Updated August 23, 2019 | The best part of a year ago, Swedish schoolchild Greta Thunberg started protesting outside Sweden’s parliament. The then 15-year-old was demanding more action on the issue of climate change.
Fast forward to now, Thunberg — who eats a vegan diet for environmental reasons — has become a household name. Synonymous with climate action, the vocal teen has held governments accountable, made damning speeches, and accused the grown-ups of taking away the future of the next generation. She has even received a nomination for a Nobel Peace Prize.
She was put forward for the prize by Norweigan Socialist MP Freddy Andre Ovstegard, together with two other MPs. He said, “we have proposed Greta Thunberg because if we do nothing to halt climate change, it will be the cause of wars, conflict, and refugees. [Thunberg] has launched a mass movement which I see as a major contribution to peace.”
“We young people need to get angry and hold the old generations accountable for the mess they have created,” Thunberg said in a speech at COP24 UN last December. “We must realize that our future is on the line and we need to make our voices heard. The first thing I have learned is that you are never too small to make a difference.”
‘Time for Civil Disobedience’
The now 16-year-old has actively encouraged rebellion.
Together with English pop-rock band The 1975, she recently released a call to arms. In a spoken-word track — which features as the opening number for the band’s album “Notes on a Conditional Form” — Thunberg says, “it’s time for civil disobedience.”
“Yes, we need a system change rather than individual change,” she says on the track. “But you cannot have one without the other. If you look through history, all the big changes in society have been started by people at the grassroots level. People like you and me. So, I ask you to please wake up and make the changes required possible … we must all do the seemingly impossible.”
“Today we use about 100 million barrels of oil every single day,” she explains. “There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground. So we can no longer save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed, everything needs to change and it has to start today.”
Proceeds from the track are being donated to Extinction Rebellion, a socio-political movement that uses civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance to protest against the climate crisis.
Many grown-ups are listening to Thunberg’s message. The Extinction Rebellion is picking up new members every day, and they’re not just environmentalists — they’re normal people. Up until now, most have seen doing their bit for the planet as separating their recyclable cardboard from their food waste. An honorable act, but it’s the bare minimum, and we need action on a bigger scale. Most people can’t ignore that anymore.
In an anonymous piece submitted to the Guardian, one city worker wrote, “I am an ordinary mid-career professional. I work a nine-to-five job in the city, and I’m well respected and growing in my career. I have never broken the law. And recently, I joined Extinction Rebellion, blockading traffic.”
They continued, “right now, we are sleepwalking. We go about our daily lives assuming that buying a house and putting money in our superannuation are appropriate ways to plan for the future. If we hear about the climate crisis, we tell ourselves, surely it can’t be that urgent if noone is doing anything? We need to wake up, fast.”
The anonymous city worker-turned environmental activist’s story isn’t unique. According to a recent poll, 71 percent of Brits believe that the climate crisis is a more pressing issue than Brexit.
Impact on the Oil Industry
Evolving attitudes are having an impact. Earlier this month, Mohammed Barkindo — the secretary-general of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) — acknowledged that public opinion surrounding climate change is a threat to the oil industry.
He stated that climate activism was “beginning to … dictate policies and corporate decisions, including investment in the industry.”
Adults are becoming more active, but it is the children who are leading the fight, and Thunberg is their ring leader. In her first six months of walking out of school and protesting for more action from her own government, she inspired nearly one and a half million children from around the world to do the same.
Barkindo recognizes the impact of these kids, and he — together with many members of OPEC — are scared. Officials are starting to feel pressure from their own families, he revealed. “[Their children] are asking us about their future because… they see their peers on the streets campaigning against this industry,” he said.
He went on to accuse campaigners of misleading people with unscientific arguments, reports The Guardian.
The oil industry is one of the world’s worst polluters — rivaled only by the meat and dairy industry, as well as fast fashion. There are only a few years left for the world to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions before it has to face catastrophic consequences.
According to the UN’s annual Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), we have 12 years. One of its reports — released towards the end of 2018 — urged governments to make immediate “unprecedented” changes to all aspects of society. Rapidly rising temperatures — which must be capped at no more than 2 degrees Celsius — could cause an onslaught of environmental and social challenges, including drought, wildlife, floods, and food shortages for millions of people.
Panmao Zhai — co-chair of IPCC Working Group 1 — said in a statement, “one of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1 [degree Celsius] of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes.”
According to a recent study, by 2050, London could be as hot as Barcelona. It has already experienced a preview; Heathrow recorded the hottest ever July temperature on July 25. While some may think that Barcelona summers are a positive thing, this is just the start. Elsewhere, in already-extremely-hot countries like Singapore and Malaysia, cities could experience weather like they never have before.
Moving Away From Oil
With all this in mind, when Thunberg heard that climate change activists had been acknowledged by OPEC, she was relieved. If the secretary-general of a trillion-dollar intergovernmental oil organization sees you as a threat, you’re doing something right. She Tweeted in response to Barkindo’s comments, “Thank you! Our biggest compliment yet.”
OPEC wants to keep expanding — but more and more of the world is turning its back. The UK has declared a climate emergency, as has Canada, France, and New York. Insurance companies are pulling investments from fossil fuel assets, notes The Guardian, and the London Stock Exchange has reclassified oil and gas companies under a non-renewable energy category — “[it] effectively puts them on the wrong side of the climate crisis,” says the newspaper.
“By this point, most people realize that the oil companies lied for decades about global warming – they are this generation’s version of the tobacco companies,” says 350.org founder Bill McKibben. “It’s clearly affecting their ability to raise capital, to recruit employees and so on. People set out to cost them their social license, and it’s working.”
He added, “whether it’s working fast enough – that’s another question.”
OPEC should remain scared. Because Thunberg isn’t slowing down. She’s now bringing her message to the U.S.
The teen spent months figuring out how to get to America, while still remaining true to her message. Air travel was off the cards, but her answer has come in the form of the Malizia 2, an eco-friendly solar-powered yacht.
She wrote on Instagram, “we still have a window of time when things are in our own hands. But the window is closing fast. That is why I have decided to make this trip now.”
She will attend a summit hosted by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during her visit and climate protests in New York. She will also visit Canada, Mexico, and Chile, where she will attend the UN’s annual climate conference.
She probably won’t bother with President Trump — she told ABC, “he obviously doesn’t listen to the science and the scientists. So why should I, a child with no proper education, be able to convince him?”
As for the rest of America, she’s not giving up. “I will just try to go on as I have before,” she said. “Just always refer to the science and we’ll just see what happens.”