UN Dispatch is a member of Covering Climate Now, an international consortium of media outlets dedicated to reporting on the climate crisis. On October 6, 2021 NBC News, Reuters and The Nation interviewed climate activist Greta Thunberg on behalf of Covering Climate Now.
Among other issues, the interview she discusses her expectations for COP26 in Glasgow and her plea that the world recognized the climate crisis as the emergency that it is.
Interviewed 6 October 2021 at Thunberg’s apartment in Stockholm, Sweden, by NBC News, Reuters, and The Nation, in partnership with Covering Climate Now.
Al Roker: Greta, thank you for joining us. We really appreciate it. Thank you.
Greta Thunberg: Thank you for having me.
Al Roker: Last month, Italy, the Youth4Climate conference, you used the phrase, “blah blah blah,” which ended up going viral. Who were you addressing the “blah blah blah” to?
Greta Thunberg: Well, I think in general it was meant for people in power all around the world. I took authentic quotes from many world leaders, and then it became clear that I was actually just saying their words. Yeah, so it was many people.
Al Roker: Greta, if you could fill in the “blah blah blah.” What words would you want to hear from these leaders?
Greta Thunberg: I mainly wouldn’t want to hear words, because we’ve heard many words, and of course words are good if they lead to something, but as it is now, these words aren’t really leading to anything. As we have seen now for many, many decades and as we continue to see that there are words that replace action. Words that they use in order to be able to say that they are doing something, when they are in fact not.
Al Roker: So would you say that these world leaders aren’t really taking this seriously that they’re giving more lip service than actual action?
Greta Thunberg: It sure does seem like that, to judge from their actions and their words. So yeah, I think so.
Al Roker: So, can you point to any world leaders on the stage today that you think are taking this seriously that their actions actually backup their words?
Greta Thunberg: I think no one in that kind of position is today. Of course there are many individuals who want to do more and who are trying to push in any way that they can, but of course we are not seeing that any world leaders are taking sufficient action. If it was, that would be great. That would be really good because that means that the world could follow them. Just imagine what would happen if one country started to act as if it was an emergency, but unfortunately we are not seeing that today.
Al Roker: What do you think of what’s been happening here in the United States when it comes to climate change, and policy?
Greta Thunberg: Well it’s, I think it just, it’s unfortunate, but it shows that what we had thought that world leaders are not ready for climate action whether it is in the US or in Sweden or in China, whatever it may be, that they do not seem to be ready to take real action. The emissions are still rising.
Al Roker: We saw what’s happened with Covid, and it was this global emergency. People have rallied and there’s billions of dollars being poured into this. Do you think that the climate emergency is being treated the same way, say, as a Covid emergency?
Greta Thunberg: Well I think that you can objectively say that the climate crisis is not being treated as an emergency, especially when you compare to Covid in many parts of the world. The climate crisis is not being treated as an emergency, and it never has.
Al Roker: If you were advising a world leader, they said, “Greta, okay, what’s your number one thing that I can do right now?” What would you tell them?
Greta Thunberg: A basic step would be to start educating people about what’s happening with the climate emergency, and to act as if we are in an emergency, because you cannot really do anything without public support, and since people are not really fully aware of the full implications of the climate emergency, then of course they wouldn’t have any support. Since, world leaders are not treating the climate crisis like an actual emergency.
Al Roker: Do you think that people in different countries are ahead of their elected leaders when it comes to climate change, that the actual populace, most people, feel that there is something happening and we need to take action. Do you think they’re ahead of their leaders when it comes to that?
Greta Thunberg: I think so. I think in many parts of the world that we underestimate the will of the people to, to actually have climate action. When surveys are made it shows that many more people than we believe actually do want climate action, which I think we underestimate today. So I do think that people are ahead of their elected leaders. I think that there are some people who are very loud and who take up unproportionate amount of space to make it seem like people do not want these actions, these measures. But I think that they are given much more attention than they should, because that’s not representative of the whole population.
Al Roker: What would you say is the price of waiting? Every day that we wait, as opposed to globally, trying to take action, no matter how small or large?
