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Severn Suzuki’s speech at U.N. Summit, 1992.
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The girl who silenced the world

Severn Suzuki’s speech at the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992.

Hello, I’m Severn Suzuki speaking for “ECO” -- the Environmental Children’s Organization.

We are a group of 12 and 13 year-olds trying to make a difference: Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg, and me. We’ve raised all the money to come here ourselves – to come 5,000 miles to tell you adults you must change your ways.

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 a 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 and I don’t have all the solutions. But I want you to realize, neither do you. You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer. You don’t know how to bring the salmon back up in a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back the forests that once grew where there is now a desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it.

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.

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’m not blind; and in my fear, I’m not afraid of telling the world how I feel. In my country we make so much waste, we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, buy and throw away and yet Northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough we are afraid to share; we are afraid to let go of some of our wealth.

In Canada, we live the privileged life. We’ve plenty of food, water, and shelter. We have watches, bicycles, computers, and television sets. The list could go on for two days. Two days ago, here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent time with some children living on the streets. This is what one child told us: “I wish I was rich and if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicines, shelter, and love and affection.”

If a child on the streets who has nothing is willing to share, why are we who have everything still so greedy? I can’t stop thinking that these are children my own age, that it makes a tremendous difference where you are born; that I could be one of those children living in the favelas of Rio. I could be a child starving in Somalia, or a victim of war in the Middle East, or a beggar in India. I am only a child, yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty and in finding treaties, what a wonderful place this Earth would be!

At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us how to behave in the world. You teach us to not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then, why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? Do not forget why you are attending these conferences, who you’re doing this for. We are your own children. You are deciding what kind of a world we are growing up in.

Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying “Everything’s going to be all right; it’s not the end of the world, and we’re 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.

Thank you.

Severn Suzuki’s speech at the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992.
Voir les réponses


a) Look at the date and the birth year of Severn Suzuki. How old was she when she gave this speech?

b) What elements does she give to prove she stands for all children?

c) What changes in the environment does she name? What is the cause for her?

d) Why is she talking about her childhood?

e) What is the stylistic effect of these repetitions?

f) Who is she speaking to?

g) What does she reproach rich countries for?

h) What is she suggesting with this example?

i) Why does your birthplace make a difference?

j) Look at the rules imposed on children. Do they apply to adults to?

k) What does she ask for? What actions does she want them to do?

l) Why is such a speech given by a teenager more effective than given by an adult?


Severn Suzuki (born in 1979) is a Canadian environmental activist. At 9, she founded the Environmental Children’s Organisation (ECO), a group of children dedicated to teaching other children about environmental issues. When she was just 12, her organization raised funds in order to attend the Earth Summit which took place in Rio de Janeiro (1992). There, she gave a tremendously powerful speech, directly addressing and questioning officials and representatives from the different countries present at the summit.

Severn Suzuki

Your time to shine!

You write an article about Severn Suzuki for the section That Day In History of your school newspapper.
Explain how Severn Suzuki silenced the world (150-180 words).


Watch the video. Do you find her convincing?

Select quotes from the speech to support your arguments and give your personal opinion.

Organise your arguments.

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