By introducing her in terms of her age, I do not wish to discredit anything she has said or done. So let me try another way.
Greta Thunberg is a very young Swedish climate activist who has practically forced the world to open their eyes and face the existential crisis we are living in today.
She is a brave student, a wise adviser, a thorough confronter and a world-changer.
Greta Thunberg represents the shift is thinking that we see in the younger generation today. She is bold, outspoken, well-informed, practical and is not threatened by those in power, like is usually the norm among world citizens. She is clear on her message as well as her aim and that has resonated with majority of the youth today.
She is the face of worldwide climate crisis activism. And is solely responsible for the launch of “Fridays for Future” movement, or as it says on her famous Swedish poster – School Strike for Climate.
She lives her life in line with her beliefs. She’s given up awards if going to receive them meant air travel. She’s sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in a zero-emission boat, for 15 days, to stand in front of world leaders and school them on their ignorance regarding our dying planet.
Hailing from a background of cultural workers, her parents too were woken into the reality of climate crisis through her. Her mother, Malena Ernman, is a musician and a member of The Royal Swedish Academy of Music. And her father is a Swedish actor.
Her many awards and honours include being a recipient of the Human Act Award (2020), being on the Forbes list of 100 most powerful women (2019), being awarded the TIME Person of the Year 2019 title, as well as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, and many more such recognitions.
The Beginning of Change: The School Strike for Climate
Learning much about climate change from the age of eight years old, basically just when one starts to think curiously, Greta Thunberg could not understand why her parents and people around her were not doing more. So as a young student in May, 2018, when opportunity came in the form of a Climate Change Essay competition by a local Swedish newspaper, she grabbed it. Not only did she win the competition, in which she wrote in her classic fully-aware manner - "I want to feel safe. How can I feel safe when I know we are in the greatest crisis in human history?” – but the essay also went on to be noticed by a group by the name of “Fossil Free Dalsland”. A group who was also seriously interested in doing something about the climate crisis. In one of their meetings, Bo Thorén, a member from the group suggested that school students could strike for climate change. Greta took up this challenge and tried to convince her fellow mates to strike. But when no one did, she went on to do it herself. And thus began the movement, emerging from a single person’s determination.
In August, 2018, she skipped school continuously for two weeks until the Swedish general elections in September, 2018. During this time, she protested in front of the government urging them to reduce carbon emissions by 15% a year in order to pace up meeting the Paris Agreement goals. She posted a photo of her first day on strike on social media. Which then got picked up and the next day she had more people joining her.
By December of 2018, Greta Thunberg had started a worldwide movement which saw participation from 270 cities, by over 20,000 students. That same month, she spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24), and her speech went viral. She called out world leaders for “not being mature enough to tell it like it is”. It was because of her dedication that the world participated in the largest protest for the climate, in which 250,000 people came out, for her, at the Global Climate Strike in New York.
In the first half of 2019, she travelled throughout Europe and attended many strong held student protests that were conducted every Friday. She spoke at the World Economic Forum in January of 2019, and declared rightly that “Our world is on fire”. She confronted several high profile officials from the British, French and other European parliaments. She was also boycotted by several right-wing politicians, and also had a famous twitter spat with the delusional US president, Donald Trump, who just wanted her to “chill and watch a movie”!
In September, 2019, after sailing to New York so as to not contribute to carbon emissions by means of air travel, she gave a speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. That speech has to be one of the most hard-hitting speeches of all time just for the plain truth in it. Following are some excerpts from it:
"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!"
Greta Thunberg has Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum, which means facing social interactions is a challenge. But those with the condition are able to see past idol talk and are able to communicate in a no-nonsense manner, which this dishonest world dreads. Although they might be socially awkward, they do tend to be invested in subjects with a fierce and repetitive attitude which has certainly helped Greta to use it to her benefit and repeatedly remind the world of the dying condition it lies in today.
What Lead to This Awakening?
In the last decade, the talk of climate change has picked up. The latest results (April, 2020) of a research conducted by Yale programme on Climate Change, in the US, showed that 74% of Americans believe that global warming is happening with 54% being very sure it is happening right now. While 56% of people understand that scientists believe climate change is happening, only 21% understand the level of consensus amongst scientists. And while the general population is aware of the climate crisis, around 40% feel helpless in spite of knowing the human contribution to climate change.
The realisation of global warming has been around since the 1970s. In 1975, the term “global warming” was put out to the public in the form of a scientific paper title by US scientist Wallace Broecker. They knew, even back then, that an increase in carbon dioxide emissions would lead to the temperatures of the world increasing within a century. In order to further this understanding of an upcoming problem and assess the severity of it, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed in 1988. They had proven reports by 1990 that the temperatures had risen between 0.3-0.6 degrees over the last century. In 1995, at the second IPCC report assessment, they showed evidence that there was “a discernible human influence” on the climate and this was the first time it was clear that humans played a massive role in contributing to climate change.
But since then, up until now, very little has improved. Some of the major developed countries who were party to major efforts like the Kyoto Protocol, either refused to ratify the deal, or simple failed to meet the agreed upon agendas. Through all these years of whispered talk, the world remains witnesses to its destruction.
Today we see the impact of climate crisis before our eyes. Studies suggest, most of the world will have a 16%-24% increase in heavy precipitation intensity by 2100. Relative humidity, which is the amount of water vapour in the air, has declined by 14% since 1948. Meaning air has become more dry and in turn means, there is an increased production and use of alternate thermal comforting devices like air conditioners and refrigerators, which are heavy contributors to greenhouse gases. Rising concentration of greenhouse gases as a result of human activity is by far one of the leading causes of the climate crisis.