Greta Thunberg: Already we are seeing devastating effects of inaction and waiting. And if we continue to wait that will only get worse. We will lose many more lives and livelihoods and ecosystems. And many of these damages will be irreversible. So I think that we can clearly see that already now people are suffering, and it’s only going to get worse and intensify for as long as we choose to wait, because let’s make it’s an active choice to not take action
Al Roker: You raise an interesting point in that, I think a lot of this climate activity, a lot of this desire for climate action is being led by a lot of young people, people like yourself. Because you are the ones who are going to inherit this planet. Do you think that the young people of the world are having an impact when it comes to climate?
Greta Thunberg: I think that young people in the world are having a big impact and have had and have been having a big impact recently. Of course we don’t have the power to change things, we have the power to influence other people, to influence adults. Because we can’t do this ourselves. We need help with this; we are not the ones in charge. We need everyone in order to push for this. Young people have been leading this fight for so long now and we need help, because we cannot do this alone. People say always that it’s so helpful that young people are taking action and so on. But, yeah, that might be the case but as long as that doesn’t stand in the way of them actually also taking action, because we need their help. We need everyone’s help in this.
Al Roker: When you look, Greta, at the world stage and what’s been going on, and you can be somewhat hopeless or helpless. Are there bright spots that give you hope about this?
Greta Thunberg: I think there are many, many bright spots. When I’m taking action, I don’t feel like I am helpless and that I can’t do anything, and that things are hopeless. Because then I feel like I’m taking action and that I’m doing everything I can, and that gives me very much hope, and especially to see all the other people all around the world, the activists who are taking action and who are fighting for their presents and for their future. I find that incredibly hopeful, that people, so many people are willing to change and are ready for change.
Al Roker: I think sometimes when you have a situation like this that is so large that I think in some ways people are almost paralyzed by it. What do you say to those who say, “Oh, this is too big. What difference can I make, as an individual? This has to be done on a, on a bigger scale at a government scale.” What difference does the individual make?
Greta Thunberg: I think every activist has had many, many moments when they thought that “I can’t do anything, I can’t make a difference.” Of course, that includes me as well. But I think that we together have shown that that is not true. When people come together to organize, to mobilize, and to do campaigns that can have a massive impact it can change everything, it can change the public perception. So nothing is too small. I, and many other activists, started very, very small at home with just trying to reduce our carbon footprints, and then we became activists, and then we got into the streets. And now we are a network of millions of people globally who are every day in contact, and who are mobilizing and organizing marches, and etc., etc.
Al Roker: I’m sure you’ve seen video on social media and the news of this pipeline rupture off the coast of California, over 150,000 gallons of oil pouring into the Pacific Ocean. I remember just about when I was your age, seeing these things and thinking, “Okay, they’ve got to do something about this.” And it seemed like it was getting better and now here we are all over again with wildlife being threatened, water quality, land. When you see something like that, what goes through your mind?
Greta Thunberg: Unfortunately, I think that we have seen so many similar events that we have become kind of numb to these things, that we don’t really react in the way that we should. Because these things are happening so much all the time. But of course, I think that it’s such a clear signthat our society is not sustainable. It is really unsustainable in every possible way. Because these systems that fuel environmental destruction also fuels the climate destruction and everything, and etc., etc. So it just shows that we need a fundamental change that would benefit all of us. But of course it’s with great sadness that we look at these islands.
Al Roker: Do you think something like this is a wakeup call, that we need to start transitioning from reliance on fossil fuels?
Greta Thunberg: Definitely, it could and should be a wakeup call. As I said, there have been many, many similar events, and it feels like these shouldn’t be a wake up call, but so far they haven’t been. But maybe it’s an accumulative effect, that when we reach a point where we have experienced so many of these events we’ve suddenly realized that we can’t go on like this. That may be the case, we don’t know; we’ve never experienced anything like this before. We can’t really predict social behavior. So I guess we’ve just got to continue to highlight these disasters when they happen, and hope that they can be a wakeup call, because it’s still very possible for them to be a wakeup call to change things.
Al Roker: And if people aren’t hearing that wakeup call, why do you think there is a disconnect, why aren’t they hearing that?
Greta Thunberg: Because no one else is acting as if we are in an emergency. Humans are social animals, and we look to each other and copy each other’s behavior, and since everyone else around us is just acting as everything is normal, as nothing is wrong, of course we will also act as not as if nothing is wrong.
