Author: Laura Parker | Published: March 7, 2017
Children are not often invited to speak to the United Nations General Assembly. But there stood Felix Finkbeiner, German wunderkind in his Harry Potter spectacles, gray hoodie, and mop-top haircut—with a somber question about climate change.
“We children know adults know the challenges and they know the solutions,” he said. “We don’t know why there is so little action.”
The children came up with three possible reasons to explain the lapse, he said. One is differing perspectives on the meaning of the word “future.”
“For most adults, it’s an academic question. For many of us children, it’s a question of survival,” he said. “Twenty-one hundred is still in our lifetime.”
Another explanation is climate denial. The third possibility can be glimpsed in an animal parable about monkeys that made an especially sharp point in the way that only a child delivering the message can.
“If you let a monkey choose if he wants one banana now or six bananas later, the monkey will always chose the one banana now,” he said. “From this, we children understood we cannot trust that adults alone will save our future. To do that, we have to take our future in our hands.”
At the time of his speech, Finkbeiner was four years into leading a remarkable environmental cause that has since expanded into a global network of children activists working to slow the Earth’s warming by reforesting the planet.
The organization also prompted the first scientific, full-scale global tree count, which is now aiding NASA in an ongoing study of forests’ abilities to store carbon dioxide and their potential to better protect the Earth. In many ways, Finkbeiner has done more than any other activist to recruit youth to the climate change movement. Plant-for-the-Planet now has an army of 55,000 “climate justice ambassadors,” who have trained in one-day workshops to become climate activists in their home communities. Most of them are between the ages nine and 12.
“Felix is a combination of inspirational and articulate,” says Thomas Crowther, an ecologist who conducted the tree count while working at Yale University in Connecticut. “A lot of people are good at one of those things. Felix is really good at both.”