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Wednesday, Nov 20, 2019

#Newsmaker: Greta Thunberg has sailed across the Atlantic. What now?

The 16-year-old climate activist is strident, angry. And justifiably so. But as today’s rockstar of green energy and sustainable living, it’s time for her message to evolve.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2019 17:44 IST
Zara Murao
Zara Murao
Hindustan Times
Extreme measures make sense to Thunberg because extreme is our reality now. And so she’s voyaged across the Atlantic in a yacht with no toilet and no kitchen. But is there much point in such a statement, if the example one is setting cannot be followed?
Extreme measures make sense to Thunberg because extreme is our reality now. And so she’s voyaged across the Atlantic in a yacht with no toilet and no kitchen. But is there much point in such a statement, if the example one is setting cannot be followed?(Team Malizia / Reuters File Photo)

‘You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to… you did not act in time…’

Extreme words make sense to Greta Thunberg because that is our reality now.

The rain forest is ablaze, rainfall patterns askew, islands of plastic float in our oceans. Climate change models predict extinction-level threats by 2050, and can’t seem to get themselves to look beyond that point.

So 16-year-old climate activist Thunberg voyaged to America on a yacht powered by solar panels, to talk about the threat her generation faces. After a two-week journey with no toilet and no kitchen, she will speak at a climate summit in New York, go ‘on a tour’ of the US, and then head to a climate summit in Santiago, Chile.

She is today’s rockstar of green energy and sustainable living; millions around the world are now participating in her #FridaysForFuture initiative, where she calls for regular school strikes to protest global inaction on climate change; 3.6 million participated in the last School Strike for Climate. And that is worrisome to some. Who’s funding her alternative lifestyle? Is this a publicity gimmick for her parents, Svante Thunberg and Malena Ernman, an actor and a famous opera singer? Is she being used by large corporations, to take on other large corporations?

Even if she is entirely self-fuelled, what does she hope to achieve?

With her elaborate boat voyage, Thunberg has also been criticised for picking an elitist, impractical solution to an everyday problem. Her high-speed vessel is sponsored by the Yacht Club of Monaco and travelling with her on it is the grandson of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco. The example she’s setting cannot be followed. So why not instead find the lowest-carbon airlines, help fliers figure out ways to shrink their carbon footprint? 

#FridaysForFuture: The Greta Thunberg movement
  • Greta Thunberg began her School Strike for Climate in August last year. Every Friday, she sits outside Parliament in her home country of Sweden, to demand more meaningful action to combat climate change.
  • Her protest is inspired, she says, by American civil rights activist Rosa Parks and the anti-gun-violence walkout organised by youngsters in American schools last March.
  • Her unusual, usually solitary protest and her eloquence have seen her invited to global events ranging from UN summits to a session of the EU Parliament, and her movement has snowballed.
  • Her #FridaysforFuture initiative encourages youngsters to stage school walkouts.
  • She is now roping in adults too, with a call for a ‘mass resistance’ climate strike on September 20.

‘We cannot solve a crisis,’ Thunberg has said, ‘without treating it as a crisis.’

She began researching climate change at age nine, and has invested more time and attention in it than most world leaders. That’s one of the facts that enrages her. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is,” she said in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in January.

Greta has been diagnosed with a kind of autism. “I see the world a bit different, from another perspective,” she said, in an interview with The New Yorker. “I have a special interest. It’s very common that people on the autism spectrum have a special interest.”

Perhaps the autism (technically, Asperger Syndrome, in this case) has helped her retain a child-like moral simplicity: You don’t lie, you don’t hurt others. And when the adults around you break all the rules, you wonder — how, why?

We’ve all wondered that privately. She’s doing it on the world stage.

Earlier this year, Thunberg was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She is on the cover of next month’s GQ as their Game Changer of the Year.

In answer to the question of what do we actually do, she argues that “the politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe — it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system… as if there were a war going on.”

As she sits ‘on strike’ once a week, teachers and well-wishers stop by with food and encouragement. (She’s tried a lot of new cuisines this way, the teenager says). To teachers who argue that she should be in class, she repeats her argument that she sees no point in “studying for a future that soon will be no more, when no one is doing anything whatsoever to save that future”.

Melodramatic? Maybe. Manipulated? Perhaps. But even teacher that don’t agree with her methods say they can’t honestly disagree with her message.

“You’ve run out of excuses and we’re running out of time,” Thunberg said at the UN Climate Change Conference last year. “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is. Even that burden you leave to your children.”