The Girl who Silenced the U.N. for Five Minutes

Screen Shot 2013-03-19 at 8.18.12 AM (2)This is an incredible video of a Canadian girl who spoke to the United Nations and left them completely silent and speechless for five minutes. Her name is Severn Cullis-Suzuki, and her speech was given at a U.N. assembly in Brazil when she was twelve years old. She had raised all the money to travel to the delegation, five thousand miles from her home, herself.

Speaking about the hole in the ozone layer, pollution, the devastation of the forests and extinction of so many species, Severn charges that we adults have no idea how to fix these things, in fact can’t fix them, and that we must change our ways. “If you don’t know how to fix it, stop breaking it,” she pleads.

Severn continued to say:

“I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I’m only a child and I don’t have the solutions…but neither do you. I am only a child, but I know we are all part of a family five billion strong; in fact, 30 million species strong, and borders and governments will never change that.

Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to share. We are afraid to let go of some of our wealth. Two days ago here in Brazil, we were shocked when we spent some time with children living in the streets. This is what one child told us:

‘I wish I was rich. And if I were, I would give all the street children food, clothes, medicine, shelter, love and affection.’

If child on the streets who has nothing is willing to share – why are we, who have everything, still so greedy?

I am only a child, but I know if all the money spent on war was spent on finding environmental answers, ending poverty, and finding treaties – what a wonderful place this world would be.”

And here’s the kicker – this speech was given in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. How much is still relevant today? All of it. And the more important question is: How much has been changed, accomplished, since Severn spoke that day?

Years later, Severn wrote a piece for Time magazine in which she said: “I spoke for six minutes and received a standing ovation. Some of the delegates even cried. I thought that maybe I had reached some of them, that my speech might actually spur action. Now, a decade from Rio, after I’ve sat through many more conferences, I’m not sure what has been accomplished. My confidence in the people in power and in the power of an individual’s voice to reach them has been deeply shaken…In the 10 years since Rio, I have learned that addressing our leaders is not enough. As Gandhi said many years ago, ‘We must become the change we want to see.’ I know change is possible.”

Severn comes from an environmental legacy – her father is the renowned David Suzuki. At the age of nine, Severn founded the Environmental Children’s Organization (ECO), a group of children dedicated to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. Today, Severn is an environmental activist, speaker, television host and author. She has spoken around the world about environmental issues, urging listeners to define their values, act with the future in mind, and take individual responsibility.

She co-hosted Suzuki’s Nature Quest, a children’s television series that aired on the Discovery Channel in 2002. In early 2002, she helped launch an Internet-based think tank called The Skyfish Project.As a member of Kofi Annan’s Special Advisory Panel, she and members of the Skyfish Project brought their first project, a pledge called the “Recognition of Responsibility”, to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002.

Click here to watch the video and hear her incredible speech.


About Shelley Seale

Shelley is a wanderer and student of the world, yoga chick, voracious reader and dog lover. She pounds the keyboard as a freelance writer, author and publication designer, based in Austin, Texas when she isn't traipsing around the globe. Shelley has written for National Geographic, USA Today, The Guardian, The Week, Fodor's, The Telegraph and Texas Monthly, among others. Shelley has performed a catch on the flying trapeze, boarded down a live volcano, and was once robbed by a monkey in India. But she doesn’t know how to whistle.

Posted on June 23, 2008, in children, global, India, inspiration, news, shelley seale and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 67 Comments.

  1. This is exactly what we need! We must educate the young, in hopes that one of these committed young acutally become the leader that we need. It is hopeful that at the sight of the real power’s that be this young person didn’t turn tail and run, or to comply with the political agenda of the UN and individual countries’ powers, including her own.
    I question every day, ‘where do we go from here? Now that all of the children have growin up And how do spend our time knowing no body gives this a damn?’

    The really big question is WHY? WHY do our leaders continue to think this planet will survive? Do they have information we don’t? Isn’t that the norm? Where governments have information not privy to the masses? Do they know something we don’t?

    It is likely they do have information and knowledge we don’t have, as this has historically proven to be true in all cases of government, especially those in trouble.
    Look at the Jews, they sat back and let these things happen to them. In many cases there were more of them than there was of the SS or other soldiers, yet they did nothing.

