Greta Thunberg speech on climate change

Greta Thunberg delivered a powerful speech to MPs at the Houses of Parliament on 22nd April, telling the politicians: “You did not act in time”.

And the interesting thing about the speech was the way that she used expectations to create insight. For example, her age was used, not as an excuse, but as a means to create a persuasive force within her speech. She did play on the fact she was just 16 years old, but not in the way they had expected.

Rewilding our World

First, she talked in very simple, personal terms of 2030:

“In the year 2030 I will be 26 years old. My little sister Beata will be 23. Just like many of your own children or grandchildren. That is a great age, we have been told.”

Then she made it political:

“Around the year 2030, 10 years 252 days and 10 hours away from now, we will be in a position where we set off an irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, that will most likely lead to the end of our civilisation as we know it.”

It was a brilliant transition, precisely because no-one saw it coming, the audience was expecting more cute observations. And then they were hit with a thunderous statement: “ the end of our civilisation”. It was like Roger Federer shaping up for a cross court – only to hit a winner down the line.

A Just Transition

Similarly the audience expected her to talk about the need to increase current actions to save the environment. (That’s the way most speeches on saving the planet go – “We must do more”!) But she did not. She told them it was all too late for that. She was not there to talk about doing more, but doing different.

So we say: “We have to start treating the crisis like a crisis – and act even if we don’t have all the solutions.”

“That’s still not an answer,” you say.

Then we start talking about circular economy and rewilding nature and the need for a just transition. Then you don’t understand what we are talking about.

“Circular economy”, “rewilding nature”, “a just transition”: these are more of the same they are new and different solutions. A new language even.

Cathedral Thinking

This new language – born out of the realisation that the old ways won’t solve the crisis in time – reached its best expression in a phrase that summed up her whole argument and perhaps her whole being:

“Avoiding climate breakdown will require cathedral thinking. We must lay the foundation while we may not know exactly how to build the ceiling.”

Despite all the talk of science, actually here was a young woman looking to the future and asking us to take a leap of faith, believe in a new way of doing things. Because the established logic and indeed the establishment just hasn’t worked. And the time is up. Interesting because that position is reflected in the public debate. We have all heard the numbers on climate change over and over again. And the facts don’t change anything. The science doesn’t shift public opinion. We have to find a new path. We have to find a new belief. Because it’s the emotions we must win over if we are to persuade.

For a full text of Greta’s speech click here

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