Greta Thunberg has got balls.
At 16 years old, this Swedish girl had, in her 4.5 minute speech in front of hundreds of world leaders, not only managed to admonish them, she highlighted their incompetency.
She’d gained the respect of people all over the world (and possibly said leaders as well) in doing so. But even as she’s gained a following for speaking up about the current climate change situation, she’s gotten her share of criticisms.
Ever since her speech at the U.N. Climate Summit on Monday went viral, I’ve seen people on social media mocking her for being melodramatic and overly idealistic.
Which got me thinking: Why?
Why are we so critical of the way she delivered her speech when it is far from what she was speaking about? Why are people so distracted with her emotions when the gravity of the issue that she spoke about is far more important than her imperious choice of tone and words.
If you trawled through Twitter comments, some even go as far to allege that Greta is being brainwashed by adults to make political arguments.
It says a lot about our society.
To put it simply, Greta Thunberg is like our mother scolding us when we refuse to go to bed early. We know it’s good for our body, but we get pissed off by her because we would rather stay up to watch TV or play video games.
Greta’s speech rubs some of us the wrong way because it feels like we’re being assaulted by her anger and emotions. “How dare you,” she had chided, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood.”
This feeling of being ‘scolded’ is why some people react with so much resistance instead of trying to listen and understand what she’s trying to preach. It easier to find fault than to confront uncomfortable truths.
In some ways, the disbelief that a child can be so passionate about an environmental cause is also exactly what she’s talking about—We don’t know the consequences of our everyday life.
We think we know, but a lot of what we say is lip service because if we really knew how dire the consequences of climate change is as she had brought up—mass extinction—we wouldn’t be sitting here in our air-conditioned rooms criticising her for ‘over-exaggerating’ the matter.
On an individual level, we know that certain actions, like our using plastics or wasting water, are bad for our environment. But it is just easier not to confront the consequences of these actions because we do not see the larger consequences it has on Earth and life in 10, 20, or 30 years time.
It is also easier not to confront the issue of climate change because we know that it boils down to having to make sacrifices in our lifestyles.
“We’ve got to give something up to do something for a country in need, or the world, but humankind finds it just too hard,”
We know that if we really wanted to change, it’s a sacrifice on our lifestyles.
In a long Facebook post, Principal Strategist at Sustainability Non-profit Forum for the Future, Jie Hui, wrote about the concept of materiality and how it can be applied to each of us as individuals.
She explained that a teacher’s most material contribution will be the knowledge and values s/he conveys to students and in shaping the next generation’s understanding of our environment. Similarly, a CEO’s most material contribution will be how s/he leads the company and people in achieving long-term success in business by contributing positively to society and the environment.
Likewise, she affirmed that anyone can tap on their most material contribution to make a difference, be it sharing environmental knowledge with friends and family, or mobilising the world to save the Earth—which is what Greta is doing.
Because the effects of climate change seem so intangible, we are unable to realise how crucial it is for us to act now. Furthermore, I’ve heard about how the older generations are indifferent because they do not think it’s going to be that bad.
Some of them think that their actions will not make a difference on the grand scale of ‘damage’. And as selfish as it sounds, there are also people who feel like climate change is not their problem because they will not need to face the consequences anyway.
The fact is that we are past the tipping point. But there is still time to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change. Where we are now, radical change is needed to undo what has been done. However, the inconvenient truth is that most of us aren’t willing to make that radical change. Not you, not me, and certainly not our businesses, and our leaders—at least, that is the case so far.
Maybe We Need More Gretas To Whip The World Into Shape
Greta reminds me of Katniss Everdeen: A young lady who seem like a powerless individual, but who, in her dedication in fighting to put an end to a great evil, have mobilised an entire movement in support of her cause.
We can talk about how cringey she was, or how pompous, one-dimensional, or overly-idealistic she was. We can see it as a young kid throwing a tantrum and over-dramatising an issue. But if we were to stop and take a moment to objectively think about why she’s behaving like this, we would understand why.
She’s emotional because she sees the real consequences of climate change, and she’s genuinely fearful of the future if we were to not take any action now.
I highly doubt that she would go to the extreme of travelling by a yacht across the Atlantic, without a shower or toilet, instead of a plane, if she was at it for fame, glory, or attention. Neither would she have donated the “€25,000 prize money to four different organisations dedicated to climate justice” she won from the Prix Liberte award.
So yes, Greta Thunberg was being melodramatic in her speech but in the course of doing so, she has gotten people all over the world to turn their attention towards climate change, even those who usually wouldn’t give a damn about environment news.
She had managed to rally the entire world to discuss more about climate change than anyone has ever done so and through a short speech—that’s more than anything the majority of us have ever accomplished. And if being melodramatic is what it took for her to fight for our future, I’d say it’s a win nonetheless. Not just for her, but for all of us who will witness the changes our action (or inaction) will cause in years to come.
(Header Image Credit: The Atlantic)