Making headlines again
Greta Thunberg has been in the headlines today because she is donating a million-euro prize that she was won to climate groups. She has been awarded the Gulbenkian prize for humanity, a Portuguese prize that I’d never heard of until this morning. I’m not sure why there is a prize that gives one million euros to a Climate Activist, but it exists so well done to Greta to pledging this money towards environmental projects.
What is the point?
I’ve been campaigning on issues of social justice and the environment for over ten years. Often, I am sat in the pub with other campaigners, questioning whether what we do makes any difference. We work hard, for free, in our spare time on issues that we care deeply about. We’ve studied the evidence on the Climate Emergency and know what inaction means. Does signing a petition make a difference? Do the powers that be pay attention to protest marches? Are we wasting our time writing to our local Councillor about cycle lanes? Environmental campaigners can often be put in a box by politicians where what the campaigners are saying may be popular in some cases, but the economy must come first. Sometimes it all feels pointless, but if we don’t do anything then nothing will change.
Environmental Activist Greta Thunberg
What has this got to do with Greta Thunberg? Greta is an inspiration to me and to many in the wider environmental movement. Not just because she is consistent with her message or because she is totally committed to her aims. It is also because she has been highly effective. She started off by striking every Friday from school with her reasoning being; why should she get an education when there won’t be a planet that she can live on in thirty years. By going along with the system, she won’t see any systemic change that will fight the vested interests that want to keep burning fossil fuels for profit. Initially she striked on her own but was then joined by others. The school strikes grew with more pupils who are angry that their future will be denied by those in positions of power. She started striking at 15. Through social media other people took notice of her actions and other joined her. As the strikes grew in size more people began to take notice, not just in Sweden but across the world. These school strikes have grown worldwide. I may no longer be a student, but I have attended a Friday Strike. It was great to see so many young faces demanding a better future for themselves. Usually the Climate Movement is the same people in the same circles doing the same things. Having newer, younger campaigners will make our movement stronger.
Greta’s reputation has grown. She has addressed the United Nations. Last year to avoid flying, she sailed to America to speak at the 2019 Climate Action Summit. It took her two weeks to sail from Plymouth to America when she could have flown in hours. She continues to speak on climate issues and still participates in school strikes on a Friday. Her speeches have gone viral. When she passionately challenged those at the UN Climate Action Summit in 2019 with the speech that came to be known as the “how dare you” speech, the world listened. Her authenticity has resonated with Climate Campaigners across the globe, who look at what she has achieved and think that if she can make the difference, why can’t they?
The powerful try to undermine her
We also know that she is successfully challenging the system because of the vile abuse she receives. Anybody in the public eye who is seen to be questioning the power structures of society will receive abuse. In 2020 that abuse is usually from social media. Twitter users try to undermine her based on her age, the fact that she has autism, her gender and other things. Unsurprisingly the right-wing media take shots at her, pretending to be journalists, but actually trying to undermine her credibility. They don’t respond to her arguments on the Climate Emergency, but try to snidely undermine her reputation. On occasion she has responded wittily. If the vested interests don’t think you are a threat, they will ignore you, if they do think that you are a threat, they will try to ruin your reputation.
We campaign with renewed hope
When I started campaigning ten years ago it felt like I was knocking my head against a brick wall. Climate Change deniers were prevalent in media coverage. If felt like any action on sustainability issues would have to take second place to fixing the economy after the 2008 financial crisis. Austerity had just been enacted. At least this was the attitude ten years ago. That attitude has shifted. Governments across the world signed upto the Paris Agreement. My Local Authority Birmingham City Council has declared a Climate Emergency. It feels like the argument has moved on from trying to get authorities to believe in the Climate Emergency to forcing them to act radically enough to stop the worst effects of a rise in global temperatures above 2 degrees Celsius.
Of course, Climate Change deniers still exist. The current President of the United States has removed his country from the Paris Agreement and we are still a long way from adequately fighting the Climate Emergency by reducing carbon emissions along with reshaping how our societies are structured. Environmental Activists continue to fight for a more just world and we can draw hope from the likes of Greta Thunberg whose actions have clear, quantifiable effects. If Greta as a 15 year old, on her own with a protest board can help shape the worlds response to the Climate Emergency then why can’t the rest of us? We don’t all need to go viral and make speeches at UN Summits. Are actions in our local communities make our local communities better. When we hold our leaders to account and make them enact more sustainable policies, we collectively make the world better for future generations. The struggle will continue to be difficult, but we know what can be achieved and we must continue to fight for a better future.
The featured article is from Pen Jones. He is a professional caricaturist who is available for art commissions.