DENVER, Oct 12 ― Hours after judges passed her up for the Nobel Peace Prize, Greta Thunberg stood before a cheering throng, insisting once again that something must be done about climate change ― and fast.
“We as young people are tired of constantly being betrayed by those who are supposed to work for our greater good,” the 16-year-old Swedish activist told hundreds of supporters gathered in an outdoor ampitheater in Colorado’s largest city, Denver.
“We are here because we care about the future, about what we one day will leave after us,” Thunberg, clad in a cream-coloured jacket with her hair in her trademark braid, said to thunderous applause.
“But the political leaders can’t seem to think beyond the next election, and that needs to come to an end.”
Calls to action, condemnation of politicians and appeals to youth are all familiar rhetoric for Thunberg, whose activism against what some view as humanity’s most pressing problem made her an apparent frontrunner for the Peace Prize.
Earlier yesterday, the Norwegian judges instead selected Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for the award, citing his efforts to end two decades of conflict with Eritrea.
A world away, Thunberg responded with a succinct “no” when asked by AFP if not winning had disappointed her.
“Yeah, I’m very focused. This day was amazing,” she said.
Bound for Chile
Thunberg’s stop in Colorado came amid a highly publicised journey from her hometown of Stockholm in which she traversed the Atlantic on a zero-emission sailboat before making an appearance at a United Nations climate summit.
“How dare you?” she thundered at world leaders gathered in New York, accusing them of handing younger generations a world of rising seas and increasingly severe weather.
That refrain ― emphatically repeated by Thunberg in her UN speech ― could be seen on several cardboard signs carried by crowd members in Denver.
“She helped voice the opinions that I didn’t know how to word. She said everything that I’d been thinking,” said Dante Lanthier, 16, one of many high school students who attended the event.
Students have been among the most receptive of audiences for Thunberg, who first rose to prominence in August 2018 when she started skipping school to sit outside the Swedish parliament with her “School Strike for the Climate” sign, to criticise government inaction on climate change.
Students across the world then began emulating her academic disobedience, leading to organized school walkouts and the rise of the “Fridays for Future” movement, which organized the event in Denver.
“When you’re younger, you can’t vote, you can’t see the way to make changes,” said Molly Ring, 18, a high schooler who recently participated in her first climate strike.
“Having her… is really inspiring.”
Fire and ice
Thunberg, who is heading by electric vehicle to Santiago, Chile in time for another UN climate conference in December, arrived in Denver on a day so cold that local media reported it broke a record set in 1946.
Hundreds of miles away, wildfires tore through southern California, forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.
Both are seen as symptomatic of the climate disaster Thunberg warns against.
“With hotter summers, and earlier, colder winters, we need this message,” 74-year-old Kate Hilsenbeck said of Thunberg’s activism, as she waited for the young Swede to appear.
Thunberg has already won Amnesty International’s top human rights prize and the Swedish Right Livelihood Award, often presented as an alternative Nobel.
She’s also earned adoration from fans, some of whom shouted “we love you, Greta!” as she left the venue following a speech that lasted just under 10 minutes.
That a Nobel Prize had eluded Thunberg this year seemed to worry her audience little.
“I think she’s got lots of years to win all the prizes,” said Denver resident Laurence Larrick, 67. “I don’t think she has to worry about that.” ― AFP