Our Lives Are in Your Hands
Climate March. Stockholm, September 8, 2018
The Paris Agreement on global climate change aims at keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Any greater temperature rise is a “nightmare scenario,” Thunberg says. According to leading scientists, at this point there is only a 5 percent of meeting the Paris goal, and time to make the required changes is running out. Thunberg’s country, Sweden, has one of the worst individual carbon footprints in the world. It steals several years’ worth of natural resources from future generations every year. That is why she is skipping school and staging a strike outside parliament. To everyone who is more afraid of the changes that would prevent climate catastrophe than of climate change itself, she says, “Those of us who are still children can’t change what you do now once we’re old enough to do something about it. ... So please, treat the climate crisis like the actual crisis it is and give us a future.”
Almost Everything Is Black and White
Declaration of Rebellion, Extinction Rebellion. Parliament Square, London, October 31, 2018
As an eight-year-old, Thunberg was surprised to learn that human beings are capable of changing the earth’s climate. If this were so, she though, the topic should dominate the news and daily conversation, just as if the world were at war. She has Asperger’s syndrome, she says. To her, almost everything is black and white. Thunberg has a hard time understanding “normal” people’s response: “they just carry on like before. ...There are no headlines, no emergency meetings, no breaking news. Even most green politicians and climate scientists go on flying around the world.” The climate change problem has been solved, Thunberg says, in the sense that we know what must be done. “Countries like Sweden and the UK need to start reducing emissions by at least 15 percent every year,” to keep global temperature rise below 2C. Keeping the rise below 1.5C would be better yet, and “rich countries need to get down to zero emissions,” so that poorer countries can build better infrastructure. However, none of that is happening. Thunberg, and her children and grandchildren, will pay the price for inaction. That is why she protests outside the Swedish Parliament. “It is time to rebel.”
UN Climate Change Conference. Katowice, Poland, December 15, 2018
Thunberg is from Sweden, she says—a small country, but “no one is too small to make a difference.” She criticizes the conference delegates harshly. They are “too scared of being unpopular.” Humanity, she says, is about to sacrifice its civilization and the biosphere so that a few people in countries like hers can become enormously rich and live in luxury. “You say you love your children above everything else. And yet you are stealing their future.” Politicians should focus on what needs to be done: “We must keep the fossil fuels in the ground and focus on equity.” Speaking for her generation, Thunberg concludes defiantly: “We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. ...You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time.”
Prove Me Wrong
World Economic Forum. Davos, January 22, 2019
Thunberg criticizes the suggestion that “we are not doing enough” about climate change. With a few exceptions, she says, “we are basically not doing anything.” It is too easy to say that we have all created this problem. It is mainly the fault of specific corporations and decision-makers, who have known exactly what they are doing, and what price the rest of the world will pay. “I want to challenge those companies and those decision-makers into real and bold action,” Thunberg says. “I do not believe for one second that you will act. But I ask you all the same. I ask you to prove me wrong.” She urges her audience of forum participants to pledge to push their own businesses or governments toward a world in which global temperatures will rise no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Our House Is on Fire
World Economic Forum. Davos, January 25, 2019
Humanity must make drastic changes, including a 50 percent reduction in CO2 emissions, in less than twelve years. After that time, according to Thunberg, a rise of global temperatures of more than 1.5C will set off an irreversible chain reaction that ends human civilization. Thus far, we have failed to bring the needed changes about, but there is still time. The climate crisis is the hardest challenge humanity has ever faced, but the solution is simple: stop greenhouse gas emissions. Humanity will either do that, or it will not. The matter is black or white, and it is a lie to say otherwise. Too many people, at Davos and elsewhere, are content to look to politicians for solutions, or to focus on economics. The public must be made aware, today, that the planet is in crisis. This is no time to worry about giving young people hope. “We must change almost everything in our current societies,” Thunberg says. She wants Davos participants to panic. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
I’m Too Young to Do This
Facebook, February 2, 2019
In a Facebook post, Thunberg tells her story, dispels some misconceptions, and answers some objections. Nine months before, she was one of the winners of a writing competition about the environment. Afterward, she was dissatisfied with other activists’ ideas for how to bring attention to the climate crisis. Despite her parents’ objections, Thunberg went on a strike from school in front of the Swedish Parliament. The resulting publicity was spontaneous, not prearranged.
