Nature and Biodiversity

“Our house is on fire.” 16 year-old Greta Thunberg wants action

Greta Thunberg has a message for world leaders Image: Mattias Nutt

James Workman
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

“I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic…and act.”

Greta Thunberg does not mince words when speaking truth to power, and her soft voice silenced a room full of global leaders from the financial, political and media sectors.


“Our house is on fire,” said the Swedish student activist who has galvanized 100,000 fellow teens around the world to follow her example in striking for the climate. “At Davos, people like to talk about success, but financial success has come with a price tag, and on the climate we have failed. And unless we recognize the failures of our system, there will be unspoken suffering.”

Thunberg dismissed the usual admonishments that climate is complex. She has grown impatient when grown-ups explain to her that structural reform is hard, sensitive, intricate, takes time, and that nothing in life is black and white. “That is a lie,” she countered. “Either we prevent temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees (Celsius), or we don’t. Either we avoid chain reaction of unravelling ecosystems, or we don’t. That’s as black or white as it gets. Now we all have a choice: we can either create transformational action or continue with business as usual and fail.”

Transformational action entails slashing carbon emissions by more than 50% within the next twelve years. “We are less than two years away from being unable to undo our mistakes,” she warned, noting that the most recently reported IPCC numbers, urgent as they are, “don’t even take into account the issue of social equity, nor does it include the tipping points and feedback loops, like the thawing of permafrost.”

She is too young to vote. She has no capital to invest. She lacks a position of formal power to alter the course of global markets. What she does have is a voice, and a will to make it heard. So every Friday, Thunberg stands impatiently on the threshold of powerful institutions -- whether the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, or here in Davos at the Ice House – making the nonviolent case for zero carbon, “striking for the climate,” and inspiring students around the world to follow her example.

We are at a time in history, she says, in a calm, flat, yet compelling voice, “where anyone with a conscience,” must recognize their role in a kind of change that affects everything in our current societies. “The bigger the carbon footprint, the bigger the platform, the bigger responsibility to lead.”


Thunberg’s message was not all doom and gloom, and she showed glimpses of humour. There is still time, she allowed, for Homo sapiens to reverse the most severe challenge our species has ever faced. But she had no time for more patronizing hot air. “I often hear adults say: ‘We need to give the next generation hope’,” she concluded. “But I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.”

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