That night Rascal, Tola and Pola were so excited that they could hardly sleep. In two days one of their friends was supposed to give a speech in front of the most important people from across the world. In two days one of the members of the Eco-Patrol was to present the position of kids on the issue of climate change. The COP24 conference was going to be organised in Katowice. It was the leading meeting on climate change; not only will adults discuss solutions to stop the Earth’s global warming, the representatives of children and teenagers have also been invited to participate.
It was a very important event for Tola, Pola and Rascal. They had been members of the Eco-Patrol for a long time. They were keeping in touch with children from all around the world via the Internet. They found out how burning fossil fuels and cutting trees impacted the lives of their friends in Africa, South America, Australia and Asia.
‘Rascal get a move on! We’re going to be late! Nicodemus, the bear from the Arctic, is talking first. I don’t want to miss his speech,’ said Tola, hurrying Rascal.
When they got to the conference, almost everyone had gathered in the hall. The meeting was hosted by Pola, who stood at the podium. Children from all around the world were sitting in a huge hall. Tola and Rascal saw a polar bear from the Arctic, a rhino from a savannah, a camel from a desert, a lynx from a forest, and even a few fish in special environmental suits which allowed them to breathe outside water. Tola and Rascal didn’t want to push through the crowd, so they decided to sit next to a young reindeer. They recognized her at once – it was Greta – their friend from Sweden. For several months she had been organising Friday school strikes aimed at making adults realise they needed to act against climate change.
Suddenly, they heard a bell and everyone went silent. Pola stood in front of the crowd.
‘Dear friends!’ said Pola ‘I open today’s meeting and introduce the first speaker, Nicodemus from the Arctic. He will talk about how global warming affects his life and the life of his family. Nicodemus, the floor is yours,’ Pola addressed the polar bear, who walked towards the podium.
‘Good morning,’ Nicodemus looked at the audience. ‘I will come straight to the point. If the temperature on Earth keeps increasing, my friends and I will die.’
‘What? They’ll die?’ asked Tola quietly, leaning towards Rascal. ‘Don’t you think he’s exaggerating?’
Rascal shrugged, as if to tell her that he hadn’t expected that global warming was such a serious issue.
‘My home – the Arctic – is beautiful,’ continued Nicodemus. ‘The sun doesn’t shine for half a year but I don’t mind. I have a thick layer of fat under my skin and a thick fur so I can stay warm. I really like eating seals and the winter is the perfect time for hunting. Seals can’t breathe under water, so they cut holes in the ice. I wait by such holes and when the seals show up above water, I catch them. Now that the ice sheets in the Arctic melt, I have less and less space to place traps. And catching a seal in the open sea is a real challenge! I’m really concerned about how my hunts will look like in a few years. People don’t care about the Arctic. No one lives there for more than a few months because of the cold. The Arctic is my home, my family and friends. Please we need to do something to stop global warming!’
The second speech was given by a kangaroo from Australia and a camel from Africa.
‘Hello, I’m Kate the Kangaroo and this is Victor the Camel,’ the kangaroo introduced them both. ‘We were supposed to give separate speeches, but it turns out that even though we live on different continents – very, very far away from each other – we are facing the same problems; droughts and scorching heat.’
I’m a camel,’ said Victor. ‘My family has been living in the desert for ages. Half of my home country, Egypt, is covered with the sands of the Sahara. We, camels, are perfectly adjusted to droughts.’
‘Australia is also a dry continent,’ added Kate. ‘In the middle of it, there’s the Great Victoria Desert. The whole continent looks like an uneven pizza. If we poured the pizza sauce on it, it would cover the whole space except for a few bumpy areas and the edges. Deserts and dry steppes cover most of my country. Only its coasts are green and fertile, and perfect to inhabit.’
‘Kate, our relatives and I are used to hot weather,’ said Victor. ‘My family used to travel across Africa in camel caravans. My grandfather could cross the whole desert without a sip of water. And the journey could take as much as 20 days,’ explained the Camel.
‘Kangaroos can jump on hot sand,’ added Kate. ‘We don’t mind the scorching heat. But because of the climate change, something bad has been happening. This year the temperature in the desert rose to 50⁰C! That’s too much! Small streams and ponds dried up and because of the lack of grass and other small plants, animals had nothing to eat. Without the shade which gives shelter, without water and food, the animals will not survive. So many kangaroos and cows died this year because of the lack of water and grass…’
The young audience listened to Kate and Victor in complete silence, but when they finished their speech, everyone sighed in dismay. Even Rascal, who usually pretended that he didn’t care about anything, was really concerned.
Many other animals gave their speeches after the Camel and the Kangaroo. They all talked about the lack of water, rivers drying up, droughts and fires. Their stories moved Tola and Rascal. The growing temperature not only meant worsening living conditions, it also might result in deaths! What the two friends heard sounded like an incoming apocalypse!
One of the last speeches was given by Timothy the Tuna, who came to the Conference straight from the ocean.
‘Hello, everyone,’ he greeted the audience. ‘I bet many of you wonder what a fish is doing at this meeting. After all, the water is warmer by only one degree, so this shouldn’t really impact my life. So why am I here?’ he asked.
Tola looked around. Most of the audience didn’t know why a fish from the ocean would come to the Conference. Climate change didn’t seem to bother them.
‘I came here to make you realise that the main things saving us from the climate catastrophe are the seas and oceans. For years they have been absorbing the dangerous gas which you emit on land. This gas is carbon dioxide. If it had stayed in the air, the temperature on Earth would be much higher. Yet most of the aquatic animals and coral reefs still face a real problem. We are beginning to suffer from heatwaves. I dare say they’re as severe as here on land. Fish who can migrate to cooler areas. Those who can’t, die. If this continues, we will all slowly die out.’
