Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg castigated Italian senators on Thursday and told them young people had been lied to about their future.
Geplaatst door NBC News World op Donderdag 18 april 2019
There’s a peculiar ritual that has developed in recent weeks. A small sixteen year old girl travels around Europe, hurls a bunch of insults at prominent left wing politicians, then the politicians applaud her. There are a thousand different interpretations you can let loose on this. You’ve probably already heard some of the most boring ones. The sixteen year old girl is brainwashed by her parents and used by a sly marketing campaign to raise taxes on middle-aged white trash for a fake crisis, just because governments enjoy raising taxes on middle-aged white trash.
I’m going to skip over that one, if that’s what you want to believe I can’t help you. If you look at the available evidence you’ll find that Greta is organic, in the sense that she’s genuinely passionate about the message she conveys. The main reason people live in denial about this is not even greed, it’s because there’s a dark undercurrent among our youth that parents prefer not to think about. You like to think your child is happy, if your child is not happy, you pretend not to notice. If an unhappy child becomes a celebrity and kickstarts a global movement of upset children around the world, you look for alternative explanations.
The more interesting question I think is how she managed to get so popular. She carries the green torch, but it has taken on a decisively dark shade under her reign. Surely you must remember the “recycle your plastics, take shorter showers and save the polar bears by buying solar panels” brand of environmentalism. Today you’re witnessing the rise of the “you stole my future because you’re morally corrupt, spiritually blind and devoid of internal life” variety.
For people like me this is an incredible time to be alive, because suddenly we’re no longer alone. The consensus in our culture is changing. The first big change we see is that an uncharismatic girl with high-functioning autism can now get her message across, that’s not how the world worked ten or twenty years ago. I don’t mean that as an insult, all of Greta’s mannerisms reveal a girl who feels uncomfortable in her role but nonetheless tries to fulfill it to the best of her abilities.
People with autism tend to be marginalized, children with autism are at a 28-fold increased risk of attempting suicide. Greta has suffered from eating disorders and depression. She looks much younger than sixteen because her growth has been stunted due to eating disorders. To see a girl who has had such a difficult life gain such a platform is a dramatic shift, as the message of climate change used to be associated with people who were the epitome of having your shit together: Leonardo Dicaprio, Al Gore, etcetera. Something has changed in our culture that allows a sixteen year old girl’s message to be heard.
In addition, the message conveyed through Greta now carries a bleak realistic assesment of our condition that is unprecedented. There was a point in time when people generally thought that you would have some alternative form of energy generation, a car that drives on electricity and then the problem would be solved without any genuine significant cost to our standard of living.
Climate change was our generation’s ozone hole, you change some industrial processes and then you continue life as usual. But now it’s conveyed as an existential threat that requires a dramatic shift in our standard of living as well as a fundamental value reorientation of our society. That’s ultimately a more realistic assesment, not in the least of reasons because climate change is fundamentally an issue of humanity overstepping one of multiple planetary boundaries.
The pollution of our atmosphere with huge amounts of carbon dioxide has an equivalent in the form of huge oceanic dead zones where our nitrogen pollution leads to enrmous algae blooms. Climate change is not a technological problem in need of an electric car or a Thorium reactor, but a symptom of ecological overshoot as part of a fundamentally exploitative relationship towards the natural world we inhabit.
As an example of what I mean, a society that can burn fossil fuels that took millions of years to generate, to sustain a negative-sum game of competitive energy consumption meant to sustain cryptocurrencies that are bought by people in an effort to get rich quick has a cultural problem, not a technological one. Our society has a cultural problem.
At least this is the “dark green” interpretation of our crisis. The term dark green was created by self-proclaimed “bright greens” who insist that technological solutions will allow us escape our predicament and who tend to hold a disproportionate influence over policymakers compared to darker shades of environmentalism, but it’s generally a useful concept. As with most cases where two camps disagree, the truth tends to lie somewhere in between. I would be the last to deny that some new technologies can help us address our predicament.
I’d insist however that it’s a fair assesment to suggest that the environmentalism -or what passes as environmentalism- that has taken hold in our society is entirely of the bright green variety. Dark green environmentalism is a semi-legendary creature that lives among obscure bloggers on the Internet, misanthropes in rural Finland, tribal people deep in the rainforest and crust punks in Seattle. In addition, I would happily insist that the bright green environmentalism that has held sway over society has been completely ineffective at addressing climate change so far.
If you disagree with me, consider this: How many countries have sought to ration air travel? How many have sought to ration private car ownership? How about childbirth? Do you pay extra taxes when you eat meat? Has any nation limited immigration due to fears of the environmental impact it might have? How has your government’s attempt to reign in global warming impacted your standard of living so far? How much farmland has been abandoned to grow new forests?
Those are the kind of policies dark greens tend to support. I struggle to think of a nation that takes such policies seriously. Instead we’ve had 29 wasted years since the 1990 IPCC report, during which nothing meaningful has happened. The very idea that you might have to sacrifice something to preserve a habitable Earth seems to be off limits. At this point, we’ve waited so long with making meaningful changes, that people are starting to lose faith in bright green environmentalism. Policymakers start to realize they’ve failed and thus the appeal of a darker shade of environmentalism begins to grow.
There are other cultural shifts that have taken place. The attitude towards technology has shifted from exuberant optimism towards healthy skepticism. It’s now a cliche that social media is a terrible invention. Cryptocurrency became a living example of the fact that technologies can be new and popular yet profoundly wasteful, stupid and difficult to eradicate. In addition, it has become increasingly clear that climate change is going to be a much bigger issue than we originally anticipated. I’m not going to bother you with a list of “worse than expected” articles, you can find those yourself.
In a generation that inherited this mess, who grew up isolated from the Earth that created us, environmentalism has taken on a more sober tone. We were born into a world that was already owned by elderly people, whose decisions made the catastrophe ahead of us essentially inevitable. Perhaps most importantly, they passed onto us a culture where your fundamental value as a human being is based on the kind of car you drive, the kind of house you live in and how far away from home the place where you photograph your knees for Instagram happens to be. We’re the generation who weren’t allowed to play in the streets because we might accidentally scratch your cars. The response you’ll get from those of us who see through this and comprehend the hopelessness of our situation are laconisms and sneers.