Chapter 1 – the UN speech
The first thing I see when I enter the United Nations headquarters building in New York City, is Roxy, my dog. The two of us are projected on to a large screen which apparently is a part of an international art exhibition. When I see her brown Labrador eyes it almost feels as if he was here with me. Suddenly I’m reminded of how much I miss her.
Today is September 23th 2019, and it’s now been seven weeks since I boarded the train in Stockholm and began my journey. I have no clue of how and when I’m going to get back home. Three weeks have passed since the boat Malizia sail into New York City’s harbor and left the peaceful constrained life on the ocean. Off the fourteen days at see we sailed pass the Statue of Liberty, stepped the shore in Manhattan, and took the red subway line uptown towards Central Park. My sea legs were shaking and all the impressions from people, scents and noises became almost impossible to take in.
The time in New York has been surreal: if the media attention was big in Europe, it’s nothing compared to how it is here. A year ago the thought of seeing pictures of my dog inside the UN would have been unthinkable. Now it’s nothing strange at all. I see myself everywhere. Just the night before one of my speeches have been projected on to the fassade of the UN building. But luckily I completely lack of interest in such things. If you would care about this kind of attention then you’d probably develop a self image that is far from sane.
It’s very hard to move inside the giant labyrinth of this building. Presidents, prime ministers, kings and princesses, all come up to me to chat. People recognize me and suddently see their opportunity to get a selfie, which later they can post on the Instagram with the caption hashtag #SaveThePlanet. Perhaps it makes them forget the shame of their generation, letting all future generations down. I guess maybe it helps them to sleep at night. In the green room, sitting with the other speakers, I tried to read through my speech, but I constantly get interrupted by people who want to do small talk and take selfies.
The UN secretary general Antonio Guterres steps in, we chat for a bit, just like I’ve learned that you’re supposed to do, I fill up my red boot bottle, and sit down again. Then it’s chancellor Angela Merkel’s turn, to come up, congratulate, take a picture and ask whether it’s ok for her to post on social media. A kew start for me. Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, waits in line, but doesn’t quite make it before it’s time for the event to start.
The annual UN general assembly week in NYC is always a big global event. But this year it was a bit extra special, since the secretary general had decided that the focus would be exclusively on the climate. The expectations are huge. It has been promoted as a “now or never” moment. Almost all of the world’s leaders are sitting in the audience, but it’s only those with specific so-called “solutions” who have received an invitation to address the general assembly. The event begins with a very ambitious digital sound-and-light show. The volume is way-too-high, I’m standing by the backdrop covering my ears.
We do not accept this odds. There is what the speech was about if you read it in full. And it of course eludes all remaining carbon budget. But the only message that seems to have resonated is: how dare you? I’ve never been angry in public, I barely even been angry at home, but this time I’ve decided that I have to make the most out of the speech. To address the United Nations’ General Assembly is something you probably only get to do once in your lifetime. So this is it. I need to say things I would be able to stand by for the rest of my life, so that I won’t look back in sixty or seventy years from now and regret that I didn’t say enough. But I help back. So I choose to let my emotions take control.
On the subway home I see that many in the car around me are watching the speech on their phones. Some comfort and congratulate me, someone suggests that we should celebrate. But I don’t understand what their congratulations are for, and I understand even less what we are supposed to be celebrating. Yet another meeting is over, and all that is left are empty words.
This is the transcript of Chapter 1 of the Sverige Radio program aired on June 20, 2020 with the title Greta Thunberg: Humanity has not yet failed.
The full transcript was published by Time magazine on July 10, 2020. Here it is offered in chapters to make it easier to read.