The New Yorker:
On December 3rd, Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist from Sweden, completed her second transatlantic voyage, by almost entirely emissions-free sailboats, in the span of four months. Her small figure, dressed in black, stood, waving, on the bow of a catamaran, as it approached the port of Lisbon. Hundreds of people, standing onshore, cheered, welcoming her back to Europe. “I’m not travelling like this because I want everyone to do so,” she told reporters after walking off the boat onto dry land. “I’m doing this to send a message that it is impossible to live sustainably today, and that needs to change.” The scene felt both ancient and precisely of this moment, like Thunberg herself, who writes regularly in a paper journal but has mastered social-media virality, who can seem ageless and androgynous (the fierce stare) while also strikingly young and girlish (the braids), who acts with an otherworldly grace while delivering an outraged message grounded in the latest, best climate science. Her lightning-strike emergence as the planet’s hero, her capacity to inspire students around the world—all in the span of little more than a year—can seem like a prophesied story, an epic poem, a fable. Margaret Atwood (and others, including myself) have compared her to Joan of Arc—if the teen-age medieval warrior, who was burned at the stake in part for impersonating a man, had been inspired by scientific reports instead of divine voices and visions of angels. Centuries from now, we hope, people will live in a thriving, equitable civilization and tell Thunberg’s tale, too.
But it is, as Thunberg says repeatedly, precisely what we do during this century that will determine the fate of those future centuries, and what we do during the next decade that will determine the climate for the nearly two billion children alive today. They are the ones Thunberg represents, whom she is fighting for, and whom she has mobilized, since August, 2018, when she first sat outside the Swedish Parliament with a simple handwritten sign that read, in black letters, “SKOLSTREJK FOR KLIMATET.” Hundreds of thousands of students (and, gradually, their parents), in cities around the world, have followed her lead, striking from school and marching in the streets to protest for climate action. “You say you love your children above all else,” she said in her first big address, at last December’s United Nations climate talks. “And yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.”
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