Last August, a Swedish schoolgirl decided to skip her classes and to protest in front of the Swedish parliament for the climate, or more precisely against inaction for climate. The photo of the girl holding a carton with the writing ‘SKOLSTREJK FÖR KLIMATET’ (‘School strike for climate’) became the most popular image circulating on the media outlets and on TV, as well as on social media.
Fast forward almost one year, the young schoolgirl, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, is travelling across Europe, visiting the European Parliament, legislators and decision makers all over the continent to raise her voice ‘on behalf of the Mother Earth’. Her demonstrations provoked a wide spectrum of comments that were positive, negative, inspired and sceptical at the same time.
Some considered, that only the hypocrites will let a 16-year-old student set Europe’s political agenda while her other peers are deprived from the right of voting. The French writer and essayist Pascal Bruckner, in his latest opinion for Figaro Vox compared the situation with Plato’s “corruption of democracy”, that consists of the inversion of hierarchies. It can be expressed in a way, when adults perceive their children as equals. As a result, they start to imitate the youth. He accused people who are supporting her of “climatic infantilism” arguing that one cannot strike against something when they do not even understand how things really work.
Marc Reisinger from Causeur said his efforts to interview Thunberg were in vain and the impression he got during his visit to Stockholm was that, “it’s a crowd of blind people led by a blind person”.
Others have considered the involvement of Greta as a PR-move from the supporters of environmentalism. A young girl, who has been diagnosed with Asperger’s and selective mutism, becomes a ‘climate change warrior’, shows serious adults how they should work and inspires thousands of youngsters all around the world. Pretty spectacular, isn’t it?
The appearance of Thunberg as the new face of the climate change fight revitalized discussions about the need to rebrand the climate change narrative to make it more digestible for the public. There’s little doubt environmentalism and the climate change has undergone a dramatic rebrand recently, but I am not talking about the global warming to climate change transition.
Climate change isn’t just the rebranding or a softer synonym of the global warming as a lot of people tend to think. These two notions are referring to two different phenomena. The first one describes the constant rise in the global temperature. The climate change is a wider notion that refers not only to the global temperature, but also to other extreme climatic conditions such as heat waves, droughts and even floods. Global warming, which is caused by human greenhouse gas emissions is causing itself a climate change. These terms have been used side by side by different authors for over four decades now. And although these terms are not synonyms, they have been replacing each other quite often. The primary reason for that is the fact, that the “climate change” is a more controllable term, it is less risky, less frightening and is deprived of the negative emotional patterns.
But is this the rebranding that we need? Do we need to persuade people that everything is okay? For a moment let’s set aside all the conspiracy theories and impulsive arguments about Greta and other environmental movements. Let’s focus on the change after 40 years of research, actions and constant debates. In 2020, the first 5-year-cycle of the Paris Climate Agreement will be concluded. The countries should revise their pledges of Nationally Determined Contribution for 2030. According to the Climate Change Tracker, the progress on the global climate action is so trivial, that if we continue with the current policies, the warming of 3.3˚C could be reached by 2100.
We have 12 crucial years to take considerable and effective measures in order to tackle climate change and its consequences, until it becomes a huge uncontrollable global disaster.
The rebranded view on climate change is not about the change of the notion nor about Greta Thunberg: it is a more optimistic view on the green industry and its capacity to create jobs. It is an alert that it’s up to us to produce less waste and to exploit our resources more intelligently.
The narrative of the climate change has also changed: the youth took the lead to express their intolerance towards the adults who are so concerned with the present that they ignore the problematic nature of their current habits. In fact, the climate change has stopped being just a far-off scientific notion. It has become more personal, more human. A vivid example of this is the French slogan of the youth climate strikes saying, ‘In 2050 you will be dead, not us.’
The strikes are relatively pointless, if we don’t practice what we preach. The media coverage and tweets are no good if we don’t reduce our car emissions, the carbon footprint when shopping, and most importantly, if we don’t educate our children.
Eventually, we have to admit that Greta Thunberg is no hero nor a villain: she is a weekly reminder to everyone, that caring for climate is not only our government’s responsibility, it’s also our personal burden. And for that, for once, maybe we should set aside our political pins and labels and try to work together to secure our future and the future of next generations.