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by Susan Hellauer
One of the most famous women—no, one of the most famous people—of the European Middle Ages left behind no portrait. Any likeness of Joan of Arc, in history books or art, is pure conjecture.
But she did leave behind one of the great mysteries of Western history: An illiterate teenage peasant girl gained access to the feckless heir to the French throne. She convinced him to let her lead his army to a critical victory in 1429 against the English in the Hundred Years’ War. How could Jeanne d’Arc—far less than a nobody—possibly have done it? With what voice, what face, what force of conviction?
As I watched 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg address the United Nations Climate Action Summit on Monday, I began to imagine an answer.
Here is what she said:
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, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales 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’re 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 popular idea of cutting our emissions in half in 10 years only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 degrees [Celsius], 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, additional warming hidden by toxic air pollution or the aspects of equity and climate justice. They also rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons 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 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on Jan. 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 within less than 8 1/2 years.
There will not be any solutions or plans presented 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.
- “The Hidden Costs of Food Waste” (8/23/19, State of the Planet, Columbia University Earth Institute)
- “Feed People, Not Landfills” (10/14/17, Nyack News and Views)
- “A Food-Waste Win for NY” (5/8/19, Nyack News and Views)
- “15 Creative Uses for Food Scraps” (5/2/18, Zero-Waste Chef)
- Cornell Cooperative Extension-Rockland County: Compost resources
- When she’s not tending her Nyack home garden, find Janet Fenton volunteering at Marydell’s Garden of Faith, which provides fresh produce to the St. Ann’s Church (Nyack) food pantry. To volunteer, call 845 353 0793.
Earth Matters, a weekly feature that focuses on conservation, sustainability, recycling and healthy living, is sponsored by Maria Luisa Boutique, and Strawtown Studio. Read Earth Matters every Wednesday on Nyack News And Views, or sign up for the Earth Matters mailing list.