Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Support quality journalism
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24weeks
The Globe and Mail
Support quality journalism
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Globe and Mail website displayed on various devices
Just$1.99
per week
for the first 24weeks

var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){console.log("scroll");var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1);

She is named after a river in England known for a rare natural phenomenon.

The Severn River has a tidal range that is second largest in the world and, when conditions are right, the incoming tide meets the river's waters in the estuary to create a large surge wave known as the Severn Bore.

"Oh, my family often reminds me of that. They love to call me the Severn Bore."

Story continues below advertisement

The "me" is Severn Cullis-Suzuki.

It could be that her family teases her because she can go on and on about the need for new thinking about the world's environmental problems.

Then again, they are guilty of that, too. Her father is David Suzuki, the Original Green Guru; and her mother is Tara Cullis, a former English-language lecturer at Harvard University and noted environmentalist who runs the Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver.

Or maybe they mean that Ms. Cullis-Suzuki, herself a rising activist, is a force of nature, a great surge of conviction and energy.

In the Leslie Street Spit, a parkland in Toronto's downtown, where her parents often brought her on outings as a young girl, she is perched on a tree log as if it's a comfortable stool, and answering questions with the confidence of someone navigating a ship through a storm.

Despite the gravity of the environmental issue and her concern about the world's problems, there is a lightness about her, a fresh sort of airiness.

"I am called an environmentalist a lot," she explains. "But I don't necessarily identify with that word specifically, because of the compartmentalization of the so-called environmental movement. And part of what I think is important now is connection.

Story continues below advertisement

"It's about integration of all these different elements; the environment, health, social justice, economics. All of these things are so absolutely interconnected.... Fragmentation is a big part of the problem. You have a city where trash is taken away from the curb every week, and you don't see it any more, and you don't have any sense of where water comes from. So there's no sense of responsibility and accountability and there's also no sense of empowerment for our actions."

Important causes often turn new converts into strident drum-beaters calling for action. But Ms. Cullis-Suzuki has a self-possession and nuanced intellectual engagement that belie her 27 years. Which is not surprising. New convert she is not. At the age of 9, she and some friends founded a group called the Environmental Children's Organization.

They heard about the first UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, then took it upon themselves to raise money in order to attend the conference in 1992. That's how Ms. Cullis-Suzuki found herself, at the age of 12, addressing a sea of delegates, some of whom were reportedly brought to tears over the anguished plea of a child in pigtails who said: "I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don't know what chemicals are in it. ... Did you have to worry about these things when you were my age?"

She got a standing ovation and a handshake from Al Gore.

While still in high school, she became an internationally sought-after speaker and held several adviser positions for the United Nations, including that of Earth Charter Commissioner at 15.

She attended Yale University, where she studied sciences, and helped draft a "Recognition of Responsibility" pledge that called on young people to be accountable for how their daily actions and habits affect the environment. In 2002, the year she graduated, she was featured in Vanity Fair magazine's Hall of Fame.

Story continues below advertisement

Currently, she is completing a master's degree at the University of Victoria in ethnoecology, a cross-cultural study of how humans interact with the environment. Earlier this year, she helped to edit a collection of essays titled Notes from Canada's Young Activists.

"I never thought that just because my dad is David Suzuki, I had to do this [activism]thing," she says.

She doesn't like to be seen as just another pea in the Suzuki pod. She refused to get involved with the Suzuki Foundation until a few years ago, "not as a rebellion, but as a pretty conscious decision."

Why? "Well, that would really be too easy," she responds with a laugh. "I should just wear a little sign saying, 'Mini Me.' I don't want to pretend that I am a little David Suzuki, because I am not. I'm really different. I have different issues. I'm more interested in the social aspect of environmental issues. ... In the context of climate change and of the scale of environmental issues, I am interested in how that's going to play out for human suffering and also for human prosperity."

Her activism is more than a cause. It's her engagement with the world, she says, and has enriched her life in sometimes unexpected ways.

From an early age, she made visits to the Queen Charlotte Islands because her parents, now based in Vancouver, were involved in aboriginal issues. Earlier this year, she became engaged to Judson Brown, a Haida park warden in the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve.

Story continues below advertisement

"I met him about 10 years ago, and we were just friends and, I don't know, priorities shift," she explains with a palpable sense of wonder over the way life unfolds. They will marry next year, she says, and it is likely she will live on the Queen Charlottes.

"I am thinking about the whole global/local thing; where you can have the most impact. It will be different living in a community rather than just visiting it. But I am very interested in identity and cultural issues and cultural fusion," she continues.

"Maybe I'll write about it: The Haida Diaries. Or rather the Haida Japanese British Diaries," she says, referring to her father's Asian ancestry and her mother's British heritage.

Ms. Cullis-Suzuki is not the perfect green crusader, she says, admitting that she owns a car. But she does what she can: She limits use of the car; tries to group various meetings when she comes to Toronto so she doesn't have to fly very often; buys carbon credits when she does; shops for second-hand clothes or those designed and manufactured locally, and chooses local, unpackaged food when possible.

She acknowledges there is some anger beneath her determination to be positive. "I feel angry that I have been born into a society where, by no choice of my own, by no agreement, by no actual decision, I am inherently complicit in the destruction of the world. It is hard to do the right thing. You have to be militant. You have to be an activist. You have to be branded as green to do the right thing," she says in a rare strident outcry.

"What kind of progressive society is that? That's what people should be mad about. That's what people should want to change."

Story continues below advertisement

And that's what she wants to do: motivate people not with fear over the state of the world, but with hope for what can be done. Society's blind enthusiasm for the culture of the car - as transportation, as lifestyle, as thrill, as status-maker - should be examined, she offers.

Watch out for the surge in solutions, she seems to be saying, and catch the wave.

Hey, that's what they do in England. If your timing is right, you can surf the Severn Bore.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies