I was chatting with an old acquaintance up in St. Cloud. She’s from England and would like to go back for a visit but was wishing there could be a way of going there other than by plane. I responded, “I’m so excited about Greta Thunberg!” She said, “You’re the first person I’ve talked to who knew who Greta Thunberg is.”
I’ve written about Greta Thunberg before, here. She is probably the world’s most reported-on climate activist at the moment. The connection with my friend’s wish and airplane alternatives is that she has just made a remarkable voyage across the Atlantic in a solar-powered sailing yacht. She will present an urgent message to the United Nations this month. If she is true to form, her message will not be, “Listen to me” but, “Listen to the scientists.”
Still, Greta will be ready with loads of statistics. She will be able to recite the facts which we all have some acquaintance with if we’re at all aware – about hurricanes, floods, droughts, wildfires, retreating glaciers, melting Arctic and Antarctic ice sheets, and rising sea levels, and how these are some of the symptoms of global heating, the rise in temperatures since the beginning of the industrial age as a result of burning fossil fuels. And she speaks from a place that makes it almost impossible not to listen.
The young activist
Greta is a 16-year old Swedish high school student. Part of her story includes Asperger’s syndrome, selective mutism, and anorexia. The last two conditions seem to have been symptoms of depression. Why was she depressed? Because she knew about climate change and felt helpless to do anything about it. Why does any of this matter so much? Because Greta and all young people today will live in a world that we older ones have made poorer and harsher because of climate change. If that doesn’t give a person a right to speak, I don’t know what does.
Last year Greta started doing something about climate change. Leading up to the day of the Swedish elections, September 9, she sat every day in front of the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament. She called it her “school strike for climate” and started a movement. She continued school striking every Friday during the last school year. Over 2 million students worldwide have followed with their own school strikes on various Fridays in the past year.Greta thinks the goal of getting people to listen is worth the missed school days. People are indeed listening. In the past year Greta has:
- addressed a panel at the World Economic Forum,
- given speeches to the European Economic and Social Committee,
- convinced European Commission chief Jean-Claude Junker to pledge billions from the European Union to fight global heating,
- addressed the COP-24 United Nations climate change summit,
- given a TED talk,
- received awards from France and Sweden and a nomination by Norwegian parliament members for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The next school strike for climate, to be observed throughout the world, will be on September 20. Three days later Greta will address the U.N. Global Climate Change Summit in New York.
Greta in the Americas
That gets back to the point of that sail across the Atlantic in the zero-carbon-emission boat. Greta has delayed her final year of high school to advocate for action on climate change, and she had to get to New York. She practices what she preaches, trying to live carbon-neutral. For her – and her family – that includes lifestyle changes like not eating meat and choosing more sustainable means of transportation. Airplanes, a very carbon-intensive way of traveling, are out, though it would be more convenient to fly.
After her New York talk she will carry her message to the opposite end of the Americas, using public transportation. She will address the COP-25 climate change conference in Chile in December. Even now a group of young activists from several Latin American countries, Inspired by the Swedish teenager, are meeting in Chile to exchange ideas on battling climate change.
A reporter asked Greta if she thought the younger generation would solve the problem of climate change. Her answer should disturb us older ones into action. She said by the time we are old enough to make the decisions that the world has to make, it will be too late.
But young people, even those too young to vote, at least have a voice. Coming off the boat in New York Harbor, Greta Thunberg was welcomed by cheering thousands, including a large contingent of young people. One message that could be seen on a young demonstrator’s sign: “The seas are rising and so are we.”
Image credit: Mom’s Clean Air Force via Google Images