We Can't Wait For Our Leaders To Grow A Conscience. The Time For Climate Rage Is Now.
Yesterday, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg stood in front of a room of powerful adults at the UN climate Summit and unleashed upon them a stream of righteous fury.
“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones,” seethed the 16 year old.
“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!”
Greta’s face was defiant, her words oozing with rancour.
And as I watched, Greta’s anger reached a place deep inside me, a part of me that had been simmering uncomfortably ever since my climate change course at uni had terrified me and sent me into despair, and I felt this part of me suddenly erupt. And I too was filled with profound rage.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported late last year that without drastic and immediate action, we will face environmental catastrophe in as little as 12 years. And that was before the World Meteorological Association released its report dictating that, to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees, we must increase current emissions goals five-fold. Scientists’ models have predicted that once we cross the 1.5 degree threshold, the feedback loops of fire and flood and drought will spiral out of control.
The leader of the UN, Antonio Guterres, told heads of state yesterday that, to have any chance of meeting the stipulated goals, all countries will have to end fossil fuel subsidies and ban new coal plants by 2020. Is it any wonder our PM didn’t bother to attend?
Our planet, our very survival, is being ripped out from under us by a tiny number of rapacious narcissists, and the governments who purport to represent us are paying them to do it -- with our money.
The scale of the injustice is so profound it’s beyond any measure of comprehension. But I’m asking you to try.
Polite society doesn’t make space for climate rage. There is no social paradigm that allows for the sort of mass despair that this situation warrants. It’s too big, too much to fit into words. It’s a nightmare that causes you to thrash around in your bed and scream, and when you wake up you’re filled with divine relief, and you think, “Thank god nothing that horrible could ever happen in real life.” But from this nightmare, there is no waking up.
And so we don’t talk about it. At least, not more than we should. Converted into polite conversation, the climate emergency is rendered simply one more political lament, to be followed perhaps by a scathing indictment of Trump, and then it’s time to move the conversation forward to the weekend or that b**ch from work.
Because, to linger too long on the climate crisis is to risk appearing hysterical. Suddenly your friend is shifting in their seat, and you are aware that your tone is teetering on unhinged, and you’re a couple of sentences away from being one of those people with a pet political passion whom others avoid at parties.
And so you drop it. And the next time, you just stick to b**ching about Sally from reception.
Social custom doesn’t make space for me to share the cold dread I feel at 3am, when suddenly the reality of a planet obliterated by famine and war doesn’t seem so abstract, and I’m rehearsing, again and again, the words I will use when my preschool son asks me if everything is going to be okay.
It doesn’t allow for the bottomless chasm of sadness that engulfs me every time I consider the fact that this all was avoidable, and now the animals that cohabit this Earth are dying in the billions because they were unlucky enough to exist at the same time as us.
It doesn’t allow for the fact that I don’t WANT to sit by and abide by social custom and submit strongly worded letters through the appropriate channels while a gang of emboldened maniacs rob my son of his future.
Those who seek to strangle this Earth for every last rack of fast money rely on us being polite. They count on us following social custom and on it all being too big to comprehend and on Netflix being easier.
They rely on custom, on restraint. They rely on us turning to quiet despair, at home, alone, then getting up and going to work.
Well f**k that. I am hysterical. I am f**king unhinged. If ever there was a time that called for unbridled hysteria, I’m pretty sure this is it.
As Greta says, this is not a drill.
Greta Thunberg gave us something invaluable, when she made the choice to stop shielding the powerful from her fury. Those at the UN Climate Summit were no doubt expecting to be met with the youngster’s customary measured delivery. Instead they got venomous hostility. They were forced to stare as this child’s cherubic face contorted with rage.
“You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency,” spat Thunberg.
“But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, then you would be evil.”
The discomfort of the adults permeated the air: their stifled chuckles, their spasms of awkward applause. Even as the reception became more resounding, Greta refused to alleviate the tension with a smile.
What a little bloody champion.
Greta Thunberg knows that this is not the time for gratuitous smiles. That the time for politeness and custom came and went the day the grown-ups decided to forfeit her future for some more numbers on a screen.
Greta Thunberg understands this, and now so should we.
Yesterday, Greta let us feel; gave us a window; into the wretched fury she feels every day. And with that gesture, she gave us permission to bring forth our own stifled sparks of anger and douse them with gasoline.
She told us it’s okay: your terror, your anger is not unreasonable. It’s exactly the right response to the impending collapse of civilisation.
So let yourself feel it, the rage. Gather it up, cultivate it, and then, when it’s so white hot you can no longer contain it, aim it squarely at the people who did this to us.
“You are failing us,” said Greta. “But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: we will never forgive you. We will not let you get away with this.”
Let’s turn our rage into a f**king tsunami. Let’s direct that tsunami at the politicians and the powerful. Because, make no mistake, they have not factored our collective fury into their business-as-usual plans. Scott Morrison isn’t factoring in your rage when he makes his deals to drastically increase coal production.
For our children, we can fight. Don’t believe them when they tell you it’s too late to fix this. It’s only too late if the same corporations and the same governments keep doing the same things. It’s only too late if they make the criminal decision to ignore the perfectly workable policy plans which could see us transition to zero emissions economies within the next decade. It’s only too late if we buy into the lie that we are too small to make them stop.
Activism works. Join Fridays for Future and go to the next record-setting march. Join your local chapter of Extinction Rebellion and participate in the mass non-violent civil disobedience beginning October 7. Look online and get involved with one of the hundreds of green groups that are lobbying governments and corporations. Start a group at your office that’s committed to lobbying for internal change.
Don’t make the mistake of waiting for a group of leaders whose pockets are lined by big oil and coal to suddenly grow a conscience.
There are a lot more of us than there are of them. We have the collective power right now to say no, I won’t stand for this. Grassroots power is the only power we have left, and we have a responsibly, for our children and theirs, to use it.
So, like Greta, let yourself well up with righteous fury. And don’t let anyone tell you to choke it back down. The powerful are relying on you looking away and getting on with it. Do the opposite.
As Greta told the group of simpering leaders: “The people are waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”