Greta Thunberg and Climate Change

One would have to have been living on another planet not to be aware of Greta Thunberg and her campaign to make us all more aware of climate change and the urgent need to change our behaviour. So far, so good. As Benedictines, we are very conscious of the obligation to treat everything on earth with reverence. As individuals, we are convinced of the reality of climate change (Quietnun, being a scientist by training, is particularly eloquent on the subject) and try to ensure that everything we do as a community is consistent with that. But that does not mean that we endorse any one approach to the matter, or that we are entirely comfortable with the way in which some people argue their case. For instance, the exhortations of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, measured against their jet-setting lifestyle, are hardly compelling. The case of Greta Thunberg is much more complex.

Let me say at once that I myself am a little uneasy. What she says strikes me as being true and necessary, and there is a consistency about her conduct that speaks volumes not only about her but also about her family. I am not so sure that I agree with some of her methods, the school strikes being a particular worry of mine. Two things really trouble me, however. First, there is the question of manipulation. How far is she being used by others? At sixteen, she is having to deal with situations most of us would find difficult even at a much older age; and knowing that she has Asperger’s makes me wonder whether undue pressure is being put on her. Second, the amount of vicious scorn poured on her by older adults is completely indefensible. Sometimes it takes the form of outright attacks which betray the envy and hostility of the perpetrators; sometimes it takes the form of seeming concern for her well-being that fools no-one. What nobody can dispute is that Greta Thunberg has done more in a year to highlight the urgency and potential disaster of climate change issues than the rest of us have in over forty years.

So, where does that leave us? I think it leaves us with two very real concerns. Whenever a young person challenges the complacency of an older generation, there will be sparks. We all admire the fervour and courage of young people, but we do not always take them seriously or we find reasons to play down their importance. In the case of Greta Thunberg there is a danger that the message will be lost because of hostile reactions to the messenger. There is also the danger that she herself will be damaged by the experience she is currently undergoing. The media have a habit of fêting the latest novelty, be it person or idea, then dropping it equally quickly. Just as I think we have a duty to pray for wisdom and decisive action in the matter of climate change, so I would argue that we have a duty to pray for Greta Thunberg herself. We should be grateful to her; and we should care for her as we would for any other young person — more so, perhaps, because she is being exposed to demands and pressures that go far beyond the ordinary. Whether we agree with her is not the point: she is an exceptional person and our response should be akin to the challenge she presents.


15 thoughts on “Greta Thunberg and Climate Change”

  1. Dear Sister Catherine
    Thank you for this blog, especially regarding Greta Thunberg which expresses the varying conflicting thoughts, emotions and lays them out for us.

  2. I watched Greta delivering her speech yesterday. It left me with lots of conflicting emotions and thoughts. In the end I simply felt I had witnessed a prophet and that I hadn’t fully understood (still don’t of course) who a prophet is and how they disturb us / the status quo. My daughter went to the day of action, missing school. We allowed her to go only after she was able to explain why she wanted to go and what impact she thought it might have (at first it was simply a request to go without the thought.) Greta now has impacted directly on our family and I feel connection with her and of course increased connection with the movement to protect the earth.

  3. Sorry to take the contrarian view on this. I’m not overly impressed with this childs performance at the UN. I do call it a performance as both her parents have acting backgrounds. The groups that are aligned with her and using her as a lighting rod should give us all pause to consider their broader strategies. I see nothing prophetic or exceptional about her.

    • As I said to Aileen, I wasn’t thinking specifically of Greta Thunberg’s speech at the U.N., nor of that encounter with President Trump, etc, but of the cumulative effect of her words and actions over the past year. Whether she is prophetic or not, I wouldn’t dare to say, but I do think she is exceptional. I don’t know many sixteen year olds who could manage what she has, speaking in a second language for the most part. The question of manipulation is a serious one, I agree, although I only touched upon it lightly in my post.

  4. Thank you
    I found myself equally uneasy but could not articulate why, I just was .
    Reflecting , I feel that indeed there could be at risk of some manipulation and admirable as her convictions are and regardless of the the fact that she has raised the profile of climate change in an extraordinary way , she does need prayer .
    It’s a personal view but her speech yesterday was probably bound to cause criticism for it’s boldness and the manner in which it confronted and challenged . I just felt for her and actually wondered if it was all her own words .
    The media picture of her face when seeing President Trump was not helpful either and could add to the criticism she has received, sadly .

