The Last Word with Raffi Cavoukian, DLitt’05
Q: What's the most important lesson you ever learned?
A: Young children are whole people, worthy of respect.
Raffi Cavoukian, beloved by generations of children who have grown up listening to his songs, says he was inspired from a young age by folk singers like Pete Seeger and Joni Mitchell. But it was his own song – the iconic hit “Baby Beluga,” released in 1980 – that inspired his passion for ecology. Eight years after it was released, he sat in on a presentation about belugas at the Ontario Science Centre and was “stunned” by what he heard about massive declines in the beluga population.
Raffi’s music began to focus on his concern for the natural world. He released Evergreen Everblue in 1990. He sang songs about moral issues that mattered deeply to him, just as his folk heroes had done years before.
His latest song is called “Young People Marching.” It’s written for Greta Thunberg, the sixteen‑year‑old activist from Sweden who is calling on young people to demand climate action from their governments. And it’s no surprise that Raffi is inspired by her.
As a part of his ecological activism, Raffi is an advocate for children and young people. When he received an honorary degree from UBC in 2005, he sang “Turn This World Around [for the children]” to the congregation. In 1996, he came up with a name for his life’s philosophy – “Child Honouring” – and published a book about it a year later. But child honouring and activism on behalf of the Earth aren’t two separate things, says Raffi. He writes in his book “that all children are created whole, endowed with innate intelligence, with dignity and wonder, worthy of respect” and that respect for the world that nurtures children is part of that same philosophy. He argues for “detoxifying the environments that make up the ecology of the child.”
In a September interview with Slate, Raffi said his new song “was written for climate strikes… every movement has had music.” Pete Seeger would be proud.
Who was your childhood hero?
Hank Aaron, home run champion.
Describe the place you most like to spend time.
Home on Salt Spring Island, with my dog.
What was the last thing you read?
Falter, by Bill McKibben
What or who makes you laugh out loud?
My dog Luna.
What’s the most important lesson you ever learned?
Young children are whole people, worthy of respect.
What’s your idea of the perfect day?
A mix of solitude and a friend’s company.
What is your most prized possession?
My concert guitar, a Takamine cut‑away.
What would be the title of your biography?
If a genie granted you one wish, what would it be?
Global climate stabilization, transformed economy.
What item have you owned for the longest time?
Joni Mitchell album.
Whom do you most admire (living or dead) and why?
Greta Thunberg, moral voice of our time. Why? Conscience, courage.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
Life – took his breath away.
If you could invent something, what would it be?
Rainfall percussive energy capture to increase efficiency of solar panels.
In which era would you most like to have lived, and why?
Now... dental work is quite painless.
What are you afraid of?
Our global climate emergency.
What is your latest purchase?
Name the skill or talent you would most like to have.
Which three pieces of music would you take to that desert island?
Dunno. Not much good without a power charger, right?
What is your pet peeve?
Exxon knew about global warming; lied, deceived, obstructed.
What is the secret to a good life?
Curiosity and lifelong learning.
Do you have a personal motto?
Easy once you know how.