The Girl Who Silenced the World For Five Minutes

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Reporter Sunnie Toelle and Severn Suzuki.

Sunnie Toelle

Reporter Sunnie Toelle and Severn Suzuki.

When Severn Cullis-Suzuki stepped on stage at the plenary session of the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, she knew this was her one opportunity to speak to the world’s most influential decision-makers. Just twelve years old at the time, she seized her once-in-a-lifetime chance to tell every politician, businessman and journalist at the UN: “You are what you do, not what you say… I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words.” More than 21 million people have watched the speech on YouTube, where you can see that  her address to silenced the entire plenary session. Severn’s young voice made it unmistakably clear why we all must take immediate action to save the environment.

Twenty years have passed and Severn is now 32 years old, married, a mother of two young boys and an outspoken  activist for environmental justice. She has received the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honour, published a book, studied ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University, co-hosted a children’s television series that aired on Discovery Kids, and launched an internet-based think tank called The Skyfish Project which was integral to the creation of the “Recognition of Responsibility” pledge at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002.

On June 17th 2012, she returned to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development. When I recorded Severn’s speech three days ago at an event hosted by WeCanada and later met her for a short interview (coming soon), I was deeply inspired to see that she had stayed true to the same values she expressed so powerfully in 1992. Though her scientific education has made her statements more refined and her age has added experience and wisdom, her belief in the power of intergenerational love is still at the heart of her message. “Twenty years on I come back to the same argument I made as a child with my presence at the summit. The strongest moral imperative that we have to act and change is our children. It is because of our children that we will bring back the connection between cause and effect, between choices, the global situation, between privilege and responsibility. In identifying our moral imperative lies hope and our hope is love – love for our children,” she said.


8 thoughts on “The Girl Who Silenced the World For Five Minutes

  1. Watching Serven speak once again before my departure to Rio made me feel wonder whether she could have said the same today. Unfortunately, I had to conclude that her call for action seems to me as appropriate as it had been 20 years ago. Thanks for capturing her voice again.

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  3. Sunnie
    Thank you so much for posting this update on Serven! I’d love to connect with her about the possibility of being a part of the new talk show we’re producing got the ‘millennials’. (see promo sizzle reel at Would love your contact info too as we get deeper into production – your
    voice and message is crucial at this time.
    Bless you for all you are doing for Gaia.
    Namaste, Sunny Ariel (same name – different spelling, eh :o)

    • Hi Sunny Ariel,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you found the post helpful. In regards to connecting with Severn, I’d suggest to get in touch with WeCanada (co-founded by I just happened to go to a WeCanada event where I met with Severn and had the chance to have a very brief interview. I don’t however, have her contact information.

      Good luck with the show!

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  5. I must say thank you so much for positive change of lessprevelage may God bless you with more wisdom i wish you the BEST! Thank you.

  6. Dear Sunnie

    I am currently teaching at a private English school in Saudi Arabia. I am currently doing an interactive inter-curricula activity with regards to how to save our planet with my grade 5 class.

    I so much would love my students to do a creative writing activity in the form of a letter thanking Severn Susuki for inspiring us all when she first set foot to the podium in her maiden speech when she silenced the UN and the world at a tender age of 11 or twelve years old.

    We have search for her email address far and wide but to no avail. Do you perhaps have her email address for us?

    It would be greatly appreciated.

    The name of our school is:

    Rowad Al-Khaleej International Boys School
    Anas bin Malik Street
    Eastern Province

    My email address

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