By Léo Azambuja
When Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg organized her first Climate Strike in 2018, she was barely noticed. But since then, she inspired millions worldwide — children and adults alike. Today, she represents the passing of the baton from an older to a younger generation in a losing fight to reverse the damages we humans continue to inflict on our planet.
For many years, I’ve been watching, reporting on, and in many ways helping, environmental activism. The noble message I frequently hear from environmentalists is that we are saving the planet for our children and grandchildren.
Thunberg changed it all. The youth has now spoken. All over the world, the youth came out of the woods and concrete jungles to participate in the Climate Strike Sept. 20. The chant has shifted from “Save the planet for our children” to “Save the planet for our generation.”
Last month, I considered going to the Climate Strike at Kaua‘i Community College to shoot a pictorial (see In Focus), but I even said it out loud it probably wouldn’t be worth it, because I wasn’t sure the students at KCC would join the protest. It didn’t help that I got the hours mixed up and drove to KCC two hours before schedule, and I obviously didn’t see anyone. I was right, sadly right, I thought.
I quickly figured out I was there too early. Once I returned at 1 p.m., I was surprised by the crowd, and quite glad to have been wrong. There were tons of kids from all ages, from youngsters to teenagers and college students. Their enthusiasm was high, and they were chanting and beating drums. After the demonstrations, mostly everyone gathered by the nearby gazebo, and some of the youth were brave enough to share their words.
Bravo to all the youth at the Climate Strike at KCC! Bravo to millions of youth who participated in the Climate Strike worldwide! Bravo to Thunberg!
Three days after the Climate Strike, Thunberg addressed the United Nations’ Climate Action Summit in New York. When asked what her message to world leaders would be, what she eloquently answered was so spot on, that I chose to publish the entire transcript rather than write about it. Here it is.
“My message is that we’ll be watching you.
“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. How dare you!
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.
“You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency. 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.
“The popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50 percent chance of staying below 1.5 degrees (Celsius), and the risk of setting off irreversible chain reactions beyond human control.
“Fifty percent may be acceptable to you. But those numbers do not include tipping points, most feedback loops, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.
“So a 50 percent risk is simply not acceptable to us — we who have to live with the consequences.
“To have a 67 percent chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 1, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.
“How dare you pretend that this can be solved with just ‘business as usual’ and some technical solutions? With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone within less than eight-and-half years.
“There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.
“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.
“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.
I have heard the argument that environmentalists are not scientists but mere activists. They’re just rowdy people without scientific knowledge to back up man-made global warming. I don’t want to create a divide here, so I’m just going to suggest that skeptics pay attention to the wealth of scientific information available on the subject. You’ll find scientists have been speaking out.
My favorite poster from the Climate Strike has to be this tongue-in-cheek one: “Here’s the plot” 97% of the world’s scientists conspire to create an imaginary environmental crisis, only to be exposed by a plucky band of billionaires, senators and oil companies.”
I do understand the truth lies (no pun intended) somewhere in the subjectivity of many arguments. It’s not that truth tells a lie; it doesn’t. But truth sometimes tells stories that may have different interpretations.
The truth I interpret is that we are not destroying the planet; we are simply destroying it for ourselves.
Youth, please stay on it. You may just be able to accomplish what we adults have not been able to do in the last three decades. The planet is yours to take it.