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Teen’s Call: ‘We, the Next Generation, Demand Change’

Editor's note: Brittany Trilford is a 17-year-old New Zealander. She recently won the Date With History competition to address world leaders at the Rio+20 Earth Summit. The following is the transcript from that address Wednesday. Or simply watch the video.

Tena Koutou from New Zealand. My name is Brittany Trilford. I am 17-years old, a child. Today, in this moment, I am all children, your children, the world’s 3 billion children. Think of me for these short minutes as half the world.

I stand here with fire in my heart. I’m confused and angry at the state of the world and I want us to work together now to change this. We are here to solve the problems that we have caused as a collective, to ensure that we have a future.

You and your governments have promised to reduce poverty and sustain our environment. You have already promised to combat climate change, ensure clean water and food security. Multi-national corporations have already pledged to respect the environment, green their production, compensate for their pollution. These promises have been made and yet, still, our future is in danger.

We are all aware that time is ticking and is quickly running out. You have 72 hours to decide the fate of your children, my children, my children’s children. And I start the clock now . . . tck tck tck.

Let us think back to 20 years ago – well before I was even an inkling in my parents’ eyes – back to here, to Rio, where people met at the first Earth Summit in 1992. People at this Summit knew there needed to be change. All of our systems were failing and collapsing around us. These people came together to acknowledge these challenges to work for something better, commit to something better.

They made great promises, promises that, when I read them, still leave me feeling hopeful. These promises are left – not broken, but empty. How can that be? When all around us is the knowledge that offers us solutions. Nature as a design tool offers insight into systems that are whole, complete, that give life, create value, allow progress, transformation, change.

We, the next generation, demand change. We demand action so that we have a future and have it guaranteed. We trust that you will, in the next 72 hours, put our interests ahead of all other interests and boldly do the right thing. Please, lead. I want leaders who lead.

I am here to fight for my future. That is why I’m here. I would like to end by asking you to consider why you’re here and what you can do. Are you here to save face? Or are you here to save us?


By Linda Leigh (Levittown, Pa 19054)
on June 21st, 2012

I think you did a wonderful job.  You speach was so honest & I’ll bet made most of those attendees feel ashamed.  I certainly &  sincerely hiope it also shocks them into doing something positive for the world!!!! 
You seem like a very intellegent, committed teenager & I wish there were many more like you than there are. I know the world has many sensible teens but not nearly enough.  I hope you & others like you can lead the world in the near future but I am afraid it is too late. Well lets hope I am wrong. I have grandchildren for whom I want a wonderful world to exist.


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By Keith Jacobson (Minneapolis, MN 55430)
on June 24th, 2012

WOW. What a great speech!!! I’m so impressed… it is indeed extremely maddening that our leaders continue to do nothing about this.  I have several young nephews and nieces and it worries me considerably about what kind of future they have if this global warming continues…..

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By Pat McFarland (Averill Park, NY 12018)
on June 30th, 2012

Brittany, you have my deep appreciation and I applaud you for your speech at Rio.

I too, have fire in my heart, and I have felt this way since I was your age and volunteered in the then “new” Environmental movement.  Change must be expected and it must now more than ever be demanded.  It must also be required that it be brought to fruition peacefully.

You are right to demand change, you are right to insist that sustainable practices be implemented now.  The ability to do this has existed for many decades and although well known to those with the ability to implement these practices and products, they have not been put into use or made widely available.

There is no time left to be arguing why this has occurred. The time has come to make the change, unless perhaps, we have missed our last chances.

I would add one concept to everyone looking to “others” to carry out this vital mission:

Begin with yourself, walk your talk.  Don’t wait for government or business to take the lead.  Go forward in the place you occupy right now and expect yourself, your friends, and your family, to live consciously. If need be, demand they live their lives with wisdom and an open heart, and with the understanding that every choice carries an impact.

You can buy land and protect it. You can make this work your life’s work in science, engineering, in the arts, in any field. If you buy a house, choose one that can be retrofitted for sustainable energy, if you build, build using energy efficient techniques.  Grow some of your own food.  Plant and orchard. Make space for the living creatures that share the space you use. Know that nature is powerful and can be harsh but that it is home to all beauty as well.  Observe before you choose. Use water wisely.  Filter what you drink, renew, if you can, what you release back into nature.  I believe everyone knows on some level what they can do to make positive changes.  The list is long and one of positive choices for healthy living.

We exist within multiple living systems and we are truly dependent on them.  The health of these natural systems means life or death to everything and everyone connected. The humilty that comes with recognizing this is a gift.  Natural systems are suffering because we have all ignorantly treated nature as something to mistreat or consume and then throw away.  They joy of appreciating our role in the web of life is amazing!

Each one, teach one, is a way forward.  Live by example!

I have lived in a small solar house for over 30 years!  It was built utilizing the tax credit Jimmy Carter put in place during his administration. Thank you President Carter!  All I intended to do was to live respectfully and peacefully on this earth.  Like you, Brittany, I expected much change to come and it did not.  I tried for more than 40 years to convince my family and friends to open their minds. I had some small success and a great deal of frustration. 

It was so hard to watch the greed and excesses that followed in the decades of the 1980s and 1990s.  My fellow environmentalists watched too and it saddened us because we knew then what would happen if people did not make important changes in the way they live.  We are seeing those results now.

Know you are walking on a welcoming path. There are so many like you around the world who are with you, and who need you, and who are looking to you to take your rightful place in this effort.  All that is required of you, of any of us, is to stay in love with our beautiful and irreplaceable planet home.

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