In August 2018 a young girl quietly began her solitary protest against the devastating impact humans, especially people in power, were inflicting on nature. She skipped her school and sat on the cold cobblestones in front of her country’s parliament every day with a banner that said “school strike for climate”. She sat there till the parliamentary election since she found it was the politicians who had the key to take on the role. In her lonely battle she was dissuaded by her parents, unaccompanied by her classmates and was criticised too.
She continued the protest after the elections were over. It is still observed on Fridays, when in many parts of the world, many more people have joined in the movement. By now, the Swedish environmental activist has become a popular icon for climate activism. This brave girl, Greta Thunberg, wanted the politicians to listen to the 'science' and urged “We should no longer measure our wealth and success in the graph that shows economic growth, but in the curve that shows the emissions of greenhouse gases”.
In 2018, Greta’s country, Sweden, was swept by the worst heat wave and wild fires during its hottest summer in 262 years. She wanted to convey her message to warn the local politicians. At school she had been taught that one must keep one’s carbon footprint as little as possible by doing things like reusing paper, turning off the lights and so on. But her teachers who would teach her those things, themselves would fly off somewhere the very next week and flying means leaving a huge carbon footprint. She found adults did not practise what they preached. It was frustrating for her to find that humans who were responsible for wreaking such havoc on the environment were actually doing nothing to save it.
When grown-ups tried to convince Greta that environment was a ‘complex’ issue, she said it was a ‘lie’. “Either we prevent temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees, or we don’t. Now we all have a choice: we can either create transformational action or continue with business as usual and fail.” It was just black and white.
Many attribute Greta's dedication and straightforwardness to her Asperger's syndrome which she rather considers as her 'super power' saying it means “I only speak when I think it’s necessary”. When she made her visit to New York on a solar powered yacht, she was criticised in refusing “to fly and heat the planet with an aeroplane’s global warming gases” and was described as a girl “deeply disturbed”, she answered she was deeply disturbed by the “hate and conspiracy campaigns” run by climate deniers.
Greta’s decision to reduce her carbon footprint included, along with giving up air travel, being a vegan and she gradually convinced her parents to follow her. She has now countless followers while carrying on her protests on full swing. Her message has been carried out through various forums including the United Nations. Recently, to several quarters' surprise she declined to accept a prestigious award and wrote on Instagram "the climate movement does not need any more awards". Her determination and courage have not only gained her popularity but made her a subject of criticism for world leaders including Trump, Putin and Macron.
Such criticism did not interrupt the movement rather more and more people are joining in the protests. In the developed countries, children are skipping school while somewhere they are planting trees. Greta's message has widely been shared on the social media.
Our time is characteristically different from any other age as a revolution has taken place in communication. It's possible to spread a message across the world at the same time. Such technology was not available in any other age. There were rebels, there were movements and they gained huge support too, but there have always been some types of limitation. It took several days to send news to the other corner of the globe. So movements have some similar causes, inspirations and ideas. About one fourth of the world population is now youth. Since 2018 the world has been seeing a number of movements.
Chilean youths are demonstrating against subway fare raise, inequality and high cost of living. Algeria’s longest serving head of the state Buteflika stepped down from power facing mass protests. The Lebanese government resigned due to the demonstrations against tax on gasoline, tobacco and online phone calls. They also wanted end of corruption and sectarian politics. Such demands were echoed by the Haitians who demonstrated seeking economic and political reforms. Iraq is being swept by protests demanding removal of country’s political elite and economic reform. Youths in Hong Kong have been holding a series of demonstrations protesting against the controversial Extradition Amendment Bill. Catalonian capital of Barcelona is being rocked by demonstrations after the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine separatist leaders.
Bangladesh students too held a peaceful movement demanding safe roads in 2018. According to a Prothom Alo report that year, about 25,000 people died in road accidents in the country in three years. Such a country grappling with the deaths on roads has little room to focus on the long term impact of climate change on people’s lives. The impact is not so little either. A World Bank 2018 report says the number of Bangladeshis displaced by the varied impacts of climate change could reach 13.3 million by 2050. Dhaka, the capital of the country, is also plagued by worse air pollution.
Greta’s war is different in nature as she comes from a developed country with huge resources. For the underdeveloped or developing countries, different wars are being fought by the people. Whether, fundamental reforms are achieved by these or not, consequences of unrestrained climate change are being experienced everywhere. This has multiplied the burden for such countries. Greta can answer Putin, Trump and Macron, as well as her own country’s politicians. She can still continue her protests while it’s quite different for a protester in certain countries.
People in history like Joan of Arc, Khudiram, and Pritilata made their sacrifices when they were of Greta's age. Earlier, independence was the cause, but now environment is the global issue. Today the enemy is not a visible one and the world system is much more centralised than before. Technology and other tools are much stronger for centralisation. The weapons to fight the tools are also not visible ones. The state is being more powerful than ever. The old institutions and systems are no longer supporting public opinion and often contradicting them which by principal stand against the basic concept of the state as a management institution. The necessity for global politics for addressing issues like environment and nonviolence may hold the key for a change in that mechanism. Greta’s movement and the increasing support for it will have their legacy in the emergence of such politics.
*Nusrat Nowrin is a journalist at Prothom Alo and she can be reached at email@example.com.