‘‘You say you ‘hear’ us and that you understand the urgency. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I don’t want to believe that. Because if you fully understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil. And I refuse to believe that.’’
Greta Thunberg was speaking at the United Nations, in effect to the world. She condemned the adults, the ones in charge, the ones with the power.
She spoke for many around the world who see a truth that those in power cannot or will not see.
“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
For this she was excoriated, ridiculed, told to be quiet, told to mind her place. Yet what are her critics attacking? The presumption of a teenager? The lack of respect? Respect is earned. Leaders take note. The planet on every measure by scientists is on the road to ruin, being propelled by the obverse law of Newton: for every inaction there is a reaction. The threat may not seem visceral to the majority (someone else’s problem) and that being so, it is able to be denied.
Yet in Thunberg, supporters see an essence of humanity unsoiled by the grit and grime of pessimism. She speaks of an existential threat, yet refuses to believe in evil. She believes in the good of people to do the right thing, and that being so, hope. The alternative, to her, is too awful to contemplate.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison who was in New York, and spoke to the UN about ocean pollution, but did not attend the climate summit, dismissed Thunberg, “I think we’ve got to caution against raising the anxieties of children in our country” and as to Australia’s position on climate change, “we’ve got nothing to apologise for’’.
While Australia is one of the largest per capita emitters in the world, its total carbon emissions make up 1.3 per cent globally. It sits with a group of countries that emit less than 2 per cent each, but collectively those nations make up about one-third of global carbon emissions. Imagine if all of those countries adopted the attitude – our emissions are too small to matter.
Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have also risen to the highest annual rate since the 2012-13 financial year.
Clearly, with all the evidence of climate change, this is not the time to say it’s not our fault. It is the time to say how can we help?
The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has taken a different view to Morrison. ‘‘I think it’s an entirely healthy thing to have people motivated and concerned to shape policy and to stand up and make sure their views and opinions are counted,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s their planet too, it’s their future.”
Only a few days earlier, millions marched in cities and towns across the world demanding governments act. It is unconscionable not to. For what then would be the legacy for our children? Surely a gift that could not be imagined: here, it’s yours, a dying planet.