    We are prisoners of mass media, telling us when, how, and what to think. Why are they programming what the people see and hear? And what are we hearing and seeing? Are they telling us the truth about this whole event that is happening? As the top scientist that presented a government requested 10 year study of the environment stated to Congress and others on CSpan “the heat is in the tunnel and it is to late” He presented information on this study, relating that there are ‘people behind closed doors right now deciding who will live and who will not’ once the earth quakes, tornados, floods, and yes, the freezing of northen north america. This presentation lasted 3 hours and most did not see it because it was at 3:00am on a work morning.

    In conclusion, whatever is happening, is happening as I write, and most do not know this fact and many other environmental facts. There is a reason for this, as most americans can grasp this information. The reality is the media muting of the facts, There is a selection going on, and no coincidence that the rich are getting dramatically richer, as they rape the middle class and plan for the next 5 years, as the environment will be wrecking havoc on all of us. Those with the most gold will be making the rules.
    According the the study funded by the government itself, the environment has already started changing at faster and faster rates. This study started as a hundrded year study, and those 1,000 scientists involved realized that the danger would start much much sooner than any of them expected.
    Lastly, thoses words “wake up America” should be shouted on the mountains for all to hear, so that our fellow citizens and humans realize what is really happening to our livelyhood, our planet, our very exhistance!

  2. Amazing speech. Amazing it changed nothing.

  3. Hats Off to her

    Nice Post 🙂

    Cheers!! 😉

  4. I think Freganism movement reflects that ultimate phylosophy she speaks of. Although I’m not a freegan myself, that seems to be a way of putting the “We must become the change we want to see” on perspective.

  5. The problems here need people who are willing to change the world not just our country. No one is an island and we keep forgetting this. Speak up and be heard. That means all of us all the time. Me too. The press is the most powerful weapon…use it!

  6. essential subject she choose for speech, great stage daring.

  7. Her father is David Suzuki – THE leading Canadian environmentalist. I idolized him as a child. She’s deeply connected and does good work.

  8. Incredible story, that’s true grit & guts there. Please if you are the woman who owns this site I would love you to write for my site.
    we should exchange notes.

  9. The sad thing is that, while things will eventually change, it won’t be from any altruism triggered by her speech. Instead, it will be from the desire of greedy people to save some money and find an alternate source of fuel because oil has become too expensive. Then, we’ll have a new slew of problems to contend with. Not all people are stupid and greedy, but s**t, as they say, tends to float to the top.

  10. i thinks this young lady will be inspired to our young generation in Indonesia
    thanks for write this article

  11. Joseph Lafnear

    This was a powerful speach and so true.
    However, as with many thing that are on ponit and true no one listens.
    What has changed since this speach?
    Are things better now then they were then.
    Those that have more then they need only want more.
    Most of those that would like to help are just making it themselfs.
    And those that need, cannot get.
    The wealthy just get wealthier and with all they have they do not share or share enough.
    There are a few however that are sharing but what of the rest. How much is enough and in the end, you cannot take it with you.

  12. Hey

    This is amazing, especially to be started at such a young age. I’m 19 from the states and if you can, contact me, I would love to help.


  13. The idea that “if you don’t have money, you’re SHIT” is pounded into us so continually in the developed countries starting when we’re tiny children that it’s no wonder we’re a bunch of greedy bastards. Medicine is a freaking business, for crying out loud. Not being exposed to four million advertisements by the time you’re ten is good for the mental health. I have this to say to the developing countries with respect to your burgeoning affluence: careful what you wish for! : ) S

  14. “I’m not sure what has been accomplished.”
    (Severn Suziki)

    “Amazing speech. Amazing it changed nothing.”
    (Pheak said, on June 29, 2008 at 2:01 am)

    Yes, it did change – and it’s still does…

    It is changing us…

    And WE – CAN DO THAT –




    It doesn’t mean that I’ll go now – right away – at this very moment
    and will fight for the Environmental Revolution
    that we all need and – somewhere in our hearts – hope for…

    For me it means that – from now and on –
    I’ll live my life differently…

    How exactly?..

    I don’t know that yet…

    But I’ll know – soon…

    I believe in the POWER OF ONE…

    I believe in the POWER OF US…

    If the POWER OF ONE – in that little girl –
    still dancing and singing and speaking strongly –
    all around the World – until “NOW” and “ON”…

    Then the POWER OF US – inspired by these girls and boys…

    And the most important…



  16. And – now – to start with –
    I am sending these links and my letter about



  17. Here is my letter
    (I hope I am not overloading your site with my writing)…



    This is an incredible video of a Canadian girl
    who spoke to the United Nations
    and left them completely silent and speechless…



    Video Responses: 3 Text Comments: 1,005

    I am sitting here and crying…
    I start crying when I was listening to this girl’s speech –
    up front of United Nations – speaking with all of us…

    Was I this girl – somewhere in time?..
    Am I still – her?..
    Are you?.. The one – just like her?..

