One Leader Who Should Not Be Ignored

Published: December 16, 2019

By Jim Lichtman
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“When you are a leader and every week you have young people demonstrating with such a message, you cannot remain neutral… They helped me change.” – Emmanuel Macron, president of France

Photograph by Anders Hellberg

At 16, climate activist Greta Thunberg is the youngest to ever have been selected as TIME magazine’s “Person of the Year.”

“We cannot just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow. That is all we are saying.”

In a September House hearing, the Swedish teenager simply, yet forcefully told lawmakers, “I am submitting this report as my testimony because I don’t want you to listen to me,” she said. “I want you to listen to the scientists. And I want you to unite behind the science. And then I want you to take real action.”

The report was prepared by the United Nations on global warming.

Thunberg is the founder of Fridays for Future, a movement that began when “Thunberg sat in front of the Swedish parliament every school day for three weeks, to protest against the lack of action on the climate crisis. She posted what she was doing on Instagram and Twitter and it soon went viral,” the website says.

As a result of her actions, others joined Thunberg around the world and the world took notice.

TIME magazine named her a “next generation leader,” even as she has received accolades from around the world:

Goldene Kamera (2019)
Fritt Ord Award (2019)
Rachel Carson Prize (2019)
Ambassador of Conscience Award (2019)
Fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society (including Geddes Environment Medal) (2019)
Right Livelihood Award (2019)
International Children’s Peace Prize (2019)

Thunberg was also nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Scheduled to speak at this year’s United Nations climate conference in Madrid, perhaps what resonates most with supporters is a message that is clear and focused on saving a planet where global warming is fast approaching a point of no return.

“It is the last such summit before nations commit to new plans to meet a major deadline set by the Paris Agreement,” TIME writes (Dec. 23). “Unless they agree on transformative action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the world’s temperature rise since the Industrial Revolution will hit the 1.5°C mark—an eventuality that scientists warn will expose some 350 million additional people to drought and push roughly 120 million people into extreme poverty by 2030.

“For every fraction of a degree that temperatures increase, these problems will worsen. This is not fearmongering; this is science. For decades, researchers and activists have struggled to get world leaders to take the climate threat seriously. But this year, an unlikely teenager somehow got the world’s attention. …

“Thunberg has no magic solution. But she has succeeded in creating a global attitudinal shift, transforming millions of vague, middle-of-the-night anxieties into a worldwide movement calling for urgent change. She has offered a moral clarion call to those who are willing to act, and hurled shame on those who are not. She has persuaded leaders, from mayors to Presidents, to make commitments where they had previously fumbled: after she spoke to Parliament and demonstrated with the British environmental group Extinction Rebellion, the U.K. passed a law requiring that the country eliminate its carbon footprint.”

“People are underestimating the force of angry kids,” Thunberg told a group supporters and media reporters. “We are angry and frustrated, and that is because of good reason. If they want us to stop being angry then maybe they should stop making us angry.”

The crowd cheered.

Thunberg is not only a social conscience leader; she is the conscience of a movement that can no longer be ignored.

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