Al Roker: Are you going to be attending COP26 in person or virtually?
Greta Thunberg: Yeah, I think I will be there in person.
Al Roker: How effective, in your opinion, are global climate conferences like this? Do they achieve anything, or is it more about symbolism and getting it out in front of people?
Greta Thunberg: I think they have the potential of really changing things, since so many people come together to find “solutions,” whatever they consider them to be. But as it is now, it’s not really leading to anything, because it’s just blah blah blah; it’s just negotiations and empty talks, and these never-ending discussions, and they aren’t really leading to action. But they are still a huge opportunity to mobilize. [connection breaks up] I think, as it is now, it’s lots of blah blah blah and discussions, and just greenwashing and symbolism. But of course, since there are so many people who gather there to find solutions, it could lead to things, it has the potential of doing that. But as it is now, it’s not really doing that. But as you said, it’s an opportunity in order to mobilize people to highlight this crisis, to show that we are in an emergency, and that’s, I think, that’s the opportunity that we are going to use to try to mobilize people around this.
Al Roker: They just announced three scientists who won the Nobel Prize in Physics this week. Two are instrumental in the global models for climate change. Is that a recognition in the scientific community, that this is important work, work that wouldn’t have gotten done if it wasn’t for these two scientists?
Greta Thunberg: Of course it could be. But of course it would be more than just this. Because it is an actual crisis. So of course just giving out prizes to scientists who have been working on this won’t solve the problem.
Al Roker: And there has been some talk; the Nobel Peace Prize is being awarded on Friday, and it’s been said that you’re in the running. What are your thoughts about that?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t really know. I think it’s strange that people honestly believe that I would have a chance of winning it since that’s not going to be the case.
Al Roker: Well, but it speaks to the impact that you’ve had, and isn’t it, in a sense, an example for young people that if you take a stand and have convictions, you can be taken seriously by the adult world?
Greta Thunberg: Yeah, it could be, but then we also have to remember that it’s not just me, who have done that. It’s countless other young people who have done the same, and have also gotten “recognition,” or whatever you would call it. And so, but an example among many other examples. But then again, we are not really being taken seriously since what we are asking for is not being heard. And we are not getting any response from them. They’re just saying we listened to you and then they applaud us, and then they go on just like before.
Al Roker: What do you think it is going to take for that change to happen?
Greta Thunberg: It’s a very big task that’s ahead of us. We need to change social norms, and we need to change what we perceive as the crisis, and what we perceive as being normal. But one thing that it will take is honesty. We need to be honest about what we are doing and we need to be brave in order to confront that, in order to be able to change things. And it will take the people who have a platform, whether it is media, people in power, or just people who are influential, that they use that platform to communicate that we are in a crisis. Because if we do not start to treat the crisis like a crisis, then the people around us will not understand that we are in an emergency. So that’s what we need to do.
Al Roker: Greta, what do you say to people who say, “well, you know, for us to change over and change the way we live and the way we create energy, the way we power our vehicles and our transportation, that’s going to be way too costly. We’re gonna see jobs lost, we’re going to see prices rise.” What do you say to those people?
Greta Thunberg: I think it’s been a very successful narrative by climate delayers and business-as-usual activists to portray it as taking climate action would be a loss. Of course that’s not the case. And, of course, as we know by now, inaction will be much, much more expensive, and we will lose so, so much more than actually taking action, and it’s strange that we are still having that discussion.
Al Roker: You’re a very young person. You’ve got your life ahead of you. Forecast for me, 10 years, where do you see us? Where do you see yourself?
Greta Thunberg: I have no idea. I don’t think I want to speculate in that. As long as I’m doing everything I can, as long as we are doing everything that we can, I think we can just, I don’t know, live in the moment, and then just try to change the future while we still can, instead of trying to predict the future.
Al Roker: Greta, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and best of luck as we go forward and that you continue to fight the good fight.
Greta Thunberg: Thank you so much. Take care. Good evening, or day.
Anna Ringstrom: I just wanted to follow up. You just said a while ago that you’re planning on going to the COP meeting. Does it depend on anything in particular — or have you just not made up your mind?
Greta Thunberg: No, yeah—
Anna Ringstrom: You think you’ll go?
Greta Thunberg: Yeah.
