By Narayani Ganesh
A twelve year-old Severn Suzuki blazed into the world’s consciousness with her touching SOS for Earth in 1992. And now it’s the turn of 17-year-old New Zealander, Brittany Tilford who is keeping her Date with History at Rio+20.
When twelve year-old Severn Suzuki delivered her short but powerful speech at the Rio’92 Earth Summit, everyone sat up. “The world simply stopped for those six minutes,” while heads of states and others were transfixed by a child’s plea for survival – not just of humans but of all species – demanding governments and all adults to take steps to reverse the damage that was being done to the environment.
Today, 32 year-old Severn continues to campaign for Earth as she did at Johannesburg in 2002 and now in Rio in 2012. “That was the most powerful thing I have ever done in my life till today,” says Severn in Rio, of her 1992 address to heads of state. And thanks to the power of social media, her 20 year-old speech continues to touch people across the globe, including Severn herself.
Winner of ‘Date with History’ contest
Another young girl, Brittany Trilford, a 17 year-old New Zealander, won the ‘Date with History’ speech contest held through social media networks by the Tck Tck Tck global campaign. She will open the Rio+20 UN Summit on June 20, at 10:10 hours Brazil time (IST 18:40 hours) speaking of "truth to power."
“Young people have been drivers of change, often standing up for what's right in direct opposition to the established norm. From organised struggles for democracy and civil liberties, to peaceful protests calling for new economic ideals, youth voices have transformed the socio-political landscape of the 21st century,” says Tck Tck Tck. Now, with the future of life on Earth at stake, and with civil society groups and youth raising their voices, the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development calls out for young people across the world to lead the charge.
The evening before D-day on June 19, on the eve of the start of the Rio+20 Conference, Tck Tck Tck and sponsors brought some prominent persons together to speak ‘truth to power’ and make their voice heard to those that can influence the outcome of Rio+20 and ensure that young people have the future they want and deserve.
An Interview With Brittany
Before the session began, Brittany answered a few questions I posed to her.
What does she think is the most important aspect of education?: “ I want to express the idea of inter-generational learning, that is, learning from the past, and working collaboratively as a collective so that we can be more educated and experienced. It’s about using nature as a design for our systems, seeing it as beauty and abundance. Nature has a way of doing things that allows for progress, value and transformation. I want our politicians and legislators to realise this so that any action they take reflects this understanding.”
What does Brittany think of the economics of environment? “I think we need to understand economic values; that there can be no economic benefit without environmental benefit.”
And how does she feel about sharing the dais with Severn Suzuki? “Oh she has been a great inspiration. She still is. She silenced the world; she silenced me and every time I watch the video of her 1992 address something happens to me. The emotions and the words --- you cannot remain unmoved by them. The sad part, though, is that what she said 20 years ago is as true of today as it was back then. Nothing has changed as far as governments are concerned.”
What does Brittany think of India? “My best friend, Ashna Basu, is Indian. She moved to New Zealand when she was one year old. We debate together in school and she is as committed as I am to environmental issues. I am not hugely educated on UN policy matters and what India is going through but I do know that if India is anything like New Zealand in terms of policy making and action then it has a long way to go. I would definitely like to know more about India. Lots of governments are making promises they are not living up to, like New Zealand. They are way too weak.”
What is the role of youth in dealing with global issues? “Youth are half the world – we’re three billion -- and we have a responsibility to that; we are the driving force as we have to bring about change as we develop with changes.”
Tck Tck Tck Campaign
The session begins with Kelly Rigg, the director of Tck Tck Tck campaign for global climate change thanking all sponsors and well wishers for making the Date with History contest a huge success. “One morning it just occurred to me that rather than see globalisation as something out there that delegates at the Earth Summit will deliberate upon, we need to see the summit as something that creates more engagement with youth as solution. We decided to do this contest, inspired by what Severn Suzuki did in ‘92. Purpose of the contest was to bring in new people who were not part of the process.” A short video presentation shares the voice of contestants from India, Peru, Australia, and other countries; they speak out on the need to take action.
