Greta Thunberg is the teenager who launched a global student strike for climate action. She is one of several young people around the world who have defended their future by chastising us adults for doing too little about global warming. Here are transcripts of two addresses by Greta, one during international climate negotiations at COP 24 in Poland, the other at a TedX event in Stockholm. If you prefer, you can watch the videos of her talks here and here.
Katowice, Poland (Dec. 2018) — “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.
Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can’t 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. Thank you”.
Stockholm, Sweden TedX (November 2018) –. When I was about 8 years old, I first heard about something called ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’. Apparently, that was something humans had created by our way of living. I was told to turn off the lights to save energy and to recycle paper to save resources.
I remember thinking that it was very strange that humans, who are an animal species among others, could be capable of changing the Earth’s climate. Because, if we were, and if it was really happening, we wouldn’t be talking about anything else. As soon as you turn on the TV, everything would be about that. Headlines, radio, newspapers: You would never read or hear about anything else. As if there was a world war going on, but no one ever talked about it. If burning fossil fuels was so bad that it threatened our very existence, how could we just continue like before? Why were there no restrictions? Why wasn’t it made illegal?
To me, that did not add up. It was too unreal.
So, when I was 11, I became ill, I fell into depression, I stopped talking, and I stopped eating. In two months, I lost about 10 kilos of weight. Later on, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, OCD and selective mutism. This basically means, I only speak, when I think it is necessary.
Now is one of those moments.
For those of us, who are on the spectrum, almost everything is black or white. We aren’t very good at lying and we usually don’t enjoy participating in the social games that the rest of you seem so fond of. I think, in many ways, that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. Especially when it comes to the sustainability crisis: Where everyone keeps saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet, they just carry on like before.
I don’t understand that. Because if the emissions have to stop, then we must stop the emissions. To me, that is black or white. There are no gray areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t.
We have to change.
Rich countries like Sweden need to start reducing emissions by at least 15% every year. And that is so that we can stay below a 2° warming target. Yet, as the IPCC has recently demonstrated, aiming instead for 1.5 °Celsius would significantly reduce the climate impacts. But we can only imagine what that means for reducing emissions.
You would think the media and every one of our leaders would be talking about nothing else. But they never even mention it.
Nor does anyone ever mentioned the greenhouse gases already locked in the system. Nor that air pollution is hiding some warming; so that, when we stop burning fossil fuels, we already have an extra level of warming – perhaps as high as 0.5 to 1.1 °Celsius.
Furthermore, does hardly anyone speak about the fact that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction: With up to 200 species going extinct every single day. That the extinction rate is today between 1000 and 10 000 times higher than what is seen as normal.
Nor does hardly anyone ever speak about the aspect of equity or climate justice, clearly stated everywhere in the Paris agreement, which is absolutely necessary to make it work on a global scale. That means that rich countries need to get down to zero emissions within 6 to 12 years with today’s emission speed. And that is so that people in poorer countries can have a chance to heighten their standard of living by building some of the infrastructures that we have already built, such as roads, schools, hospitals, clean drinking water, electricity, and so on. Because, how can we expect countries like India or Nigeria to care about the climate crisis if we, who already have everything, don’t care even a second about it or our actual commitments to the Paris agreement?
So why are we not reducing our emissions? Why are they in fact still increasing? Are we knowingly causing a mass extinction? Are we evil?
No, of course, not. People keep doing what they do because the vast majority doesn’t have a clue about the actual consequences for their everyday life. And they don’t know that rapid change is required.
We all think we know and we all think everybody knows. But we don’t.
Because, how could we? If there really was a crisis, and if this crisis was caused by our emissions, you would at least see some signs. Not just flooded cities. Tens of thousands of dead people and whole nations leveled to piles of torn down buildings. You would see some restrictions.
But no. And no one talks about it. There are no emergency meetings, no headlines, no breaking news. No one is acting as if we were in a crisis.
Even most climate scientists or green politicians keep on flying around the world, eating meat and dairy.
If I live to be 100, I will be alive in the year 2103. When you think about the future today, you don’t think beyond the year 2050. By then I will, in the best case, not even have lived half of my life. What happens next? In the year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children or grandchildren, maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you, the people who were around back in 2018. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. What we do or don’t do right now, will affect my entire life and the lives of my children and grandchildren. What we do or don’t do right now, me and my generation can’t undo in the future.
So, when school started in August of this year, I decided that this was enough. I set myself down on the ground outside the Swedish parliament. I school-striked for the climate.
Some people say that I should be in school instead. Some people say that I should study, to become a climate scientist so that I can solve the climate crisis.
But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.
And why should I be studying for a future that soon will be no more, when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future? And what is the point of learning facts in the school system, when the most important facts given by the finest science of that same school system clearly means nothing to our politicians and our society?
Some people say that Sweden is just a small country and that it doesn’t matter what we do. But I think that if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not coming to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could all do together if we wanted to?
Now we’re almost at the end of my talk and this is where people usually people usually start talking about hope. Solar panels, wind power, circular economy, and so on. But I’m not going to do that. We’ve had 30 years of pep talking and selling positive ideas. And I’m sorry but it doesn’t work because if it would have, the emissions would have gone down by now. They haven’t.
And yes, we do need hope. Of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere. So instead of looking for hope, look for action. Then and only then, hope will come today.
Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every single day. There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So, we can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed.
Everything needs to change and it has to start today.