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Key Words: Reality check from Greta Thunberg: It has never been a ‘happy Earth Day’

“‘This is not a “happy earth day”. It never has been. #EarthDay has turned into an opportunity for people in power to post their “love” for the planet, while at the same time destroying it at maximum speed.’”

That was Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Friday with a blunt Earth Day reality check, her latest swing at the mismatch between powerful people’s words and actions on climate change. At a youth climate summit last fall, she criticized world leaders for what she called their “empty words and promises” on climate change. 

With scientists’ increasingly dire warnings about the public-health and economic consequences of rising sea levels, droughts and extreme weather events fueled by climate change, Earth Day and the month of April overall have become a time for education, corporate promotions and environmentalist rallying cries by politicians and companies.

But many teenagers like 19-year-old Thunberg and others in their 20s — who will inherit the warming planet and its entrenched systemic problems — say politicians and members of older generations aren’t doing nearly enough to protect them from the ongoing climate crisis.

In a report released in September that surveyed 10,000 young people in 10 countries, almost six in 10 respondents said they were very or extremely worried about climate change, and nearly half said their climate anxiety impacted their daily life and functioning. Four in 10 said they were hesitant to have kids of their own.

Read more: Today’s kids will live through 3 times as many climate-change disasters as their grandparents: report

And: Young adults worry it’s ‘morally wrong’ to have children, Earth Day study finds

In the U.S., around four in 10 adults say dealing with climate change should be a top policy priority this year for President Biden’s administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress, according to a January survey by the Pew Research Center. Higher shares of Democrats (65%) and adults younger than 30 (54%) identified it as a top priority.

People of color in the U.S. are also more likely than their white counterparts to express concern over climate change, research shows. Structural racism in housing, infrastructure, healthcare and other resources has made people of color disproportionately likely to live in heavily polluted areas, contend with poor air quality and related health conditions, and experience natural disasters, after which they often also struggle to obtain aid.

Young people aren’t the only ones condemning world leaders for failing to meet the moment. In the latest update from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the panel blasted corporations and governments and said the world must slash greenhouse gas emissions by at least 43% by 2030 in order to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming at the end of the century. 

“It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track toward an unlivable world,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at the time. “Some government and business leaders are saying one thing but doing another. Simply put, they are lying. And the results will be catastrophic.”


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