Let’s Talk Greta Thunberg

Greta Thunberg, the media’s new obsession, is a “literal queen” according to Lena, a second-year at UC Berkeley. The 16-year old climate activist has recently become one of the most famous teenagers in the world, appearing before the United Nations at their Climate Change Youth Summit just over a week ago, scolding world leaders and their inadequate efforts towards the issue.  

Other participants at the summit include Ayakha Melithafa (17), Debbie Adegbile (12), Alexandria Villaseñor (14), Ranton Anjain (17), and Carlos Manuel (17), and all of these inspiring young individuals filed a lawsuit against five of the major carbon polluters of the world (Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey) on the grounds of these countries violating their rights as children (according to the Convention on the Rights of the Child treaty) by their efforts against climate change and its fatal consequences being insufficient. My roommate is clearly correct; Greta Thunberg is amazing, and so are the other young climate activists of today. But why did the media focus on Greta instead of any of the other fifteen children involved in this lawsuit? Why do adults in positions of power feel threatened by her in particular?

Greta Thunberg isn’t a huge threat (yet). She isn’t calling for specific change but a change supported by larger organizations and bodies of power. She brings in topics such as capitalism, but she does not suggest any particular alternative or engage as directly as others (such as those at Standing Rock) have done. But their stories are more complicated, like those of refugees and other individuals whose connection to climate change is perhaps less direct but requires engaging with moral issues such as war, racism, classism, immigration policies, and more. It’s harder to build a movement if people don’t want to engage with the issues in the first place. Thus, Greta Thunberg emerges, a young, educated, Swedish girl who can use the platform of relatability that already exists for her circumstances. Having Asperger’s syndrome puts her apart, making her even more admirable for fighting for what she believes in. Everything that she has done and is doing is incredible, but it should be recognised that the media made a choice when they singled her out - she was likely an easier figurehead for the cause than others in similar positions, and she hasn’t caused as much controversy of morality as engaging with the Bangladeshi children in Assam would. It’s important to realise that Greta Thunberg is not the cause that she is fighting for - she’s an individual, a figurehead for the cause, but she is not the movement. Nevertheless, siding with Greta helps people feel like they are supporting the cause without having to concede on other issues that relate to climate change.

Ygor Lobo Ygor Lobo / Unsplash Greta and her calls for action are not without controversy - she has received quite a lot of backlash, particularly from adults who feel she is too young, either to understand the issue or to be reprimanding adults for it. What she’s doing is radical for some people - conservative media questions her actions and motives, discrediting her as being brainwashed and irresponsible for causing disruption around the world. This response is not surprising given how isolated and outrageous an open conversation about climate change might have been in the past. Thus, Greta Thunberg’s rise in the media indicates progress as more people become aware of the issue and the necessity for change. This is the power of her movement - she’s a catalyst. Although there definitely should be greater awareness and understanding of the widespread impacts of climate change and how people around the world are affected by it, the focus on this Swedish teenager has finally brought the conversation to the table when it was hardly uttered behind closed doors before. This is how change starts.