Young activist has hope for climate, despite leaders’ inaction

Young activist has hope for climate, despite leaders’ inaction

The 17-year-old has become a global figurehead of the youth climate movement.

  • By FRANK JORDANS Associated Press
  • Saturday, June 20, 2020 8:00pm
  • News

By FRANK JORDANS

Associated Press

BERLIN — Preparing for her appearance before the U.N. General Assembly last fall, Greta Thunberg found herself constantly interrupted by world leaders, including U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had formed a queue to speak to her and take selfies.

“Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, waits in line but doesn’t quite make it before it’s time for the event to start,” Thunberg recalls.

Such surreal memories for a teenager form the opening to a 75-minute monologue broadcast on Swedish public radio Saturday that soon shifts to the serious matter of climate change that’s at the heart of Thunberg’s work.

The 17-year-old has become a global figurehead of the youth climate movement since she started her one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament in 2018.

Thunberg’s blunt words to presidents and prime ministers, peppered with scientific facts about the need to urgently cut greenhouse gas emissions, have won her praise and awards, but also the occasionalpushback and even death threats.

To Thunberg’s disappointment, her message doesn’t seem to be getting through even to those leaders who applaud her work.

The message is certainly stark: Thunberg cites a U.N. report that estimates the world can only keep emitting the current amount of carbon dioxide for the next seven-and-a-half years. Any longer and it becomes impossible to meet the Paris climate accord’s ambitious goal of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) this century.

Most governments refuse to accept the idea that the world has only a fixed “carbon budget” left, because it implies that a sudden shift away from fossil fuel will need to happen in just a few years.

“Do you remember the London Olympics? ‘Gangnam Style’ or the first ‘Hunger Games’ movie?” Thunberg asks her audience on Swedish radio station P1. “Those things all happened about seven or eight years ago. That’s the amount of time we’re talking about.”

Her months-long journey from Sweden to America’s West Coast and back — by train, sailboat and an electric car loaned by Arnold Schwarzenegger — highlighted the impact that global warming is already having, from melting glaciers to fiercer forest fire seasons, Thunberg said.

It also opened her eyes to economic and social disparities affecting in particular Indigenous, Black and minority communities, voices she has sought to amplify in the climate debate.

“The climate and sustainability crisis is not a fair crisis,” Thunberg says. “The ones who’ll be hit hardest from its consequences are often the ones who have done the least to cause the problem in the first place. “

Her frustration extends to journalists who want to know about “the real Greta” but interrupt her when she talks about the science of climate change.

“People want something simple and concrete, and they want me to be naive, angry, childish, and emotional,” Thunberg says. “That is the story that sells and creates the most clicks.”

Thunberg blasts governments and businesses that use what she calls “creative accounting” to makes their emissions look lower than they are and apply the word “green” to industries that are not.

“The emperors are naked. Every single one,” she says. “It turns out our whole society is just one big nudist party.”

Some critics have accused Thunberg of being a doom-monger. But she insists that her message is one of hope, not despair.

“There are signs of change, of awakening,” she says. “Just take the ‘Me Too’ movement, ‘Black Lives Matter’ or the school strike movement (for climate action) for instance,” she says, adding that the world has passed a “social tipping point” where it becomes impossible to look away.

The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic may provide a necessary wake-up call, she suggests.

“The corona tragedy of course has no long term positive effects on the climate, apart from one thing only: namely the insight into how you should perceive and treat an emergency. Because during the corona crisis we suddenly act with necessary force.”

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of May 18

Here’s what to expect this week.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, May 22, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Campaign buttons urging Alaskans to repeal ranked choice voting in Alaska sit on a picnic table at the home of Phil Izon, a backer of the initiative, in Wasilla, Alaska, on Tuesday, May 14. Arguments are scheduled May 28 in a lawsuit challenging the state Division of Election’s decision to certify the initiative for placement on the ballot this year. (Mark Thiessen / AP)
Ranked-choice voting has challenged the status quo. Its popularity will be tested in November

Arguments scheduled Tuesday in Alaska lawsuit involving ballot initiative repealing RCV.

A sperm whale is seen in an undated photo published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (NOAA photo)
Alaska fisherman pleads guilty to federal charges after ordering crew to shoot whale

A Southeast Alaska troll fisherman has agreed to plead guilty to a… Continue reading

Juneau high school seniors Edward Hu of Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé (left), Elizabeth Djajalie of Thunder Mountain High School (center) and Kenyon Jordan of Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. (Photos of Hu and Jordan by Juneau Empire staff, photo of Djajalie by Victor Djajalie)
Senior Spotlight 2024: Three top students take very different paths to graduation stage

Ceremonies for Juneau’s three high schools take place Sunday.

The entrance road to Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire file photo)
Bartlett Regional Hospital looking at eliminating or trimming six ‘non-core’ programs to stabilize finances

Rainforest Recovery Center, autism therapy, crisis stabilization, hospice among programs targeted.

A king salmon. (Ryan Hagerty/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Biden administration advances bid to list Gulf of Alaska king salmon as endangered or threatened

Experts say request could restrict activity affecting river habitats such as road, home construction

Mayor Beth Weldon (left), Deputy Mayor Michelle Bonnet Hale and Juneau Assembly member Paul Kelly discussion proposals for next year’s mill rate during an Assembly Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Assembly members support lower 10.04 mill rate ahead of final vote on next year’s CBJ budget

Initial proposal called for raising current rate of 10.16 mills to 10.32 mills.

Dave Scanlan, general manager of Eaglecrest Ski Area, speaks to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly Finance Committee on April 13, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Dave Scanlan forced out as Eaglecrest’s general manager, says decision ‘came as a complete shock to me’

Resort’s leader for past 7 years says board seeking a “more office-process, paper-oriented” manager.

Most Read