A 16-year-old tells Davos delegates that if the planet dies, she’s blaming them

Giving apathetic Davos delegates the side-eye.
Giving apathetic Davos delegates the side-eye.
Image: Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
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Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who called the world to attention last month at the 2018 UN Climate Change Conference, brought her stark message to the World Economic Forum this week, telling the global elites who converged on Davos, Switzerland, that she would hold them accountable for not doing more to stop an unfolding environmental catastrophe.

At a packed luncheon sponsored by Salesforce on Thursday (Jan. 24), invited guests heard from a panel that included the primatologist Jane Goodall and musicians Bono and But it was Thunberg, seated at a table near the front, who got the last word. Salesforce founder and co-CEO Marc Benioff had come down from the stage and offered her the microphone to give the delegates a young person’s view. She did not mince words.

“We are facing [an] existential crisis, the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” the 16-year-old said. “If everyone is guilty, then no one is to blame, and someone is to blame… Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular know exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money, and I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”

She didn’t literally drop the mic, but she may as well have. The room was stunned into brief silence before offering up applause.

On Friday (Jan. 25), the final day of the forum, Thunberg spoke at a session called “Preparing for Climate Disruption” and circulated the conference hall like a seasoned Davos attendee.

This was Thunberg’s message on Friday:

You can catch her eloquence in action here:

Thunberg burst on the environmental-protest scene last year after she refused to attend school for weeks, drawing attention to her cause ahead of Swedish elections. Her protest inspired other students to strike, both in Sweden and in other countries as far away as Australia.

Though Thunberg’s message at Davos left some of the delegates uncomfortable—her finger-pointing speech at the Salesforce lunch was a topic of discussion during the last night of conference parties—it turns out she’s plenty capable of inspiring adults, too.

“I like her,” Benioff said approvingly as the lunch event ended.

“She’s amazing,” said. “That’s the youth we need.”

Deb Dugan, CEO of the (RED) AIDS organization co-founded by Bono, called Thunberg “perhaps the most enlightened and wise person in the room,” and admired her ability to communicate the urgency of her message. Said Dugan, “She moved me to tears because all I could think was, ‘What have we done?’”