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← Why you should be a climate activist

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Showing Revision 13 created 09/09/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. I never planned to become
    a climate activist.
  2. But things have changed,
  3. and now, standing here
    as a climate activist,
  4. I ask you all to become one, too.
  5. Here's why,
  6. and most importantly, how.
  7. Ten years ago, when I was 13 years old,

  8. I first learned about
    the greenhouse effect.
  9. Back then, we spent
    90 minutes on this issue,
  10. and I remember finding it quite irritating
  11. that something so fundamental
  12. would be squeezed into
    a single geography lesson.
  13. Some of this irritation remained,
    so when I graduated from high school,
  14. I decided to study geography,
  15. just to make sure I was on the right track
    with this whole climate change thing.
  16. And this is when everything changed.

  17. This was the first time
    I looked at the data,
  18. at the science behind the climate crisis,
  19. and I couldn't believe what I was reading.
  20. Like many of you,
  21. I thought that the planet
    wasn't really in a good state.
  22. I had no idea that we are rushing
    into this self-made disaster
  23. in such a rapid pace.
  24. There was also the first time
    I understood what difference it makes
  25. when you consider the bigger picture.
  26. Take the CO2 concentration
    in the atmosphere, for instance,
  27. the number one driver for global warming.
  28. Yes, this looks bad.
  29. This looks like we are on
    a pretty bad track.
  30. But it's only once you don't
    just consider the last 60 years
  31. but the last 10,000 years
  32. that you understand
    how terrifying this really is.
  33. And this is just one aspect
    of the crisis we're seeing.
  34. I'm not going to get into details here,
    but let me tell you so much:
  35. we are in a point of history
  36. that the most destructive force
    on the planet is humanity itself.
  37. We are in a point of history
  38. that no scientist could guarantee you
    that you will survive this.
  39. We are in a point of history
  40. that humanity is creating an environment
  41. that's not safe for humans anymore.
  42. Yeah, there I was,

  43. first year of geography,
  44. and felt pretty overwhelmed.
  45. But ...
  46. there was good news.
  47. The very same year
    I first learned about all this,
  48. leaders from across the globe
    came together in Paris
  49. to decide on the common target to limit
    global warming to below two degrees.
  50. Pictures went around the world,
  51. and I was told that history
    was made that day.
  52. How relieving, right?
  53. Except ...

  54. something didn't quite
    work out about this.
  55. After this agreement was signed,
  56. things didn't really get better.
  57. Actually, they got much worse.
  58. Decision makers and industries,
    leaders and politicians,
  59. they went back to business as usual,
  60. exploiting our livelihoods
    like there is literally no tomorrow,
  61. building coal power plants
    again and again,
  62. even though we know that needs to stop,
  63. according to the Paris Agreement.
  64. So while there are also
    good developments, of course --

  65. there are installations of wind and solar
    energy all over the globe, yes --
  66. but these positive changes
    are slow -- too slow, in fact.
  67. So since the Paris Agreement was signed,
  68. climate graphs keep racing to the top,
  69. smashing records every year.
  70. The five hottest years ever recorded
  71. were the previous five years,
  72. and at no time have global emissions
    been higher than today.
  73. So there I was,

  74. seeing and understanding
    the science on the one side,
  75. but not seeing answers,
    not seeing the action, on the other side.
  76. At that point, I had enough.
  77. I wanted to go to the UN
    Climate Conference myself,
  78. that very place that was created
    to bring people together
  79. to fix the climate --
  80. except not really, apparently.
  81. This was last year.
  82. I traveled to the Climate Conference
    and wanted to find out
  83. what this is really like,
    what this is about.
  84. For political realists,
    this might be no surprise,
  85. but I found it hard to bear:
  86. that fossil fuel industries
    and political leaders
  87. are doing everything, everything
    to prevent real change from happening.
  88. They are not keen to set targets
    that are ambitious enough
  89. to put us on a below-two-degree pathway.
  90. After all, these are the only ones who
    benefit from this climate crisis, right?
  91. The fossil fuel industry
    generates profits,
  92. and political leaders, well,
    they look at the next election,
  93. at what makes them popular,
  94. and I guess that's not asking
    the inconvenient questions.
  95. There is no intention for them
    to change the game.
  96. There is no country in the world
    where either companies or political powers
  97. are sanctioned for wrecking the climate.
  98. With all the strangeness
    and the sadness about this conference,

