Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"If you don't know how to fix it, stop breaking it"

It just may be the most compelling speech ever given on why we should feel morally compelled to do everything we can to minimize the adverse impacts of climate change. It certainly tops anything I've heard from any elected official during the current climate bill discussions here in the U.S.

The speech I'm referring to was given over 17 years ago. It was delivered by a 12-year-old schoolgirl and as far as I'm concerned makes the case for why children should also have a voice at the upcoming Copenhagen Summit in December.

Copenhagen Summit: Children get a say on climate change

By Deon Robertze and Paul Clements-Hunt

The Telegraph

October 20, 2009

No one who saw it will ever forget Severn Suzuki's six-minute address to the United Nations Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. The 12-year-old Canadian schoolgirl berated the gathering for allowing greed and apathy to devastate the environment and jeopardise the future of our planet. Her audience, who had heard it all before, were captivated by a child's insight and honesty.

"If you don't know how to fix it, stop breaking it," she begged them. It made more sense than any of the rhetoric that preceeded it.

Seventeen years on from that landmark summit, there are millions of children like Suzuki worldwide who care passionately about the environment. From an early age, they have been bombarded with news and images highlighting the threats and perils posed by global warming. They worry about shrinking glaciers and polar bears stranded on ice flows, about disappearing rainforests and wildlife, and the droughts and floods attributed to man-made climate change.

They have grown up with the knowledge that the Earth's resources are finite, and that unsustainable use of them has widespread environmental, social and economic impacts. Indeed, with climate change now firmly embedded in the national curriculum, children are more clued up than their parents. You are more likely to get knowing nods from a class of 14-year-olds when you mention the dangers of going above "450 parts per million" of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, than from your dinner-party guests.

At the same time, the carbon-intensive lifestyles of many high-flying professional parents have become a target for their green activist offspring. In the home, children are the driving force for change to an environmentally aware way of living, from the choice of car to turning off taps and TV sets to recycling household waste.

So when 192 countries gather in Copenhagen in early December for the latest in a series of UN summits on climate change, the world's youth will have plenty to say – if they are given the chance. Unfortunately, whenever business leaders, environmentalists and heads of state get together to thrash out a framework for meeting the global challenge, the average age hovers somewhere around 55.

Most people involved in the worldwide rescue plan won't be around to see whether it works or not. Their children will, though. As will yours and mine. If anyone should have a say in what the world will look like in 50 years' time, shouldn't it be them?

Enter Consider Us. Originally conceived to highlight this week's Cape Town Green Week and the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) Finance Initiative Roundtable (www.unepfi.org) on sustainable finance, Consider Us is intended to give children a voice in determining their own future.

Youngsters between the ages of six and 18 were asked to explain, in 20 words, why world leaders should consider them when signing their climate-change treaties. What is precious about our world? Why is it worth saving? These messages are then published on a dedicated website as a voice of the generation with most to lose.

The results, so far, are sobering. Once you step away from jargon and buzzwords, and you hear it in the stripped-down words of a child, it's not hard to sense the urgency of finding a meaningful solution. As one child has written: "If the Earth doesn't survive, who will?"

And this is the essence of Consider Us. It's a reminder to adults of exactly what it is they're committing to. A bound compilation of the messages will be taken to Copenhagen to accompany the more cautious statements of politicians and diplomats. But for Consider Us to register an impact on the climate-change debate, it needs to become a global petition – and this is where British children come in.

A recent survey of 3,000 children in the UK, France, Germany and Spain by the Energy Saving Trust has found that pupils here know and understand more about the science behind climate change than their peers elsewhere in Europe.

They are ideally placed to make a contribution by adding their messages to the website over the coming weeks, and, just as they
have done in their homes and communities, initiate change.

If Copenhagen is to succeed where its predecessor, Kyoto, fell short – to become Hopenhagen, as some have said – then world leaders must walk away on December 18 with a signed plan in their back pockets that does more than tick a few token boxes. Harnessing the passion and commitment of our children, and reminding the powerful exactly whose future they have in their hands, just might a difference.

•For information on how you can get your children involved, visit www.considerus.org See also www.hopenhagen.org


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