Greta Thunberg and youth plaintiffs from the Juliana vs United States trial have been in Washington DC this week, pressing home the urgency of climate action ahead of a worldwide week of climate strikes. 5,225 climate strike events have been organised between 20-27 September in 156 countries on all seven continents. Thunberg spearheaded the Friday for Future movement in August 2018 beginning with her solitary Friday strike from school outside the Swedish parliament.
At a Select Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing in Washington DC this Wednesday, climate science was presented to Congress by the youth activists. Reactions to their testimonies exposed a gulf of political reluctance by some US lawmakers to make the systemic changes necessary to secure the young people’s future.
Next generation unites around the science
16-year-old Thunberg, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has gained global recognition for her slew of high-profile, stinging statements fired at politicians and business leaders for failing to mitigate global emissions. Since Geographical covered her strike action and the Juliana case in the April issue, Thunberg’s social media outreach across her channels has swarmed to nearly five million people. On 14 August she began a 15-day journey across the Atlantic in a zero-carbon yacht, principally to attend the UN Climate Action Summit in New York on 23 September. Since then she has used her notoriety to put wind into the sails of climate science.
‘I am submitting this report as my testimony,’ the slight Swedish teenager insisted as she slid the IPCC Report on 1.5 Degrees of Warming towards the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, ‘because I don’t want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to the scientists and I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take real action.’
‘This is our deadline to save life as we know it,’ Jamie Margolin told Congress. The 17-year-old founder of youth climate justice movement Zero Hour was also referring to the IPCC report and its 2030 date for reducing still-rising global emissions by 45 per cent. Such measures to limit warming to 1.5ºC would reduce global risks of disasters including floods, saltwater intrusion, biodiversity loss, sea ice-free Arctic summers, heat-related mortality, and water stress as well as climate exacerbated poverty and inequality.
When Thunberg was asked to expand on why it was so important to listen to the science by Committee chair Bill Keating (D – Massachusetts), the bemused recent arrival to US shores explained that ‘it’s just something that should be taken for granted, that we listen to the current best available united science.’ When asked in earnest by Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D – Virginia) if the climate crisis could pose a threat to national security, teenage Thunberg politely coached back ‘maybe you should talk to someone who is an expert.’
Later in the hearing, Congressman Garrett Graves (R – Louisiana) congratulated Thunberg on her testimony, belying the normalisation of how expertise has been forced to compete with bluster under a Trump presidency. ‘I think we actually need more science, not less,’ Graves said, before arguing that the United States should not be expected to cut emissions further when China is increasing them. Congressman Buddy Carter (R – Georgia) closed out proceedings holding up an indecipherable A4-sized chart to the youth activists and assembled committee, falsely claiming that ‘carbon output has decreased’ in the US since 1970. Carter has lobbied this year, with the support of the American Public Gas Association, to scrap the ban on fossil fuel use in federal buildings.
See you on the Streets
Across the road from Congress, the Juliana vs United States youth climate plaintiffs also held a press conference attended by Thunberg on the steps of the Supreme Court. ‘I feel old,’ lead plaintiff Kelsey Juliana began. ‘I’ve been doing this more than half my life.’ She seemed tired, stopping and sighing repeatedly between statements. Juliana spoke of the effort it takes to keep on showing up despite all the setbacks her lawsuit against the Federal government has experienced. Her co-plaintiff, Vic Barrett, had also spoken to the Select Committee of his struggles with depression as a youth activist ‘who watches the government knowingly perpetuate the climate crisis.’
Meeting with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had lifted the Juliana plaintiffs’ spirits on Tuesday. Yet the feeling is that relentlessly pinning their hopes on the judicial system to fix the climate crisis feels increasingly impotent next to Thunberg’s wide-reaching disruption outside of it. Just how deeply she has moved people to act will be revealed during the next few days’ climate action strikes taking place across the world.
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