by Kennedy Graham
Well I never.
If the planet is going to be saved, or rather protected so humanity can be saved, looks like it’s the women who are going to pull it off.
I surprise myself with this. Always favoured feminine freedoms and empowerment, albeit radical feminism with less masculine passion. But men and women, I thought, would make equal contribution, whether through common talent or ‘comparative advantage’.
Yet in the hour of need, it is the women of Rio+20 who are taking up the torch of leadership. I do not see any man, so far, inspiring us at Rio – with that elusive touch of empathy and anger, steely determination, and high skill.
Of course nothing is simple. We have women leaders. There is Merkel, and Rousseff, Clark and Lagarde. Do they make a qualitative difference, from within? Maybe, but they are constrained, and it is, with few exceptions, those outside who are inspiring people.
What is this, then? Is it the protective gene driving them, over here? Men have that, back over there. So what is different? Is it Mother Earth speaking through Earth Mother? Something mysteriously natural – through the womb? Speaking, in a way men cannot? In a manner beyond, even, our comprehension?
Enter Room T-4, Rio Centro, Tuesday evening, Rio de Janeiro. There is a panel. On the panel are three women, in particular. Together, they inspire the world that is assembled before them.
One is in mid-life. The second is 32. The third is 17.
Christiana de Figueres is from Costa Rica. She is Executive Secretary of UNFCCC. I mentioned her earlier, with less fanfare, for neglecting my tough question at the Legislator’s Summit. But perhaps she had a point. Because she aims to inspire where I seek to reason.
I have known Christiana a bit, having met her in her presidential home in San Jose, when I worked on global parliamentary affairs with her mother. Karen de Figueres Beck was a young Danish student who wed the leader of the Costa Rican revolution in the ‘40s. Marilyn and I attended the presidential campaign rally of Christiana’s brother in January ‘93, from back of stage, nervously. Colourful in the extreme. He won. They’re in the habit of winning, that family.
You could say Christiana is in the system. She does not act like it. She is that rare species – a fearless, outspoken leader from within.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki, from Canada, was twelve years old when she gave probably the most memorable speech of all at the 1st Earth Summit in ’92. You can find it on You-tube. It is still inspiring today. I mean, can anyone recall what George H W Bush said, apart from “the American lifestyle is not up for negotiation”? Not on You-tube.
If it is true that Severn’s draft had help from a famous father, too bad. She gave it at 12. Who doesn’t get help with homework from dad?
Today, Severn makes the most impassioned speech at 32, nostalgic over her memorable experience twenty years back, aggrieved at the lack of action since then, defiantly hopeful for her young children’s future. She has not lost her gift, and her maturity adds poise and fervour. “Let us be honest. Governments have failed. Citizens need to be engaged”.
During questions, it is overwhelmingly the women at the mike. Many are indigenous Canadians. Tears flow freely, with dignity.
Severn is asked: why doesn’t she run for office? She might, she says, at the right time. She challenges Figueres to do so. Figueres says she’d decided, early on, to act at the global, not national, level. What is needed now, she says, is national action in pursuit of the planetary interest.
I have heard that phrase before. I catch her on the way out. We discuss my 1999 book.
On the panel she comes up with an intriguing proposal. The lead negotiators should negotiate. Not bad for a start. And when they negotiate, they should negotiate with their own children in the room.
See what I mean?
Britanny Trilford, from New Zealand, rounds off the leadership trio. She is our very own, if that is not too patronising. I mentioned her before, addressing the Legislators’ World Summit on Sunday. Brittany, as global youth representative, is the official celebrity. She has the gift of speaking with sincerity and passion. Pause, smack. Pause, smack. If she founders a trifle with tricky questions before a tough audience, it is because she is remarkably young and because we all can. This is high-level stuff. She is learning her way, fast and with aplomb. She is doing us proud.
Wednesday, Brittany speaks to the world leaders, in the opening morning of the UN’s Rio+20 Earth Summit. She has 6 minutes.
I trust they listen.