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A YEAR TO CHANGE THE WORLD

A YEAR TO CHANGE THE WORLD

//Gill Sherry//

When I sat down to watch the TV documentary following Greta Thunberg’s year-long campaign to explore the science of global warming, I expected to feel sad and frustrated. It would, after all, focus on the damage we are causing to our precious planet as well as highlight how little is being done to change it. But in addition to those predicted emotions, I also felt encouraged and extraordinarily impressed.

When a lone, fifteen-year-old girl took the day off school to sit outside the Swedish Parliament with a sign saying ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (School strike for climate), no-one expected it to result in a worldwide protest, least of all Greta herself. However, inspired by her unwavering determination, children around the world began to engage in similar protests and the ‘Fridays for Future’ movement was born.

Since then, the young environmental activist has addressed the United Nations, met with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and travelled the world to further her knowledge and strengthen her campaign. She also met with Sir David Attenborough, probably the world’s best known naturalist. And whilst many students continued to strike from school every Friday, Greta was busy gathering the evidence needed for her mission: to hold world leaders to the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change.

The documentary followed Greta to Canada’s Rocky Mountains, where the rise in global temperatures is allowing the pine beetle to flourish, thus causing widespread destruction of trees. As a direct result, squirrels, birds and grizzly bears are also suffering. Historically, freezing winter temperatures would kill the pest, protecting the forest and its inhabitants. Evidence, should we need it, that it only takes one minor change to have major implications.

In Canada, Greta also visited the Athabasca glacier, currently suffering its fastest melt rate ever. In some areas, the ice looked black, the result of soot and dust from forest fires. This residue means the snow and ice is less able to reflect the sun, increasing the melt rate still further. As if that’s not bad enough, the melting ice is causing sea levels to rise – predicted at 1 metre by the end of the century – and almost every coastline in the world is susceptible to the resulting disaster.

In 2018, California suffered some of the deadliest wild fires ever seen in the United States. Eighty-six people died and fifty-thousand were displaced. Greta talked to some of the survivors and expressed her frustration. “We see all of these things repeating themselves over and over again. People die and people suffer from it but we completely fail to connect the dots.”

Her eloquence is astounding for someone so young. Coupled with the fact she was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome – a form of autism – her achievements are remarkable. Lesser individuals may well have walked away, particularly when death threats were received and conspiracy theories spread. But her passion is obvious and her resolve unfaltering.

In 2019, Greta was due to attend the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Chile. Unfortunately, due to social unrest in the country, the venue was shifted to Madrid.
The travel implications were disastrous for Greta who, due to her unwillingness to fly (because of the chemical impact on the atmosphere), had already travelled half way around the world the wrong way. She was forced to embark on a 19-day Atlantic crossing from Virginia to Lisbon by catamaran. For the benefit of the doubters and haters who are constantly looking for an excuse to criticize the young activist, the trip was confirmed as carbon neutral.

The documentary went on to discuss the heatwaves which are becoming more common and more severe. It also highlighted catastrophic floods and Alpine rock falls as well as the problem of methane associated with livestock. And, of course, the subject of coronavirus could not be avoided. Greta was forced to return home when lockdown restrictions were imposed, bringing her year-long trip to a premature end. She took the opportunity to rest, embracing the silence and reflecting on the things she had learned. In the meantime, air travel was suspended, factories were closed, roads were empty. As a result, there was a drastic drop in pollutants. Speaking of the COVID crisis later, Greta said, “The coronavirus pandemic showed that if we do face an emergency, everything can change overnight. The climate crisis has never once been treated as an emergency.” A good point, well made. Although COVID-19 has dominated world headlines, Miss Thunberg firmly believes that the climate crisis is the most difficult issue humanity has ever faced, not the ongoing pandemic.

There is no denying that Greta is no ordinary teenager. She doesn’t crave material things like new clothes (fashion accounts for 5% of all greenhouse gas emissions) or the latest gadgets. She doesn’t spend time watching trashy TV or reading fantasy novels. She certainly doesn’t eat burgers and other fast food favourites (she is vegan). Rather, she wears her clothes until they literally fall apart and, when she does find time for herself, continues her research into global warming.

Despite witnessing the decline of our natural world and the inadequate measures being taken to tackle it, I was heartened by the lengths this incredible young lady has gone to in order to question those accountable. She certainly didn’t set out to become a household name. She was simply a child who cared about her planet and was worried about her future (so much so, she became depressed and didn’t eat or talk for two weeks). She didn’t for one minute think she would address the United Nations and make what is arguably one of the most impressive speeches of all time.

“This is all wrong. 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! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. 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!”

Great Thunberg may see herself as an accidental activist but her selfless attitude, steadfast determination and undeniable passion are appreciated and respected the world over. She is, quite simply, an incredible young woman.

“The only thing that creates hope is action and if there is no action there is no hope. It is my moral duty as a human being to do everything I can.”

Her duty, it seems, is not only to ensure that world leaders keep their promises, but also to encourage the rest of us to recognise how fragile the future of our planet actually is.

If only there were more people like Greta.

Greta Thunberg: A Year To Change The World is a highly recommended three-part documentary series filmed for the BBC.

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