In June 1992, the United Nations held a conference on environment and development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A 12-year-old Canadian girl approaches the podium dressed in a floral summer dress, the picture of teenage nervous solemnity. Her opening words fall on the delegates' heads like a tonne of bricks, leaving them deadpan for the rest of her speech: "I am fighting for my future. Losing my future is not like losing an election or a few points on the stock market".
Her painful message delivers a calm but blatant exposé of the double-standards that adults use to justify how carelessly they are destroying the future of all species. Loose ponytail, sweaty hands but steady, her gaze looks directly into the eyes of every adult in the audience. Unfortunately for Severn Cullis-Susuki, her call to arms is delivered in the pre-social networks society, failing to reach out to the millions of teenagers that could have seconded her plight.
However, as Samuel Adams once said: "It does not take a majority to prevail... but rather an irate, tireless minority, keen to set brush fires of freedom in the minds of men". In April 2008, a Kuala Lumpur blogger loads Severn's speech as "The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes" - a very appropriate Stig Larsson's title, and her act of valour is watched by 25 million people.
Severn's fears, legacy and 'fighting' disposition are today running deep within the minds and hearts of teens playing in a digital network near you. If you thought that your children were clubbing with Penguins or feeding livestock on a digital farm oblivious to the threat of ecological disasters, smell the coffee that organisations running such networks have uncovered.
The first report emerging in 2009 in the United States conducted by Discovery Communications, a powerhouse in the nonfiction broadcast media, brings to attention a sample of 500 American preteens 56% of which worried about the planet becoming a blasted heath or at least a very unpleasant place to live. 28% said that they feared animals would become extinct. In the same year, a separate study of UK children found only 11% of those surveyed to be carefree, or free from worry. The research involved interviews with 200,000 children aged 6 to 14.
While the natural disasters broadcasted by the media worldwide have created a widespread sentiment of hyper-locality amongst adults, the teenage mindset has put its own spin on it: it wonders to what extent global warming is to blame for it, and rippling from it, it feels impotent and puzzled at the thought of adults destroying nature as if it was a means to an industrialist end. In 2012 children, empowered by the same technology that makes them participants of the global disaster spectacle, are also turning to the web to find their power and let their voices be known. Enter the 'MiniMonos' island.
Founded by Melissa Clark-Reynolds, a passionate eco-activist very close to Al Gore and his endeavours towards ecological awareness worldwide, MiniMonos - little monkeys in Spanish, captures the desire to "do something for the planet" felt by a growing number of children worldwide. "These kids are learning to equate positive actions with positive feelings: fun, delight and accomplishment", reveals Melissa. "Our aim is to have a million children taking real-world eco-action as a result of playing on MiniMonos."
The site's virtual world is a digital safe haven for children who love the planet. Merging both digital and offline life, children get rewarded for their participation in real eco-projects and share their own local eco-initiatives with other children on the MiniMonos blog. MiniMonos, with over 1 million teens playing on the site from over 150 countries, also conducted its own survey. Only this time, the children apeaced their global warming fears by carrying out eco-friendly behaviour - recycling (38%), picking up litter (16%), planting/protecting plants and trees (6%), protecting wildlife (5%), saving energy (5%). When asked why they liked helping the environment, their answers ranged from "feeling good" to "having fun doing it" and "liking helping others".
Twenty years on, Severn has ignited her audience. Only this time, it is her teen peers the ones getting into action, the ones fighting for their future in their daily lives and alongside a mini monkey or two in a digital world called the web.