A 16 year old’s contrarian take on Greta Thunberg and the Climate Crisis
In the 1980s, 10 year old Samantha Smith wrote a letter to the then leader of the Soviet Union Yuri Andropov pleading him to avoid war. The letter was published in the official Soviet paper Pravda. A year later, she received a response and flew over to USSR. The Soviet media followed her every step and turned her into a house-hold name. The fact that she was used as a propaganda tool was more than obvious.
In 2015, a 5 year old girl named Sophie Cruz broke through security to deliver a message to Pope Francis. She was reportedly “scared that the ICE will take her parents away”. Her trip was sponsored by immigration advocacy group La Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional.
The vulnerability, innocence and naivety of children makes them a convenient tool for political activism. The same, however, cannot be said for someone of my age.
Unlike Samantha Smith and Sophie Cruz, Greta Thunberg knows what she’s doing. She has the intellectual capacity to articulate and defend herself. She is now arguably the most influential climate change activist in the world. The fact that a fellow 16 year old’s opinion is being heard globally makes me feel good about the future. Yet, the certitude and unquestioning manner with which adults believe in her claims is perplexing to me.
According to a report published in “The Times”, Greta Thunberg was discovered by the social entrepreneur Ingmar Rentzhog. Rentzhog was trained by Al Gore’s environmental group “The Climate Reality Project”. In his e-mails to “The Times”, Rentzhog repeatedly changed his story about how he met Greta. Upon further investigation, the report found that Greta was one of the winners of the environmental writing competition run by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. She, along with the other winners, was invited by climate activist Bo Thoren to participate in a school strike. However, since no one was interested, Greta did it herself. This was planned by Rentzhog, who knew about Greta 3–4 months before the incident. The rest, as they say, is fame¹
A critical evaluation of Greta Thunberg would reveal that her statements are often catastrophic exaggerations and factually incorrect.
Thunberg claims that world leaders have “stolen her dream and childhood” while emphasizing that people are dying and suffering. The fact is that less and less people are dying today than in any other time in history. According to the World Bank, 1.1 billion fewer people live in extreme poverty today than in 1990² There has never been a better time to be alive.
Her concerns about climate change are real. Earth’s average temperature has increased by about 0.8 °C since the industrial revolution rapidly. There is a broad scientific consensus about Anthropogenic climate change being a real problem that needs to be dealt with. However, her understanding of the issue is only partially accurate and her solutions are Utopian. She claims that the consequences will be much worse than predicted due to “feedback lops and tipping points”.
This is only partially correct. The debate over whether global warming is linear with progressively worsening effects is not yet resolved. We have witnessed multiple abrupt climate change events, most notably the Younger Dryas. These events have been rare and few.
Greta has repeatedly expressed her disdain for “fairy tales of economic growth”. It is, quite simply, not possible for countries to fight climate change without economic growth. The Paris Climate treaty, for instance, is possibly the most expensive treaty in history. Yet, according to UN reports, 2C target can only be reached if nations triple their efforts³ She traveled in a Zero emission boat to take part in the UN summit. Though she is privileged enough to have received it as donation, the fact remains that the majority of people in the world can’t even afford electric cars. The International Energy Association finds that even an increase of electric cars to 130 million in 11 years would result in the reduction of only 0.4% global emissions⁴. Poor countries cannot fight climate change. South Africa, a relatively rich country, plans to build eight nuclear power station to reduce the country’s reliance on coal. The estimated cost is one trillion South African Rands! Economic growth is not complementary to fight climate change. It is necessary.
Perhaps the most outrageous assertion of hers is the claim that world leaders are looking away and that “solutions are nowhere in sight”. This is not true. We have saved many species from extinctions. One example of it are the humpback whales, who were listed as vulnerable in 1996. In 2008, their status was changed to “Least concern”. Their population is now over 80,000. Environmental Progress can be tracked through the Environment Performance Index. Out of the total 180 countries being tracked over a decade, 178 have shown improvement. EPI also reveals that the wealthier countries are the cleanliest. Harvard University’s Steven Pinker writes “poor countries have gotten richer in recent decades…..the proportion of the world’s population that drinks tainted water has fallen by five-eighths, the proportion breathing cooking smoke by a third. As Indira Gandhi said, “Poverty is the greatest polluter.”
Enough is enough. It is time for us to start talking about pragmatic solutions. We can only find common ground when we engage in nuanced, respectful and decent disagreements. The assumption that Greta Thunberg’s claims shouldn’t be subjected to the same amount of scrutiny as that of a normal adult is erroneous, condescending and an insult to her very being. It is time that we listen to facts not hyperbole. I care about climate change and that is why I think we can’t afford to not have a debate on its solutions.