Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Severn Cullis-Suzuki ....envirnomental activist

It is only after Armageddon, the Old Testament teaches us, that children become leaders.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki has been doing her best to save her planet from environmental catastrophe since she was knee-high to a grasshopper.

At age six when most girls would be playing with their Barbie dolls Cullis-Suzuki was selling her father's hardcover books at lawn sales for 25 cents each to raise money for native land claims in British Columbia.

By age 10 she had co-founded ECO, the Environmental Children's Organization, with a group of like-minded grade six girlfriends at Lord Tennyson Elementary School in Vancouver.

Their first project was to buy a water filter for natives in the Malaysian tropical rain forest whose water supply was threatened by over logging and the effluence of an ever-encroaching population.

In 1992, when she was only 12, she brought world leaders to tears with a speech at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in which she chastised them for failing to protect her and her friends from the looming environmental catastrophe.

"I'm afraid to go out in the sun now because of holes in the ozone. I'm afraid to breathe the air because I don't know what chemicals are in it," Cullis-Suzuki said in a six-minute speech heard around the world. "I used to go fishing with my dad in Vancouver until just a few years ago. We found the fish full of cancers."

Then she read out a checklist of the things the adults had failed to do to protect and preserve the health of the planet and urged them to get on with the task of making it fit for 5 billion people, or get out of the way.

"I'm only a child and I don't have all the solutions, but I want you to realize neither do you...if you don't now how to fix it then please stop breaking it," she pleaded with the delegates.

All parents should be able to comfort their children at night by assuring them that everything's going to be all right. "But I don't think you can say that to us any more."

Cullis-Suzuki and her ECO pals got to Rio by holding bake sales and making and selling hand-made earrings and beaded necklaces. After the speech, Al Gore, the soon to be U.S. vice-president rushed to congratulate her on what he said was the best speech he'd heard at the summit.

That performance brought her instant fame and propelled David Suzuki's daughter on to the world stage. Overnight she was transformed into a media darling and a much sought after environmental speaker.

Today at 24, with a Bachelor of Science degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from Yale, Cullis-Suzuki travels the world preaching her passion -- and getting paid for it.

Wake up and smell the ecological devastation in the air, move to save our forests, and stop polluting our lakes and oceans. It's a message she fears often falls on deaf ears now that the applause in Rio has long since died down.

"I've seen a major disconnect between talk and action," she says adding that activists must find new ways to get their message heard and acted on. "The real innovation is at the grassroots level. Things can only get better through a lot of little habit changes."

And that means convincing young people that by making small changes to the way they live their lives can have a huge impact on the environment. Riding a bike to work or taking public transit, drinking coffee from a mug instead of a disposable cup and resisting the urge to buy things you don't really need, to name just a few.

She acknowledges that it's a big challenge to protect the environment while maintaining economic growth but believes it can be met by making industry and commerce understand that what's good for the environment is also good for business.

Healthy fish populations are essential to supporting a fishing industry, just as trees and parks are needed for tourism and life itself. She talks of the importance of eating locally produced food and how environmental problems must be framed as social issues.

"We need to identify what the new vision is, what the alternatives are to our current destructive lifestyles," she said in a recent interview. "I'm particularly interested in asking young people this question. "What do they want for the future?"

Her own immediate future calls for a return to university in the fall to pursue her studies at Victoria University on Vancouver Island to keep harping on the environment until we all get it, that there is only one planet Earth, and it is worth saving for grasshoppers and people alike.

Cullis-Suzuki is one of the environmental heroes featured in The Great Warming, a three-part television documentary on the devastating effect of climate change.

Filmed on four continents the Canadian produced series travels to four continents to tell the story through the words of real people-from nomadic herders to inner-city dwellers.

Severn now lives on the islands of Haida Gwaii.


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