Greta Thunberg Warns Congress: You'll Have to Explain to Your Children Why You Didn't Act on Climate

Testifying before Congress on Earth Day, Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate activist, warned of the dire consequences if the United States continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry. The fact that these subsidies exist, she said, is “clear proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all.”

Thunberg, who addressed the United Nations at age 16, told a House subcommittee that the world is way behind where it needs to be to avoid a climate crisis.

“The fact that we are still having this discussion and even more that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels directly or indirectly using taxpayer money is a disgrace,” she said. President Biden has proposed ending these giveaways to the fossil fuel industry and raising levies on corporate polluters as part of his economic recovery plan, but it faces resistance from the fossil fuel lobby and Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) in Congress.

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Thunberg emphasized that current U.S. policies are not enough to avoid a climate crisis. “If you compare the current so-called climate policies to the overall current best available science, you clearly see that there is a huge gap. The gap between what we are doing and what actually needs to be done in order to stay below the 1.5 degrees Celsius target is widening by the second… So either you do this or you’re going to have to start explaining to your children and the most affected people why you are surrendering on the 1.5 degree target given up without even trying.”

But, despite the high stakes, Thunberg said she does not have hope that Congress will act on climate. “To be honest, I don’t believe for a second that you will actually do this. The climate crisis doesn’t exist in the public debate today… You will still get away with continuing to contribute to the destruction of present and future living conditions.”

She ended her opening statement by warning lawmakers that it is not just the planet but their legacies that are at stake.

“How long do you honestly believe that people in power like you will get away with it?” she asked. “How long do you think you can continue to ignore the climate crisis, the global aspect of equity and historic emissions without being held accountable?”

Thunberg added, “You get away with it now, but sooner or later people are going to realize what you have been doing this time. That’s inevitable. You still have time to do the right thing and to save your legacies, but that window of time is not going to last for long. We, the young people, are the ones who are going to write about you in the history books, we are the ones who get to decide how you will be remembered. So my advice for you is to choose wisely.”

Later during questioning, Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) asked Thunberg what she should tell her nine-year-old daughter who is concerned that the “Earth is on fire and we’re all going to die soon.”

“I know that there are many young people who feel angry and sad because of all the things that some people are doing to this planet,” Thunberg replied. “That’s very understandable. It would be strange if we didn’t feel that way, because then we wouldn’t have any empathy… And if we choose to take action… there’s unlimited things that we can do… There are no limits to what we can accomplish.”

“The best medication against anger and anxiety is to take action yourself,” she concluded. “So that’s what I would tell her — to take action herself because that will make her feel so much better.”

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