A Girl called Greta
I am a teacher, an educator and a storyteller. I am someone who tries very hard to instill awareness about the environment, most importantly about our collective environmental responsibilities, in young minds. I’ve heard many say, ‘Ma’am, we loved your story about that single-use plastic spoon!’, ‘Ma’am, we promise we are going to switch off fans and lights when not in use… promise’, ‘Ma’am, we are going to segregate our waste and we will tell this to our parents too!’ Hope is my biggest propellant. But, let me tell you a secret. Like every other grown-up with preconditioned belief systems, I too have days when I start doubting what I am doing.
When I walk through lanes with sidewalks that have become mini-landfills, I have my doubts. When I see my colleagues use single-use plastic cutlery, I have my doubts. When I read about the carbon footprint each one of us is leaving behind, I have my doubts. I belong to the Anthropocene age, hence I have doubts about whether we can actually save our environment and ourselves. Ah, on such less-hopeful and self-doubting days, my teen daughter told me about a 16-year-old climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, who is becoming increasingly influential amongst students all around the globe for her climate-change activism. Becoming increasingly curious, I put a halt to all my chores and started reading about Greta Thunberg.
The yet-to-be released picture book called Greta and the Giants by Zoe Tucker has the following storyline. A little girl, who lives in a beautiful forest, is threatened by giants until there is hardly any forest left. The animals beg her to do something. But, how can only one girl help? It’s a story plot based on truth and fantasy. The Nobel Peace Prize nominee Greta Thunberg’s story is all about ‘hope’ and ‘action.’
Born to Swedish parents who were into acting and singing, Greta heard about climate change for the first time when she was eight years old. So, what is climate change? In simple words, it refers to the change in climate over time due to natural variability or human activities. For example, increased pollution because of overuse of fossil fuels contributes to climate change. Greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide generated by flying planes, cutting trees, burning coal, etc. cause heat retention and thus lead to global warming. When I read about climate change for the first time during my school days, my focus was only to understand the phenomenon to write it in my answer sheet. But, for Greta, the question that popped up in her mind when she heard about climate change was, ‘Why so little is being done about it?’ She didn’t let go of that niggling question. In a world where answers are considered to be precious, seldom do we notice the significance of questions.
When she was 15 years old, she protested outside Sweden’s parliament asking for stern action against climate change. She carried two messages – a sign board which said ‘School strike for the climate’ and pamphlets which read, ‘I am doing this because you adults are shitting on my future’. Since then, she has been unstoppable. Blunt and matter-of-fact, she minces no words while raising global awareness of the risks of climate change, holding politicians and policy-makers accountable for their lack of action on what she calls as ‘climate crisis’.
Within six months of her first strike, nearly one and a half million children across the world joined her in the call for action on climate change. As we discuss about this young girl, it also becomes pertinent to understand what all this fuss about climate change is. Almost 30 years ago, former NASA scientist and climatologist, David Hansen, sounded the alarm about climate change and how miserably we are failing at it. He said, ‘If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilisation developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced (from current levels) to at most 350 ppm.’ (http://350.org/about/science). 350ppm is the safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere. But, we are already above 400 ppm. So, you get the picture now! This is exactly what Greta is protesting for.
Backed by scientific calculations and estimations, she never fails to highlight the ‘points of no return’ which may occur sooner or later than the year 2030. ‘We cannot solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis.’ Yes, Greta wants us to panic. To act. ‘Our house is on fire. Yes, I am here to say, our house is on fire,’ she said in her speech at the World Economic Forum at Davos. This kid is leaving no stone unturned to make the adults around her listen. ‘Adults keep saying: We owe it to the young people to give them hope’.
‘But I don’t want your hope.
I don’t want you to be hopeful.
I want you to panic.
I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday.
And then I want you to act.
I want you to act as you would in a crisis.
I want you to act as if our house is on fire.
Because it is.’
Those were her words when she spoke in Davos, early this year.
Self-acceptance, a rare trait, Greta seems to possess in abundance. Greta had been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and selective mutism. While acknowledging that her diagnosis had limited her before, she does not view her autism as an illness and has instead called it her superpower. Trollers have launched personal attacks, targeting her autism. In fact, Swedish opinion writer Paulina Neuding has brought mental health issues to question the very idea of Greta leading climate change. But, I am sure that this teen will march on emphasising her beliefs on the importance of reducing emissions despite the naysayers and ‘climate change deniers’ challenging her.
Being in the Time’s list of the 100 Most Influential People 2019 in the world this year, Greta wants us to understand just one thing – ‘We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back,’ she said in the Houses of Parliament, London. Are we listening?
Hashtags like #fridaysforfuture and #climatestrike have been trending on social media. The international movement, School Strike For Climate (SS4C) focuses on three demands and they are 100 per cent clean energy, keeping fossil fuels in the ground and helping climate refugees.Clearly, there is a lot happening around us. And it is heartening to see that children like Greta are raising their voices for a systemic change, talking about existential, ecological and climate crisis.
Having read about Greta’s journey so far and having watched her TED talk and other speeches, two simple words of hers – ‘hope’ and ‘action’ – got me thinking. As an educator, I am waiting to discuss about this young leader with my students. I smile, hopefully, and that plain, ordinary-looking, black-and-white book smiles back at me, waiting to be picked up. I read its name aloud once again, No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference by Greta Thunberg.