Greta Thunberg Demonstrates the Power of One Voice

A couple of years ago, Greta Thunberg learned some basic things about climate change in school. She became curious, and the more she learned, the more depressed she became. Greta quit going to school and had trouble sleeping. Then she decided to do something. On Fridays, she sat outside the Swedish parliament and protested the lack of adequate response to climate change. Apparently it was Adam Johansson who captured the moment in a now-famous photograph.

The wave she created crested last Friday, with millions of young people marching all over the globe for action on climate change.

I couldn’t help but think of an admittedly corny song written by Barry Manilow.

Just one voice singing in the darkness,
All it takes is one voice
Shout it out and let it ring.
Just one voice,
It takes just one voice
And every one will sing.

I count myself among those who have been captivated by this young woman. She and her family have been very open about the fact that Greta is on the Asberger’s spectrum and it’s clear that she is painfully shy. But rather than a liability, she celebrates her diagnosis as the reason why she is able to focus on the scientific details of climate change when others become overwhelmed or distracted.

Greta’s opening statement before a congressional committee on Wednesday lasted less than a minute.

Greta Thunberg is reasoned, well-informed, persistent, and completely lacking in the need for ego gratification. David Roberts captured why she is so confounding to her opponents.

At a U.N. climate change panel on Monday, Greta added passion to her remarks, with words that were designed to make us uncomfortable.

This is all wrong. I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words and yet, I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing.  We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

The president of the United States missed that panel, even though he is in attendance at the U.N. General Assembly. I’ll let one of the court evangelicals, Robert Jeffress, explain what Trump was doing while Thunberg was making her impassioned speech.

So according to Jeffress, climate change is an imaginary problem and persecution of Christians is the real global issue. While one doesn’t negate the other, there is actually no comparison. As we see very often in the situations Jeffress is referring to, religious differences are superimposed onto tribal conflicts in order for each side to claim religious persecution. The truth is that some of those conflicts actually arise out of the effects of climate change, which knows no boundaries.

What’s worth noting about Jeffress’ remarks is that Republicans and white evangelicals have more in common than their unending devotion to Donald Trump. He just demonstrated why young people are leaving the church and the GOP in droves. Both groups are completely tone-deaf when it comes to the challenges young people face.

Greta Thunberg says that her initial protest at the Swedish parliament was inspired by the Parkland students, with whom she has a lot in common. They took on issues when many of us had grown cynical about the possibility of change and are calling us out for our lack of urgency. As is so often the case when young people become impassioned, they are offering a moment of moral clarity. To the extent that what they say makes us uncomfortable…that’s the point.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.