  99. there was one someone who was different,
  100. someone who seemed to be quite worried,
  101. and that was Greta Thunberg.
  102. I decided right there
    that everything else seemed hopeless
  103. and didn't seem to make sense,
  104. so I joined her climate strike
    right there at the conference.
  105. It was my very first climate strike ever
  106. and an incredibly strange setting,
  107. just me and her sitting there
    at this conference hall,
  108. surrounded by this busyness
    of the suit-wearing conference crowd
  109. who had no idea what to do with us.
  110. And yet, this felt more powerful
  111. than anything I had expected
    in a very long time.
  112. And it was right there
    that I felt it was maybe time
  113. to start striking in Germany.
  114. I was now certain that no one else
    was going to fix this for us,
  115. and if there was just the slightest chance
    that this could make a difference,
  116. it seemed almost foolish
    not to give it a go.
  117. So I --
  118. (Applause)

  119. So I traveled back to Berlin.

  120. I found allies who had
    the same idea at the same time,
  121. and together we thought we'd give
    this "Fridays For Future" thing a go.
  122. Obviously, we had no idea
    what we were getting into.
  123. Before our first strike,
    many of us, including me,
  124. had never organized a public demonstration
    or any kind of protest before.
  125. We had no money, no resources
  126. and absolutely no idea
    what climate striking really is.
  127. So we started doing what we were good at:
  128. we started texting,
  129. texting en masse, night and day,
    everyone we could reach,
  130. organizing our first
    climate strike via WhatsApp.
  131. The night before our first strike,
    I was so nervous I couldn't sleep.

  132. I didn't know what to expect,
    but I expected the worst.
  133. Maybe it was because
    we weren't the only ones
  134. who had been longing to have a voice
    in a political environment
  135. that had seemingly forgotten
    how to include young people's perspective
  136. into decision-making, maybe.
  137. But somehow this worked out.
  138. And from one day to the other,
  139. we were all over the place.
  140. And I, from one day to the other,
  141. became a climate activist.
  142. Usually,

  143. in these kind of TED Talks,
  144. I would now say how it's overly hopeful,
  145. how we young people
    are going to get this sorted,
  146. how we're going to save the future
    and the planet and everything else,
  147. how we young people
    striking for the climate
  148. are going to fix this.
  149. Usually.
  150. But this is not how this works.
  151. This is not how this crisis works.
  152. Here's a twist:
  153. today, three and a half years
    after that Paris Agreement was signed,
  154. when we look at the science,
  155. we find it's still possible
    to keep global warming
  156. to below two degrees --
  157. technically.
  158. And we also see it's still possible
    to hold other disastrous developments
  159. we're seeing, such as mass
    extinction and soil degradation --
  160. yes, technically.
  161. It's just incredibly, incredibly unlikely.
  162. And in any case,

  163. the world would have to see changes
  164. which we have never experienced before.
  165. We'd have to fully decarbonize
    our economies by 2050
  166. and transform the distribution of powers
  167. that is currently allowing those fossil
    fuel giants and political leaders
  168. to stay on top of the game.
  169. We are talking of nothing less
    than the greatest transformation
  170. since the Industrial Revolution.
  171. We are talking, if you want
    to put it that way,
  172. we are talking of a climate revolution
  173. in a minimum amount of time.
  174. We wouldn't have a single
    further year to lose.
  175. And in any case, for any
    of that change to happen,

  176. the world needs to stop relying on
  177. one or two or three million school
    strikers to sort this out.
  178. Yes, we are great,
    we are going to keep going,
  179. and we are going to go to places
    no one ever expected us, yes.
  180. But we are not the limit;
  181. we are the start.
  182. This is not a job for a single generation.
  183. This is a job for humanity.
  184. And this is when all eyes are on you.
  185. For this change to happen,
  186. we will have to get
    one million things sorted.
  187. It's an incredibly
    complex thing, after all.
  188. But ...
  189. there are some things that everyone
    can get started with.
  190. Bad news first: if you thought
    I would tell you now to cycle more

  191. or eat less meat, to fly less,
    or to go secondhand shopping,
  192. sorry, this is not that easy.
  193. But here comes the good news:
  194. you are more than consumers and shoppers,
  195. even though the industry would like you
    to keep yourselves limited to that.
  196. No; me and you --
    we are all political beings,
  197. and we can all be part of this answer.
  198. We can all be something
    that many people call climate activists.
  199. Yay?
  200. (Laughter)

  201. So what are the first steps?

  202. Four first steps that are essential
    to get everything else done,
  203. four first steps that everyone
    can get started with,
  204. four first steps that decide
    about everything that can happen after.
  205. So what's that?

