September 20, 2019
September 19, 2019
Once I’d settled into the cab and headed toward City Center, I found myself pulling up the photo again. There was former President Barack Obama giving a fist bump to Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, who had visited with him just the day before to discuss the climate crisis. Along with the photo, Obama tweeted that Thunberg is “already one of our planet’s greatest advocates” and that our future will be shaped “by young leaders like her.”
As the cab weaved through the DC neighborhoods, I thought about my almost teenage daughter and the school paper she recently wrote about Greta. The topic was her own and resulted in a well-crafted, passionate delivery that earned her a standing ovation from her fellow classmates. I smiled and typed “Greta Thunberg DC.” Maybe she was still here!
The search confirmed my hunch. The 16-year-old dynamo was wrapping up a six-day visit to the nation’s capital and had literally just completed testimony before the House Climate Crisis Committee and a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. Her next stop today would be the Supreme Court followed by an appearance before the House Ways and Means Committee in the afternoon. I dropped my stuff at the hotel, took a few calls, and headed for the Capitol. My actual reason for coming to DC – a professional conference – was officially on hold.
Upon arrival at the Longworth House Office Building, where the House Ways and Means Committee convenes, I made my way up the stairs and through the security line. Greta’s address would take place in the Ways and Means Committee Hearing Room and would be followed by a panel discussion on the latest climate science and impacts. This was good.
Once inside, I found a seat on the aisle about six rows from the front of the room, as the first several rows had been reserved. Members of the media took their respective positions. With a few exceptions, the crowd of about one hundred or so looked almost entirely comprised of young professionals. I noted several young children with their parents, and that the crowd seemed pretty diverse.
Within no time the program commenced. Several speakers began, including Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who noted that this moment “feels different.” He was followed by Florida Congresswoman Kathy Castor, who drew parallels between the work that Greta and others are doing with the students at Parkland who have raised awareness about gun violence. “These young people are rising to the climate challenge and we need to rise up with them.” After Castor presented her with a small gift from the members of the Select Committee, it was Greta’s turn.
“Hi everyone, my name is Greta Thunberg. I am a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. I am grateful for being with you here in the USA, a nation that, to many people, is the country of dreams. I also have a dream: that governments, political parties and corporations grasp the urgency of the climate and ecological crisis and come together despite their differences - as you would in an emergency - and take the measures required to safeguard the conditions for a dignified life for everybody on earth.”
The room was totally silent and in full attention.
“This is, above all, an emergency, and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.”
Greta went on to discuss equity, saying that the Paris Agreement is “absolutely necessary” to make change work on a global scale. “That means that richer countries need to do their fair share and get down to zero emissions much faster, so that people in poorer countries can heighten their standard of living by building some of the infrastructure that we have already built, such as roads, hospitals, schools, clean drinking water, and electricity. The USA is the biggest carbon polluter in history. It is also the world’s number one producer of oil. And yet, you are also the only nation in the world that has signaled your strong intention to leave the Paris Agreement, because ”it was a bad deal for the USA”.”
She continued. “I have many dreams. But this is the year 2019. This is not the time and place for dreams. This is the time to wake up. This is the moment in history when we need to be wide awake. And yes, we need dreams…we cannot live without dreams. But there’s a time and place for everything. And dreams cannot stand in the way of telling it like it is.”
This was unimaginable just hours before. Here I was in this dignified, intimate setting, in the presence of a transcendent force speaking with confidence, courage, and clarity. I thought of the photograph again, the Parkland students, my own children. I was filled with love and hope.
“You must take action. You must do the impossible. Because giving up can never ever be an option.”
Our standing ovation was a place to start.