Greta Thunberg learned the basic facts about climate change when she was just eight years old. She couldn’t understand why humans, who depend on the health of the planet for their survival, were seemingly ignoring the problem.
Why weren’t governments passing laws to place restrictions on burning fossil fuels?
At age 11, Thunberg became ill and depressed. She stopped eating and speaking. The doctors diagnosed her condition as Asperger syndrome with OCD and selective mutism. Although she sometimes finds it hard to speak, she’s found her voice to address the climate crisis.
“If the emissions have to stop, then we have to stop the emissions. To me, that is black or white. There are no grey areas when it comes to survival. Either we go on as a civilization or we don’t. We have to change.”
Asperger’s gives Thunberg a black-and-white worldview, yet the climate crisis isn’t a grey area; its causes and consequences are clear. If people don’t stop emissions, the human species may not survive.
Wealthy countries must reduce emissions by 15% annually to stay below a 2°C [3.6°F] target, though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommends a more stringent goal of 1.5°C. Alas, emission reduction doesn’t address the greenhouse gases already locked in the atmosphere and existing air pollution’s extra warming rate of 0.5°C to 1.1°C.
The world is at risk of the sixth mass extinction. The extinction rate today is some 1,000 to 10,000 times higher than what scientists consider normal. Climate justice has also failed to make the headlines.
The Paris Agreement states that wealthy countries must achieve zero emissions within the next six to twelve years to give developing nations time to build the infrastructure necessary to avoid dependence on fossil fuels. If rich countries won’t uphold their end of the bargain, developing nations will do even less. Yet people continue to live willfully ignorant of the threat of unchecked global warming, despite the indisputable evidence all around them.
“We do need hope, of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.”
At age 15 in August 2018, Thunberg decided that instead of attending school, she would go on strike. She sat outside the Swedish parliament in protest of its inaction. Some people criticized her demonstration, suggesting that she go to school and study to become a climate scientist instead.
However, the facts about climate change are well-established, the solution is known, and despite advances in alternative energy and decades of discussion, people continue to burn 100 million barrels of oil every day. There’s no longer time to play by the old rules. Thunberg believes there can be no hope without action. Once humans take serious measures to address the threat, hope will flow.