Climate Strike Strikes a Chord


 On Sept. 23, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, delivered an intense, passionate speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit. Thunberg directly called out the apathy of her elders on the topic of climate change, repetitively stating, “How dare you?”, and claiming that her childhood and dreams have been stolen by those who choose to ignore science and carry on with environmentally destructive behaviors. 

   Thunberg’s speech has been highly controversial. She has been consistently ridiculed by adults, especially those on the political right. President Trump went so far as to mock her on Twitter, writing, “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!” While it may be masqueraded as complementary, this was clear ridicule, as Thunberg was on the verge of tears throughout the entire speech and repeatedly stated that she will have no future if something does not change. 

   This hesitancy to take actions to halt (or at least slow) climate change begs a simple question, yet one that holds immense weight and power over our society: why are people so opposed to attempting to fix this?

   The answer is complex, but it all comes down to fear. 

   The people in positions of power right now have been living stuck in their ways for quite some time. Generation X is one that still holds on tight to religion, rejecting scientific theories such as evolution in order to justify the beliefs that have been passed down to them. Many schools still don’t teach science, denouncing theories and studies from trained professionals simply so that they can adhere to these crucial points of their identities. This has caused a mistrust of science that is becoming more and more dangerous. Climate experts have come forward with more urgency, and yet, they are falling upon deaf ears. 

   It doesn’t help that humans have developed a sense of immortality. While we are aware that we are going to die eventually, many can’t seem to process that we are truly on the brink of a mass extinction, that we might all die together, and that it could happen quite soon. The concept sounds very far-fetched, like a “doomsday,” and it becomes difficult to retain as fact instead of myth. We tend to collectively view ourselves as the top of the food chain, the cream of the crop, practically invincible. This idea comes from years of watching ourselves progress to new, previously unfathomable levels in terms of technology, philosophy and overall intellect. How could a species so successful be completely extinctualized by something so preventable? Instead of facing the reality, we stuff it down. It hurts less in the short term, but in the long term, it will hurt more.

   The question remains, why did Thurnberg cause such controversy? Climate change has always been a point of contention, but her speech seemed to ignite a particularly hot flame. The distinction between Thurnberg and the activists who have spoken out before her is age. Thurnberg is still in high school, still just a child. There is something heartbreaking about watching her beg for the chance at a future, something that no child should ever have to do. She makes people feel something reminiscent of guilt, of shame. She, at 16, can do little to nothing to combat this issue on her own. Large corporations and capable governments hold all of the power. In response to these feelings, the people in charge cower. They know that this issue needs to be addressed, but they don’t want to change individual habits or risk monetary gain to change them. This is why, ultimately, they poke fun at Thunberg. They’re scared of what is going to happen, and they’re scared of the weight she’s placed on their consciences.

   There’s something unique about Thurnberg, too; she is a young woman with no desire to be overtly feminine. She speaks to nations with no makeup on, in clothes and hairstyles that don’t draw much attention. She makes no effort to be polite. She is outspoken, blunt and unapologetically real in a way that few women in the global eye are. This scares people in all of the ways that they should be scared. 

   The best way to combat these issues, these hesitancies, is through repeated exposure. Continuing to talk about these issues and utilize our voices, our hopes and our dreams, just as Thunberg has laid the foundation for us to do, is going to eventually turn this fear into fire. We must continue to speak out if we ever hope to enact change.