Vermonters joined the world in declaring just how angry they are about the climate emergency we all face.
The Climate Action Week, which started Friday, has been replete with passion, rhetoric, posturing and political attacks.
Swedish teenaged climate activist Greta Thunberg has been at the center of a high-profile debate about her activism, which critics suggest is a farce, and Thunberg is a pawn to a liberal agenda.
At the United Nations, Thunberg slammed world leaders for having “stolen my dreams, my childhood, with your empty words — and yet I’m one of the lucky ones.”
“You say you hear us, and that you understand the urgency, but no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that,” she said. “Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, you would be evil, and that I refuse to believe.”
She later joined forces with 15 other children to file a complaint to the U.N., alleging world leaders violated children’s rights because of inaction on climate change.
When President Trump, a climate-change skeptic, mocked her appearance at the climate summit, Thunberg updated her Twitter bio to feature Trump’s language. The social media account now describes her as “A very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future.”
(Trump’s original tweet on Monday was “She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!”)
In addition, a video of Thunberg crossing paths with the U.S. president following her forceful speech quickly went viral across social media.
Here in Vermont, climate justice activists and environmental groups have embraced the momentum of the week to emphatically make their case that we are approaching the start of a mass extinction without significant steps away from fossil-fuel dependency.
Conversely, around the globe, conservatives have doubled down on their rhetoric as well.
Fox News apologized Monday after a pundit, Michael Knowles, called Thunberg “a mentally ill Swedish child” on the air. (Thunberg has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, and has called it “a superpower.”) Knowles, who writes for the conservative news site The Daily Wire, defended his remarks on Twitter, where he accused Thunberg’s supporters of exploiting her.
Commentator Dinesh D’Souza likened her image to ones used in Nazi propaganda, posting a photo on Twitter of Thunberg, wearing her signature long braids, next to an illustration of a young woman with a similar hairstyle standing in front of a swastika flag. “Children — notably Nordic white girls with braids and red cheeks — were often used in Nazi propaganda,” he wrote. “An old Goebbels technique!”
Around Vermont, Thunberg was omnipresent at youth-led protests of the last week. She certainly has increased pressure on world leaders to more urgently address climate change.
It is easy to be inspired by her words and passion. It is moving to witness so many young Vermonters — many of whom have shown similar bravery in standing up for gun control, a woman’s right to choose, social justice and the fight against systemic racism, to name a few.
But now we are at a pivot point. And what happens next most certainly dictates where the discussion goes now. And it could get even more ugly.
The push is on to shift almost all the focus from personal responsibility to governments and big corporations to enact environmental reform. Thunberg and others maintain individuals can’t do much to save the world from climate change disaster when energy companies and governments focused mostly on economic growth don’t care enough to make the big changes.
That’s a philosophical difference from “Think Globally, Act Locally,” the environmental mantra of the 1980s and 1990s makes that question fair game. As one pundit noted this week, when we move from encouraging people to change their personal practices to pushing for a wholesale corporate change, does the movement risk simply shifting blame if progress is not made?
We think both can happen simultaneously.
Many Vermont communities have taken bold steps in that push toward net zero and demanded divestment from companies that promote or are dependent on fossil fuels. The inspiration and action can happen in meaningful and measurable ways.
What is clearer today is the fact that Climate Action Week has revealed just how deep this particular political wedge has been hammered into the global debate over climate. And on both sides, voters will likely be motivated to choose a direction for the future.
The anger over this crisis is real. A 16-year-old girl has shown us that the world can be united behind a cause. Now we need to dare ourselves to find the answers and act upon them, globally.