Greta Thunberg has chided adults for saying, “we owe it to young people to give them hope”. The climate icon does not want us to hope she wants us to act. “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic.” Greta said, adding, “I want you to feel the fear I feel every day, and then I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
There is no denying that we need action. However, hope is necessary to augur action even as we teeter on the cusp of an apocalypse. The sad psychological reality is that we deny truths too painful for us to countenance and we shut down in the face of futility. We need hope as an antidote to apathy and as a catalyst to act. It would be easy to conclude that it is already too late and we are doomed to suffer from runaway climate change. Indeed the effects of unchecked global warming are calamitous. Many studies warn us of an impeding disaster but we still have time to stave off the worst impacts if we act now.
Last year around this time Greta Thunberg delivered a stern rebuke to world leaders at COP24 and at COP25 she chastised them for doing little more than “clever accounting and creative PR”. She is right to be angry, we all have reason to be incensed with the failure of leaders to lead.
We are living a sort of Dickonsonian Christmas Carol. We have been warned over and over again, and yet world leaders are not doing enough and some deny that the crisis exists even as their citizens suffer from devastating impacts. As Australia is struggling with record breaking heat and unprecedented wildfires Greta took a break from her Christmas vacation to accuse politicians of “failing to make the connection” between rising temperatures and extreme weather events. “Not even catastrophes like these seem to bring any political action. How is this possible?” she tweeted to her 3.7 million followers. “Because we still fail to make the connection between the climate crisis and increased extreme weather events and nature disasters.”
Greta wants action and she is not deterred by derision from climate destroying world leaders like Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, American President Donald Trump, and Brazilian dictator Jair Bolsanaro. Nor is Greta distracted by expressions of admiration. When she met with the US Senate’s climate crisis task force in September she told them to “save their praise” and act. “We don’t want it… Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything.”
In response to those who say she should be in school rather than protesting, Greta says: “Why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”
Change, particularly transformative change is difficult but this is precisely what we must do. Throughout the course of human evolution our species has shown itself to be tremendously resourceful. Given that global warming is a crisis of our own making, we should expect that we will put our ingenuity to the test and do what we must. Saying there is no hope means we wont try, while at the same time hope without transformative change is folly.
We know what to do but we have yet to do it. As Greta said: “Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can solve the climate crisis. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we need to do is wake up and change.” While lifestyle changes are laudable the scale of the changes we need means we need action from lawmakers. Only legislation can change behavior on the required scale, everything else is just window dressing.
We need hope so that we can continue to grow a movement capable of confronting the entrenched economic and political obstacles that prevent us from moving forward. This is a Herculean task that will not be undertaken by the hopeless. “It can be hard in times like these to find hope, I can tell you,” Greta said “And I can tell you I have not found much hope in politicians and corporations. It is the people who are now our greatest source of hope.”
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