Published in the Spring 2005 issue • Features
Severn Saves the World
Well, maybe we’re exaggerating slightly. But she’s definitely doing her part.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki has a natural instinct when it comes to caring about where she lives. Her global heart and mind have made the 25-year-old one of Canada’s most well-known environmental and social justice youth activists.
At the age of nine, Vancouver-born Cullis-Suzuki and some friends started the Environmental Children’s Organization to educate themselves and their peers about environmental issues. In 1992, when she was 12 years old, Cullis-Suzuki delivered a powerful address to political representatives at the very first United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. She spent a good portion of her teenage years traveling, speaking and working with people to raise awareness about our impact on the planet — and still had time to play on the basketball team. In 2000, she cycled across Canada with some friends in a campaign for clean air called Powershift 2000.
She’s hosted television shows, written numerous articles on environmental issues and published a book, Tell The World. Her strong passion and dedication to people and the planet earned her the UN Environment Program’s Global 500 Award and a spot on Secretary-General Kofi Anan’s Special Advisory Panel.
With a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Yale University under her belt, Cullis-Suzuki is working on her masters in Ethnobotany at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. As an Action Canada Fellow (part of a leadership-building program), she is currently putting together a book about Canadian youth who are making positive changes in their communities. But she squeezed in some time to chat with Shameless writer Jes Markoff.
What’s the most pressing environmental issue Canadians face?
Climate change pertains to us because we are a northern nation, and so much of our country is in or near the Arctic. Arctic communities are feeling the effects of climate change. They’re going to have to start being relocated and they’re going to have to figure out how to deal with their economy being completely disrupted by these huge global changes. So that’s some impetus for us to start paying attention to our fossil fuel consumption, to our unsustainable systems and how that has repercussions on the rest of the world. I think we could be a leader in dealing with climate change.
Is it dangerous to look at environmental issues as being separate from other problems in the world?
To me, the environment is everything: it’s the air that we breathe, it’s the resources from which we derive our economy, it’s the means for our survival and it’s everything that surrounds us. Thinking of it as something that is separate means that we’re never going to find a truly sustainable way of living. And sustainable simply means living in a way today that won’t compromise tomorrow. It’s a pretty straightforward, very economic concept.
When I think about topics that we should be dealing with, like poverty, I don’t put the environment as a separate priority. Sustainability and keeping the environment in mind should be a standard, underneath or within all of those issues. Unless it’s built in to the way we deal with ourselves, we’re not really going to find any solutions because the environment is just where we live.