Many people, including me, expected Greta Thunberg to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. Instead, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was deservedly awarded for ending more than 20 years of conflict with neighboring Eritrea.
Greta and the young people worldwide urging adults to care about their future don’t need a Nobel. They need grown-ups to take them seriously and heed the scientific evidence about global warming.
From her solitary school strike in Sweden last year to massive worldwide climate strikes in late September, Thunberg has rallied millions of young people and adults to demand change. She and the youth who have joined her cause understand the world offers all we need, if we don’t destroy the natural systems that make our health and well-being possible. They also know it isn’t a lack of solutions holding us back, but a lack of political will.
And they know, as scientists worldwide have warned through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that we have little time to address the crisis we’re creating by wastefully burning excessive amounts of fossil fuels and destroying ecosystems at an alarming rate.
Most of them understand, too, that it’s about more than protecting humanity from climate chaos; it’s also about human rights and justice, about changing systems that have spawned massive inequality and a greedy race to rapidly exploit Earth’s resources, simply to earn money for shareholders and CEOs.
Sioux youth Tokata Iron Eyes invited Greta to Standing Rock, North Dakota, where the Sioux and their allies tried for years to block construction of a pipeline that now carries fracked Bakken shale oil to an Illinois refinery, saying it puts water, rights and climate at risk. She said she and Greta shouldn’t have to do this. “No 16-year-old should have to travel the world in the first place sharing a message about having something as simple as clean water and fresh air to breathe,” she told the Guardian.
But those racing to extract as much of Earth’s limited fossil fuel supplies as possible before markets fall in the face of better, less expensive alternatives and an accelerating climate crisis don’t seem to care about clean air, water and land. Politicians see fossil fuels as a way to boost short-term economic growth, often blinded to any vision extending beyond the next election. Industry heads see massive profits and continuation of privilege.
All offer token responses to climate disruption. Politicians say they’re doing their best but change won’t happen overnight (an excuse they’ve been using over many nights, days, week, months, years…) and that more fossil fuel infrastructure designed to last decades, including pipelines, is needed when the world’s scientists say we must leave most remaining fossil fuels buried.
Fossil fuel executives say they’re reducing emissions from their operations but ignore emissions from burning their products. They also fund campaigns to sow doubt about the scientific evidence for global warming and its consequences.
Some people feel so threatened by a young woman’s truth that they stoop to vicious personal attacks, logical fallacies and insults rather than addressing the science she speaks so clearly about.
But Greta’s message is indisputable: If we fail to reduce emissions quickly, we face increasing consequences: extreme weather events; droughts and floods leading to food insecurity; health impacts including insect-spread diseases, respiratory issues and heat-related deaths and illness; damage to oceans, which supply food and half the world’s oxygen; massive refugee movements as parts of the world become unsuitable for agriculture or human life; extinction crises; growing global conflict; and more.
Every day we fail to act on the climate crisis is a day stolen from young people and those not yet born. We owe Greta and all young people a debt of gratitude for holding a mirror to our actions. More than anything, we owe them a future, and that means getting serious about changes needed to resolve this crisis.
Young people like Greta are drawing attention to an issue that has too long been downplayed or ignored for political or economic reasons. The best prize we can give them is recognition of our need to live within our means on this small, blue planet. This is not a left-right issue. We’re all in this together.
David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor and Writer Ian Hanington. Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.
Main image: Greta Thunberg at the European Parliament. Credit: European Parliament, CC BY 2.0