Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, in New York City. (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg addresses the Climate Action Summit in the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters, Monday, in New York City. (Jason DeCrow/Associated Press)

Editorial: Thunberg, other youths, prosecute our inaction

If we dismiss the warnings of young climate change activists, we will not, should not, be forgiven.

Climate change activist Greta Thurnberg speaks during a United Nations conference on global warming. (Reuters)

By The Herald Editorial Board

Earnestness, especially when expressed by a teenager, is easy to dismiss, to mock, even.

In expressing her fear and horror that the world is not acting with enough urgency to confront the coming ecological disaster of climate change, Greta Thunberg is earnest and emotional.

She’s also right.

Thunberg is the 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist who started a youth climate strike a year ago, which she then brought to the United States in recent weeks to speak to members of the U.S. Congress and the United Nations General Assembly.

Her message Monday, during a U.N. climate summit was blunt and confrontational.

“This is all wrong,” she told the conference in New York on Monday, The Washington Post reported. “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you?”

She wasn’t there to offer hope but to prosecute inaction, inaction that doesn’t just threaten disaster. That disaster has already arrived.

“People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing,” she said. “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”

During her campaign, Thunberg has been met with derision and condescension, even dismissal that she could be ignored because she lives with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum that can present challenges with social interaction and nonverbal communication. Those challenges have not kept Thunberg from making her case and effectively countering the talking points of members of Congress and others.

But when critics have only that to use against her arguments — and her plea to pay attention to climate scientists — “it means they have nowhere left to go. And then you know you’re winning,” she wrote on Twitter last month during her journey by sailboat to New York.

Of course, the derision is not reserved only for Thunberg.

Students from Snohomish County schools, joined by adults, organized a “die-in” demonstration Friday at the county courthouse in Everett. Some students participating in the demonstration will face consequences for their unexcused absence from classes that day.

“It’s showing just how important and dire this issue is if students are willing to strike from school and deal with the consequences of that so many times in a year,” Grace Lambert, a student at Everett’s Jackson High School, told The Herald’s Julia Grace Sanders. “It shows how concerned we are with our future and this planet.”

While some commenters confined their comments on the online story to the larger climate change debate, others took the opportunity to mock the demonstrators:

“Isn’t there a way they could stay like that, motionless and prone on the ground, for the next thirty years or so? I bet that would have a HUGE impact on public opinion,” wrote one.

“LOL these people all wasted their time. Protesting a fake conspiracy will accomplish what exactly? This foreign owned failing blog doesn’t show the whole picture of how pathetic these gullible people are. Hardly a news event,” wrote another.

“Just a bunch of kids skipping school. What else is ‘new’ these days?” ended a third.

Yet, this bunch of kids will have the last say. Their final judgment will depend on how we respond, particularly over the next decade, to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases and limit the increase in the earth’s average temperature.

“You’re failing us, but the young people are starting to understand your betrayal,” Thunberg said near the end of her remarks Monday. “The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say, we will never forgive you.”

Nearly 100 years ago, T.S. Elliot, in his poem, “The Hollow Men,” wrote of men whispering together, quiet and meaningless:

Shape without form, shade without color;

Paralyzed force, gesture without motion;

Thurnberg and the other youths now prosecuting today’s Hollow Men could end their message as Elliot did his poem.

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

This is the way the world ends

Not with a bang but a whimper.

Talk to us

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