After traveling on a carbon-neutral boat from England to New York on a journey that took 15 days, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, arrived to open up the UN Youth Climate Change Summit with a conversation between herself and the Secretary-General. She was invited to the panel along with other young activists Bruno Rodriguez, Wanjuhi Njoroge, and Komal Karishma Kumar.
The UN Youth Climate Summit kicks off with a talk between Secretary-General António Guterres and youth climate activists Greta Thunberg, Bruno Rodriguez, Wanjuhi Njoroge, and Komal Karishma Kumar on why the world needs to take action on the climate crisis. https://t.co/NUQpWtzoa9— NowThis (@nowthisnews) September 21, 2019
What's Going On
The UN Youth Climate Summit opened on Friday the 20th of September, one day after the start of the Global Climate Strikes which Greta Thunberg had started over a year ago. It all began in August of 2018 when Thunberg chose to skip school in order to sit in front of the Swedish parliament to demand more direct action on climate change. Soon after, her actions inspired many others, sparking the Fridays for Future movement in which students all around the world would skip school and march in front of important government offices demanding action. Her simple action inspired a worldwide movement and managed to help put a global focus on the significance of climate change and why we must all do something against it. Not only that, but it also enabled the younger generation to make their voices heard and use their platforms to fight for change.
The Global Climate Strike kicked off on September 20th, with millions of people around the world already striking. It has been the Fridays for Future movement's largest success to date, with over 120 countries participating. Before attending the UN Youth Climate Summit, she spoke to thousands of climate strikers in New York, stating:
“We are not just some young people skipping school. We are a wave of change. Together we are unstoppable.” The streets in New York were packed full of protestors, with participants reaching an estimated 250,000. In front of all the protestors, Thunberg shouted “Do you think they hear us? We’ll make them hear us!”
Thunberg also spoke in front of 150 people for fifteen minutes at the end of her two-day tour of Capitol hill. She criticized the US’ inaction against climate change and its decision to leave the Paris Agreement. She rounded off her speech by quoting Martin Luther King and saying that “giving up can never be an option”.
Greta’s inspiring words were also displayed on the side of the UN building the night before the summit.
Thunberg at the UN General Assembly
Yesterday, on the 23rd of September, Greta Thunberg gave a tearful speech at the UN General Assembly condemning the older generations for the way they have handled the climate crisis. She, again, spoke cold, harsh truths, making sure to let the members of the assembly know exactly how she felt. She said:
"We are in the beginning of mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?” One can see that throughout her speech, she was angry with her audience and holding back tears. Another powerful thing that she said was “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words, and yet, I’m one of the lucky ones. People are dying”.
The reaction on social media to Thunberg’s speech has been incredibly powerful. Thousands of people seem to be resonating with her message and have been inspired to do more. However, she has also been on the receiving end of some harsh comments by trolls and right-wing politicians. President Trump also mockingly tweeted about Thunberg after seeing a video of her speech at the UN General Assembly. On top of that, a guest on Fox News, Michael Knowles, called her a “mentally ill Swedish child”, with other Fox News commentators such as Laura Ingraham comparing climate activists like Thunberg, to characters from a Stephen King novel.
She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see! https://t.co/1tQG6QcVKO— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2019
Thunberg at the American Congress
Not only did Thunberg speak at the UN Youth Climate Summit, and is currently speaking at the UN General Assembly, but she also spoke to the American Congress at a Senate climate crisis task force this past Tuesday. The meetings in Washington are all meant to raise awareness for the climate emergency before the beginning of the global climate strikes. At the task force, lawmakers praised several climate change activists and asked what Congress could do in order to combat climate change. To this, Thunberg gave a very powerful response:
“Please save your praise. We don’t want it. Don’t invite us here just to tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it”.
She continued by urging Congress to listen to science, saying:
“If you want advice for what you should do, invite scientists, ask scientists for their expertise. We don’t want to be heard. We want the science to be heard.”
She began her speech, however, without prepared notes, stating that she would rather read out and submit last year’s IPCC report which detailed the negative effects of a rapidly warming climate. She urged Congress to act, later stating that:
"This is not the time and place for dreams. This is the time to wake up. This is the moment in history we need to be wide awake"
While the US Senate is controlled by Republicans and the White House seems to be uncompromising, Thunberg was met with significant praise. Senator Markey from Massachusetts commended Thunberg, and others like her, for their leadership and for ensuring that the issue was given significant attention. He vowed to help, saying:
“I have not come to offer prepared remarks at this hearing,” far-left activist Greta Thunberg tells Congress as she reads from her prepared remarks. pic.twitter.com/wTW6wPizVl— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) September 18, 2019
“We hear you. We hear what you’re saying, and we will redouble our efforts”.
Even Republican members of the committee, some of which were doubtful about the very existence of climate change itself, praised Thunberg and other activists like her, for her effort and commitment. Some Republican members even acknowledged the gravity of climate change and agreed that some form of action should be taken.
Already this simple affirmation is significant. It shows that the protests are working. Government officials are listening. If anything, all of this recent buzz about climate strikes and activists should invigorate young and old people alike. Governments and large corporations are starting to listen. The climate emergency is beginning to be given the attention it deserves, so if anything, hopefully, recent activities serve to further inspire others into acting.