Everyone in the hall was deeply moved by Timothy’s speech.
If the situation was so serious, then why was nobody acting? If fish and other animals died from either droughts or heatwaves, why wasn’t anyone trying to stop it?
But what could the young activists do to stop climate change and help the Conference’s speakers? Should they ask adults to stop logging trees? Should they organise strikes? What could they do?
Suddenly, the voice of Greta – the young reindeer from Sweden – broke through the noise and babble.
‘I think it’s time we finally said what we all think about climate change! I think it’s time adults saw that we care about our planet and we don’t want to die because of their negligence! We need to demand changes – not just ask for them. If we show that we’re united, that we take actions all around the world, and believe in what we say, we will make a difference!’
Pola, the host of the meeting, suggested that all children and teenagers take part in the adults’ debates during the following days and prepare their speeches. There was a chance that the politicians, scientists and entrepreneurs also wanted to change the world for the better.
The next day Rascal, Tola and Pola took part in the meetings of scientists and politicians. Almost all of them agreed that something needs to be done; that people should stop cutting trees and reduce burning coal. Our friends were glad to hear that, but… this unfortunately was not to last for long.
At the end of the day, Tola, Rascal, Pola and Greta were supposed to attend the evening meeting of activists. Right in front of the entrance, Tola realised that she didn’t have her bag.
‘Oh no! I’m so sorry, I need to go back to the conference building. I left my notes in my bag, and I don’t want to lose them,’ she said.
The three friends didn’t want to leave the kitten alone, so they all decided to go back to the building. A friendly doorkeeper waved at them and asked to hurry up. They quickly slipped inside the hall. They were enthusiastic about the adults’ attitude towards climate change.
While on their way back, they noticed light in the small room next to the main entrance. A few delegates from different countries were discussing the agreements proposed during the Conference. The four friends didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but the room’s door was open, and the delegates spoke quite loudly. By accident, they heard something that both confused and terrified them.
First, they heard somebody speaking with a foreign accent.
‘We don’t believe in climate change. I think that companies selling air purifiers purposely exaggerate when they say that the situation in the world is so bad. Droughts are nothing new. Reducing the production of crude oil will be devastating for my country! If we didn’t sell crude oil, our government would lose billions of dollars. We will not sign any agreement.’
Another person spoke in a similar manner.
‘I think climate change is real. But my country’s economy is based on coal. We have many mines which create workplaces for thousands of miners. Air pollution haven’t killed anyone yet and my party would lose the next elections if we closed all mines. We’ll build two windmills and the ecologists won’t pick on us. Our country is based on coal and nothing will change that!’
‘That’s right,’ agreed the third delegate. ‘The ecologists don’t know how much we must pay for the green energy. Windmills, solar panels and nuclear power cost billions of dollars. No one wants to pay higher bills for electricity and heating. Polluted air and contaminated water in the oceans are better than expensive electricity. I’m sure that animals would prefer to wear protective masks rather than pay 10 dollars more for bills.’
Greta could not bear hearing anymore, she swung the door open. The delegates looked at the four angry kids in surprise.
‘Have you calculated how much we have to pay for doctors who treat asthma and other respiratory diseases?’ Greta asked angrily. ‘Have you calculated how expensive the contamination of seas, oceans and the death and extinction of thousands of animals and plants is? I bet you don’t have these numbers in your documents, but these are the real costs of climate change! I’m ashamed of you! You think you represent animals from around the world? Well you don’t. The only thing you represent is money!’
Greta stood boldly in front of the adults. This shy reindeer must have gathered enormous strength to overcome fear and face so important adults.
Rascal, unsure of how the delegates would react, slammed the door and took his friends’ paws.
‘Let’s go, we shouldn’t be here,’ he said.
You can imagine how devastated our friends were. They cried the whole night. They couldn’t believe that so important people really thought that way. They couldn’t believe that despite so many reports, meetings with the scientists and horrifying messages from all over the world, these people didn’t want to take any action to stop climate change and save the Earth.
The next day the members of the Eco-Patrol were supposed to choose one representative to present the position of kids on the issue of climate change. The animals debated who they should choose. Should it be the polar bear who was a member of an endangered species, the tuna from the acidified ocean, or the kangaroo from the desert? After long talks, they decided that the speech should be given by the most shy, yet the most brave animal – Greta.
‘Ladies and gentlemen!’ announced the Lynx. ‘Let me introduce Greta from Sweden, who has been involved in strikes against climate change. Greta is the representative of children.’
‘You’re gonna make it!’ called the Bear.
‘We are keeping our fingers crossed for you!’ added the Camel.
Greta looked at her friends. She – the little, shy Greta from Sweden who had been working for months to encourage everyone to fight for the climate – was supposed to tell the adults how important the climate is for her and how important their actions are.
When Greta went to the podium, everyone applauded. It is not easy to talk about things that will make others sad. It is hard to talk about things that can make others angry. But we should talk about important issues – and we should do it out loud.
‘My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden. Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to. But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake.’
Greta fell silent for a while. She gathered her strength as she was going to say something very difficult. After a second, she continued in a clear, firm voice.
‘You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us, children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilisation is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few. We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.’
The tale was prepared within Kids for Eco-Action Project, co-financed by the Governments of Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia through Visegrad Grants from International Visegrad Fund. The mission of the fund is to advance ideas for sustainable regional cooperation in Central Europe.