A Needed Voice for Climate Justice in Need of Refocus

The generation currently in the halls of power across the world has chosen to do next to nothing to address this existential crisis for our planet, and it is now up to those who shall be impacted by this crisis the most to do something about it.

Greta+Thunberg%E2%80%99s+tactics+of+calling+for+student+strikes+may+prove+ineffective+in+expanding+the+environmentalist+movement.+%28Courtesy+of+Flickr%29
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A Needed Voice for Climate Justice in Need of Refocus

Greta Thunberg’s tactics of calling for student strikes may prove ineffective in expanding the environmentalist movement. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Greta Thunberg’s tactics of calling for student strikes may prove ineffective in expanding the environmentalist movement. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Greta Thunberg’s tactics of calling for student strikes may prove ineffective in expanding the environmentalist movement. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Greta Thunberg’s tactics of calling for student strikes may prove ineffective in expanding the environmentalist movement. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Kyle Chin, Contributing Writers

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by Kyle Chin

Human activity is inflicting permanent damage to this planet. To many, that is an established fact, and recent events — the record global temperatures set in July, the unprecedented rate of ice melt in Greenland, the fires raging through forests around the world — have only reinforced the gravity of our situation. All the same, the past several years have seen dramatic setbacks in global efforts to remedy the growing climate crisis.

That is not to say that the voices calling for action have grown silent. Quite the contrary, it seems there is more activism surrounding this issue than ever before, with young people at the forefront, chief among them teenage activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden. Since gaining international attention, Thunberg has rightly been applauded for her unflinching calls for immediate action to combat anthropogenic climate change.

While she has done immeasurable good in pushing this conversation forward, I do not agree with which aspects of the climate “debate” she focuses on, mainly due to her insistence that individuals can change the decisions of those in power through direct action. 

Thunberg is absolutely correct in her message that young people must be the ones most vocally demanding action. It will be the children and young adults of today who will face the brunt of climate-related calamities in the future, disasters already inevitable because of global inaction up to this point, and which will worsen if inaction continues.

As the activist has pointed out, those in power have thus far proven themselves utterly incapable of addressing this issue beyond mostly symbolic measures. With the recent rise in nationalistic, hyper-self-interested leaders, we can expect even less from them.

Older generations have completely forsaken their responsibilities to deliver a stable future for their posterity, and so young people must forge that future for themselves.

The efforts of Thunberg and others in organizing youth behind these calls for change have been laudable, and indeed will be instrumental if any real change is to be achieved. Perhaps the most prominent organization on this front has been the Sunrise Movement, which through its rallies and sit-ins, has been particularly effective at championing the Green New Deal and shining a light on politicians resistant to change. 

Where I depart most from Thunberg is the focus of what these campaigns to end climate change should be. In her approach to the climate crisis, Thunberg has usually framed the root of the problem as an inability to change our lifestyles, essentially a lack of will to change.

This is certainly part of the problem; the average citizen of the developed world is far from conscientious in their personal habits and how they contribute to environmental damage. However, even if the people of the developed world did decide to place the environment over their own comfort en masse, an unfortunately improbable scenario, I am not convinced we would be much closer to real solutions. As with many issues in modern politics, the true root of the problem is the intrusion of overwhelming corporate influence into governance.

We see here in the United States that the power of corporate interest can prevent progress even on issues where the vast majority of citizens agree. Over the past decade, oil and gas companies have poured hundreds of millions into the American electoral system, let alone their extensive disinformation campaigns and efforts elsewhere. It is only logical to conclude that these massive boons from this industry give politicians here and around the world a vested interest in protecting said industries.

So long as the fossil fuel industry maintains its hold on the global levers of power, it is unlikely that much if any positive change will occur, regardless of how overwhelmingly people desire it.

Thunberg has hinted at these unfortunate circumstances, using such language as we can’t save the world by playing by the rules, because the rules have to be changed,” yet the idea that government is structured in a way that fundamentally prevents movement on this issue seems deserving of greater attention. Without structural changes, the environment cannot be saved.

The efforts of Thunberg and others in organizing youth behind these calls for change have been laudable, and indeed will be instrumental if any real change is to be achieved. Perhaps the most prominent organization on this front has been the Sunrise Movement, which through its rallies and sit-ins, has been particularly effective at championing the Green New Deal and shining a light on politicians resistant to change. 

One tactic Thunberg has heralded has been school strikes, and while this has certainly brought attention to the threat of climate change, how practical or effective it is as a long-term strategy is more questionable. The Swedish activist makes a compelling case, arguing that receiving education for the future is superseded in importance by the protection of that future’s very existence, and that schooling will not bring much in the way of further solutions to the climate crisis, as the solutions have already been found.

However, asking young people to abandon their own education, something which has historically been a great equalizer, and something which might equip them to more effectively make the argument for change, does not seem the most effective way to broach this dilemma.

Perhaps I come across as overly critical of Thunberg because I am too couched in first world comforts to so willingly relinquish them, and this may well be true. However, I do believe that corporate greed and power is the primary driver behind the climate crisis, and it will be in undoing those wrongs that real change is brought about. 

There is certainly a place for calls to change our way of life, but as it seems many will reject change for the foreseeable future, putting those calls at the centerpiece of any movement seems fruitless. While I think Thunberg at times places principle over practicality, something which might be seen as admirable in and of itself, the core of the young activist’s message holds true. 

The generation currently in the halls of power across the world has chosen to do next to nothing to address this existential crisis for our planet, and it is now up to those who shall be impacted by this crisis the most to do something about it.

 

Kyle Chin, FCRH ’21, is a political science major from Malverne, NY.