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17-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has addressed world government and business leaders at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, slamming them for continued inaction on the climate crisis that is leading to apocalyptic scenes on our planet. In the speech, Thunberg says it loud and clear that “our house is still on fire” and that delayed action is literally only adding fire to the flames in a world suffering from global heating and climate-induced disasters. It comes as Australia has battled the worst wildfires in history, wiping out at least a billion animals, killing dozens and causing destruction to the homes of thousands of people. Amidst these devastating scenes, the teenage activist is speaking on behalf of an entire global generation of young people who are crying for those wielding power to finally do the right thing.
Speaking after the President of the United States Donald Trump, who addressed the high-profile crowd about the global economy rather than the climate crisis, which was the topic dominating all 5 concerns under the World Economic Forum’s annual risks report, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg turned the conversation back to the most important issue our planet is facing. In her speech, which comes one year after she first condemned world government and business leaders for inaction on the climate crisis with her unforgettable “our house is on fire” speech, Thunberg told the crowd that her words of panic last year failed to work and “it doesn’t lead to anything”.
While critics might spotlight the fact that since Thunberg has come to the world stage, the climate emergency has reached new heights on the agenda, the point of what the 17-year-old climate leader is saying is the sobering truth – that it has amounted to words rather than action.
Yes, millions of children all around the world have taken to the streets over the past year to demand climate action. Yes, media reporting on the climate emergency has never been more concerted or transparent. And yes, images of the devastating fires in Australia – the worst the country has ever seen and has taken the lives of over 1 billion animals and dozens of people, including volunteer firefighters – has woken many of us up to the reality that the Earth is literally burning, leaving most of us with a lump in our throats. But what is actually happening when it comes to real change? What measures are put in place today to solve the crisis?
As the still teen-age Thunberg told the crowd of adults in plain and simple terms: “When we children tell you to panic, we’re not telling you to go on like before. We’re not telling you to rely on technologies that don’t even exist today at scale and that science says perhaps never will.”
She goes a step further to point out that what we think of as “action” is simply too little, too late and vastly inadequate to fight the scale of the climate crisis that our planet, and all of human civilisation, now faces on our doorstep.
Thunberg calls out consumerist measures like guilt-induced offsetting as missing the point: “offsett[ing] your emissions by paying someone else to plant trees in places like Africa, while at the same time forests like the Amazon are being slaughtered at an infinitely higher rate…it’s nowhere near enough what is needed, and it cannot replace real mitigation and rewilding nature.”
As scientists have reiterated for decades now, to mostly deaf ears until recently, we are at a climate “tipping point” that is already leaving behind a trail of disaster, from pushing entire species to near extinction to displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and threatening livelihoods. All of this is happening right now as Thunberg speaks on world stages, so talking about a “transition” is irrelevant to our planet.
In her damning yet poignant words she states: “Let’s be clear: We don’t need a low-carbon economy. We don’t need to lower emissions. Our emissions have to stop…We need real net zero, because distant net-zero emission targets will mean absolutely nothing if we just continue to ignore the carbon dioxide budget that applies for today.”
Thunberg additionally underlines the discrepancies and contradictions in the words and actions of state government leaders and the heads of multinational corporations, the small yet incredibly powerful group of individuals who can really incite sweeping, structural and effective system change.
The fact that the United States has left the Paris Agreement “seemed to outrage and worry everyone…But the fact that we are all about to fail the commitments you signed up for doesn’t seem to bother the people in power even the least,” continues Thunberg.
Speaking on behalf of the younger global generation, of which those born after 2012 have never lived a day in their lives unaffected by the climate emergency, the 17-year-old demanded that everyone, from “all companies, banks, institutions and governments immediately halt all investments in fossil fuel exploration and extraction, immediately end all fossil fuel subsidies in fossil fuel exploration and extraction…and immediately and completely divest from fossil fuels.”
Critics will call her out as extreme and condemn her demands as “too much.” But her words are backed up by reliable, cross-checked, scientific data and expert recommendations that have existed for decades. In order to avert climate disaster, world scientists say that we must eliminate fossil fuels now, and the reality is that this type of action can only be undertaken by those in positions of world power, such as banks, institutions and state governments, who can make powerful changes in a matter of weeks and months.
The only chance we have is now, and our world leaders need to step up and actively choose to be on the right side of history. As Thunberg concludes: “Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour. And we are telling you to act as if you loved your children above all else.”
Lead image courtesy of Bloomberg / AFP.