Greta Thunberg learned about climate change when she was 8, and she felt isolated. Neither her relatives, her classmates nor her parents acted in ways that were commensurate with the situation. Climate change is too big for any individual to solve. It requires the collective power of “we.” Now Greta is the leader of a global movement, School Strike for Climate, that is mobilizing people on every continent, even Antarctica, to unite and take action to save our future.
Like many, I’ve known of climate change for a long time, but thought it was a distant problem. Bill McKibben’s article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” worried me, and I sought a deeper understanding of climate change. Mitigating climate change became a fixation. The things that once gave me purpose became dependent on maintaining a livable future. Greta overcame her loss of purpose, and she’s inspiring me to do the same.
Looking back, I realize the lack of social cues, the implicit signals we send to each other that convey how we’re supposed to act in a particular situation, to worry about the climate made me complacent when I shouldn’t have been. “Our house is on fire,” and society is waking up. As more people come to this realization, our social instincts will recalibrate, and taking action will become the new norm. Public opinion polls show this trend; the percentage of Americans alarmed about climate change, a prerequisite for action, increased from 21 percent to 29 percent in 2018.
When I learned that Greta Thunberg would be striking in New York City, I had to witness history in the making. The change in attitudes toward climate change was noticeable since the 2014 People’s Climate March.
Instead of confused or indifferent looks on my way to the strike, this time passersby read my “Tax my carbon not my paycheck” sign and gave me thumbs up. Several people I spoke with at the strike disclosed their feelings of anxiety, but that they too wanted to make a difference. A college student in environmental studies described the constant reminder of the crisis via coursework, and a retired teacher who was researching solutions was also constantly disturbed by reality.
Being a part of this movement is therapeutic. As Greta can attest to, taking action is the cure for climate depression. I saw faith groups, animal rights groups, human rights groups, indigenous groups, healthcare professionals and, most of all, students. Everyone in this diverse group was passionate about solving the climate crisis, and together anything is possible.
There are solutions for everyone. Unchecked capitalism poses an existential threat that we all want to address. Some want to overhaul the entire system while others want to amend it. There are even solutions for the small, vocal minority that focuses on politically based objections. If it was difficult to take action because of a lack of social cues, imagine how difficult it must be to overcome a culture that provides social proof that downplays the science. There are so many worthwhile policies to support: economic, agricultural, land redemption, etc. Perhaps they’ll find efforts they deem amenable and add their efforts to ours. As Greta so often says, “Change is coming whether they like it or not.”
I encourage all people, regardless of political identity, to research and join a climate group that is right for them. I joined the nonpartisan group Citizens’ Climate Lobby because it fits with my pluralistic values, and I favor the carbon fee and dividend policy they support. We need to set record attendances at more rallies, generate more news coverage, grow this movement and build the political will for passing effective policies.
Greta understands the power of “we.” In her speech to an overflowing Battery Park, she used the word “we” 31 times. She was inclusive to young and old, near and far, and omitted partisan politics. Maintaining a livable future is something we all want. We will pressure our leaders to step up. “Together and united, we are unstoppable. This is what people power looks like. We will rise to the challenge.”
Todd Levy is an electrical engineer working on bioelectronic medicine research at Northwell Health and a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He lives in Kew Gardens.