Who’s Schooling Who?
By Cathye Williams | Feb. 1, 2020
Full disclosure. I’m a Greta Thunberg fan. The calm determination and clear-eyed vision of the 16-year-old climate activist gets me through moments of frustration and despair. I’m grateful for Greta and all of the other youth marching into the new decade tirelessly insisting that world leaders stop talking and start taking action on climate change.
It’s no surprise that Greta’s views often clash with the Trump administration. She is frequently the target of his toxic tweets. This month she spoke at the 50th anniversary gathering of the World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos, Switzerland, which also was attended by Trump and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Undaunted by Greta’s or anyone else’s admonitions, Trump has continued his assault on the environment — rolling back water protections and opening public lands to extractive industries. At Davos, while most attendees focused on community and working together toward carbon neutrality by 2050, Trump used his speaking time to discuss the U.S. economy and trade deals, and chastised European leaders for not buying more U.S. gas and oil.
In contrast, Greta used her platform to speak for life on the planet and for those already suffering from climate change, urging concrete actions to reduce emissions. WEF CEO Klaus Schwab seemed to channel her during his own remarks when he said, “We do not want to leave behind to the next generation an ever more hostile and ever less habitable world.”
Secretary Mnuchin also shared some interesting thoughts while at the conference. Asked if he thought America is doing enough for a sustainable future, he offered that he once owned a Tesla. Without elaborating, he also asserted that the U.S. is a leader in reducing carbon emissions. Huh? The most striking remarks, however, came when Mnuchin tried to demean Ms. Thunberg. Asked about the activist’s call for fossil fuel divestment, Mnuchin joked about her credentials: “After she goes and studies economics in college, she can come back and explain that to us.”
He was quickly corrected on Twitter by Greta and others who pointed out that it didn’t take an economics degree to understand that our current carbon budget and ongoing investment in fossil fuels “don’t add up.”
Regrettably, we can’t wait for Greta and other youth to finish college before we take action. While they do not yet have all the tools to solve the climate crisis, many other people do. And the youth are respectfully requesting that those folks get moving.
President Trump and Mr. Mnuchin needn’t go back to school, either. But they should start listening to scientists. Their unwillingness to confer with experts and collaborate with other nations is troubling. They might find that taking cheap shots at teenagers works for some. But calls for climate action are increasing across society and are as likely to come from boardrooms as from street protests. It might be time for a different tactic.
Climate considerations are popping up in unexpected places. For the first time, the hundreds of business leaders, investors, and policy makers surveyed for WEF’s highly respected global risk study ranked climate risks above all other risks. Another recent report, WEF’s Global Risk Report 2020, concluded that half the world’s GDP is dependent on nature and “therefore exposed to nature loss.”
The same week, BlackRock, the world’s largest assets manager, announced its intention to make climate change a pillar of its investment strategy and corporate mission, stating the company’s belief that sustainability should be the new standard for investing. Iconic climate activist Bill McKibben described this shift as “seismic.” Not to be outdone, tech giant Microsoft has announced its plan to go carbon negative in all its operations by 2030.
If these encouraging trends continue, they should have a positive impact on reducing carbon and modeling desirable corporate behavior. They could also nudge lawmakers to see the economic benefit of climate policies and to be more open to passing likewise beneficial legislation — because legislation will be needed. The market needs predictability and consistency, and individuals and businesses across all sectors need incentives to make clean energy choices.
Political will for legislation will certainly grow under these titanic influences. But as we transition to new forms of energy, the public will need assurance that the vulnerable, those with fewer resources, and those already suffering the impacts of climate change are protected. For that we need all the stakeholders speaking to power.
In Greta Thunberg, those opposed to climate action saw a young female, differently abled and easily dismissed. They mocked her earnestness and her Asperger’s, questioning her mental status and her upbringing — likely because they had nothing of substance to counter her ideas.
What they missed is that Greta would still be sitting on her school’ steps holding her “Fridays for the Future” sign rather than pictured, standing resolutely, on the cover of TIME, were it not for the millions she has inspired and mobilized. In failing to see her, her detractors fail to see the multitude standing with her, who, as Greta likes to say, "Aren’t going away."
Cathye Williams serves as a volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse area chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.com. She writes from Benzie County.