European Parliament from EU [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

September 18, 2019; New York Times

When young people appeared before Congress on Wednesday to provide testimony into the record on climate change, Thunberg submitted the October 2018 report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as the evidence. In doing so, she provides an interesting model for using one’s fame and influence to point to the leadership of others.

I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists,” she said. “And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take real action.”

Thunberg’s ability to provide a glimpse of how other countries see the US has added to her effectiveness with younger environmental activists which include some who already have long and notable histories in the movement. A member of the landmark children’s environmental lawsuit against the US government, Xiuhtezcatl Martínez, 19 is one of her co-organizers and spokespeople. (You can read more of Nonprofit Quarterly’s coverage of the lawsuit here.) So is Jamie Margolin, who started an international nonprofit, Zero Hour, at the age of 15. As they say, the movement is indeed leaderful.

Thunberg, Martínez, fellow plaintiff Vic Barrett, and Margolin, among others, have been making public appearances in Washington DC and New York. They attended the Amnesty International awards ceremony where Thunberg insisted the others join her onstage. They also had an opportunity to present the youth perspective in a meeting with the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.

Thunberg told members of the Senate Task Force on Tuesday not to praise her and the other young people, “We don’t want it,” she said. “Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it.”

“A huge part of [Thunberg’s] messaging is, ‘this is not for me,’” said Martínez. Margolin adds, “She gives very blunt observations, if I had done that, people would’ve thought I was an entitled brat.” Thunberg turns that around; when speaking of peers like Margolin, she says, “They are doing the impossible. I am eternally grateful for them.”

Many hope the worldwide student strikes scheduled for today will provide the tipping point for serious climate action. Thunberg and Margolin made clear where they stand when lawmakers were able to question them before the House Climate Crisis Committee and a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee.

Rep. Garrett Graves (R-LA), ranking Republican on the Climate Crisis Committee, attempted to make the point that the US did not have to focus on the climate crisis because other countries are not reducing their emissions. “So, while in the United States we need to continue investing in innovative solutions and exporting clean energy technologies, it makes no sense for us to be doing it if we’re simply watching for increases in China,” he said. He stopped short of stamping his feet and saying, “Why do I have to do it, they aren’t doing it, it isn’t fair.”

Margolin let the Congressman know in just whose name the young people before him were speaking.

I have a question. When your children ask you, “Did you do absolutely everything in your power to stop the climate crisis, when the storms were getting worse and we’re seeing all the effects?”…Can you really look them in the eye and say, “No, sorry, I couldn’t do anything because that country over there didn’t do anything, and if they’re not going to do anything then I’m not.” That is shameful and that is cowardly, and there is no excuse to not take action, to not improve as much as we can in the United States.


I just don’t understand as a parent how you can look your kid in the eye and say that there was this impending crisis, everything was at stake, but I stood back and I didn’t really do anything. I didn’t take action. I didn’t really act like it was an emergency because our neighbors over there weren’t doing it. So, I’m just not going to. How can you tell your children that?

Thunberg tagged onto Margolin’s riposte with a short but crushing response to the congressman.

“I am from Sweden,” she said. “It’s a small country, and there, it’s the same argument. Why should we do anything? Just look at the US? So just so you know, that’s being used against you, as well.

Thunberg, Margolin, Barrett, Martínez, and hundreds of thousands will take to the streets to deliver their message: it is time to save the planet—now.—Marian Conway