New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez interviewed 16-year-old Swedish student Greta Thunberg for The Guardian on Saturday. Both Ocasio-Cortez, 29, and Thunberg have been heralded for their climate activism. The two discussed the climate crises, the political landscape, and what it means to be young, inspired, and taking action when it seems you’re up against a world of critics.
Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress after defeating ten-term incumbent and Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley for the 14th congressional district seat in New York.
Since taking office, Ocasio-Cortez launched the Green New Deal alongside Sen. Ed Markey [D-Mass.] this past February. It was one of the most aggressive climate policies aimed at eliminating carbon emissions in the U.S. The Deal would have not only cut carbon emissions from electricity, transportation, and agriculture sectors, but it was also poised to create jobs and boost the economy. The ambitious legislation, defeated in the Senate by the Republican majority, has caught the attention and support of presidential candidates including Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Amy Klobuchar. And if a Democrat wins the 2020 presidential election, it could see some kind of resurgence and implementation.
These types of aggressive outside-of-the-box policies aimed at tackling climate change have also been at the forefront of Thunberg’s rise to stardom. The young activist started a movement of students skipping school every Friday to protest and pressure politicians to take climate action. Thunberg now has a legion of millions following her lead around the world, pressuring local politicians and the world leaders to prioritize climate policies.
Her fans aren’t just other teens. Earlier this year, Thunberg met with former U.S. President Barak Obama.
“Young people all over the world are leading the way in the fight to protect our planet because they know their future depends on it,” he said, praising Thunberg for her activism.
“This generation of climate activists is tired of inaction, and they’ve caught the attention of leaders all over the world.”
Action star and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said he was starstruck when he met the young activist.
A Hopeful Future
Ocasio-Cortez said when she first heard a speech given by Thunberg she was thrilled, “because here in the United States, even when I was running, people were saying there’s no need to convey this kind of urgency [about the climate], and it’s radical, and it’s unnecessary. To hear you articulate the belief that I’ve had as well is so exciting and validating.”
Thunberg tells Ocasio-Cortez that before she started leading the school strikes she was depressed and didn’t want to do anything. “But what I find encouraging is having all these people who are fighting on different sides in different ways, to create a better future and to make us avoid catastrophic climate breakdown.”
Experts warn we have only twelve years to take action before climate disasters become the norm.
Scores of celebrities, entrepreneurs, and politicians have lent their support to climate action. Academy-Award winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio just released his third climate-fueled documentary “Ice on Fire” in an effort to spur action. His Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has given millions of dollars to climate-related causes. Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson removed palm oil and beef from some of the airline’s flight menus to protect rainforests; Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has invested in plant-based companies working to reduce the emissions produced by the livestock industry.
Despite the growing concern over the climate crises, climate change is already taking a toll on communities around the world, displacing people from their homes, threatening ecosystems, and endangering the future. But the two activists remain largely hopeful.
Thunberg says the biggest issue isn’t willful destruction of the planet, but widespread ignorance. “I mean, people aren’t continuing like this and not doing anything because they are evil, or because they don’t want to. We aren’t destroying the biosphere because we are selfish. We are doing it simply because we are unaware. I think that is very hopeful, because once we know, once we realise, then we change, then we act.”
For Ocasio-Cortez, winning the congressional seat has energized her commitments more than ever.
“I learned that hope is not something that you have. Hope is something that you create, with your actions,” the Congresswoman said. “Hope is something you have to manifest into the world, and once one person has hope, it can be contagious.”