    How far, how deeply, how truthfully –
    these words – her words – the words of our own heart…

    The words of our own children…

    The words of our own FUTURE…

    How do I hear them?..
    What it all means to me?..


    Or – anything?..

    Did this girl’s speech change you?..
    Something in you?..

    It’s – sure – did change me…

  18. Anita Rane (India)

    The problem with the world today is that many people seem to forget that they also share this world with other living species of the environment—plants and animals.

    We continue to go about our ways without the slightest consideration for the impact that our actions may have on other elements of Nature.

    We are blissfully oblivious to the hazards we pose to the environment, not because we don’t are not aware of such implications, simply because most DON’T CARE.

  19. All that we’ve heard looks really nice. But as we look from the living perspective… We mostly are all going to school to achieve some kind of goal and a nice life in the future. For that we all do something. Normally our employers are some big companies that buy from someone and sell it on. We all try to make a living. The problem is that we all think the same, to afford stuff we want. For that we need money. We need to feed our children.

    So there is an unbreakable line between these big companies around the globe and us, consumers.

    We just think how nice it would be to fix the planet, but we all eat. Food must be produced from somewhere.

    I am not a materialist, but the bottom line is that this cannot and will not be stopped. Everyone should do something to make a better future for our generations to come. But everybody wishes to have a great and comfortable life also.

    This is an enchanted circle that can’t be just dreamt, we all must change the ways of our lives that we live. We all appreciate nice living, nice houses, nice cars, healthy rich food.

    We keep on living our lives and talking about these big companies as an enemy.

    WE LIVE IN A MATERIAL WORLD, once Madonna said, but there it sounded like a BAD word…like…we are not that way….but we all are..

    Her speach was great, and she is angry at the world she is living in.
    But as she grows, so will her thinking of life, and she will become one of the many around her.



  20. “Amazing speech. Amazing it changed nothing.”

    Changed nothing?! Take a look at the wikipedia article on the ozone layer, especially the “current events and future prospects section”. If you don’t trust wikipedia, do your own research. Sure, our world is very, very far from perfect, and in many ways we’re getting worse at taking care of it. But we have improved in some respects, and its time we start acknowledging that, if for no other reason that to give us the confidence to continue to improve.

  21. Don’t you love how when a child/teenager talks to a group of people who are in charge, they say good job, congradulate you, shake your hand, and are all impressed that you sounded intelligent and were willing to stand up to them, then completely ignore everything you just told them because they have already made a decision that has destroyed your life and that of thousands of other children. They say they care, but the fact that you are there having to tell them all this should totally refute that.

  22. Please take some time to look into the work of her father, David Suzuki, who has been an environmentalist for many decades. Perhaps look for “The Nature of Things” the documentary science television program he has presented for more than 30 years. I am delighted that Severn is carrying on the proud Suzuki tradition of environmentalism. So, “here’s the kicker”, what has happened in the 40 years since the her father began sounding the alarm?

  23. It occurs to me to add, if you want to change the world, aside from being the change you wish to see, you can also raise aware and informed children.

  24. What an amazing little girl, now an amazing young woman. More people should strive to be like her.

  25. not suprising, considering who’s kid she is. Her father is David Suzuki, practically the closest thing we have to royalty in Canada. Tell me when the daughter of a poor farmer from Saskatchewan does the same thing. Also, tell me when this changes anything.

    • Does one have to be poor to help the poor , does one have to farm the land inorder to respect the land, Im letting you know now that i have for the first time heard of this women or read her cause but I am getting up as soon as i finish this post to go out side and start to make a difference .I can do that and that is how it is done we all must do our part and i am not waiting on you but hope you will do yours and that changes something. I am saddened
      by all the negative thoughts can we not see that it is each of us that have to change and that is simple its up to you ?

  26. It’s very convenient to believe that starvation is a result of “greedy rich bastards” that hog the wealth and refuse to share. I wish I could believe the same thing. That way, anytime I don’t have something that someone else has worked for, I could just blame it on the greed of another. Then, I wouldn’t work as hard as I do. I would be a lot more easygoing I suppose.

