Society has passed tipping point: Greta Thunberg on anti-racism protests

Thunberg said with movements like Black Lives Matter people are starting to find their voice, to sort of understand that they can actually have an impact

anti-racism protests, Black Lives Matter, climate activist, Greta Thunberg
The 17-year-old has become a global figurehead of the youth climate movement since she started her one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament in 2018. Photo: Twitter

Climate activist Greta Thunberg on Saturday (June 20) said the anti-racism protests such as Black Lives Matter show that the world has passed a social tipping point where it becomes impossible to look away.

Insisting that her message is one of hope, not despair, the Swedish 17-year-old said, “There are signs of change, of awakening. Just take the Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter or the school strike movement (for climate action) for instance show the world has passed a social tipping point where it becomes impossible to look away.”

“We cannot keep sweeping these things under the carpet, these injustices. People are starting to find their voice, to sort of understand that they can actually have an impact,” she added.

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Thunberg’s interview aired on BBC at a time when global capitals braced for another weekend of such protests in the backdrop of the killing of African American George Floyd by a white policeman.

Related news: Black lives matter: How Amazon’s Jeff Bezos schooled an angry customer

Meanwhile, preparing for her appearance before the UN General Assembly last fall, Thunberg found herself constantly interrupted by world leaders, including UN chief Antonio Guterres and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had formed a queue to speak to her and take selfies.

Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister of New Zealand, waits in line but doesn’t quite make it before its time for the event to start, Thunberg recalled.

Such surreal memories for a teenager form the opening to a 75-minute monologue broadcast on Swedish public radio on Saturday that soon shifts to the serious matter of climate change that’s at the heart of Thunberg’s work.

The 17-year-old has become a global figurehead of the youth climate movement since she started her one-woman protests outside the Swedish parliament in 2018.

Thunberg’s blunt words to presidents and prime ministers, peppered with scientific facts about the need to urgently cut greenhouse gas emissions, have won her praise and awards, but also the occasional push back and even death threats.

To Thunberg’s disappointment, her message doesn’t seem to be getting through even to those leaders who applaud her work.

The message is certainly stark: Thunberg cites a U.N. report that estimates the world can only keep emitting the current amount of carbon dioxide for the next seven-and-a-half years.

Related news: Davos climate awareness only first step: Greta Thunberg

Any longer and it becomes impossible to meet the Paris climate accords ambitious goal of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) this century, she said.

“Most governments refuse to accept the idea that the world has only a fixed carbon budget left, because it implies that a sudden shift away from fossil fuel will need to happen in just a few years. Do you remember the London Olympics? Gangnam Style or the first Hunger Games movie?” Thunberg asked her audience on Swedish radio station P1.

“Those things all happened about seven or eight years ago. That’s the amount of time were talking about,” she added.

Her months-long journey from Sweden to America’s West Coast and back by train, sailboat and an electric car loaned by Arnold Schwarzenegger highlighted the impact that global warming is already having, from melting glaciers to fiercer forest fire seasons, Thunberg said.

It also opened her eyes to economic and social disparities affecting in particular Indigenous, Black and minority communities, voices she has sought to amplify in the climate debate.

“The climate and sustainability crisis is not a fair crisis. The ones who’ll be hit hardest from its consequences are often the ones who have done the least to cause the problem in the first place,” Thunberg said.

Her frustration extends to journalists who want to know about the real Greta but interrupt her when she talks about the science of climate change.

“People want something simple and concrete, and they want me to be naive, angry, childish, and emotional. That is the story that sells and creates the most clicks,” Thunberg said.

Related news: Pune’s climate strikes reflect local environmental concerns of young people

Thunberg blasts governments and businesses that use what she calls creative accounting to makes their emissions look lower than they are and apply the word green to industries that are not.

“The emperors are naked. Every single one. It turns out our whole society is just one big nudist party,” she said.

Some critics have accused Thunberg of being a doom-monger.

The global response to the COVID-19 pandemic may provide a necessary wake-up call, she suggested.

“The corona tragedy of course has no long term positive effects on the climate, apart from one thing only: namely the insight into how you should perceive and treat an emergency. Because during the corona crisis we suddenly act with necessary force,” she said.

(With inputs from agencies)

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