The Right to a Future: Eco Activism with Greta Thunberg, Naomi Klein, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Xiye Bastida, Vic Barrett + Tuntiak Katan

On Monday evening, The NY Society for Ethical Culture and The Intercept hosted a completely packed audience desperate for a new perspective on earth’s climate crisis. As Ars Poetica has been making strides to create a positive environmental impact with our work, and as a Swedish-American deeply inspired by Greta Thunberg personally, I was moved to be front and center to hear from these revolutionary minds.

There was a line around the block of attendees waiting to get in - the demographic was heavily young people (think 18 and under) but there were also a notable contingency of retirees and senior citizens. It was striking to see how few folks there were in the 30-60 range of things… Too busy to care? Too jaded to be fired up by optimism and action? I don’t know why, but I noticed it, and it concerned me.

I sat between to older women, one of whom looked over at me and immediately said,

“Greta Thunberg speaks with the voice of a prophet, and the wisdom of an elder.”

I asked for her name so I could quote her in this blog post: she introduced herself as Catherine Skopic.

Before the live speakers began, the hosts projected a Molly Crabapple video that I had not been exposed to yet, and it brought tears to my eyes, of course. It’s called “A Message from the Future” and you need to watch it. Then, in keeping with the theme, three youth activists shared their own messages, from the perspective of the year 2029. I’d never been to an activist event that utilized this strategy of showing what could be possible, as if it had already been done. I honestly found it deeply refreshing, and highly impactful.

Xiuhtezcatl spoke of the power of the arts, referencing in Spanish, English, and Nahuatl an old poem from his heritage,

“Still we have left, flowers and songs.”

Xiye Bastida spoke of a new education and public policy system, where local indigenous environmental philosophy could be incorporated at every level, and sacred sites would be protected and acknowledged as vital for human connection with the earth. Vic Barrett painted one of the most vivid pictures for me, envisioning themself riding on a light rail from NY to Madison, Wisconsin, seeing Climate Corps workers reforestation projects, and reflecting that they

“could finally live in a world where it feels safe to have children again.”

That thought stunned me, as a person who is at this point 99% certain that I will not have children, in part because of these environmental factors.

Next, Naomi herself took the stage, to introduce our featured guest, Greta. She did a great job of stoking the energy of the crowd in the strangely stiflingly hot room, encouraging us to discover truth and fire in ourselves, and

“find our fight.”

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Greta Thunberg is sixteen years old, and tiny. She took a 15 day sailing trip to get here, powered only by the sun and the wind. She is living her truth and the complete embodiment of earnest, unstoppable commitment to her values. When Naomi asked her what she noticed about the United States thus far, she said,

“You use a lot of air conditioning.”

Comparing it to her native Sweden, she mused,

“Here the climate crisis is something you “believe in” or “don’t believe in” ... where I come from... it’s a fact.”

She spoke about neurodiversity, trolls, and her organization Fridays for Future, and the Global Climate Strike they are preparing for on September 20th. She is planning for 9/20 to be another intergenerational tipping point, to continue to bring attention to immediate action to help curb climate change. Seeing her face contort with concern, watching her carefully choose her words, and feeling the obsessively devoted energy she cultivated in the audience, I wondered if this is what it felt like when people heard Joan of Arc speak.

Tuntiak Katan of the Ecuadorian Amazon was then invited to the stage to speak on behalf of indigenous Amazonian peoples. He said, in no uncertain terms,

“We are 30 million people protecting 60 million hectares of forest. If you don’t help us, we will not be able to continue. We’re giving our lives to protect this forest.”

He then presented Greta with a symbolic necklace, and gave her a formal invitation from the children and elders of his region, for her to come visit them and see their way of life while she travels overland on her way to COP25 in Santiago de Chile. I got chills watching the exchange, and the love in his eyes as he draped the necklace over her narrow shoulders.

All the youth activists were then invited back out to talk together for a few moments, and seeing them all together felt like quite a culmination. A culmination that could result in actual changes in policy and a decoupling from fossil fuels once and for all.

To close out the evening, which thankfully was a totally waste-free event but left be deeply, deeply parched metaphorically and physically, Xiuhtezcatl came back to the stage to perform a few songs. Even the senior citizens but their hands in the air for him.

I had written poems for Greta and Naomi of course, but alas, Greta disappeared and Naomi had throngs of fans awaiting her.

I got on my bike and went to Center Bar in Columbus Circle, and wrote poems for strangers while drinking a Penicillin, contemplating the impact the night would have on me and the hundreds of other attendees. I wonder what my message from the future will become.

One thing I know is, I can at least start to do my part to reforest this planet. Which is why Ars Poetica is launching a reforestation project in partnership with One Tree Planted. one tree :: one poem - more on that very soon.

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Can I be an activist

And still love a good cocktail?

Oh yes, I can

And I am