Anna Ringstrom: About COP26, what are your expectations? High? low? What are they?
Greta Thunberg: My expectation is that we will hear many, many nice speeches. We will hear many pledges, that, if you really look into the details, are more or less meaningless, but they just say them in order to have something to say. In order for media to have something to report about, since they don’t really receive any follow-up questions, they can say almost whatever they want. So that I expect. And then I expect things to continue to remain the same, pretty much, as it is now, if they do not receive any big public pressure from the outside. So that’s what I expect.
Anna Ringstrom: So there are kind of three big things that are going to happen there. It’s the kind of technical discussions about the Paris Agreement, and there is also, of course, a lot of informal deals, like clubs, countries, and things, but maybe the main thing is, how to squeeze many countries to make better pledges to cap emissions, because they are nowhere enough, many countries. What do you think about that? What are your expectations there? And also, what would be a success on that pillar? What do you think would be a fair result in terms of squeezing countries to pledge more cuts, faster?
Greta Thunberg: I think as it is now, we are so, so far behind of what would be needed. We are so far away from anything that would be even close to being in line with the Paris Agreement or staying below 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, so I think what would a success, what I would consider to be a success, would be honesty, that we highlight the gap between what we are saying and what we are actually doing. I think that’s what’s needed in order for us to confront this, to change things, we need to come to terms with where we are actually at. We need to understand the situation and sit down and just try to understand where we are, because that’s not what we are doing now. We are trying to find concrete, small solutions that are symbolic, in order to make it seem like we are doing something, anything, without actually confronting any of the problem at all. We are still not counting all the emissions when we are announcing targets. We are still using creative accounting when it comes to emission cuts, and so on. As long as that’s the case then we will not get very far.
Anna Ringstrom: So if that is sort of the level for an okay success for the meeting, that all the leaders of all the countries are honest in where we are and where they are, if you could take it one step further and say, what would be your best scenario from the meeting, from the COP—if you had the chance to sort of go crazy?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t know. We can never know that because we don’t know what will make people act. We don’t know what will create awareness. Maybe building on the dissonance, highlighting the dissonance will make people become angry so that they will go out on the streets and demand action. That could be the case. Maybe leaders being honest will create a sense of urgency that will make people wake up. We don’t know what will lead to the change. All that we can do is to try to raise awareness and create that sense of urgency that we so drastically need right now.
Anna Ringstrom: What would make a success of the COP26 meeting in your view? What’s the benchmark for you considering it being a success after it’s done?
Greta Thunberg: I think that would be us treating it as an emergency and realizing that these COPs, as they are now will not lead to anything unless there is big, massive public pressure from the outside.
Anna Ringstrom: Another thing about the COP26, I think you have expressed worry that there will not be fair representation from poorer countries, the country’s most affected by climate change. What are your thoughts around that now?
Greta Thunberg: Yeah. I mean, that’s the case in every of these meetings that there’s an under representation from people from MAPA and so on. And especially this year, as some people will need to quarantine and there are travel restrictions and so on.
Anna Ringstrom: This is a question that has been touched upon already a little bit earlier on, but if I ask you, if you could rank world leaders on climate work, are there any leaders that you would say have been doing good things or…?
Greta Thunberg: No. I mean, first of all, I don’t want to do that because I don’t like to talk about individuals in that way, but since all countries are so far from being enough, I think it’s bad to compare. It’s like this is the least worst option. We should rather be comparing it to what will be needed, I think.
Anna Ringstrom: And then I had a question about climate finance. The fact that there’s been a lot of talk about the rich countries having broken their promises to actually support financially the poorer countries that are most affected. There have been pledges to help them change into sustainable economies and so on, and there have been pledges to help actually mitigate the effects of climate change, and very little has happened, what are your thoughts around that?
Greta Thunberg: I think it’s very symbolic because it shows the betrayal. I mean, we talk lots about a betrayal towards future generations, and to young people, but it’s also a betrayal from LAPA countries to MAPA countries—least affected people there is and the most affected there is—because we are not just stealing the future from our children, we are also stealing the present from many people in so many parts of the world. And the fact that we refuse to live up to our promises, to repay that historical debt, it just shows very clearly where they stand and what they prioritize. And every single time there is something concrete that they can do, they don’t do it.