    • I wasn’t thinking specifically of her speech to the U.N., nor of that encounter with President Trump (followed by that unpleasant tweet on his part), so much as the cumulative effect of her actions and words over the past twelve months. The lack of transparency about her financial backers bothers me, which is why I wonder whether she is being manipulated. I certainly don’t think the kind of nastiness she has received from a lot of people, (predominantly men for some reason, or so it seems to me), is in any way acceptable. For a sixteen year-old, she strikes me as coping remarkably well; but I do come back to the need for prayer.

  5. I hope this doesn’t sound like a homily, it is merely the outpouring of my personal thought for today.
    As you imply, Dame Catherine, nobody on this planet can possibly be unaware of this sixteen year old lady, Greta Thunberg, (no child according to her performance) or of the truth of her message; our planet is dying!
    When Greta blames “you” one is not quite sure who “you” is. I assume she refers to the world’s politicians and many I am in contact with also interpret her “you” in the same way. If she is referring to the world’s law-makers alone, then she or whoever is manipulating her, are only partly correct.
    Many people enter politics at considerable cost with the genuine hope that they can do something to improve the human condition. I could name a few highly principled good friends who did so. Sadly principles don’t sit comfortably with big business. The world is run by those politicians whose lack of moral fibre allows for the legislature to be manipulated by big business; the idea that profits must increase year on year on. The principled politicians fall by the wayside!
    Ultimately for humanity to survive into the far distant future it has to leave this planet and indeed find a way of surviving independent of any planet, for no planet is a safe haven for ever; all planets depend on a sun, a star, and no star is a permanent feature of the Universe in trillions of years from now.
    OK, maybe that’s science fiction but humanity cannot leave this planet any more than it can cure the sickness from which it will eventually die if the people of Mother Earth don’t resolve their differences and become one people with a common objective. There are those who will go on polluting the earth for the sake of their own personal wealth or that of their nation in the firm knowledge that it will be OK in their fleeting lifetime.
    Only when each person and each nation forgets me and us, no more I, no more Americans, British, Israelis, Arabs or Africans etc. No more Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists etc. but one people, earthlings, will we be able to move forward to protect humanity from an inevitable fate of extinction.
    So while we should continue to do all we can to delay the inevitable we must also work toward the greater objective of healing the fractures on this speck of dust in the vastness of God’s creation.
    You know, Dame Catherine, and I also know, that we can only do that with God’s help, above all else we must pray for that unity of peoples.

    • Always good to hear from you, Leon! Unity is so hard to achieve, isn’t it, especially if we think we can do it by our own efforts. I agree on the need to pray but have no solutions of my own to offer.

  6. Yours is the most levelled comment on the “Greta-Phenomenon” I’ve read so far. As ever, your Benedictine wisdom helps us to look at, and discern, the urgencies of our times and the need for change with a clear head, far from the silly attention-seeking shoutiness of the “Zeitgeist” and its craving for shocking pictures and quick-fix “solutions”.

  7. Dear Sister, thank you for this post. I have been quite disturbed by this young girl and now I can focus much better on her exceptional figure and activity. However, I wonder whether Greta and the impact of her great appeal is going to make us focus more on the climate rather than the real presence of the devil. And whether we are going to worship Mother Earth rather than God and His Son Jesus.

    • I don’t think any sensible person is going to be seduced away from belief in God by awareness of the importance of addressing climate change, at least, I hope not! As I said, I am not entirely easy about Greta Thunberg myself, so I do urge prayer. Perhaps you would like to include a prayer that we all keep a true perspective on things and remain faithful to the gospel’s teaching?

  8. Arguably being aware of human kinds impact on the earth and looking to limit climate change is not against or contrary to the worship of God and Jesus? (I agree that they do not go hand-in-hand, e.g. an atheist could be very concerned re climate change) but one doesn’t re

    The impact of a pronounced increase in climate temperature would be severe, hit the poorest most, hit the ecosystem. And in certain scenarios make the world much less fit for human beings. A rather severe sin some might say. Which some might see as the fruit of evil…………………….

  9. Thank you Digitalnun and Simon. Here in Italy some of us have doubts also because it seems that the climate question has become sort of a modern religion and because we doubt that the human kind has such a power, to change the climate of this gigantic planet, both for the good and for the bad.
    Prayer is the best way to ask for the help of God.

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