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Speaking Truth to Power

The most powerful people from around the globe came together last month in Davos, Switzerland for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. The gathering has drawn criticism in the past for being nothing more than an ineffectual talking exercise for the cloistered, mega-wealthy. However this year’s meeting was a little different.

Global Climate Change Comes to Davos

Perhaps no one received more attention at Davos than 16-year old climate activist Greta Thunberg. In 2018, Thunberg garnered global recognition for starting School Strikes 4 Climate Action, which organizes school-aged kids around the world to protest government inaction against climate change. Thunberg has addressed the United Nations climate change summit, gave a TEDxStockholm talk, and, this year, was invited to address Davos attendees.

Thunberg did not hold back.


Here’s a transcript of her remarks:

“Some people say that the climate crisis is something that we all have created, but that is not true, because if everyone is guilty then no one is to blame. And someone is to blame. Some people, some companies, some decision-makers in particular, have known exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money. And I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

The stunned silence which followed Thunberg’s pointed critique is almost as remarkable as the words themselves, and betray an audience unaccustomed to such direct criticism.

“Our House is on Fire”

Thunberg followed up her words with a longer speech imploring the world’s elite to take real, substantive action to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

“You say nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie. A very dangerous lie. Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control or we don’t.

Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival.

We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail.

That is up to you and me.”

It’s clear Greta Thunberg has no problem speaking truth to power, but it’s going to take more than the words of one young women to make real change. The CEO’s and government leaders who attend Davos every year have done a masterful job spreading the blame for climate change. In turn, their proposed solutions put all the mitigation responsibility on individual consumers: don’t eat meat, have fewer children, stop driving cars.

In reality, these CEO’s and world leaders will need to commit to a wholesale realignment of the world economic order to make real progress against climate change. Perhaps that thought is too frightening for many of the most powerful to bear. But for young people like Greta Thunberg, the idea of continued inaction is even more terrifying.