A week after she told Congress, "I know you are trying but just not hard enough," 16-year-old climate-change activist Greta Thunberg took her message to the United Nations. She arrived in the U.S. via a solar-powered sailboat from Europe, just days before millions of people around the world participated in youth-led strikes demanding climate action. Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Monday, the normally placid and composed Thunberg became visibly emotional as she delivered her opening lines:
"This is all wrong. 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. And yet I’m 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 fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"
Many researchers and activists have drawn the connection between environmental destruction and pressures to achieve short-term economic growth. There's probably no more literal example of this than the clearing and burning of the Amazon. Destroying the Amazon will cost the planet a massive carbon-capture system, all for the benefit of timber and cattle industries. A recent report from BIOS, an independent research unit based in Finland, warns that capitalism as an economic system isn't likely to survive the destruction of climate change, and it's largely for the same reason that capitalism is driving climate change. As BIOS economist Paavo Järvensivu told the BBC, "Capitalism as we know it has depended on cheap energy—that is the engine or the facilitator of the growth that we have seen in the last 100, 150, or 200 years, basically." He added, "The era of cheap energy is coming to an end."
Some of the people who best understand the threat climate change poses to big business are the people actually running those businesses. Exxon Mobil's own executives were aware of the scope of possible disaster as early as the 1980s, and rather than adjust their practices to minimize that damage, the company funded studies and campaigns to sow doubt about the science behind climate change.
Thunberg closed her comments with a warning to the presidents, prime ministers, and chief executives in the audience: "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. We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not."
Shortly after Thunberg completed her speech, she and 14 other young people filed a formal complaint with the U.N. against Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, and Turkey. As CNN reports, the complaint claims that the five governments' sluggish responses to climate change is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely signed treaty in the world. At a press conference, Thunberg explained, "The message that we want to send is that we've had enough."
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Originally Appeared on GQ