Greta Thunberg, Malala, Anne Frank… Out of the Mouths of Children

“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. All you can talk about is money and fairytales 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 are 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 probability of cutting our emissions in half in ten years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees 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 or additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity, climate justice.

[What are equity and climate justice? In short, rich countries pollute more, therefore have more responsibility to clean, but try to push the burden into the treaties of newly developing countries. Read a quick explanation here.

Also, our dictionary has the word “unpolluted” but not “unpollute.” Something can be cleaned, but linguistically, there’s not a verb associated with cleaning pollution specifically. Without a verb, there can be no subject. Our language removes the person, and with it, the possibility of responsibility, credit or simply a connection to the action.] 

They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist. So a 50% risk is simply not acceptable to us, we who have to live with the consequences.

To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degree global temperature rise, the best odds given by the IPCC, the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on January 1st, 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 in less than eight and a half years. There will not be any solutions or plans 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. Thank you.”

-Greta Thunberg, September 23 2019, United Nations Summit

Video in this article: Greta Thuberg Condems World Leaders in Emotional Speech to the UN. Best to hear it from her.

Thank you Greta, for your sobering clarity, passionate care and expectation of adults to be loving. I think a child sees best the gaps in an adult’s capacity to care. They expect us to be whole for them.

But we so often cannot be whole for them, even when we will ourselves the hardest. In fact, that kind of pushing usually pushes out space for the adult to accept their humanity, mistakes, imperfection, and for the child to do the same, resulting in less love for a child and oneself. Whatever the reason that one may not be meeting a child’s expectation, I perceive the best cure to be compassion.

I believe most of us are stuck in our own need for validation, continuously searching for our own parental love. No judgment there. To me, searching for love from unavailable people is a common and natural cycle that, unless tended to, continues. Searching via success, money, outside validation… These can be motivators of adults who need to prove their worth and do this without looking at long term consequences for others or themselves (they won’t notice that the validation can be fleeting). I see these motivators as the foundation of climate change.

I find that as I consciously spend a large percentage of my life learning how to work through my need for validation, my behavior becomes more mature. When I am more gentle and compassionate with myself, in tandem with learning how to matter to myself more, I accidentally help others more, and more deeply, in the process.

It is slow-moving, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. What an ironic phrase in this context. Whew. Thankfully, learning to love myself more helps me help the world.

I hope we can heal our hearts enough to make decisions as adults and give the future generations the love we are so often seeking.

P.S. It was pointed out to me that 16-year-old Greta is in good company. Joan of Arc was 18 when she led the French army to victory over the English. Malala was 11 when she started blogging for the BBC about the Taliban banning girls from school, 15 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban and 17 when she won the Nobel prize for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Anne Frank was 13 when she first began writing in her journal, a heart-ringing time capsule shedding light on the atrocities of the Nazi occupation. Anne, who was Jewish, was in hiding for two years and after being discovered, passed away in a concentration camp at fifteen. This loving child who couldn’t go outside remembered the real blessing that nature is:

The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be.
Anne Frank,
The Diary of a Young Girl 

Her certainty that nature will always exist pulls at my heart even more right now as we see it might always exist, but not in the way we know it. Her words remind me how that kind of change would have an even deeper consequence. A large number of humans find their connection to God through nature. When we respond to climate change passively, not only are we gambling with the air we breathe, the food we eat, the place we call home, and our safety, we’re wagering our pathway to spirituality, something that for some brings the deepest peace, understanding, and enjoyment of existence.

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