Out of the mouths of babes: Greta Thunberg and being ‘naïve’ on climate
30th January 2019

I can’t stop thinking about sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg, speaking with quiet determination to roomfuls of powerful people in Davos.

I think that Thunberg has an incredible gift. She summarises, with simplicity and eloquence, what climate scientists have been telling us for a long time – that climate change threatens our future on this planet; and that drastic cuts to emissions are needed, starting now.

Thunberg does not equivocate. She knows what she is saying is deeply uncomfortable to her audience, and she says it anyway. She speaks truth to power.

She can do this, in part, because she is powerless. She can’t vote, she can’t own a company, she doesn’t work for anyone. She is still in education: conventional wisdom says that it is adults who should be teaching her how to be a good citizen, not vice versa.

Maybe this lack of power is the very reason that she can see so clearly. She is not invested in the social and economic systems that surround us as adults. Maybe we are all too invested in our own lives, in the world that we have become used to: the world that, as climate impacts bite, will no longer be.

And so I worry. I worry that we have left it to a child to do the straight talking that we really need on climate. I worry that adults who have been trying to make the case for bold climate action have, for many years, been marginalised and excluded from mainstream debate.

And above all, as a climate advocate and as a parent, I worry about the burden we are placing on young shoulders. I was moved to write this because I was astounded to see that Bjorn Lomborg, longtime climate contrarian, has attacked Thunberg head-on. He says Thunberg’s solution is “naïve and impossible”.  Yes, that’s right, he’s criticising a child for being naïve.

I can just about remember being sixteen. I remember the raw emotion of the teenage years. Like Greta Thunberg, I channelled some of that into political outrage (with little effect, in my case). And I can remember the vulnerability too. My own children are now teenagers. I worry constantly about the climate burden on their shoulders, not to mention the many other stresses they face. It’s a parent’s job to worry, I know. But I think I have grounds.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the question of whether Lomborg’s putative ‘solution’, based on the modelling of one economist, is at all credible (it isn’t). The question I want to ask is, why do Lomborg and his allies (who were very quick to leap to his defence when I criticised) think that it is okay to discredit a child, in order to make their case?

It’s vital to hear from children and young people in the climate debate. The increasing radicalism of the generations following me gives me hope. But we know that these debates, particularly online, can be brutal. I have felt the sting many times. There’s a cost attached to speaking out.

And so those of us who think that Thunberg is right (and that includes nearly all of the world’s climate scientists, many business leaders and countless others, old and young) have a responsibility to share the load. From here on in, I’m planning to be more naïve. I’ve had enough of subtlety and cynicism. It’s time we said it like it is. Let’s not leave it to children.

About author

Rebecca Willis

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