    But in all seriousness, let’s analyze the situation a little more. According to Webster’s (at least the one I have) greed is:
    An eager desire or longing; greediness; as, a greed of gain.
    So, what can be said about greed? What would happen in a world with no greed?

    There would probably not be business. There would probably not be many technological advances. We would all probably just do enough to get by, with no extras. We wouldn’t need specialization. We wouldn’t need trade. Those things came to be so that each person could get greater gain with the same (or less) work. That means someone came up with these ideas because they wanted more. That situation, oddly enough, resembles greed.

    If you want to regress, make greed a punishable offense. Besides, if you spend your life taking care of another person, who will take care of you?

  27. Change We Need!!!

  28. I’m so impressed with what she said back in 1992 but ashamed that so little has been done since then. It’s taken years for people to get their heads round global climate change and there is still no end to war and famine and crisis.

  29. ahhh the intelligent comments here are so refreshing, after reading some of the comments on youtube.

  30. great piece- im linking it to my blog ^_^

  31. Here a lot of people have said that others should realise there responsibility. But how much committed they are for others? On a micro level yes but on a macro level NO!!

    It’s good to educate the younger generation but till the time our oil thirsty leaders are there nothing will go in streamline, there skin has become so slippery by the lubrication of the oil trade that there words are not worthy, there mind,heart & soul are dead. What they believe in there hearts are nothing but to work in the interest of fuel guzzling countries rest are all speeches and media mop-up’s to be in the limelight, showing there T.V dependable people that they care.

    We have all the resources, Technology and power available to control the pollution levels in the entire planet earth but the will to do so is lacking by our super nuclear power countries who are harboring double standard bureaucracy and there loyalty to the trillion dollar giants . These efforts are not enough to change the world. It’s sad to know the countries who pledge to put in there best efforts to change the environment are still investing major part of there anual budget for the up keeping for defense systems and security. This only shows up what is more important to them in there priority list. Environmental issues are there but below everything else.

    Speaking for environmental issues are mere fashion statements for official, another means to take grants and loans in the name of environmental cause.

    An immense pressure needs to be put on to our governments who are more busy in reducing the interest rates on the loans rather than waving them off and streamlining there money lending policies easing off the life of people who are trapped in the vicious cycle of earning money for food. Our basic human right for Food and water has been turned into a curse by earning money to buy food. The new monitory system of modern man should be abolished.

    Our younger generation should be shown the fact, what we human biengs have done in last 100 years. Let them decide what to choose rather than creating some thing for them which they don’t require.

    people who can afford start investing in new solar power technologies for there houses and get rid of dependency for power and inspire others to do so.

    We have more than enough knowledge to survive peacefully for many generations it’s just the time to shut our mouths and work for the cause within in our own communities and involve as many people as we can. Just don’t expect something big to happen immediately, we are the powers among ourselves, just be with others, help and don’t teach.

  32. im a teeanger of 16. and though her speech may be thought of as somewhat ineffective in a sense, be aware that she has inspired many, and given voices to the many who were once silenced. props to severn, and to you as well. lovely blog 🙂


  33. it is an amazing speech.i can’t believe that she is a 12 year old girl. wow! it is realy great.

  34. amazing speech but who on earth would ACTUALLY DO WHAT SE HAS SAID ITS LIKE GO THROUGH ONE EAR COME THROUGH ANOTHER Sseriuosly amazing girl at age is really unique

  35. The world must act. Faster the Development, Sooner the Destruction. Let us try to save, preserve and protect the nature, the nature in turn, does the same to us.

    Her words touches the bottom of every heart and soul.


  36. As long as the resources are controlled and ‘made to appear scarce’, as long as this is a world run by money, there will always be the affluent and the desperate poor; environmental solutions will always be put in the least priority, and profit will always be first; science will always be halted to progress for a better world, and technology will again and again be used to win wars.

    For opening of the mind, look into

  37. I never thought that a child of 12 would make more sense than a room for of adults but I was wrong.

    Her parents must have been, and no doubt still are, very proud of her.

