I got into a fun little Twitter beef with a Silicon Valley type who was extolling the virtues of Greta Thunberg the teenager heartthrob of the new climate change generation. He loved that she took a sailboat to New York.
From the Washington Post:
After voyaging thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean, climate activist Greta Thunberg arrived in the United States on Wednesday morning. The 16-year-old began the journey two weeks ago to reach the United Nations climate summit in New York without producing any carbon…. The Swedish activist, who reached worldwide fame after encouraging young people worldwide to strike from school and raise awareness about climate change, set sail in mid-August. She declined to fly because of the levels of emissions released during air travel.
[Keep reading. I believe climate change is real and existential threat to the planet. Hell, I was preaching Small is Beautiful in the 1970’s. Go Jerry Brown!]
Without question, the first climate change celebrity was Al Gore. He was annoying and he was right. The poor guy was an easy target for climate change deniers because he was … well … Al Gore.
I think that Greta’s whole, I sailed to New York , thing was a stunt. The jets didn’t stop flying. Her seat in First Class was still in the air above her. I was told her act drew attention to the climate crisis. Really? At this point are there some sentient beings who have not heard about the crisis or been whipsawed by the fact that science has been turned into a punchline by goofballs who think ignoring the problem will make it disappear?
I think there is something more insidious about Greta and her handlers. For many people, the dire facts of what is coming are just too much to handle. Greta and her youth movement offers hope and the anxiety relief of saying to one’s self, “Yes! The kids. They get it. Hooray. They will save us!” I get it. When reality is bleak it is human to reach for a thrown rope of future hope. But here’s the real deal, it is just as human to ignore a crisis until the incontrovertible effects are literally ocean waves lapping at your front door.
Greta is also a privileged child talking to privileged people. She doesn’t come from a country where billions of poor people are praying for just one more coal fired power plant so that they can have a single lightbulb or maybe access to this Internet they have heard so much about. What I don’t hear Greta saying to her peers is, “Throw away your cell phones. Turn off your air conditioners. Refuse that ride to soccer practice or the play date. Don’t have any more energy sucking developed world babies.” No, Greta took a boat ride, documented by a film crew so that she could make a grand entrance to the United Nations climate summit. She will be the most talked about, most written about and most photographed person at the summit. She will say all the right things in an attempt to shame us to a better planet and her celebrity will be guaranteed.
My buddy in the Twitter beef actually sent me an article that said Sweden will meet its renewable energy goals 12 years early. Yippie! A tiny, mostly wealthy and homogenous country is leading the way. More false hope. I am guessing that this month China and India built new coal fired energy plants to power their economies, make cheap goods for us and bring something resembling above subsistence living to a small part of their population.
The planet adds about 82 million people a year and that increases geometrically. They all need and deserve clean water, electricity, access to the Internet, jobs and safe places to live. That isn’t going to happen. Climate change is a numbers game and we are losing. Oh, as a techy geek, I still hold out hope for a new carbon neutral energy source. But even if we discover that new source, it is likely that it will be deployed first to Greta and her people, the privileged few.
So here’s what I wish Greta would do. Make maps. Figure out the new coastline after the melt of the Greenland ice sheet has disappeared and added 25 feet of water to the oceans. Map the new coastlines and start building infrastructure for the human retreat from the current coasts. Map inland temperature changes to available clean water so that we are prepared to move entire farming areas to new parts of the globe. And while we are at it, develop new food sources that are not so temperature sensitive. Humans are almost infinitely adaptable. Because earth is an interdependent system with unchangeable momentum, we need to figure out how we adapt. That’s right. I think Greta is being too kind, too gentle and more than a little delusional. She needs to advocate for turning us all into a bunch of disaster prep fanatics.
But that isn’t going to happen. Planet advocates are going to gush over the insight of young Gretta and with a tear in their eye feel like things are just going to get better. Kids will make signs and walk out of schools, mostly unconscious of the deep privilege they are expressing because other kids around the world don’t have electricity to watch those inspirational YouTube clips. Gretta will grow-up and when she’s not so cute she will be replaced by a new climate celebrity. But hey, at least she went on a cool boat ride. I am guessing she will catch a flight home.
So many of the things you say are true. We needed to say what Greta is saying 25 years ago. And, Al Gore did about 17 years ago! Now, we need to plan to adjust AND keep promoting Clean Energy