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Greta Thunberg’s Moment

No one could have predicted that a then-15-year-old Swedish girl would start a movement supported by millions of young people and gain a platform from which to address the world’s leaders. To avert an environmental catastrophe, we need many more like her.

PRINCETON – “This is all wrong!” These words begin the most powerful four-minute speech I have ever heard. They were spoken by Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage climate activist, at the United Nations Climate Action Summit last month, and followed a week of climate strikes and marches attended by an estimated six million people.

The marchers were predominantly the young people who will have to cope with more of the costs of climate change than the world leaders Thunberg was addressing. Her tone of moral outrage was therefore apt, as was the leitmotif of her speech: “How dare you?” She accused the world’s leaders of stealing the dreams of the young with empty words. How dare they say that they are doing enough? How dare they pretend that “business as usual,” coupled with yet-to-be-discovered technological solutions, will solve the problem?

Thunberg justified her outrage by pointing out that the science of climate change has been known for 30 years. World leaders have looked away while the opportunities for a timely transition to a net-zero greenhouse-gas economy slipped by. Now even the heroic effort of halving emissions over the next ten years would, Thunberg pointed out, give us only a 50% chance of keeping global warming below 1.5º Celsius.

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