Teen environmental activist Greta Thunberg put world leaders on notice again in a hard-edged speech Friday that echoed across an overflowing plaza of her peers gathered outside the Vancouver Art Gallery.
The Swedish 16-year-old, whose blunt messages to presidents and prime ministers about a planet headed for extinction, has inspired millions of young and old people to march in solidarity to protest inaction on climate change.
Friday in Vancouver was no different, as a police-estimated 10,000 people — many carrying clever signs such as “Make the world Greta again” — marched through downtown with Thunberg, who was dressed in a pink hoodie, grey sweat pants and blue runners.
Carrying her trademark “School strike for climate” sign, which is written in Swedish, Thunberg took a spot near the front of the marchers, respecting a contingent of Indigenous peoples who led the crowd through the streets.
And after they marched, they listened — and cheered — as Thunberg stood high on the steps of the art gallery with First Nations leaders and spoke to the crowd.
“It is an honour for me to be here with you today, thank you,” said Thunberg, who began her 10-minute speech by acknowledging that she was on the unceded territories of the Coast Salish people.
She first pointed to the lawsuit announced earlier in the day by 15 young Canadians, who are suing the federal government for not doing enough to fight climate change. Each of them, some as young as 10, took a turn at the microphone, representing cities from Vancouver Island to Nova Scotia.
Thunberg called them “brave, young plaintiffs.”
She talked about how such actions coupled with the growing climate strike movement she ignited last year was a hopeful sign, and that its collective message to clean up the planet continues to pressure world leaders to act on the science of climate change.
But her hopefulness was tempered when she referred to the struggle of young climate activists before her, including Severn Cullis-Suzuki — daughter to Canadian environmentalist icon David Suzuki — who stood on the steps with Thunberg.
In 1992, Cullis-Suzuki criticized world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro for not taking care of the planet. Thunberg quoted from some of Cullis-Suzuki’s speech made 27 years ago, saying, “losing my future is not like losing an election, or a few points on the stock market.”
“Severn told the world everything the world needed to know 27 years ago, and the science told our world leaders everything they needed to know 27 years ago,” said Thunberg, who spoke recently to large crowds in Montreal and Edmonton, after travelling to North America in sailboat and being transported from city to city in an electric car.
“If people would have listened back then, the world would be a completely different place than it is today. But the world ignored her, and world leaders continue to choose to look away from this crisis – even today.”
According to the Global Carbon Atlas, she continued, global carbon dioxide (Co2) emissions increased by approximately 65 per cent from 1992 to 2018. She said about 50 per cent of all Co2 emitted since 1751 dates back to 1992.
“It is shameful that for so long the ongoing climate and ecological emergency has been ignored,” she said to a crowd that included Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Vancouver-Granville independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould and Green Party Coun. Adriane Carr.
“It is the year 2019 and the people in power are still acting as if there was no tomorrow. We young people are telling them to stop doing that — to stop ignoring the consequences of their actions and inactions, to stop leaving their mess for someone else to clean up because we do not want to do it for them.”
In the crowd and joining the march were four generations of the Pilote-Carmichael-Tomczyk family, who carried signs to publicly demonstrate their reason for participating in the event, which was organized by a local group of young people known as the "Sustainabiliteens."
Renee Pilote, 86, held a sign that read “For my great grandchildren,” Georgina Carmichael’s sign said “For my grandchildren” and Danielle Tomczyk’s, “For my children.”
Both of Tomczyk’s children — aged three and one — were in a stroller as the family walked along Hornby Street. Her three-year-old son held a sign that said “For me.”
“This is for my kids — you want to show an example,” said Tomczyk, describing Thunberg as “a force.”
“She’s incredible. What she has done in such a short amount of time is like no other, and she sets such a good example."
Added her mother, Georgina: “She’s actually making a difference by making the world be accountable for itself. I think the baby boomers really screwed up — they let it go, they dropped the ball.”
Lily Van Nen, 18, also marched on Hornby Street with friend Madisyn Gifford, 19. Both said they were inspired by Thunberg’s global movement to make the world a less polluted and more sustainable place.
“My mom always calls her ‘Greta the great,’” said Van Nen, who is from Surrey and pointed out her grandparents never had to take to the street to protest inaction on climate change.
“I am incredibly scared for my future, and I think it’s incredibly absurd that we’re here marching for our lives.”
Gifford shares that concern.
“I want to protect the Mother Earth that I came from,” she said.
“I think that it’s so unfair that we’re destroying what created us. It makes me sick to my stomach and I want to do everything I can to protect it.”
The friends said they have made changes in their lives to reflect the climate change fight, including buying clothes from thrift stores, using reusable products and going vegan.
Prior to Thunberg’s speech, the crowd heard from more than a dozen Indigenous people, musicians and leaders who urged people to continue the fight against climate change.
Grand Chief Stewart Philip, president of the B.C. Union of Indian Chiefs, told the crowd he and others had made speeches from the steps of the art gallery for 40 years related to social justice. He said he had never seen a bigger gathering at the plaza.
“One of the things that all of the speakers would lament was the need to have a popular movement, to mobilize the entire population,” said Philip, then made a reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government's decision to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline.
“It was proven in the last election — we cannot rely on governments to protect the land and the people. For the sake of our grandchildren, our children and those generations yet to come, all of us as grandparents, as parents, as aunts and uncles — we must take our power back.”
Philip’s wife, Joan, presented Thunberg with a scarf, emblazoned with a hummingbird design, which Joan noted was the only bird in the world that can fly backwards — “I felt it fitting that it would be a gift for Greta, as she is both beautiful and unique.”
In closing her speech, Thunberg said if adults really loved young people, they would do everything they could to ensure a future worth looking forward to.
“But it feels like they are doing the exact opposite — that they are desperately trying to change the subject every time the climate crisis comes up,” she said.
“It is like they are selling our future for their comfort and profit. And yet, they have the nerve to look us in the eyes and tell us that they are doing enough. Well whatever they are doing, they’re doing it wrong.”
Thunberg described the climate fight as a wave of change and that together the participants make for an unstoppable force. She said young people are seeing through the lies of climate change deniers.
“We will rise to the challenge, hold those responsible for this crisis accountable and we will make world leaders act,” said Thunberg, who condemed politicans in September at the United Nations, accusing them of betraying her generation.
“We can and we will. And if you feel threatened by that, then I have some very bad news for you — this is just the beginning. We will continue because change is coming whether you like it or not.”
The next scheduled climate strike in Vancouver is Nov. 29.