Fairytales, Thunberg and why business as usual is very worried about climate activism
Greta Thunberg's provoking speech on the pursuit of an economic "fairytale" at the expense of the planet has sparked inspiration, admiration and irritation across the globe. But the fact that she has so many detractors means that change is coming.
My favourite fairytale is Jack and the Beanstalk. I’m a sucker for the farmboy-turned-hero story that is commonplace in fiction and Jack portrays this character perfectly; he’s young, daring and an innovator – just look at the number of people now trading cows for beans in order to improve their diets.
In truth, there aren’t many fairytales that I dislike. They provide temporary escapism from the real world; a world currently marred by political distrust, a planet-wreaking climate and social media influencers. On reflection, I’d take giants and wolves dressed like grandmas any day of the week.
It wasn’t until Greta Thunberg took to the stage at the UN Climate Action Summit that I actually found a fairytale I didn’t like: the “Fairytale of economic growth”.
I won’t spoil the story, but it involves stolen childhoods and futures that have been set aside and ignored in the quest for economic prosperity – an end goal that most businesses are pursuing, by the way. It’s the current day scenario we find ourselves in, where economies are propped up by fossil fuel giants, despite the fact that climate change looks set to shrink the global economy by more than 7%.
Yesterday at the UN Climate Action Summit, Greta Thunberg gave an impassioned speech challenging world leaders to stop failing future generations and act on climate change. pic.twitter.com/6apIHynEFW— Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) September 24, 2019
Greta isn’t a person who needs an introduction and we all know her story by now. We know who she is because she has mobilised a new social action, created seismic waves of awareness and, unfortunately, made a lot of enemies.
As the dust settles on her dramatic and damning call to action for nations to radically accelerate actions that combat climate change at the UN Climate Summit in New York, social media has, as usual, created a platform to bring out the worst in people.
For some, Greta isn’t a 16-year-old schoolgirl that has done more to bring the issue of climate change into the political sphere that any politician to date. Instead, she is “mentally ill”, a “puppet” that is being weaponised by the left to serve an agenda.
An untold part of her “fairytale of economic growth” is the 'ye olde' tavern, where a bunch of trolls, commonly mistaken for middle-aged men, taunt a child with Asperger syndrome, while they wait for people to return from chopping down the nearby rainforest to keep their egos warm.
Trump humper Michael Knowles just called Greta Thunberg a "mentally ill Swedish child" and @ChristopherHahn tore him a new asshole.— Holly Figueroa O'Reilly (@AynRandPaulRyan) September 24, 2019
"Maybe on your podcast you get away with saying whatever you want because no one is listening." 🤣#HowDareYou pic.twitter.com/q3WmvXMnYh
The above video is the latest in a long line of old men shouting blindly at her actions. The former UKIP funder, Arron Banks, for example, tweeted “Freaking yacht accidents do happen in August” when Greta set out on her carbon-neutral voyage to the Summit a few weeks ago.
For those already in tune with the need to champion sustainability to bring about resilient change, Greta Thunberg isn’t “mentally ill”, nor is she a “puppet”. No, for those aware, she is activism personified, a reminder that we do have a future to look after. She is an amplifier and is she is cranking the climate message up to 11.
It’s why she’s the subject of insults better suited to the playground than from the accounts of extremely powerful and rich men and women. There are people in this world that have made huge amounts of “economic growth” through a ‘business as usual approach’ of take and dispose – a linear economy of extraction and greed. Greta is making us all view our actions through the lens of the planet, and some are realising that they aren’t compatible, at all, with this vision.
They also can’t engage and dispute her concepts through debate, because the science is on her side and it is indisputable.
The IPCC Special Report document warns that the world is already 1C warmer than pre-industrial levels, and that an increase to 2C would significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The report predicts that if the world can become carbon-neutral by 2047, we will have a 66% chance of meeting the most ambitious end of the Paris Agreement pledge. Researchers believe that this can be delivered without placing a burden on the economy.
In fairness to the likes of Banks, Trump - check out Greta's reaction to meeting him - and co, they have a vested reason to attempt to dismiss Greta’s rallying calls – namely money. But for most of us, we aren't that much better. We merely nod along to her words, hit the retweet button and go along with life as usual. We hear her, but we don't necessarily listen to her. The reason being is that a planet-compatible lifestyle requires a huge, near-unimaginable transformation of day-to-day living. In short, it’s scary.
It is easier for us to normalise extreme weather events than to hold them up for what they truly are, the irreversibly damaging impacts of climate change. It’s easier for us to look for holes and gaps in arguments about eating less meat and flying less because changing is much harder than ignoring.
This is why Greta, her message, and her followers are so important. The thousands that took to the streets in the climate strikes last Friday (20 September) – and likely again this week – are the consumers of tomorrow, the workforce of tomorrow and the decision makers of tomorrow. What's more, they’ve already decided that business as usual is not compatible with the planet of tomorrow.
This convergence of noise and demand looks set to drown out the bickering and insults of powerful people wresting at control while they still can. They are the giants sitting in their castles and they hope that the land is too depleted and burnt for a beanstalk to sprout.
But unlike Jack and the Beanstalk, Greta and co aren’t climbing to steal all of the giant’s possessions – that’s been the job of the incumbent, to date. They’re climbing to create a future for themselves, one that isn’t wracked by drought, floods, storms and forest fires.
As we saw with the climate strikes, forward-thinking businesses are aligning themselves with this message; a future for all and one free of climate and ecological emergencies.
But Greta’s speech at the UN was so much more than words on a page; it was emotional, filled with rage and just a small slither of hope that the actions of one person make spark a global change - a Pied Piper of ecological consideration. The business approach has to be similar. It can’t just be a statement or an annual report, it has to have a purpose, felt and lived by all within the business and those who interact with it.
Sustainability professionals have been waiting for those outside its echo chamber to take notice of climate change, and now Thunberg, Attenborough and Carney have passed on our calls with a resounding boom. With that in mind, it’s time to ramp up actions.
We could look back in 20 years’ time where notions of net-zero, regenerative agriculture and a circular economy have expired and devolved from the ambitions of tomorrow into the myths of yesterday - a fairytale of what could have been. The actions of all of us today will decide what trajectory we travel to. Much like deciding my favourite fairytale, the future I want is also clear.Matt Mace