WHEN IT COMES to Greta Thunberg, people fall into one of three camps: they either love her, hate her or don’t know about her. Those who appreciate her are leaders like António Guterres (Secretary-General of the UN), US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Barack Obama. Those who dismiss her are the likes of Canadian businessman and politician Maxime Bernier, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson and climate sceptic Bjørn Lomborg. But this much is clear, she is arguably the world’s best-known 16-year-old today.
The Swedish schoolgirl—who in August 2018 decided to “school strike for climate” and sparked a global movement, about 1.6 million people in 133 countries—was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and anointed by GQ as ‘Game Changer of the Year’. Thunberg has a simple mission: she wants the world’s leaders and politicians to heed that climate change is a climate emergency. As she said in her speech at the 2019 World Economic Forum in Davos, “Our house is on fire, I am here to say our house is on fire. According to the IPCC, we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes… Either we prevent a 1.5°C of warming or we don’t. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond the human control or we don’t. Either we choose to go on as a civilisation or we don’t. That is as black or white as it gets.”
The climate activist and her father recently arrived in Manhattan, US, after a 15-day crossing of the Atlantic from Britain on a multimillion-dollar, emission-free yacht, as she refuses to fly, for the sake of the planet. In New York, Thunberg will partake in climate strikes on September 20th and 27th demanding an end to the use of fossil fuels, and to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit and a host of other events.
Thunberg ticks many of our feel-good boxes. She is a teenager who overcame eating disorders and social ostracism to become the most recognised youngster. She is the oddball, diagnosed with Asperger’s, who has used her condition to her advantage. She has said with pride, “I have Asperger’s syndrome and, to me, almost everything is black or white. I think in many ways that we autistic are the normal ones and the rest of the people are pretty strange. They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before.” She has given voice and heart to the climate change conversation. While it is easy to switch channels or turn a page when a scientist tells us of global warming, Thunberg has a way of getting and keeping our attention. There is no need to make a hero of her, but we should listen to her.
When it comes to climate change, even if the facts are indisputable, opinions are many. For example, Niall Ferguson writes in The Boston Globe (September 2nd), ‘Beware Greta Thunberg’s science fiction—the end of the world is not nigh.’ Those who criticise her do so because of what she represents and advocates. She has been the target of online abuse, for both her age and mental issues. She is telling us we need to change our consumption patterns and rethink our lifestyles, before it is literally too late. For climate sceptics, on the other hand, nature and its resources are meant for the service of humankind; economic growth trumps the environment.
Even while Thunberg is bound to get both love and hate as she goes on to address the UN, she epitomises the potential of the youth. Of course, many sceptics believe she is a puppet being played by her parents, but listening to her quiet self-assurance, it becomes evident that change begins with the individual.