Editor’s Note: Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is vice president of communications and strategy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Follow her at @jrpsaki. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. Read more opinion articles at CNN.
Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist, just reminded us all what exactly is at stake with the crisis of climate change.
When I returned to the White House to serve as President Barack Obama’s communications director, one of the first conversations we had was about how he wanted to spend time in his final two years elevating the issue of climate change.
And we tried to do exactly that.
We went to national parks and he talked about clean air and water, went to the everglades to talk about the impact on tourism. He gave a speech at the Coast Guard Academy on the national security impact of climate change and spent the day with Bear Grylls to elevate the importance of addressing the crisis of climate change head on. He is a great communicator, but we didn’t change the national conversation.
After he left office, the unlikely voice of a freshman New York City congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, took elevation of climate change much further. She proposed an enormous investment in addressing the issue with her package, the Green New Deal. She made activism on climate change cool and used her voice and her platform to bring energy and excitement around an issue that is immediate and dire.
But on Monday, an even younger activist – Thunberg – made the starkest argument yet for why addressing climate change is not just an issue millennials vote on, presidential candidates should debate on or elected officials need to have a box checking plan on.
It is an issue that future generations, the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the leaders milling through the halls of the United Nations today, should not be burdened with solving alone.
She is not seeking fame or fortune, stating clearly at the beginning of her remarks, “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back at school on the other side of the ocean.” She is angry and she wants action. Thunberg put a face and a voice to the generation who will suffer.
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She called on the world leaders sitting in the room and those watching to do better. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you.”
She was an important reminder of the power of one voice.
We don’t need to look further than the complete meltdowns of climate deniers to know she struck a nerve. But let’s hope her words also encouraged those who see the evidence and know the truth to act now.
This article has been modified to accurately reflect Greta Thunberg’s age. She is 16, not 15.