God bless Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish activist, founder of School Strike for Climate. She called out the COP26 in Scotland, about halfway through, as a failure, merely a public relations event. She asked how anyone could imagine fixing the climate crisis with the same tools that created it — presumably the politics of capitalism. Of the talk of the older, official participants in the conference, she said: “blah, blah, blah.”
COP26 extended two weeks to Nov. 13. Previously, drawing on the science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, she shamed world leaders on several occasions over their failure to act.
The world needs a clear and fixed vision. Greta describes herself as having Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. She demonstrates a sharp focus. She suffered from “selective mutism,” meaning she wouldn’t speak unless she had something important to say. And then she started speaking. Furthermore, she explains, she is not driven by wanting people to like her, as most of us are. She has said that “being different is a superpower.”
In spite of, or because of, her credentials — Time’s Person of the Year in 2019, thrice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize — she annoys people. On Nov. 5, Bill Maher, although he said he shared her views on the climate, told her to “shut the f- — up.” Pursuing his rambling words, he seems angrier at the younger generation he finds hypocritical, accusing them of extravagant lifestyles while they lambast world leaders for not solving climate issues. Others have said far worse about Greta.
She cannot be accused of lifestyle surplus. She doesn’t eat meat. She doesn’t fly, having famously sailed to New York City for a United Nations meeting. She persuaded her family to live a low-carbon life. That she was able to do so may have been abetted by the fact that her father had a distant relative who was an early climate scientist. (Dad, an actor, joined her on the sailboat.)
According to her book, “Scenes from the Heart” (2018), her parents first opposed her activism. Then her mother gave up her international career as an opera singer in order to avoid flying. Her father, in a December 2019 interview by the BBC, said her mother “didn’t do it to save the climate. She did it to save her child because she saw how much it meant to her, and then, when she did that, she saw how much (Greta) grew from that, how much energy she got from it.” Greta says her parents’ acceptance of her views and the lifestyle changes they made gave her hope that she could make a difference. Apparently she believed the same approach would work on the super-parents, world leaders.
With the Glasgow summit over, she is no doubt deeply disappointed, even depressed. The most important climate meeting ever did not meet her requirements. How could it be otherwise when, in her mind, compromise is not an option? How can there be less than a total solution when the total fate of the world depends on it? There is no good answer to that question.
At Glasgow, Greta led thousands of young activists in a march and an ongoing presence. She rallies young people around the world through her Fridays for the Future campaign. We hope that in some way it is possible for her to understand the difference she has made. She has given the climate discussion, in essence a highly technical matter, a face and, more importantly, a young voice.
At least, that’s how it looks from the White Oaks.