Less than a week after hundreds of thousands of children around the world flooded the streets to demand action on climate change, some of the most powerful adults on the planet gathered at the United Nations for a climate summit to discuss what to do about the crisis. Still, the teens had a presence. One of the first speakers to address the group was none other than Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who at 16 has inspired what appears to be…her entire generation.
“This is all wrong,” Thunberg said in one of her most passionate speeches to date. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. Yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you! You are failing us, but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say, ‘We will never forgive you.'”
The speech was a barn burner, but Thunberg is the last person to be all talk and no action. A few hours later Thunberg announced that she and 14 of her peers had filed a suit against five of the world’s major carbon polluters for violating their rights. (The suit alleges that the countries’ actions go against the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.) If it is successful, the U.N. would have to recognize the climate crisis as a children’s rights crisis, which would be a landmark development in the crusade for action on the issue.
On social media the speech and the suit have found an even bigger audience. (And that’s on top of another viral moment of Thunberg’s, when a camera caught her reacting to President Trump—which has already gotten the meme treatment.) “Keep speaking the truth and fighting for big, structural change, @GretaThunberg. Change is possible when millions of people push for it—and when leaders are willing to listen and lead. I promise to fight alongside you and do everything I can to end the climate crisis,” wrote Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass). Actress Mia Farrow also shared, “@GretaThunberg you have taken on this enormous task and with it, you have given everything and live with the pain of knowing, of trying ceaselessly, of caring with all your being in a world that prioritizes prosperity. But you are moving people—thank you Greta. Thank you.”