Greta Thunberg, age 16, has ignited an international children’s movement. She and her cohort are calling on politicians to step up from their ennui and to take action on climate change. The images of Thunberg and her companions as they skip school each Friday outside the Swedish parliament have caught the eyes of climate change activists — and flustered politicians and the fossil fuel barons to whom they are beholden — the world over. The head of OPEC recently referred to Thunberg’s youth climate strike movement as possibly the “greatest threat” to fossil fuel companies.
“There is a growing mass mobilisation of world opinion… against oil" and this is "perhaps the greatest threat to our industry".
OPEC calls the school strike movement and climate campaigners their “greatest threat”.
Thank you! Our biggest compliment yet!https://t.co/f3anMLo4XX
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) July 4, 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC), age 29, is US Representative for New York’s 14th congressional district. She is the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress, and her election was a surprise to many, including her well-funded incumbent opponent. With barely a year’s experience legislating, she has been the focus of much media coverage, especially surrounding her co-sponsoring of the Green New Deal (GND) with US Senator Ed Markey. The GND’s goals include “net-zero” greenhouse gases within a decade, “a full transition off fossil fuels,” and retrofitting all buildings in the US to meet new energy efficient standards. Former Congressional rep from Georgia Newt Gingrich recently labeled AOC and her politics “vicious, deliberately dishonest.”
Ah yes, now Newt & the GOP are resorting to calling me a liar.
Who else do they call liars?
– 96% of scientists who agree on climate change
– Millions of Americans they locked up in the War on Drugs
– #MeToo survivors
So I’ll take it as a compliment. Thanks. https://t.co/2AXUz5zave
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) July 5, 2019
Compliments from insults — that’s one of the several qualities that these two young women have in common. Propelled onto the world stage by sheer drive, energy, and vision, Thunberg and AOC have amassed a following that is growing exponentially.
But what is it about these 2 young women — neither of whom have reached 30 yet — that squeezes expletives out of some of the world’s most important mouths? The Guardian newspaper recently brought Thunberg and AOC together for a virtual conversation that appeared in its Weekend magazine. As they talked, it became clear that both activists are baffled as to how so many people remain climate deniers as well as are determined to make the need for climate action transparent and urgent — even among their most severe critics.
Climate change is here + we’ve got a deadline: 12 years left to cut emissions in half.
A #GreenNewDeal is our plan for a world and a future worth fighting for.
How did we get here?
What is at stake?
And where are we going?
Please watch & share widely ⬇️pic.twitter.com/IMCtS86VXG
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 17, 2019
The Radical Rationale Behind Climate Action
During their conversation, the two climate action leaders, Thunberg and AOC, expressed their amazement at the lack of engagement of many of the world’s most powerful people in the climate crisis. AOC noted how, when she was running for her Congressional seat, “people were saying there’s no need to convey this kind of urgency [about the climate], and it’s radical, and it’s unnecessary.”
Thunberg recalled how her earliest sit-ins in front of the parliament, alone, “had a huge impact, because people saw it and were moved, and became emotional.” She inspired millions of children around the world, who followed her example in striking while reflecting that school needed for that moment in time to be secondary, as “Why should we study for a future that may not exist any more?”
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) September 16, 2018
Politics for the Young? Grow Up!
Thunberg mused that the most common criticism she gets is that she is being manipulated, that movements like those that promote climate action shouldn’t use children in political ways, “because that is abuse, and I can’t think for myself.” On the contrary, Thunberg insists that those “annoying” people should allow her to have a say. “Why shouldn’t I be able to form my own opinion and try to change people’s minds?”
AOC concurred, noting that a common mantra is, “Don’t politicise young people.” Instead, she argues that the age in which we live, with infinite access to information, allows people of all ages to form opinions and self-advocate. Indeed, it was only recently that AOC delivered an impassioned speech during a committee hearing in response to Republicans push-back on the Green New Deal.
“You want to tell people that their desire for clean air and clean water is elitist?” she exclaimed. “Tell that to the kids in the South Bronx which are suffering from the highest rates of childhood asthma in the country … You’re telling those kids that they are trying to get on a plane to Davos? People are dying!”
To Lead or Follow? The Climate Crisis Can’t Wait for People to Decide
In Sweden, Thunberg allows, a common argument exists that a small country with only 10 million inhabitants has an obligation to focus more on helping other countries. She feels “that is so incredibly frustrating, because why should we argue about who or what needs to change first? Why not take the leading role?”
No stranger to stepping up while others vacillate, AOC says she hears people mutter, “Well, we should wait for China to do something.” She finds that sentiment to be a contradiction when prevailing national wisdom places the US first but uses other major global powers as a reflecting pool. “Are we going to choose to lead, or are we going to sit on our hands?” The US, she continues, takes pride “in leading on fracking, on being the number one in oil, in consumption, in single-use plastics. But they don’t seem to want to take pride in leading on the environment and leading for our children.”
She acknowledged that the influence of the Koch brothers weighs heavily on US legislation. “The Koch brothers in the US have essentially purchased the entire Republican party, but people forget they made their money off oil and gas. That is where their fortune comes from.” With the enormity of the Koch empire, challenges to fossil fuel status quo can seem overwhelming. “You can look at that with despair, or you can look at it with hope. That’s how strong we are: we’re so strong that we’re able to take this on credibly and actually build a movement against it.”
The Demands of Climate Action Leadership
Teen climate activist Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of her efforts to combat climate change. Freddy André Ovstegard and 2 other Norwegian lawmakers chose Thunberg because of her leadership in the fight against climate change.
“We have nominated Greta because the climate threat may be one of the most important contributions to war and conflict,” Ovstegard told Norwegian newspaper VG. “The massive movement Greta has set in motion is a very important peace contribution.”
In her conversation with AOC, Thunberg recognizes the duty of the privileged to lead even though leadership is not “this glamorous, powerful thing. But leadership is a responsibility. Leadership is not fun.” Yet the teen leader will learn in October if the time she has set aside to lead will result in the Nobel Peace Prize. If she wins, she will become the youngest recipient since 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai.
AOC agreed that the “glamorous, powerful” impression many people have of leadership is actually an “enormously difficult” responsibility to bear. She discusses taking initiatives and risks and accepting “decisions when you don’t know 100% what the outcome is going to be.”
Eleanor Roosevelt keenly advised, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right, for you’ll be criticized anyway.” Leaders like Roosevelt have recognized that being in the public eye can mean relinquishing control of one’s destiny. For today’s young leaders like Greta Thunberg and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, making the decision to lead comes from within, regardless of public scrutiny and often disdain. Each activist has accepted the challenge of making the climate crisis the most important, really, the only issue that matters in all of politics.
Deeply concerned about their future, both Thunberg and AOC speak to ways that humans around them are causing the sixth mass extinction of species, that the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis, and that the planet’s warming is rapidly imparting devastating effects on millions of people around the globe. They’re pushing for consensus on the goals of the Paris agreement and calling out the world’s decision-makers to take responsibility and solve the climate crisis — while there is still time.
Adults have failed to extract control of the planet from fossil fuel billionaires. Now it is the young who are assuming the leadership roles. The youth of this world, with role models like Thunberg and AOC, are on the move and are committed not to rest until significant climate action is taken.
Many thanks to the Guardian for transcribing the AOC/ Thunberg call.