Linda Schuyler Horning: Greta is coming
Greta is coming to the United States! Sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist, Greta Thunberg, will attend the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 to be held in New York on Sept. 23.
As always, Greta will make a big splash, arriving sans carbon footprint via a zero-emissions racing boat, and she won’t go unnoticed. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has endorsed the school strikes she initiated, admitting “My generation has failed to respond properly to the dramatic challenge of climate change. This is deeply felt by young people. No wonder they are angry.”
Referred to in July by OPEC secretary-general Mohammed Barkindo as the “greatest threat” to the fossil fuel industry, Greta, along with other climate activists have clearly gotten under his skin. Her #FridaysForFuture movement occurred in 105 countries around the world, and in March, Greta was nominated as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Greta is not only unusual, she’s abnormal, at least according to psychologists. At a TEDx talk in November of last year, Greta stated she has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and selective mutism. Being on the “spectrum” has its advantages, according to her, because almost everything is black or white.
With the intense political polarization occurring right now in the United States, Greta should fit right in.
More than 80% of voters supported the Green New Deal in December of last year, a proposal in line with the Climate Action Summit’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero emissions by 2050. That poll, conducted by the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication and the Yale Program on Climate Communication found 92% of Democrats and 64% of Republicans backed the Green New Deal plan. Unfortunately, another poll by the same group in 2018 also found that people evaluate policy based on whether or not their own political party backs it, and when they are told an opposing party backs it, they react negatively.
Sure enough, the follow-up poll released in May showed that while Democratic support for the Green New Deal remained high — between 88% and 96% — the numbers dropped among conservative Republicans to just 32%. The poll also found a correlation between the Green New Deal and the amount of time Republicans spend watching the politically polarizing Fox News channel.
A segment of the American population will turn their backs on Greta and her pleas for unity, and, sadly, some may even paint her as being immature or deranged. One has to wonder, however, who among us can honestly say that to do nothing is totally sane.
In 1975, Dr. William Nordhaus saw the warming planet as an economic threat. He and colleagues in the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis calculated that a 2-degree rise Centigrade (roughly double what was then the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration) would result in global disaster by 2030. It took 40 more years before the United Nations ratified the two-degree limit in the Paris Agreement in 2016.
If we warm by 2 degrees Celsius, the world will be drier, impacting economies, agriculture, and weather patterns. Whole nations are at risk of disappearing, along with coral reefs and plant and animal species.
China eclipsed the United States as the world’s largest source of carbon emissions in 2006, but with the Trump administration withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, and trying to roll back steps set by previous administrations to meet the pact’s goals, the United States may hold that dubious distinction yet again.
We once set a goal to land a man on the moon. Wouldn’t it be an even greater accomplishment to lead the way toward reversing climate change — not because it would be easy, as President John F. Kennedy described it, but because it would be hard.
And what if, instead of greeting Greta Thunberg as a pariah, we embrace her as the prodigy she is — a self-styled savior of our world.
Greta is big enough to think globally, and put partisan bickering aside. She wants us to be healthy and prosperous. Why can’t we all be that big?
Linda Schuyler Horning lives in Nevada City.
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