This past month on September 13th, the White House was visited by a swarm of teenage girls demanding that the grownups inside ‘stop acting like children’ and start taking #climate change seriously. The protest is part of an ongoing series of demonstrations known as #Fridays for Future, in which school-aged children leave school and spend the afternoon raising awareness for climate change. Fridays for Future originated in Europe and was started by #Greta Thunberg, a 16-year old climate change activist that has been making headlines since this summer. Her climate change initiatives have inspired children and teens in nearly 100 cities to lead similar demonstrations.
Greta #Thunberg first drew international attention when she sailed solo on a #solar-powered yacht to reach New York City in August to attend the United Nations Climate Summit on September 23rd. Thunberg will be speaking at the Summit in Lower Manhattan to directly address the UN, all thanks to her willingness to be outspoken on climate change issues.
Thunberg’s Message and Movement
In an interview with PBS, Thunberg stated that her climate change activism began the moment she learned about climate change in school. Her immediate thought was, “if it [climate change] is really as serious as they are saying it is, then why isn’t it being discussed more?” From that day forward, Thunberg has made it her mission to stand up to global leaders and be the voice of an entire generation working to fight climate change.
Thunberg has repeatedly stated in interviews that her generation is “the future” and will be the ones who will ultimately have to adapt and live with the worsening effects of climate change crisis. This is why it has been so important for her to spread her message – and rightfully so. Her sense of urgency surrounding climate change issues, as well as her growing presence in movements around the world, should be admired, and ultimately, emulated.
Criticism for Thunberg’s Climate Change Activism
As with anyone trying to change the world, however, Thunberg has not been without her fair share of critics. A great deal of criticism arose not only prior to her #solar-powered sailboat ride to New York City, but in the weeks following her expedition. The construction of the sailboat alone cost £4,000,000 – roughly $4,990,960 in U.S. dollars. The carbon-neutral boat was outfitted with solar panels and underwater turbines, providing clean electricity to power the craft. Ultimately, her solar-powered boat was to raise awareness regarding the high emissions put off by airplanes.
Her boycott of flight in exchange for the solar-powered boat may have had good intentions, but there is a major problem. To get her boat back to Europe, two experienced sailors needed to reach New York City – via airplanes. This fact alone has raised questions as to whether or not Thunberg’s solar-powered boat was worth its costs and if it has done anything to help climate change at all, besides raise some publicity.
#Flight Shame in Europe and Around the World
Thunberg’s incentive to use solar-powered boats is a reaction to a climate change movement that has been taking place in Europe. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a typical vehicle emits around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. A single round trip flight from San Francisco to New York emits one-fifth of these gases. These statistics have prompted a new phenomenon known as ‘flight shame’ or ‘Flygskam’ as it is known in Thunberg’s native Sweden. Flight shame is what ultimately sparked Thunberg’s boat ride and the growing anti-air travel movement. Sweden air travel has already dropped by 3.8% in the first half of 2019 alone. Additionally, the German Green Party has proposed that all domestic flights are made obsolete as much as possible by 2035.
Thunberg’s Impending UN Speech
Thunberg’s speech at the upcoming climate change summit in New York City will not be the first time she has addressed international leaders. Back in 2018, she delivered a speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poland. In her standard bold fashion, Thunberg’s 2018 UN speech included the sentiment that “you say you love your children above all else, and yet you’re stealing their future in front of their very eyes.” Her ultimate message? “We cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis.” We can expect to hear similar statements during her upcoming speech when she addresses the UN again later this month.