Greta Thunberg is not fucking around.
On Monday, the 16-year-old Swedish activist visited the United Nations and delivered a scathing rebuke of the body’s inaction on climate change.
“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she declared. ”And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”
Thunberg’s demands, as punk rock as they sound, are fairly simple. World leaders are turning a blind eye while the planet dies. These heads of state are selling “fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” Thunberg said, and ignoring that the earth is in mortal danger. And Thunberg is hardly alone in this opinion.
Last week, millions of people worldwide — including hundreds here in Madison — took part in a mass demonstrations largely inspired by Thunberg’s climate evangelism. So who is she, and why are people listening to her?
“Whose human rights are you standing up for?”
Greta Thunberg is probably the most famous 16-year-old on Earth, if you don’t count that kid from Stranger Things. Born in Stockholm in 2003 to an actor and an opera singer, Thunberg developed a fixation on the growing climate crisis. She has Asperger Syndrome, which she calls a “superpower” that allows her to focus on things with laser intensity.
As her environmentalism grew, for example, she convinced her parents to give up flying. This basically ended Mom and Dad’s entertainment careers.
Her father Svante Thunberg recalled Greta asking: “Whose human rights are you standing up for when you are draining the world’s resources, the functioning atmosphere, for instance?”
Greta first made headlines at 15, when she began sitting outside Swedish parliament as part of her “school strike for climate.” Her plea for immediate and drastic solutions went on to inspire similar protests around the world and launch the teen into global consciousness. Just recently, she made her U.S. debut in grand, carbon-neutral fashion: sailing solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
A Band-Aid on a chemical burn
At the U.N., Thunberg delivered a refreshingly bullshit-free take on the state of the environment. And things are really, really not good. The planet is warming at an unprecedented rate. Catastrophic weather events are occurring more frequently and becoming more powerful. And unless the planet can significantly reduce carbon emissions within the next decade, game over, man.
But rather than rattle off numbers, Thunberg mostly chose to focus on the one thing everyone is thinking and no one is saying — aging generations are more or less kicking the can down the road to younger ones. For years, world leaders have known that our current solutions are nowhere near enough, like the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid on a chemical burn. In her remarks, Thunberg said they were relying on future generations “sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.”
And along with 15 other kids, she also filed a human rights complaint against the U.N., claiming the body’s inaction on climate change is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It seems insane that a teenager has to stand in front of the largest humanitarian organization on the planet and plead for humanity, but we live in insane times. And predominantly it is young people who are making the biggest push for action. All over the world, the “Greta Thunberg Effect” has helped to launch of global movement with a radical new climate consciousness.
A state climate emergency
Last Friday, hundreds of protestors went to the front doors of Gov. Tony Evers and Madison Gas and Electric to make a statement. While both the governor and MG&E have committed themselves to slashing carbon emissions by 2050, young people say it’s not enough.
Primarily, they want MG&E to speed up their timeline by transitioning to renewable energy before 2030 and Evers to declare a state climate emergency to highlight the urgency of the issue.
“They need to realize that we need big changes,” organizer and UW freshman Max Prestigiacomo told The Cap Times. “If it doesn’t come now, frankly it scares me that I have to talk about the alternative.”
Prestigiacomo is also the executive director of the Wisconsin-based Youth Climate Action Team, and cites Thunberg as an inspiration.
“I lost hope, and then I saw Greta, a child who is traditionally disenfranchised standing up to her government,” he told NBC15, “and it’s inspiring to see students and my peers out here striking and demanding change.”
Politicians and decision-makers have for too long counted on the optimism of young people to solve problems they either couldn’t or wouldn’t. But when it comes to the environment, the youth are no longer waiting their turn to participate in the discourse. “The house is on fire,” as Thunberg puts it. And without immediate action, it will soon be a total loss.