LIVE FROM MADRID: UNITE BEHIND THE SCIENCE
Updated: Dec 16, 2019
Scrolling the long list of COP events this morning, I came across “Unite Behind The Science: Greta Thunberg and the IPCC Scientists.”
Greta has skyrocketed in popularity this year, and with her rise, so has the issue of climate change. Not enough good can be said about the awareness she alone has brought to the issue. If any life-saving action stopping climate change is ever reached, at least in part, we have her to thank. So I looked forward to each event I was able to attend with Greta. Being two of only a handful of teens among the 26,076 COP attendees, we seemed to run into each other a lot. Our delegations had sought out the same events they thought we should attend.
But the event, “Unite Behind The Science!” This, to me, embodies why I came to COP. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Board of Climate Change), is the leading authority on what is going on now in the world.
On my first day at COP, I had visited IPCC's pavilion. They have huge triangular poster-board towers showing what will happen to our world if we limit global warming to 1C, 1.5C, or 2C. On each side of the board, it shows we are too late to avoid earth changes--even at a dreamed of limit to 1C increase, change is coming. And remember, right now humanity is on none of these hoped-for tracks. Instead, with the current rate of emissions, led by China, the U.S., and India, we are on track for global warming of more than 3.2C—which will bring catastrophic change to more than 275 million people.
In the IPCC's latest report documenting ice melt and sea level rise, their message was dire: if we don’t act this year, the ice melt will have reached an irreversible tipping point, and there will be widespread disease, destruction of property, and loss of life. Their undeniable report was researched then signed by more than 11,000 scientists.
So it was with great anticipation that I queued up with hundreds of other COP attendees. Once again, it felt like all 3,076 media had arrived after me, but were pushing their way to the front of the line. On this morning, I didn’t mind so much. My role as a climate youth activist is to bring attention to the cause, since I can’t vote yet, so I figured if the press wanted to push ahead of me to cover the science, it was all good.
Greta spoke first. Her message was simple. “My voice has been heard many times...but we also need to listen to the scientists , because in mainstream media today the science is not being represented..." She had used her newfound and unwanted fame to create a platform which she quickly then turned over to the scientists. So the eyes of the world would come to see her, but she’d redirect the attention to where it belonged: on the science. Brilliant.
The scientists then took the stage. For more than an hour, they spoke in terms we could all understand. Documenting the catastrophic differences between just a degree difference in warming, they demonstrated why immediate action is required. Greta then took the mic once again—not to talk about climate change—the scientists had done a stellar job and nothing more needed to be said. She simply explained that these esteemed scientists—the ones with the information to save our planet as we know it—would be available after the completion of the event in a small area to the left of the stage. With that, she exited right to a small room, while the scientists exited left to the interview area.
I couldn’t believe my opportunity! A chance to talk to the best minds in the world on the most important issue ever to face humanity! I rushed over, bracing for the inevitable crush from the media. This time, I somehow managed to beat not just the media, but everyone else, to the punch. I was able to stand relatively alone with only three or four other conference attendees, to speak to the scientists. I awaited my turn, and spoke briefly, figuring those likely lining up behind me would appreciate my brevity so they could have their chance. I even managed a quick photo with these esteemed authors. A lifetime opportunity. Definitely one for the history books.
All too fast, my moment with the scientists was over. I stepped aside. But nobody stepped forward. Nobody else was in line. Squinting across the room, I could see 3,075 media (save one who had been with me), along with a huge crowd of observers, camped outside the small door where Greta had entered. It was rumored she was sick of the attention on her, and ready to return to her family in Sweden. These people hadn’t come to hear the science at all: they were waiting to film her filling her water bottle, and walking to the exit, surrounded by a human security chain of men in dark suits, linking arms to hold back the crowds.
She walked out, and froze with hundreds of cameras between she and I. But she is here for the science, as am I, so she looked back to see how her mission that morning was faring: to where I stood by this point almost alone with her friends, the scientists. I could read the results of her mission that morning on her face.
I was ashamed, and embarrassed for these incredible scientists. Men who have given their life’s work to save ours. Even as our world swirls toward climatic catastrophe, we remain caught up in trifle celebrity. Greta had done everything this morning to take the focus off her and put it where it belonged-where it needs to be to ensure our survival as we know it. It hadn’t worked. She looked at me, and I shrugged my shoulders. We were too far apart to exchange words, and there was nothing to say anyway. Two kids alone in a massive hall teeming with thousands of adults. We were doing our best to do their job, but it wasn’t enough.
Greta gave me a small sad smile, then turned and walked away. The reporters closed in at that point, and I didn’t see her again. It was time to go home.
Everybody came to listen. But nobody heard.
Together, we are unstoppable youth calling for immediate action to end climate change. One of the people. By the people. For the planet. We all just have to do something. Because there is no Planet B. Stand with us.
Founder of Forces of Nature, Will Charouhis