While the world waits to see if the leader of the free world, President Barak Obama, will attend the most important international environmental summit in decades -- The Rio Earth Summit -- another great orator is already confirmed to address global leaders about the future of life on our planet. Brittany Trilford, a 17-year-old school girl from Wellington, New Zealand is the winner of an international search for a person under the age of 30 to represent youth and future generations at the Earth Summit this June 20-22 in Rio De Janeiro. Brittany is the winner of the" Date with History Contest " organized by the Global Campaign for Climate Action, Climate Nexus and the Natural Resoures Defense Council (NRDC). You can watch Brittany's winning entry here.
Brittany will be following in the footsteps of another great young orator who spoke at the original Earth Summit held in 1992 also in Rio De Janeiro. Twenty years ago, a 12 year old girl named Severn Suzuki was said to "silence the world" with her powerful plea for environmental sustainability on behalf of future generations at The Earth Summit. Severn, daughter of famed environmental activist David Suzuki, founded Environmental Children's Organization (ECO) when she was only 9 years old to inspire children to learn and teach others about the environment. She and fellow ECO members raised the funds to travel from her native Canada to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 where she delivered the speech that is now an internet sensation.
I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am hear to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals who are dying because they have nowhere left to go...And now we hear of animals and plants going extinct every day, vanishing forever...In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of animals, jungles and rain forests, full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see. Did you have to worry of these things when you were my age? All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act like we have all the time we want and all of the solutions. I am only a child and I don't have all the solutions, but I want you to realize neither do you...If you don't know how to fix it, please stop breaking it...
Today, Severn Suzuki, a Yale educated ecologist and biologist, author, speaker and television host, is a mother herself. She is returning to Rio to participate in the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit, now called The Rio + 20 Earth Summit. And as a judge in the "Date with History Contest" Ms. Suzuki participated in choosing Brittany as her successor, a young person who can speak truth to power at the Rio + 20 Earth Summit.
An online public vote determined regional finalists in the speech contest, following which Brittany was selected by a diverse jury of over 20 individuals. In addition to Severn Suzuki, the jury included more than a dozen respected youth leaders from around the world, Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke, UN Foundation President Timothy E. Wirth, actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, actor and activist Hayden Panettiere, former Brazilian Environment Minister Marina Silva, Brazilian actor and activist Sergio Marone and even noted high level names such as Dr. Kandeh K. Yumkella, Director-General, UN Industrial Development Organization and Co-Chair Secretary General's High Level Group on Sustainable Energy for All and UNFCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres.
Christiana Figueres commented that this initiative is important because "we know that we are currently borrowing the planet from our children and grandchildren, so it is only fitting that their voice be the clarion call of Rio."
Dr Kandeh Yumkella says of his involvement in the contest jury, "Accounting for more than half of the world's population, young people must take a leading role in forging tomorrow's world. In an increasingly interconnected world this calls for effective collective and collaborative action and communication. The international community must ensure new ways of effectively engaging youth in development. 'Date With History' provides a unique opportunity to continue this engagement."
22-year-old actress and international spokesperson for The Whaleman Foundation, Hayden Panettiere, has been on the front lines of activism since she was 15. "Young people intuitively understand that we need to work together on the issues that matter most to our future." said Hayden, "And I'm really glad to be a part of and support 'Date With History' as a platform that gets more young voices involved to inspire the urgent actions we need for protecting our oceans and our planet from further degradation."
More than 150 Heads of state and government will attend the Earth Summit, in the midst of a convergence of crises unlike any seen in our history. Public pressure may well stimulate attendance by key actors, such as President Obama, who are still undecided about attending. The diverse range of organizations involved in the 'Date With History' initiative including TckTckTck, Climate Nexus, the UN Foundation, Music for Relief, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Canadian Council of Churches, David Suzuki Foundation and UNESCO Etxea are hopeful that engaging young voices will help to ensure the conference elicits decisive action from governments.
To hear from winner Brittany, some celebrity supporters, and the other finalists of Date With History, watch here.
Brittany, who will be flying to Rio in June to take part in the historic summit explains her mission there as follows:
"I entered 'Date With History' to show solidarity with youth around the world, demanding that our leaders remember we are all their children and they owe us a fighting chance at a future we want to inherit. They need to act now so that we have a bright future, free from fear. I feel honoured to take up my obligation to stand up and be counted as one of my generation and the wisdom of youth at Rio+20."
Severn Suzuki, who had the original Date with History 20 years ago at the first Earth Summit has this advice for Brittany:
"Don't be afraid to speak the truth on the world stage. More than ever, we need the voice of youth to cut through our justification of why we continue to value profit more than peoples' health, our ecosystems' sustainability, and justice for the future. Remember you are there representing those who go unheard. And speak what we all know, deep down, to be true."
Watch here to see congratulations and best wishes to Brittany offered by these notable celebrities: Actress Julia Louis Dreyfus, currently starring in HBO's Veep, Environmentalist couple actress Amy Smart and TV personality Carter Oosterhouse, Twilight star Rachelle Lefevre, Olympian figure skater Michelle Kwan, and Actor Peter Fonda.