  206. Number one:

  207. we need to drastically reframe
    our understanding of a climate activist,
  208. our understanding of who
    can be the answer to this.
  209. A climate activist isn't that one person
    that's read every single study
  210. and is now spending every afternoon
    handing out leaflets about vegetarianism
  211. in shopping malls.
  212. No.
  213. A climate activist can be everyone,
  214. everyone who wants to join a movement
    of those who intend to grow old
  215. on a planet that prioritizes
    protection of natural environments
  216. and happiness and health for the many
  217. over the destruction of the climate
    and the wrecking of the planet
  218. for the profits of the few.
  219. And since the climate crisis is affecting
    every single part of our social,
  220. of our political and of our private life,
  221. we need climate activists
    everywhere on every corner,
  222. not only in every room,
  223. but also in every city and country
    and state and continent.
  224. Second:

  225. I need you to get out of
    that zone of convenience,
  226. away from a business as usual
    that has no tomorrow.
  227. All of you here, you are
    either a friend or a family member,
  228. you are a worker, a colleague,
    a student, a teacher
  229. or, in many cases, a voter.
  230. All of this comes along
    with a responsibility
  231. that this crisis requires you
    to grow up to.
  232. There's the company that employs you
  233. or that sponsors you.
  234. Is it on track of meeting
    the Paris Agreement?
  235. Does your local parliamentarian know
    that you care about this,
  236. that you want this to be a priority
    in every election?
  237. Does your best friend know about this?
  238. Do you read a newspaper
    or write a newspaper? Great.
  239. Then let them know you want them
    to report on this in every issue,
  240. and that you want them to challenge
    decision makers in every single interview.
  241. If you're a singer, sing about this.
    If you're a teacher, teach about this.
  242. And if you have a bank account,
    tell your bank you're going to leave
  243. if they keep investing in fossil fuels.
  244. And, of course, on Fridays,
    you should all know what to do.
  245. Thirdly:

  246. leaving that zone of convenience
    works best when you join forces.
  247. One person asking for inconvenient change
  248. is mostly inconvenient.
  249. Two, five, ten, one hundred people
    asking for inconvenient change
  250. are hard to ignore.
  251. The more you are, the harder it gets
    for people to justify
  252. a system that has no future.
  253. Power is not something
    that you either have or don't have.
  254. Power is something you either take
    or leave to others,
  255. and it grows once you share it.
  256. We young people on the streets,
    we school strikers,
  257. we are showing how this can work out.
  258. One single school striker will always be
    one single school striker --
  259. well, Greta Thunberg.
  260. Two, five, ten, one thousand people
    striking school are a movement,
  261. and that's what we need everywhere.
  262. No pressure.
  263. (Laughter)

  264. And number four, finally --

  265. and this is probably the most
    important aspect of all of this --
  266. I need you to start taking
    yourselves more seriously.
  267. If there's one thing I've learned
  268. during seven months
    of organizing climate action,
  269. it's that if you don't go for something,
  270. chances are high that no one else will.
  271. The most powerful
    institutions of this world
  272. have no intention of changing the game
    they're profiting from most,
  273. so there's no point
    in further relying on them.
  274. That's scary, I know.
  275. That's a huge responsibility, a huge
    burden on everyone's shoulders, yes.
  276. But this also means,
  277. if we want to,
  278. we can have a say in this.
  279. We can be part of that change.
    We can be part of that answer.
  280. And that's quite beautiful, right?
  281. So let's give it a try,
    let's rock and roll,

  282. let's flood the world
    with climate activists.
  283. Let's get out of the zones of convenience
  284. and join forces and start
    taking ourselves more seriously.
  285. Imagine what this world would look like,
  286. where children would grow up,
  287. knowing their future was this one
    great adventure to look forward to
  288. and nothing to be scared of,
  289. what this world would look like
    when the next climate conference
  290. is this great happening of people
    who come together,
  291. who had heard the voices of millions,
  292. who would then roll up their sleeves,
    ready to create real change.
  293. You know,

  294. I dream of this world
  295. where geography classes
    teach about the climate crisis
  296. as this one greatest challenge
  297. that was won by people like you and me,
  298. who had started acting in time
  299. because they understood
    they had nothing to lose
  300. and everything to win.
  301. So why not give it a go?

  302. No one else will save the future for us.
  303. This is more than an invitation.
    Spread the word.
  304. Thank you.

  305. (Applause)