Greta Thunberg has had just about enough of us adults and she’s going to let us have it.
Her deeply moving, utterly scathing, formidably fiery speech while addressing the UN Climate Action Summit Monday in New York was accusatory, uncomfortable and unyielding. It moved me to tears, and I suspect it did the same for some of you. It probably irritated many others. Young girls aren’t supposed to be angry when they ask for things. Years of feminist activism has taught me that nothing aggravates many men more than a woman feeling fully entitled to the space she’s occupying.
Greta doesn’t care. She’s not interested in hearing any more excuses — she wants to see action. And she will publicly shame and call out those who limit themselves to the former and continue to dole out “eternal fairy tales of economic growth.”
This week, Montreal is gearing up to welcome Greta, arguably the most visible climate activist in the world. With our own mayor making her mark and speaking at the UN summit — the only Canadian to do so — the city is prepping for what is expected to be one of the largest global climate marches we’ve seen so far. I’m mentally preparing myself for the exasperation I’ll feel as I watch the barrage of online comments coming from the peanut gallery of climate-change deniers and naysayers.
The cynics will tell you that Greta’s movement is ultimately meaningless, that it’s all smokes and mirrors, an overblown publicity stunt, a way for people who do nothing to reduce their carbon footprint to look like they’re doing something, corporate interests manipulating a vulnerable, naïve, obsessive-compulsive teen with Asperger’s, a ‘useful idiot’ for the green movement, a convenient excuse for a lazy generation of students looking for a get-out-of-school-free card for the day.
But I look at Greta and I see hope. I see persistence, defiance, resilience. I see fire. I see the single-minded stubbornness required to fight the powers that be that want to maintain a world order that continues to prop up the oil, coal, and automobile industries and their own private comforts. I see a young girl bravely fighting a world unwilling to acknowledge that the climate crisis is real and will impact the next generations of young kids in ways we don’t even know yet.
The cynics will tell you that not everyone gets an audience with the United Nation’s General Assembly or the World Economic Forum, and not everyone has the time or privilege to travel the Atlantic by sailboat. As if we’re too stupid to understand that the transatlantic trip was merely a public protest and not a permanent way of life… As if we’re too naïve to understand that Greta is merely amplifying the voices and the research of scientists who are sharing a truth that will be ignored at our own peril.
This young woman is the perfect example of the power of one. When Greta started her weekly climate strikes a year ago, she was all alone. A determined, tenacious 15-year-old who would show up each Friday by herself outside the Swedish Parliament with nothing but her homemade “Skolstrejk for Klimatet” sign and her convictions.
Photographer Adam Johansson took a picture of that first solitary protest and it’s been making the rounds lately, in anticipation of the march coming up. Contrasted with images of millions of people marching around the world today, it shows how, in just one year, she has sparked a global movement that has motivated so many of us to do something about climate change and forced politicians to pay attention.
I see so many who like to complain that kids are apathetic and not interested in politics. That they’re complacent, privileged, lost in their pop-culture references, their smart phones and their material desires. But when a teen galvanizes the kind of world movement that forces world leaders to listen up, we try to shut her up, shoot her down, question her motives, compare her to Nazi youth (yes, Dinesh D’Souza stooped that low), call her a brainwashed, stupid, odd, manipulated child. Which is it? Do you want teens to care or do you prefer them apathetic and unaware?
If you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past few years, some of the most inspirational role models we’ve seen appear on the world stage aren’t even old enough to vote or drive. Malala was only 15 when she was shot by Taliban gunmen angered by her activism. A group of misogynistic, controlling, backwards men were so terrified of a young girl they tried to kill her. Miraculously, she survived and went on to become a prominent activist for human rights, the right to education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate.
Some of the most intelligent, passionate and eloquent speeches in favour of tighter gun control laws in the U.S. have come from the Parkland teens who saw 14 of their schoolmates and three of their teachers gunned down in front of their own eyes. The NRA, the GOP and the gun-loving American establishment didn’t know what hit them when they started publicly protesting and speaking to the media against gun violence. Interesting enough, they, too, were met with some of the very same epithets Greta has been met with, simply for wanting to ensure that another generation of young Americans doesn’t grow up with mass shootings as a routine possibility in their classrooms.
Sixteen-year-old Mari Copeny, often referred to as “Little Miss Flint,” has been protesting the lack of clean water in Flint since 2014 when she was just 11. “My generation will fix this mess of a government. Watch us,” she defiantly says on her website.
Greta is one of 16 kids around the world who are currently petitioning the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child to hold five of the world’s leading economic powers accountable for inaction on the climate crisis. They have basically launched a lawsuit against them for compromising their futures. The kids are all right and they’re not having any of our nonsense.
During her speeches at the U.S. Congress and the U.N. summit, Greta didn’t sound like the “deranged” teen some politicians and climate-change deniers are making her out to be. She sounds like a passionate activist who wants governments to listen to the science and react accordingly. She isn’t “too loud,” “too angry,” “too frazzled.” She is responding with the appropriate amount of anger and determination to the greatest threat the world has ever faced. It’s the rest of us who need to wake up. Our denial as a society and our desire to maintain our comfortable status quo is what is deranged and inappropriate and weak as a response. Angry, crotchety old men yelling at Greta are Nero playing the fiddle while Rome is burning. In this version of a modern Greek tragedy, Greta is Cassandra, the mythical princess of Troy, cursed to tell prophesies of doom no one believes.
Ultimately, what I love most about this young warrior is her absolute intolerance of bullshit. Maybe it has a bit to do with her neuro-atypical responses as someone with Asperger’s, or maybe it’s just her youth, but she has the remarkable ability to cut through the nonsense, the fake, the politically expedient and tell it like it is with no unnecessary niceties or the obligatory smiling that women around the world have been socialized to perform to make the uncomfortable more palatable for the decision-makers. It’s why so many conservative men, with delusions of grandeur and self-inflated egos, are engaging in the most pathetic forms of playground bullying and have gone practically apoplectic in response to her constantly upstaging them. They don’t like that she sees through them, that she sees that the Emperor has no clothes. In polite company, we’re supposed to look away.
Greta has no time for any of them. She ignores climate-change deniers as if they don’t matter because she knows that they don’t, she shoots daggers at Donald Trump with her eyes and yells “Shame on you!” to the rest of us. She’s got work to do and we either get on board or we get out of the way. “Change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
I like it. See you at the march. ■