We’ve all read the news about the 17 year old Swedish girl, who has gained the attention of the public and of world leaders by condemning them for the ongoing climate crisis the world is facing, or as she has referred to, the fire our house planet Earth is experiencing. I’m talking, of course, about Greta Thunberg, a climate activist known for her emotional and powerful speeches. With her use of rhetoric and analogies she has portrayed her moral indignation towards governments and big corporations, and demanded actions from them to mitigate environmental change.
Accusing world leaders of betraying young generations, she asks them: “How dare you?” How dare governments steal the dreams and childhood of the youth, backed by their empty words and their never sated thirst for money. Her message aims to pressure leaders and corporations to take action for the climate crisis, to reduce carbon emissions, and stop the investment in the fossil fuel economy to promote the use of renewable energy and achieve the ultimate goal: climate change mitigation.
But, despite her growing public recognition, she is still unpopular in the opinion of many who claim that she has not made any true change to fix the climate crisis, but just repeated facts and pointed fingers. Is this claim true? Or has she done much more than that?
THE FIRST SCHOOL STRIKE
Her campaign began in August 18, when she went to the Swedish Parliament during school days, triggered by the heatwaves and fires that took place in Sweden during the end of July and beginning of August, making it the hottest summer in the country in more than 200 years. For three weeks, she stood in front of the parliament with a sign that said “School Strike for the Climate” to demand the Swedish government to follow the Paris Agreement (agreement signed by 195 countries within the United Nations to adapt and mitigate greenhouse-gas-emissions) and cut their carbon emissions. After the Swedish General Elections, she stated she would reduce her school strikes to Fridays until the Paris Agreement was followed by her government. After posting her strike photos on social media (Instagram and Twitter), she attracted the attention of the public, especially after a Swedish Climate centered company “We Don’t Have Time” (WDHT) shared the pictures on Facebook.
Consequently, this strike became an environmental movement known as Fridays For Future (FFF), which served as an inspiration for students at an international level to go on strike and unite for the campaign. In 2018, more than 20 thousand students from over 270 cities worldwide participated in their own school strikes, and in 2019, when the FFF movement’s worldwide strike event took place in March, more than 1 million individuals gathered to protest. The number of protesters rose to 4 million people the 20th of September of 2019 in the next gathering of FFF, making it the largest climate strike in History. Her growing influence became known as the “Greta Effect”, because not only students, but also politicians, NGOs, for profit corporations, and the public acknowledged Greta’s work. What started as an individual protest became a collective sentiment for sustainable change.
As her recognition rose significantly, she gave high-profile speeches, held conversations with different prime ministers and presidents, participated in multiple conferences such as the press conference from UNICEF in 2019, spoke in renowned forums like the World Economic Forum in January of this new year, was named Time Magazine’s youngest person of the year, and was even nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. Emphasizing on the need for action to mitigate climate change, and the constant reminder to politicians to listen to scientists and the detrimental future the youth will have because of them, she has obtained different responses from notable figures, such as from Donald Trump and the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who answered: “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.”
Despite all the speeches she’s given, the public attention she’s had and the different movements she has led to, many still claim that she is not a true environmental activist, or better still, that she is experiencing a level of popularity and admiration which she has not earned.
This claim is founded on the belief that she is not doing any real work, but just declaring the scientific facts which we all know, and which she did not discover. When asked about the rationale behind this feeling, they claim that what she is doing has a countereffect on the level of consciousness that we have come to build about climate change, because it takes the burden from people and places it on governments, discouraging people from taking part in the environmental crisis.
The degree to which many feel this sentiment is not to be taken lightly, it is not just a simple discontent with her presence in the public eye but a repelling feeling for what she’s doing and has done, including the belief that the changes she has caused are not major: only donations from philanthropists and people commenting about her. On a personal level, I have experienced this anecdotally in the classroom, when one of my peers remarked: “I’d rather go back to watching news about wildfires than Greta.”
This same group of disbelievers of her campaign claim that she is being used by adults as the image of the environmental movement for their own interest because she, as a young girl has a seductive political appeal to governments and corporations which could not be achieved in any other way.
The third most commonly heard claim is the incoherence in her actions and her cause, because although many politicians eagerly support her campaign, hop on her cause, smile to her and have held conversations with Greta, they and their governments are the ones primarily involved in exploiting the world’s finite resources, putting in question the morale and genuity of what she stands for. Furthermore, it must be mentioned that the purpose of her cause was doubted by the public when in August 2019, she took a yacht fueled by renewable energy to get from Plymouth (England) to New York (US) without emitting carbon. Even though it is true that this specific trip did not add carbon emissions from her specifically, it did from the crew who had to fly to New York to get the yacht back to Plymouth after her trip.
THE END OF THE LINE
When my group of classmates and I started talking about Greta Thunberg in class discussion, it was ironic for me to see the reasons they were giving for their dislike towards her. After some reflection I was able to understand that they had not fully comprehended what she stands for. She’s not defending her campaign, her dreams, her childhood, her home; she’s advocating for my dreams and home, as well as for yours and my classmates’ too. She’s fighting so that future generations can live freely without the burdening need of knowing that the Earth’s finite resources have been consumed by those who lived before them, leaving them the task to figure out their basic survival.
Yes, it is true that what she has mainly done is point out what we are doing wrong, but when has that come to be misguided? She’s standing up against current actions to which most of us have just not been aware of or simply ignored during most of our lives. She’s exercising pressure on most countries to change their policies, she’s raising awareness about climate change and calling people’s attention, which is something that many have criticized, but that I believe is the only way to fully make governments see the discontent in the people and be pressured to change.
For those who say that she’s just stating the obvious facts – I believe it is essential that she is reminding world leaders of the obvious facts which we somehow have come to forget. The truth, as she has shown it to be, is that the world is in an environmental crisis: ecosystems are collapsing and global temperatures are rising, and so far, not enough has been done to reverse it. I’m glad that we have activists like Greta, who put their passion and commitment to protect the home we all share, and that she has had the courage to stand up to world leaders and blame them for their lack of commitment to the environment. Yes, she is the image of the environmental movement, but she is the opposite of being just a decorative figure. She has raised awareness, inspired change, and met with countless renowned representatives to talk about the climate crisis. Honestly, I wish we all had a little of the level of consciousness she has, at least enough to see that we she is doing is for the benefit of all. It’s easy to criticize her, it’s easy to focus on the flaws of her campaign, but it’s also easier just to let the planet keep being destroyed by our own species, and not standing up for it like Greta Thunberg is doing.