Greta Thundberg Talking To David Wallace-Wells

David Wallace-Wells has published a conversation, Greta Thunberg: ‘The World Is Getting More Grim by the Day’, in advance of the publication of the book to the right:

There is genuinely no precedent in the modern history of geopolitics for the climate activist Greta Thunberg.

Four and a half years ago, she began “striking” outside of Swedish parliament — a single teenager with a single sign. She was 15. In just a few months, she had made her mark at the United Nations climate conference in Poland: “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is,” she told the assembled diplomats and negotiators, “even that burden you leave to us children.”

By the time she spoke at Davos that January, excoriating the world — “I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is” — she had become the face of the global climate movement, giving it an entirely new generational life and scale. She led weekly marches across the globe that drew millions of people through 2019 and helped force the world’s most powerful people to at least pay lip service to what they now called a climate crisis.

I first met Thunberg in the middle of that maelstrom, when she came to New York in 2019 by boat to help stage two large climate strikes as bookends to the U.N.’s climate week. A lot has changed since then, and then again, a whole lot hasn’t. Thunberg is 20 now. Countries accounting for almost 90 percent of the world’s emissions and G.D.P. have made net-zero pledges. Renewable energy is skyrocketing, though fossil fuel use has only plateaued — perhaps even peaked — but it is a long way down from 40 gigatons (50 if you include methane) to zero. Current policies still point to a global average temperature rise above three degrees Celsius this century, more than double the more ambitious goals enshrined by the Paris agreement in 2015. And now Thunberg has published her third book, called “The Climate Book,” a curated tour of the state of the emergency and how to think about it from more than 100 contributors. (I wrote an essay for it drawing lessons from the experience of the pandemic.)

In early February I spoke with Thunberg, who was in Sweden, over Zoom, about why she believes it is now a trickier time to be a climate activist than when she began, why it’s no longer sufficient to listen to the scientists, the necessity of systems change and whether she still believes in the basic goodness of people. The conversation has been edited lightly for clarity and length.

We first met in 2019.

That was a time …

What’s changed, if anything, since then?

It seems like the world is getting more and more grim every day. The concentration of CO₂ is now higher in the atmosphere and causing more and more extreme weather.

But there are also positive things that have changed. We have more people now who are mobilized and who are in the climate movement, in the fight for the climate and social justice.

So I guess that’s a good thing. But we have to be able to zoom out and see that we are still moving in the wrong direction. The things that people said back then that they were going to do, they still haven’t done, which proves, or which shows us, that it was just empty promises and really not taking it seriously, unfortunately.

Read the whole essay here.

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