Anna Ringstrom: And you follow this very closely, do you have a feeling, if you look, comparing now versus a few years ago maybe, is there a change? Is it more likely you think that this is going to happen, that there is going to be some sort of building up that trust again through actual living up to pledges, or is it worse?
Greta Thunberg: It could be, we can always hope. We should always hope and fight for the best, advocate for the best, but as it is now, we are moving, even though we are maybe closer now to doing it then we were before, we must also remember that years have passed, and during those years we had lost so much. So, as it is now, we are not moving in the right direction because it’s still taking so, so long.
Anna Ringstrom: I wanted to ask, you said earlier that you don’t think it’s likely that you would win the Nobel Peace Prize. I still want to ask you though because there are so many people that do think so, and it’s going to happen on Friday, the announcement, if you were to win the prize, I mean, it’s not unlikely given that sort of Al Gore has won it for climate activism and so on, what would would be your message if you did?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t really think that you can compare me and Fridays for the Future to Al Gore, we are much more uncomfortable in that way, I think it would be too controversial and uncomfortable to choose us to win it, so I don’t think there’s any possibility of that.
Anna Ringstrom: Would you accept the price if you got it?
Greta Thunberg: I will not get it, so I—
Anna Ringstrom: Okay. Okay, I wanted to just quickly move over a little bit about the situation that you are in now.
Greta Thunberg: Yeah.
Anna Ringstrom: Where you took this big sabbatical year and it was a big change in your life then.
Greta Thunberg: Yeah.
Anna Ringstrom: And now you’re back in Sweden and you’re a very, very well known and famous person, and you’re back in high school, and it’s how have you adjusted to life, fame after this sabbatical year, to school?
Greta Thunberg: It’s not much to adjust to, I think. When you stay grounded, it’s not so hard to come back to normal life again. And I’m fortunate to live in Sweden, where people don’t care as much for famous people, so I’m being left alone.
Anna Ringstrom: I also wanted to ask you, you are going to be finishing high school fairly shortly from now. What are your plans then, are you planning to go to university? And, also second question, what would you like to work with? Do you have an idea what you want to do after high school?
Greta Thunberg: No, I don’t. I would want to study, to continue study, because I like doing that, but I don’t know what, or where, or when. I am sort of procrastinating that. But yeah, I guess we’ll see, we’ll see where I end up, I guess.
Anna Ringstrom: I’m also thinking about the network, the Fridays for Future network, which is so centered on school strikes at the foundation, will you continue with that when you finish school, when you’re not in school anymore? And also, how do you feel about the actual leadership in the network? Will you wind down and leave it to others? Or, how do you feel about that?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t think that, I mean, within the movement, it’s not like we have leaders, or like a hierarchical structure, even though it may seem like that from outside, but it’s very grassroots levels and so on. So it’s not like a leader position to step off. I mean, yeah, but of course we will continue, at least I will continue; if it’s not school strikes, then it’s marches, demonstrations. We’ll just have to adapt, do different methods if our previous methods are not working really, you know?
Anna Ringstrom: How much time do you have to spend on the Fridays for Future network now that you’re in school and doing lots of homework and doing this?
Greta Thunberg: Still lots of time because I’m trying to be efficient and do all the homework when I’m at school so that when I go home, I’m free to do other things, to work.
Anna Ringstrom: So you work on your spare time from school?
Greta Thunberg: Yes.
Anna Ringstrom: And you are now in your first own flat, you moved away from—
Greta Thunberg: It’s not my own flat, it’s a—
Anna Ringstrom: But you live away from home for the first time.
Greta Thunberg: It’s a borrowed flat, and I live here, and with people come and go a bit. Yeah, so…
Anna Ringstrom: And your dog that’s famous in the UN.
Greta Thunberg: My dogs, yes.
Anna Ringstrom: And I also actually wanted to take some time to go back to something you said in the earlier interview, because it sounded to me a little bit like a call to arms, to grownups that are not, well, the world leaders. You said that, and of course the youth movement, you don’t have the power, but you have the power to influence people who can influence the leaders. You said that people with a platform such as media and any people with influence, they need to start using it.
Greta Thunberg: Yeah.
Anna Ringstrom: Can you tell me a little bit more like that? Because it sounds like you are in a tranche that is not the young movement, and also not the world leaders. Is that what you’re saying—
Greta Thunberg: Yeah.
