Chapter 2: Washington D.C.
Who is the adult in the room? That question has been asked over and over again during the last year. But this question reaches a whole new level when I end up standing in front of the food court in the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Fast food chains. Hamburgers, candy and ice cream stores. Dunkin Donuts. Baskin Robbins. Here you find the most powerful policymakers in the world sitting in their suits, while drinking pink milkshake, eating junk food and candy.
In the week leading up to the UN General Assembly meeting I spend a few days in the nation’s capital. I use the opportunity to do the kind of things you can do when in Washington D.C. Like visit museums, protest outside the White House, speak in the United States Congress, and stuff like that. But most of the time I meet with politicians.
It gets a bit repetitive after a while. But in a way it almost feels like coming home, since politicians are pretty much the same no matter where you are in the world.
I urge them to listen to the science and act now before it’s too late. They say that they think it’s so amazing that I’m so active and committed, and that when I grow up I too can become a politician and make a real difference in the world. I then explain that when I’ve grown up and finished my education it will be too late to act if we are to stay below the 1.5°C – or even 2°C – target. After that I talk through some of the figures and numbers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C report. Then they laugh nervously and start talking about something else.
A group of maybe 20 young climate activists gather inside the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. Our group mostly consists of representatives from indigenous peoples in North- and South America. From First Nation tribes and the Amazon rainforest.
On the wall hangs a big portrait of Abraham Lincoln. The atmosphere during the meeting is awkward at best. It is as if two entirely different worlds collide. Worlds separated by hundreds of years of injustices, structural and systematic racism, oppression and genocide.
At last a young activist asks to speak. Her name is Tokata Iron Eyes and she lives in Pine Ridge, an Indian reservation in South Dakota, one of the poorest and most socially vulnerable communities in the entire United States.
“How do you think it feels for us to sit here in this room with that man looking down from that painting?” she says and points to Abraham Lincoln.
Speaker Pelosi apologies if anyone has been offended but explains that he was a great man who has meant so much for their country.
“He wanted my people dead”, Tokata says. She’s referring to the executions of Dakota Indians ordered by Lincoln in 1862. “To sit here in this room with that painting… It’s just so difficult” she says.
I try to picture things from her perspective. We fight for climate justice, but how can any justice be achieved when the social and racial injustices have never been officially acknowledged in the public eye in so many parts of the world?
That same day I’m called to testify in the U.S. Congress. But it just feels wrong. What am I supposed to do or say there? I want the people in power to listen to the science, not to me. But after a lot of hesitation and consideration I figured out a way. I asked whether I could borrow a computer. I print out a copy of the IPCC’s 1.5°C report. I was ready to submit my testimony.
Afterwards I take the metro to Tenleytown and walk the 45 minute stroll to the house we’ve borrowed. The walk stretches through some of the most beautiful neighbourhoods you can possibly imagine. Every house is like a miniature castle straight out of a fairytale. Outside one of the biggest houses there’s a woman standing with her daughter, who is around the age of five. “It’s you!” the mother says when she sees me. “Can I take a picture of you together with my daughter?”
“Of course!” I answer.
When I walk away she turns facing the girl. “Greta is a climate activist, she explains. Maybe you’ll also become an activist when you grow up.” The mother says it in a way that makes /climate activist/ appear as the most noble, cool thing in the world.
Like a mix between a ballerina, a president, and an astronaut.
This is the transcript of Chapter 2 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.