Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, in a special address Wednesday evening, told Congress that when it comes to climate change, “This is the time to wake up.”
“This is not the time and place for dreams, this is the time to wake up,” Thunberg said, standing on a makeshift step stool addressing a crowd of a couple hundred lawmakers, members of the public, and journalists. “This is the moment in history we need to be wide awake. Dreams cannot stand in the way of telling it like it is, especially not now.”
The teenage climate activist from Sweden is the face of the youth-led climate movement that is galvanizing people all around the world to ditch work and school on Friday to call for action on climate change. The upcoming strike will be the third, and is anticipated to be the biggest, global climate demonstration this year.
Thunberg launched the climate movement last August, striking alone outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm as a way to push her country to do more to fight climate change. She went on to form the organization FridaysForFuture, inspiring others to join her — and they did. She took her message to world leaders, speaking at the international United Nations climate conference in Poland last year, to the TED Talks stage, and now to the US Congress.
Joined by a group of other young US climate activists this week for two days of back-to-back visits and events on Capitol Hill, Thunberg delivered a series of messages to members of Congress behind closed doors, in a House committee hearing, and, finally, in a public address. The running theme of all her remarks was that the US is not doing enough to address climate change.
Even if every country managed to meet their current climate goals, the world would not be on track to limit warming to at least 2 degrees Celsius, the main goal in the Paris climate agreement. Under President Trump, the United States has been rolling back its climate and pollution standards and removing barriers to speed up additional fossil fuel development.
In a Tuesday lunch meeting with the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis, according to the Guardian, Thunberg said: “Please save your praise. We don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.”
In a Wednesday morning hearing, she opted not to deliver prepared remarks. Instead, she only submitted the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special climate report detailing the dire climate impacts expected if the world warms by just 1.5 degrees Celsius. (The world has already warmed at least 1 degree Celsius compared to preindustrial levels.)
She saved her actual speech for Wednesday night. “Wherever I go, I seem to be surrounded by fairy tales,” Thunberg said, ones where politicians spend “their time making up and telling bedside stories that soothe us and make us go back to sleep.”
The reality, she said, is that we don’t have solutions yet, and the science showing the dire climate effects expected with even just a little more warming is alarming.
Then Thunberg addressed the US, and President Donald Trump, head on. “The US is the biggest carbon polluter in history,” she said. “It is also the world’s number one producer of oil, and yet you are also the only nation in the world who has signaled with strong intention to leave the Paris agreement because ‘it was a bad deal for the US.’” In June 2017, Trump announced he wanted to pull the US from the agreement, calling it a “bad deal.”
Acknowledging the political fights around climate change, she asked the room to look past it. “Our main enemy is not our political opponents,” she said, “our main enemy is physics and we cannot make a deal with physics.”