Activist Greta Thunberg attends a press conference where 16 children from across the world, present their official human rights complaint on the climate crisis to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child at the UNICEF Building in New York City.
Activist Greta Thunberg attends a press conference where 16 children from across the world, present their official human rights complaint on the climate crisis to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child at the UNICEF Building in New York City.
Photo by Kena Betancur / AFP

Green teen Greta Thunberg put an entire generation on the mat when she asked, “How dare you?” She told world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit exactly what post-millenials say to their parents-that their generation has ruined the world for their children. The response from the establishment has been distinctly un-parental; Thunberg was mocked on social media by US president Donald Trump and derided on Fox News as “a mentally ill Swedish child”.

The internet is blowing up with intense discussions on Thunberg's expression of post-millenial anguish, which recalls poet Dylan Thomas's immortal phrase: “Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

Post-millenials, born in the 21st century, have a sharper sense of the impending environmental catastrophe than the millenials. After all, they are the ones who will have to live with it: the vanishing coastlines, droughts, floods, overcrowding, food shortages, virulent new diseases and natural disasters. Nobody knows just how bad it will be, but at the worst, it could be an extinction-level event.

Carbon-dixoide levels in the atmosphere, as measured at the sentinel site in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, are a red flag for climatologists. A CO2 level of 450 ppm (parts per million) which represents a 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit rise in global temperature, could be the dreaded “point of no return”, beyond which even a drastic reduction of emissions will not halt climate change. That point is already uncomfortably close. CO2 levels breached 400 ppm in 2014. The peak level for this year was 415 ppm.

As Thunberg has pointed out, we have a 67 per cent chance of limiting global temperature increase to less than 1.5 degrees celsius–provided we stay within a 'carbon budget' of 360 gigatons worth of emissions. This 'carbon budget' will be gone in 7-8 years. No head of state wants to address the question of “And then what?”. At the Paris National Assembly earlier this year, Thunberg pleaded: “The climate and ecological emergency is right here, right now.”

Global leaders have paid lip service to the environment ever since the Kyoto Protocol and Rio Earth Summit of 1992, but have refused to bite the bullet. At a time when reducing consumption and rigorously cutting back on fossil fuels are the only way forward, they have looked for loopholes, such as the 'polluter pays' principle.

The European Union Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS), which caps carbon emissions by industry but allows trading of emission allowances, made fortunes for companies which adopted or sold 'green' technologies. Carbon trading was described by the late Gandhian scholar and noted environmentalist Anupam Mishra as “paap ka vyapaar”. It created 'carbon billionaires' but failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Such pig-headedness and blind faith in the power of technology and markets to solve any and all problems, has convinced post-millenials like Thunberg that world leaders are simply not serious about tackling climate change. Therein lies the answer to the question, “Greta Thunberg ko gussa kyon aata hai?”.

Even worse, negationism vis-à-vis climate change is alive and well. In the face of overwhelming evidence, climate change skeptics continue to question the science behind it; Trump went so far as to call it a hoax. He even pulled the US out of the 2015 Paris Accord, on the grounds that he was protecting the economy.

By contrast, Prime Minister Narendra Modi echoed Thunberg's concerns at the UN Climate Summit, saying, "The time for talking is over, the world needs to act now”. He has consistently belied the view, articulated by celebrity historian and author Yuval Noah Harari, that “If you want to be a nationalist in the 21st century, you have to deny the problem”!

At Paris in 2015 and after, Modi's statements indicate that his environmental concerns go beyond his commitments to the nation alone. Achieving ambitious targets for voluntary emissions cuts is admittedly easier said than done, but at least the PM has signalled that clean energy is the way forward for India.

Greta Thunberg has become a role model for post-millenials. Her first name is an anagram for 'great'. Greta's greatness lies in her transparency. She is as open about the fact that she has Asperger's syndrome, a condition related to autism, as she is about her concerns for the future. She does not bother to hide her emotions and is never overwhelmed by her surroundings, be it the World Economic Forum or the UN. Nor is she overwhelmed by her own celebrity status and the fact that she has 2 million Twitter followers. She has a job to do and whether her critics like it or not, “change is coming”.

The writer is a senior journalist with 35 years of experience in working with major newspapers and magazines. She is now an independent writer and author.

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