The World Is Waking Up

UN General Assembly. New York, September 23, 2019


Thunberg scathingly criticizes the assembled delegates. “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. ... And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” The science is clear: cutting global carbon emissions in half over twelve years, starting in 2018, gives humanity at best a 50 percent chance of avoiding irreversible chain reactions that lead to climate catastrophe. Her audience is in denial about this reality. “Your generation is failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. ... We will not let you get away with this.”

We Are the Change and Change Is Coming

Week for Future, Climate Strike. Montreal, September 27, 2019



Canada and Sweden are similar, Thunberg jokes: similar landscapes, similar weather, similar wildlife—and similarly meaningless status as climate change leaders. Over 4 million people went on strike for climate change the week before, but the delegates to the UN Climate Change Action Summit responded with empty words and insufficient action. Therefore, the protests will continue. According to the latest numbers, 6.6 million have participated in strikes. “The people have spoken and will continue to speak until our leaders listen and act. We are the change and the change is coming.”

Analysis: The World Is Waking Up / We Are the Change and Change Is Coming

Both of these speeches highlight the theme of an individual’s power to initiate change, but Thunberg uses drastically different approaches that are tailored to her two distinct audiences. Although both speeches rely on the same facts, Thunberg adopts dramatically different tones for each. When speaking to the United Nations, Thunberg is angry and accusatory, issuing a furious, “How dare you!” She holds the delegates responsible for failing to protect her generation and to acknowledge and act on the irrefutable realities of climate change. She delivers a warning and a prediction of the consequences to come if they continue down their current course. By contrast, when speaking to Canadian climate strikers, she endeavors to build rapport with them by citing the similarities between Canada and Sweden and even making a joke. She still addresses the failures of their political leaders, but she mentions it to empower and encourage her listeners, whom she regards as allies. As usual, she reiterates her core message and delivers climate change facts that illustrate the urgency of the crisis. And as she did when speaking to the United Nations, she emphasizes the power of the people, this time not to threaten but to praise. Her closing prediction is not a warning but a message of hope. In each of the two speeches, Thunberg tailors her rhetoric to the specific audience she is addressing, creating two very different effects while speaking about the same theme.