Just over two decades ago, a 12-year-old girl addressed the UN Earth Summit and stopped the assembled leaders in their tracks. Severn Cullis-Suzuki was already a veteran environmentalist, having founded ECO (Environmental Children’s Organization) at age 9. She told delegates at the Earth Summit:
We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference: Vanessa Suttie, Morgan Geisler, Michelle Quigg and me. We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming 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.
The video of her speech came to be called, “The girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes”. It has been viewed by millions of people and is profoundly moving.
Cullis-Suzuki is still walking the environmental talk. So are a lot of other young environmental activists. On the heels of the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s first report since 2007, it seems a good time to shout out some of the next generation of young people trying to wake up recalcitrant adults, who seem determined to destroy the earth on which the future depends.
- In Costa Rica, ChepeCletas is a youth-led social enterprise promoting decreased dependency on private automobiles and promoting walking, biking and public transport.
- The Australian Youth Climate Coalition has more than 80,000 members and develops regular campaigns to draw national attention to climate change.
- The Canadian Youth Climate Coalition is not waiting for the Harper government to pull its head out of the tar sands. Instead they are campaigning for the country to wake up to climate disruptions, go fossil free and act for climate and environmental justice.
- The Arab Youth Climate Movement is working to create a network of young climate activists across the Middle East and North Africa.
- The Caribbean Youth Environment Network provides an umbrella organization for young people to act on climate change, as well as poverty alleviation, youth employment and health issues.
Youth in action on climate: inspirations from around the world, published in May 2013, gives more examples of young people who are not waiting for adults to change their planet-unfriendly ways. These young people give me hope.