Greta Thunberg

In your own language

Eduardo del Buey
La Jornada Maya

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Time magazine's person of the year for 2019 is Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Swedish high school student who, in just a few months, has galvanized a global movement aimed at awakening politicians around the world to do more to save the environment.

She began by staying away from school on Fridays and sitting alone in front of the Swedish parliament in protest. Her handwritten messages called attention to the dangers of global climate change and to the lack of political leadership to address this challenge before it becomes too late and permanent damage is done to our ecosystem and, by extension, our way of life.

This is a wake-up call for all of us who worry about the world that we are leaving for our children and a world whose ultimate destiny is in all of our hands.

The inability of leaders to come to a positive conclusion at this month’s Climate Change meeting in Madrid underscores their lack of political will to take bold action to address the dangers that we all face.

At the summit, she noted that "The real danger is when politicians and CEOs are making it look like real action is happening when in fact almost nothing is being done apart from clever accounting and creative PR."

She also criticized governments at the Madrid climate talks for avoiding to act forcefully to cut greenhouse gas emissions which continue to rise.

"Our leaders are not behaving as though we were in an emergency," said the teenager.

She concluded by saying that, "Finding holistic solutions is what the COP (Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) should be all about but instead it seems to have turned into some kind of opportunity for countries to negotiate loopholes and to avoid raising their ambition," she said.

"Countries are finding clever ways around having to take real action, like double-counting emissions reductions, and moving emissions overseas, and walking back on their promises to increase ambitions, or refusing to pay for solutions or loss and damage. This has to stop."

National leaders will claim that they are elected to protect national interests. National interests include the fullest level of employment possible, the cheapest energy prices, and the greatest amount of economic growth possible.

But these problems not national but, rather, global, and require global solutions.

They require a change in our mentalities, and change in our behavior, and a change in our expectations.

Living in a world of increasing consumption is creating a massive environmental problem – from the plastic wrapping and packaging to the delivery of products purchased on-line and delivered at times half way around the world. From the use of carbon fueled vehicles to transport one person over miles to the increasing amount of air travel today’s middle and upper classes undertake.

Overconsumption is rapidly straining the world of many resources, including the air that we breathe and the water that we drink. Our disposable society has become accustomed to throw out products rather than repair or recycle them. Thus, we not only deplete our resources, but we also create millions of tons of refuse every day that contributes directly to our environmental challenges.

Greta Thunberg has demonstrated the power of one.

The power of a single sixteen-year-old to make a tremendous impact on our global dialogue.

To make more of us aware that we are all part of the problem, and that we must all be part of the solution.

A solution that will hopefully come from this global crusade to save our planet and transform our way of life in ways that will provide our children and grandchildren with a better and more sustainable way of life.

She has delivered a message that our youth will no longer accept the failures of older generations as well as their own, since they are also part of the consumption society.

She and her followers believe that we can transform how we live so that we can live.

They have shown the resolve that most of our political leaders have not – a resolve to lead with real action rather than palliative bromides that resolve little and only cement the problems of environmental degradation more permanently into our existence.

While neither she nor her followers can alone introduce the changes required to address climate change, they are shaming global leaders into taking a stronger stand to mitigate the degradation of our environment. This is a bold and necessary start, but one that requires serious and immediate follow-up by government, private sector, and civil society leaders.

In addition, what began as Greta Thunberg’s one-person crusade has underscored the potential of today’s technology to service mankind in an intelligent and positive way.

People everywhere thrive on communication.

It is the glue that holds us together. That gives us purpose and direction.

That gives it power over their own destiny.

Today we have an opportunity to connect globally with people who share our objectives and values. We have the ability to create a fast-moving consensus that can grow and evolve into mass movements that can strike the fear of God in our political and private sector leaders.

Political leaders depend on votes for their power, whether the direct vote enjoyed by those of us living in liberal democracies, or the indirect vote of public opinion wrought by those living in dictatorships or authoritarian regimes. The impact of pollution on health and wellbeing have led China, one of the world’s worst polluters to adopt clean technologies and produce cutting edge technologies and products that can help others protect the environment.

Private sector leaders will increasingly face consumers who vote with their wallets and governments who will be forced to legislate stricter controls on polluting. Rising environmental consciousness will lead increasing numbers of consumers, including governments, to forgo products and services that contribute to environmental problems and to instead buy those that are produced and disposed of in an environmentally sustainable way.

Tens of millions of people in the streets of cities around the world have sent both political and private sector leaders a resounding message.

A message of hope.

A message that each of us can and must make a difference both individually and collectively.

A message that we can transform inaction into real steps toward effective policies and plans.

A message made clear by a sixteen-year-old Swedish girl with an absolute conviction that change begins with each of us, change begins now, and change begins with direct personal action.

We all must make that difference.

I must make that difference.

And you?