On Wednesday, a group of well-read, thoughtful climate activists spoke to a petulant, self-centered, and ill-informed audience. The former was a group of teens; the latter were elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
While the U.N. Climate Action Summit took place in New York, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg and other young climate activists — including Jamie Margolin and this angel boy — were in Washington, D.C., urging Congress to take decisive climate action, and soon.
“I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to science, and then act.” Thunberg said during her opening statement, according to CNN reporter Bill Weir, presenting the members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee and the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis with a copy of the 2018 global warming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In turn, the members of Congress asked the activists salient questions like, “Why should we listen to the science?”
“This is not political opinion,” Thunberg said. “It’s science. Of course we should listen to it.”
“If you were picking up one piece of trash from the ocean while alongside, others were dumping boatloads of trash … how would that make you feel?” asked one congressman — a gorgeous and childishly simplistic metaphor for the current climate crisis.
“I would stop dumping trash into the ocean and tell the other countries to stop dumping their trash, too,” Thunberg replied.
Margolin was more forceful, calling the suggestion that the U.S. shouldn’t act on climate change first because other countries are also polluting “shameful and cowardly.”
The teens weren’t letting lawmakers get away with empty flattery either. On Tuesday, Thunberg met with members of the Democratic leadership in Washington. “We need your leadership. Young people are the army,” said Massachusetts senator Ed Markey, a co-author of the Green New Deal. “You put a spotlight on this issue in a way there has never been before.”
“Please save your praise, we don’t want it,” said Thunberg. “Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it. We don’t want to be invited to these kinds of meetings because, honestly, they don’t lead to anything.”
While the teen activists fought for their own future, outside the Capitol, the Amazon rainforest lay scorched, Bahamians tried to recover from the effects of Hurricane Dorian, ocean temperatures crept up toward a level that one U.N. report described as “poised to unleash misery,” and coastal communities around the world wrestled with the existential question of whether they’ll be around in 30 years, or even ten.
“Tell them the truth,” Thunberg said, when asked how to get more children engaged in fighting climate change. “Tell them how it is. When I found out, it made me furious … People in general don’t seem to be very aware of how serious this crisis is.”
It seems there are a lot of adults — ones in power — who need to be told how it is, too.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified one of the congressmen at the hearing.