- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Boris Johnson used a major speech to world leaders to call for action on the climate – and took on Kermit the Frog in the process.
The UK prime minister addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Wednesday night, and said humanity is at its “adolescence” and must stop “trashing” the environment. Johnson pushed the world to “grow up”.
The PM also challenged the message of Muppets character Kermit the Frog, who sang: “It’s not easy being green.”
“He was wrong,” he said of Jim Henson’s creation. “It is easy to be green.”
The premier added it was “easy, lucrative and right” to be green.
— Alexander Britton (@adbritton) September 23, 2021
He used more colourful language to make his point about the need to show environmental maturity – likening human existence to an unruly teenager.
Johnson posited that the planet is at a stage where “we know how to unlock the drinks cabinet and to engage in all sorts of activity that is not only potentially embarrassing but also terminal”.
And ahead of the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, Johnson said:
“An inspection of the fossil record over the last 178 million years, since mammals first appeared, reveals that the average mammalian species exists for about a million years before it evolves into something else or vanishes into extinction.
“Of our allotted lifespan of a million, humanity has been around for about 200,000. In other words, we are still collectively a youngster.
“If you imagine that million years as the lifespan of an individual human being, about 80 years, then we are now sweet 16.
“We have come to that fateful age when we know roughly how to drive and we know how to unlock the drinks cabinet and to engage in all sorts of activity that is not only potentially embarrassing but also terminal.
“In the words of the Oxford philosopher Toby Ord ‘we are just old enough to get ourselves into serious trouble’.
“We still cling with part of our minds to the infantile belief that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure and we combine this narcissism with an assumption of our own immortality.
“We believe that someone else will clear up the mess, because that is what someone else has always done.
“We trash our habitats again and again with the inductive reasoning that we have got away with it so far, and therefore we will get away with it again.
“My friends, the adolescence of humanity is coming to an end.
“We are approaching that critical turning point, in less than two months, when we must show that we are capable of learning, and maturing, and finally taking responsibility for the destruction we are inflicting, not just upon our planet but ourselves. It’s time for humanity to grow up.”
Johnson said that coronavirus proved that “gloomy scientists” will be shown to be right on climate, and acknowledge it is too late to stop global temperatures rising.
But he said there is still hope to “restrain that growth” and “achieve carbon neutrality – net zero – by the middle of the century”.
The climate emergency has been one of the key points of agreement Johnson and US president Joe Biden have reached during the PM’s trip to the US this week.
Johnson earlier presented the president with a signed copy of Tim Peake’s Hello, Is This Planet Earth? with an inscription reading: “I hope this book provides a reminder of what we’re fighting to save as our countries tackle climate change together.”
He told other world leaders the planet is “not some indestructible toy”.
He said it is not “some bouncy plastic romper room against which we can hurl ourselves to our heart’s content”.
And he added: “Daily, weekly, we are doing such irreversible damage that long before a million years are up we will have made this beautiful planet effectively uninhabitable – not just for us but for many other species.”
In his speech he said: “Our grandchildren will know that we are the culprits and that we were warned, and they will know that it was this generation that came centre stage to speak and act on behalf of posterity and that we missed our cue.
“And they will ask what kind of people we were to be so selfish and so short-sighted.”
Johnson’s eco focus is a far cry from his past climate-sceptic views.
He admitted on Monday that “if you were to excavate some of my articles from 20 years ago you might find comments I made, obiter dicta, about climate change that weren’t entirely supportive of the current struggle, but the facts change and people change their minds and change their views and that’s very important too”.
But in his speech, he claimed now that while he is “not one of those environmentalists who takes a moral pleasure in excoriating humanity for its excess”, who sees “the green movement as a pretext for a wholesale assault on capitalism”, that it is imperative that countries work together to bring down emissions.
The PM urged leaders to prioritise four areas – coal, cars, cash, and trees.
And he said: “It is time for us to listen to the warnings of the scientists – and look at Covid, if you want an example of gloomy scientists being proved right – and to understand who we are and what we are doing.”
Johnson will call on countries to cut their carbon emissions by 68% by 2030 compared with 1990 levels, praise the end of China’s international financing of coal, and congratulate Pakistan’s pledge to plant 10 billion trees.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.