Thunberg

Greta Thunberg has become the face of the climate-change movement, at the age of 16. And also the target or critics. 

On Friday, Sept. 20, several thousand protesters marched at Philadelphia’s City Hall, most of them school children and college students from across the region.

It was one of the climate strikes inspired by the 16-year-old wunderkind Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who began a lonely one-kid climate vigil outside the Swedish parliament on Fridays only a year ago. Her quixotic action soon grew into a movement. On the 20th, some estimate that more than four million people worldwide took part: 250,000 in New York; 330,000 in Australia; 1.4 million in Germany; heck, even 2,600 in little beleaguered Ukraine.

With some 2,500 events held in over 160 countries on all seven continents – there was even a small demonstration in Antarctica! – it might just be the largest mass protest on climate change in history. Until the next one, that is.

Greta herself was at the center of the mass action, having come to America – on a solar-powered boat, no less – to not only strike, but address the U.N.’s climate conference, admonishing adults for our remarkable lack of action on this issue.

“This is all wrong,” Greta told the assembled diplomats, “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?”

But anyone who sticks their necks out in this media-saturated world of ours invites getting it chopped off. Even if that neck is only 16 years old. So Christopher Caldwell at the New York Times sniffed that “her radical approach is at odds with democracy.” Calling her a Communist is increasingly common. Critics make fun of both her Asperger’s diagnosis, which she freely offers she has, and her “bad” parents, who allowed her to take action on climate. And it gets worse in the Twitterverse, where people write unprintable things.

Closer to home, Christine Flowers, columnist for our sister paper the Delaware County Daily Times, as well as the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote about Greta, “I am ashamed to see how often we force children to the front lines in these culture wars, using them as human shields – analogous to the way terrorists use babies to absorb and deflect injuries intended for them alone.” She continues her long, loopy analogy as follows: “It is not the adults at the U.N. who stole Greta Thunberg’s childhood. It’s all of us.”

In her column, Flowers never offers her own position on climate change – a gaping hole in her column – nor justifies 30 years of adult dithering on the issue. She’s not even ashamed of adult inaction on the issue. So she misses the core of Greta’s argument, who openly admits that she should not be at the U.N. talking to adults. Greta offers that she's only doing it because adults like Flowers have abdicated responsibility for the issue.

And read Flowers' excerpt again: Cclimate change is not an issue of policy or science, but rather something else stuck in the endless and numbing “culture wars” between left and right. Sorry, Christine, but the science is firmly, deeply and completely with Greta on this one.

I was meditating on Greta recently and came to a realization: I am Greta. And not just metaphorically. Literally. In 1970, 12-year-old me was captivated by the newly emerging environmental movement, and I organized a litter cleanup for my town's park. A New Yorker, I also won a contest to travel to Albany and address – gasp! – adults in the legislature. Not quite Greta, but cool for me. And at the age of 12 I knew my life’s work. Did my parents steal my childhood too? Hardly. They gave me a cause that would require a lifetime of work – not a bad gift to give a kid.

For me, watching adults endlessly debate the increasingly undebatable science of climate has been excruciatingly painful, and I am elated that a 16-year-old kid shook the planet out of its complacency on the issue.

So Greta, an aging boomer in Roxborough has your back on this one. Because I, too, am Greta Thunberg. Who’s with me?

Mike Weilbacher directs the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Roxborough, tweets @SCEEMike, and can be reached at mike@schuylkillcenter.org.

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