Teen Climate Activist Thunberg Leads Rally at UN

Posted by on 31/08/2019

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined several hundred other young people Friday outside the United Nations to demand action on global warming. 
 
To chants of “Greta! Greta!” the petite 16-year-old climate rock star made her way through a sea of young people, many of whom said they had drawn inspiration from her activism. 
 
She rose to fame last year after she started skipping school on Fridays, leading strikes over the lack of action on climate change. 
 
Greta arrived in New York on Wednesday, ahead of a Sept. 21 Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations, which she will address. Adult leaders will meet two days later to have a climate summit of their own. 
 
She has said she will not fly because air travel leaves too big a carbon footprint, and she put her principles to the test, crossing the Atlantic in a zero-emissions, no-frills sailboat with her father and a small crew. The trip took two weeks and the seas were often rough. 
 
On Friday, she looked tired and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the large and enthusiastic crowd and the aggressive pack of photographers and reporters. She answered a few questions, but her comments were mostly inaudible because there was no sound system and she is not one to shout her message. But it did not dampen the enthusiasm of the many young people who had come to see her.  

Youths gather Aug. 30, 3019, outside the United Nations in New York to demand action on global warming. (M. Besheer/VOA)

Youths gather Aug. 30, 3019, outside the United Nations in New York to demand action on global warming. (M. Besheer/VOA)

“We came today because we want to support Greta,” 12-year old Tilly told VOA. She had a sturdy grip on the hand of her 8-year old sister, Izzy. Tilly noted that her family recycles.  
 
Olivia, 15, from Long Island, New York, came by commuter train with her friend Defna, also 15, to see Greta. Olivia said her school is very conservative and climate change is not a subject that gets much attention. She wants to change that. 
 
“We want to start being a voice for our school, because we have to, because no one else is,” Olivia said. “We don’t have any clubs about the environment. We don’t have anything. We are trying to start, we have to, because people need to know about it, because they think it’s not as bad as it is.” 
 
This youth movement is angry at world leaders and adults who they think are not taking rising atmospheric temperatures, melting ice caps and greenhouse gas emissions seriously. 
 
“They [adults] have to strike with us, definitely,” Defna said. “And people who do not believe in the issue have to come here and support the kids, because it is our future.” 
 

A speaker addresses a crowd of young climate activists outside the United Nations in New York, Aug. 30, 2019. The rally came ahead of a Sept. 21 Youth Climate Summit at the U.N.; adult leaders will meet two days later for a climate summit of their own.

A speaker addresses young climate activists outside the United Nations in New York, Aug. 30, 2019. The rally preceded a Sept. 21 Youth Climate Summit at the U.N.; adults will meet two days later for a climate summit of their own. (M. Besheer/VOA)

Demonstrators carried signs that warned, “Protect the planet because your life depends on it,” “Our house is on fire,” and messages to the grownups that included, “Act now or we will!” 
 
Greta received an impromptu invitation to meet with the president of the U.N. General Assembly, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés. She took two of the young New York activists with her, Alexandria Villasenor, 14 and Xiye Bastida, 17. 
 
As they entered the U.N. building, Thunberg noted, “There is a lot of air conditioning.” 

‘Tipping point’
 
In her meeting, she spoke of the upcoming summit.  
 
“I think this U.N. summit needs to be some kind of breaking point, tipping point, where people start to realize what is actually going on,” Thunberg said. “And, so we have high expectations in you, too, and all member states to deliver. And we are going to try to do our part to make sure that they have all eyes on them and they have put the pressure on them so they cannot continue to ignore it.” 
 
Espinosa told VOA that she was impressed with Thunberg because of all that she has done and for “her commitment, strength and intelligence.” 
 
She said they discussed how governments, the private sector, citizens and youth all have roles to play to change the tide of global warming.  
 
Also Friday, a Brazilian delegation met with U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House, “to thank [him] for his support during the crisis surrounding the fires in the Amazon rainforest.” 
 
The meeting was not previously announced in the president’s daily schedule but was tweeted by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro late Thursday.

– Nosso Chanceler @ernestofaraujo e o Deputado Eduardo @BolsonaroSP serão recebidos, nessa sexta-feira, pelo Presidente @realDonaldTrump na Casa Branca em Washington.

— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) August 29, 2019

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ernesto Araújo downplayed the fires. “It’s basically on average of the last years, and Brazil is already controlling the fires,” he said. 
 
More than 75,000 fires covering the Amazon region have been detected this year, with many of them coming this month. Experts have blamed farmers and ranchers for the fires, accusing them of setting them to clear lands for their operations.  
  
About 60% of the Amazon region is in Brazil. The vast rainforest also extends into Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.  
 
At the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, last weekend, French President Emmanuel Macron and Bolsonaro went head to head several times over the Amazon fires issue. 

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