REFLECTION: When politicians hear but they aren’t listening

With the weekend’s Climate Action Summit in New York closing yesterday, it is time for a REFLECTION on the rise of the climate change movements.

It’s no secret that the global effort to create awareness and action for climate change has been going on for a long while. We’ve known the consequences of green house gasses for decades, if not longer, but are still not willing to mitigate the issue. We had Michael Jackson release his song Earth Song in 1995. We had Al Gore who tried to create awareness with An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. And only a couple of years ago we had Leonardo DiCaprio stepping up and taking over that role with the release of his movie Before the Flood. Enough coverage of the topic is not the issue, with many organizations such as, GreenPeace, Rainforest Action Network, World Wildlife Fund and the Gates Foundation encouraging action against climate change alongside many UN agencies. We can thus assume that the issue isn’t about awareness, but about responsibility, as Harry Elphick pointed out in his REFLECTION several months back.

Now we see the rise of the youth movements, who are not only trying to create awareness about climate change but are trying to make the public understand that we should be scared, and that urgent action needs to be taken. Movements that are actively trying to force a change. Movements that have been criticized by some and praised by others. The dismissive attitude towards these movements became very apparent to me the other day.
As I was watching TV, I saw an ad for a Danish news segment called Climate strike – the new youth rebellion?. A title that is wrong from a multitude of perspectives. Calling it a youth rebellion undermines the underlying motivation for the movement. Such a title insinuates that the issue is with the kids and not an actual problem; that it is a question of opinion that will change as they grow older. A name like that also implies that the strikes go against societal or parental values, but I really do not hope that is the case.
The movement – the way I see it – is about taking responsibility. Something that our parents have told us to do for decades, centuries, and even millennia (I assume). Guess what, that is exactly what they are doing. They are not only taking responsibility, but also carrying the burden passed on to them, and thinking about their future. Finally!

Watching the house hearing on climate change that took place last week, I observed some odd statements and questions [1]. For example, Representative Garret Graves asked Greta Thunberg how she would feel if “For every one piece of trash that you pick up, there’s a boat right next to you dumping out five pieces”, to which Greta replied “First of all, if you use that logic then I am also dumping a lot of trash in the ocean. And then I would stop dumping my trash in the ocean and tell the other boat to stop dumping their trash in the ocean as well.” Representative Graves responded by saying “That’s the important point here. I think what we need to be doing is we need to be focusing on the countries that are dumping trash in the ocean”, continuing to state that “It makes no sense for us to be [investing in innovative solutions] if we are simply watching for [emission] increases in China”, which ignored Greta’s point: stop dumping your own first.

A question that Representative Ben Luján relayed from a student was “how can we get more young people involved?” [1]. I was surprised by the necessity of him to ask such a question. What good would it do? Asking to have more people involved when there are strikes and demonstrations every week would not do any good. A politician is already in the position to make a difference; Greta was there because there were enough young people involved to get the attention. Instead ask what expectations the youth has, and what the decision makers can do in order to live up to those expectations.

Reports on climate change are published every year with record of the direction the climate is heading, the causes, and what the prospects are, such as the most recent report from the IPCC, Special Report on Climate Change and Land, or the report they published last year, Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 ℃, which even had a ‘summary for policymakers’. Representative Luján did even mention this himself: “A document where experts and scientists have laid out the path and the road for the world to take policy action. It’s simple, the work has been done for us. We just have to follow that path” [1]. The movement in my understanding was never about creating awareness, but about forcing action. The well nature of a strike or demonstration is just that: Forcing change.

Greta made a good point when she at this weekend’s summit said “You come to us young people for hope? How dare you!” [2]. Driven by a lot of emotion she even continued to state that her ‘dreams’ and ‘childhood’ has been stolen by ‘empty words’ [2]. Trying to force politicians to actually do something, it seemed very ironic that they were cheering on her words. It was very distasteful and goes to show the lack of responsibility and action. Towards the end of her speech, you could tell she was getting annoyed when they interrupted her with an applause. She has even suggested that she does not want that kind of reaction during a meeting with the U.S. Senate “Please save your praise, we don’t want it. Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it. It doesn’t lead to anything” [3]. It’s worrying how she continues to make these statements, but no change takes place. They hear her, but they are obviously not listening.

If they really did listen to her words that they keep mentioning are inspiring, they would have understood when she said “Don’t listen to me, but listen to the scientists” [1], which I do agree with. I am not for a second in doubt that she sees how messed up the situation is, when they keep inviting her to events, listening to a 16 year old girl, when they have not been listening to the scientists for the past 30 years, as she pointed out herself at the summit: “For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you are doing enough”. It doesn’t matter how many times she points it out, it really doesn’t seem like it’s changing.

I believe the strongest statement she made was the well-structured insult she hit the summit with. A statement which made someone in the crowd audibly groan. “If you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act then you would be evil and that I refuse to believe”, she said in the middle of her appeal to the summit. She is not wrong. Think about it. It’s a climate summit, held in New York (hardly the most geographically central spot), and every world leader probably each took a separate plane to get there. It’s an insult to the very foundation the summit is built on. Plane pooling anyone?

Let me finish with a few things you should think about. Firstly, awareness is no longer the greatest issue, and so doing what I’m doing right is kind of pointless. A standard procrastination tactic to put off any actual work. Secondly, as much as Greta is an inspiration, talking about it is an insult to what she is trying to achieve. Save your praise for when the crisis is over. Spend your energy on making a difference. The most inspiring people of the world were named so because they influenced people and made a change. Don’t stand in the way of her doing that with glorifying words and lack of action.


Matin Mahmoudi




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