Severn Suzuki and THE One tight slap

It was the year 1992 and Severn Suzuki was a 12 year old kid. She raised money with the members of the Environmental Children’s organization (ECO) and attended the United Nation’s Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro. She gave a six minutes speech there which received a standing ovation from the delegates of the various countries. According to her, a few of them cried too. Her speech was nothing less than a one tight slap on the face of all the “Adults” who think that spending money on War related activities and developing new weapons is more important than spending it to remove poverty and illiteracy and on environmental Issues. Her speech was hard hitting but whether it lead to some action or not was something Severn herself wrote 10 years later in a Special Report in the TIME called “The young can’t wait”. An excerpt –

I spoke for six minutes and received a standing ovation. Some of the delegates even cried. I thought that maybe I had reached some of them, that my speech might actually spur action. Now, a decade from Rio, after I’ve sat through many more conferences, I’m not sure what has been accomplished. My confidence in the people in power and in the power of an individual’s voice to reach them has been deeply shaken.

You can read the full report here.

This is the video of the speech. Don’t miss the expressions on the faces of the delegates.

You can read her speech here.

Since her bold foray in the UN Summit, Severn has been an active environmental activist, speaker, television host and an author. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Ethnoecology.

(The photograph is taken from Wikipedia)

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22 comments on “Severn Suzuki and THE One tight slap

  1. For some reason I am not getting the video downloaded, I think its something to do with my connection today!
    Anyway, thanks for the introduction to this lady…or rather her speech when she was a kid. Amazing that she had that awareness then. I remember myself as a 12 year old. I was so dumb!

  2. Amazing speech…
    It dosen’t surprise me though coz its her genes that are at work. Severn is the daughter of the famous professor and enviornmentalist Dr. David Suzuki.Dr. Suzuki had an award winning programme on BBC “Cracking the Code” many years ago.It was a one stop show for all interested in genetics.I remember watching bated breath as he unfolded his stories and explained everything in a very simplistic way….so much so that even a 7th grader like me wud be able to understand(with lil help from my sis ofcourse).
    My point here is that all the enviornmental awareness was imbibed in her by her father, who himself is an enviornmental crusader.So, if we need kids like Severn we ourselves to start getting conscious first.

  3. @Nita : Thanks Nita. And you must watch the video. The way the whole speech went was amazing. And yes, come to think of it, I too was not exactly Einstein when I was 12. All I knew was how to cram everything and top my class. πŸ˜†
    @Deepti : Yes, I think she got this awareness from the environment in which she grew up. You are very correct about the point that we have to be aware ourself to pass the knowledge to the next generation. But the question here is that what is there on the Priority list of the leaders of the various countries. That is what she was questioning.
    And is “Cracking the code” available anywhere online?

  4. @Vijaya Bharat : Yes. I don’t think it would have made much of a difference to them. But what she did at her age was commendable.
    @Xylene : Yes, its very hard hitting. I was surprised when I saw the video. She was very blunt and to the point. It was quite a slap.

  5. Brilliant speech, and she’s written it very well too. You know, I always used to think that once the elders realize their mistakes, things would change..I talk about the politicians in here. The other day I was discussing this with somebody and she says that she could make the politicians think straight by just one speech, she could make them cry and realize how everything is being screwed up. I told her that it wasn’t gonna happen, even though I wished somehow it would. But as Severn Suzuki has herself said, things don’t change like that. The thing is that people will listen, they will cry, they will work for a couple of days and then forget everything. There’s a need to constantly keep reminding them which is not feasible. What do we do? What can we do? After it, what we are is what we do, not what we say. And things need to change if life has to continue on this planet. Otherwise we’ll all grow up to be poor and impoverished drug takers who’ll kill each other and eventually everything will be over.