There are videos of massive glaciers crumbling and melting but no one brave enough to admit the seriousness of that loss or the impact of it. Sea-level rise, increase in forest fires, temperature rise not just in surface but also water body temperatures, heat waves occurring more frequently, droughts, intense sand storms, wind storms, hurricanes, cyclones and many more impacts we turn a blind eye to. All in the name of some economic growth and stability only to be ruined by war and destruction. Because of our delayed awareness and will to shift into action, today we stand-by as the death of ecosystems and eco-sensitive areas takes place. Climate change alters where species live and how they interact.
More than half the world now lives in urban settings and according to UN reports, 68% of world population is projected to live in urban areas by 2050. Globally, 1.4 million people move to urban areas per week. Urbanization increases the risks generated from man-made causes of disasters. It puts immense pressure on basic necessities like food, water and shelter. It also increases chronic pressure on traffic, pollution, waste disposal and overall leads to an increase in urban poverty. The impact of climate crisis on cities is seen in the form of urban heat islands which means the heat is trapped within the atmosphere of large concrete jungles. This makes it difficult for thermal comfort to be maintained, and the health impacts of this are severe. Climate crisis also affects the rural population that mostly earn livelihoods through agriculture or fisheries. It makes it difficult to access clean water for crop production.
Climate Crisis also makes it difficult for oceans to survive. Unfortunately, as much as 40% of the ocean area is heavily affected by pollution. Plastic accumulating from beaches and fishing lines are a major contributor. This affects the ocean biodiversity, its ability to provide oxygen, food, livelihoods etc. If we continue at the same pace, according to a report by Ellen Macarthur Foundation, the oceans will have more plastics than fish, by 2050!
Other than the impacts on our immediate environment, the effect of climate crisis can be seen on human health too. We see an increase in vector-borne and water-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, cholera etc. We also see the effect of climate crisis on mental health with levels of anxiety, stress, despair and depression on the rise.
Another growing concern of climate crisis are the refugees made by environmental degradation. With the number of floods and droughts increasing each year, this problem is soon going to drive the world further into a humanitarian crisis. In 2018, the world bank estimated that 3 regions – Latin America, Sub- Saharan Africa and South east Asia – will generate 143 million more climate migrants, by 2050. It is becoming increasingly obvious that climate change is contributing to what is known as slow-onset events such as desertification, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, air pollution, rain pattern shifts and a massive loss of biodiversity. According to the UNHCR, every year, 21.5 million people flee their homes as a result of sudden onset of weather hazards.
So, all of this certainly makes one convinced of the seriousness of Greta Thunberg’s words. While she certainly calls out big corporations for their lack of sustainable vision for the future, she also focuses on talking about the reduction of individual carbon footprints. She doesn’t just talk about reducing carbon emissions, she talks about cutting them out of the equation all together.
Carbon footprint has been defined as the total emissions caused by an individual, event, organisation or product, as expressed in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent. According to the IPCC third assessment report of 2001, the global warming potential for 100 years, of greenhouse gases like carbon is 1 but for gases like methane and nitrogen oxide is 23 and 296 respectively. So certainly just reducing does not work, we need to stop it all together. Greta repeatedly urges that the burning of fossil fuels need to stop and that drastic mitigation must not be delayed any longer.
In a world of growing inequalities and corrupt moral values, Greta Thunberg stands out as a beautiful reminder of hope for the human race. She is not afraid to see and more importantly address the injustices she sees in her fight for climate action. This channels her focus to bring up an important aspect of carbon emissions that very few will care to admit. She talks about the global inequalities in carbon emissions. The top five countries alone contribute to 60% of the emissions and do not make any solid future commitments. Whereas 66 countries together emit 6.9% of global emissions and vow to reduce them further. While China and the US, both amongst the top polluters, continue to draw disparities amongst themselves and make no real effort. So Greta Thunberg along with 15 other young activists, filed a UN complaint against the top five countries contributing to carbon emissions, on grounds of violation of children’s rights. Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is recorded to have said:
"Greta Thunberg laid down a clear line in the sand, separating those countries and leaders who are united behind the science from those who continue to place the profits of fossil fuel polluters above the safety of their citizens…"
And he couldn’t have been more right. Today, irrespective of the technicality, people all over the world simply form a judgment based on this clear understanding – is it safe for the environment we live in or not? And this certainly has made dialogue on climate crisis much easier.
According to the report by IPCC, the rise in temperature due to global warming is highly likely to increase by 1.5 degrees between 2030 and 2052, if we continue at the current rate. The report also warns of escalated risks to health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and also economic growth. Geographic location also contributes to climate-related risks. Each country has their own varied ability to initiate mitigation strategies and assess vulnerabilities in order for to work towards a sustainable future. Understanding these fundamental differences in access to better life, Greta Thunberg rightly calls out on developed countries to do better and set better examples for the rest of the developing world.
Today, Greta Thunberg continues to hold her school strikes for climate every Friday. She also actively engages in awareness campaigns on various platforms from speaking on public forms to international conferences or just even on social media. She is always active and dedicated to the planet’s cause and helps to spread information based on facts and statistics. Any prize money she receives; she donates it to causes fighting for real change. She truly restores faith in humanity especially in a world so corrupt.
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