Heroic Swedish teen Greta Thunberg delivered a blistering address at the UN’s Climate Action Summit. It’s worth watching all the way through. In less than five minutes, Greta projects a sense of urgency and righteous anger. She’s right, of course, that attention to the fate of the earth shouldn’t depend upon the commitment of a 16 year old girl, who should properly be anxious about calculus or homecoming, rather than carbon.
A little over a year ago, Greta, then fifteen, read enough science to think that the climate crisis was severe enough to demand dramatic action. She started skipping school to protest outside the Swedish parliament. In fairly short order, other young people joined her, outside the Swedish parliament, and outside other parliaments, turning millions out into the streets to demand government action.
Greta sailed across the Atlantic to testify at the Climate Summit, to avoid putting more carbon into the atmosphere. A corollary benefit of the long trip was an extended opportunity to keep Greta and, more importantly, the cause in the news throughout the two week trip and eventful arrival in New York City. (Read Emily Witt!)
Since hitting New York City, Greta has been involved in an eclectic range of activist events, including the largest global climate strike ever last Friday, including an estimated 4 million participants–not all young. She is a visible part of a much larger and increasingly diverse movement.
The teen activists are a powerful force: they are mature and independent enough to be articulate and informed, but young enough to avoid excessive cynicism and entangling commitments, political and otherwise. (Think of the Parkland kids and the Sunrise Movement.) It’s coarse and creepy to question Greta’s integrity and sincerity–although Donald Trump, Dinesh D’Souza, and Fox News have done so. (Fox apologized.)
But we would not know about Greta’s concerns were it not for the much larger social movement she’s a part of. Her intense commitment, barely contained in a slight young woman with pigtails and excellent English, makes an attractive hook for coverage. But there are lots of other young committed climate strikers and activists. (Alexandria Villaseñor, of example, demonstrated outside the UN on Friday, for the 41st time!)
The massive strikes, and Greta’s speech for that matter, are exclamation points in a much longer and more complicated story. The young strikers return to their high school and college campuses and tell stories. Some will listen to scientific testimony, or even read articles. Some will get involved with political campaigns–or lodge questions at campaign rallies. Some will learn the issues and decide to dedicate themselves to master engineering better battery storage or commit to more sustainable diets. Dramatic action is important, but the day to day is what will change the world.