How Greta Thunberg might fail just by a lack of respect and humility
I am worried about the path Greta Thunberg and her followers are taking.
Was it one of those days that you’ll speak about in 10 years and remember where you were when you first heard her words? Great Thunberg’s speech at the Climate Action Summit was impressive, regardless of what you think about her or her cause. For a 16-more-old, she showed extreme courage with her, „How dare you?“ – question in the face of the assembled world leaders.
The power of her youth and innocence might give everyone goosebumps who can emphasize with her and her ambition to save our world, while the Trump administration even denies climate change.
It’s no miracle that Trump somehow even mocked Greta and her cause in my eyes. But shouldn’t we all pick up her spirit of the fight to really change something, understanding the importance of her battle? It was Pablo Picasso who once said with good reasons:
„It takes a very long time to become young.“
Nonetheless, it seems to me there’s also another side to the coin: The nearly religious atmosphere around Greta and her mission crate an atmosphere that worries me. It’s not only about blocking entrance to such events like the IAA, a congress/fair on vehicles, that comes from climate activists in a desperate attempt to attract awareness for their cause by the broad public. It’s more about the hate that evolves in social media, newspapers, TV discussions, and even families about the matter. You’re either „pro-climate,“ meaning you’ll undertake everything to prevent climate change, or you’re „anti-climate.“ If you continue driving, flying on a plane into vacation or for business trips,there are quite a few of Greta’s followers for that you are an enemy. I, for example, was attacked for my articles here on Medium on Blockchain and climate change or my Podcast episode on that matter. A bike rider in Hamburg kicked against the parked car of my wife, cursing her for driving and killing the earth.
Is this where we want to head?
The facts: There are obviously no alternatives
Let’s look at the facts:
- Climate change is a fact – just look at this NASA page
- The data is unmistakable – the world is heating up
- Glacier shrinkage might be past the point of no return
- Scientists are clear on the matter:
“If we don’t change our ways soon, within decades the planet could be an irreversible “Hothouse Earth,” in which average temperatures could reach up to five degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The fiery scenario is a possibility even if countries stick to their Paris Agreement emissions targets.”
- In Paris Climate Change Conference held on 12th December 2015, 195 countries agreed to keep the global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and make efforts to stay below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels, which is the safer line of defense against the worst condition. The Paris Agreement made all the countries to come together into a common cause based on past, present and future responsibilities aiming to combat climate change, control greenhouse gas emission and confront the impact of climate change.
- To achieve its CO2 reduction targets, the EU has undertaken under the Paris Agreement to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. According to the European Environment Agency, the European Union is the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world after China and the US. In 2015, the energy sector accounted for 78 percent of EU greenhouse gas emissions. Joint mitigation measures are crucial, as climate change affects all EU countries, albeit not in the same way. The Mediterranean is expected to experience more extreme heat and less rain, while continental states are at higher risk of river flooding and forest fires. However, the EU seems to be far behind its own goals.
Basically, Greta and her followers are right: We must take measures against climate change. We can not waste time in debates and disputes. Something must happen.
Nonetheless: Respect and humility is key
Still, I personally dislike the way current discussions, both on the national level in Germany and international level, are held. While I appreciate the motivation and ambition of many climate-activists, it seems some of them condemn non-supporters to be evil and to be absolutely wrong in their ways. Either you follow them and Greta fully – or you are an enemy of the world and mankind. I personally wonder if Greta Thunberg with her harsh words doesn’t enforce this sentiment.
It’s not about giving up a cause, and it’s not about giving up being dramatic to make people aware of the situation. I personally think it’s about respect and some form of humility. Even Greta, with all her power and innocence, is just a human being and not, as one German bishop came up with, some sort of new Jesus. It’s dangerous to give a 16-year-old so much praise and so much responsibility even by making her a religious figure.
Our western democracies are based on civil liberties and respect
In the world of the west, we enjoy great civil liberties. We have fought long for them: Today, our civil rights represent a wall of freedom against the state primarily, making sure the states protective power for its citizen does not turn into oppression (as the absolute state did back a few hundred years ago). This is a fundamental idea everyone would agree on: We want the police to come when we are in need (protection element), we do not want it to hang around when we have a barbecue with our friends to know what we’re talking about (defensive part of our civil rights). Yet, we also demand others to respect our civil liberties, as much as they can ask from us to recognize our civil liberties as well. It’s the foundation of our modern state, enjoying freedoms in interaction with others.
Because we are social beings. As much as those who pollute the environment massively can damage others and therefore should be restricted in doing so, “climate-fanatics” have no right to question or even hurt the civil liberties of their fellow citizens. Regardless of how desperate you are to change the world and make it aware of what might be coming, if we give up our constitutions for protecting the environment, for preventing climate change, then we give up on too much. Our civil liberties allow the climate-activists so much – free speech, gatherings, publications, going onto the street and telling everyone what is coming. But regardless of how urgent the cause, they do not allow you to hurt others. No one is above the law, not even Greta and her followers – and on the other hand, not even Donald Trump can take your civil liberties away from you to protest and inform the public.
Acknowledge others and their fears
Ole von Beust wrote an open letter to Greta, asking her for respect and humility. As a member of a conservative party, he was the mayor of Hamburg from 2001 to 2010. Being the first gay mayor from this conservative party of a larger city in Germany, Ole von Beust does not only know how it is to deal with personal attacks and discrimination. He also remembers a straightforward fact: Life is complicated, and nobody can put her or his cause by nature over the others. In his letter, he reminds Greta that there are people and families out there who lived and still live from working in industries that are under attack: mining, car production, energy sector. To them, Greta and her ambitions must seem frightening, endangering their whole existence. Ole von Beust does not ask Greta and her followers to give up their cause. But he asks for respect and humility – and acknowledging that there are others for who the necessary change might be frightening.
Frightening them will not make them support Greta and her supporters. And regardless of what they might think – to achieve climate goals, they will need the support of the more significant part of the population. So that they vote for leaders and political parties that will not mock their cause, as Trump in my eyes did. This will not happen if we create a sense of threat and danger to the larger population through Greta and her followers and the whole nearly religious atmosphere around her. It will only work if we create an atmosphere of respect and acknowledging – not necessarily understanding! – the other’s point of view and then trying to persuade the other, be it fast, be it ruthless.
But all based on our constitutions, on respect, and on humility.