Home > Uncategorized > Greta Thunberg, Science Rebel – posted 12/22/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/2/2020

Greta Thunberg, Science Rebel – posted 12/22/2019 and published in the Concord Monitor on 1/2/2020

No 16 year old has ever been named Time Magazine Person of the Year. It is always some older person winning that award. That is, until Greta Thunberg this year.

I watched a short video from Time explaining how they made the choice. They described Greta as “the biggest voice on the biggest issue facing the planet this year”. She has been a galvanizing force, leading a worldwide movement.

Time described her as taking climate change from behind the curtain to center stage. They also wrote that she reflects a broader generational shift in culture along with a recognition that our current crop of world leaders are failing to serve the younger generation as well as humanity as a whole.

I guess I worry about the take-away that people will have about Greta’s selection. It is not about one extraordinary young woman, even though she is extraordinary.

We are facing a climate emergency. As Greta has made clear, she is not supporting any political party, politician, or ideology. She is about communicating the science of climate change and the enormous risk of failing to act on it.

There is a remarkably large gap between Greta’s perspective and the mainstream political world. In that world, there is no emergency or any sense of urgency. The world remains ruled by climate change deniers or utterly compromised, half-hearted exponents of climate change who counsel moderation.

Even if they pay lip service to science, our world leaders seem far removed from appreciating what the science means.

Science tells us we are in a race against the clock. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, something of a gold standard among climate scientists, reported in October 2018 that we have to reduce carbon emissions by 40% in the next 12 years to have even a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophe. And yet in 2018 emissions went up from an increase of 1.6% in 2017 to an increase of 2.7%.

The catastrophe alluded to is the suffering and deaths of many millions of people. Things are far worse than is generally recognized because climate change is happening faster than was anticipated. Witness the proliferation of superstorms, extreme wildfires. polar ice and glacier melting, and coral reefs dying.

We are talking about the destruction of many nations, species, and cultures. A 2019 study warned that one million plant and animal species face extinction due to climate change. And still, the world has remained largely indifferent and non-responsive.

While Greta can be seen as some type of prophet like a modern-day Amos, Isaiah, or Jeremiah, I think that is the wrong way to look at her. She is driven by science. In no way is she a religious figure.

Her own personal evolution is interesting. She has said she first became aware of environmental issues at age 8 when her parents told her about recycling and turning off lights to save electricity. She read books and watched documentaries about species collapse and melting glaciers.

She did not understand why the adult world refused to take climate change seriously. She worried about whether she would have a future. She said:

“I overthink. Some people can just let things go, but I can’t, especially if there’s something that worries me or makes me sad. I remember when I was younger, and in school, our teachers showed us films of plastic in the ocean, starving polar bears and so on. I cried through all the movies. My classmates were concerned when they watched the films, but when it stopped, they started thinking about other things. I couldn’t do that. Those pictures were stuck in my head.”

She described herself: “I was the invisible girl in the back of the class “. Greta was quite intellectual. She studied scientific predictions about how radically the earth was likely to change by 2040, 2060 and 2080 if climate remained unaddressed.

At age 11, Greta became very depressed. She stopped talking and eating. Doctors diagnosed her with a form of autism that used to be called Asperger’s syndrome. She also received the diagnosis of selective mutism. She has been quite open about her autism. She does not view it as an illness. She calls it “her superpower”. She did acknowledge that being on the spectrum, things are very black and white for her.

Greta became famous at age 15 when she spent her school days outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign saying “School strike for the climate”. Although alone at first, her example led to an explosion of protests, especially in Europe.

Greta got the idea of a climate strike after the school shootings at Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida led young people to refuse to go to school.

In the summer of 2018 Greta experienced the record heat wave in Europe and forest fires which ravaged northern Sweden. These were confirming events.

I think her speech in September at the 2019 U.N. Climate Action Summit tremendously raised her profile. In her speech, she said,

“This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! 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 has said that the real danger now is politics that makes it look like action is happening when the reality is just creative P.R..

With the 2020 election fast approaching, many voices are counseling moderation, that the only important thing is defeating Trump. One major problem with that view is its failure to reckon with the planetary climate emergency. We need to stop the world warming. That means policies which work to eliminate human-created greenhouse gas emissions of all types as quickly as is humanly possible. Time is of the essence.

Maybe there are times when radical action becomes absolutely necessary. To quote Naomi Klein:

“The truth is that the scientific deadline for deep transformation is so short that if radical action doesn’t roll out every year for the next thirty years, we will have lost the tiny window we have to avert truly catastrophic warming.”

More than anyone, Greta Thunberg deserves credit for challenging the massive climate change denial we are up against.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. rwise65@tds.net
    December 26, 2019 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Jonathan,

    I just finished reading your column on Fred Hampton. Horrifying.

    Thank you for once again raising my awareness.

    What are your thoughts on holding off on forwarding the articles of Impeachment until the courts decide whether Bolton and Mulvaney must testify?

    Happy holidays and wishing you peace and happiness in the New Year.

    Best. Ronni One more

    Sent from my iPad


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