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United States Congress. Washington DC, September 18, 2019
America, Thunberg tells the assembled senators and representatives, is “the country of dreams.” She also has a dream—that governments, political parties and corporations recognize climate change as a crisis, and come together to solve the problem. Until that happens, “dreams cannot stand in the way of telling the truth. And yet, wherever I go I seem to be surrounded by fairy tales.” For example, business leaders speak of opportunities to create “green jobs.” The crisis is a crisis, not a growth opportunity, and it will not be solved until people treat it as a crisis.
Global carbon emissions must be cut in half by 2030, compared to 2018. Then, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there will be a 50 percent chance—the chance of a coin flip—of keeping global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The USA, the world’s biggest oil producer and biggest carbon polluter, is planning to pull out of the Paris climate change agreement, because the agreement is supposedly a bad deal. However, Thunberg says, “Our main enemy now is physics. And we cannot make a ‘deal’ with physics.” American’s have made great sacrifices before, to achieve great things: the D-Day invasion, the civil rights marches, the moon landing. Americans know how to rise to meet challenges. Its leaders must not gamble their children’s future on a coin flip.
In this address to the United States Congress, Thunberg incorporates American cultural references that invoke Americans’ understanding of their country as a place where dreams come true. Thunberg alludes to Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful “I Have a Dream” speech and to the American Dream: that anyone, no matter their background, can achieve success in this nation. She then speaks about the “fairy tales” she has encountered: lies spread by eager-to-please politicians that claim climate change can be stopped without making anyone uncomfortable. People believe these fairy tales because they are more pleasant than the truth: that it will take concerted effort to confront and stop the climate crisis. After proving the necessity for drastic change and reproaching the audience for their failure to make sacrifices, Thunberg flatters them with her reminders of the heroic successes of great American leaders. Effectively, she gives Congress a challenge: to prove that they are defenders of the American Dream, worthy of the legacies of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.