On Monday night, Amnesty International bestowed its highest honor to 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg — the 2019 Ambassador of Conscience Award. The ceremony was devoted to how the world’s youth are picking up the mantle of climate control and leading a revolution towards change.
Held in George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, the event was hosted by actress and activist Sophia Bush.
The first youth activist to speak was Tokata Iron Eyes, a 16-year-old environmental activist from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe who took a stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline at age 13. Today, she’s the tribe’s youth leader and an advocate for indigenous rights, the protection of land and waters.
Iron Eyes began by pinting out the indigenous peoples are caretakers of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, yet they’re the least turned to when looking for solutions to climate change. For those unable to make their voices heard — often the very people impacted by climate change — Iron Eyes said she took on that responsibility. “It’s not activism,” she said. “It’s a way of life. You are, at all times, on indigenous lands.”
As for the government lending a hand, she said, “We know they’re not curating solutions that are adequate for us because there is no solution without the protection of indigenous people, their culture and their community.”
Driving her point home, Iron Eyes said, ” I am 16. I started speaking when I was nine years old. I am a child. I should not have to be on this stage. There should not be such a thing as a youth climate activist. I need you just as much as you need me.” And finally, “There’s so much that needs to be done.”
Also taking the stage was Ramona Sarsgaard, the 12-year-old daughter of actress and activist Maggie Gyllenhaal. Sarsgaard recalled when she first learned about climate change and how Thunberg was bringing attention to this crisis. “She opened my mind,” Sarsgaard said. “It would definitely be easier to pretend everything was fine… but to always hide your fears only makes those fears bigger and more frightening.”
Echoing her daughter, Gyllenhaal spoke of pushing her own fears away. “Every time I did that, I was throwing our children under the bus.”
When it came time for the guest of honor to take the podium, Thunberg was given an apple box to stand on to enable her to reach the microphone, something which recalled You’re Never Too Small to Make a Difference, a book of her speeches from climate change global protests she’s led and attended.
The Swedish teen reminded listeners that with the way the world is currently working, the effects of climate change are on track to displace billions of people in the near future, eventually making living conditions so dire that areas of the world will become “uninhabitable for humans.” She urged the audience to publicize the link between the climate crisis and the future world conflicts it will cause, including ” mass migration, famine, violations of human rights and war,” if action is not taken.
Thunberg pointed out that many people are already suffering the consequences of the first stages of this “ecological emergency,” faced with toxic air, contaminated water, and environmental disasters that have forced indigenous communities out of their homes. She announced that with the rising threat to food and water supplies, the climate crisis is a “threat to human rights” like the world has never seen.
Due to the looming effects of this crisis on every government, economy, and community worldwide, and the potential impact on future generations, Thunberg then called for change. She said that “there is an awakening going on,” noting that the debate on climate is shifting, in large part due to the work of young activists. Despite this, though, the natural world is still being destroyed — so even more action is necessary, now more than ever.”
“Every single one of us must push from every possible angle to hold those who are responsible accountable and to make the people in power act,” Thunberg announced. “No one is too small to make a difference,” she reminded the audience, as she encouraged everyone to take part in the upcoming global climate strikes on September 20th and 27th. She ended her acceptance speech with a powerful promise: “See you on the streets.”