When I heard the 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg scold world leaders for their lack of action on climate change yesterday, I was reminded of Severn Suzuki whose equally powerful speech from 1992 took the world by storm.
“Coming up here today, I have no hidden agendas. 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. I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don’t know what chemicals are in it.” These words by Severn, very similar to Greta’s, went viral on the internet, and her video was later dubbed as ‘the girl who silenced the world for 5 mins’.
Severn’s energy, her demand for climate action and her resilience was very similar to Greta’s, the young Swedish climate activist and the initiator of the Friday’s for Future movement globally.
Severn was quickly ignored. While she received claps, the world moved on. Leaders exclaimed that the climate calamity was still afar, and the impacts not as visible – and her voice drowned over the next many years of environmental degradation. Until Greta came along.
Thunberg comes powered not just with sharp words demanding action, she comes powered with social media, which back then – Severn didn’t have access to, and the ability to get children and young people from around the world to speak up with her.
Just yesterday, India saw a Twitter storm with school students demanding action from their decision makers and asking critical questions, inspired by Greta. Before that, millions of students from around the world went on strikes demanding climate action – and there’s no stopping.
While the result is yet to be seen, what’s for sure is that it’ll be terribly difficult to drown out these voices. Severn and Greta’s resilience is testament to the fact that their voices aren’t the first, and they won’t be the last.
Published from phone, please excuse brevity and typos.