Greta Thunberg is a 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist known for her incredibly articulate condemnation of society’s lack of climate change action. While videos of her speeches and campaigns have been circulating on the internet for some time now, it wasn’t until last month at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York that she truly became a household name. Standing in tears before global leaders and international delegates, she made her now infamous “How dare you” speech on the subject of climate change, imploring the adults in the room to take responsibility and action to save the planet before it is too late.
“People are suffering. People are dying and dying ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” she said, visibly fighting back tears.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words and yet, I’m one of the lucky ones,” Thunberg told the assembly. “People are suffering, people are dying.”
Thunberg has quickly become the voice of reason and the young face of the global climate crisis movement, as the instigator a one-year-old climate movement that has inspired young people from all over the world to walk out of school and strike in response to Thunberg’s urging. She began striking by herself outside the Swedish parliament last August, and continues her epic journey around the world – which has so far seen her travel by a 60-foot zero-emissions yacht across the ocean to attend the UN Climate Change Summit – where she will join climate strikes and continue to protest to governments worldwide. She has taken a year’s sabbatical from highschool, so that she can attend conferences and meetings with policymakers and those impacted by climate change.
But she is not the only young voice of reason in the world today, and the intense media coverage she has been receiving of late raises the question – why Greta? Why now? For years, young people in the global south have been tackling the climate crisis. Be it through political advocacy, music, protest, campaigning or other means, there are handfuls of equally passionate young people trying to do their part to prevent the next mass extinction.
There is Benji Backer – a conservative who believes climate change is a bipartisan issue, and Varshini Prakash who helped organize a sit-in of 150 youth environment activists outside U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office as well as co-founded Sunrise, an environmental movement advocating for the Green New Deal. There is Isra Hirsi, daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar and a longtime social justice advocate however she has more recently become involved in climate activism. Then there is 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor, founder of global climate change movement Uprising, and one of the youngest organizers of the September 20 Global Climate Strike. Ridhima Pandey was nine years old when she filed a 2017 lawsuit against the Indian government for failing to take action against climate change. The list goes on.
It’s a heartwarming and inspiring thing to see children so motivated on an issue that they are actually prepared to risk their own lives, in some cases, and futures on it. Especially while other young people their same age are out drinking Starbucks, contemplating their next Saturday night and figuring out which career will earn them enough to one day be able to afford Richard Mille Watches. Are we seeing the beginnings of a new breed of young? A generation less focused on looks and consumerism, and more focused on a safe and healthy future for the planet?
Currently, Thunberg stands alongside 15 other children who are jointly filIng a complaint with the United Nations, alleging that five of the world’s largest economies — Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey — have violated children’s human rights by not taking sufficient action to stop the unfolding climate crisis. They claim that under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, a 30-year-old human rights treaty that recognises “the importance of international co-operation for improving the living conditions of children in every country, in particular in the developing countries”. In the filing, they allege that the named countries have not used their resources “to prevent the deadly and foreseeable consequences” of the current climate crisis, and label their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases as “inadequate” in that they will not prevent global temperatures from rising less than 2 degrees celsius.
The complaint was filed on day one of the UN Climate Summit Summit, together with the United Nations, and does not ask for any monetary compensation, simply for the named countries to immediately adjust their climate goals and cooperate to address the growing crisis.
Will these minors be the driving force compelling the world’s largest consumers and greenhouse gas producers – apart from China and the U.S. which did not ratify that part of the Convention – to change their damaging behaviours? And will the Convention of the Rights of The Child be the decisive factor in the matter?
It is absolutely horrifying that we have now reached a point where children need to sue adults for the right to enjoy their childhood.