Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old activist from Sweden has been visiting the UK this week, and has used the opportunity to give British MPs a grilling over their lack of action on climate change.
Her speech carefully and calmly explained the urgency of the climate crisis and the extent that societies need to pull together to have any chance of avoiding disaster.
“Can you hear me? Is my microphone on?” she joked, underlining how little she feels politicians are paying attention to the problem.
Thunberg became famous last year for spearheading school walk-outs in protest of climate change in Sweden before the tactic quickly swept the globe, sparking a renewed conversation about the exsistential threat of climate change.
Since then she’s taken on the role of travelling around Europe (by train and electric car, rather than planes) to try and get governments to listen and act.
Many of you appear concerned that we are wasting lesson time, but we will go back to school the moment you start listening to science and give us a future. Is that really too much to ask?Greta Thunberg
Speaking to several party leaders and MPs, including the leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, Green Party leader Caroline Lucas and the Westminster leaders of the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, Ian Blackford and Liz Saville Roberts, Thunberg laid out her concerns. She left a symbolic empty chair for Prime Minister Theresa May, who did not attend the meeting.
Thunberg started her speech with an emotive plea – she asked politicians to consider what future she and her little sister will face when they are in their 20s. As well as the future of many of the politicians’ children and grandchildren.
“That is a great age, we have been told. When you have all of your life ahead of you. But I am not so sure it will be that great for us. Now we probably don’t even have a future anymore,” she said in her speech, published in full in the Guardian. “That future was sold that so that a small number of people could make unimaginable amounts of money.”
She referred to the landmark 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that stated that the world needs cut carbon polution by 45% by 2030 to try and prevent irreversible damage to the climate, and that we need to be down to zero emissions by 2050.
She then went on to point out that schoolchildren striking for the climate do not have the solutions, and it's not reasonable to ask them, but they are doing this to "wake adults up".
"We have to start treating the crisis like a crisis – and act even if we don’t have all the solutions," Thunberg said.
We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases.Greta Thunberg
Thunberg went on to critique the UK’s environmental policies specifically – or apparent lack of them.
She pointed out that the UK had a “mindblowing” history of carbon debt and was using creative carbon accounting to make it seem like it had done much more to reduce emissions than in reality.
For example, the UK has achieved a 37% reduction in CO2 emissions since 1990 according to the Global Carbon Project, but, Thunberg said, that doesn’t include from aviation shipping or imports and exports related emissions. The real figure with those included is more like 10%, she added.
Meanwhile, the UK is actively pursuing the continued use of fossil fuels through fracking and exploration of the North Sea, as well as approving airport expansion and plans for a new coal mine – policies that Thunberg described as “beyond absurd."
Despite her dire warnings and the harsh reality the world faces, however, Thunberg ended on a hopeful note. She said humans are adaptable and can make changes that mean facing the challenge is within reach.
"And I’m sure that the moment we start behaving as if we were in an emergency, we can avoid climate and ecological catastrophe," she said. "Humans are very adaptable: we can still fix this. But the opportunity to do so will not last for long. We must start today. We have no more excuses."
Let's hope, as Thunberg said throughout her speech, that those with power can hear her, and will listen.