Why Am I Here? Power of Social Media
Brittany addresses the gathering and begins by asking; “Why am I here? I’m just an ordinary person, an ordinary citizen who cares very deeply and passionately about our future. I’m also angry, frustrated and disappointed because there is more talk than action. Scientists tell us to stop talking start acting. If our future is questionable, then why isn’t something being done? Fuelled by social media alone, I and hundreds like me could get our views across to a wide audience. My mother tells me ‘Brittany you have two ears and one mouth for a good reason; you need to listen more. I don’t believe leaders listen. But leaders must listen now.”
Youth Are Half the World
“Young people are half the world and we are powerful, strong; we have tools and technologies to organise ourselves in powerful ways. We can speak ‘truth to power’ collectively and force action from our leaders to save biodiversity and improve quality of life for us and for all generations to come. There is enough talk but not enough action and I am here to demand action. I’m here to speak truth to power. Yesterday I asked business leaders to shift from saving face to saving us; I asked 3oo legislators from around the world to make things better. Tomorrow I will ask heads of state to ignore the unambitious documents before them and act for the sake of us all. I want leaders that led in the face of poverty, climate change and energy challenges. All of us here have the opportunity to take truth to power and be leaders. I ask of you to join youth of the world and together we are powerful.”
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Poses Challenge to Youth
Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change spoke of the frustration of youth in not being able to be part of negotiations to change the world. “But youth can remind governments of their global responsibilities by going beyond national boundaries; youth can bring the future into the present.” She posed a challenge to Severn and Brittany and other youth: “Way beyond inspiring and asking leaders to take action is to ensure that your generation does not by default fall into the very bad habits of my generation. Make that intentional choice.... We know the saying, ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, I’m my mother, after all...’ You have to be different. You are future consumers. Your choices will determine what will be the norm. You have power to steer the market. Declare your intolerance of eco-unfriendly products. You may not be sitting at the negotiating table but as Brittany mentioned, you are sitting in a more powerful position with the power of communication of social media. Create a total youth revolution through social media until you can get to the negotiating table.”
Severn Suzuki Calls For Intergenerational Justice
Severn Suzuki speaks of how she realised gradually that citizens needed to engage more... “Grassroots is where we can find solutions from local communities. Now 20 years I have dedicated my life to this cause. 20 years of Rio and yet citizen engagement has not been enough. Ecosystems continue to decline. The growth of the economy remains the foremost for politicians and institutions that are clinging to power and the collusion between our governments and corporations is enough to make any one of my generation totally cynical. As concerned citizens and activists we speak up on local and global issues. We put our money and energy in good faith that our voice does matter. Twenty years from Rio we need nothing less than a paradigm shift if we wish to move forward with dignity.
“Today at 2012, I am a 32 year-old veteran environmentalist. I seek a way of life that will promote inter-generational justice. Stop crimes we are perpetrating against future human beings who will have to deal with climate change. I have grown up a lot these 20 years but those six minutes of speaking to the UN two decades ago remains the most powerful thing I have ever done in my life to affect people. Since then I have received letters from around the world from people who say they are deeply affected. Years later the Internet was invented and the video is going around the world on YouTube. It is hugely popular. Why? Because the world is hungry for this message. We are desperate to hear someone speak the truth. We need someone to cut though all the rationalisation and no one can do this better than those who have everything at stake, and that is the youth. That video is the voice of youth and Brittany sitting here is telling the truth and everybody listening to her tomorrow will know it. The second reason people are still talking about that speech is because of the most powerful tool belonging to the human race. We have this tool -- the power of inter-generational love. As we look back on our progress since the 1992 Earth Summit it would be too easy to be discouraged. A generation is nearly past, today I am a parent and I cannot afford to be discouraged. I have two little boys aged two and four months. I will ensure they have the opportunities and life I had while I was growing up.
“I believe that 50 0000 people here in Rio including me will do everything we can to ensure that our children have every opportunity in their lives. This I choose to believe and because I choose to believe, I am optimistic about the future. We’re at a turning point. We have gathered here and we’re listening to young people and I believe we are going to change for the better.”
Bijoy Venugopal, Editor
Wanderer, leech-bite fetishist and musicosaur