Lauren R. Stevens: Fresh, young face of climate change movement

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WILLIAMSTOWN — It takes a special kind of person. Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, sailed to New York in late August to address the United Nations Climate Action Summit, Sept. 23. "I will not beg the world leaders to take care of our future. I will instead let them know that the change is coming whether they like it or not," Thunberg promises.

Thunberg, with a host of organizations, has issued a call for a worldwide climate strike from Friday, Sept. 20, part of a climate week through the 27th. The strike aims to mobilize students to wean the nations from fossil fuels.

A year ago, Thunberg started leaving school on Fridays to stand before the Swedish parliament building to call attention to the need for action to fight the warming of the world. Now students around the world join her in the "school strikes for climate" on Fridays.

In her TEDx talk, she recounts that at eight years of age she became aware of climate change and at 11 she became ill, losing the ability to speak due to her concerns about climate justice — that those who were doing least to create the crisis were suffering the most. She wondered how this could happen. Were we evil?

She answers, no, rather it was a case of people not understanding, not talking about the problem. "The climate crisis is already solved," she says. We know what to do. "The only thing we need more than hope is action."

She says she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Asperger's syndrome, which is considered part of the autism spectrum disorder. She describes the effects: tending to see things starkly right or wrong, focusing on an issue and being blunt without concern about whether she will be liked. Addressing the issue brought back her speech. "Being different is a superpower," she says.

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At the United Nations COP24 in Katowice, Poland last December, she told the delegates to act on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible. The speech was shared with many million times around the globe. In January 2019 she was invited to the World Economic Forum in Davos where she told the members they were greedy.

She is a vegan; she does not fly. Thus in her own life she avoids creating two of the sources of atmospheric carbon, meat and flying. She accepted an offer to sail from Europe to New York in a carbon-free sailboat. It took 15 days. Her trip drew attention to the upcoming UN climate summit.

Inevitably she has been mocked and belittled. "When haters go after your looks and differences, it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you're winning!" she says.

She arrived in time to join activists in a protest at the UN on August 30. Now the face of the young people's climate movement, she has called all to join in on the 20th. Youths have invited adults to stand with them. Plans for strikes in towns and cities are available on line.

The goals are to demand a transition to 100 percent clean energy, to keep fossil fuels in the ground and to help those who have been hurt by the changing climate. She carries a sign at rallies that reads: skolstrejk for klimatet. We all ought to be able to figure out what that means in English — and German, French, Spanish and other languages.

At least that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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