Thunberg is not part of any organization, nor being “used” by one, and she is not profiting from her activism. Her parents pay her travel costs. They wrote a book about their family, but the proceeds go to charity. Thunberg writes her own speeches, although she consults with scientists to make sure that what she says is accurate. Because of her Asperger’s, she finds working alone easier than being part of a team.
Some people say Thunberg is oversimplifying, but the issue is black and white: either runaway climate change will be prevented, or it will occur. Other people object that she is telling people to panic. Yes, she says, “I want you to panic,” because panic is called for. Finally, some people say she is too young to be doing what she is doing. She completely agrees, but her future and that of others her age is at risk. If people would pay attention to the science, she and other striking children could go back to school.
You’re Acting Like Spoiled, Irresponsible Children
European Social and Economic Committee “Civil Society for reEUnaissance. Brussels, February 21, 2019
Thunberg responds to the complaint that she and other children striking to protest climate change should be in school. “We are schoolstriking because we have done our homework.” Her critics have not done theirs and are trying to change the subject. Humanity must achieve at least a 50 percent reduction in worldwide CO2 emissions by the year 2030. The European Union’s fair contribution to that goal would be an 80 percent reduction, including aviation and shipping. Those levels of emission reduction require “a whole new way of thinking” about politics and economics, with a focus on cooperation instead of competition. Future technologies to reverse the damage being done to the earth will not arrive in time, if ever. Addressing policymakers, Thunberg says, “You can’t just sit around saying hope will come—you’re acting like spoiled, irresponsible children. You don’t seem to understand that hope has to be earned. And if you still say that we are wasting valuable lesson time, then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction.”
A Strange World
Goldene Kamera Film and TV Awards. Berlin, March 30, 2019
“We live in a strange world,” Thunberg says. The world is about eleven years away from an irreversible chain reaction that will probably destroy civilization as we know it, but people do not act concerned. Politicians carry on as usual, more worried about the struggling fossil fuel industry than about the global climate. Others are more worried about protesting children missing school. Football games and film galas get more media attention than the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. Celebrities like those in her audience are part of the problem, unwilling to give up their jet-set lifestyle. “People see you celebrities as gods,” she says. “You can help us wake up our leaders—and let them know that our house is on fire.” This strange world is the only world we have, and there is still time to save it.
European Parliament. Strasbourg, April 16, 2019
On the day after fire gutted Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, Thunberg urges the European Parliament to act as if its house on fire. A “certain level of panic” is appropriate. Mass extinction is occurring, with 200 species being lost every day. Deforestation, air pollution, and the acidification of oceans are all disastrous, accelerating trends, symptoms of climate ecological breakdown. The internationally respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts irreversible catastrophe if global CO2 emissions are not cut in half by 2030.
Furthermore, this prediction does not account for the future warming already locked into existing conditions but masked by the sun-blocking effects of pollution. The IPCC prediction also does not account for feedback loops, such as the release of methane gas from thawing Arctic permafrosts. A drastic response is required, not limited actions like gradually scaling back the use of oil and coal. Massive removal of atmospheric CO2 will someday be necessary, using technology not yet developed. Policymakers must apply “cathedral thinking” to the problem of climate change: lay the foundation when details of the ceiling are still unclear. “Everyone and everything has to change,” Thunberg says, but the first step is to “unite behind the science” and to educate the voting public: “Make the best available science the heart of politics and the heart of democracy.”
Together We Are Making a Difference
Extinction Rebellion Rally. Marble Arch, London, April 23, 2019
Thunberg has a simple message for those at the rally: humanity is facing an existential crisis that has never been treated as a crisis before. For too long, “the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything at all to fight the climate crisis and ecological crisis. But we will make sure that they do not get away with it any longer.” The people in Extinction Rebellion, and the children on strike from school to protest lack of action on climate change, together are making a difference.
Can You Hear Me?
