Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish youth climate activist, captured the world’s attention at the United Nations Climate Action Summit today by reminding her audience that she is, in fact, a child—one who would like a fair shot at a future. “This is all wrong,” Thunberg told representatives of 110 U.N. member states. “I shouldn’t be standing here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to me for hope? How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
Ahead of filing a complaint, along with 15 other children, against Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey for allegedly failing to uphold their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Thunberg didn’t attempt to mask her outrage at the adults in the room. In an unabashedly angry yet resolute tone, she said: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”
The young activist drew a stark dividing line between her peers and the generations that preceded them, noting that current conservative climate change projections “rely on my generation sucking hundreds of billions of tons of your CO2 out of the air with technologies that barely exist.” She railed against “business as usual” with regard to climate change solutions, threatening, “The eyes of all future generations are upon you, and if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”
Thunberg has drawn national attention for her precocious eloquence, so it feels particularly affecting to watch her level hundreds of strangers with raw, unadulterated truth, seemingly without caring whether she’s perceived as being “emotional” (or whatever infantilizing, sexist descriptor conservatives lob her way next).
As youth activists like Thunberg, 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s 16-year-old daughter Isra Hirsi are organizing mass walkouts to draw attention to the scourge of climate change, it’s difficult to watch them as an adult without feeling some level of shame. Still, our shame won’t heal the planet; all we can do is heed their words and let their courage inspire us to take action ourselves.
Originally Appeared on Vogue