The 16-year-old Swedish environmental activist, in a fiery speech at the United Nations, spoke about how the older generation, and powers that be have ruined the future for her generation, by ruthlessly exploiting nature for immediate profits. She
, in her speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, "This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” said
In a voice quivering with rage, Thunberg, who has been protesting against inaction on climate change since last August, called for a radical decrease in the use of fossil fuels to be able to save the earth for future generations. Thunberg is not the first person to talk about climate change. But, she may end up being one of the most influential. Her quiet, non-violent protest outside the Swedish Parliament, was aimed at bringing the issue of climate change to the centre of Swedish politics. Cutting class, dressed in her uniform, Thunberg stood outside the Parliament with a board calling attention to the issue of climate change. It acted as a lightning rod for protests by school children across the world. After all, they, when they grow up, are going to find the world in a worse place – climatically - than the world their parents came of age.
Warnings about climate change did not start in August last year, with Thunberg protesting outside the Swedish parliament. It began almost 50 years ago, with an
authored by E Robinson and RC Robbins from the Stanford Research Institute for the American Petroleum Institute. Titled ‘Sources, abundance, and fate of gaseous atmospheric pollutants’, the report spoke about the linkages between carbon dioxide emissions and climate changes– including a rise in sea levels, and an increase in temperature. 1975 saw the first use of the phrase ‘climate change’ and global warming, with an article by a geochemist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory, Wallace Broecker. His paper academic study ‘Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?’. was titled
This was the era when the West was growing rapidly, Opec was at its height, and warnings on the use of fossil fuels fell on deaf years. After all, no one wanted to cut profits by cutting emissions. While people and governments knew something was off kilter, they didn’t track it back to their own consumption patterns, to try and make a change. While scientists published their scientific papers on the issues of rising CO2 levels, and rising temperatures – the language of the papers was aimed at other academics, rather than policy makers or the general population.
It took Al Gore’s Oscar winning film
An Inconvenient Truth in 2006 that linked climate change and global warming to impact on life or ordinary people. While it won plaudits from filmmakers, there is little to show that it made an impact on emissions that continued to impact the world. However, by this time it was the economic growth of China, India and other developing countries that came under the scanner, and there was pressure on these countries to cut emissions, while the west continued to pollute as normal.
The Paris Accord on Climate Change, signed in 2016, made noises about cutting emissions, and keeping the temperature rise to below 2 degrees. But, it was too little too late.
showed, with data, how 2015, 2016 and 2017 have been the warmest in history. A Nasa study on global warming, in 2018, spoke of the implications of a 2 degree rise in temperature over pre industrial levels. And, it is not a good future. The IIPC’s special report
It is in this context that you need to see Greta Thunberg. A 16-year-old has managed to do what most scientists and policymakers have been unable to do. Shake up the sheer inertia around the climate change dialogue. At a time when the world is on the brink of mass extinctions, we need more than what international conferences and get-togethers offer us. You need a sharp shock to the system that enables course correction. Greta Thunberg is the lightning rod that makes it possible. You don’t have to like her; her shrill delivery of facts may put you off – but it is unavoidable to miss her message. And, if that message is acted on, it means future generations have a hope in hell.
Harini Calamur writes on politics, gender and her areas of interest are the intersection of technology, media, and audiences. Read Harini Calamur's columns