UN Climate Change Conference. Katowice, Poland, December 15, 2018


Thunberg is from Sweden, she says—a small country, but “no one is too small to make a difference.” She criticizes the conference delegates harshly. They are “too scared of being unpopular.” Humanity, she says, is about to sacrifice its civilization and the biosphere so that a few people in countries like hers can become enormously rich and live in luxury. “You say you love your children above everything else. And yet you are stealing their future.” Politicians should focus on what needs to be done: “We must keep the fossil fuels in the ground and focus on equity.” Speaking for her generation, Thunberg concludes defiantly: “We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. ...You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time.”

Prove Me Wrong

World Economic Forum. Davos, January 22, 2019


Thunberg criticizes the suggestion that “we are not doing enough” about climate change. With a few exceptions, she says, “we are basically not doing anything.” It is too easy to say that we have all created this problem. It is mainly the fault of specific corporations and decision-makers, who have known exactly what they are doing, and what price the rest of the world will pay. “I want to challenge those companies and those decision-makers into real and bold action,” Thunberg says. “I do not believe for one second that you will act. But I ask you all the same. I ask you to prove me wrong.” She urges her audience of forum participants to pledge to push their own businesses or governments toward a world in which global temperatures will rise no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Analysis: Unpopular / Prove Me Wrong

In her speech "Unpopular," Thunberg’s unusual choice to directly attack her listeners is a stark, impactful contrast with the formal tone of most political speeches. Speaking to the powerful delegates at the UN Climate Conference, she eschews polite diplomacy and instead makes her case using simple, blunt words. The verbal picture she draws of the questions that future generations might ask is meant to shame the delegates, who she believes are not doing enough to address the climate crisis. Her stance toward the delegates at the World Economic Forum one month later in "Prove Me Wrong" is similar. She holds the members of her audience directly responsible for the crisis, employing words with strong negative connotations and portraying the delegates as deliberately deceptive. Having accused her listeners, she then offers them a chance to undo the harm they’ve caused. Her tone is defiant, yet hopeful. Her choice to conclude the speech with a question places the impetus to respond on her listeners. Thunberg makes their response, or lack thereof, the final example of her argument. Any choice they make will prove her point: either they recognize the crisis as real and urgent, or they do nothing, confirming that they are guilty of everything she accused them of.