I want you to act as if the house is on fire

A couple of short weeks ago, activist Greta Thunberg landed in NYC, from the United Kingdom, in time for Thunberg to attend the UN Climate Action Summit later this month.

But unlike virtually every other attendee from outside the NYC area, she travelled by boat. And not just any boat, a 60 ft racing yacht with solar panels and wind turbines, designed to have zero impact on carbon emissions. And not just any attendee, Thunberg is just 16 years old. And it’s not the first time she’s made waves – earlier this year in Davos, Thunberg arrived after a 30+ hour train journey in contrast to the 1,500 individual private jets.

Thunberg, of course, is a climate change activist, dedicated to reducing her carbon footprint. She started the international movement of climate strikes – starting in August of 2018 during the Swedish elections. She wanted the Swedish government to reduce emissions and protested by sitting outside the Swedish parliament for three weeks straight during the start of her ninth grade in school. After her demonstration gained the spotlight, and after Sweden’s general elections, she started striking every Friday, and over the course of a few months, helped to lead 20,000 students in protests over almost 300 cities.

Thunberg has a long list of accolades, despite her young age. But what started this all was the idea that she could change just one person’s mind about their actions on climate change. As a young girl, she convinced her family to go vegetarian, to stop flying, to buy an electric car, and to reduce their carbon footprint. This involved real changes to her parents’ livelihoods, their families, and their lives. And once she realized she could change them, she thought there was a chance she could change others.

Thunberg is most known for her ability to speak her truth, even to adults, even when it makes them uncomfortable. She recently noted that she has Asperger’s syndrome, and that she thinks of this as her superpower.

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Adults keep saying we owe it to the young people, to give them hope, but I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.

Watching her on a recent episode of the Daily Show moved me – as someone who flies a lot, and who doesn’t always think too much of it, I was inspired to try better and try harder to do my part. Her message that we can each be better informed, make better decisions, and do better for one another and for our younger generations is one that I hope we are instilling in each of our 6,000 students.

-Reshma