Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old environmental activist from Sweden, showed the world what a young person’s determination could do. In her own words, she started “striking from school to protest inaction on climate change.” In 2018, Sweden witnessed heat waves and wildfires, in what was said to be its hottest summer in 262 years. This prompted Thunberg’s decision to not attend school until after the Swedish general election. She demanded that Sweden should reduce its carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. She protested by sitting outside the Swedish Parliament Riksdag in Stockholm, for three weeks during school hours, with the sign “school strike for climate”.
After the general elections, she continued her strike but only on every Fridays, holding up a sign demanding immediate action to address climate change. Her solitary activism—aided with social media and the efforts of traditional media persons and reportage—sparked an international movement called “Fridays for Future“. School students in different countries take time off from school on Fridays, so that they can participate in demonstrations against the inadequacy of adults to sufficiently address the climate change crisis.
Thunberg has been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, so “most things are black or white” for her, she says. She doesn’t view her diagnosis as a disability. Rather, she views it as her superpower. She holds all world leaders directly accountable for the environmental crisis that we are currently facing. She doesn’t beat around the bush when admonishing developing nations such as the United States of America, Australia, her own country Sweden about their carbon footprint and their failure to do something substantial to reduce it.
She is rightly angered by these countries’ approach to increasing their economic growth at the cost of sacrificing the futures of children like her and the generations to come after her. To those who believe that she should stay in school, rather than protesting on the streets, she makes a very compelling argument in response, “But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?”
Thunberg wrote an article for The Guardian in which she said, “According to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we are less than 12 years away from not being able to undo our mistakes.” She understands fully well that we, as humans, have wreaked havoc upon this planet. For the sustenance of the human race and for that of all the innumerable flora and fauna, it is imperative that we urgently enact systemic changes to fix the problem of global warming.
Thunberg is not as harsh in her criticism of developing nations because she recognizes the need for such nations to develop infrastructure, to improve the standard of living of their citizens. She thinks that developed nations need to take the lead in cutting down on their emissions, instead of passing the baton to developing nations. But the awareness that our political leaders have failed us, in safeguarding our environment, is a crucial and universal one. There exists a pressing need on our part as citizens to take matters into our own hands, to push our elected representatives to be proactive, not reactive.
Take, for instance, the protests surrounding the chopping down of 2,700 trees in the Aarey Milk Colony region of Mumbai. Citizens have gathered week after week (on Sundays) to express their vehement disapproval of the BMC’s (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) move to do so in order to build a Metro car shed. The region is often referred to as Mumbai’s last green lung. “Save Aarey” protests have seen thousands of Mumbaikars of all ages, braving the rains, turning up in a bid to show solidarity towards each other and to protect Aarey’s trees.
Citizen protestors have consistently demanded (during protests, a public hearing, and a townhall meeting) that the proposed shed be shifted to other sites outside Aarey, but the BMC and the MMRC (Mumbai Metro Rail Corporation) are not willing to budge. In addition to felling such a large number of trees, the proposed shed will also end up displacing Adivasi villagers who live in tribal hamlets in Aarey. Aarey also acts as a soak pit which soaks excess water overflowing from the Mithi river. This reduces flooding in the city.
Organizations such as the Aarey Conservation group, Muse Foundation, and other informal networks of citizens such as WhatsApp groups have done considerable work in terms of raising public awareness about the issue. People have been using social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook extensively, to spread the word regarding “Save Aarey” and to talk about why saving Aarey’s trees is important.
It is interesting to note that the Mumbai chapter of “Fridays for Future” has also been actively campaigning to save Aarey’s trees. One can sign a petition titled “Mumbai’s climate and ecology in danger” on change.org and/or attend the protests in Aarey to show their support for the cause. Ignoring citizens’ popular demands could prove to be a foolhardy decision on the part of the Maharashtra government.
The trees at Aarey face the threat of being cut up. China has industrial towns termed as “cancer villages” because of high incidence rates due to terrible water and air pollution, the rainforests in Amazon were burning some months ago; this indicates that the time to think has passed. At the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2019, in Davos, Thunberg said that “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.”