Every time Greta Thunberg speaks, I have to fight tears. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist stood on the main stage at the international climate talks ongoing in Madrid Wednesday and didn’t go on about personal stories or struggles. Instead, she stuck to the science—and still managed to make me choke up.
“We no longer have time to leave out the science,” Thunberg said.
And so she didn’t. The science of the climate crisis is staggering. On Tuesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration put out its annual Arctic Report Card, showing us that the situation in our polar region is much worse than scientists expected. Permafrost is melting rapidly, turning the Arctic into a net source of carbon emissions for the first time in recorded history. Sea ice is also disappearing. On geological timescales, changes are happening overnight.
And that’s just one report. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a report last year, which Thunberg pointed to in her speech, lays out a 10-year timeline to get our shit together or risk warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures. That would limit the impacts to low-lying island nations and the Global South, though not everything would be saved. The other scenario enshrined in the Paris Agreement of limiting the temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) would cause hundreds of millions more to suffer. Another report from the United Nations released last month show it’s now or never.
Neither situation is good, but one is better. And Thunberg wants to see the world try its hardest to strive for it, highlighting in her speech that we need to stick to a 1.5 degrees Celsius scenario.
“Every fraction of a degree matters,” Thunberg said. “This is my message. This is what I want you to focus on. So please, tell me: How do you react to these numbers without feeling at least some level of panic? How do you respond to the fact that basically nothing is being done about this without feeling the slightest bit of anger? And how do you communicate this without sounding alarmist? I would really like to know.”
Unfortunately, we live in a time where government leaders have failed to act, which is tantamount to climate denial. Many of their policies have aligned with corporate fossil fuel interests that are worsening the very crisis they’re supposedly trying to solve at these international climate talks. Their denial is killing people and costing the youth their future.
That’s why Thunberg voice has rung so clear as she lays out the science and government’s failures. Her work has inspired a movement of young people around the world who are demanding climate justice, and it’s why TIME Magazine announced her as their person of the year Wednesday. But such an accolade means little to the teen. She’s been clear about what she wants. And that’s action, dammit.