Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, whose student-led “climate strikes” has sparked an international movement, on Wednesday called on U.S. lawmakers to “listen to the scientists” and “unite behind the science” as she brought her message to Capitol Hill.
Appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the preternaturally poised 16-year-old Swedish environmentalist submitted a United Nations climate report in lieu of a lengthy opening statement that typically sets the stage for a congressional hearing.
“I want you to take action,” she said simply. “I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me.”
Ms. Thunberg, who is organizing another major student walkout Friday and will travel to next week’s UN General Assembly, was part of a panel of youth climate activists aiming to gain support for action to combat climate change and boost awareness of the issue. Organizers are saying that — in sheer numerical terms — Friday’s walk-out could rank as the largest environmental protest action in history.
She got a respectful hearing from lawmakers as she recited the UN report’s warnings about the impact of rising average global temperatures and the need for world leaders to take action now.
“So far, our generation has failed to adequately address our climate crisis,” said Rep. Richard Keating, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Foreign Relations subcommittee on the environment.
“The one thing we don’t have is time,” he added. “This is a global issue, and the biggest polluters are going to need to make changes.”
Mr. Keating criticized the Trump administration’s decision to pull out from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017 — although, due to the conditions of the agreement, the U.S. cannot formally withdraw from the deal until 2020.
President Trump has argued repeatedly that the pact would have hurt the U.S. economy without imposing meaningful limits on greater polluters such as China and India.
At the G-7 summit in France last month, Mr. Trump said he won’t allow the U.S. to squander its wealth of fossil fuels on the “dreams” of people who are concerned about climate change.
As part of a multi-day tour in Washington, Ms. Thunberg and the young activists made the rounds on Capitol Hill, urging support for the Climate Action Now Act. The legislation would prevent the White House from using any federal funds to pull out of the deal come next year.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kathy Castor, Florida Democrat, said at a later event with the activists on the steps of the Supreme Court that “Congress has been entirely too slow” in combating climate change.
Ms. Thunberg, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who keeps her long ponytail in a braid, made headlines last year when she opted to skip school every Friday to demonstrate outside of the Swedish parliament in a call for more action that addresses the climate crisis. Her example was soon copied by students across Sweden and Europe.
This Friday, more than a million young people from 150 countries are expected to walk out of classes as part of the “Global Climate Strike” from school that Ms. Thunberg is leading from Washington. New York City public schools are granting their 1.1 million students an excused absence, with parental permission, to join the march.
Earlier this week, Ms. Thunberg sat down with former President Obama who called her one of the “planet’s greatest activists.”
The teen spent two weeks last month sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in an zero-emission sailboat to Manhattan ahead of her upcoming address at the United Nations Climate Action summit next week, in an effort to spread awareness to Americans about global warming.
“People in general don’t seem to be very aware of the actual science and how severe this crisis actually is,” Ms. Thunberg said, “we need to start treating this crisis like the existential emergency that it is.”