important effect on environmental issues, not only through her own activism but by promoting and encouraging youth to carry out their own projects.
Cullis-Suzuki, S. (1992). The Speech. Retrieved from Think Global Green: http://www.thinkglobalgreen.org/suzuki.html
Cullis-Suzuki, S. (2012). Perspectives on RIO+20. (U. N. Programme, Interviewer) Retrieved from http://www.unep.org/environmentalgovernance/PerspectivesonRIO20/SevernSu...
Cullis-Suzuki, S. (2014). Biography. Retrieved from Severn Cullis-Suzuki: http://severncullissuzuki.com/bio/
Edelman, K. (2015, March 21). The Rebirth of Environmental Change. Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ef-education-first/the-rebirth-of-environm...
Fernandes, C. (2012, May 29). 'Rio girl' Severn Cullis-Suzuki 20 years on. Retrieved from Deutsche Welle: http://www.dw.de/rio-girl-severn-cullis-suzuki-20-years-on/a-15974444
National Speakers Bureau. (2015). Severn Cullis-Suzuki. Retrieved from National Speakers Bureau: http://nsb.com/speakers/severn-cullis-suzuki/