“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean, yet you all come to us young people for hope … We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”
So begins Greta Thunberg’s four-minute address to the United Nations at the UN Climate Summit in New York, just days after climate justice strikes took place across the world. Before a pin-drop silent crowd of international leaders and delegates, Thunberg asserted that the proposed climate commitments were unacceptable, and that “young people are starting to understand your betrayal.”
For those lacking context, Thunberg is a Swedish school student who started an international movement for students against climate change. In August 2018 she staged the first School Strike 4 Climate (then known as Fridays for Future) in front of the Swedish Parliament, inspired by previous school walkouts in Florida protesting gun violence in the United States.
Since then Thunberg has delivered addresses and participated in rallies across the world, receiving praise from German chancellor Angela Merkel, French president Emmanuel Macron, the European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and UK politicians including Jeremy Corbyn.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
Four years ago Thunberg was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, citing it as a driving force for her climate justice crusade, expressing to her 4.2 million Instagram followers, “I’m not public about my diagnosis to “hide” behind it, but because I know many ignorant people still see it as an “illness”, or something negative. And believe me, my diagnosis has limited me before. Before I started school striking I had no energy, no friends and I didn’t speak to anyone. I just sat alone at home, with an eating disorder. All of that is gone now, since I have found a meaning, in a world that sometimes seems meaningless to so many people. #aspiepower #neurodiverse #npf”
“For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare do you continue to look away?”
Thunberg’s mother is one of Sweden’s most distinguished opera singers, Malena Ernman, and her father is actor and author Svante Thunberg (named after the Nobel prize-winning scientist Svante Arrhenius who first calculated how carbon dioxide emissions could lead to the greenhouse effect).
Thunberg (alongside fellow climate activists) is the recent recipient of Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award, and along with 15 other children from around the world has filed a legal complaint against five nations over the climate crisis through the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Those nations include Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey.
“The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you.”
“You say you hear us, and that you understand the urgency,” Thunberg asserts cooly in her UN address. “But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation, and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And that I refuse to believe.”