Climate catastrophe

Until late last year you would not have heard of Greta Thunberg, the pigtailed teenager whose picture is on our front cover this edition, and to describe her as a media sensation would be to discredit the efforts she has put in to highlighting the catastrophe that is unfolding all around us.
Young Greta, the daughter of a Swedish opera singer mother and an artist father, came to the notice of the media in Sweden, and then all over the world, when she started, in August last year, a one-girl picket against climate change outside the Swedish parliament (notwithstanding the fact that Sweden has the most progressive climate change mitigation policy in the world, aiming to take the nation to carbon neutrality by 2045 ~ match that, Donald Trump).
She was 15 at the time. When asked why she was doing what she was doing she replied rather forthrightly “… because you adults are shitting on my future.”
She has come a long way since August last year. Her one-child protest grew into an international movement of youth with school children worldwide going on “strike” to highlight the need for serious action against environmental ruin. She has addressed delegates at the economic summit at Davos, met with European leaders, and last month had her picture on the cover of Time magazine (and this month she’s on the Smallholder’s cover ~ fame indeed!).
Sadly, her picture on the Smallholder’s cover is about as close as you’ll ever get to Greta Thunberg in South Africa because she refuses to travel anywhere by air, believing (quite rightly) that it is a resource-wasteful and polluting mode of transport. So she won’t be coming south to chinwag with President Ramaphosa and our minister of environmental affairs, whoever that may be, on strategies to replace, for example, coal fired energy with solar, and road transportation with rail.
Oh, one more thing: Greta Thunberg is autistic. She has Asperger’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). If you look up a definition for Asperger’s you might come across this rather helpful snippet in a definition of the condition “People with this condition may be socially awkward and have an all-absorbing interest in specific topics.”
If being socially awkward and obsessive-compulsive is what it takes to turn one into an internationally-recognised icon for climate restoration then so be it. All power to Greta’s elbow. Or, as we are wont to say locally “Viva, Greta, viva!!”
As “mature” adults we who are older should not decry what some would see as the misbehaviour of activist youth. Rather, we should marvel that there are young people out there willing to get themselves involved, and into trouble even, to highlight causes that we really should have dealt with long ago. And Greta’s not alone as a youth activist. Think of the Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, who highlighted the plight of Pakistani girls in enjoying a decent education and gender equality and for which she took a Taliban bullet in her head. With a Nobel prize in her pocket she’s now a student at Oxford. Good for her.
In Greta Thunberg’s case her dog-worrying-a-bone persistence to her cause has already made a difference. The editor of one influential British newspaper, for example, has issued instructions to editorial staff to up the ante on the climate issue. No longer is it to be referred to as “climate change”, but rather “climate collapse”.
And there’s more. With quirky people like Greta Thunberg fighting for the cause, shops are realising that customers are becoming more aware of the issue, and are responding accordingly. Plastic bags are being phased out in many stores. So are plastic straws. Certain cities and even countries have banned outright the use of one-time plastic packaging.
When Durban’s harbour and beaches were spread filled with filth recently ordinary citizens rallied in large numbers to clean up the litter. Closer to home, we have written about the sterling efforts taken to clean up the Hennops River in Centurion, efforts which continue now with regular clean-up parties. The same is happening along the banks of the Jukskei.
As with so many movements, what starts as a trickle builds momentum and becomes a flood. People power, in the form of activism, civil disobedience and persuasion will force the issue on to the political agenda, and politicians, ever opportunists, will start to see climate restoration and a vote-winning strategy.
And to think that it was kickstarted along by an autistic, pigtailed teenager.
So, it’s starting, dear reader. We could, if we all become activists like Greta, win the war.