Obama to the Greta Thunbergs of the world: You’re right to be angry at the old for their climate inaction

November 8, 2021, 5:20 PM UTC

Minutes after coming out on stage and yelling “Hello, Glasgow!” to a cheering COP26 crowd, former U.S. President Barack Obama turned his attention to the anger expressed by many young people at the lack of climate action by their elders.

Dedicating 15 minutes of his hour-long speech at the UN COP26 climate conference to addressing young people who have grown tired of political inaction against climate change, Obama urged them to demand a role in the climate decisions being made.

“If those older folks won’t listen, they need to get out of the way,” Obama said, inciting young people to get more engaged in protests and online campaigns to combat climate change.

To the young people who take the destruction of the planet personally, he said, “I want you to stay angry, I want you to stay frustrated. But challenge that anger and harness that frustration.”

Obama’s comments nodded to the anger expressed by young climate activists like Greta Thunberg, who dubbed the COP a “failure” because of a lack of major action and said that one of the corporate world’s favorite climate actions—carbon “offsetting”—is a “dangerous climate lie.

Paris, Trump, and absent countries

The former president warned that time was running out for collective and individual action on the climate and expressed disappointment that Donald Trump had decided to drop out of the Paris Agreement that Obama had signed and instead engage in four years of active hostility toward climate action.

Turning from his disappointment in his White House successor, Obama also called out Russia and China for their absence from the conference, which he referred to as showing “a dangerous lack of urgency”—echoing remarks made last week by current U.S. President Joe Biden, who called the absence of fellow leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping “a big mistake.”

“We need advanced economies like the U.S. and Europe leading on this issue. But you know the facts. We also need China and India leading on this issue, we need Russia leading on this issue, just as we need Indonesia, South Africa, and Brazil leading on this issue,” Obama said.

Obama said much of the lack of geopolitical cooperation could be attributed to the pandemic, as well as to the rise in nationalism and “tribal impulses.” But he insisted that if there is one thing strong enough to transcend these forces, it was climate change.

In conclusion, he told young people facing the heavy task ahead of them, “Gird yourself for a marathon, not a sprint.”

That said, there weren’t many young people in the crowd listening to Obama—the limited seating went almost exclusively to adults.

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