  38. First off great speech, amazing delivery, and I completely agree with most of the points so hats off and at such a young age. Her views on environmental improvement as well as showing the irony how what we are taught at a young age entirely contradicts the actions of the people in power really caught my attention. The only point I have a hard time grasping would be here view about sharing. After spending six months in Africa you understand that when a population of people have got to a point where they can undo any economic/societal advancements with one pull of the trigger, it takes more than some U.N. help to better these people’s lives. Education and fair government is the key to building a successful country, and the only way to uphold these movements is to rid the country of their suppressors entirely. It will take military power and people will die. Those are just the necessary loses needed to flip a country from civil wars raging year after year to a sustainable place to live. Now that cannot be achieved through just giving away your excess, for the fact that these militia will not allow it Therefore we cannot just dump our entire military budgets into some country that will have no knowledge of what to do with it. Also the simple fact that there are still dictatorships, where one mans word could have his entire country bearing arms. With that I also believe that if we were (which we won’t) to help these countries it would take a global education. Teaching farming to improve a countries agricultural situation, teaching economics and literature so people can manage what little they have as well as voice their opinion at meetings. I know that a lot of places already have this seemingly elementary education process in effect, but it is also the ability to act on your education and further your success. Success is a greed based form of self-empathy, and it drives people to try harder and push further. Taking away the peoples feeling they need try to be better would only send this world into further degradation. The opportunity to take what you have learned, the desire to learn because you know you could be a better person with education, and the freedom to voice your opinions and ideas. All main topics that could be discussed for hours. Well just on a last note, the speech was still amazing, great awareness raiser.

  39. I am really impressed with her words and confidence. What great thoughts in that little age. Still today, after 17 yrs. of her speech, there is no change in world. World is going on its own track. All of her questions are still a question without answer.

  40. Brave little girl, stupendous speech, especially for 1992.

    But today’s Environmentalists need to TELECONFERENCE instead of flying to these conferences. Think of the irony in this: An entire entourage flew on a plane thousands of miles, thereby wasting precious energy, polluting the air, damaging the ozone, injuring the environment, spending thousands of dollars (trip money) on themselves (instead of sharing it with a charity)—-just to deliver a 5 minute speech that berates OTHER PEOPLE for doing exactly the same thing.

    Actions speak louder than words. Environmentalists should teleconference, web-conference, send a video tape or DVD–instead of polluting the earth just to give a short speech telling others to “do as I say, not as I do.”

  41. Jonathan Roy

    The speech is really heart touching but still I dont think it has really made an impact upon all except 5 mins of silience and then …… goes on.

    merely listining and watching is not enough let us do something for mother earth & environment GOD has given us.


  42. The speech given by this girl was great, but little has been done to make positive changes since then. Speeches can be made day after day…decade after decade…but if the changes are not made, then its just a waste of time and energy. But i do applaud the efforts of her father and herself and pray that we all wake up from this artificial life and make changes for the best.

  43. while i like what you have done with the speech thats really inspiring to have read! yeah those guys FINALLY open their eyes, they’ve been so blinded!

  44. I believe it’s the things like this speech that go viral and allow thousands to be impacted that truly DO change the world. If you believe this speech ages ago has done nothing, the truth of the matter is, YOU have done nothing. Every person who watches this has the ability to make things different in their life. The more we spread the word and the more we get future generations involved, the more we CAN make a difference.

  45. They didnt open their eyes very far. Everytime you look in the internet at recent news stuff is being chopped down. When you watch nature, thousands of species’ population is diminishing faster and faster because their homes are being destroyed. The U.N. at that time might have listend but they didn’t listen very long because i still dont see a change in what they do or a change in my world.

  46. Nice speech, good inspiration, but it really didn’t do anything. Sorry, but actions speak louder than words. If she did something impacting, if she did something that motivated others to do such like she did, show the UN the importance etc. we would have probably progressed. Because words are just words for the big leaders out there, and the only way you can effect them to help etc. is when you do something.

  47. Dennis Jason Stelmack

    2 B able 2 C all the colors the world has to offer, each and everyday 🙂
    There is a valuable resource mankind has turned a blind eye on, spacejunk. 2 hear my ideas on using this resource 2 slow and eventually stop global warming.
    Please watch a Youtube video titled “HOPE 20X”
    Feel free 2 comment and or post any opinions. It’s a small step that anyone can do 2 help. Because colors are definitely worth it, or R they…

  48. Bravest thing i’ve ever seen

  49. God shuld open d eyes of nigerian govt 2 c 2 this view

  50. Do you mind if I quote a couple of your posts as long as I provide credit and sources back to
    your website? My blog is in the exact same niche
    as yours and my users would certainly benefit from a lot of the information you provide here.
    Please let me know if this ok with you. Thanks a lot!

    • Yes, you can quote my posts up to 5 sentences as long as you do provide credit and a source link back to my site. Thank you! Please email me and let me know where you use it. I appreciate it, Shelley.

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