  6. thanks a zillion for sharing,i feel more inspired now to do what i believe in..

    humans are the biggest hypocrites as she points out,its time we all go back to kindergarten and re-learn our manners…

    can i use this post for posting here-

  7. @Ish : The priorities are all wrong. If any nation gives higher priority to war related activities than education and providing basic amenities, then no sane person is going to accept it. But it happens. Because we have to safeguard ourselves from a fellow human who lives across an imaginary line.
    The girl had the courage to speak against what was wrong but surely she was disappointed. Nothing happened actually but she is still fighting in her own way.
    @Vishesh : Thanks a lot. πŸ˜€ And yes you can use it on youthunite. It will be an honor. πŸ™‚

  8. Simply superb! Amit, thank you for blogging this. If it was not here, i would have never known that such a thing happened. Keep blogging about such unique topics.

  9. thanks for the,that time i didn’t read your about me,would you like to contribute to the blog,i will add you as an author…that would be better i think πŸ™‚

  10. @ Amit: This was a famous speech (note the ‘was’). We heard about it when it was delivered too.

    Life is, alas, not just an either-or equation. And just as it is not always about teenagers being terrible in some adult’s assessment (remember my recent post?), it is not also always about adults being terrible in a teenager’s assessment.

    When I had first started working, a friend’s dad, who is a PVSM decorated 4 star Lt General of the Indian Army, asked me to conduct a little exercise. On the left I would write behaviours – individual, corporate, political – that irked me, with dates. On the right, I would note down which of those behaviours are now in my repertoire, with dates.

    His contention was that for most ordinary people, the right side – if they are being honest, after all it is their private journal – fills up rather fast.

    I still have that notebook. For most part, my right hand- side page is largely empty. In return, I get to be called uptight, smug, self-righteous, preachy, snobbish, “intellectual” (yes, some people use this word as a “gaali”), superior, uppity and any number of variations of these words meant to denigrate.

    Most adults are not pachyderms. They make compromises, quite easily too.

    The result? Promises made to children are broken, by the truckload.

    Some call it the generation gap. Some call it politics. Yet others simply call it life. If it were all orderly and predictable, we would not have so much to blog about. Would we?

  11. @Vidya : Thanks Vidya. πŸ™‚ Its surprising how many of us didn’t know that something like this happened. Including me.
    @Vishesh : What was so inspiring in my “About me” ? πŸ˜‰ Anyways, you can include me as an author. πŸ˜€
    @Shefaly : Yes, I was quite surprised to know about the speech accidentally, although it happened quite a while back. I must have heard it too at that time but then it must have slipped in some corner of my mind.
    Somehow, I can relate to the notebook story completely. And I agree that adults are not pachyderms. As kids we all have seen adults going wrong sometimes and we all have made promises to ourselves at one time or the other, that we won’t repeat the same mistakes. But as soon as we become adults, we face the same situations and then we understand the compromises. The point is that how much are you willing to bend yourself? From your comment I can see that “not bending” yourself comes at a price.
    I don’t think its generation gap. Yes its politics . A person who is in a position to influence others OR who is in a position to make things work, is supposed to be selfless. Otherwise, the whole idea of being in that position is killed. That is what really touched me in her speech. She was just asking all of them to be selfless, to think beyond their own families and interests.
    Life is not all that orderly and predictable, but there are certain things which have to be exactly that way otherwise it would be hard for the coming generations to survive. Don’t you think so? πŸ™‚

  12. “Life is not all that orderly and predictable, but there are certain things which have to be exactly that way otherwise it would be hard for the coming generations to survive. Don’t you think so?”

    @ Amit: I have had a hard time moving away from my mathematical way of framing life as an “equal to” function to seeing it as an “asymptotic function”. The former is easy and ideal, the latter difficult but real. The only upside is that the asymptote provides more hope for movement and change than the promise of the steadiness and stagnation of the former does.

    Makes sense? πŸ™‚

  13. @Shefaly : Hmmm, I understand what you are saying but I think you can’t replace an “equal to” with an “asymptote” everywhere. Maybe I am wrong. I still have to learn a lot from life. πŸ™‚

  14. The UN is and has always been usless its a paper tiger that has no authority .. Or i should say lack of gumption to use its authority.

  15. Pingback: Severn Suzuki's 1992 Address to UN Conference Video

  16. If only the UN had some spunk and follow-through it would not have shattered a child’s dream – esp. one that affects us all.

    However, on a positive note I’m happy to hear that Canadians have watches & bicycles… now, that’s progress!

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