Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who has shot to global fame for inspiring worldwide student strikes to promote an urgent response to climate change, took her mission to United States President Donald Trump’s doorstep on Friday with a protest in Washington, DC.
Hundreds of mostly young people gathered across the street from the White House to meet her carrying signs that read “People or Profit?” and “Warming!”, chanting “This is a crisis, act like it!” and “Business as usual is not enough”.
Jennifer Morash, a doctoral candidate in plant science, brought her daughter Adeline, aged nine, to the rally after getting permission from her school in neighbouring Maryland. “I just want to make sure we all have a happy future – and for people to take climate change seriously,” Adeline said.
Many protesters laid down and kept still for 11 minutes for a die-in representing the 11 years that scientists believe the world has to make the changes needed to stave off an even more dangerous climate crisis and avoid a dramatic increase in global temperatures.
The demonstration marked the first high-profile event of Thunberg’s six-day visit to the US capital, intended to pressure the Trump administration ahead of the September 23 United Nations climate summit, where world leaders will be asked to ramp up their carbon-cutting ambitions to fend off global warming.
Trump is among a small minority of global leaders to openly question the science of climate change.
Thunberg has said she does not believe she can convince Trump or other climate science deniers that global warming is real, but hopes they will take briefings from “actual scientists and experts in this area”.
The 16-year-old activist last year started skipping school every Friday to demonstrate outside Sweden’s parliament, and will head back to New York City later this month to take part in the UN climate summit.
Prior to that, Thunberg will address Congress on climate change and later join Democratic lawmakers and plaintiffs in the Juliana v the United States case – in which a group of young people sued the government for failing to address climate change – at the US Supreme Court.
Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year after the number of students taking part in the “Fridays for Future” school strikes broke two million across 135 countries.
She was also named one of the world’s most influential people by Time magazine in May.
Right-wing lawmakers in Europe have ridiculed Thunberg, mocking her as a “guru of the apocalypse” and a “Nobel Prize of fear”. She was also described as a “deeply disturbed messiah” leading a “cult” in an opinion column by conservative Australian commentator Andrew Bolt.
Thunberg arrived in the US last month on a racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater electricity turbines to ensure that it left a minimal carbon footprint. Two weeks ago, she joined fellow activists outside the UN headquarters. She is taking a year off from school to travel around the Americas.