Congress

Swedish teen Greta Thunberg joins senators, advocates seeking climate action

Appearance is first of several on Capitol Hill to promote global strike effort

Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg, center, makes her way to a press conference to discuss climate change. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Ahead of a global strike for climate action, Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg joined fellow young advocates and Senate Democrats to draw attention to the peril of global warming.

Although she did not speak at a Tuesday news conference organized by Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey and other Democrats, a representative for Thunberg said the 16-year-old was there to lend her support. She has, however, planned a blitz of activity around the Capitol this week that will culminate in the global climate strike.

At the news conference, Nadia Nazar, a 17-year-old Baltimore resident who co-founded the youth-led climate group Zero Hour, said her resolve to demand climate action was strengthened last year when relatives in India and friends in Ellicott City, Maryland, grappled with catastrophic floods.

“My story lies next to the girl that drowned in the Bahamas from Hurricane Dorian; my story lies next to the indigenous people laying their lives down in front of bulldozers to protect their land; my story lies next to the elderly person who died in the California wildfire,” Nazar said.

An increasing number of global catastrophes exacerbated by the effects of a hotter Earth has prompted more young people around the world to call for action from their leaders. The young activists say their generation will feel the impacts of climate change more than the current generation of lawmakers and government officials.

Thunberg is slated to appear Wednesday before the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis and later speak on the steps of the Supreme Court.

The 16-year-old has gained global attention for her climate activism and for crossing the Atlantic to the U.S. on a sailboat, avoiding air travel and its attendant carbon emissions. She arrived in New York on Aug. 28, helping to drum up more attention to the climate strike.

“We’re the younger generation. We’re the ones who’re going to be affected and therefore we demand justice,” Thunberg says in a video urging people to join the climate strike. “We’re all in the same boat, so everyone should be concerned about this.”

People from more than 150 countries are expected to walk away from school and work to participate in the global climate strike. In New York City, school students are excused on Friday to allow them to take part.

At the news conference Tuesday, Democrats expressed frustration with the resistance to urgent climate action among Republican colleagues and the Trump administration.

“The reality is we don’t lack the technology. We don’t lack the solutions to make this right. What we lack is the political will among our colleagues to do something, and it’s this generation of activists, from indigenous activists across the Americas to people like Greta Thunberg, who have stood up and said, ‘You will do something,’” New Mexico Sen. Martin Heinrich said. “I hope they will continue to lead the way because I’m afraid we will not make the changes that we need unless they demand that action of us.”

Decades of party-line squabbling have made it nearly impossible for Congress to pass meaningful legislation to combat climate change, including by cutting carbon emissions, the biggest culprit in global warming.

While the U.S. leads the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it remains the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide after China.

“Much of the CO2 in the atmosphere is red, white and blue,” Markey said.

Under President Donald Trump, the country has retreated from its global climate commitments, and the administration has said fighting climate change isn’t a top priority.

“In this leadership vacuum, we see young people who are coming forward to provide the leadership that is lacking,” Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie K. Hirono said.

The young activists say they want a better climate for themselves and the generations that will come after them.

“We refuse to be the last generation,” Nazar said. “We will no longer be known as the kids fighting the the apocalypse. We will be known as the solution to the climate crisis.”

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