In the International Conference on climate change, called COP24, that met in Katawice, Poland, last month, one unusual speaker stood out—a fifteen-year-old high school student from Sweden. Her bold and direct challenge got the world’s attention. Her name is Greta Thunburg. She was already known as a student activist who protested in front of the Swedish Parliament demanding that Sweden honour the promises made on climate change. Then she started skipping school on Fridays, to move government to take responsible action on climate. At first she was alone. Later, many thousands in different countries joined her.
A group of them went to the Conference Site holding a banner that said, “12 years left.” This refers to the conclusion by experts that the world needs to cut emissions by 50 percent before 2030.—Editor.
At the Climate Change Conference last month, she told the audience made up of seasoned politicians and experts:
My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden.
I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now.
Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do.
But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference.
And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake.
You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.
Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money.
Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.
The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act.
You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.
Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.
We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself.
We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again.
We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time.
We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.
As Shannon Osaka wrote, “For all those following the climate crisis, Thunberg is both an inspiration and a warning: Sometimes we need a 15-year-old to tell us the truth. And the truth isn’t always pretty.”
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