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European Social and Economic Committee “Civil Society for reEUnaissance. Brussels, February 21, 2019
Thunberg responds to the complaint that she and other children striking to protest climate change should be in school. “We are schoolstriking because we have done our homework.” Her critics have not done theirs and are trying to change the subject. Humanity must achieve at least a 50 percent reduction in worldwide CO2 emissions by the year 2030. The European Union’s fair contribution to that goal would be an 80 percent reduction, including aviation and shipping. Those levels of emission reduction require “a whole new way of thinking” about politics and economics, with a focus on cooperation instead of competition. Future technologies to reverse the damage being done to the earth will not arrive in time, if ever. Addressing policymakers, Thunberg says, “You can’t just sit around saying hope will come—you’re acting like spoiled, irresponsible children. You don’t seem to understand that hope has to be earned. And if you still say that we are wasting valuable lesson time, then let me remind you that our political leaders have wasted decades through denial and inaction.”
In this speech, Thunberg uses word choice and connotation to frame herself and other student strikers as more mature than the adults she is speaking to. She employs the cliché about doing your homework, giving it a double meaning. She refutes those who think that she and her fellow activists should be in school with the argument that firstly, the students are not truant because their homework is done, and secondly, they are informed, reliable speakers regarding climate change. She reinforces the image of the strikers in the role of responsible adults cleaning up after children when she states that the young activists have started to clean up the adults’ mess. Through her use of metaphor, Thunberg not only refutes the attack that students are too young to address the crisis—she makes the further assertion that they are more to be trusted than the adults running the world.