Anna Ringstrom: —that you are calling on these groups?
Greta Thunberg: Yeah, definitely because young people have been leading the climate fight for a very long time, but of course we cannot do this alone. We are not the ones in power, we don’t have much influence. So we need help from everyone else. In such an emergency as we are in right now, everyone needs to take more responsibility—at least I think so—and use whatever power they have, whatever platform they have, to use to try to influence, and to try to push in the right direction to make a change. I think that’s our duty as human beings.
Anna Ringstrom: Are there any specific categories of people that you are addressing when you say that?
Greta Thunberg: I mean, of course everyone in general, since everyone is a citizen, but of course there are groups who have especially more power, like media, whose job is to objectively communicate the situation that we are in, and which I think they are not really doing right now since they aren’t really treating the crisis like a crisis. And of course, many other groups as well.
Anna Ringstrom: Could you tell me just a little bit, if we go back to your life as it is now, how is it different from how you work with the movement nowadays compared with a year ago? A bit more than a year ago?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t know, of course now because of the pandemic, we moved more online and I think we’ve gotten more close contact, like internationally, we have a better organized network, and can work better together, so I think that’s a difference.
Anna Ringstrom: And for yourself, if you talk about yourself more than the actual whole network, how do you work with it? Do you have more time to read up on these matters ? Since you travel less? How do you dispose of your time?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t know. Surprisingly, I manage everything as well as many others. I just… We just try to stay on top of everything, yeah.
Anna Ringstrom: Okay, thank you.
Mark Hertsgaard: I’m proud to say that The Nation Magazine was the first magazine in the United States to put you on the cover. And this was in March of 2019, I don’t know if you ever saw it. So I’m going to hold it up for you here to show you that.
Greta Thunberg: Ah. Yeah, yeah, I saw it, yeah.
Mark Hertsgaard: So this was March 2019, just at the point when the movement that you helped spark into life was about to begin its exponential growth up towards the 6 million people that went into the streets that September at the UN Climate Action Summit. I wonder, does that seem like a long time ago to you now given everything that you’ve gone through and that the climate movement and the climate emergency have gone through?
Greta Thunberg: In one way, it feels like a lifetime ago since so much has happened, but also in other way, it feels like yesterday since time has passed by so fast.
Mark Hertsgaard: What do you mean by that? That it feels like yesterday?
Greta Thunberg: It feels like it doesn’t feel like a long time ago in a sense that everything has happened so quickly recently.
Mark Hertsgaard: I must say someone who’s covered the climate crisis for 30 years now, these last two years have been quite extraordinary. And I want to ask you a little bit about the movement that, I think, more than anything else has made these last two years extraordinary compared to the previous 30. Some of us have been waiting a long time for this kind of a movement to arise. The Nation magazine is different from others in that we do cover social movements as newsmakers, just like we cover politicians and corporate executives as newsmakers. So I want to ask you, I know you are only one of the leaders in this movement, but could you just reflect on what you see as both the single best achievement that the movement has had in these last two and a half years, and also the main shortcoming that you still see?
Greta Thunberg: Yeah. I think that the thing that… The movement… The climate movement has achieved now it’s to really put focus on the climate emergency on the ecological emergency and to, in a way, change the social norm, change the debate around the climate emergency. It feels like people are slowly becoming more aware of the climate emergency. And also slowly starting to realize that it is actually an emergency. Of course, there’s still a very, very long way to go, left. We still aren’t near enough what would be considered to be sufficient action, but that can only be achieved through public perception, that we perceive the climate crisis as a crisis, and that we treat it as an emergency. And that’s what we are trying to achieve.
Mark Hertsgaard: You spoke earlier about the importance of mass pressure, public pressure, and that only that can really create the kinds of change necessary, including at the COP26 that’s coming up. Can you speak a little bit about the role of the media there? The Nation magazine co-founded Covering Climate Now, this consortium of news outlets around the world precisely to break the climate silence that had prevailed for so long. And we feel that we’ve moved a little ways towards breaking the silence. But many of our colleagues in the media are not yet there. We have 400 outlets around the world, we reach 2 billion people, so that’s not small, but there are many news organizations who are not yet doing enough, many journalists inside of news organizations who are not doing enough. Could you speak to them and explain why you think their role as journalists is so important at this moment in the climate emergency?
