Severn has been an activist for intergenerational justice her whole life – justice for future generations. Deeply concerned about the environment as a child, she started the Environmental Children’s Organization with friends in grade five, which culminated a few years later in a speech to the UN Earth Summit in 1992 at age 12. The speech is still making the rounds as “the girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes.”
If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it!Plenary session address by Severn, age 12, to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 11, 1992.
Severn continued to advocate for future generations, traveling extensively to speak out about the legacy of our destructive time, and about returning to our deepest human values, and human scales. As a teenager she was appointed to the Earth Charter Commission, and is very proud of the principles of the Earth Charter – a universal set of guidelines for human conduct with respect to the planet (earthcharter.org). She continues today on the Earth Charter International Council.
While studying Evolutionary Biology at Yale University, Severn spearheaded Powershift 2000, a cycling trip across Canada for clean air and climate change awareness, and the Recognition of Responsibility pledge – which she brought to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg 2002, where she was a special advisor to the Secretary General. In 2012, ten years later, Severn returned to Rio once again for the UN Rio+20 conference, as a Champion for youth group ‘We Canada.’ Severn has collaborated with the Sloth Club in Japan on four speaking tours focusing on the Slow movement, and the post-Fukushima Million Mothers Movement, driven by mothers who refuse nuclear power. Severn is an Action Canada Fellow (‘04-‘05), and co-editor for the book Notes from Canada’s Young Activists (Greystone Books, 2007). Severn was a Board member of the David Suzuki Foundation for 14 years, and was a founding member of the Haida Gwaii Higher Education Society.
Severn very much believes in using media to communicate; she collaborated with filmmakers in several documentaries including Jean Paul Jaud’s film Severn: La Voix de Nos Enfants, as well as hosted the TV show Suzuki’s NatureQuest, and the water-focused TV series Samaqan: Water Stories, for four seasons on Canada’s Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN).
In 2017, Severn and her ECO friends, now adults with families of their own, marked the 25th anniversary of their trip to the UN’s Earth Summit in Rio, and the speech that “silenced the world for 5 minutes,” by inviting youth today to participate in an anniversary video project. The video below is the online version of this special event.
Severn honoured the generational turn of the speech by encouraging youth from across Canada, the US, Japan and Brazil to give the speech again. To breathe new life into the speech. To speak truth to power. And, to take ownership of the speech and record themselves saying these words today to remind adults of their responsibility to their children and to themselves. 25 years on, a generation later, the original speech is still making its rounds on the internet. Severn hopes to continue this project on an ongoing basis, as more and more students and youth are encouraged to recite the speech, or parts of the speech, and upload their videos to Severn’s “I’m Only a Child, but…” YouTube page.
Today Severn’s focus is the nexus of decline in diversity of biodiversity, worldviews, economies, language, traditional knowledge and identity. She holds an M.Sc. in Ethnoecology from the University of Victoria, and is currently a Vanier and Public scholar PhD candidate studying endangered language revitalization. Severn lives on the archipelago of Haida Gwaii off the coast of British Columbia, with her husband Judson Brown and their two sons.