Greta Thunberg is now the face of the environmental movement. The sixteen year old Swedish dynamo seems to shun partisan politics; in her native country, politics is not an either/or proposition; parties in the Riksdag and/or European Parliament draw from eight different ideologies, including the Christian Democrats, Liberals, Green Party, Swedish Social Democratic party, Moderate Party, Sweden Democrats, Centre Party, and Left Party. So, it’s no wonder that when she arrived at the shores, literally, of our nation, she took American by storm, and stunned and puzzled most of us.
While wholeheartedly supporting environmental causes, Thunberg in no way supported the Green New Deal, or American Democrats or Liberals. I’m sure the likes of Bernie and AOC were flabbergasted, and more than a little hurt or insulted. However, this is sensible. Here in the USA, we frame environmental causes as Liberal, in fierce opposition to Conservative ideology. And, this is plain wrong, according to the impassioned Greta:
“No matter how political the background to this crisis may be, we must not allow this to continue to be a partisan political question. The climate and ecological crisis is beyond party politics. And our main enemy right now is not our political opponents. Our main enemy now is physics. And we can not make ‘deals’ with physics.”
It’s clear that keeping our air, water, soil, our plants and animals, our very biological existence intact, cannot be ignored. Over the decades, regulations have made coal power cleaner, and innovation has fostered increasing efficient solar panels. Extinction of flora and fauna is not politics, it’s fact. And, we’ve enacted some legislation to stop that, changed some practices, but it’s not enough.
Note that Greta uses the term “ecological crisis.” This is also quite wise, and not just for a sixteen year old. Over time, the crises we humans have created, from dioxin in the soil to lead in the water, from disappearing coral reefs to landfills leaking leachate, are diverse, and cannot be summed up with a simple catch phrase. In the political cartoon by Rick McKee, entitled “Actual Climate Change Pronouncements by Scientists: A Brief Recap,” the artist and creator cleverly demonstrates why pronouncements and predictions only serve to weaken the argument that the environment requires immediate attention. Regardless of his political intent, this remains true.
“Wherever I go I seem to be surrounded by fairytales. Business leaders, elected officials all across the political spectrum spending their time making up and telling bedtime stories that soothe us, that make us go back to sleep. These are ‘feel-good’ stories about how we are going to fix everything.” These words of Greta Thunberg ring true; each generation seems to think it’s solving everything that’s amiss, while creating yet other issues, and ignoring still others.
Of course, it’s more intelligent to focus on the issues, rather than trying to roll all our environmental ills into an easily understood idea or meme. In reality, it’s complex, and requires a complex solution. Back in 1970, scientists believed an ice age was headed our way. Later, scientists arrived at precisely the opposite conclusion. Either way, there’s no question that particulate matter decreases the lifespan of millions of people worldwide. Or, that pollutants from refineries, such as benzene, are known carcinogens.
It serves only to weaken the overall cause of helping to preserve our environment to frame the discussion in terms of a single issue, whether it’s global warming, climate change, or anything else. That only too easily becomes a political debate, and of course, once an issue is politicized, it’s removed from it’s real context, the reality that the world’s ecosystems are closed, and that what we do now affects us all later.
That’s not to say that climate change isn’t real; the climate is certainly always in flux. How much of that is human-created? Frankly, it matters little, as the incremental pollution of the Earth is not up for debate. Smog and haze over the world’s cities is very real; just ask residents of New York or New Delhi, and you’ll hear firsthand accounts of how disgusting the air is, how soupy, thick, and unbreathable the cities sometimes are.
At one time, the only industrialized areas were Europe and America, and a few other random spots on the map. But as more and more economies gear up for industrialization, it’s now an issue on every inhabited continent. Pollution is the big issue here; making it about anything else, and we’re just falling into the trap of adversarialsm, of politicizing an issue that effects all life on Earth. Rather than divide, we should try to include.
This week, as adolescents and children worldwide gather to help raise awareness during Climate Week, it’s best to keep in mind that climate change, while significant, is a straw man argument that can be attacked, politicized, and ultimately dismissed. Worldwide preservation of the ecosystem cannot. Generation Z is far more aware than people of past generations. It’s important that they do not fall into the traps and snares laid for them, following Greta’s example of keeping this a nonpartisan issue. And, I would argue, keeping the specifics of climate change out of the equation, as that’s just another issue that will generate more talk, more debate, and less action.
Pollution is real. Extinction is real. Climate change may well be just as real. However, for the benefit of actually accomplishing real change, it’s probably best to avoid making this the sole focus of discourse, and instead bring the discussion back to the specifics: deforestation, elimination of habitat, as well as pollution of the oceans, rivers and streams, as well as the air we all breathe, and the soil that’s the foundation of every food chain in existence.
While there’s no debate that the forests of the Earth are our planet’s lungs, and fewer forests and more greenhouse gases mean more CO2 and runaway climate instability, there are too many grey areas that can be easily dismissed or called into question. In reality, we’re lucky to live in a time that permits life to thrive on the surface of our planet, unimpeded. There’s no way that 6+ billion people, generating pollution, will not take its toll on this delicate balance. Rather than trying to argue the specifics, focusing on why renewable energy choices help promote clean air and water, seems best.
Imagine a world with no combustion motors. With clean renewable energy. That would mean a lot less loss of health for the world’s population. That’s not a fantasy, that’s pure medical fact. Straying too far from these basics will just muddy the waters, and that’s just what those wishing to disregard the environment probably relish. Predictions may be ignored and denigrated. Solid facts about pollution cannot.