Houses of Parliament. London, April 23, 2019
Growing up, Thunberg and her younger sister were told they had a bright future to look forward to. “You lied to us,” she tells her audience. “Can you hear me?” She reviews the facts of the climate crisis and the need for coordinated global action. It is too easy to get distracted by modest, country-specific solutions. Since 1990, the UK has supposedly reduced CO2 emissions by 37 percent, but most of the reduction came from replacing old, coal-fired power plans with gas-burning ones. Radical new solutions need to be developed, to completely eliminate the use of fossil fuels and then to begin taking carbon out of the atmosphere. Thunberg admits that she and the other children on school-strike do not know how this is to be done, but “we have to stop burning fossil fuels and restore nature and many other things that we may not have quite figured out yet.” Policymakers want to limit their understanding of the crisis. “You don’t listen to the science because you are only interested in solutions that will enable you to carry on like before.” The children want their hopes and dreams back.
The Easiest Solution Is Right in Front of You
Austrian World Summit. Vienna, May 28, 2019
Most people, according to Thunberg, do not understand how serious the problem of climate change is. They know that something is wrong, involving greenhouse gases, but they do not understand the full consequences. Children have been school-striking to raise awareness of the problem, but human beings are social animals. They naturally follow their leaders. The people in her audience—politicians, CEOs and journalists—have the responsibility to educate. This is a reason for hope: “the easiest solution is right in front of you, and it has been all along. And it is us people, and the fact that we do not know” enough about the problem. “But once we understand, once we realize the situation, then we act, we change. Human beings are very adaptable.” The leaders she is addressing need to educate the rest of the world. They need to make clear the scale of the problem and explain that we losing the battle to solve it.
You Can’t Simply Make Up Your Own Facts
French National Assembly. Paris, July 23, 2019
Thunberg responds to complaints that she and other school-striking children are alarmists, exaggerating the problem of climate change. She points to the report of the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report tracks the world’s remaining “carbon budget.” Limiting the total amount of carbon emitted between 2018 and 2030 to 420 gigatons would give humanity a 67 percent chance of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5C. “At current emission levels,” Thunberg says, “that remaining budget is gone within 8.5 years. At 580 gigatons total emissions by 2030, the chance of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5C is just 50 percent. The future of civilization requires that the world deal with this problem, and yet politicians, journalists, and business leaders do not even mention the numbers. Do people who think she is being alarmist have other facts to draw on? Where are they? “You can’t simply make up your own facts, just because you don’t like what you hear.” If people do not want to listen to children, that is fine. Listen to scientists.
Wherever I Go I Seem to Be Surrounded by Fairy Tales
United States Congress. Washington DC, September 18, 2019
America, Thunberg tells the assembled senators and representatives, is “the country of dreams.” She also has a dream—that governments, political parties and corporations recognize climate change as a crisis, and come together to solve the problem. Until that happens, “dreams cannot stand in the way of telling the truth. And yet, wherever I go I seem to be surrounded by fairy tales.” For example, business leaders speak of opportunities to create “green jobs.” The crisis is a crisis, not a growth opportunity, and it will not be solved until people treat it as a crisis.
Global carbon emissions must be cut in half by 2030, compared to 2018. Then, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there will be a 50 percent chance—the chance of a coin flip—of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5C. The USA, the world’s biggest oil producer and biggest carbon polluter, is planning to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement, because the agreement is supposedly a bad deal. However, Thunberg says, “Our main enemy now is physics. And we cannot make a ‘deal’ with physics.” American’s have made great sacrifices before, to achieve great things: the D-Day invasion, the civil rights marches, the moon landing. Americans know how to rise to meet challenges. Its leaders must not gamble their children’s future on a coin flip.
The World Is Waking Up
UN General Assembly. New York, September 23, 2019
Thunberg scathingly criticizes the assembled delegates. “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. ... And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” The science is clear: cutting global carbon emissions in half over twelve years, starting in 2018, gives humanity at best a 50 percent chance of avoiding irreversible chain reactions that lead to climate catastrophe. Her audience is in denial about this reality. “Your generation is failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. ... We will not let you get away with this.”
We Are the Change and Change Is Coming
Week for Future, Climate Strike. Montreal, September 27, 2019
Canada and Sweden are similar, Thunberg jokes: similar landscapes, similar weather, similar wildlife—and similarly meaningless status as climate change leaders. Over 4 million people went on strike for climate change the week before, but the delegates to the UN Climate Change Action Summit responded with empty words and insufficient action. Therefore, the protests will continue. According to the latest numbers, 6.6 million have participated in strikes. “The people have spoken and will continue to speak until our leaders listen and act. We are the change and the change is coming.”