Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg told Congress in testimony on Earth Day that history will hold lawmakers accountable for the effects of climate change if they don't stop subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.
Thunberg, 18, testified virtually before a House of Representatives panel about fossil fuel subsidies on Thursday with strong opening remarks about the urgency of acting now.
"It is the year 2021, the fact that we are still having this discussion, and even more that we are still subsidizing fossil fuels directly or indirectly using taxpayer money, is a disgrace," she said. "It is a clear proof that we have not understood the climate emergency at all."
She advocated for ending fossil fuel subsidies, divesting from fossil fuels and ending new fossil fuel exploration.
“How long do you honestly believe that people in power like you will get away with it?” the Swedish activist said. "How long do you think you can continue to ignore the climate crisis, the global aspect of equity and historic emissions, without being held accountable?
"You get away with it now, but sooner or later people are going to realize what you have been doing all this time. That's inevitable. You still have time to do the right thing and to save your legacies, but that window of time is not going to last for long."
Thunberg's remarks came on the first day of a two-day virtual summit on climate change held by President Joe Biden, who pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 as part of its commitment to the Paris climate agreement.
She warned that her generation and successive generations will hold lawmakers accountable for inaction.
"If the U.S., for example, which is the biggest emitter in history, won't take action, then how can we expect other countries to do that?"
"What I'm here to say is that unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight,” Thunberg said. “And to be honest, I don’t believe for a second that you will actually do this.
"We, the young people, are the ones who are going to write about you in the history books," she continued. "We are the ones who get to decide how you will be remembered. So my advice for you is to choose wisely."
Thunberg has been an activist since she was 15 when she became a catalyst for a host of student-led strikes involving more than a million students across the world. Her initial action began when she spent her school days protesting climate change outside the Swedish parliament.
She was named TIME magazine's Person of the Year in 2019 for her work to save the environment from the effects of climate change. She also drew worldwide notice for her fiery speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019 after she sailed from England to New York in a solar-powered boat for the conference instead of flying.
In her testimony on Thursday, she urged people to "step out of their comfort zones" to see climate change as a looming threat instead of a distant one.
She was questioned by Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) about what specific amount of parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is permissible.
"Of course there is no magic amount that says that this an OK amount, science doesn't really work that way," she said. "The higher the concentration of CO² in the atmosphere is, the bigger the risks are going to be. There is not one magic tipping point where everything is beyond saving and so on, but rather we should try to keep it as low as possible."
Norman also asked her about large countries like China and India continuing with high carbon emissions even if the United States cuts its own.
"If countries won't take action, then there's no global cooperation," she said. "If the U.S., for example, which is the biggest emitter in history, won't take action, then how can we expect other countries to do that?"