“What do you think of Greta Thunberg?”

What do you think of Greta Thunberg”, someone asked. The question was not directed at me, so I had time to think. What do I really think of Greta Thunberg?

When 15 year old Great Thunberg started sitting outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign saying “Skolstrejk för Klimatet/ School Strike for Climate”, she may not have expected to create a tsunami. Her simple message “since you grown-ups don’t give a shit about my future, I won’t either. I refuse school for the climate” resonated with young people across the globe. She inspired millions of young people to take to the streets demanding urgent Climate Action. She achieved what many others failed to do- she set in motion a movement that resulted in creating awareness about the Climate Crisis among a whole new set of constituents. While earlier, it was a relatively small set of people who were concerned about the need for urgent climate action, in less than a year, the terms Climate Change and Climate Action had become mainstreamed.

How did Greta Thunberg achieve what others far more experienced and influential than her failed to do?

It is hard to answer that question. Perhaps the image of a lone girl with long blond braids sitting forlornly yet defiantly struck a chord that well-articulated arguments couldn’t. Perhaps confused and frustrated young people who were looking for someone to show them how to articulate their anger and fears found a kindred soul in her. Perhaps the popular movement against Climate Change was looking for a person around whom to anchor their protests and she happened to be the right person at the right time. Maybe it was none of these reasons, or maybe it was a combination of all these reasons.

Whatever it was, Greta Thunberg became The Face of the Movement for many people who were earlier not too concerned with Climate Change. She influenced her generation to speak up against Climate Change, emphatically and effectively.

What do you think of when you think of Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future?

At an individual level, Greta Thunberg walks the talk by maintaining a sustainable lifestyle and forcing others around her to do so too. She turned vegan when she was around 10. She doesn’t travel by air and uses public transport as much as possible. She subscribes to the stop- shop philosophy which means you don’t buy new things or consume new things unless you absolutely have to.

Beyond the personal, however, Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future demand that world leaders do much more to stop and reverse the effects of climate change before it is too late. They do not claim to have the answers. What they do is to demand that world leaders do much more than just ‘business as usual’. Greta Thunberg’s widely quoted “How Dare You” speech encapsulates her anger and despair-

People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
“For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.”
“You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you.”
“We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”

When Greta has achieved so much, why are people so critical of her?

When anybody achieves fame, people rush to discredit them. Greta Thunberg was no exception. Conspiracy theorists accused her of being a puppet put up by the militant Left. She was accused of being manipulated by her power hungry father, and of accepting money from energy giants. Even the then President, Donald Trump took to Twitter to accuse her of having anger management issues. None of these charges, except the last, stuck.

That was largely Greta’s own doing. When she said, “Build back better. Blah, blah, blah. Green economy. Blah blah blah. Net zero by 2050. Blah, blah, blah. This is all we hear from our so-called leaders”, she would have known that she would be permanently branded “Angry”. And she was.

Though we know that she cares deeply for the planet, the predominant emotion one associates with Greta is certainly anger. Righteous anger. Anger that instead of action, we get words. “Words that sound great but so far have not led to action. Our hopes and ambitions drown in their empty promises,”

It was this anger that galvanised millions to join protest marches and climate strikes called by Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future. It was this anger that forced otherwise apathetic people to start speaking up for Climate Action. It was this anger that ensured that media attention focussed on issues pertaining to climate change.

However, maybe the anger has now outlived its purpose. There is greater awareness. There are greater demands. There is talk of greater investment. Now is the time to act- to invent clean technologies, to phase out polluting industries, to ensure that concrete action starts replacing good intent.

What, therefore, do I think of Greta?

I admire Greta Thunberg for her commitment and single-minded focus. I admire Greta Thunberg because she walked the talk and demanded concrete action. I admire Greta because she inspired millions to question world leaders over their unwillingness to invest in technologies and implement policies that would reduce carbon emissions.

If Greta had not managed to get millions out on the streets, it may have taken world leaders much longer to take climate action seriously. Where many before her failed, Greta managed to serve as a catalyst to galvanise public opinion. Her job is now done. As she approaches her 20th birthday, she can be proud of what she has achieved, and can let others take over.

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Natasha Ramarathnam

Mother | Education | Youth empowerment | Gender rights | Civic Action | Book slut | At home everywhere | Dances in the rain | Do it anyway | Surprised by Joy