Monday, April 1, 2019

Greta Thunberg and Climate Change

Greta Thunberg
If you've been following the efforts to call attention to the urgency of the climate change problem worldwide, you are probably familiar with the Fridays for Future movement, inspired by the now 16-year-old student, Greta Thunberg. I have not been following the news and only discovered her today, when I happened upon not one but two programs on the German talk show hosted by Anne Will on German television, the first an interview (in English) with Greta, and the second (in German), a discussion the next day Anne Will holds with three German politicians, a physics professor and a German teenage Fridays for Future activist.

What Greta has pulled off - if you're not already familiar with this remarkable phenomenon - is convince kids in a number of countries to join her in a school strike, once a week, on Fridays, to call attention to the need for drastic action. That number has risen from a handful to one and a half million so far, in more than three thousand cities around the world. Don't let the clumsy English name for this group distract you from the fact that they're highly focused and intensely committed. "I want you to panic," Greta tells her audiences.

Three Norwegian legislators have nominated Greta for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Greta is a good example of how an individual activist can, without meaning to, draw attention away from the cause she is advocating by being such an interesting figure in her own right. And I'm aware that by making this blog entry about her and not about climate change, I'm part of that sabotage, if that's the right word.

I'm hoping it's not the right word, and in the end people will look past this kid with a cause and take the cause seriously. Use her, in other words, in the way she'd like to be used. The Anne Will program demonstrates why it's so easy to get disgusted with politicians. There is discussion about why Greta (and all her followers) are not in school instead of in the street, studying for careers in science where they can better address the challenges.

There is a ready answer to that question. "Because we don't need to prove there is a problem. The problem is well-known and fully-accepted by people who know the science. And the solutions are also there; we simply need the political will to have the necessary policies imposed by world governments." (I'm paraphrasing, not citing exactly.) Most importantly, they tell us, again paraphrasing, "We students are not interested in preparing for solutions by-and-by; we are calling for action right now. Immediately. This very minute."

Wolfgang Kubicki, the FDP politician dismissed Greta and the activists with a patronizing, "When I was your age I was protesting too." "We were protesting the use of nuclear energy," he tells people, missing the point that stopping an allegedly dangerous means of generating energy is not actually in the same category as stopping a proven catastrophe that is already upon us: the latest estimate of a point of no-return is assumed to be eleven years from now.

Another politician (the governor of Saxon-Anhalt) insists that we have the democratic means of working out problems, and that means living by the rules, one of which is kids are supposed to be in school.

From the Fridays for Future perspective, you can put that down as two classic examples of retrograde politicians, if you've been following the logic here. The third politician is on the kids' side. "These are not kids skipping school," he says. "These are kids who are out marching in the street because they've been the kind of students who learn things; they're simply demonstrating that they've learned their lessons well."

I won't belabor the point. I am not on top of the debates; I'm simply looking for uplifting stories in this day and age of endless bad news. And I found this Swedish teenager a total delight. Have a listen to the Anne Will interview, if you have the time.

I suspect we're going to be hearing a lot more about Greta in the coming weeks and months.

Here's the link again.

And here are three more of her appearances:
  1. TED Talk (TEDx Talk Stockholm) on January 28, 2019 -
  2. Speech addressing UN Climate Change Conference in Poland 2018 - 
  3. Addressing Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission on climate change in Brussels this past February - 


Alan McCornick said...

Friend Joan has pointed out that I might have mentioned that Greta has had considerable success. Her efforts have led to the EU allotting a quarter of a trillion dollars to fight climate warming over the next seven years.

I can hear Greta saying, "Too little, too late." But the way the world works, I think the moral of the story is don't underestimate the power of youthful inspiration to get things done.

Emil Ems said...

Leaving tihe climate change issue aside for the moment, I am fascinated by the phenomenon of Greta in itself. For me she represents a perfect explanation of what made another virgin hero, Jean d'Arc tick and have a comperable break-through. Greta is suffering from Asperger's syndrome and as such "gifted" with the power of focusing on a single issue, leaving all else beside. Jean d'Arc surely must have suffered from a corresponding affliction. This beneficial short-coming aside, both are also very intelligent and have the power of speech. This may explain the other-wordly and immediate impact both have had on society.

How will it end for Greta? If we are to believe the analogy, I sorrily susptect that there will be a bad ending. What she has to say and has said, however important for the survival of human civilisation, is a single minded phrasing that cannot be elaborated or varied to a high degree. This implies that, sooner or later, the message will no longer be seen as fresh and new, and interest in her may gradually abate. Poor girl, having the most important issue of human existence as sole focus of interest and having, eventually, to realise that people cease listening!

Yours sincerely

Alan McCornick said...

I appreciate it, Emil, that you worry about this young idealist. At that age it is so easy to let your enthusiasm get ahead of you and set up unrealistic expectations. But listen to that interview with Anne Will I linked to and I think you'll agree with me that the goals she lays out sound realistic. She's not out to change the world overnight; she's only interested in getting people to realize we're too far gone to be under any illusion anymore that the snail pace is going to ever be effective. She has Asperger's, yes, but it seems not to be holding her back. Her articulateness is remarkable. People sit up and listen. Also, she can be sociable when she believes she's having an effect. She eschews smalltalk, yes but puts herself out there when it comes to interaction with other activists and the media. There's no way to predict the future, of course, but surely the climate change issue is only going to be more salient in more people's lives as time goes by. I doubt this issue is like suffering in Syria or Yemen or Somalia, or other far-off places which we can turn our backs on. My guess is that she has carved out a space for herself and her name will be remembered as more and more people take up the cause.