Why you should listen to Greta Thunberg

OPINION: Usually, it is the adults scolding the children for misbehaving and not doing what they promised. 

Not today at the United Nations summit, where the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg poured scorn on the ineffective plans some of the most powerful people in the world proposed to end climate change. 

With her voice shaking, her eyes burning with a passion for her cause and a hatred for those who dithered, the 16-year-old delivered a scathing message that her generation will not tolerate inaction over climate change.  

"You say you 'hear' us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that.

"Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that." 

She predicted the measures taken by the countries who attended - the US and Brazil did not - would not keep CO2 emissions low enough to prevent major ecological disasters. 

"To have a 67 percent chance of staying below a 1.5C global temperature rise – the best odds given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the world had 420 gigatons of carbon dioxide left to emit back on 1 January 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons."

World leaders at the summit proposed what were viewed by activists as largely underwhelming solutions. 

Angela Merkel said Germany would cease coal production in 2038, a deadline that was not viewed to be soon enough. 

China promised very little. Emmanuel Macron told the summit France would not deal with countries not signed up to the Paris Accord, a treaty President Donald Trump is trying to pull the US out of. 

13 September 2019, US, Washington: The Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg (M) speaks with a megaphone during a school strike for more climate protection in front of the White House. She has been in the USA since the end of August and takes part in the UN Youth Climate Summit in New York, for example. Photo: Lena Klimkeit/dpa (Photo by Lena Klimkeit/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Thunberg was not impressed: "For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away, and come here saying that you are doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight." 

Thunberg is right that we have known about this for a long time. 

It was well known in the late 1980s and early 1990s we would face a major ecological crisis if we didn't act and curb the emission of greenhouse gasses. Anyone who says differently is lying. 

We could have acted then, but we didn't, instead we let capitalism and neoliberalist policies run free. 

First championed by US President Ronald Regan and his British counterpart Margeret Thatcher in the 1980s neoliberalism removed barriers to wealth creation by allowing a free market to govern itself. 

If there is money to be made then it is fine. If that means chopping down a rainforest, factory farming cows or ramping up oil production as long as it is creating wealth it is ok.  

It became and still is the overriding economic driver. Free trade, laissez-faire and the breaking down of economic barriers has created huge wealth for some.   

But it came at a cost. Capitalism, particularly under the guidance of neoliberalism, is a hungry beast. It will feed where there is money to be made and not give a damn about the consequences.   

Thunberg was right when she said: "We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. 

"And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you."

Wealth versus the environment


American billionaire David Koch, who recently died of cancer, epitomised the line between wealth creation and destroying the planet. 

Along with his brother Charles, he was widely regarded as one of America's greatest industrialists, however, Koch Industries is the United States’ 17th-largest producer of greenhouse gases and the 13th-biggest water polluter, according to research from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.   

American industrialist and climate change denier David Koch
American industrialist and climate change denier David Koch Photo credit: Getty Images


There were allegations David Koch funded climate change deniers and in his unsuccessful run for politics in 1980 one of his pledges was to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.  

The fact that huge fields of oil and gas once buried under frozen ground are now minable probably suits the directors at companies such as Koch Industries. There is money to be made in the effects of climate change. 

Most of the pressure to combat climate change has been put firmly at the feet of the consumer. We can all play our part but banning us from buying plastic bags in a supermarket is as effective as asking us to put out a house fire by flapping a towel. 

There are solutions but they require global leaders and captains of industry to fully get on board, not just pay lip service. 

The hard truth 


It is not often you get halfway through a book and the author congratulates you for getting that far, before saying he doesn't blame you for not continuing.

That is what David Wallace-Wells says in his book The Uninhabitable Earth, which provides an apocalyptic view of the world if we don't act on climate change and act soon. It is not easy reading. 

Wallace-Wells argues most of the damage to the planet  has been done in the past 30 years, when we knew the consequences of our actions. 

According to the book, which has been condemned as a work of pure fiction by some, sea level rises will be the least of our problems.

There will be deadly droughts, fires, storms and large parts of the earth will be uninhabitable. Economies will collapse as earth descends into hell. 

It is not all doom and gloom though as he argues we have the tools needed to fix things. 

"A carbon tax and the political apparatus to aggressively phase out dirty energy; a new approach to agricultural practices and a shift away from beef and dairy in the global diet; and public investment in green energy and carbon capture."

Those solutions would require a shift to a more caring form of capitalism. 

The 16-year-old Thunberg reminded us at the UN Summit that we need that decisive action now. 

"How dare you pretend that this can be solved with business-as-usual and some technical solutions. 

"With today’s emissions levels, that remaining CO2 budget will be entirely gone in less than eight and a half years."

Donald Trump didn't attend her speech, but the two crossed paths and Thunberg fixed him with a stare that must have had the President's bodyguards worried it was so ferocious.

If looks could kill Trump would have gone the way of Abraham Lincoln and John F Kennedy. 

Why you should listen to Greta Thunberg

Instead, addressing a crowd of people who were a lot older and supposedly wiser than her, Thunberg spoke more sense about climate change than we have heard from many of them. 

They would do well to heed her words. 

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words," a visibly emotional Thunberg said.

"The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us I say we will never forgive you. 

"We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line," Thunberg warned. 

Mark Longley is the managing editor of Newshub.