We’re happy to announce Severn Cullis-Suzuki as keynote speaker at this year’s Impact Startup Fest. Severn addressed the United Nations at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 as a twelve-year-old. She’s been an adamant advocate for intergenerational justice since. She will share her inspiring take on things at Impact Startup Fest later this month.
“In 1992, when I was twelve years old, I was at the Rio Earth Summit as an advocate for my future. I was there because I was very worried about what was happening to the earth and I wanted to tell the world how I felt,” Severn Cullis-Suzuki shares.
She was raised in a family of activists: “As a child I learned a lot about what it means to take responsibility. I learned to take my responsibility as an engaged citizen very seriously. So I have continued to speak out – as a child, as a youth advocate, as a young adult, and today I continue to speak out for my children.”
“Many things have changed since the Rio Earth Summit. We now live in a world where climate change is not just a prediction, it is a reality. So this is our reality, this is what we’re dealing with, a generation since Rio.”
“We have many new tools and, at the same time, we have many new challenges,” she says. “Our globalized economy and the way in which the world is organized is systematically wrong. And this is at the crux of our problem, of our environmental crisis, of our identity crisis as human beings. We are animals that have always survived by looking to the future, but we are not doing that today.”
“Indigenous people have maintained the relationships with the earth that have allowed them to survive for millennia. They still know how to live in harmony” – Severn Cullis-Suzuki, activist for intergenerational justice
“Now we must ask ourselves, how can this economic system that we have built, that is focused on profit and economic growth, create a viable future for our children? We’re trying to make the environmental and the green economy work, but it’s still an economy based on endless profit in our current capitalist system. We have to be honest about this,” she adds.
“We have to focus on what will actually make real societal shift. We have to be honest about climate change. And we have to reintroduce ethics into our main framework for human organizing. We have to reintroduce values into this system, because otherwise we’re just going to continue on this path,” she argues adamantly. “That is what the Earth Charter is trying to do, introduce human ethics to our system of organizing.”
In this light, she urges us to focus on our relationship with Indigenous peoples. This may seem like a stretch, but really, it is not: “Indigenous people are the ones that still today by and large have maintained the relationships with the earth that have allowed them to survive for millennia. We have lost those relationships, they have not. They still know how to live in harmony.”
“The relationships include hard-earned protocols and rules for how to be a human being, how to conduct your culture, how to conduct your spirituality, how to conduct your resource management so that you won’t eat up all your resources and be starving next winter, or in ten winters, or in a hundred winters.”
“We need a deep understanding of why Indigenous perspectives, world views, and relationships to the world are absolutely fundamental to us achieving any sort of real harmony with this earth,” she summarizes.
“Indigenous people – human beings – aren’t saints,” she adds. “It’s not because people are noble savages that want to do good to other creatures. This is survival. This is hard-earned wisdom, there were droughts, there were famines, there were times when people harvested too much and people died. And that memory has been preserved and embedded in cultural practices. That memory and building in of practice in the form of cultural values is how we survive.”
We are all Indigenous
“We all originally come from Indigenous societies. We are Indigenous to this planet,” she reminds us. “And even today, as we live in a completely dehumanized world, we still depend on air, water, and the earth for providing our food. Even though we are denying these realities, as vigorously as we can, we are from this earth.”
“So I’m continuing to work for the future. I think that we have real work to do,” she says. “Today, we have a monolithic dehumanizing economic structure that dictates global culture, and we have done this in such a short time. It has precipitated a period that we are now living through, an incredible bottleneck of diversity on all different levels – not just of economic systems, but also of biological creatures, and diversity of cultures in the ethnosphere.”
Intergenerational justice: Owning the human story
What’s more, “We are perpetuating intergenerational injustice: climate change is the ultimate example of an intergenerational crime,” she says. “It is going to take real honesty and it’s going to take a drastic change in our thinking and our economic framework,” she says. “But there’s people all around the world that are working on it. We have to commit to real change.”
“We are at a rare moment in human history where future generations are not a priority and are not part of our decision making. Our children will inherit our ecological debts.” But, she says, “This is also an incredible time to be alive. Each of our actions matter. We have the opportunity to be part of a narrative transformation, to play a role in the human story.”