A strange thing happened to me the other day: I found myself in London without a book. Doesn’t happen often, and I quickly remedied it by ducking into a bookshop on the way to the station for something to read on the way home. Since I was on the way back from Extinction Rebellion, I thought Greta Thunberg’s book would be appropriate.
No one is too small to make a difference is Greta’s collected speeches. It’s a short book, clocking in at 70 pages and sold for £2.99 at the bookshop counter. But it packs a punch. There is more truth in this slim volume than most books on the climate manage in four times the pagecount.
If you’ve read any of Greta’s speeches or seen them online, you know this already. She has a way of calling out the implicit climate denial at the heart of politics and popular culture. “They keep saying that climate change is an existential threat and the most important issue of all. And yet they just carry on like before.”
It’s brutal sometimes. “You are not mature enough to tell it like it is” she tells the UN climate change conference. “Even that burden you leave to children.” Or that now famous speech to the Davos conference, where she tells the world’s richest people that “I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear that I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” It brings a lump to my throat.
As a writer, I admire the use of language here. There’s a rhetorical power to her words that is carefully constructed, using repetition, or the kind of staccato short sentences in the example above. There are ironic metaphors that actually come across better in writing than in speech, such as telling critics of the school strikes that they haven’t done their homework.
Greta’s only stated ‘agenda’ is to get people to pay attention to the science, and there are repeated summaries of scientific findings. There are passages on justice too. “Rich countries need to get down to zero emissions, within six to twelve years, so that people in poorer countries can heighten their standard of living”. I suspect Thunberg’s long term impact could be as the first prominent young voice on generational injustice, about how “they sweep their mess under the carpet for our generation to clean up and solve.”
There is plenty to think about in Greta’s words. For me, it seems important to feel them too, to really let them sink in at the emotional level. Politicians have talked for years about future generations and the climate, and done very little. That theoretical future generation is now present – and angry at the betrayal. We stand condemned by our own children. If that doesn’t give the adults of this world pause to reconsider, I don’t know what will.