Greta Thunberg: I think media, so far, has failed in communicating the climate crisis. These last 30 years, media has an enormous responsibility in order to communicate the emergency that we are in. As it is now, they have failed to do so. On a more general note, of course there are many, many news organizations and journalists who are trying to push for this. And I think that they should receive much more support than what they are getting, because I think media is my… One of my biggest sources of hope right now, the potential that the media has in order to communicate and change people’s mindsets. As for example, we saw with the Corona pandemic, when media decided to treat this pandemic as an emergency, that changed social norms overnight. And if media decided with all the resources that they have to actually change things, to use their platform for good, then that could have… They could reach countless people in no time and that could have huge consequences, positive consequences.
Mark Hertsgaard: Thank you so much for saying that, it’s exactly what we say Covering Climate Now. It’s nice to hear you say that too. Your message has been very consistent from the get-go. It’s been “Listen to the science and the science tells us that our planetary house is literally on fire.” And yet, as you’ve already been asked in the other two interviews, what you hear from world leaders now is, as you very memorably said, “Blah, blah, blah.” Others have asked you about other… Are there any leaders who are doing better than “Blah, blah, blah?” I want to ask you about the two leaders of the two climate superpowers on this planet, trying to end the US. President Xi of China has not yet announced, but President Biden of the United States has said that he will indeed be going to COP26 and he will be there in those same days that you will be. So my question to you is will you meet with Joe Biden if you’re asked and have you been asked?
Greta Thunberg: No, I have not been asked. I don’t know, I guess that will depend on the situation.
Mark Hertsgaard: So you are open to it?
Greta Thunberg: Maybe, yeah. I mean, yeah, I don’t think why… I don’t see why these people want to meet with me, but yeah.
Mark Hertsgaard: Perhaps as a way to bring the pressure of civil society into the White House?
Greta Thunberg: Yeah.
Mark Hertsgaard: And President Xi? Would you meet with President Xi?
Greta Thunberg: Same thing. I mean, he has not announced, of course it’s… It can be different when it’s a leader of a dictatorship, to be honest. But yeah, I guess we’ll see.
Mark Hertsgaard: You just mentioned that…
Mark Hertsgaard: You just mentioned that President Xi leads a dictatorship. I wanted to ask you about how, and again, just thinking from the standpoint of the movement, how movement leaders think about and take into account the very different political situations facing leaders. Xi, as you say, is a dictator and all, but name of a one part state. Joe Biden is a President of a democracy where he faces a legislature that can block his actions. And right now, Joe Biden is trying to pass a relatively strong climate bill, unprecedented in U.S. history, and he is being blocked by unanimous opposition from the Republicans in Congress, as I’m sure you know. So what is your message to President Biden in that situation? I mean, is he just blah, blah, blah? Or do you have some sympathy for the fact that he faces these Republicans who still deny climate science?
Greta Thunberg: Well, I mean, we need to be clear that this climate bill [inaudible 00:31:00] it has been so much watered down by lobbyists, et cetera, so we should not pretend that this would be a solution to the climate crisis. Far from it. We are still actually expanding fossil fuel infrastructure, which is a bit out of touch with the reality, if you ask me. But of course, democracy is the only solution to the climate crisis since the only thing that could get us out of this situation is, right now, at least in my point of view, is massive public pressure. So that is one of the biggest solutions to the climate crisis, which I see, so of course democracy is the only way forward.
Mark Hertsgaard: And what is your message to the Republicans in Congress who are blocking even this not entirely adequate bill of Joe Biden’s?
Greta Thunberg: Well, not only to Republicans, but to anyone who is including the Biden administration, who are not taking the climate crisis seriously, by judging from their actions, is to read up on science and to think a bit about how you will want to be perceived in history and think about [inaudible 00:32:29].
Mark Hertsgaard: Greta, I’m sorry, you froze there for a minute. Could you repeat the answer from where you said, they need to think about how they will be seen in history?
Greta Thunberg: Yes, they will have to read up on science and to get back to reality and to think about how they will want to perceived in history and think about the people that are being affected by their actions and inaction.
