Greta’s presence on the world stage seems counterproductive due to her strategy of alarmism, her lack of awareness on the issue she advocates for and a general ignorance to political and pragmatic constraints. The Greta Thunberg doctrine of politics seems unwilling to engage with critics, willfully blind to the human cost of energy austerity and oriented on a style of social justice that seems bent on representation more than solutions, and her policy goals ignore structural challenges to meaningfully address climate change. I worry that Greta is the “DDT ban” of our generation, a well-meaning policy that ignores inconvenient facts resulting in human costs of millions.
Her speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit is rife with claims like “People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing,” “if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil” and “young people are starting to understand your betrayal.” While the language she uses is powerful, it seems willfully ignorant. According to Adam Kalkstein, climate scientist at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Temperatures have risen by 1 degree Celsius over the last hundred years, and we’ve seen negative effects. Concurrently, heat-related mortality has gone down and malaria has been on the decline. While climate change is detrimental, the fundamental goal of our activism should be to reduce human suffering.
Additionally, certain claims she makes, such as extinctions occurring at alarming rates and toxic air pollution leading to feedback loops, are dubious. Local-use land modification in developing nations is the main cause of these extinctions, and toxic air pollution may block the sun slightly, cooling the earth slightly according to a study titled “Climate Impacts From a Removal of Anthropogenic Aerosol Emissions.”
While the message that climate change is dangerous is absolutely true, spreading misinformation remains a bad thing. In the case that she’s ignorant about the nuances of climate change, she has no business being a representative of it. In the case that she does not care about the nuances of climate change, she also has no business on the world stage. Her blind ignorance is showcased when she tells developing countries to move to zero emissions by criticizing leaders in Turkey and Brazil and encouraging them to undermine their economies. Coercing weaker developing countries has a massive human cost. Her speech demonizes economic growth and ignores the suffering her goals, if enacted, would cause.
By proclaiming that it’s either zero-emissions or the world ends, we are unable to measure the costs of each approach. Disallowing developing countries to industrialize will deprive the global poor of crucial economic rights. We take climate-controlled hospitals, access to clean water and sanitation systems for granted, but in an agrarian economy, those are not accessible. So, when Greta decries countries like Turkey, Malaysia and Brazil for emitting carbon, what she’s really claiming is that she wishes to deny them access to a tolerable standard of living. It’s easy to decry economic growth from the perspective from Europe and the United States while we’ve already attained it, but how dare we deny those more vulnerable than us the right to survive? One Chinese resident said in response to Thunberg’s speech, “If the economy doesn’t grow, what do us people in developing countries eat?”
This moves onto a second criticism of Greta. Her ideas taken at their best will not solve the problems she establishes. In relation to that, yelling at Western countries is all fine and good but without radically reducing China and India’s emissions as well, her goals are doomed to fail, even if we laud them. Focusing efforts on politicians from western countries in this sense, does not really do anything. Also, the only likely solutions to climate change come from post-industrial, economically free economies.
The problem with immediately calling for net-zero solutions is that it likely prevents the technology from being made that can control the environmental crisis the best. It takes resources to create technologies and to fight threats. If our approach to the threat is to strangle our economy, we remain unable to solve the problem. The strident opposition to nuclear energy during our climate crisis is nonsensical.
While I’m glad to see that Greta cares deeply about protecting our trees and wildlife, I wish she took a less cavalier attitude towards suffering people.
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Thumbnail Photo AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu
Isadore Johnson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.