The Easiest Solution Is Right in Front of You

Austrian World Summit. Vienna, May 28, 2019


Most people, according to Thunberg, do not understand how serious the problem of climate change is. They know that something is wrong, involving greenhouse gases, but they do not understand the full consequences. Children have been school-striking to raise awareness of the problem, but human beings are social animals. They naturally follow their leaders. The people in her audience—politicians, CEOs and journalists—have the responsibility to educate. This is a reason for hope: “the easiest solution is right in front of you, and it has been all along. And it is us people, and the fact that we do not know” enough about the problem. “But once we understand, once we realize the situation, then we act, we change. Human beings are very adaptable.” The leaders she is addressing need to educate the rest of the world. They need to make clear the scale of the problem and explain that we losing the battle to solve it.

You Can’t Simply Make Up Your Own Facts

French National Assembly. Paris, July 23, 2019


Thunberg responds to complaints that she and other school-striking children are alarmists, exaggerating the problem of climate change. She points to the report of the most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That report tracks the world’s remaining “carbon budget.” Limiting the total amount of carbon emitted between 2018 and 2030 to 420 gigatons would give humanity a 67 percent chance of keeping the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. “At current emission levels,” Thunberg says, “that remaining budget is gone within 8.5 years. At 580 gigatons total emissions by 2030, the chance of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is just 50 percent. The future of civilization requires that the world deal with this problem, and yet politicians, journalists, and business leaders do not even mention the numbers. Do people who think she is being alarmist have other facts to draw on? Where are they? “You can’t simply make up your own facts, just because you don’t like what you hear.” If people do not want to listen to children, that is fine. Listen to scientists.

Analysis: The Easiest Solution Is Right in Front of You / You Can’t Simply Make Up Your Own Facts

Speaking to the Austrian World Summit and to the French National Assembly, Thunberg varies her approach by loading her speeches with facts but maintaining the pressure for action on her listeners. She moderates her accusatory tone but still makes it clear that she regards political and social leaders as negligent. Returning to her core message, she uses a mixture of scientific facts, personal perspective, and rhetorical questions to emphasize the urgency of action and compel listeners to take the responsibility for change. Her mention of the hate mail and public mockery that she and her fellow young activists receive implies that her listeners have failed to protect their constituents. When she asks rhetorically whether the politicians present have made a secret agreement to prevent climate change, she hammers home the point that a stronger, more effective agreement should have already been implemented.