The Guardian view on Greta Thunberg: seizing the future

(The Guardian, 23 Apr 2019) The Swedish teenager’s clarity and urgency have cut through layers of obfuscation and helplessness – and forced climate change up the agenda.

Nobody could have predicted that a Swedish teenager would shift the terms of the global climate debate in the way that Greta Thunberg has done. Since she began her school strike in Stockholm last August, Greta has addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, the European parliament and the UN climate talks in Poland. Last week she met the pope in Rome. On Tuesday she met UK political leaders at the House of Commons. That Theresa May opted out of an encounter with one of the world’s foremost young activists is an embarrassing error of judgment. By any rational calculus, Greta is in the process of doing humanity a huge favour.

That is because we struggle to give the global warming and wildlife crisis the attention they deserve. We have the science, with predictions of a manmade greenhouse effect dating back to the 1890s. (One of Greta’s distant relatives, Svante Arrhenius, was a pioneer in the field.) We have the international structures to collate the experts’ findings: the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its first report in 1990. We have some, although not all, of the knowledge and technology we need to wean us off our addiction to fossil fuels: wind and solar energy; healthy alternatives to meat; bicycles and trains. Many nations have laws to help us transition to a low-carbon future. The world has the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the agreement struck in Paris in 2015.

But for reasons that are psychological as well as political, we seem mostly unable to concentrate on the existential threat we face as global warming gathers pace (20 of the hottest-ever years were in the last 22) and climate chaos unfolds. Something else is always more important – or more manageable. Even those who recognise that we must use all the tools at our disposal, to stop emitting greenhouse gases as soon as possible, struggle to be heard.

Thanks in no small part to the eye-catching tactic of the school strike, over the past nine months the movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg has cut through. Green activists and scholars have spoken for years of the generational injustice of climate change. The school strikers belong to a 21st-century generation who have either taken this idea on, or arrived at it through a process of deduction of their own. Greta, who believes her outlook has been influenced by her autism, says she learned about climate change at school aged eight, and became depressed at 11. By 15, her angst had translated itself into a distinctive form of civil disobedience – the Friday school strikes which spread around the world.

External link

The Guardian, 23 Apr 2019: The Guardian view on Greta Thunberg: seizing the future