Greta Thunberg is teaching the world how to step outside of our comfort zones to make the world a more habitable place for our children and grandchildren. She came to speak about this at #COP25 in Madrid, and I got to see it firsthand. Here’s what happened.
Strategic marching. That’s what my friend Brad and I branded it.
On December 6, 2019, then-16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg survived a battalion of news reporters upon arriving to Madrid, for the 68th week of her Fridays for Future school climate strike. It came ahead of COP25, the 25th UN Climate Change conference. The event served as a call for all countries to scale up their commitments to fighting climate change. The objective was to move toward environmental scenarios that will keep global warming below 1.5°C, rather than the 2°C goal established in the 2015 Paris Agreement. COP25 had been moved last-minute from Santiago to Madrid due to political unrest in the Chilean capital.
The march took place the Friday evening before COP25. With Thunberg in town, Brad and I decided to arrive early to beat the expected masses. It took about 10 seconds to realize everyone else had the same idea. And it turned out that “everyone else” turned out to be 500,000 people.
We started marching with the thousands. It began at Atocha, a train station just southeast of Madrid’s city center, and finished at Nuevos Ministerios, a subway station 5 kilometers north, near IE’s campus.
Though we didn’t know at the time that half a million people adorned the streets of Madrid in united protest, it was clear that a quasi-army (and just one of many across the globe) was formed and fighting for a common goal—for our great grandkids to find a planet no less inhabitable than the one our great grandparents enjoyed. And the face of the movement: a Swedish teenager who inspired all those who believe in science to also believe in the power of a loud, unified voice. A movement she launched 68 weeks ago with passion, a picket sign, and the power of social media.
After having seen Thunberg’s speeches online for months, Brad and I had high hopes of seeing her up close at the end of the march, but with thousands upon thousands of feet marching ahead of ours, chances looked slim. But this is when the epiphany hit, and where the strategic part came into play: the subway.
We hopped on the Madrid Metro—picket signs in hand—a couple kilometers into the walk to arrive at Nuevos Ministerios first. It worked; we were the first ones there. 10 feet from the stage. And it wasn’t cheating, it was strategic marching. I was stoked.
Live music filled the street space until the crowd arrived, and then the event commenced with a powerful speech by an indigenous woman from Brazil. She spoke (accompanied by a Spanish translator) of the often-ignored fact that climate change does not affect everyone equally, or as quickly—indigenous people and other marginalized communities will be the first to bear the brunt of the crisis. According to the United Nations:
“Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship with, the environment and its resources.” And yet, it is indigenous people who are rarely included in the public discussion.
Academy-Award-winning actor Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) followed with an impassioned speech about the weight of decisions. “The decisions and commitments taken these days will compromise the future of everyone, as well as your sons, your daughters, and your grandkids—and of course, the entire planet” (translated from Spanish). He threw some well-deserved punches at President Trump and other politicians before emphasizing the importance of urgent and immediate action. With a roar of cheers from the crowd, he passed the baton to Time’s 2019 Person of the Year: Greta Thunberg.
Greta takes the stage
Thunberg introduced herself in Spanish—to the delight of the crowd—but wasted no time getting down to business.
“We are in the middle of a climate and ecological emergency, and we need to start treating this crisis like a crisis. And we need to step out of our comfort zones. And that is what we are doing right now. We are stepping out of our comfort zones telling the people in power that they must take their responsibility and protect future and present generations. World leaders have gathered in Madrid to negotiate our future. And I could tell you, the hope is not within the walls of COP25, the hope is out here with you.”
She pressed on, “We need to continue, we need to keep the momentum going, and we need to lend our voices to the people of the global south and to indigenous people who are suffering the most from the climate and environmental emergency.”
Her words were sharp but clear. Short but stirring.
It was difficult not to be awestruck by the teenager who mobilized a global revolution. She traversed the Atlantic Ocean by boat to minimize her carbon footprint and she stood taller than cowardly politicians who belittled her for shining light on the shadows that keep them in power. And while many predict that her face will one day rest on our children’s history books, she simply sees herself as a piece of the puzzle to be solved to salvage our planet.
Agitated with the media following her every move, she said to “not listen to me before anyone else. I am a small part of a very big movement.”
And this is the key takeaway—beneath the accolades and media attention, Thunberg is simply playing her part in a movement that affects every single living thing, every one of us, and as Bardem said, our sons, our daughters, and our grandkids. We also have our parts to play.
Leaving our comfort zones behind
Thunberg was a high school student who went on strike from school to spur action by the Swedish government. Her comfort zone was sitting in class learning. For our comfort zones to even remain options, we too must step out of our comfort zones. This may look different for each of us—whether it’s a change in our behavior, volunteer work, or voting for candidates who prioritize the fighting of climate change in their agendas, I encourage all of earth’s residents to find their own way to contribute to the protection of our home, so our home remains intact for all those who come after us.
Eddie Carrillo is from San Diego, California. He got his bachelor’s degree in economics from UC San Diego and is now pursuing the Master in Digital Marketing at IE HST. He’s a marathon runner, a writer, and spends a lot of time listening to music. Connect with him on Instagram, LinkedIn, or via email.