Twenty years ago, Severn Cullis-Suzuki’s 6-minute speech to the 1992 Earth Summit ‘silenced the world’ and challenged negotiators to ‘make your actions reflect your words.’ Twenty years on and speaking to the Youth Blast at Rio+20, Severn said what the world needed was ‘nothing short of a paradigm shift’ and called on the young people attending to ‘challenge the world adult representatives at Rio to fight for intergenerational justice.’
Speaking to the conference via Skype from her home on Haida Gwaii, she once again reminded the youth listening to ‘make their [decision makers] actions reflect their words’ in a stark omission that little has changed in the twenty years since her famous speech.
“Though our ecosystem continues to decline, the growth of the economy remains foremost for governments clinging to power. The collaboration between governments & big businesses makes anyone lose faith in democracy and many of my generation are very cyclical.”
“You can speak truth to power. Cut through the complexity in the negotiations and speak to the simple truth that governments today are not working within the physical realities of earth or acting in a way that says the future matters.”
While remaining hopeful about the possible outcomes from Rio+20, Severn urged a new generation of young people to challenge the decision makers, call out the hypocrisies and negative actions of governments, provoke the status quo and use the conference to tell the world what is needed.
Though not many people in the room seemed to know who Severn was, the challenge was made and left for those in the room to take forward.
“Using your position as educated youth, speaking clearly and simply and not trying to speak the adult talk, and getting into the fine details of the negotiations, speaking your truth, as you, is a very powerful way of speaking.”
With 300 young people, from many different backgrounds and levels of experience, attending the Youth Blast, the question is whether the 3-days will have equipped them with the skills, knowledge, confidence and ability to lobby negotiators, campaign for change, mobilise their peers and speak the ‘simple truth’ of youth to achieve any difference in the coming days.
Severn finished by saying,
“I think that the most powerful tool at Rio is the voice of young people.”
Which leaves us wondering, has the Youth Blast given young people a strong enough platform for these voices to be heard? Has it empowered them enough to take action and make a difference?