For the past two centuries, there has been a trend of using complex global integration of different economies to spearhead unbounded amounts of economic growth. However, there is a trade off to be made, as growth and prosperity comes with negative externalities, such as pollution, toxic runoff and illicit dumping. Such actions have caused an increase in greenhouse emissions and the Earth’s temperature has risen at unprecedented rates.
The climate is constantly changing, and these increases have induced negative feedback loops. Sea levels continue to rise while ice sheets and glaciers are melting, thereby leading to more floods, reduction of land, destructive erosion and contamination in soil that’s used by different living species. Snow covers and snow caps are melting, hence reducing albedo, a decrease in whiteness that helps to reflect unhealthy radiation from Earth’s surface back to space.
Earth’s ecosystems, such as rainforests and tundras, are being altered by extreme changes in weather and temperature. The destruction of different ecosystems, in turn, will wipe out resources, habitats and species. It also invokes drastic implications for humans that will face the consequences of neglecting to address climate change. Earth will cease to exist if resources continue to be exploited without consideration for Mother Earth.
Emergence of Greta Thunberg
Many environmental activists have acknowledged that climate change is a serious threat that needs to be addressed. One key activist has stood out amongst the rest, and she is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg. Greta Thunberg has overcome struggles with selective mutism and Asperger’s syndrome to lead a global campaign on climate change. Thunberg first learned about climate change in 2011 and felt depressed upon learning how not much has been done to address its negative effects.
Despite such grim hopes, Thunberg wrote an award-winning essay on climate change for Svenska Dagbladet, a Swedish newspaper. In addition to that, in late 2018, Thunberg felt compelled to spend her Fridays leading school strikes for climate, which later became known as “Fridays for Futures.” This movement has inspired 4 million youths around the world to mobilize and take action to protest their respective governments for not doing enough to counteract the effects of climate change.
As the movement has gained momentum, media has deemed Thunberg to be an international icon, while some have gone as far to label her as “the true leader of the free world.” She’s been invited to speak at many important engagements, from in front of congressional committees to speaking on the world stage.
Instead of flying to the United States, Thunberg decided to sail from Sweden to the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions. After a 13-day voyage, the starlet finally arrived. Thunberg made a profound speech at the 2019 United Nations Climate Summit, in which she expressed her outrage that world leaders did not take the steps needed to reduce carbon emissions and stop climate change. She said, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.”
Thunberg’s furious passion summed up why young people are viewed as hope for the future amongst the despair of current times. The inaction of previous generations has left the new generation with no choice but to suffer the horrors of climate change.
In the famous speech, Thunberg also stated that the allure of “money and fairy tales” has left Earth in tatters and that it’s a “beginning of a mass extinction” from the exploitation of finite nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels (coal, petroleum, etc.). Politicians and world leaders were inspired by the youth activist to take action; the United Nations Secretary-General endorsing the school led strikes and the Pope has thanked her personally for fighting against climate change.
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) October 18, 2019
Criticisms Against Thunberg’s Claims
Meanwhile, others criticized Thunberg for speaking out against climate change. The Detroit News has pointed out that she comes from a place of privilege. Sweden is one of the healthiest, safest and peaceful places in the world. It’s a country that takes a more proactive stance on addressing climate change.
In the Climate Change Performance Index 2010, Sweden came in second place as having one of the most effective tools and policy-making strategies to reduce carbon emissions. Based on this fact, Thunberg may be seen as not the most ideal spokesperson to speak against climate change. Unlike individuals who live in the developing Global South, she does not face the worst effects of climate change.
Politicians, such as Donald Trump of the United States of America, Emmanuel Macron of France and Xi Jinping of China, have also criticized her for having an oversimplified approach to the complex nature of climate change and other environmental issues. These concerns are valid because there’s not enough research done on climate change.
Times and environmental conditions are tumultuous. Policy-making cannot be effective nor efficient if its further effects on the climate are not fully understood. In addition to that, Thunberg has induced heightened fear and paranoia in individuals, who now have a Malthusian perspective on how the Earth is facing an inevitable collapse, and that mass destruction will destroy everything.
The Real Dilemma
However, in the midst of all of the controversy, the real dilemma has yet to be addressed. How is it possible to balance the value of economic growth with the importance of fighting against climate change? It is important to point out that, for two hundred years, exploitation and plunder of finite natural resources has paved the way for the Industrial Revolution and for the sake of innovation.
Coal has been used as the primary source of generating power for factories and homes, while petroleum and gas have been used for running automobiles. Timber has led to the destruction of ecosystems but has provided humans with a source for the construction of homes (and lucrative real estate), along with infrastructure. Soil has been depleted for the sake of agricultural production to feed a growing population.
As economic growth has rapidly continued, living standards have risen. During bouts of these changes, societies have been able to provide exponential increases in welfare, prosperity and progress for its people. People gladly bathed themselves in glory without much concern for potential consequences.
It’s difficult to convince many individuals, in the short run, to potentially sacrifice affluence for cutbacks to consider the long-standing consequences of climate change, as many feel as if they won’t be here to face the music when all is done and the world is finally destroyed.
However, despite their strong will to turn a blind eye, Thunberg and many other activists have to rely on collective action to spread message and utilize powerful lobbying to motivate leaders to issue policies that will crusade against the harms of climate change. Activists, world leaders and researchers have to collaborate to find solutions that ensure that climate change measures and bouts of economic growth are not mutually exclusive.