The recipients of this years Nobel prizes have recently been announced. My candidate, Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish girl, was not among them. She received fleeting notice in the press following an impassioned address before the United Nations in which she shamed we “adults” for our failure to seriously address the issue of climate change. She was sharply critical of those who consider only economic factors in the face of 30 years of science warning of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, which she says has resulted in the world to be now in the “early stages of a mass extinction.”
Greta was an unlikely person to become a world-famous climate activist. She was socially awkward and extremely shy, which is not unusual in cases of Asperger’s syndrome, especially for Greta who was further afflicted with Selective Mutism. However, Greta has refused to see herself as disabled and regarding her diagnoses says: “It makes me see the world differently. I see through lies more easily. I don’t like compromising. To be different is not a weakness. It’s a strength in many ways, because you stand out from the crowd.” This is a link to Greta’s biography.
Indeed, this remarkable young person has stood out in a crowded world. In addition to her U.N. speech her accomplishments include inspiring children’s uprisings throughout the world including the September 20th “School Strike for Climate” involving an estimated 4 million people world-wide which had preceded her address at the U.N.
Greta was born into an apparently supportive and relatively affluent family along with a younger sister. There is little information available as to her early childhood. However, one could assume there were the usual problems associated with the presence of an autistic spectrum child in the family. Her mother is an opera singer, who is famous throughout Europe, and her father is an actor. From what I could ascertain, it appears her parents have been supportive of Greta in her political activities. From the available history, it appears that Greta was not in special classes, but preferred to sit silently in the back of the classroom. At the age of 8, her class was shown a series of documentaries about climate change that would change her life.
She became obsessed with the climate issue, or in Greta’s words: “those pictures were stuck in my head,” which is a common problem for those with Asperger’s Syndrome. Three years later, she had become severely depressed, and unable to function. “I kept thinking about it (climate change), and wondered if I am going to have a future.” She was finally able to overcome her Selective Mutism, and confess to her Mother how the obsession had come to dominate her thinking and crowd out every other thought. Should Greta’s mother ever lose her voice and be unable to sing, I suggest she might find a promising career as a psychotherapist as her response was exactly what was needed. She listened attentively, and acknowledged the seriousness of the issue without the hollow reassurances and platitudes we are often tempted to issue in such situations.
For Greta, this was an “ah-hah” moment. After listening to her recitation of all the facts that Greta had collected regarding climate change, her mom was converted on the spot to a full-fledged environmentalist. Eventually, she would even stop traveling by air, install solar panels on their home, and join Greta as a vegetarian. Apparently, Greta was inspired by her parents’ response and began to think she might be able to influence others to share her concerns about climate change. “That’s when I kind of realized that I could make a difference.”
At age 15, Greta entered a climate writing competition held by the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, and was declared a winner. Her essay titled ‘We know – and we can do something now’ was published which brought her to the attention of an activist who mentioned the strike by the Parkland Florida students who were seeking to change gun laws. She liked the idea of a school strike, and immediately set out to recruit fellow students. She was not deterred when none would join her, but found an old board on which she painted ‘Skolstrejk for Klimatet’ (school strike for climate). Equipped with her sign and some hand written flyers, she initiated her one-person strike by sitting alone outside the Swedish Parliament building.
One of the news people covering parliament paused to interview her and wrote a brief article. The following day Greta was joined by others in her strike and the numbers continued to grow for the next 21 days until the Swedish national elections took place. The story was picked up by other news outlets, and social media. As a result of her rapid rise
to fame, Greta was invited to speak at a climate rally in front of thousands of people. Her parents were reluctant to allow her to do it due to their concerns about her selective mutism. However; Greta was adamant that she must speak out and said of her disorder: “Basically it means I only speak when I think it’s necessary. Now is one of those moments.” The speech was delivered in flawless English and declared a rousing success.
Since that first debut, her speeches and interviews have gained huge audiences. As with this most recent rendering, she speaks on her subject with authority and nary a slip of the tongue. Her English is impeccable without a trace of an accent. The U.N. speech was a climax to the worldwide school strike, but she was not done yet for the next day she announced on twitter: “I and 15 other children from around the world filed a legal complaint against 5 nations over the climate crisis through the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. These 5 nations (France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey) are the largest emitters that have ratified the convention.” During that U.N. visit, she traveled to Washington, D.C., to speak to the U.S. Congress Committee on Climate Issues. She bluntly told them, I don’t want you to listen to me, I want you to listen to the scientists and take real action as she explained why she was attaching the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report on Climate Change to her testimony.
It appears to me that the world has taken little note of what Greta and her buddies have accomplished, but then I guess it is not considered as newsworthy as a Trump tweet. In like fashion, it seems that the climate gets little notice in spite of all the bad news that seems to confirm the accuracy of climatologists’ frightening predictions. If anything, all that bad stuff they have been talking about for years is taking place more rapidly than predicted. In the U.S., our most recent crisis involved flooding in the northeast and fires in the west, but there is no place in the world left unscathed.
- Some examples include Venice where the current flooding is the worst ever recorded.
- There is also the Amazon rain forest still ablaze with nearly 3800 square miles destroyed in the past year compliments of Brazil’s president Bolsonoro, a rightwing climate change denier. This is a triple whammy, for in addition to its role in producing oxygen, it sequestered large amounts of CO2 which is released back into the atmosphere as it burns.
- We just experienced the warmest July ever recorded while 24 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland.
- With an ice sheet in some places nearly 2 miles thick, there is enough ice there that when melted will raise sea levels 23 feet.
- Michael Bevis, lead author of a recent publication by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science states that we are now at a tipping point beyond which there will be no stopping the melt which is now increasing at 4 times the rate which had been predicted. If that trend is not reversed many coastal cities throughout the world will soon be immersed, resulting in mass migrations from our most densely populated areas.
- It has recently been determined that the arctic permafrost is now melting much faster than had originally been predicted and liberating methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It has long been known that warming oceans contribute to more violent storms, but recent studies have shown that they are becoming acidic due to absorption of CO2, threatening not only reefs but all manner of marine life on which millions depend for sustenance. It has been said that the major grain producing areas of the world are particularly vulnerable to drought and even becoming deserts.
The news is not all bad however. I have heard that some renewable sources of energy are now less expensive than fossil fuels. How ironic it would be if pursuit of the mighty Dollar, which led us down this rabbit hole, would ultimately be our salvation. If we make more money using other energy sources, the fossil stuff will be left in the ground where it belongs. As for me, I put my hopes on Greta and her several million friends although She has said: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic.” Her wish may be coming true for Time has recently published a story about a world wide epidemic of “eco-anxiety.”
Most would agree that Greta is different. Unfortunately, “different” is often used with a negative connotation. Perhaps, we should use another adjective, such as special, extraordinary, bold, courageous, dedicated, to describe those who are “different” for throughout history we have seen many who were saddled with the label of “different” accomplish amazing things. In some whom we call savants we witness areas of genius in the face of severe limitations. Greta, realized that she was not ordinary and said: “That’s when I realized I could make a difference”, and she has. You go Girl!
Editor’s Note: While editing eshrink’s blog, I found this blog post from Scientific American that previews a book written about scientists actually underestimating the rate of climate change and what can be done about it.