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We’re Facing a Climate Disaster. Why Is Greta Thunberg Hopeful?

So why are you striking? I’m striking for us to take the climate crisis seriously and treat it like a crisis. Yes, but what do you want the politicians to do? I want them to listen to and act on the science. How are we going to solve this climate issue? Just the fact that this question is asked to me, a teenager, over and over is absurd but not as absurd as the fact that the climate and ecological emergency is being reduced to a problem that needs to be fixed. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced. We demand a safe future. Is that really too much to ask? I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. All political and economic systems have failed, but humanity has not yet failed. A year before my U.N. speech, the thought of seeing pictures of myself everywhere would have been unthinkable. If you would care about this kind of attention, then you’d probably develop a self-image that is far from sane. Presidents, prime ministers, kings and princesses suddenly see their opportunity to get a selfie, which later they can post on their Instagram with the caption hashtag #savetheplanet. Perhaps it makes them forget the shame of their generation letting all future generations down. “You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet I’m one of the lucky ones. 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!” “And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you. The world is waking up. And change is coming whether you like it or not.” On the subway home, some come forward to congratulate me. Someone suggests that we should celebrate. But I don’t understand what their congratulations are for. And I understand even less what we’re supposed to be celebrating. Yet another meeting is over. And all that is left are empty words. It gets a bit repetitive after a while. Politicians are pretty much the same no matter where you are in the world. I urged them to listen to the science and act now before it’s too late. They say that they think it’s so amazing that I’m so active and committed and that, when I grow up, I too can become a politician and make a real difference. I then explain that when I’ve grown up, it will be too late to act if we are to stay below the 1.5 or even 2 degree Celsius target. Then they laugh nervously and start talking about something else. Washington, D.C. I’m called to testify in the U.S. Congress. “I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists. Thank you.” In the latest update from the I.P.C.C., scientists underline keeping the global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We have today already passed about 1.2 degrees of global heating. On January 1, 2018, we had 420 gigatons of CO₂ left to emit globally. This is the carbon budget which gives us the best odds of staying below the 1.5 degree target. We emit about 42 gigatons of CO₂ every year. So today, the world is down to lower than 280 gigatons of CO₂ left. That is the equivalent of less than six and a half years of today’s business-as-usual emissions until that budget completely runs out. Do you remember “Gangnam Style”? That happened about eight years ago. That’s longer than the amount of time we are talking about. And that is to give us the best possible chance to avoid passing tipping points or feedback loops, irreversible chain reactions beyond human control. The climate crisis is not a fair crisis. The ones who’ll be hit hardest from its consequences are often the ones who have done the least to cause the problem in the first place. The climate crisis cannot be solved within today’s political and economic systems. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. And since the truth is uncomfortable, unpopular and unprofitable, the truth doesn’t stand much of a chance. The emperors are naked, every single one. It turns out our whole society is just one big nudist party. “And if you belong to that small group of people who feel threatened by us, then we have some very bad news for you. This is only the beginning.” Every Friday, I continue to strike wherever I find myself to be at that moment. Everywhere, lots of people show up, people of all ages. We are facing the need to make changes which are unprecedented in human history. Things may look dark, but I’m telling you there is hope. And that hope comes from the people, from democracy, from you. “What do we want?” “Government action.” “When do we want it?” “Now!” We have passed a social tipping point. We can no longer look away from what our society has been ignoring for so long. It is an existential crisis. We must now do the seemingly impossible. And that is up to you and me because no one else will do it for us. But who really is Greta? I think people want to get to know Greta. I’m not important. This has got nothing to do with me. I’m simply doing this because no one else is doing it.

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