Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg is regularly on the receiving end of unhinged vitriol from the right—condemned as an alarmist propagandist by those who refuse to read the writing on the wall—but she is also repeatedly condescended to by her supposed allies. She knows it, too.
It’s been easy for people to approach Thunberg as an endearing, precious oddity: she’s a 16-year-old white girl from Sweden who speaks in a soft, careful voice about the already unfolding climate crisis. But Thunberg has made it clear that she’s not here to be a cute, vapid mascot of progress for lawmakers who want to pat her on the head and move on. She addressed this tension on Monday in a cutting speech before the United Nations General Assembly.
“I shouldn’t be here. I should be in school on the other side of the ocean,” Thunberg said. “Yet, you come to us young people for hope. How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
She continued, voice shaking:
People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about are money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you? For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you look away?
Thunberg is not here to be palatable. She is not here to be adorable GIF-fodder, or to reassure apathetic elites that the future is in good hands. She is here to be taken seriously. The stakes are too high for her not to be. Her activism isn’t cute—it’s terrifying.