Thank You Greta: The Young Lead in the Climate Crisis

To say Greta Thunberg is a remarkable young girl is to understate her accomplishments.  She is phenomenal.  She has successfully exploited social media and through dogged persistence — including a trip across the Atlantic on a sailing yacht to make a point about the very high pollution per passenger on a commercial jet.  Given the 20,000 planes in service serving three billion passengers the sum total is a serious problem.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, jets emit “staggering amounts of CO2”, representing 11 percent of all US transportation emission and 3 percent of total US CO2 emissions.  Like cars, they also emit nitrogen oxides which being discharged at high altitudes are deadlier and more effective than ground level emissions.

Ahead of the UN Climate Summit that runs September 21-23 in New York, Greta  mobilized record numbers of youth climate activists who persuaded their parents, friends and relations to join them on Friday, September 20 in a climate protest numbering more than 2500 strikes in 117 countries.   Organizations, businesses, workers and their unions (including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) the world’s largest with 207 million members) were all involved in this global effort. 

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is clearly on the same page for the UN effort was planned to commence with a youth climate summit last Saturday, September 21 to bring together young activists with change makers. This was before the strike was set for the day before. 

The climax of the UN climate summit is on the following Monday when world leaders convene to “put climate action into a higher gear” as Mr. Guterres phrases it.  The current Paris agreement limiting warming to 2C above preindustrial levels needs to be updated to its more ambitious goal of a 1.5C rise, he says, as climate related risks for natural and human systems is lower and likely to be intolerable at 2C. 

The young climate activists have not forgotten the Trump administration’s blindness to scientific reasoning and its obstinate refusal to act on climate change.  On Monday, they descended on Washington with their protest designed to bring the city to a halt.

Once can admire the young who are putting their hearts and souls into their campaign.  But what next when they return to school?  Greta wants a “Fridays for Future” campaign.  More importantly we have to change our own lives and lobby our legislators ourselves.

For our habits and the world to change, new jobs must replace the old, and government must allocate resources for retraining and re-employment to help the new industries that spring up as manufacturing restructures in a waning fossil fuel economy.  It will take time.  And there is time, despite the frenetic urgency of the young climatists. 

The year 2040 is not doomsday.  Nothing will happen and the world will go on as usual.  It happens to be a date in the IPCC report that is cited at which the earth can be in trouble and possibly fall into an irreversible heat loop.  But the work is loaded with qualifications and probabilities and levels of confidence in the statements made.  It also assumes no carbon removal from the atmosphere. 

Prognostication is peril laden for in fact carbon removal and sequestration technologies are fast improving with pilot projects and others in several countries.  These, plus changes in our habits, and a shift away from fossil fuels should keep our earth safe in the future … at least until the next asteroid comes our way.  Life as they say is precarious. 

Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan
Dr. Arshad M. Khan is a former Professor based in the US. Educated at King's College London, OSU and The University of Chicago, he has a multidisciplinary background that has frequently informed his research. Thus he headed the analysis of an innovation survey of Norway, and his work on SMEs published in major journals has been widely cited. He has for several decades also written for the press: These articles and occasional comments have appeared in print media such as The Dallas Morning News, Dawn (Pakistan), The Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Monitor, The Wall Street Journal and others. On the internet, he has written for, Asia Times, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, Eurasia Review and Modern Diplomacy among many. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in its Congressional Record.