Editorial – Speaking Truth to Power: Youth Urge Action on Climate Change

by John Kleinsman and Camilla Cockerton

We are in the middle of the biggest crisis in human history and basically nothing is being done to prevent it.

Young voices around the world are calling out for urgent action on climate change. Swedish fifteen-year-old Greta Thunberg chastised world leaders at COP24, the recent UN climate conference in Poland. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, thousands of students recently marched on Parliament in solidarity with other students all over the world, voicing their protest at political inaction.

“For 25 years countless of people have stood in front of the United Nations climate conferences, asking our nation’s leaders to stop the emissions,” Greta told Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General in late 2018. “But, clearly, this has not worked since the emissions just continue to rise. So, I will not ask them anything. Instead, I will ask the media to start treating the crisis as a crisis. Instead, I will ask the people around the world to realize that our political leaders have failed us. Because we are facing an existential threat and there is no time to continue down this road of madness.”

Concerned about the environment as a child, Greta convinced her family to adopt a sustainable lifestyle. At the age of 11, she became ill, depressed, and stopped talking and eating. Her diagnosis included selective mutism, meaning that she only speaks when she feels it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.

At COP24, Greta spoke bluntly and heartfully to world leaders – governments must treat climate change as a crisis and act while there is still time.

My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden. I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now. Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet.

Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself. We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people. Thank you.

How are those in power responding to Greta’s message? The degree of denial amongst the ‘adults in charge’ is well illustrated by those New Zealand principals who warned their students they would be marked “truant” if they participated in the March 15th rallies. Perhaps the most ironic comment of all came from the President of the Secondary Principals’ Association who was concerned about “student safety”! ‘Hello’, the ‘safety’ of these students (and future generations of students) is precisely what this is all about!

Around the world, it is students who have now taken on the role of being teachers to the rest of us. And it is those who fail to recognise the urgency of the crisis who are the real truants when it comes to climate change action!


Dr John Kleinsman is director of The Nathaniel Centre, the New Zealand Catholic Bioethics Centre. Dr Camilla Cockerton is an independent researcher. Her book Contested Migration: Tswana Women ‘Running Away’ from the ‘Land of the Desert’ was recently published by Palgrave-McMillan.


1 Thunberg, G. (2018, December 3) Greta Thunberg’s speech to UN secretary general Antonio Guterres. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/wedonthavetime/greta-thunberg-speech-to-unsecretary- general-ant%C3%B3nio-guterres-362175826548
2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFkQSGyeCWg