From the October 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
Ten years ago at the Rio Earth Summit a 12-year old schoolgirl from Vancouver, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, made a speech to delegates that astonished them. It is worth repeating part of that address :
“I am only a child, yet I know that if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this would be. In school you teach us not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share, not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? You grownups say you love us, but I challenge you, please, to make your actions reflect your words.”
That speech had such an impact that she became a frequent invitee to UN conferences. She is now 22, with a BSc in biology from Yale University and she attended the recent conference in Johannesburg as a member of Kofi Annan's World Summit advisory panel. So what does she make of the progress in the last 10 years?
“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 the power of an individual's voice to reach them has been deeply shaken” (Time, 2 September).
Cullis-Suzuki's pessimism is well founded when you compare some of the figures over the last 10 years :
- Then 17 million refugees, now 20 million refugees.
- Then 5,000 species threatened, now 11,000 species.
- Then rainforests being depleted at 17,000 sq.km a year,now speeding up to 1 percent depletion per year.
- Then carbon dioxide omissions 356 parts per million in the atmosphere, now 370 parts per million.
The list is long and horrifying, for instance the Antarctic ozone hole is now three times the size of the United States. Cullis-Suzuki has now retreated from her schoolgirl world view into organising locally to get people to cut down on household garbage, consuming less and using their car less frequently. What a dreadful commentary on this awful society of capitalism that it turns youthful zeal and enthusiasm into pathetic and petty reformism.
Socialists don't make the mistake of appealing to the governments of the world to stop polluting our world, because we know that is futile. Instead we call on our fellow workers to join us in the struggle to rid the world for ever of the cause of these problems, world capitalism. Only then will we be able to attain that 12 year old's beautiful vision . “What a wonderful place this would be”.