Quote 1

You only speak of green, eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular.

This quote from Thunberg’s speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference appears in the section “Unpopular.” It is typical of her approach when addressing groups of powerful people: she is direct to the point of bluntness, often accusing her listeners of profound failures. She frequently repeats that those in leadership positions are either ignoring the climate crisis or that the measures they have proposed are too weak to solve the problem, supporting these arguments with data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Her signature speaking style uses simple, straightforward language and leaves polite diplomacy by the wayside. Thunberg suggests elsewhere in the book that her bluntness is a consequence of her autism, which makes her factually oriented and logical. Her reference to growth in the quote underscores two points she repeatedly makes: that the climate crisis was caused and made worse by greed, and that the present economic system must be drastically changed to create sustainability.

Quote 2

Our house is on fire.

Thunberg introduces this metaphor the first time she addresses the World Economic Forum conference at Davos, and it can be found in the section “Our House Is on Fire.” She frequently returns to it to emphasize the urgency of the crisis. One of Thunberg’s chief messages about climate change is that neither those in power nor ordinary people are treating it as the emergency it is. The burning house metaphor is compelling and alarming, and it strengthens her call for immediate, drastic action, not merely discussion. She connects this image with her repeated rejections of the idea that nothing in life is black and white. Whether humanity survives, she points out, is black and white: either we live through the crisis or we don’t. The metaphor of the burning house is Thunberg’s effort to reduce her message to the simplest and most powerful terms in the hopes that no one can ignore it.

Quote 3

Our house is falling apart…. But it is still not too late to act. …It will take fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations when we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking.

In “Cathedral Thinking,” Thunberg’s speech the day after the burning of Notre Dame Cathedral, she taps into the widespread grief and shock about the event and uses the cathedral as an analogy of both the problem and the solution of climate change. She extends her earlier metaphor of the burning house, connecting the burned cathedral to our “house,” the global environment. Like the cathedral, it is on fire and growing steadily hotter. Yet the cathedral also provides her with a new figure of speech. “Cathedral thinking” is a mindset that starts solving the problem even though every detail of the solution can’t be foreseen yet. In some ways, the burning cathedral is an even more effective metaphor than the burning house, for it is not only an essential part of life but an emblem of beauty and meaning for millions. Thunberg is reaching out to those who feel reverence for the cathedral to remind them that the largest cathedral, Earth, is also on fire.

Quote 4

We need to change the way we treat the climate crisis. We need to change the way we speak about the climate crisis. And we need to call it what it is. An emergency.

This quote can be found in the section “The Easiest Solution Is Right in Front of You.” Speaking at the World Summit in Vienna, Thunberg reasserts the idea that serves as the foundation of many of her speeches: climate change is an emergency, and it must be recognized and responded to as such. She recounts her experience as a child, when she was unable to believe that climate change was a serious problem because adults didn’t appear to be taking it seriously. She examines the issue in detail while discussing what should be happening in order to minimize the destructiveness of global warming and what she perceives is happening instead. She is convinced that if people truly understood the nature of the crisis, they would act, and she believes that ordinary citizens can bring about real change.

Quote 5

I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope? How dare you!

This quote appears in “The World is Waking Up.” In this speech to the United Nations, Thunberg speaks with more evident outrage than she ever has before. The best she can say of the delegates is that she doesn’t believe they are evil, but she calls them immature and says they are “failing” and “betraying” young people. Thunberg has given many warnings that children will not forgive the adults who caused the climate crisis. Here, she is demonstrating what that refusal to forgive will sound like. She is disgusted that her powerful audience members not only have failed to act and to take responsibility, but that they have also turned to younger people for leadership and guidance. She reminds them constantly that they won’t have to live with the consequences of their failures, but she and other children will. Already known for her assertive tone and her willingness to take unprecedented action, in this speech Thunberg goes all out.