Mark Hertsgaard: Speaking of climate villains, I want to shift from politics to business. You have criticized fossil fuel companies for their 40 years of lying about climate change. Their own scientists have been telling them for 40 years that they would fry the planet if they kept to their business model. So my question to you is, what should happen to companies like Exxon and BP and Chevron? What should happen to them now? Should they be put on trial? Should they be forced to pay damages in particular to the frontline communities that have suffered the first and the worst or is there something else that you recommend? What is your view on that?
Greta Thunberg: I think what you’re mentioning seems reasonable. I think they need to be held accountable. Some people say that we need them in the transition and of course… I mean, I think that these people need to be held accountable for all the damage that they have caused. I think that’s the bare minimum to ask. Especially the people whose communities and whose health and livelihoods have been devastated by the actions of these companies. I think that’s just the bare minimum to ask for.
Mark Hertsgaard: One more question about the movement. As you and other movement leaders discuss, and I appreciated what you said earlier about this is not a hierarchy, we’re in touch, it’s a grassroots movement, so I’m not asking you to speak for the movement. I’m just asking you to share, if you can, the thinking inside there with your colleagues and comrades. Are you thinking of any shifts in your strategy and tactics and your theory of change, given that giving up is not an option, and yet as you yourself say, the world leaders, they’re not doing enough in the face of your protests and public shaming and so forth. So how do you look at that? Are you thinking of any shifts and strategy or tactics going forward?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t know. Right now we are just repeating the same message like a broken record and we are going out on the streets because you need to repeat the same message because our message still hasn’t changed. We need to repeat it until people get it. I guess that’s the only option that we have. And if we find other ways of doing it in the future, that work better, then maybe we will shift towards that. But I don’t know right now. Right now we are continuing as we have done.
Mark Hertsgaard: And could you, for some of our colleagues in the media it would be useful for them to hear about other climate leaders, who are the, say, three or four other young climate leaders around the world? Not just in the white, European, North American axis but around the world who you think that journalists should be paying more attention to?
Greta Thunberg: I don’t think I feel comfortable with mentioning a few.
Mark Hertsgaard: You want to mention a lot?
Greta Thunberg: No, because I don’t have time for that. There are many. If you go in, for example, to the Projects of Future social media accounts, the things that we share, things that we, for example, retweet are often many, many inspiring people and leaders locally, so.
Mark Hertsgaard: Yes. I should tell you that we at Covering Climate Now do that. We have gone into that and we have a whole section on our website to direct our colleagues throughout the media, “Talk to this person, this person, this person.” So thank you for that.
Mark Hertsgaard: I have one last question, and of course it is about the Nobel Peace Prize but I’m not going to ask you about whether you’re going to win it, but rather I would like you to reflect on the connection between war and peace on one hand and the climate emergency on the other as arguably the two biggest questions facing humanity these days. When you think about that connection, who do you think of as who would be an appropriate winner for the Nobel Peace Prize or winners? Who are the people that we should be looking to for moral clarity and political leadership on these questions today?
Greta Thunberg: There are so, so many people, but unfortunately those who deserve these kinds of prizes the most are often not the ones who receive them, so I don’t know if that will be the case. I’m sorry. So I don’t know if that will be the case now. But I think this year, if I would speculate maybe I would say that Covax or WHO would win because of their inequitable vaccine distribution. But that’s just speculation.
Mark Hertsgaard: I’m sorry, I didn’t catch the first one, Covax? What is that?
Greta Thunberg: Covax, like distributing vaccines more equally around the world, for example, that countries can donate vaccine doses to give to people in part of the world where they have not as good access to vaccines.
Mark Hertsgaard: I see. Is that an NGO and could you please spell it for me so… I’m afraid I’m unfamiliar with them.
Greta Thunberg: Yeah. They usually work with WHO so, but yeah. But that’s, again, that’s just my speculation.
Mark Hertsgaard: Yeah. Okay. I think we’ve kept you long enough. I really appreciate the time that you’ve made for us and so on behalf of both The Nation magazine and the Covering Climate Now media consortium, I want to thank you very much for being with us today and thank you all your leadership on this issue for so many years. And I look forward to seeing you in Glasgow.
Greta Thunberg: Yeah. Yeah. You too. And thank you for your initiative and for taking the time.