Grown-Ups Get a Scolding on Climate
The girl in long braids and lavender pants was in striking contrast to the rich and powerful adults gathered in Davos in January for the World Economic Forum, and her brief address lacked the usual niceties.
“Adults keep saying, ‘We owe it to the young people to give them hope,’” she said. “But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.”
The applause was tepid.
Hers was not a tone grown-ups welcome from a 16-year-old. But Greta Thunberg is someone they should listen to. In fact, must listen to.
Not because the catastrophe she sees coming is news: The warnings of impending climatic catastrophe are already deafening — in the 2018 report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which warns that we are less than 12 years away from the point of no return; in the findings of 13 United States federal agencies that describe the grave threats posed by climate change to the nation; in the extremes of weather reported daily; in the vanishing Arctic ice, raging wildfires, violent tornadoes and other consequences of an overheating planet that appear with ever increasing frequency.
The grown-ups should listen because the alarm is being sounded by kids like Greta who, unlike President Trump and other willful deniers of the obvious, have realized that they stand to inherit a wounded world their elders are failing to protect.
“You are not mature enough to tell it like it is,” Greta told COP24, a United Nations climate change conference in Poland in December, where the United States joined Russia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in watering down a response to the climate change panel’s report. “Even that burden you leave to us children.”
Greta is an unlikely agent of change. She is autistic, diminutive, not given to long speeches. But her decision to regularly skip school to sit in front of the Swedish Parliament since August to demand action on the climate has helped inspire a global movement of young people who share her alarm and anger. Tens of thousands of school and university students in Australia, Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Japan and many other countries have followed her lead. A global school boycott to raise climate consciousness is scheduled for Friday.
In the United States, young environmental activists of the Sunrise Movement created a major stir when more than 150 staged a sit-in at Representative Nancy Pelosi’s office a week after the midterm elections. And a video of a youthful delegation delivering a letter to Dianne Feinstein, the veteran Democratic senator from California, in which she tries to school them on the realities of politics while they talk of a dying earth, went viral in February.
The American students have found a strong ally in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year-old Democratic congresswoman from New York who last month introduced a “Green New Deal” resolution in the House. The document sets out not only a remarkably ambitious program for a rapid transfer to renewable energy, but also a broad set of ideas on how society should be fundamentally rebuilt. Not surprisingly, the Green New Deal was gleefully pounced on by Republicans as a “Trojan horse for socialism” and stands no chance of adoption, but it has become something of a litmus test for where Democrats stand on climate change — and something of a manifesto for the rising generation of activists.
Parliamentary maneuvers is not their game. They are saying that time is almost up.
“We have not come here to beg world leaders to care,” Greta told COP24. “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.” Out of the mouth of babes …